This is going to be a more personal blog post than I usually do, and I’m uncertain how many others on the spectrum, if anyone, would identify with some of this.
Anyway, what’s been happening for me lately is the return of a perennial problem – a kind of deep-down restlessness. It’s afflicted me many times in the past, from childhood on, but I’ve never figured what it is I really want. I’ve tried assuaging it with this and that, speculated on what it might be from – winter blues, needing to be more creative, meditate more and better, go for a trip somewhere? - but with never any real answers.
I do know, or at least think, that it arises out of a kind of split or duality in my nature, two forces pulling me in totally different directions – and that have also been there my whole life.
On the one hand, is the side of me that likes order, tidiness, regularity, routine, everything fixed in its place, my life lined up like centimetres on a ruler. This side of me, as you might guess, is intrinsically linked to my autism. It’s the force that sees me religiously keep to my daily rituals, tidy my drawers so neatly that my mother once joked “are you sure you’re my daughter?”, and clean so hard it’s a wonder I don’t rub the pattern off things.
It’s also the part that gets flustered if things don’t go according to plan, or if something is out of place, the part that gets upset, or even panicky and close to meltdown, if there are serious disruptions to my routines and order. In recent decades, it’s the force that has driven me towards a semi-reclusive lifestyle, shying away from the world and curling in on my order like a wounded creature crawling into shelter. And in a sense, I was, and am. The world is messy, chaotic and unpredictable, and not nice to autistics. I’ve been damaged, as many autistics have been.
I’d be willing to bet many autistics, by this point, are nodding their heads and going “uh-huh, yep, I so know what you mean!”
But there’s another side to me.
It’s the side that craves stimulation, excitement, variety and yes, even change. That, every now and again, longs to break out of the box I’ve created for myself, this half-life that isn’t really a life at all, grab a few essentials, jump in my car and drive somewhere I’ve never been before, visit towns or even countries I’ve never been to, see sights I’ve always longed to see (Eiffel Tower, anyone? Stonehenge? No?), and do things the orderly side of me would look at in horror.
It’s the side of me that even remotely contemplates a relationship, even if it’s at some distant time in the future – something my other side shies away from like a nervous horse. It’s certainly the side of me that wants to see more of my aspie friends, be more ‘sociable’, have more of a life, in short.
It’s also the force that compels me to write, the side of me that, more and more, wants to grab the world by the throat, yell “listen to me!”, and tell them what it’s really like, being autistic. That wants to shout from the rooftops the truth of my life, and that of others on the spectrum. That wants to go back out into the world as a strong, independent and authentic aspie, and tell the world to Deal With It. Whereas my other side would prefer to stay cowering in my little cocoon of safety, hoping no-one will even notice I’m here.
The tension between these two forces within me is powerful. My orderly side would be quite happy living a near-monastic existence on some remote hilltop or plateau. My excitement-seeking side, however, would prefer the beating heart of a city. Tugged this way and that, by this need and that, I lurch from isolation to interaction and back again. I go away for a few days, enjoy myself, but then gratefully flee back home into my orderly little shelter. (Or should I say shell?) I go to an event, and then come home and crawl into bed for a couple of days. And so on.
At different times in my life, one side or the other has ruled. In my younger years, for example, my more adventurous side pushed me into social movements like feminism and anti-racism, fighting for the principles I believed in. I waved placards, chanted slogans, marched and demonstrated to stop the Springbok tour, defeat sexism, deny nuclear ships a welcome on our shores, return Maori land, and generally demand a better, fairer world. I was an ‘angry young woman’.
But then I started getting sick, and disillusioned, and heartbroken. So the ‘order’ side of me began to assert itself in a slow withdrawal from the world. And since exiting a very toxic relationship nearly twenty years ago, it’s been winning hands down. But now I feel like I’m stagnating… so the other side of me is breaking into flower again.
Overall, it’s definitely time for a weather change in my life. My autism and my CFS do pose limitations, it’s true, as does my sheer lack of funds. (Guess Stonehenge will have to wait a while.) But I do want, somehow, to have more of a life, live more authentically and more vibrantly. Somehow, I have to find a way to do this.
Watch this space.