1. 1. Being “normal” is hard work.
I found out I had Asperger’s syndrome (a type of autism) when I was 15 years old. Because of my Asperger’s, I didn’t develop the same way as my peers. When my classmates learnt how to socialise and communicate, I struggled to relate to the world around me.
I tried to keep my Asperger’s hidden. I spent years trying to study the “rules” of communication and I obsessed over learning how to be “normal”. I developed flow charts and diagrams. I basically analysed other people’s behaviour as if I was a behavioural psychologist.
I don’t think many people realise how much effort, energy, and dedication goes into me wanting to appear normal.
2. 2. The outside world can be a terrifying place.
Imagine this: You’re in a room filled with people talking loudly, and there are 10 different radios blasting white noise across their speakers. Add a ticking clock, a nasty smell, a throbbing headache, and the noise of a traffic jam. That’s what the outside world can feel like for me.
The machinery in my brain designed to organise and process the sensory world doesn’t quite work properly. It’s a bit like the volume button on a remote control being broken.
The outside world isn’t only exhausting but can also feel terrifying, because I’m bombarded by so much sensory information, and sometimes my anxiety levels skyrocket. To calm down I often lock myself in a cubicle in a public bathroom so I don’t worry about the rest of the world seeing me freak out.
3. 3. I’m not being rude.
My brain isn’t wired to focus on people’s voices; in fact, I have to work very hard to listen to what people are saying. Sometimes I’ll write down what they’re saying or repeat it back to myself under my breath. I also struggle with people’s names and faces, which can make me seem rude or uncaring if I don’t recognise them.
4. 4. I like repetition and routine.
In the morning I get up, turn my lights on, and move my blankets from my bed to my sofa. Then I go to the bathroom, wash my hands, make my breakfast, and watch TV. Only once I’ve done all this am I ready to start the day. If this routine is messed up in some way I have to start again or I won’t get anything else done.
Routine helps me to keep my anxiety levels down, and it helps me to stay focused on whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing.
I also love repetition, like, really love it. I watch the same things on telly over and over again. Specifically, Friends, Scrubs, and House. I’ll watch the entire series, and then go back and start again.
5. 5. It’s not just Asperger’s I have to deal with.
A lot of people with autism also experience anxiety. Growing up with the knowledge that you are different and that you struggle more than other kids can take a toll on your self-esteem. So far I have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, anorexia nervosa and pseudo-psychosis before turning 20.
After four years of therapy I can now manage my mental illnesses, and I’m fortunate to have a supportive family and a great group of friends to help me out. I also keep busy as a mental health and autism campaigner, which builds my self-esteem and gives me a sense of purpose.
6. 6. I am not Rain Man, but I’m not unintelligent either.
If you drop a load of toothpicks on the floor, I can’t instantly tell you how many there are (sorry). Most people with autism aren’t geniuses, but that doesn’t mean we’re dumb.
My brain does take a little bit longer to process things. I might be a little bit slower than the average person, but I’ll still arrive at the same answer. I got an A* in GCSE mathematics and an A in A-level biology.
I don’t appreciate it when people assume I’m not capable just because it takes me longer to understand things. My brain works differently to the average person’s, so don’t expect me to learn like everyone else.
7. 7. I’m OK with being alone.
I can cope with being alone for long periods of time; in fact, being alone helps me recharge, because I don’t feel pressured to “act normal”.
I know I can come across as being quite antisocial, but in fact I’m just selectively social. Socialising is hard work and exhausting to me, so to use up my energy efficiently I choose when and with whom I want to spend my time.
Being alone is different to being lonely. I like being alone, I don’t like being lonely. I do like spending time with people I trust, like my friends and family. Having a group of supportive people around me is important to my mental health, but I don’t need people there all of the time.
8. 8. I don’t really understand eye contact.
Eye contact is weird: Why do people feel a sense of connection when they stare at someone else’s eyeballs? Sometimes people think I’m ignoring them, because I’m not looking at them, but the truth is I am probably trying very hard to listen and understand what people are saying, I just find looking at people uncomfortable.
9. 9. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ I’m weird. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
One of the best things about having Asperger’s is that I have a vivid imagination; my daydreaming abilities can easily trump the average person’s. I love thinking, imagining, and questioning things. I revel in my interior world of imagination because there are no restraints.
So yes, occasionally I come out with some weird sayings and sometimes I seem like I’m a million miles away, but I wouldn’t change my brain for the world. Asperger’s syndrome is a struggle, but the positives outweigh the negatives. I don’t need a cure and I’m not broken. I’m different and I like the way I see the world – in fact, I quite like being weird.