Last week I was so, so angry. I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the people who have taken advantage of me throughout my life, most of them men, and how my autism made me such an easy mark, and how it seems wildly unfair that so many people were so comfortable with being so unscrupulous, and that few of them will ever have to face that about themselves, or feel sorry for it, or suffer any untoward consequences because of it.
Most children learn not to take people at face value from a relatively young age. My little sister (TNC Ape, who has taken no crap since pretty much forever) was a far better judge of character at the age of 8 than I will ever be. I now know the peculiar make-up of my neuronal connections is what prevented me from developing much skill at discerning when people were not acting with my best interests at heart, and explains why the list of bad actors is ignominiously, maddeningly long, with the latest (I dare not say last) couple of entries having come into my life as recently as the last couple of years.
But anger is hard to sustain, and now that I’ve taken a moment to check my surroundings, I seem to have wandered into the intersection where morose meets hopeless. The normal, healthy response (not that I’m one to preach about that) to becoming aware of such things is to learn from one’s mistakes and move on. Few people ever actually do this. While I happen to have an actual physiological barrier that inhibits my ability to notice when people are taking me for a ride, that doesn’t explain why I continue to be attracted to (if not actively seek out) experiences and relationships that increase the likelihood of it happening.
The battery of tests I undertook for autism and learning disabilities screened for other mental disorders as well, and turned up, among other scab-ripping tidbits, a new unflattering feature: apparently, I have a relentlessly negative self-image that I constantly reaffirm by placing myself in challenging or futile situations wherein I have little hope of being successful.
I had no idea that I did that. I suppose some of the blame for this lack of self-knowledge can be laid at the feet of my ASD. In fittingly autistic fashion, my self-awareness exists in two mutually exclusive states: hyper-self-obsession to the exclusion of all other stimuli, or complete dissociation such that I cannot perceive the effect my activities are having on my mind and body. Neither of these lends itself to productive self-reflection.
But autistic or not, no-one likes to engage in the kind of self-reflection that entails confronting the possibility that their preferred company and experiences might be of a pathological nature. By the time one approaches the middle of her life, give or take a decade or two, she would like to think that she’s worked out the kinks and set aside the worst impulses (or at least mitigated them); that her patterns now do little harm and maybe even a bit of good. Once settled in, why would she want to start kicking over rocks again? I mean, dangit, it took a long time to figure all this stuff out. The last thing anyone would want to do is start over, pulling up trees and digging out grass, knocking down that fence over there and putting a new one up over here. That just sounds like so much damned work.
For the last two years, my proverbial yard has needed a lot of uprootings, replantings, and fence relocations. So any time I came across anything that wasn’t actively causing me physical or mental pain, I put it on the shelf of stuff I would look at some other time, in the future, after I got through whatever particular crisis had crashed in front of me that week.
But now, two weeks after this final surgery (I suppose a “so far” belongs in this sentence somewhere; consider it implied), no new flaming pile of wreckage has landed in front of me, nor are there any others forthcoming (see implication above). I have a relationship with a wonderful ape who has patiently allowed a sweet but somewhat obtuse TG Ape to convalesce at his house for going on three weeks with no sign of a loss of interest. I have a circle of incredibly supportive apes willing to help me with anything I need as I recover. I have even managed to find a telecommuting job in my field. It doesn’t pay much, but it’s enough to keep me going while I look for something long term.
I am secure. The dust has cleared. And as such, that poor, overloaded shelf upon which I kept stacking the not-immediately-pressing stuff has promptly peeled of the wall and been evacuated of its contents like a rotted roof beset by two feet of snow.
All of the usual players in my inner growth resistance movement arrived immediately, megaphones in hand. Petulance at having to dig through another difficult mess. Self-pity because of the circumstances that led to its accumulation. And, of course, fear. It’s one thing to be made aware of one’s own self-destructive behaviors. It’s another to know that for whatever reason, one is ill-equipped to avoid the same pitfalls in the future.
How am I supposed to know when I’m setting myself up for failure? How do I know that I won’t find new and creative ways to self-destruct that seem right just because they’re different? Most worrying, how will I know which people to distrust in the future? My record on that is zero to pick-a-big-number. I just can’t tell. If I want something badly enough, forget being able to perceive subtle warning signs. I’m already compromised enough in that department; add a generous helping of single-minded tenacity and what little awareness I do have is easily overwhelmed.
My friends and family have done so much for me already. How do I explain to them that I need what amounts to an adult baby-sitter when it comes to making these kinds of evaluations? Part of me bridles at the idea that I, who have struggled so mightily to learn how to function independently, have to finally face up to the fact that when it comes to certain, basic-human-instinct things, I will always have to rely on other people’s perceptions above my own. Another part of me wishes that I could just sit down and hand it all off to someone else and thereby completely absolve myself of responsibility for my own well-being.
Because what a lot of people don’t know about high-functioning autism is how incredibly tiring it is. I used to run myself into the ground just going about the daily tasks of adult life. By the weekends, I had too little left to even answer my phone. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t handle a “normal” (allowing for a little flexibility as to the definition thereof) workload. Now I know why, and I’m much stingier about borrowing from the future to keep myself on my feet. This is probably to the good as far as my health is concerned, but the result is a significant reduction in daily productivity.
If I have to manage a doctor’s appointment, a couple of errands, and a load of laundry all in a single day, that will completely tap me out. Likely as not, the laundry won’t make it to the dryer until the following morning. My efforts to compensate for this limited productivity led me to develop all sorts of time- and/or energy-saving workarounds, such as cooking a week’s worth of food every weekend because I will often be too tired to do anything more than operate a microwave by the end of a typical weekday. (Also, there’s a handy ASD trait that allows one to have no problem – even look forward to – eating the same thing every day. Lucky me.)
Now it appears that I have to acquire and assimilate on a whole new set of skills among the thousands of other ones I’ve painstakingly stacked and arranged in such a way as to enable me, at a considerable cost but one I’ve been willing to pay thus far, to go about the business of normal functioning. And I don’t want to. I’m already so exhausted by just doing what I’m doing, and it took years for me to figure out even how to manage this rather low level of independent competency.
And I should add that I remain perniciously frustrated by the fact that there doesn’t appear to be any sort of cosmic balancing or score-keeping going on. I’ve been through so much this last twenty-seven months. When do I get to stop? When do I get to take a break? When will I have learned enough to stop learning for a little while and enjoy the fruits of the painful lessons already suffered?
I suppose the answer is never.
F*ck that damn shelf.