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 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.