Part 116: No Sliding Doors

Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer. We are only just into December, but winter has me in its dark and icy grip. I’m not simply commenting on the weather here, although it has been particularly cold, gloomy, and foggy over the last few days. Generally, I struggle with seasonal depression. This year promises to be quite weird because, for the first time in my life, I appear to have found anti-depressants that are still working after being on them for several months, and they are not making me feel like a drugged-up zombie, or sending my mood off a cliff. Nevertheless, the dark season has affected me. While my mood remains generally good, I have stopped wanting to do a lot of things. I seriously just want to hibernate. That’s not possible – partly because I have to go to work and all that kind of adulting shit, and partly because I’m not a bear. But I get home from work, and just have a shower, close the curtains (not necessarily in that order), and curl up on the sofa before curling up in bed. At the weekend, I get my chores done, and then do as little as possible. The old aggressively-masking Darren, that inner critic of mine, emotionally beats me up about this, and calls me lazy. I’m trying to ignore that asshole, though, and allow myself to rest, recharge, and acquire new spoons.

This semi-hibernation mode has led to me becoming more introspective. I can already hear some regular readers laughing at this and ironically asking, Really Darren? Introspective? You? Surely not? But I mean even more introspective than usual. Increasingly, my thoughts are returning to the subject of what my life would have been like now if I had discovered I was autistic earlier. I know this is a fruitless exercise – nothing can change the past (with current physics) – but the temptation to dwell on this is enticing. Seductive, even. There are key times in my life when I think finding out I was autistic would have made a dramatic difference to my life’s path… but these sliding door moments would not necessarily have changed my life for the better…

Early childhood. If I had been diagnosed in childhood, say three to four years old (the late 1960s), I think I would have headed for complete disaster. I would almost certainly have ended up, sooner or later, in some kind of ABA program, and suffered all the abuse that would have entailed. Thinking back to the chaotic domestic situation I grew up in, I can also envisage that an early diagnosis would have set off a chain of events that would have led to me being taken away from my parents. The influence of my parents looms large and heavy in my life. My father for the wrong reasons, my mother for the hugely positive presence she always was. For all the unhappiness I experienced as a child, I can’t contemplate a life growing up that would not have involved my mother.

Teens. I was all over the place in my teens, trying on different masking personae and different life philosophies to see how I could feel like I belonged. This is the point, I feel, at which I might have benefitted from guidance from people who knew about autism and who would have understood me in that context. Certainly, my career in adulthood would have taken a very different course with a better steer, and I might even have ended up achieving my childhood ambition of working in the comics industry. What actually happened to those ambitions was this: I wanted to write superhero comics but for some reason, I had convinced myself the way into comics was as an illustrator. I had zero natural talent for illustration, but through practice and hard work, I got pretty damn good at it. Careers advice from my schoolteachers was to take a college course in graphic design. This turned out to be terrible advice. To pass the course, I had to pass every module. I was fine with illustration, but I was failing miserably at the other modules such as photography, printing, 3-D design, typography, and so on. Worse, I struggled badly to maintain friendly relationships with other students, and became something of an outcast. This had a terrible effect on my mental health, and I never completed the course.

Adulthood. I wonder what would have happened if I had been identified as autistic earlier in my adulthood. Three strands define my path through adult life. I’m going to come back to the most important of these three things shortly, but let’s look at the other two for now:

  1. Relationships. I’m talking about romantic relationships, now. My past is littered with failed relationships, and the failure of some of them comes down to my anxiety and fragile self-confidence. I feel pretty shitty about this aspect of my past. Part of that is down to me wishing I had worked harder at some relationships. Part of it is wishing I had understood how some neurotypicals were manipulating me. It’s quite disturbing to realise how vulnerable I was to exploitation. Maybe if I had been identified as autistic earlier, I would have built up some of the social and emotional armour I now have to protect me from the cynical and exploitative machinations of certain neurotypical people.
  2. Career. I ended up in retail management for a long time, and despite some horrendous hiccups along the way, I was generally pretty good at my job. But I could never progress the way I wanted to, and I now see very clearly that this was because I failed to consolidate the necessary working relationships that produce the handshakes and backscratching that deliver promotions. I felt the high quality of my work should have been enough, but it was never going to be. Looking back now, considering the mechanism from the outside and knowing I’m autistic, I see the neurotypical interactions and relationships for what they were. But I’m still no closer to being able to take part in their baroque and impenetrable rituals. If I had known back then that I was autistic, I would have at least understood how uneven the playing field was, and perhaps taken appropriate action to mitigate against it.
  3. Okay, I said I’d leave the most important strand until last, and here it is. By far and away, the most important thread in my life, and the best thing to ever happen to me, is my son. I cannot overstate this. And so whenever I look back on my life and wonder how things could have been different, it always comes with a chilling thought: Would this change have meant that I wouldn’t have had my son? I cannot tolerate such a thought. But what if I had been identified earlier, soon after my son had been born, not before? Strangely, I cannot speculate with any confidence on what might have happened in my life had this been the case. I try to think it through, but it’s obscured by some kind of mental haze. It is closed to me. And so I come full circle, feeling glad that I have my son, glad that I’m autistic (I wouldn’t change that), but somewhat sad that I live in a world where understanding and acceptance of autistic people is so bleakly absent, that my life is dotted with regrets.

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That’s all for this week. Until next time, take care.


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

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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