So I’ve known I have autism since I was a teenager. But I hadn’t started dealing with it until last year. I used to think it was something I could just shove to the side and eventually I’d grow out of it.
For a while there, it almost worked.
I got through college without special allowances. Even though my teachers were far more patient with me than I gave them credit for. I had an almost-normal social life, even if a lot of it was with other outcasts. I thought I’d eventually turn into a “normal” person, but six years after graduation I know that isn’t going to happen.
I got kicked out of grad school. I’ve been fired from almost every job I’ve had. I’m staring down the rest of my life now. And it’s often hard to know what I’m capable of doing without Asperger’s getting in the way.
Before I understood myself, I was a lot bolder. I dressed outrageously and I said whatever came into my head because I didn’t always know how it would sound to other people. I lost a lot of friends that way. It makes sense: like here’s this weird person who wears Crayola-green leather skirts to class at a state school and talks smack about people she doesn’t know. I’m glad I know how to conduct myself now.
But sometimes I feel like I’ve gone the other way entirely. I’m afraid to voice my opinion because I might say something that comes out the wrong way. I don’t want to call attention to myself because I don’t know what to do once I get it. I might be more respectable now, sure. But honestly I was a lot happier back when I was oblivious. Because I wasn’t afraid.
It’s much better to be self-aware so you can take your mental illness into account when making decisions. I made almost all of my bad decisions when I tried to do too much at once. I’ve always had trouble with multitasking and transitioning, so if I take a job that’s too fast-paced I either say things I shouldn’t or I get so overwhelmed that I start shutting down. I remember I had a job teaching underprivileged kids that stressed me out so much I forgot simple math. Like 3+7 kind of math. The other teacher looked at me funny and I went into the other room so I wouldn’t end up giving the kids the wrong answers.
It’s the same with social situations. If I do something before I’m able to figure out what’s going on I usually end up regretting it.
Sometimes, though, I got it right. My friends and I took some impromptu road trips and we had a great time. I started a humor blog without much planning and it was really rewarding to run. I talked my way into a job selling clothes that I was totally unqualified for, and not only did I learn a lot from it but the owner became one of my best friends.
I wish I had the confidence to do things like that now.
Part of it is growing up. You can’t just coast on being young, cute, and sort of witty forever. And I know the workload I can reasonably take on now, so I’m never going to cuss out a professor for making an example out of me when I couldn’t keep up with the class. I just hope I can figure out my limits more organically at some point so I won’t have to keep second-guessing myself.
Asking myself if “normal” readers think my writing is too disaffected and Asperger-y gets old. So does looking at every potential friend and wondering if they’ll think I’m too weird for them. But that’s part of autism: we have to figure things out intellectually, every time. Just because we learn the rules for one situation doesn’t mean the lesson will carry over.
I guess I’ll just try to live as low-stress a life as I can so I’ll have more energy to figure things out.
Image from screenjunkies.com