This time of year, people try to find comfort in organization, budgeting, planning… any potential grip on controlling the future for peace of mind and sweet dreams. This organization takes on a damaging degree when people try to stuff people into boxes with neatly printed labels for their own comfort. This happens to me all of the time, and let me tell you, I don’t fit in those damn boxes. Quit trying to shove me in one.
Before I go on to explain more what I mean and what happened to me to prompt this post, let me paint a picture. My husband is an artist. Back in the late ’90’s, early 2000’s, when he had an art show, inevitaby people would show up and ask him in loud voices attempting to sound knowledgeable, “This looks like Cy Twombly, am I right? Or wait, but this part, this, this is… who did those paintings of the Polynesians, not Monet, was it Gauguin? Are you like Gauguin?”
I could see the anxiety and painful frustration boil up in him so hard. I would step in and take over the conversation, sending him to the corner with a pint of Guinness and a friend to hide with. At the end of the night, after hours of working the room and selling some work, I would prompt my husband to stop pacing in the house and to sit next to me on the couch. I would remind him it was a successful show yet his jaw was pulsing and his temples popping.
“Honey,” he’d say in an exasperated gasp, “They keep trying to pigeon hole me! Why?! Why can’t they just look at my work and recognize it as a David Nielsen original? Why do they have to force my work into a pigeon hole?”
My heart broke every time this happened. It was nearly every show. And I get it. I get both sides. He is an original with subtle influences, but the painting is all his. He is an original, he is proud of it and wants to be recognized as such. The stupid onlookers were happy art appreciators who were trying to find common ground with the paintings. Instead of doing as the artist bid, finding common ground completely with the subject matter and colors, they tried to show off their weak knowledge of art and tried to connect his work with famous artists they saw in museums on field trips. They meant no harm, but to a fragile artist’s ego, it was disasterous. The people let him down. He wanted to be outside the box, you see.
I happened to feel loneliness like I was not used to this past week. I’m trying to think of a time loneliness arrived and hurt so much; I fail to conjure up a similar memory. As a third child of four children and an extremely social person with a history of adventure and friend-making, loneliness was scarce. And apparently I learned at a young age to zip up the tears as fast as I could. So if I needed to cry I learned to tough it out as soon as I could muster up the strength to dry it up. This year I have learned to let it gooooooooooooo. When the tears come, I let them fall like Niagara Falls. My chest shakes, my belly convulses, my back vibrates, my legs tremble, and my heart bursts a million times over and over again. I have a lifetime of crying to do. Still. So when Sunday’s tears showed up, yeah, it was like a neverending tsumani of tears. And yes, you are right, (I can hear you ask the question as you read this) it was exhausting, thank you, and made me very thirsty and hungry. Because I couldn’t stop crying I called the Counselor Dude.
This dude who has been helping us suggested we talk after work on Monday. There was something we probably should have been discussing, “all this time,” he said. “My bad,” he said.
Ok- this cryptic language stuff doesn’t peak my curiosity and make me eager to learn more. I don’t think it’s cute. It makes me assume it’s a bad subject we’re about to discuss, in which I am the one at fault of some kind. And then when I find out it’s just someone trying to put themselves in a special place of authority over me, it just pisses me off. That’s a cheap trick in my book, and let’s face it, I’m pissed off at myself for not demanding the f-ing subject of the call well in advance, so I am not distracted all day wondering what the hell we’re going to talk about.
“Laura, we need to talk about your autism.”
Those of you who know me, even if only remotely well, probably either have their jaws dropped or an extremely confused, partially hoping-it’s-a-joke-and-waiting-for-the-permission-to-laugh face. I feel you. My response was a long pause followed by a tentative, “Okaaaaaaay…?”
The rest sounded like John Cleese, trying to sound American, trying to list off a preposterous mile of behaviors that either were not me at all or were what I would not consider autism at all. You might as well have put a cicada in one ear and a cymbal-banging monkey toy in the other. It was like David Lynch getting synced up with Monty Python by RJD2. But as a dutiful “student” or “patient” and friend, I tried to hear this person out.
“I swear I know more about autism than anyone else these days. I have such an advantage to knowing the subtleties of the autistic, those who don’t fit the conventional version of the spectrum.” OK- this person has no such scientific research or PhD or any credentials to be diagnosing anyone with anything. That should be well stated right now. This is not some doctor or certified therapist or professor or anything more than a hobbyist. Yet still I listen. “Okaaaaaaaay…?”
“See, autistic people don’t know when to stop crying. Just like they don’t pick up on the social cues to stop talking. And they tend to do things to the extreme, like you do. When you go into something, Laura, you don’t even know how to half-ass a job. You take it to the extreme.” That sounds like an embellishment but I get what he is saying. “Okaaaaaay…?”
“And there are other indications, like, for example, your story in Kenya. Did you even think once let alone twice about joining that wedding in the middle of the night or did you just do it?”
