It’s not just genius boys.

I started reading NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman. In truth, I started it a while ago and have been having trouble picking it back up. I think I am tired of thinking about this. Tired of thinking about myself. But as I was listening to this audiobook whilst walking my dog just now, I started to get angry. The author has interjected several times throughout the narrative that the public view of autism spectrum disorder has leaned heavily toward the white cisgender male but then proceeds to primarily tell the stories of white cisgender men, these quirky geniuses who all made invaluable contributions to science and technology but all seemed to have trouble relating to other people socially and blah blah blah. To be fair, it was published in 2015 by a white cisgender man so I guess it’s not all that surprising. I didn’t know what to expect and, though it had been recommended to me, I actually borrowed it from the library because the library recommended it and it was available now. Okay, reflecting back on it now, I guess this was predictable. I am not even sure if the author is autistic, but I digress. This book is making me angry.

I’m also grateful for TikTok.

I just want to let it sink in that I’m typing that and publishing it to the Internet but I truly am. I am able to read this primarily mainstream and stereotypical view of autism and actually see myself in it and throw away the parts that make me feel excluded, knowing that this is not all there is. It’s because of the women on TikTok sharing their experiences. I just finished reading a part of the book where the author talks about how these genius boys conceived of and invented the Internet, how they were able to create networks of science fiction fans through letters and ham radios who all worked together to inspire the invention of technology as we know it today and it’s through a similar network of 1 minute videos we are building a network now. It’s through membership, however tenuous and possibly temporary, that I can recognize the characteristics in these narrow descriptions and see them out in the real world in a variety of activities and environments. The patterns are the same and TikTok taught me to recognize these patterns and helped me to see them everywhere so that I can accept them in myself.

This sounds a little bit like sci-fi and I’m reminded of Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed series and how she talks about “the pattern”… I also think about how drawn I am to the collection of truths she compiles in The Parable of the Sower and compiles into Earthseed: Book of the Living. Wait, but my point was how “the pattern” I’m talking about is not culty like that… but if it seems that way, now you know way.

In any case, I guess I’m glad the world is changing to accept a more diverse view of autism but the fact that it’s changing right now in this way and people are so resistant to change is exactly why I am so anxious about having this conversation with myself. So here we are.

Maybe I’m stupid.

Feeling a lot of guilt today. I have younger sister with an autism diagnosis and, in a large family, she grew up being bullied a lot, both at school and at home. I never picked on her, except for the few times where I just lost my patience and said something quick and rude that had everyone laughing at her expense. Though I was always quick to make sure that she was eventually laughing too, I remember these times because they stick with me and hurt me. I don’t think it hurts because I hurt her but because I don’t want to be someone who behaves that way.

One thing I never fully grasped was how the things that bother you about other people are actually the things that bother you about yourself. As a depressed person with what I am pretty sure is undiagnosed adhd, my fuse can be a little short in the car. It’s short everywhere but only behind the wheel with no ability to remove myself from the situation do I get so worked up that I resort to shouting and name-calling out of pure vitriolic rage. These other drivers make me so mad I call them idiots and tell them they’re stupid. I tell them they shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house because they are so dumb. It wasn’t until my sister told me how she’d confronted her partner’s fatphobia while they were behind the wheel calling everyone a fat-head or a fat-ass or something that it clicked for me how, at the height of anger where emotions are highest and reasoning is the lowest, the insults we hurl say more about us and our values system than it does about the object of our wrath. Like, in my messed up view of the world from best to worst, I’ve internalized stupidity as the objective worst. But it’s not objective.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my autistic sister and why I couldn’t have been better to her. I’ve been thinking a lot about how her behaviors make complete sense to me and whether that means that we have some lines of thinking in common or if I have just been around her enough and am perceptive enough to have gotten to know her a bit. My own sister. But I don’t honestly know. In truth, the answer is never within these narrow binaries I’m mining but that doesn’t seem to stop me from going down that route.

