I’m gradually stopping fighting who I am.
It’s not an overnight success and I still have wobbles – and of course I always will, but the anxiety, perfectionism and regular sense of failure are not being quite so very tough on me recently.
It’s all since my Asperger’s diagnosis and the slow realisation that almost every part of my life was a fight. I knew already that socialising and performing fairly normal everyday stuff had been especially tiring and stressful for me, and the gradual acceptance of my autistic brain since February had been helping see why and what I’d been dealing with. But there’s a whole host of other stuff that I’m seeing.
I’ve been stressing, worrying and feeling I’m failing all my life about who I am on every level – from the hair on the top of my head, right down to my underwear; from dirty windows, to whether or not I’ve earned the right for any self-fulfilment. There’s always been a feeling of need for drive, performance, achievement and a packed day – whether or not there might be any reason for such performance or indeed any enjoyment involved. And because of this I have lived a whole life of being pretty much disappointed with myself all the time. And it had been getting worse as I got older.
I’ve written this before elsewhere but there came a point in my life when I was literally looking at the dirty windows in our house and not seeing the beautiful view. In fact the minute we moved into the house we used to have in the countryside I stopped appreciating it and began my downward spiral of looking for negatives. My eye for detail picked out endless jobs, minute imperfections became enormous tasks and I could never relax. I’ve always had unwritten rules and lists in my head about what constitutes appropriate actions, behaviours, words, appearances and lifestyle choices. But I was never sure I was getting it right so I had to try everything. And I spent every day wondering just what it was everybody wanted from me and finding the different versions I came up with didn’t fit together. In the back of my head there was always this feeling that I would get found out. For quite what? I’m not sure… And so I had to keep looking to see what it was I should do next to achieve ultimate appropriateness. In hindsight I could say I was trying to fit in: to hide my differences but if I go back in time and think about what my motives were I’m not sure. The truth is I’ve been wearing myself down mentally and physically with the worry and effort it takes to try – and fail – to turn one living thing into another. And it can’t be done. The important message here is it shouldn’t be done. It can be faked but it’s just a front. The actuality of me is me, not something else. It’s not as obvious as it sounds when you know just what having a differently wired brain entails. The metamorphosing is dangerous and painful.
I’ve always been autistic but have only become truly aware of it, by virtue of a psychologist’s conclusion, for a month now. In the last four weeks I’ve allowed myself to feel tired and not tried to fight it or tell myself I’m not allowed to feel tired. I’ve let Richard ask our son to pick our youngest daughter up from school and not cried that I should do it and we shouldn’t be asking our son. I can see there’s no point in sobbing and blubbering through things that aren’t necessary or can be rearranged just so I may strive for an image of acceptability rather than a manageable reality. My actions are (or should be) based on my abilities and strengths not received perceptions of behaviour. And, yes, everyone knows this is fine if you’re someone who just wants to dress a bit differently or you have diverse tastes (or whatever) but it’s difficult if you feel different through and through – in not just a couple of ways but in many, many significant ways. Ways that often stand out as perhaps not pulling your weight or not being a normal parent. And it has been difficult, painfully difficult, to be always trying to push myself to not stand out.
Pushing oneself through a mangle of everyone else’s ordinary every day for years takes its toll. It makes you feel ill and you end up with a myriad of aches and pains and unexplained health niggles.
And it gets harder into middle age, in my opinion, to do it without the safety net opportunity to say ‘Look. I have Asperger’s/autism. I can’t do that/I need a break.’ – even if it’s just to yourself.
So it sounds like I’m doing less and lying in bed, more, right? Well, no. Not at all. Quite the opposite. That crazy perfectionist drive and quest for a fulfilled day and completed tasks is still there but the calming touch of new realisation adds a sprinkling of delegation and manageability to everything. Reading about brain wiring helps me to see patterns and make predictions. If I do A there’s a good chance I may get outcome B but there’s a possibility D will rear its ugly head and E might have to be implemented. Or if I do W, based on the way I’m feeling today there’s a good chance not only X but also Y and Z – and we all know that’s a troublesome combination! So let’s just C, shall we? 😉
It’s not enough that I thought I knew myself. I needed to know my condition and why it was driving me to be so damned detail-orientated and why it was telling me to panic about everything until I had stomach pains so I could see that pattern of reaction that I was never able to predict before. Because why would you suddenly feel like crying and want to go home? Believe it or not I never really expected or predicted most of my wobblies (I now know them as meltdowns). Why would I? It’s not normal. So it can’t happen.
Only it can happen if you have Asperger’s.
Ah. I get it now.
So, picture this.
After reading about how autism and Asperger’s affects other people and the minutiae of their daily lives, how their drive and anxiety is affected by their eye for detail and their perfectionism, I sit back and think. I absorb yet more information about how a mind put together in a different way is bound to make different observations, and then I get up and I plod on with my daily life noting how I am going about my everyday tasks in a perfectionist way. I pretty much do everything I did before and days get back to a kind of normal (our normal). But slowly, slowly I begin to wonder what I want autism to control, what I have to let autism control and what I don’t have to let autism to control. And of course I wonder what probably has nothing to do with autism whatsoever.
I’ve got a silly fringe (that’s “bangs” if you’re American – which is totally funny because bangs means having sex…). It looks like a wave. I have a cowlick one side and it swishes over in a silly big curve. When I was 4 or 5 I was so fed up of looking at my fringe, I cut it off. Yes, it looked even more silly after that. These days I can spend ages blow-drying it down flat and faffing with the rest of my hair to make it look okay enough for me to not completely hate it and be distracted by it all day. Likewise with my face: I stand really close to the mirror every morning and pinpoint every imperfection and cover every inch of my face in makeup. It takes a big chunk of my time in the morning. Yes, lots of women are like that – it’s called conditioning, but I’m using it as an example, so bear with me… When I take washing up to the kitchen sink, I will notice the windows aren’t perfectly clean, I will notice the sink isn’t perfectly clean. When I walk past the bathroom I will notice the bathroom isn’t perfectly clean, I will notice every smell that hangs in the air. If I hold a finger to my mouth in thought I will notice my nail is jagged and I will chew at it until it’s short and painful. My point is: I notice too much. I worry too much, I faff too much, and I’m never able to narrow it down to what exactly is deserving of me faffing and what really is not. Unless I distract myself with a project like gardening or writing, I am Speck Detective all day every day. Life is just a list of jobs with no end in sight. Because perfection will never be reached. How sad is that?
My hair isn’t autistic. At least I don’t think so! My obsession with it might be or it might not be. But being distracted irritated and distressed by it all day might very well be. So a few days ago I pushed my fringe away from my face, stopped blow-drying it and let it wave. I cut inches off the rest of my hair and I now have a collarbone length, wavy bob with no styling. I just wash and go, as they say.
I’m learning that I don’t need to look at myself so closely and so critically all the time and I can stop assuming other people are too – because, let’s face it most other people don’t have Asperger’s and are not looking at things in the detailed way I am.
I don’t know what, if anything, will be chopped off next on my list of pointless daily faffs or what I will enjoy continuing to obsess about but I’m looking forward to finding out. And laughing at my fringe.
Good grief. It so does look like a wave though…