I’m sixty-seven years old. I should have it made by now; I should have my life in order, not in shambles. About a year ago, when I realized that yet again my life was in disarray, I started scrambling for some answers. Sure, in the past I’d seen any number of professionals: psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and clergy. I thought, after all those visits, many, many years earlier, that I had my answer: there was essentially nothing wrong with me. I’d moved to a sunnier climate so the seasonal affective disorder thing was better. I’d eliminated preservatives, night shades and other artificial toxins from my diet, and my moods had improved, and with enough exercise I was able to maintain a pretty positive attitude about life. I was pretty sure it was all under control: my control.
I can’t really say which disaster renewed my quest for answers. It could have been one of fifty things (which I will go into later on). One day I happened upon one of those online surveys or “tests” that simply asked if you wanted to know why you “are so sensitive.” Having always been “sensitive,” I thought to myself: “Sure, let’s have a look.”
If I’d have known that this simple survey was going to knock the foundation of what I believed about myself all to hell, maybe I’d have thought twice. But that is part of my problem: I never think twice. I took the test. I scored 42 out of a possible 42 for what they called “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Seriously?? No f….ing way!! I knew people with autism; my first wife had been a special ed teacher and had severly autistic “students.” Even the “high functioning” Asperger’s people I’d know seemed so blatantly “NOT NORMAL” that I would have been absolutely insulted to be cast into the same category. They spoke loudly and in a monotone, or they were mute. They went on and on about some idea they had in their head and expected everyone else to be as spellbound by it as they were. They were mathematical wizards or could solve puzzles in a tenth of the time anyone else could. They were socially inept and often stuck their foot in their mouth. They spend hours or days sitting down focused on one project and deemed it a burden to have to get up to eat, or relieve themselves, or sleep. “Nope; that’s not me! No way!!”
Honestly, I kind of put that survey on the shelf and tried to forget about it. But then the reality of my life would shake me like an earthquake and this thing, this possibility, this obnoxious label would come crashing down from the shelf and konk me on the head. “What if I am?” was my worst fear.
For sixty-six years I’d struggled at life; long enough to figure some things out. Long enough to get set financially, to have had a long, successful career, raised a wonderful family and maintained close ties with children and started welcoming grandchildren. It was almost time to reap the benefits of my successful life by retiring and traveling the world as I’d always dreamed. Of taking the family on extended holidays to exotic resorts. Of buying the dream car I’d always secretly lusted after.
Ever so slowly, the helium leaked out of the balloon of my self-image; an image I’d guarded all my life. I wasn’t set financially; I’d been divorced twice and my third marriage was on thin ice. My adult children were sending me letters demanding to know why I was so absent from their lives. I was embarassing myself in childish ways and trying to hide it from everyone, especially myself. I couldn’t buy nice Christmas presents for my family, let alone take them on a Mediterrean cruise, and I was years away from being able to retire.
As things began to sink in, I became less resistant. It took a long time. I wished I could have been an alcoholic: they have it easy. Just read the big book, go to AA, work the twelve steps; there is a ready protocol to follow, a support group, and a way to make amends. I didn’t see such a path before me when I realized that, yes, maybe I do have some form of autism spectrum disorder, some variant of Asperger’s; we are all unique – that was the only consolation I found. How to fix the mess? No template! How to reverse behavior pattern that were destructive? No roadmap! How to fix interpersonal messes? No twelve steps!
I have a story to tell, though. Many, many chapters will be needed to understand and work through it all. The imagery I use to picture it is the worst natural disaster to hit the island of Puerto Rico: hurricane Maria, in September 2017. The first thing that hit me is, being an Asperger’s or aspie as it’s commonly known, I hate multi-step processes that take indeterminate amounts of time to accomplish. I hyperfocus on whatever has currently captured my undivided attention and go into hyperdrive until I’ve powered completely through it… or in many cases, lose interest and drop it and move on to the next “Big Thing.” How do you start over, rebuild everything after a hurricane smashes you? Well, having Asperger’s isn’t like a hurricane at all, but coming to realize it at age sixty-six is exactly like a hurricane – you lose all your bearings and everything you thought you knew about yourself gets blown out to sea and you’re left with the wreakage. Good luck fixing that!
I’m now open to trying to deal with the fact that my brain is “different” and mostly, with the fact that that “difference” has left my life a shambles: in disarray, a muddled mess, a chaotic, confused, disorganized clutter: a state of total disorder. How I got here and what I’m going to do about it will be my story. Stay tuned…