Part 83: Treading Water

Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer. I hope you’re all doing okay. At the time of writing, I’m feeling a little unwell… or at least, off colour. I’ve had a series of headaches, intermittent episodes of brain fog, and just generally feeling not right. I’ve had a week’s annual leave from the day job – a nine-day weekend as I jokingly call it. When I booked this week off, I promised myself that I would organise some nice things to do. But I didn’t. I organised nothing. I don’t know if it’s due to the depression I’m struggling with, or just procrastination, or if it’s a kind of self-directed pathological demand avoidance. I suspect the latter. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how my neural profile includes more than being autistic. I can’t go as far as to say I’ve self-diagnosed ADD, but I very strongly believe ADD is part of my makeup. My neural profile is complex, and I think that although I’ve travelled a long way in a short time trying to understand autism, the path to grasping the full extent of my neurodivergence is likely to be long. One thing that gives me some comfort when I feel like I’m drowning in the whole breadth and depth of the nature of neurodivergence is seeing what other ND folks are saying, and noting how my experience is so similar to what others in the autistic community are going through. Regular readers will know that much of my interaction with other autistic people comes through Twitter. A few things I’ve seen from Twitter’s autistic community recently have triggered thoughts about my life, my situation, and my autistic experience, and so this week’s blog is going to be a kind of messy, disorganised ramble through some of those thoughts. Come with me…

You can find The Autistic Writer on all your favourite social media channels

I like to be in control of my own life and circumstances. This is a very common feeling among autistic people, and I don’t think the reasons for it are straightforward. But let’s say this, first; most people of any neurotype, neurotypical or otherwise, would say they like to be in control of their own life and circumstances. No one likes to feel they are being swept around like a canoe in a sea storm, without an anchor. But having said that, most people convince themselves they do indeed have some control over their lives; it’s part of the internal narrative we concoct to make sense of the world. But when circumstances remove that sense of control; for example a horrible accident, an unexpected bereavement, or sudden serious illness, that often triggers anxiety. However, like many things, the way autistic people experience this kind of anxiety is often if not always at a different level than the neurotypical person. For me, feeling like I am not in control of the major areas of my life is excruciating. And yet that is exactly the situation I find myself in. One pressing issue is my living arrangements. I’m currently in a rented flat after splitting up with my wife. It’s not a bad flat, but it’s not right for me in several ways, and I find being in rented accommodation, after being a homeowner for so long, disconcerting. It makes me anxious. I’m searching hard for somewhere to buy, but trying to find an appropriate property is an incredibly difficult process.

Another issue is that I’m expecting some changes to my role in my day job. I’ve requested these changes, and they will happen, but there are issues around the timing of it, and it’s been rumbling on for ages now.

Your home and your job; these are two pretty major areas of one’s life. Both are out of my direct control right now. Until these issues are resolved, I can’t go ahead and make other changes to my life that I’m desperate for. As a result, I kind of feel like my life is on hold. Like I’m treading water. It’s extremely unpleasant, and does not sit well with my autistic mindset at all. Let’s talk about something else…

I’ve written quite a bit on this blog about masking and persona; the outward image we present to the world. And while autistic masking is mainly, I believe, about behaviour, physical appearance also plays a part. My thinking about appearance goes a bit like this: We live in a society; we are around other people often. To be able to function in society, we often have to make judgements about other people. Do I think this car dealer is trustworthy? Do I think the cook in this restaurant looks like someone who washes their hands? Does this person hanging around on a lonely street corner look like someone I should cross the road to avoid? And so on. We make all kinds of judgements about people, and many of these judgements are irrational. But like it or not, we do tend to make quality judgements about people based on their appearance. So, I think things like hairstyle, clothing and so on are something you have to think about, when you’re considering the potential reactions from and interactions with other people. I shave my head bald, down to the skin, and I’m more-or-less comfortable with the way that looks. I mean, I’m not really comfortable with anything about my appearance, but within that over-arcing self-dislike, having a shaved head is okay with me, as long as it’s down to the skin. I don’t like to let it grow to stubble, because I know many people associate that look with skinhead, neo-nazi culture. Irrational, because there are plenty of the neo-nazis who do shave to the skin, and there are plenty of nice, ordinary folks who shave to stubble, and have no nazi, white-supremacist leanings at all. But there is a connotation out there, and it makes me feel uncomfortable.

