This Is Me

Static. That’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of me. Not because I enjoy channelling through my favourite television programmes or have a keen interest in the inner mechanisms that allow the small standby light glow as a steadfast beacon of functioning electricity, annoyingly on all night long. Instead, it’s a static which sits happily in my eardrums, my corneas, my nostrils, my taste buds, the indents on my fingertips, or simultaneously all of these places at once. A lot of the time it’s as if the static pulls me into absurd amounts of information at one given time. My thoughts would no longer be coherent, overwhelmed by every single one of my senses, each demanding I pay attention to each and every minute detail more so than the last, to the point I have every atom named and sorted by what their favourite colour is. I’d scratch at my hand, or my arm, or my neck to calm my nerves or rock back and forth, back and forth, back and forth ’til my environment stops flaring, my furniture turning back to the way I am comfortable with, having a little less overexposure. I’d hibernate for days at a time just to recharge myself because some social event left my mental batteries completely and utterly drained. An object with an offensive texture would prickle at my fingertips, leaving my muscles squeamish at the very thought of it. Large crowds would make me paranoid, as though I’m being smothered by feathery conversation. The static knows my name, and only recently have I gotten the privilege to know its name as well.

I don’t think I will ever forget the day, when the static was able to identify itself, a little lightbulb flashed the word ‘autism’ behind my eyes. Everything suddenly made sense, like a chord from a very out of tune instrument had been struck but… the musician had forgotten it was plugged into a nearby amp. As enlightening as it may have been for me, people’s reactions to the news can often make it harder to digest, especially those which are immediate and negative: “No you don’t have autism.” It leaves this weird, bitter taste in your mouth. Even close friends could have similar reactions and express general disbelief. The fact I miraculously managed to create friendships over the years surely dictates how my mind is threaded and weaved together, so I couldn’t possibly be. The yarn used obviously has no autism in the fibres. For many people like me, this is perhaps the most discouraging thing that they heard that day or week or even year, to the point that it’s easier to give up telling people altogether. Should it be enough to have it to be a secret we keep to ourselves, just for us to know? To not look to others to validate what I know to be true? Nevertheless, it definitely beats pure ignorance to the topic, that’s the kicker, that the thing that makes that further enhances that flavour stuck in your throat until its unnecessarily sour, ridiculous things, like telling me with absolute certainty that it was probably just something I ate that is making me unwell or that vaccinations made me this way, the Devil’s work in a syringe, as though they were sealing my fate with just one prick, letting poisons scorch my blood cells, rewriting how my brain works. And yet, somehow, I was autistic before getting any vaccinations. Strange.

However, a lot of the time when people hear the static’s true name, I am no longer she but rather he. I can almost feel my skin grit into a more youthful appearance as the pronoun shifts. That suddenly I must have some obsessive fascination with maths or science, despite me never testing well in either. I guess, that’s all people really can picture when asked who autism looks like, a lost boy too shy, too sad, too sick to ever fly to Neverland. It’s never what I look like though. No one immediately thinks of Wendy when asked about what Peter Pan’s about. Because, the male disease that is autism has no place for articulate women. Is this why far too many women who share my name are misdiagnosed, or waiting years to find out? Was I too adept at hiding all the traits that society frowns upon? Could it be that we are simply better at pretending not to be?

Perhaps it isn’t so bad, that I am able to conceal these symptoms so well I can huddle up in my very own conch shell, safe in myself, my unrevealing mask, and blend in seamlessly within the rock pool we call everyday life you can only discover more if and only if, you forcibly press your ear against the shell to hear the thunderous echoes of waves and roaring foam. Personally, despite everything having a diagnosis of autism came as a relief for me. It allowed some freedom and some room under my stifling mask to breathe.

It’s fine, I hide it well, I have been rewired to do so.

She can’t be autistic.

Though, this is me.

With thanks to Heidi Conway and Amelia Graffham