Okay, specifically, it’s shit Some Autistic Chick says (IYMOAPYMOAP), because there are things I find myself saying a lot. And I’ve always said them. It’s just only (relatively) recently that I’ve understood why I’ve always beens saying them. As with so many things in my life, these are things I didn’t understand until I got my diagnosis. I spent a lot of time saying all this stuff and thinking it was because there was just something wrong with me. But nope, not something wrong, just something different.
I am fine. The world isn’t as okay with the way I’m fine as they ought to be. It’s a process.
So here it is: The script of my life.
“I’m so sorry, I’m almost ready.”
… because poor sense of time. I know, it sounds like it’s just an excuse for being perpetually late, and I can’t guarantee that my chronic lateness can be a hundred percent attributed to my autism. But for real, my sense of time is nothing. I can count seconds by Mississippis, and that’s about the limit of it. “We’re leaving in five minutes”? I don’t honestly know how long that is. To my mind, driving just about anywhere takes 15 minutes, and I use Google Maps before I go to find out how long it will actually take to get to my destination. “How long do you need for that project?” Hell, I don’t know. When do you need it?
I try to keep track of things by roughly timing things and consciously memorizing how long they take — how long it takes to drive to the vet’s office, to do my makeup in the morning, to stretch before my workout. That’s somewhat hamstrung by my equally poor memory, but I do my best. And, like a good tool-using mammal, I set alarms and reminders to know when to feed the dogs or check the laundry or whatever. And I try to give myself more time that I think I need to do something or get somewhere (although if I give myself too much time, I might find myself filling the extra time with something else and being late anyway). But executive function remains an issue, so if, after all that, I’m late anyway… sorry.
“Slow down — I didn’t catch that.”
… because auditory processing issues. My brain can be kind of slow processing ingoing and outgoing information anyway, but information that comes in via my ears is kind of a wash. It’s not because of my hearing — my hearing is just fine (and I know because I have it checked annually). It’s something that happens between my eardrums and the part of my brain that interprets sounds.
Conversations in noisy rooms are difficult — my brain doesn’t want to sort out the words from the background noise. I don’t bother listening to audiobooks, because it takes so much focus, it’s just not worth it. And don’t even bother giving me verbal instructions on how to get somewhere. I’ll never make it. And if you want me to listen to something you’re saying, you need to be sure to get my direct attention, because if I’m not attending, I’m not hearing it. Think of me like a walking Alexa — I need to hear the wake word before I can actually do anything.
It sucks, because I sometimes seem like I’m not paying attention, like I missed something because I wasn’t listening, when really, I was listening but just not getting what I was listening to. I take copious notes in meetings and lectures so I can read back over what most everyone else was able to catch the first go-round.
For client projects, kickoff meetings are good, because I get to hear people talk about things they might not have thought to put in the creative brief, but I need that brief if I want to get the project done to their satisfaction. What doesn’t suck? The number of times my brain hears a word and turns it into a similar-sounding word, and it can get hilarious. It’s rarely not a source of comedy. (I don’t want to know what you actually said, NPR, because it sounded like “sex teaching,” and that’s funny.)
“Hold on, my blood sugar just crashed.”
… because poor interoception. Interoception is your ability to sense what’s going on in your own body, and mine doesn’t always work that well. It’s particularly bad around hunger — I often don’t realize I’m hungry until I actually feel my stomach growling, or until my blood sugar crashes entirely, because whatever it is that goes on in neurotypical people’s brains that gives them more warning ahead of time doesn’t work in mine. I’ve become aware of the symptoms of a sugar crash — usually, it involves getting a little shaky and starting to get super angry about things that don’t warrant it — and can head it off before it gets out of hand. Not always, though.
This is complicated by the fact that I’m recovered/ing from an eating disorder, so my relationship with food is fucked up to begin with. Lunchtime will come along, and not only am I not getting signals from my brain that I need to eat, I also have no particular interest in eating anyway. So having food that’s easy to prepare when I’m able to talk myself into eating is crucial.
