As of writing, the blurb on this website’s homepage says this:
I’m an agender (I use it/its pronouns), asexual, alterhuman robot. I’m also a bat on the internet. It’s all a bit complicated.
That’s quite a few adjectives, and that’s the summary. Clicking through to the about page exposes a whole avalanche of information, ranging from aspects as deceptively simple as my name to as off-piste as my non-human identity. (Or really, our non-human identities.)
To most people, I probably come across as having little to hide. Someone loud and proud of who they are, no matter the complexity or nuances of what underpins it.
But everyone has secrets. There’s an aspect of myself that I’ve tried to keep hidden for quite a long time, out of shame, out of fear, maybe even out of prejudice…
A short view back to the past…
I’ve known that I’m neurodivergent for a long time. Probably more than 15 years at this point. Hindsight, as always, shines a bright light on the past, making some past behaviours and experiences rather more clear.
Almost stereotypically, I was academically brilliant during my school years, but really quite rubbish at anything social. I was in the “Able and Talented” class. I related to robots more than people. I preferred keeping to myself. I would break down if I went too long without privacy—most notably when it came to several-weeks-long family reunions we would have every few years.
I often came top of the class in school, and I loved it. I was bullied a bunch in school, and it sucked.
Halfway through secondary school, I moved house. My parents had split up a few years earlier, my father taking my brother and moving to the opposite side of the planet. After a time scraping by as a single-parent, single-child household, we were finally moving on to ‘greener’ pastures. It was a fairly long distance move, at least by UK standards, about 45 miles. A new town, new house, new school, and no friends.
I didn’t even have a bedroom at the time, as it was in the middle of being renovated as part of the move. Instead, I slept on a couch in the attic (which was also mid-renovation, but mostly finished).
I did not cope well with this combination of circumstances. I had a mental breakdown. I don’t even remember the intermediate steps that came afterwards, but I ended up in front of a child psychologist. They (rather quickly, to my memory) delivered a preliminary report of autism, based on me being “resistant to change”, though held short of officially diagnosing anything.
I fervently disagreed at the time. I liked change, I liked when my routine is shaken up a bit, but those things are not equivalent to the total upheaval my life had undergone in the course of the previous few years. I refused to continue the sessions.
With hindsight’s grace, I know that I stopped because I feared a diagnosis. I didn’t want to have autism, and no one could stick that label onto me if I didn’t give them the opportunity.
The college years
As I got older, I got better at recognising when my brain was working differently from other people’s. I learned what annoyed them so I could stop doing it. I learned what stuff I found tiresome or uncomfortable so I could avoid doing them. I excused myself from invites to parties or gigs—knowing that I disliked groups, loud environments and obliged socialisation—with the excuse of being an ‘introvert’, yet I’d happily spend my weekends in crowded bars with the local furries.
College (which for you non-Britishers is something we attend around the ages of 16 to 18) was a turning point. I found ‘my people’. Folks that could probably be collectively labelled the goths, emos, weebs, nerds and, yes, furries. We called ourselves the Amerikans, a name passed down from those that had come before us, we even had our own area where we congregated when not in class. College was probably the most actively social time of my entire life. It was wonderful.
Academically, however, things were getting worse. Being a ‘gifted’ kid can only take you so far and college was apparently my limit. Even having selected subjects I was interested in—computing, politics, philosophy—I was struggling to really absorb or recall information. I excelled at writing code, designing websites, debating theory, and doing presentations entirely in John Major impressions, but come exam time I would struggle to recall even basic answers.
At home, my brother had returned to my mother and me after years of separation, him now sharing my bedroom due to a lack of any real alternatives. The bunk bed we had procured was too small for me, and it collapsed under my weight within a few days. I slept on that broken bed for years.
Between school stress, another loss of privacy, and puberty being puberty, I was getting more and more stressed out. I started having problems with breathlessness. I started having panic attacks. I started experiencing sleep paralysis. I had another mental breakdown, and I ended up in front of a counsellor.
In that first year, I failed philosophy. The first (and still only) class I had ever failed during my entire education. Theoretical knowledge passed through me like a sieve at this point, nothing managing to stick unless it was practical or hands-on. I realised then that, for me, academia was at an end.
This knowledge was carried through into university plans. I passed over courses that played to my interests but felt too academic in favour of studying website design. After all, I knew I could succeed at it, and I didn’t want to risk so much effort and expectation just to fail again.
There are a thousand more examples I could think of between the start of university and today that retrospectively add to the case. The world of work has made some other problems come to the fore. It’s only in the last year that I’ve noticed that I struggle with audio processing and have to really concentrate on what someone is saying to actually understand it, which makes it really difficult for me to be in long phone calls or take down notes during meetings.
So what triggered this particular confession? Other people being open about their own autism, of course! In this case: about stimming. Stims, or ‘self-stimulatory behaviour’, are repetitive actions that are a common behaviour amongst autistic people.
I was already aware I did some things that could fit this category. For example, I can’t stand having dirt under my nails, so I have a tendency to just scrape things along the underside of my nails to try and get the dirt out. I’ve done this for years, using anything from folded pieces of paper to staples to (my current favoured method) a spring bar tool from a watch repair kit.
However, it wasn’t until I came across a comic (part 2) last week that described the author’s experiences and stims, that I realised how many things I do are stims. I bounce to music, I repeat random sounds I hear, I twirl my hair, pick at skin, and wiggle and bounce and all sorts of other things. In all of these cases I thought they were perfectly normal, or I didn’t even realise I was doing them until I had a reason to be hyper-aware of what my body was autonomously doing at any one time.
Stimming alone isn’t indicative of autism, even neurotypical people do it to some degree, but in combination with everything else…
It’s taken me some time, but I’ve gradually come to terms with it over the last year or so. I’ve tried to be more open about it, I’ve discussed my neurodivergent foibles on my Mastodon account a lot more recently. I asked those that have known me for a while their opinions on how I behaved. Universally their responses, without hesitation—yes beeps, you have been blatantly autistic for as long as we’ve known you.
My obliviousness to it all has really made this feel like a sudden revelation, but I need to remember that it’s not. As far as anyone else is concerned I’m the same today as I was two weeks ago. Internally, however, I still feel a bit in shock, unsure of what to do about it, or if I should even do anything.
This story doesn’t have a conclusion yet. I don’t think I really need to seek a diagnosis—I feel fairly certain of it, and having a formal label put on it does little to help me in adulthood—and obtaining an adult diagnosis for autism is a challenge in itself in the current political climate.
I guess I just keep living.