I used the insults in traffic just as an analogy to illustrate how the qualities in others that bother us are usually qualities we don’t like about ourselves. I was thinking that I have had this aversion to my sister because there are similarities and, while this is true, and while there are also similarities between myself and all of my siblings, one of the reasons my sister was diagnosed and I wasn’t is because she is intellectually disabled. I guess it makes sense that, if I think the worst thing in the world is to be stupid and if I am terrified that I am stupid, I would certainly resent any similarity between myself and my sister, whom I perceive to be stupid. But these aren’t my values. These are the same values that told me I was gifted and I could take care of myself and I didn’t need anything that tell my sister she is insufficient, she’s different, she can’t participate, she can’t take care of herself. I used to hear the way she spoke to people, the things she would say, and just cringe because it always sounded like she was reenacting a bad sitcom, complete with the over-dramatization. But if I think about it, isn’t that also how I learned?

So many of the lessons I learned growing up are flawed. Everything I learned about racism, about capitalism, about religion… even things I learned about science, about language… I don’t know why I thought my understanding of intelligence itself would be left unscathed but I think it’s more malleable than I thought. And I think there are different kinds of intelligence. We all have inherent value. That’s the thing I wish I had been taught and internalized. We all have inherent value.

Finally, someone understands me.

I recently “read” Unmasking Autism by Devon Price, PhD. I feel a little guilty when I say “reading” because I tend to listen to audiobooks on double speed since that’s the only way I can seem to fully pay attention to the information I’m ingesting, but I digress. This book hit so close to home and in so many ways that I am going to give it another listen but go through the accompanying PDF at the same time. I tend to struggle in identifying which of my experiences are unique and which are universal. I’ll have a full-blown epiphany and share my findings with my boyfriend who will report back that it’s common knowledge and then I’ll go to a meeting and see everybody nodding along to what I thought was an objectively bad idea and wonder if I am living in an alternate reality. So, I thought working through this would offer a more objective view.

While I haven’t started yet, the first step is to “find your why” where you uncover your values by remembering five moments in your life when you felt like you were FULLY ALIVE (it appears in all caps like that) and describe moments from all different phases of your life in as much detail as possible, also thinking specifically about why the moment was significant. I will think more in depth about this when I get to it in the book but I have been feeling anxious about this ever since I printed off this PDF. I was really struggling to remember ever feeling fully alive. It feels so long since I’ve even been partially alive, let alone FULLY in ALL CAPS. And then I had a really good job interview this morning.

I was not expecting it to be a good interview. In fact, every stage of this process has been bizarre. A recruiter reached out to me on LinkedIn a while back with a job description and asking for my resume. I emailed my resume that day because it looked like an interesting opportunity. He wrote back “great resume!” and said I would hear from someone the following day. A week went by and I didn’t hear anything when one morning, I received the same message he’d sent me on LinkedIn but via email. So I emailed him back and said I’d already forwarded the resume but if he had any feedback or something I could do to improve my chances of getting a call back next time, I would be open to receiving this information. Then I logged into LinkedIn and saw my email to him in the recently sent messages, which is when I realized that he had only messaged me once. LinkedIn sent me his message again via email and that’s what I was responding to. Like a fool. So I apologized, then he apologized and said he would put me in touch with someone from the company he represents. I’ve had a few interviews and, while the recruiter seems like he might be new, the actual conversations have left me feeling hopeful.

The recruiter called me Monday to say they wanted me to meet with this consultant who has been doing the job they now want to hire a full-time position to do so I said I was available on Tuesday or Thursday. We set a tentative plan for Thursday. He said they would send me a calendar invite but they did not. In fact, the time for the interview arrived and I’d received no way to join the interview (which I assumed would be a web call) nor even a confirmation that was happening. After a few annoying calls with the recruiter, I was finally able to connect directly with the consultant and we found some time to speak this morning. It was incredibly validating, whether or not I end up getting this job.

