Monday, July 26, 2021

Dilemma (I Need Your Insight!)

 I've had a couple of people refer to me as "autistic" recently, like, in the last week. 

I'm not -- officially. I don't know whether I am or not. I don't know if I should care whether I am or not. I don't know whether I should even find out if I am or not.

I certainly have a number of traits that suggest I'm "on the spectrum" somewhere. I find social cues difficult to pick up, relying instead on my empathic ability to read and analyze the energy in the room.  I "zone out" very easily; deviations from a routine can throw me, sometimes a fair distance. Repetition is comforting. I have sensory sensitivity, to both light and noise. I can get kind of fixated on a word, or one specific meaning of that word. Much of what the world does makes no sense.

But then there are things that suggest I'm probably not: I don't have issues communicating with neurotypical people (any more issues than anyone else, in my estimation). It's not as if I can't tell if someone is angry with me. I don't miss sarcasm when it floats by me on the wind. I'd like to think I'm hygienic (I know of a couple of autistic people to whom it simply doesn't occur to ever brush their teeth, for instance). 

There's one very large thing that has kept me from investigating. 

 If I go get diagnosed with autism, I am afraid of losing my identity. From that point on, I feel as if my name will no longer be Ken Breadner: it will instead be Autistic Autism. Everything I do will be done despite or because of autism. That scares me. Not only would I become Nothing But A Giant Walking Pile of Autism, I would become The Very Face of Autism -- which  I am definitely not. Autism does not have just one face: it comes in flavours and intensities and I'm afraid of being burdened with a diagnosis that provokes a host of untrue (and unexamined) assumptions. 

All of this is especially true because if I AM on the spectrum, I'm indisputably at the high end of it. ("High" is not a value judgment.) Is it worth getting slapped with an honest-to-Freud mental illness?

Imma let you in on a little secret: if you have depression or anxiety, I don't consider you mentally ill. If you DON'T have depression and anxiety, quite frankly, I don't think you're paying sufficient attention. Anxiety and depression feel like sane and rational responses to the world as it exists in 2021. No, I have always -- and this is my failing -- reserved "mental illness" to apply to those people who go on killing sprees and do interesting things with the heads. Or people who can't leave their houses. I recognize how damaging this mindset can get in that it seems as if I'm ignoring anything that''s not catastrophic. But like most of my mindsets it's laden to the point of collapse with good intentions. 

It's desperately important to humanize and de-stigmatize mental illness. I think there are two ways this can be done: one, the common way, is to promote the radical idea that people with mental illnesses are people. This is, sadly, a bridge too far for some. Enter the other approach: simply look past the mental illness to the person beneath. 

I struggle mightily with this in so many contexts. I feel like we are always trying to divide people by affixing labels to them, and then running stricter and stricter purity tests for those labels. This is invariably done in the name of unity--but all it seems to be doing is uniting opposition. 

Consider "colour blindness". For reasons that escape me, this went from something we should all aspire to circa 2000 -- even 2010 -- to something that is mocked and ridiculed a scant decade later. We're told it's not possible to be truly colour-blind...and it's demanded that we pay obeisance to every sliver of identity that distinguishes us from each other. Anything we all might have in common seems to go all but ignored. 

Likewise with mental illness. Am I autistic? Perhaps. Am I autistic enough? Probably not. Have I the least desire to deliberately put myself in a place where my own personal identity is replaced with a (cringe) disease and then told I don't fit THAT identity, either? Not on your life.

But desire is a moot point if it's something I should do. "I don't wanna" stops working when you hit puberty. 

So...what do you think, folks? Should I go get my brain poked and prodded to Name That Monster within it? Or should I remain only suspecting?

Please let me know.


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