On the outside looking in. 

I’ve long accepted that my place is on the periphery. 

Most of the time this is ok, I don’t want to be in the middle of a chattering group, I can’t keep up with the conversations, it’s much easier to view from afar, sometimes I feel involved in my own way by simply watching. 

I’m happy to accept myself and I’m generally content to be there, the quiet observer. 

Occasionally I can join in, and enjoy these brief moments, exhausting as they are, but all too soon I’m back to the outside, looking in. 

Sometimes being on the outside is hard. It’s lonely, I want to interact but don’t know how, I watch in awe and envy as others effortlessly manage these complicated social gatherings, and wish with all my heart that I could join in. 

I mentally beat myself up for not being the sort of person who can walk into a room, confidently greeting friends or strangers, when I know I am that person who sneaks into the room desperately hoping to blend in with the wallpaper, trying to recall current news stories, the weather outside, any recent celebrity deaths so I can hold a coherent conversation should the need arise.

I’m disappointed to find that I am on the periphery when it comes to social networking too.  

I’d hoped that discovering the community of neurodiverse adults would be a lifeline, somewhere I belonged, my tribe. But I was wrong, I still don’t fit in, I’m not part of the clique, and I have no idea how to break my way in, how to make and maintain friendships, even when they’re online. 

I would give up, but I can’t. If I practise, surely one day I must learn the secret to communicating socially. 

I must keep going, and I will continue to feel okay that I am me, with occasional bursts of crushing sadness at my inability to fit in. But on the whole accepting that I am on the outside looking in. 

Super Powers. 

I have been told by someone in a position of great authority (my oldest sister, with whom we do not argue, as She Is Right) that I do not have autism. Amongst her many reasons (apparently I don’t look like I have autism) comes my lack of super powers. 

I have had a box of matches dropped in front of me, I think she was hoping for an instant match count, Rain Man style. She was disappointed. My instant counting skills are useless beyond five objects. 

But her insistence that I do not possess powers (as all autistic people do, it’s part of the criteria apparently) is wrong. I do, but they are well hidden and sadly, they give me no opportunity to make money. 

I have a love hate relationship with music. As I child I was forced  encouraged to play the piano and another instrument, I chose the ‘cello. Practising was never a strong point, I couldn’t read music, at all. In fact I would go so far as to say that if there is a form of dyslexia relating to reading notes on a page, then I have it. I relied instead on listening to the piece of music, memorising it, then teaching myself to play it. This was far easier when playing the ‘cello, as there was only a single part to learn, as opposed to the piano, where two separate tunes had to be learnt and played by both hands together. 

Using this technique I managed to work my way up to grade 6 in both. My exam results, whilst within pass ranges, were poor. My sight reading would let me down badly. My technical ability (with hindsight due to slight hypermobility in my fingers, which meant they collapsed over the keys or strings) was also poor.

Listening to certain pieces of classical music was, and still is, a passion. As a child I spent hours listening to Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major. My sister had a violin, which I taught myself to play, along with the cd I was listening to.

Music has different effects on my brain, that I can physically feel. When I hear certain music that I love, I can feel a tiny part of my brain stretch out in bliss, like a cat. My whole body relaxes and I feel wonderful.

Other music, particularly high pitched, busy and screechy music makes the same area in my brain contract, I feel anxious and irritable.

My brain can replay the music in my head. Sometimes it just happens out of the blue, other times I can make it happen. I can hear the whole orchestra play, but not only that, I can stop and rewind it, fast forward, or can even isolate certain instruments and hear their individual contribution to the whole overall effect. 

If I’m asked if I like music, I’ll usually answer no. But I do love it, but my favourite is my own, silent music in my head, and it’s far easier not to have to explain that to people. 

My next power is my imagination and memory. 

I have a powerful mind’s eye. I can picture very specific things in a way that makes them almost real. As a child, when being driven anywhere, I would picture wild exotic animals in certain fields. There was a field of zebras, a few giraffe, African elephants, and many others, all that I could see clearly. My own private zoo, sprawling across the countryside. 

I thought this pointless skill had passed on to my eleven year old, as he started talking about a zebra in a certain field, until we realised that there was actually a life sized, very realistic, plastic zebra in the middle of a field we drove past regularly. 

I can clearly remember many events in my life, to the extent that I feel I am there. Like Dumbledore’s Pensieve, I can immerse myself into a memory and I can see, smell, feel, touch and hear everything again.

I can remember places in great detail. When my son is struggling to sleep, he’ll ask me to be boring – this means I enter a place (in my head) and describe it, room by room. This is a great alternative to melatonin, when he’s having a break. 