The part that stood out to me the most was where she talked about how, just from the way I had answered the questions she’d asked me, that I was thinking systemically and that to think this way is rare. RARE. This was news to me but it explains a lot, I guess. I honestly don’t know which of my experiences are universal but maybe I should just assume none are? But maybe this explains why I’ve been bashing my head against the wall for years wondering why no one else is asking the questions I am asking, why people are so willing to go along with work that is inefficient or doesn’t make sense, why no one ever seems to care about why we are doing the things we’re doing.

I read things like “work connects to larger organizational objectives” and “time and effort are valued” and “expectations are clearly communicated” on the employee engagement surveys my employer sends out to all of us to complete every year and wonder how everyone else is answering. And today I spoke with someone who not only asks these same questions but even understands that people do not ask these questions, that it is rare for these questions to be asked.

I continuously find life to be SO CONFUSING because there are so many instances where the qualities or behaviors or ideals that a company or an organization or a family or a church or a society or a nation SAYS IT HAS are, in fact, the opposite of the qualities and behaviors and ideals that are rewarded by said company or organization or family or church or society or nation. It felt refreshing to be able to speak openly about the things that I value to someone that seems to genuinely value those same things. I’ve spoken too often about these things to people who seem to enjoy and even gain energy from the words I am saying while simultaneously misunderstanding, misconstruing, invalidating, or even mocking what the words actually mean.

There was even a point where I, a scatterbrained disaster, lost my train of thought maybe halfway through my sentence and she not only picked up the thread but accurately predicted where I had planned on taking it. To feel so understood is… a gift, truly.

I want to learn more.

I applied yesterday as a transfer student to the local state school to finally finish my Bachelor’s degree after twenty years. It felt foolish to only realize recently that I really enjoy learning. It makes perfect sense. Of course I enjoy learning. But, for me, school was never about learning, and maybe that was the problem. I struggled to get through the social and sensory nightmare that was high school. I struggled with classes and getting assignments done in college while I tried to reinvent myself into all the things I thought I should have been before that and simultaneously coming to terms with sexual identity, which ended up getting me kicked out of the private religious university I’d chosen. I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t process it. I just changed directions and went to work. When I attempted to go back almost ten years later, my focus was on finishing the degree so I would have the degree and I based my program of study on what I thought would be helpful with where I was in my career—a career I didn’t actually choose but just sort of landed in.

I think it wasn’t until I started reading about neurodiversity, specifically autism, that I realized just how many decisions I make not based on what I want or what interests me, but how I think I can be successful in the world as it is. Maybe it helps that I’ve been seeing a lot of evidence lately that what I once perceived as “the world” might very well be the capitalist mask of white supremacy and patriarchy and that, to be authentic, I need to separate my goals from the goals of capitalism and really sit with what I want for myself. I still exist under capitalism and so there is always the constant question of how can I turn this into money? but I’m still a long way off from a full-on career change.

When I first met with a student transfer specialist, I shared my story and my transcripts and I was told I was still three years away from graduating, even after close to six years of collective undergraduate schooling and over 150 credits. At first I was discouraged and overwhelmed but I’ve thought a lot about it. I’ve also been reading a lot of books about autism and neurodiversity. I love learning but it’s obvious I have so much to learn. So if it takes three years, it takes three years. Initially, I think I was imagining three more years of dry management courses and case studies in organizational development. But if it’s three years of learning and becoming an expert in something I actually like, well… that’s probably what I was going to be doing with the next three years anyway, just without help.

I’m hoping more states with follow New Mexico’s lead and offer free public education at the undergraduate level. Maybe sometime within the next three years…

I don’t know why.

I have therapy tomorrow. This always stresses me out. I journal and write notes and spend hours just trying to analyze my world, my behavior, my feelings, my motivations—when I have them—just to have an idea of how to express what’s been going on so I can get help that actually helps. I feel like I have had to become so articulate and I still struggle to find the right words to describe exactly how I am feeling.

