I nearly disclosed my fairly recently officially confirmed autism to my family, last week, while I was with them. We were discussing my nephew and the ongoing
challenges real struggles he’s faced, making the transition from high school and living at home to landing in a vast academic jungle of an Ivy League university in the crowded northeastern US. I stressed that he really is a “textbook case” of Aspergers, and if he can just get a clear understanding of his issues, he stands a much better chance of managing them. And getting his life back.
While I was making the case, I didn’t say “when he understands”, I said “when we understand”. Or something like that. Something not only about him, but about US. Because I swear to God, he is One Of Us.
How could he not be? Impossible, I say. Impossible.
But the conversation was cut short. I had to start towards home, on my 9-hour drive across several states, from one major region to the next. Across mountains and valleys and rivers and streams, long stretches of highway flanked by ravines with beaver dams and lodges in the swampy bottoms. I had to go. I had to conserve my energy. And anyway, my family didn’t want to discuss it. They barely acknowledged it. Said, “Oh, I’m pretty sure I’m dyslexic.” Or “I’ve got ADHD.” Or ” — ” silence. Crickets would have been louder.
So, I let it go. I got in my car. Jumped out again and gave them all one more round of hugs to make up for the quick embraces I pulled away from so self-consciously just minutes before. Then headed up the road. Till I got home.
I’ve been home for nearly a week, now, and I’m still not “all here”. I haven’t been able to type very well. The words get turned around, the letters get jumbled. And all the while, I feel like I’m coming out of my skin. Being back in this cubicle, having these work conversations about work subjects with work colleagues… it all feels so strange to me, so distant, so peculiar.
Of course, it doesn’t help that I’ve been on meds for poison ivy that really knocked me out. Benadryl does that. And now I’m using a topical steroid creme that’s absorbed into my system, even if I’m not eating it. I can’t take steroids of any kind. Prednisone turns me into someone I don’t recognize, and it’s rarely a positive development. Dr. Jekyl / Mr. Hyde. I’m sensitive. What can I say?
Anyway, since returning from my aunt’s funeral, I’ve been noticing an awful lot of things. I’m tired. I’m taxed. My system is overloaded on many fronts. And that makes me even more sensitive than usual. It’s a recursive, self-referencing sort of noticing, too — I don’t just notice more things. I notice that I notice more things. And more things. And more things about more things.
I notice how much I’m bothered by all the noise and light in the cafeteria at work when I’m standing in line for my food.
I notice how clumsy I am – so clumsy that my soup spills all over my desk, and I need to go back — yet again — to stand in line to get something that (this time) won’t spill, if I drop it.
I notice how I start to twitch and shake, as I stand before the counter, all the fluorescent lights over and around me blinding me — hold still, hold still, stop twitching and jerking… just look at your phone — and the deafening roar of overhead exhaust fans causing me to withdraw, slow down, abandon words — tell the deli woman your order in a loud, clear voice, and hold onto the counter so you don’t tip over…
… the way I wobble as I make my way across the teeming room to the line of cash registers — steady, steady, keep your gaze locked on the sign hung on the wall — the way my ears betray me, so I can’t understand what anyone is saying to me — just pull out the slip that has the order written on it, so the cashier can wring up the order —
… the way my fingers fumble and falter as I pull out my ATM card to pay for my sandwich — did she notice? No, I don’t think so. I think I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m really fine. Now go — Head for the door and get upstairs to your cubicle where you can sit down and eat something.
Steady… steady as I go.
I notice this. I notice it all. Usually, I’m so rote-inized (think routinized without thought involved) and my movements are mechanical, automatic, so I can shut off my senses and just motor through without too much disruption.
Not today, though. I’ve been away…. out of this routine… out of this element. Suddenly (after such a short period of time) everything seems strange and unfamiliar and faintly threatening. Unsettling. Like I’ve stumbled and fallen through the veils that usually hang between me and the world in which I live and move and make my daily wages… reaching out to clutch at them as I fall… I pull a few of them down. Rent. Spent. And they can’t be hung up again.
Not right now. Not till the drugs get out of my system… which could take days, if not weeks. Yep, this is gonna take a while.
At the same time, this unsettlement is nothing new. It happens sometimes. It’s happened lots of times before, and it will probably happen again.
There’s no sense in getting worked up over it, losing my cool over it. I just need to keep up on my sleep and remember this is what happens, sometimes. Just hang in there and keep steady, as the input keeps washing over me, setting me off-balance, sending me careening in all directions, spilling soup, making a mess, turning my head around and making me woozy and wobbly. I just need to be extra careful about things I do, and how I do them…
Take care. And don’t get thrown off by everything I notice.
It’s a lot more than usual.
It’s a lot.