When I was little I wanted to make robots. I was going to be an inventor. Robots were the future, they were going to be everything, and I was going to design them.
I’d spend ages drawing pictures of different tin-cans with claws and wheels and springs.
I remember being frustrated that I didn’t know how to put them together. I didn’t know how to create.
Whenever any appliance broke, I would ask if I could have a screwdriver and a hammer and take it apart.
It’s an adorable image, isn’t it? A small girl in her turquoise t-shirt dress with boats on it (labels secretly removed by her with the scissors she wasn’t allowed to use) sat at the kitchen table, carefully taking apart a toaster. Trying to find its secrets in the hopes that it would help her make robots.
Legs dangling from the chair. Chin barely above the table top. Bird’s nest hair a crumpled, tumbling heap, as she sticks her tongue out in concentration.
But the secrets weren’t in the toaster. I found the filaments. I found the wires. I could see it was just a fancy lightbulb after all. No one could answer my questions. My adorableness quickly faded with my squirrelling of anything that looked vaguely robotic.
So I hid in books instead. I found freedom in adventure. Cynical and sarcastic on the outside, on the inside I was swashbuckling with an unquenchable lust for adventure. Science fiction and fantasy were my go-tos. Worlds where I would have built robots.
I found a new love in writing. At first I would read my work to everyone who sat still within earshot. Then more than one person told me that I was lying, that it wasn’t my work. So I stopped telling my stories and kept them for me. How do you convince people your words belong to you?
Then I grew up. I was told to get a proper job. I was told writing is a hobby. I listened.
And I worked. Instilled deep within me is the judgement that not having a proper career is shameful. So I took any job that would have me. No one would tell me what I should do. No one wanted me to write or build robots.
I lost my soul to office-life. I had none of the tools for it. I still don’t. For all my rationalising and problem solving, for all my hard work, I am not a person when I’m in an office.
I crafted a close approximation of a person. She wore makeup and straightened her bird’s nest hair, so that people would believe she was real.
Work is important. So I stayed and I stayed and I stayed. Until one day I couldn’t talk anymore.
I wasn’t building robots.
I wasn’t writing books.
I couldn’t even sit at a desk and exist.
Everything imploded at once. My private life, my work life, my social life. It all came crashing down. And I couldn’t think to plan ahead.
There’s a liberty that comes when everything is broken. There’s a freedom of purpose.
I discovered that, after years of thinking I was cynical and jaded, I was actually a romantic optimist, naive to the point of ridiculousness.
It’s not easy knowing who you are when you’re autistic. We all fall into the traps of letting other people define us.
I’m not sure I’ll ever get to the point of designing robots, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be who I am. I’ve tried being that other person, and she’s miserable.
I should have built robots.