I also have my second appointment with a new psychiatrist tomorrow. Meeting with my therapist beforehand is helpful so he can coach me on how best to approach the discussion and which things are important to bring up. I don’t know. I wish there a better way to communicate the insides of my brain. I have always felt a little detached from myself and my motivations. When I try to describe what’s been going on, I often feel like I am guessing. Like, this is what happened, this was my reaction, so it makes sense that I was feeling X or Y but I think the truth is I don’t really know. I am not in touch with myself to really understand what is going on so I try to observe and speculate, like an observer of my own experience.

My partner is upset right now because I admitted earlier that I’d been smoking cigarettes. He asked me why and I listed a few reasons but the truth is, I don’t actually know. It’s disgusting. It doesn’t taste good. It doesn’t smell good. But it makes me feel something. How many destructive things in my life have I adopted just to feel something, even if it was a feeling I didn’t particularly enjoy? At least it feels different.

The mask is melting.

Trauma. I picture little baby me trying to get his needs met and retreating inside himself when those needs felt like too much. I picture little toddler me stumbling around the house in jewelry and high heels being told that these are girls things. I picture a cocoon made of wax that I slowly built up around me both to keep rejection out but to keep those parts of me that faced rejection in.

I was a quiet kid. I don’t think I wanted to be a quiet kid but I never felt like I could compete and so I’ve always felt more comfortable stepping back and letting others fight to be fed. But I watched.

I learned.

I learned how to not feel my feelings until I convinced myself I didn’t have any. I learned how to put myself in uncomfortable social situations until I convinced myself I was outgoing. I learned how to use language, and sarcasm, and satire, until I convinced myself I was charming and funny. I learned how to be mean.

Jesus, this is all over the place. The mask is melting. I am feeling like a raw nerve walking around in the world, feeling only pain from everything I touch. I was driving behind a big white SUV with a tinted back window and I couldn’t see the traffic in front of me. This has bothered me ever since I can remember but, today, it was intolerable. I was legitimately considering turning into oncoming traffic to get around the larger vehicle when we came to a yellow traffic signal and I could justify stopping to myself to give the vehicles in front of me some distance. We were driving home after looking for very specific sneakers for three hours. Because they have to be the exact brand and colors that I am picturing in my head, whether or not such a thing exists, and no other shoe will do. I don’t remember being like this before. Although, maybe part of it is the pandemic. I used to work downtown next to a bunch of stores and I remember spending entire weekends by myself strolling from store to store trying to find the perfect this or that, always asking myself if it was something I’d seen in an ad somewhere or just made up in my head and needed to have. Maybe it’s having a partner trailing behind me that increases the anxiety. Maybe it’s some hidden factor I can’t determine. Whatever the cause, I feel like I am becoming more and more sensitive by the day. The things that were always a little uncomfortable have become downright intolerable.

I know this sounds like depression. I have had a diagnosis of major depressive disorder since I can remember. When I was in middle school, I remember telling my parents while on the way to bed that I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. (My mom said that made her sad and kissed me goodnight.) I have two suicide attempts under my belt and have taken time from work on three different occasions to go through Intensive Outpatient. I actually just took twelve weeks of disability leave in the fall to go through ECT but that’s a story for another post. The point is, I am well acquainted with my depression and I know it sometimes shows up as irritability or with anxiety… but I keep coming back to a suggestion that was made to me once that depression might be a symptom of trying to function in a world that wasn’t built for me.

