I don’t hail from Krypton or Gotham City because I’m no superhero, but I have my own origin story.
It began October 2015. I was 46 years old and had lived on my own for eighteen months or so. Yes, I was late leaving the Fortress of Solitude.
I was doing well as an independent adult—it’s surprisingly mundane if you’re wondering, with the constants being laundry, bills, and deciding what to eat that day. But that October was different: issues were slowly piling up for me, problems of all shapes and sizes. These were mostly personal matters that I won’t discuss here, but the pebble that started the impending avalanche was this—Lily, my new kitten, had just been introduced to Molly and they weren’t getting along.
Lily hissed at Molly and, well, that was it. I had a breakdown. I simply couldn’t take it anymore. Likely this was an autistic meltdown, but I didn’t know it at the time.
All I knew was that I was in full, heart-pounding, short-breathed fear. The fact that it was evening, and the sun was going down only terrorized me further.
It’s like this for many undiagnosed autistics. They hit some breaking point just before the great reveal, like author Thomas Cutler, who awakened one night to similar full-blown panic as described in a 2019 interview with The Guardian. He was convinced he was about to die.
What makes you anxious, Cutler’s doctor later asked.
Being alive in the world, he replied.
I spent that night with my father and stepmother, and like Thomas I went to see the doctor with my father the next morning.
A possible cause for my breakdown was broached with great caution: my brother-in-law’s wife, who works with autistic schoolchildren, believed I had Aspergers because I showed the signs and behaviors.
In his interview, Cutler was initially incredulous at the idea of being on the spectrum. Impossible, he had worked with autistics.
As for me? I had suspected as much for over a year by then.
Do you think I’m weird?
What do you mean? and I would drop the subject. I might not be from Krypton…but people thought that I did seem to inhabit my own world.
That October day I became unofficially autistic. More informed than an encyclopedia set. Able to think in black and white—but not grey. Impervious to all social cues and customs. My only weakness? Maintaining eye contact!
Upon diagnosis of autism, reactions vary from relief, or anger or dismay. If you’re older and autistic it’s a strange mixture of emotions that I can’t quite describe—the answer to the big question What Exactly is Wrong with Me?
I learned to mask in youth, to seem like everybody else and avoid drawing negative attention to my autistic traits.
My personal rules went like this:
Withdraw all special interests from public display.
No more impromptu infodumps.
Work hard on being funny, or at least amusing. It’s a useful social lubricant.
Be aware of your surroundings.
Listen rather than speak—it eases you into social situations. Most people like talking, especially about themselves.
Avoid judgment. Allies crop up in unexpected form.
Collect information on a vast array of topics. It’s your gold, your frankincense and myrrh, a gift to the neurotypicals.
Do not idly correct people, especially in public.
Be polite—BBC presenter polite.
And so on.
Even so, life was difficult for me. Work, friendship, love, it was all difficult. Life had a steep learning curve, and I could not fathom why I was falling behind my peers.
Now, I had an answer. It all made sense: the awkwardness, the bullying, the social missteps, the checkered employment history, the dislike of change and the need for routine, the sheer bewilderment at the world, being alive in the world. I had an answer, the answer.
I was on the spectrum.
I wasn’t broken, I was autistic as opposed to neurotypical, with a brain that uses a different operating system from other people. Sorry, no NT here, we run on ASPII.
Thomas Cutler had been depressed for four decades prior to his diagnosis, after which his melancholy lifted like fog, and he felt peace.
While I don’t know if I was depressed or not, I was anxious and confused. I took a few days off work to collect myself.
By the following week I felt peace, too, but something else as well, so I put on my superhero cape to engage with my new special interest: to find out everything I could about autism and Aspergers.
Mike Minnis is a guest blogger and client. His books can be purchased on Amazon. Visit his website at: www.michaelminnisbooks.com/index.htm
To read Thomas Cutler's full article click here