He is referring to a time in Lamu, Kenya, when my college mates were all getting their required shut-eye before a 5 AM high tide we had to catch, while I followed my host father to “a dance.” This led me up a dark alley and up a fire escape only to agree that I like dancing and suddenly be led, by the hand of a little boy, to the women’s side of a Muslim wedding. No men were allowed except for the musicians for the dance, so the boy dropped my hand and ran. My host father crouched in the fire escape and looked on from the building next door. I was the only white person. The music stopped. The dancing stopped. The clapping and cheering stopped. Everything stopped and everyone looked at me and gasped, “Mzunguuuuuuuu!” White ghost. And next thing I knew I was grabbed by the forearm and yanked into the dancing ring, encouraged to shake my hips jubilantly around the fire with the other ladies. Why would I say no to that experience? Apparently, that was “weird.”
He had many other small examples of times I acted in a way that was not “typical.” Neurotypical people would not be so “unconventional.” “And let’s face it, Laura, you are far from conventional.”
And I paused and had to ask, “So I am no longer supposed to let the tears flow as long as I can (his advice) because I have ‘a lifetime worth of tears?’ And you’re saying most people would not have wanted to dance at that wedding? And that most people would not want to make friends with nearly everyone they meet?”
There was a laughable, placating, ridiculous, “Noooooooo!”
“So that makes me autistic?”
“Listen,” the guy said, who does not want to be referred to as Counselor Dude but is far too devoted to therapy to be considered a mere friend. Yes, he has been extremely helpful all year until this event. “Just read these blogs from autistic women, understand their experiences, see if any of them resonate with you. If you can relate, you’re probably autistic and my strong suspicions will be confirmed. Because I have more than a hunch you are autistic. I am willing to guarantee it. And if you aren’t you aren’t, but it’ll at least help me understand how to work with you.” And now he is declaring diagnosis left and right. My brothers are autistic (he’s never met my brothers and has heard very little about them from me), half his coworkers are undiagnosed autistics, the President to be is autistic, and pretty much anyone who goes against the grain is autistic in this guys book. And yet I say, “Okaaaaay…?”
“Just consider it,” he says.
For a moment I wonder if getting the diagnosis of being autistic would help explain how I am different from a lot of people. I read the blogs. I feel for these women who have a difficult time making friends let alone keeping them. I feel for the women who have so much sensory overload during sex they can’t take it, or they have to tell their partner yet again to slow it down and only do one thing at a time and they must brush their teeth a third time first. I feel for the woman who can’t express how she feels. I do! But I cannot relate. I cannot relate at all.
So I take some online tests. Not only am I not autistic by those tests, I have such low single digit scores, to me I’m almost too neurotypical. According to the tests I am boring as hell and so typical! Or in the very least, so opposite of autistic. I share these results with Counselor Dude and his response is that he is not surprised. Those tests and those articles (he suggested I read, mind you) are “so skewed to only the conventional way of looking at autism,” that they don’t touch on the nuances he knows to be a special kind of autism. I am urged to continue to consider that I am autistic, because he is certain I am, and that I need to now ponder why I am more comfortable with the term, “weird,” than I am with “autistic,” because one is a judgement-loaded term and the other is simply a case of “understanding.”
So typical. So typical that a man with a preconceived notion of a woman, poor unreasonable woman, that all facts are skewed incorrectly and he must me right. He must win. He must conquer. He must force the issue. Or, let’s just say the male dominance thing is totally out the window, because he will emphatically claim that. He himself is “the most unconventional as they come.” Let’s just say that he just really gets off on diagnosing people. It makes him feel smarter. And once he’s gone so far, he has to go all in for fear it makes him look weak. Or, let’s take yet another more universal approach.
People feel most comfortable when they can put people (and things) in neatly labeled boxes or categories. Pigeon holed. Like the art explanation in the beginning. When someone fits outside the box, it’s uncomfortable. All is right with the world when everything fits into a neat description, on a label, on a box full of like things or people. I didn’t fit in the conventional box, he said. Every conventional approach to working with me didn’t work so he had to think outside the box and try something different that would work. This guy wanted to jam me into a box. This irked me. So a-typical must equate to autistic for the convenient brain who wants to organize everything into neat and tidy categories?
Can you imagine how I felt? How would you feel if someone were determined to squish and stamp and hop and jam you into a box in which you did not fit? I got angry. I got defensive. And if there is any place you don’t want to be with someone who is supposed to listen to you, believe you, and then help and support you, it’s defensive. Defensive is not the place where trust is renewed or strenghtened. Defensive is due to trust being blown to bits.
So here, people who look at me, this oddball of a person who loves meeting new people, loves working a room and making new friends and connections, and loves both telling and hearing amazing stories, and so wants to jump on a plane after the party and travel to someplace they have never been before and learn a new language and meet more interesting people and have incredibly sensual sex with consent and try new foods after that… try these boxes:
Woman – I am very much a woman.
Writer – case and point right here.
Adventurous – post-COVID you just wait!
Bisexual- pretty damn sure. Why wouldn’t I be?
Foodie- if my food posts don’t tell you this than I don’t know what will.
Dog mom – canines instead of kids.
Dancer- all the time, every day, around the apartment.
Independent – more and more every day. Born so. Raised so. Rebirthing as such.
But please, do the beautiful autistic people a favor, don’t try to shove me in their box. If anyone is going to get even more uncomfortable than me, it will be them if you do.
Thank you for reading. I welcome comments and questions.