But I have functioned in the past. I think. I guess it depends on the definition of function. To a degree, I am functioning now. I have a full-time job, though I work remotely and there’s some interpersonal conflicts at work that have resulted in me having a pretty small workload. I’ve had a full-time job since I moved away from home. I should be grateful. I want to be grateful. Despite all of the mistakes I’ve made, I’ve been consistently employed since 2006 and I actually have a relatively high income and I hate myself because I am drowning in debt and I can’t seem to figure out how to convert income into paid bills and savings and assets. I was thinking I had this great success in my past that I was drifting away from and in trying to build out the contrast, I am seeing right now as I’m typing it how I am just a repeating pattern, a spiral staircase, not sure if I’m going up or down. I started working late in life but have been employed since. Yet my performance reviews all read similar to my report cards from when I was a kid.

Smart but lazy. Has so much potential if he could just buckle down and do the work.

I picture myself in this wax cocoon I’ve built up through years of coping with trauma and many more years watching traumatic things happen to those around me. I built this thick hard shell to keep myself safe and protected. But I’ve been passed around and jostled and there are gouges and scratches and the shell is wearing thin. There’s a fire somewhere and it feels like the heat is coming from all directions and it’s starting to melt and pull away.

I can’t be calm right now. I can’t be caring and understanding and sage right now. I can’t be productive and innovative right now. I can’t be smart and witty and charming right now. I can’t be friends right now. I can’t be lovers right now. I can’t be family right now. I can’t be professional and courteous right now. I can’t understand your double entendre right now. I can’t figure out why your face is moving like that or why your voice sounds like that right now. I can’t figure out what to eat right now. I don’t even know if I’m hungry right now. I can’t be political right now. I can’t fight for social justice right now. I can’t create right now. I can’t plan ahead right now. I can’t stick to a schedule or enforce a routine right now. The mask is melting.

It runs in the family.

I am the oldest son of an oldest son. I have six younger siblings. My dad had seven. I have been typing and erasing for an hour because it’s hard to understand this tenuous relationship between my dad and me without all of the context. He is the chaotic presence I blame for the lack of structure and security growing up. My life has been plagued by poverty and housing insecurity with waves of religious trauma and addiction. I want to write about how he went to jail when I was in kindergarten and how my twenty-something mom moved her four kids into a homeless shelter. I want to write about how in my memories, there was a chunk of time when my dad was not there, and then he was. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned he had actually come home at some point after getting out of jail and chose to leave us again. I want to write about the various bouts of homelessness or him getting fired from jobs for stupid mistakes and thinking he was above any kind of rules or regulations. But I guess the story of a son wanting to grow up into anything but his father is not so unique.

Yesterday we went to a party my uncle threw for his daughter who just graduated med school. The contrast of how my dad’s brother has built his life fills me with regret and envy. Moments after arriving and taking in the scene of the giant back yard with tables and chairs and tents and coolers, the fire pit, the gravel bocce court, the cornhole setup, the trees, the grass, the in-ground pool, the crowd of people laughing and drinking and smoking, one of my brothers arrived. It must have been bothering him, (or maybe he just thought I’d want to know,) because soon after our hellos, he was telling me how my dad almost got arrested this week. My mom’s car has been acting up, (the latest in a history of transportation-related insecurities to go along with the homelessness,) and my dad took his car to go get a part for hers. Except he was driving on a spare tire and apparently ended up getting stranded when another tire went flat. The details are foggy but this somehow turned into him getting drunk and getting himself home somehow, where he said he’d had enough of “this life” and left again. Evidently, the local police called my mother the next day to tell her he’d been found passed out in someone’s yard. He is 64 years old. I can’t help think of a serious talk I had with my boyfriend the last time I got drunk and lost control. “You’re almost 40 years old!” he said, like there is a certain age where drinking to black out might actually be appropriate. I felt intense shame in that moment and it’s a second-hand feeling of shame when I think of my father, a few months from 65, drinking himself unconscious in a stranger’s back yard.

