May 6, 2013

Special: To Be or Not to Be

I just want to know who I am, whether I belong to a family or not. Your family.
- Anastasia

This has been one of the most surreal weeks of my life.

My psychiatrist went and diagnosed me with Asperger's. In some ways, it feels like everything has fallen into place. A hundred different discordant notes, odd quirks and phobias and little itches I can't quite scratch, are suddenly composed into a harmonic, beautiful symphony.

In other ways, I keep seeing cracks in the theory. This symphony can't actually be me. I feel like I fail at being neurotypical, but I fail at being autistic as well. I can't do quick calculations or draw masterpieces or conduct orchestras in my head. My long-term memory is shot to hell, my formative years disappeared like they never existed. I don't follow routines, I can't manage to make one that sticks. I can't share explanations I've read verbatim, in fact I really fumble remembering or saying them in any coherent fashion. I follow other people's interactions just fine. I'm often all too aware of the effect the biting comment at the tip of my tongue will have. I don't persevere, I'm lazy. I have absolutely hidden things from parents and friends based on atmosphere and probable reactions. In fact, I often got upset when others didn't seem to be paying attention to social rules, like my little bro pushing my parent's buttons even harder when I felt he should be easing off. I don't have sleep problems. I don't freak out over coarse fabrics or shirt tags*, though I do dislike anything constricting my neck like helmets or turtle necks. I used to do random, unexpected hanging out with my high school friends just fine.

There's just so many things wrong with the idea.

Oh, but how I want to be. I feel like, by some cruel twist of fate, that the person I was meant to be was Aspie. But the real me just falls short. I crave having a single-minded interest or two like my Super!Aspie sister. I've abandoned too many over the years. It feels like a punch to the gut every time I run into someone whose interests intersect with something I am/used to be interested in and realize the memories are foggy and my expertise is actually sickeningly shallow. I don't know why it feels so horribly *wrong* that I don't have a specialty, other than because I don't know how I'll get ahead in life without one. I don't why it's so aggravating that I've failed to compact all the baseline activities I need to do into an iron-clad daily routine. It took me so long to learn to do normal self-maintainence with any regularity, and some small part of me goes berserk every time I deviate from the plan but I can't seem to STOP doing impulsive, schedule-ruining things like reading marathons. It's horribly idiotic and unfair that no one makes detailed relationship agreements like Sheldon Cooper. Wouldn't it be helpful if there were a general friendship agreement that we could conscientiously modify? It would be so nice to have a socially acceptable friendship questionaire, so I don't have to scour every conversation for dropped hints of preferences, addresses, birthdays, or whatnot. I hear of explicitly stated "social scripts" and I feel a rabid and desperate need to FIND and DEVOUR those resources.

I feel like a burnt-out genius, once prodigally above grade-level reading and whizzing through math and science without breaking a sweat, now cowering at the very thought of school. Once a real person with interesting hobbies like collecting rocks or crafting little jewelry bits, now with so much information forgotten, and doing nothing at all with my life. I'm stuck in paralysis. I can't even zip through a fun non-fiction to absorb information passively anymore. How do I know I won't just lose it again? Where did it all go?

And oh, how poetic that these needs were crystalizing into perfect clarity all at once right before being handed the tentative diagnosis of asperger's. But an intense desire to have the traits doesn't quite seem the same as actually having them. It's bizarre, but I believe I'm actually feeling unworthy of the designation. Unworthy of an Autism Spectrum disorder, can you imagine?! That's something that fails to make sense whether you think it's a horrible aberration or a different cluster of neurodiversity to equally cherished and accepted as the 'normal' strain. You don't wish to have horrible aberrations, nor do you feel unworthy of something that is of equal value to what you currently have.

But I do. I'm definitely jealous. I am in awe of my sister's skill in sewing and drawing, and her extensive knowledge about fantastic animals. She can see how 2D patterns fit together in 3-dimensional space with an ease that baffles me. Her artwork features so much detail and I'm fascinated by the anatomy and symbolism of the creatures she creates. How could I compete with that? I couldn't. I can't. Intellectually, I know that comes with downsides. I know about the anxiety,  the sensational sensitivity, the hard times coping with innocuous changes, the notorious cruelty of teachers and children. But to me, that's always just been... her. And the idea of trading in any of who she is for small talk and instinctual conformity to idiosyncratic social conventions is absurd. Why would anyone *want* that, outside of society at large forcing her to fit that mold? As I quote from To The Moon, "She remained an outcast and refused to learn how to step against it. I don’t know if it was by choice or limit, whether by bravery or cowardice.. I think in the end, I just envy her."

I am so used to strictly enforcing the boundaries between me and my sister. Asperger's was supposed to already be ruled out. I'm not allowed to hypothesize it, I'm certainly not allowed to have it. Later, I would self-diagnose with any mental problem under the sun trying to understand who I was. But Asperger's? I gave it serious thought for about 2 minutes once, then said "No, that can't be me. I'm different, somehow, but I won't escape into fantasies just to feel special or connected anymore."

((Why would I think like that? Why would I resist having something in common with my sister, when I so clearly *wanted* it to be true? Why would I keep reaching into absurdity to find a different explanation, any explanation at all? Maybe I genuinely didn't think it fit at the time. I ran primarily into the male descriptions of it, and into criteria, which would be vague enough that I would default to assuming a high level of impairment in comparison to isolated characteristics. I was also looking at it from the filter of an ADD diagnosis, so I expected overlap anyways. But more sinisterly... The occasional sharp tension between my mom's and step-mom's life/parenting styles polluted the air with judgments, gossip and resentment aimed at the whole family. The idea that I might belong among them, thrive so strongly in their world of differences and acceptance of them... surely that would be a sign that I was bad and broken too....))

I picked up banging (rocking back in forth, in place or against a soft-backed chair) a few years after I learned my sister was disposed to doing it when stressed. I didn't do it often at all, and only very lightly, and I never told anyone or let them see if I could help it. Banging was my sister's thing, and just because I found it somewhat comforting too didn't mean I could pidgeon-hole all her experiences into mine. I staunchly refused to exaggerate my own quirks just to gain sympathy and consideration. And of course, there was ever the voice in the back of my head whispering warnings of stereotypes and bullying and 'she's not right, everyone says so, don't be like her...'

I'm so confused right now, it's not even funny.

*Edit 5/22: To my surprise, Mom confirmed that she used to have to cut the tags off my shirts and dance around fabric sensitivities when I was younger.

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