A less dramatic example of how the clothes you wear can affect how people perceive you: Double denim. Extremely uncool. I would never do it. Nope. You might laugh, but the truth is, we are all making irrational judgements about other people based on their appearance, every single day. It’s just something we humans do. Knowing this, you can exploit it should you wish to do so. Hence, the phenomenon of the power suit. No, that’s nothing to do with Iron Man; it’s just a particular style of attire intended to create an impression.

But when you’re autistic, deciding what to wear is tricky. You’re acutely aware of what other people might think of you, and whether your attire supports any necessary masking you’re undertaking. But then there are the sensory issues. And then there’s the desire to just be yourself. Very, very tricky…

When I was in my teens and twenties, I powered through some really uncomfortable fashion choices, because the look was way more important to me at the time than the physical discomfort. Recently, I’ve had to buy some new clothes and shoes, and while I know what I want to look like, and what I want my clothing to say about me, in the end, I’ve ended up going for comfort every time. Yes, this does mean I’m getting old. Moving on…

Interlude: A brief message

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I tweeted the above after seeing something another autistic person had written on the subject. I recognised an experience we had in common. I don’t know what it is about having people come to my home, but I find it extremely uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people I like, who I want to spend time with, who I would like to have as guests… but then this discomfort thing gets in the way. In situations where there were several visitors to my home at the same time – for example, four, five, or six people turning up simultaneously at Christmas – it was traumatising for me, making me feel physically ill and acutely anxious. All too often, people have assumed the wrong thing about me because of this issue, and I’ve been made to feel as though I’m unlikeable – even started to dislike myself – because of it. It’s only since realising that this discomfort is part of my neurodivergence that I’ve stopped beating myself up about it. I feel like some people around me should have been more tolerant of me, regarding this. When they could see there were plenty of people I enjoyed being around, it should have been obvious that my discomfort when having visitors wasn’t just me being “nasty”. Make no mistake, this has caused me huge problems in life, and the negative, intolerant, unsympathetic reactions of certain neurotypical people towards me regarding this issue has led to me cutting them out of my life completely. There’s no way back for them.

Above is another tweet from me, prompted by something another autistic person had written about the notion of non-autistic people adapting to accommodate autistic people. A couple of days ago, I had to pop into a branch of Sainsbury’s to pick up something. I still have a lot of friends who work for the company I spent nearly thirty years of my life with. On this occasion going into a local store, I experienced two instances of seeing people who, while I wouldn’t exactly call them friends, I used to work with, and who in times gone by would have exchanged hellos with me, and maybe had a brief chat. Both of them looked the other way when they saw me. This happens more frequently since I came out as autistic. I have to be careful making this observation, though, and offer a disclaimer against potential accusations of hypocrisy. I am the kind of person who will sometimes pretend I haven’t seen someone, to avoid a conversation or whatever. This is part of my social anxiety. But I don’t do that to everyone. Context is everything. There are certain groups of people from certain situations with whom the acknowledged habit is to exchange greetings. But when some people break from that expectation, and it aligns with coming out as autistic, then you have to draw certain conclusions. I repeat; context is everything.

You can find The Autistic Writer on all your favourite social media channels

I’m going to finish this week’s blog with a recap of a very short thread I tweeted this week, which kind of illustrates some aspects of my neurodivergence, because this kind of stuff happens with me all the time; clumsiness which is a combination of poor spatial awareness, poor coordination, and which is related to my poor short-term, or working, memory.

That’s all for this week. Until next time, take care, be good, stay proud.


Why Do I Write This Blog?

When I first found out I was autistic, I was a middle-aged adult and I knew nothing about autism.  I quickly learned that there was a serious shortage of information and resources for adults in my situation.  With this blog, I aim to inform about autism and autism-related issues as I learn, hopefully helping people who are on a similar journey of discovery.  Like anyone who writes a blog, I want to reach as many readers as possible; if you like what I’m doing, please share it with your friends and followers.  I will never hide this blog behind a paywall, but running the website does incur costs. If you would like to support, feel free to make a small contribution at BuyMeACoffee.Com.

You might also be interested in David Scothern’s blog, Mortgage Advisor on FIRE, which covers a range of topics including mental health issues and financial independence.

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