(Also affected by my poor interoception: Bathroom stuff. I might not notice that I need to pee until I NEED TO PEE. I try really hard to keep an eye on that one, as you might imagine.)
“Sorry, can you turn that down a little?” AND “I know you’re not cold. I’m cold.”
Hold on, what do those things have to do with each other? It’s that they’re both because sensory processing issues. Loud sounds are bad for me, as well as chaotic sounds like crowd noise at even more reasonable levels. (See above in re: auditory processing.) And sudden loud sounds are the worst. My guy, unfortunately, happens to like his music at extra-loud levels, and sometimes, we’ll get in the car, and the radio will start blasting whatever he was listening to before, and YIKES. We both laugh at me for lunging for the Pause button before that has a chance to happen. But yeah, sometimes, I need the music turned down a little.
I do have a few other sensory issues as well (smell and touch, mostly), but the thing I had no idea was anything even remotely related to something like autism is processing heat and cold. My brain doesn’t know when a reasonable degree of heat or cold isn’t actually an unreasonable degree of heat or cold, and it will trigger actual physiological reactions accordingly.
When I start to get hot, I sweat and pant and eventually get dizzy and all the symptoms of heat exhaustion — my body physically has those physiological reactions, even though it’s only my brain telling it I’m hotter than I really am. And when I get cold, I get cold, even when it’s not that cold. On occasion, my teeth will start chattering before the rest of me gets the message that I’m cold. I’m the one wrapped up in a fuzzy poncho thing even in the summer, because perfectly reasonable air conditioning is too cool for me. Luckily, I happen to love cozy clothing like fuzzy ponchos and gloves and socks and scarves and hats, so wearing those isn’t a problem for me.
“I don’t know why I’m crying.”
… because alexithymia. It’s a matter of not being able to identify and describe my own emotions. I can generally get the big ones — when I’m angry, or sad, or sentimental, or happy, or feeling bad for someone else, or I watch a video with an orphan puppy making best friends with an orphan duck or something, I know what’s going on with me emotionally. But some other stuff is a mystery, and that includes times I’ll start crying and have no idea why I’m doing it.
It’ll happen during times of stress, or sometimes during discussions that don’t actually seem that charged. I’ll think I’m fine, and then I’ll feel tears coming, and I’ll think, Oh, shit, here we go. And then I’ll start crying and I’ll say, “I don’t know why I’m crying. I don’t want to. I recognize this isn’t something worth crying over.” Because as far as I can tell, it isn’t. The crying thing has been happening since I was little, so of course being The Kid Who Cries is great to redeem the rep of the weird kid who already struggles to make friends. Swell.
Another thing that’s been happening since childhood: I’ll sometimes, particularly in the evening, feel something I can only identify as “foreboding.” When it’s happening, I can’t identify anything that might be dangerous in the future, and I don’t believe in anything like straight-up psychic intuition, so I don’t know what’s actually going on when I feel that way. I don’t even bother trying to figure it out anymore. I just accept it. Eight p.m., time to feel dread.
… because everything. I find myself apologizing a lot. I’m not ashamed of my neurotype, but I’m not yet (and probably never will be — I was raised Catholic) confident enough not to apologize every single time I even mildly inconvenience anyone. Make your head-poundingly-loud music quieter? Sorry. Make reasonable accommodations you’re supposed to make? Sorry. Like, provide the information you were already supposed to provide anyway? Sorry. Be in the same room with me while I’m wearing a fuzzy cardigan even though it’s summer, inconveniencing you in no way whatsoever? Still sorry.
But also, I mean, sorry not sorry. Audiobooks are overrated, fuzzy cardigans are awesome, mac and cheese is delicious as both a convenience food and a comfort food, and listening to your music that loud is going to destroy your hearing before you hit middle age.