I just checked, and I’m still autistic.
I obsess about it sometimes, and worry that I’m regressing.
I read about how meltdowns and shutdowns with a short recovery period could lead to permanent loss of skills, so I obsess some more.
I scratch my skin and obsess that it won’t heal.
I walk into things (oh, so many things) and have bruises in weird places, and I obsess about what people think.
Yesterday I obsessed about a mark on my laptop keyboard cover. For thirty seconds I stared at it, wondering what it was, and how it got there, and then when I turned it over to discover more dust, I sort of freaked out.
Then the phone rang and I was surprised and that made me panic.
And then I had to go to the post office because I had to send a letter to a lawyer and a friend and a bank and oh my goodness where are the fucking postage stamps and envelopes -
Last month we went to Spain. At one hotel we stayed at, it was too hot to go outside during the day. 40°C with a high humidity. So we stayed inside and managed to convince a staff member to serve us drinks inside.
After a while, more and more members of our tour group assembled in what was ostensibly a waiting area designed for 15 people, but contained 23, and it got too loud, so I had to leave and go back to the room.
I’m turning 40 in a little over four months. Well, it’s 4 months, 18 days to be exact.
I’ve been lucky. So lucky. Autism wasn’t invented yet in my school career. At primary school, the special needs kids had visible disabilities. Even the “slow” girl had a physical affectation that identified her as mentally handicapped.
I was a Boffin. I was a Smart Kid who was Lazy. They put me in a weekly thing called the Gifted Child Centre, at the Johannesburg College of Education. I remember the first lesson. I recall nothing else about it, except that one day, one of my classmates was absent and his name was Robert Gordon Brown. His name was stuck in my head and when the teacher asked where he was, he made some snarky remark about the kids having too many first names. I found that funny because I’m Randolph Bryan Stuart (now you know where my nickname comes from).
In the first lesson, which was on a Thursday afternoon, we had to draw something creative. After all, we were Gifted Children. I drew something that I hated, and eventually drew horns on it and it became a monster.
For the longest time, even before JCE and the Gifted Child Centre, I had an irrational fear of monsters, and a recurring nightmare where I was on the top bunk in a bunk bed I shared with my brother, and had to leap into my mother’s arms to be saved from the monsters on the ground.
My father died in 1994. It was a few years later when I realized the monsters all had his face. I never had the nightmare again.
Sleeping on the top bunk was cool, but once my brother and I were messing around and he hurt himself quite badly. Nothing broken, but on that particular occasion, it wasn’t my fault. I got punished for it with a spanking or beating, but after my brother came clean to my parents, I remember my mother coming into the bedroom where I’d been banished, and her hugging me close and apologizing.
Learning that your parents are people too, is a difficult thing to process.
Do you see how the train of thoughts went from obessing to memories of childhood? That happens all the time. All. The. Time. It’s attention deficit disorder, but I also have the one with hyperactivity, which is why I was impossible to teach if I didn’t like the class. Or the teacher. Or the desk. Or the pattern on the floor. Or the way the tree moved outside so that I couldn’t concentrate. So many things.
So yes, I’m still autistic. This week, though, someone I admire wrote about pride in being transgendered. I’m not transgendered, but I’m also not sure what I am. I have previously identified as genderqueer, or genderfluid, but I’m not trans. Anyway, she wrote that she’s not proud of being trans, because it came with so much pain and hardship, a broken marriage and family (she has two beautiful kids), a father who misgenders her even though he’s trying so hard. But while she’s not proud about being trans, she’s proud about the decisions she made to get to where she is now, as a trans person. In other words, she would do it all over again, knowing what it would put her, her family, friends, and children through.
I’ve never been proud of being autistic. It’s kind of embarrassing, especially if I’m in the midst of a meltdown or shutdown. I know what’s going on, and in public it looks like I’m being entitled or fussy or maybe even privileged, but I can’t help it.
But like my friend, I’m proud of coming out as an autistic person, of building up a series of coping skills and mechanisms because of the fact that autism and ADHD didn’t exist when I was at school, and that I was just lazy.
Over and above being a queer person, which I’m extremely proud of (to the point of alienating people in my life), I’m proud to be autistic. I’m still embarrassed by it, but letting people know about it, as a part of who I am, but not a defining feature, makes me the unique snowflake I know I am.
I am autistic and proud of it.