My husband always says you can find me in the logic. My actions are always reasoned. There’s always a clear pattern to follow.
What that meant, before I knew I was autistic, was that all of my logical conclusions about who I am were deeply flawed. That I misjudged and misconstrued both my own motivations, and other people’s.
Here are some examples of some vastly different thought patterns from before and after diagnosis:
Why do people not warm to me?
PRE: Because I’m not likeable. Because I’m not interesting. Because people just don’t like me.
POST: Because I can’t do the unconscious processing behind social interactions. I won’t be projecting things in a natural way, and I won’t pick up on the subtle nuances of other people’s movements. This leads to people thinking I’m closed to them because that’s what I’m projecting.
Why do I find it so hard to go to new places?
PRE: Because I’m a coward, other people cope with this everyday, for me it is likely to wipe me out. Because I’m stupid, everyone else feels the same as me, I’m the only one struggling to cope. Because I’m weak and cannot deal with normal changes.
POST: Because it involves a lot of processing and creating new schematics. My brain needs to register and build an image of each room and its place within the building. This goes from placement of switches, to windows and chairs and people. Other people don’t do this.
Why am I so tired after socialising?
PRE: Because I’m lazy.
POST: Before socialising I will spend time rehearsing possible conversations in an attempt to reduce the lag between processing what has been said and my response. I will construct different conversations with different people. If it’s in a new place I will also have to build my plan of it as I arrive. I will spend the time consciously processing every interaction in an attempt to understand what is going on and respond properly. I’ll also be consciously projecting my own body language too. All this effort requires down time to deal with the effort involved.
Why am I reliant on alcohol at a social event?
PRE: Because I’m a loser who cannot have fun without drinking.
POST: Because alcohol both reduces my inhibitions about how I’m projecting myself, and reduces my ability to process information. Without the ability, or the inhibition about getting things wrong if I don’t have the ability, social interaction is not as exhausting and does not make me as anxious. The downsides are that I’m more likely to not register when someone is not enjoying my company, and to hold court on my interests. The next day, when my processing powers return, my excellent memory will provide me with the details of interactions for me to analyse. This will often lead to a realisation that I got things very wrong, and will create shame.
Why am I being bullied at work?
PRE: People don’t like me. I’m putting in as much effort to work hard as I can. I’m producing more work than anyone. It’s unfair. I don’t understand why people are always trying to bring me down a peg or two when I already think so little of myself.
POST: No matter how well I think I might be masking, I get things wrong. People think I’m aloof and arrogant because of my projection. Added to my working hard, they assume I think I’m better than them. The problem lies in their perception.
Why do I get so overwhelmed by going to somewhere everyday like a supermarket?
PRE: Because I’m lazy. Because I’m unable to do simple tasks that other people find easy, so I can’t be as good as other people, and I can’t work out why I can’t overcome this.
POST: Because the sensory overload brought about by loud, brightly lit, crowded spaces, causes me to shut down. Because it is physically exhausting to have to cope when there is so much to deal with at once. Because knowledge of previous overloads causes stress.
Why do other people seem to need constant interaction whilst I’m content without as much?
PRE: Because I’m antisocial. I should force myself to be more sociable to try to normalise myself. Because I’m an introvert.
POST: Because they’re different. Because socialising is genuinely exhausting with some people. Because I’m not reliant on the same things that they are. I am sociable and extroverted in the right company. I am not antisocial.
Why do I believe such obvious lies?
PRE: Because I’m a gullible idiot.
POST: Because I find body language hard to read, I’m less likely to be able to distinguish between deceptive projections and real reactions. Because I do assume that everyone thinks the same way I do, I assume people won’t lie just because I wouldn’t. I’m not stupid.
Why do people assume I’m being aloof when I’m trying my best to be friendly?
PRE: Because they don’t like me. Maybe it’s the way I walk, talk, my accent, my clothes, my appearance.
POST: Because to a neurotypical I appear aloof. My body language is not matching my intentions.
Why do I struggle to change my course when I’m engrossed in something?
PRE: Because I’m stubborn. Because I don’t listen properly. Because I ignore people, even when I don’t mean to.
POST: Because the autistic brain gets entangled in the problem it is dealing with, and this means it can shut everything else out. This makes switching between things hard. It just takes a bit more time.
Why do I panic when someone is late or plans change last minute?
PRE: Because I’m neurotic. Because I’m overanxious. Because I’m selfish. Because I’m overemotional.
POST: Because the structure of my day is created every morning. When the plans change unexpectedly it is a denial of my reality. My brain struggles to make sense of what is, when it differs from what was planned. I’m ok if given notice and space to adjust. That’s all I need.
This has meant a dramatic change not only in how I process things, but my own view of who I am is radically different. The logic can now be found easily. It’s all there. All my motivations are clear.
It doesn’t absolve me of personal responsibility for my actions, but it does mean I can predict where my difficulties will be, and can stop the constant self-flagelation when I don’t react to things the way other people do.
Whilst I’m well aware that my personality plays a big part in how people react to me, I can now understand why certain patterns exist. Without constant, negative comparisons I am happier than I have ever been.
Many friends have told me over the years that their first impression of me differs enormously from the person I actually am.
Autism is not a puzzle piece. Autism is the key to the puzzle. It’s the explanation I’ve been searching for. The only one that doesn’t conclude that I am just not as good as other people at being a person.