2022 Review – autism ahoy!

Blog. So passé. So… 2012. Feels like a lifetime since blogging was considered a good thing. Now it’s just noise. Blog should’ve been word of the year 2012, not omnishambles, which would’ve worked quite well for this year. Anyway, here’s my blog for 2022, our year of infinite crises. My biggest 2022 thing is autism.

Tadaaaa! Yes autism. There’s a really good chance that yours truly is on that spectrum, a card-carrying member of the A-Team. Shocked? I’ll bet some of you who know me are only shocked that I’m surprised. But I didn’t see this coming, not in my wildest dreams. I’m not Rain Man or anything, I’m just a socially awkward beautiful beefcake lacking some human empathy, who’s really into a few specialist subjects.

They say autistic people gravitate to one another. Fellow A-Team members who’ve been properly diagnosed told me I was on their radar. I say properly diagnosed because I’ve yet to attain this status. Right now my diagnosis is personal, casual, informed by other A-Team members: “Oh my god, you are totally autistic, trust me I know.” Makes total sense to me.

So what is this thing, and what do I do now? I’ll be 50 soon, and whatever this thing I am is, it’s been me since birth because that’s how it works. Do I need a clinical diagnosis? Will anything change by me knowing? I don’t know. But I kinda wanna know.

Little secret: all my life, I’ve had this background desire to one day be told what I am. Existentialism from an early age. I’ve wanted to know what makes me tick, how I fit in, the rules, the patterns that make life easy, how relationships work… I’ve always been interested in the subatomic levels of how things work, including people. (Not the biology aspect, just, you know… people.) My dogged curiosity gets annoying to some, because I won’t take simple answers as answers. They’re not good enough. There’s always more to know.

For me, one bizarre and interesting aspect of autism is that it can be classed as a disability. It blows my mind that I, a stunning, vibrant, and healthy Adonis of a man, could star in my own private soap opera and say I’ve been living with a disability all my life. I’m such a trooper! Seriously? Have I bravely overcome insurmountable odds to reach the dizzying heights of my exotic life? It sounds crazy if you know me.

Apparently lots of autistic people are kinda programmed to hide their difference by mimicking the people around them. I think this is for (at least) two possible reasons. Reason number one: deep down, subliminally, we have no clue how to be, so we’ll take whatever cues we can get – which is ironic given we’re supposedly pretty terrible at picking up subtle social cues. Reason number two: we’re consciously afraid of being different, or our difference creates friction, so we just go with a flow for the greater good, even if it wildly contradicts our genuine desires and causes us anxiety and depression. Take Christmas for instance. Such a ridiculous pageant, yet everyone is expected to toe the line. (This in itself warrants a lengthy conversation, but let’s move on.) So whether we subscribe to reason one, reason two, or a bit of both, the end result is that everyday life on the A-Team can be mentally exhausting, and until you know why, it’s a big depressing, anxious mystery.

Take for instance the time I was a jury member on a rape trial. Unlike in the movies where closing arguments take up a whole five minutes of screen time, closing arguments in this real-life trial were around an hour, maybe more — each. Trying to stay focused, distraction-free, devoting all brain power to my attention was exhausting. Some of you won’t believe it: Sure you’re just sitting there, listening to someone talk, how can that be tiring? You gotta trust me – it’s crazy but true, because (drum roll please) ADHD seems to go hand-in-hand with autism. I didn’t know any of this then.

Trying to stay focused, keeping up with everyone else who, apparently, can just lap up information and process it like it’s no big deal, is difficult. I took part in an online event where I interviewed guitar makers. You’d think I’d be in my element there, right? But in the run-up to it, nerves bashed me out of my comfort zone. I was terribly anxious because I was aware that keeping focused is difficult. What if my mind wanders for a few seconds, and I lose track of what this person is saying, and I look stupid? I don’t think I can do this, I think maybe I’ve reached the limits of my capabilities. Thankfully I did it, and didn’t mess it up. Hopefully. The little voice of doubt is ALWAYS there. Imposter syndrome.