With a combination of memory and imagination, I have found losing people strange, as I can still see them and spend time with them if I wish to. When I was young, I thought I was seeing their ghosts, now I understand it is my mind carrying on seeing those who were familiar. 

I can draw. I am not artistic at all, but if a photo grabs me, I can copy it in great detail, and accurately. This is the one skill I hoped I could make money from, but sadly, a presence of a deadline usually means my talent is replaced with that of a five year old. 

There are times when I’ve managed a run of three or four commissions, when family life is going through a calm patch, but I can’t deal with deadlines on top of any sort of stress. I am resigned to drawing as and when I am able, and cannot take commissions any more, as the risk of disappointing someone, and myself, is high. 

So there. Whilst I cannot claim to be a maths whizz, or a computer genius, there are these little quirks that I am fond of, which I believe are powers of some sort. 

It’s not for anyone to doubt a diagnosis, particularly when their knowledge of autism is limited only to the stereotypical. 

But as long as people do this, I will use my imagination to my benefit, and much like Harry Potter’s boggart, I will swish my wand and make them riddikulus. 

The Lost Girl.

Shortly after my fortieth birthday, I was diagnosed with autism.

Like so so many autistic adult women, I had suspicions whilst going through the assessment process with one of my children. The more I researched, the more answers I had to questions I didn’t realise were swirling in my head.

Why was life so difficult.

How come I had the same opportunities as my peers, yet couldn’t act on them.

Why was I the same, but so, so different.

My childhood looked idyllic. Public school and privilege, siblings with an innate confidence that set them up for a lifetime of success. A childhood where autism was unheard of.

Working so hard to fit in with a large family of strong willed, gregarious extroverts, that confidence passed me by.

Instead I was filled with the knowledge that I wasn’t good enough.

I am sad for the child I was, because I was so much more than the fat, quiet, dull girl that I became. My attempts to fit in both at school and at home meant that I was lost. I was a shell. The real me huddled inside, cowering away from life. The fake me tried desperately to be a part of the family, a part of the school community.

I had no autonomy. When I was told to wear a certain outfit, I wore it, even though it hurt me to do so. When noises were too much for me, I put up with them in silence, because the level of noise was fine, it was me that was wrong. I had opinions, but knew that in the scheme of things, my opinions would not be listened to.

I stimmed, but this was simply an ugly habit, something else to be ashamed of. I bit my nails to the quick. I sucked my thumb constantly. I hid the stress until occasionally it would burst out of me and I would cry for hours on my own.

Change was terrifying, anxiety was rife, yet, again, these were seen as character flaws, something to be tucked away out of sight.

Friendships were an enigma. Groups of social misfits were formed to protect us from bullied. Sleepovers were arranged to keep up the pretence of normal.

My (lack of) career was based solely on choosing a course acceptable to my parents and grandparents. A course which, realistically, would leave me with no job prospects.

My choices around marriage and children were made because marriage and babies were the next life stage, taking role playing to extreme lengths, although my husband and my children are my favourite people in the world, and I wouldn’t be without them.

Learning about autism is slowly revealing a person I never knew I was.

I flap when I’m excited. I flick my fingers and my leg shakes when stressed. I hate the feeling of rain, and showers, but the feeling of cold, wet grass on the soles of my feet is intoxicating.

The sun is too bright, music is largely annoying (apart from in the car, when it drowns out the sound of the engine, which is more irritating), noise is unbearable, triggering whole body anxiety.

I am happiest alone, with my iPad or looking at stars. Alone time is when I can recover from family life and recharge my batteries.

Earplugs and my heavy fleece blanket are my favourite things.

Obsessions are wonderful and soul restoring, escapism from real life, giving me wings.

I know myself better than I ever have done, because looking from an autistic perspective, I can now understand Me, I can finally see who I am.

Adjusting to being me, autistic 40 year old woman, as opposed to me, the one that fits in and does whatever is expected, is difficult. It is frowned upon by some who have the opinion that because I was a fairly crap neurotypical, I would rather reinvent myself as autistic. I can see why they think this, because my whole life has been an act, they’ve never seen the real me, or rather, they have, but they failed to recognise me.

This is not reinvention. This is discovery.

I am no longer lost.

Though I am not yet found.

I am in the in-between stages of processing many year’s worth of memories and feelings, and instead of suppressing them, as has become my default setting, I am exploring what they mean to me, the real me, not the fake me.

This can be uncomfortable, realising that perhaps I have no place any more with my siblings and parents. I can no longer hide who I am to suit them. I don’t want to be with people who set me up to fail, then patronisingly pat me on the head and put me in my place.

I am finding that being neurodiverse means finding my people. Belonging in a way I never have before.

This processing stage is wonderful. I’m getting to know and like someone I haven’t seen for a long, long time.

Life begins at forty? You bet it does!