Then it was maybe 20 minutes later that my mom and dad arrived at the party. I didn’t even want to look at him. But I watched him. I wish I could know what everyone was thinking. I see my dad, the oldest brother, laughing and playing around and I just feel embarrassed because I don’t see anyone laughing and playing around with him. I have this craving for belonging, for community, that swallows me up sometimes and makes me feel like I cannot exist without the validation of a group. I’ve grown up feeling like I ought to feel like I belong in this giant family, this crowd of people who all look like me, but always feeling excluded. When I was young and my family was homeless, did we get help from my grandparents or my aunts and uncle? I know when I was older and my dad’s sister was struggling with substance abuse, the rest of the siblings swooped in to take care of the children. My uncle and a few of my aunts just flew out to see my cousin graduate. From the outside, it feels like my father’s siblings think of him as the disabled sibling that they don’t want to deal with. “He’s special so we just let him do his thing.” He doesn’t get invited to things and he doesn’t have the means to contribute to things financially like they do. Where we’ve struggled so much over the last 30+ years and continue to struggle, I see other parts of my family caring for each other, building relationships and taking care of one another. They know each other. But no one knows me.

Maybe this is all in my head.

I think I might be autistic. It feels.

It feels surreal even to type those words, though I’ve said them to myself so many times. There were so many clues over the years that I didn’t know how to interpret, (or didn’t want to,) but thinking of myself in this way now somehow pulls everything together in a way that makes sense to me.

It feels a little silly to have come to this conclusion with the aid of social media. Primarily the aid of social media. I have talked a little bit about this in therapy and my therapist is always supportive, assuring me it’s a good thing to be seeing myself in the stories of others and immersing myself in things that feel affirming. But if I, an almost 40-year-old man, mention TikTok in conversation, I’m often met with patronization or rejection. I guess it’s not often but if any of my peers are familiar with this particular app, it’s more in the context of comedy and trendy dances and less about neurodiversity and autism. But they say the algorithm shows you what you want to see so maybe it’s telling that while all of my friends want to see something light hearted to escape the lives they live in the world, I am looking to dive a little deeper into something that makes sense of the the life I live in my head.

It feels rather foolish to be starting a blog in 2022. I thought about putting this out into the world publicly, with my name and face behind it, but it just felt too scary. I want to explore this part of my identity and make sense of it and maybe I’m not actually autistic but I want to know that, too, if that’s the case, and why does it feel so scary? At first I thought it was because I was afraid of how the neurotypical people I know would react. But I realize I’ve craved belonging for as long as I can remember so it’s not as though I am risking something with their possible rejection. But it’s all the reactions I’ve experienced so far at the very notion I might be some flavor of neurodivergent that makes me question whether this sense of belonging I feel to the autistic community is authentic and how it might feel to face rejection from this community. I’ve always heard “but you never had trouble in school,” “but you have so many friends,” “but you have a successful career,” but you don’t do this, but you don’t do that, and while discouraging, I can see where this is coming from a neurotypical perspective, always, and based on neurotypical expectations of how neurodivergence would ought to appear. It’s one thing to hear “no, you’re not one of them,” but “no, you’re not one of us,” hits more painfully.

*on the nose

in 12th grade i took ap english and i had a really hard time with uncovering symbolism. another student in the class was really good with understanding subtext and whenever we had to work in small groups to debrief a piece of literature, he was always the one who told the group what the book was actually about and while it always made sense to me right away, i would get frustrated that i wasn’t able to interpret them for myself. after expressing it to him in confidence once, the student assured me that as long as it made sense to me, that was the important part. whenever we were in small groups, though, and another student would say something that he thought was accurate, the first student would always gently issue his nose a few taps with the tip of his pointed index finger to indicate that the student speaking was “on the nose” and i always really enjoyed that.

*gay porn

when i was in high school, my dad’s friend whose family mine was living with at the time because we were homeless, found gay porn on his computer that i had downloaded. he and my dad had a sit-down with my to talk about the perils of porn from a religious standpoint but they never mentioned that it was gay and i’m still not sure if my dad knew.