So yeah, I think it’s fair to say that if you struggle to function and keep above water in situations where everyone else seems to cope just fine, you’re at a disadvantage. A disability if you will. But for me though? “Disabled?” That doesn’t feel right. My imposter syndrome says Pffft! You’re not disabled, you’re a schmuck!

All shoddy attempts at humour aside, there’s a good chance I’m now a member of the neurodiversity club. I’m looking at my life (what I can remember of it anyway) through the lens of autism – or at least how I understand autism, how it might apply to me, and how it may have factored into my relationships throughout my life. I wonder – if I was aware of this stuff in my teens would I have treated people differently? If I’d been able to tell them about this, would they factor it into their view of me? I wonder who in my family is, or was autistic. I have my suspicions on both sides of the tree. Evidence suggests that autism may be genetic.

Autism is different from individual to individual. There are levels, echelons, and I’m probably on the bottom rung. Clearly I don’t need much support given how independent I’ve been for so long. I wasn’t the kid wearing big ear defenders, and melting down into unholy tantrums.

But I have my triggers. Things do upset me, sometimes irrationally. I hate when I’m interrupted, or when plans change. I hate when there is no plan, or bad planning. It’s probably what drove me away from touring with rock bands, because I’m adamant that 25 years ago, before the internet took over everything, planning was way better. Nowadays tours seem to be thrown together on the hoof, and the uncertainty drives me bananas.

I hate being misunderstood, or having my words deliberately twisted. I can’t help but add corrections if people get something wrong. It’s like I NEED things to be ordered, proper, with all the facts and information in place. Being wrong, or being in an environment where people are operating on false pretences is viscerally uncomfortable. It’s like I’m programmed to try and set things right, an automatic process like breathing. In certain situations you probably think you’re talking to a joyless, factoid machine, while I think you’re a maniac floating blissfully on a cloud of alternative facts.

So… is my delightful, whimsical version of autism a disability? Am I disadvantaged somehow? While I don’t need help with gaining employment (that may be debatable if you know me) or going shopping, paying bills, etc, I do ask that the average person is just patient with me. That’s it really. I’m programmed a certain way, and it’s not my choosing, so I ask you to take a moment and remember that I’m not like you. Just… some understanding. That’s it.

Like anyone, I have my traits. I can be a frustrating, belligerent git. I can talk too loudly, apparently obnoxious, oblivious to my surroundings. I can seem devoid of empathy, uninterested in the minutia of someone’s life. (I am wholeheartedly uninterested in what you ordered at a restaurant last week, so don’t bother telling me.) In a group setting, I can seem like I’ve been raised by wolves. I’ll have trouble hearing you, ask you to repeat yourself, and I’ll struggle with a list of spoken instructions, or picking up a guitar riff. You might think I’m a bit thick, a little slow, and I don’t blame you. Worst thing for me is the inability to speak what I’m thinking. In my head the words and pictures are a beautiful masterpiece. I’m the world’s greatest orator, about to unleash a master class in prose, but once the valve opens to let the mouth do the work, it’s like watching a flailing garden hose. Fortunately the written word yields more favourable results, but even then sometimes I jump the gun and flowers make bees incontinent I love movies do you eat snow? Suffice to say, the chemical reactions in my head don’t do what yours do, so just remember that, and gimme a sec.

Bottom line: there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m simply wired a little different to every other hunky Chippendale dancer. What’s happening now is I’m unpacking a life of feeling inadequate, and my reactions to those feelings, because what comes easy to some may not come easy to me. With luck the anxiety and episodes of depression I’ve experienced these past couple of decades will ease. Those things are intertwined with this thing, and if I can become more attuned with how and why I am the way I am, the more comfortable I’ll be in my skin.

I’m on the cusp of discovery here. A very good friend of mine was diagnosed and said he immediately thought of me. I said that already, didn’t I. Deal with it, normie. You’ve got to deal with autistic people because they’re everywhere. You probably know a few and don’t even know you know. They’re the weirdos who are exceptionally good at something mysterious, and mysteriously terrible at something obvious.

So, my word for 2022 is autism. I thank you for your patience.


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