I was a lonely child - wait, that is not quite right - I was a solitary child. I felt separate. I craved understanding and acceptance from anyone who would give it and I felt bitterly rejected when it was not forthcoming.
But I was often blissfully happy, alone.
Reading and computer games replaced real life. Obsessions and collections became more important than relationships. I read for 18 hours straight. Teddy bears, crystals, trolls, magazines, figurines, stamps... there was no diverting me, once I had chosen a passion. And with each new addition, perfectly placed, with each chapter completed, each boss vanquished, each object arranged just where it should be - I felt an addictive little buzz of happiness that gave me infinitely more pleasure than the fraught interactions of teenage friendships.
I found navigating the politics of social groups challenging. To say that I see things in black and white is not quite right. I delight in the grey, in nuances and subtlety. But I have a profound sense of injustice and a tendency to be overly wordy. I seem condescending even when that is not my intention, I think. Those I was most desperate to impress eventually excluded me, one way or another, intentionally or unintentionally.
I was laughed at. I was bullied.
I have always found it difficult to make and keep friends and I am not misguided enough to think that it was always their fault. I am difficult to manage. When I formed friendships, they were intense, suffocating almost. The weight of my expectations and adoration was too much for them to bear. Those who stuck at it are numbered in single figures and have become family now.
I had - I still have - extreme emotional reactions to things. I am no more able to manage them now than when I was at eight years old and boy in my class looked at me and said 'Ewwww!' Then, I sobbed for hours. Now - well, I still sob. I fly off the handle. I become overwhelmed with pain - grief, almost - at the smallest sign of perceived injustice or dislike. Most days, I feel something so deeply that I do not know how to function through it.
I struggled - I still struggle - with unwanted sensations. I do not like to be touched unless it is expected and by people I know. Noises can be madness. The buzz of the toothbrush charger in the middle of the night feels like a physical pain. When I am anxious, upset or unwell, these feelings become heightened. I cannot stand things to be too loud, will not tolerate being touched in a certain place, by a certain texture. I am clumsy, uncoordinated. Spacial awareness and a sense of direction are not my gifts.
I became trapped - I am still trapped - by my own trains of thought. Anxiety is my constant companion. An idea forms and it cannot be shaken. I am ill. My children will get ill. There will be an accident. That person hates me. If I am not careful, these thoughts grow, become uncontrollable. When Biggest was diagnosed, I feared he had a genetic condition related to autism and I became obsessed with it, spent every spare hour researching it - for months I would do little else but think of it, convince myself that he had it, make myself sick and miserable in a never ending cycle of Googling and worrying - until the results came back clear.
Obsession, passion, empathy and anxiety - they are inextricably linked and the core parts of my personality.
Autism in girls is notoriously under-diagnosed. One of the main theories for this is that girls are much better at masking their symptoms and they often do not have, or do not seem to have, the same communication and interaction difficulties as their male counterparts. I have a son who is on the spectrum but until recently I had not thought I may be too.
I have a degree in English and a Post Graduate Certificate in Education. I was an English teacher for twelve years and I dedicated myself to understanding language, and to communicating that knowledge to others. How could I possibly be autistic? But the interactions and communications of people, they are not quite the same as the words on the page, are they?
I busy myself with the thoughts and feelings of others. Sometimes, they are a mystery to me. I become preoccupied by other people's opinions. I constantly second guess motives. Yet, when someone is suffering, I know it. Deep down, in the pit of my being, in the visceral parts of my brain. I feel it with them. Can a person who occupies themselves so wholeheartedly with the thoughts and feelings of others be autistic? I had thought not. Lately, I feel like I might have been thinking about it in the entirely the wrong way...
My imagination is my constant companion, my greatest friend. Sometimes, when I have taken tests to rate the likelihood that I am on the spectrum, they ask questions like 'Do you ever find it hard to follow the plot when reading a novel?' and 'Do you struggle to understand characters' motives when reading fiction?' No. Never. The worlds inside the pages, the worlds inside my head - they always make perfect sense. The tests usually place me just outside the spectrum and it is my answers to those questions that place me there, I am sure.
I am kind, generous and fiercely loyal. I am easily hurt but I cannot bear for people to think badly of me. I form grudges in an instant and abandon them just as quickly.
I struggle, every day, to manage my thought patterns and emotions. I have felt this way all my life and I have blamed weakness, or mental health, and I have assumed it must be the way everyone is but they just cope better than I do.
Perhaps that is still true. I really do not know.
What do you think?
This post originally appeared on Someone's Mum