That’s a big question! I’ve chosen to answer it by paraphrasing my application for autism diagnosis at the renowned Lorna Wing Centre (Bromley, UK). I applied to them because I had been waiting a long time for a referral through the NHS and was worried I’d never get an appointment – not to mention anxious to know if I was autistic or not. On the referral form, my answers “assisted the clinical team in understanding the referral request”. Based on my responses, I was offered an appointment; however the cost – around £2000 – was prohibitive.
I must say that the process leading up to formal diagnosis was a very odd, disquieting part of my life; it’s difficult waiting to find something brand new about yourself when you’re already half way through your life. My anxiety and paranoia levels were off the charts, not knowing if I was autistic, and not knowing if I wanted to be or what I should do if I was. It’s hard to explain the feeling I had. My identity was falling apart. The persona, I had carefully maintained for years, was crumbling. It was Kafka directing an episode of The Twilight Zone. But I digress.
Of course, I have carefully developed social skills over the years. I did this by studying culture (primarily TV, films and comics – all visual mediums), watching people, listening to people and simple trial and error – painful reminders of social interactions gone awry. Despite my honest efforts and best intentions, I often feel excluded – that I don’t have the “password” allowing me into social circles. If I do go to a social event (with reluctance), I prefer to arrive early, establish my comfort zone and meet people gradually as the event fills. I do not like to walk into a crowded room. I feel that I am being watched and judged – and everyone is against me.
I’m often told I should smile more. School photos were a nightmare. If I wanted a retake, it was always worst than the first one. Speaking of smiling, I was walking along Vancouver’s notorious Davie Street, on route to an 80’s night at the now defunct nightclub Luv-a-fair, when a prostitute turned to me and said: “You should smile!” It was then that I realized that everyone wants me to smile more, regardless of socioeconomic status. I’ve also been told to socialize more: “Why aren’t you working the room?”, “Go talk to her!” and “If I was you I’d …”
Sometimes people comment (often rudely) on my stoic, stern nature – “too serious”, “relax!”, “loosen up!” – and monotone voice. I recall a grade 10 history lesson on stoicism within the context of Greek philosophy. The teacher described stoicism and asked if anyone knew of some examples. Someone raised their hand and said: “Cameron!” (I didn’t know if they were being honest or mean spirited). Some people have commented that I speak slowly and clearly, almost as if “English was my second language”. Some have commented that I become too loud, which I am unaware of. As a result of all this, I lack confidence in many social interactions. I do not enjoy staff meetings or large gatherings. I have trouble concentrating when there is a lot of background noise / conversation. I observe people carefully, often finding what they are discussing, or doing, superficial and of little interest to me. I can go out night after night and not talk to anyone. In order to break the ice with someone and start a conversation, I have to have something important or interesting to say – something substantial. I often feel on the outside of social circles, looking in.
I did not start dating until I was 18 years old. In 2014, I half-heatedly joined a dating site, but have not dated or had a relationship since. I go for very long periods of time with no relationship in my life. My longest relationship was four years. Before that, I only had one relationship of note – lasting one year. I do not seem to be able to manage a relationship like other people (it seems to come so easily for others). It is a lot of work for me to socialize and maintain relationships; sometime I feel I am an actor, playing a role in order to get on with other people and appear “normal”. It has been very difficult for me to maintain this facade, and hideaway my “autistic tendencies”.
Speaking of relationships, girlfriends have noted that I can be aloof, distant, “drifting off” and they have trouble determining what is going on inside my head or why I do / say the things I do. Some have witnessed my hand flapping (which can happen when I am in bed next to them) and when I am anxious – or thoughts turn to something negative – my body trembles / shakes uncontrollably. I tend to remember all these experiences, all too vividly, and they have caused me to lose interest in future relationships; I do not want to cause a partner worries, concerns or stress because of my behaviour and any misunderstandings stemming from it.
Unfortunately, I over-think things – thinking that I have figured out people’s motivations, what they think of me or what will happen next (I think I live too much inside my head); I am often wrong and this has caused me some difficulty, stress and anxiety at work and in relationships. Although I had reservations at first, one girlfriend (possibly trying to “figure me out”) gave me a personality test; it turned out I was Promethean NT (neurotypical), a designation I thought was surprisingly accurate at the time, but now requires one slight adjustment: lose the “NT”!