The Life Autistic: Is This What it is to Be Human?

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I was once a colder man who cared far less.

Yet since I’ve thawed, I am still bewildered.

Now I’m less a robot than before. Whether by design, intent, or happy accident, I’m not quite sure; I now find things provoking responses in me that are more human.

To a normal life, it’s “being a person.”

But on The Life Autistic, it is discovery.

For example, I was on a conference call that went so far south, it crossed the equator and beyond the tropic of Capricorn.

One of my customers was put in an extremely difficult spot. The exchange was testy, awkward, and alarming. The palpable tension strung taut among the audience until it finally unspooled, detangling in a nervous mess.

Where the Hunter of years ago would have considered it bad, this time, it evoked a different feeling.

I felt bad.

Not just about the situation, but for the person.

Is this what empathy is? It was as if their discomfort and hurried resolve to save face echoed within me. I went from observation to seeking their consolation.

Mind you, I’m just support personnel. The Business Analyst. The data cruncher. The numbers guy.

I am the robot by role, by design.

But I care now.

The next day, I took a deep breath. My gut said “write a note, be encouraging, use your words and not just your data for support.”

It might have penned one hundred words tops, but it took me almost half an hour: 10 minutes to write, 20 minutes being all anxious about sending it.

And off it went.

It may sound trite, but for me and people like me – this is novel.

It gives me hope.

As the great sages of our age, Daft Punk, reminded me: maybe I am indeed human after all.

The Life Autistic: How I Survived School

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How did I manage through school?

Easy, I was homeschooled. Next question.

Ok, so there’s a little more to it than that.

Due to a variety of factors that included moving every 2.5 years, cost, flexibility, religious reasons, you name it — most of my schooling ended up being done from the comfort and constraints of my own home.

My parents hadn’t quite cracked the code on my autism yet, but they did find that I took to the setup of this ACE curriculum, something that suited my independence and autodidactic attributes all too well.

“You mean I can just rip through all of this at my own pace? I don’t have to slow down for anyone? SOLD!”

Oh, Hunter, if only you knew.

It explains a lot of where I mined out advantages and ran into disadvantages in The Life Autistic.

Sure, it freed me to flex my skills in almost unimpeded (even if narrow) learning.

But I had to navigate social skills elsewhere.

Would I recommend the experience for others on the spectrum?

It’s hard for me to say.

It would have been nice having friends, even if it meant maybe making enemies.

It’d have been good to learn how to adjust and adapt to others sooner, rather than later.

Perhaps I’d have hated the regular school experience more, but I’d have hit the obstacles then and not later. I might have had a shot at passing as “normal.”

But I didn’t.

I remember the day I finished my last test. I was 16.

That afternoon, I told my boss: “Hey, so I’m like, done with school? Can you flex me up to 40 hours now?”

I was a free man and ready for life.

So I thought.

 

The Life Autistic: Say No More

IMG_5762.JPGYou’ve been quiet today, H2.

Yeah, I know.

It happens.

Even to the most adapted, “high-functioning,” disciplined folks in The Life Autistic.

Sometimes we just stop talking. 

There’s a condition that some autistic folks either have or express: selective mutism, which is more or less a way of clamming up, shutting up, and shutting down.

I honestly can’t speak for those with selective mutism; the only experience I can speak to is mine own.

There are days when I’m embarrassed about how much I talk.

There are times when I feel I’m the only one speaking in turn, turning a conversation into a monologue.

There are instances where I say something I shouldn’t and feel the sting of embarrassment flooding my face.

There are topics in which no one responds.

Those things mute me.

Like a locking vice on my jaw, I feel myself close down and shrink in those moments.

And I say nothing or less than nothing.

Not that the words aren’t there.

Not that I don’t want to contribute again.

The Life Autistic has with it an odd voice, sometimes blistering, boisterous, effusive, monotone, polyphonic.

But when shuttered, it is withdrawn.

It doesn’t last forever.

And in fact, sometimes it brings out the voices of others.

You’ve been quiet today, H2.

Is…everything OK?

That is the start to making things OK.

The Life Autistic: We Need Exit Strategies

Glass_exit_sign.jpgI completely lost the plot this past Monday.

After just one too many days in a different house, with 10x the amount of people I’m normally around, doing only 5% of what I’m good at, and feeling the walls figuratively closing in, I snapped.

It took me a while to cool off and reflect on where I’d tailspun out of control, devolved into an incorrigible mess, and both shut down and shot back at every living thing around me.

And here I thought I’d become more enlightened this past year, in command of reason, existing in an astral plane above the fray.

But no.

You can’t enlighten your way out of autism.

My attitude is my own, and so are my reactions.

I should have better owned how to handle and navigate around them.

We need exit strategies. 

There are some situations, setups, surroundings where we just can’t simmer down. Too many people. Not enough rooms. Too loud. Too quiet. Too boring. Too busy.

If I’m not doing something I feel has purpose or progress, I get cagey, irritable, and eventually explosive.

If I can’t sneak away and take some quiet time relatively alone to reset, I shake out into a rage.

It’s as if the small pressures build into an overload, a meltdown.

Yes, a meltdown, even as a grown adult.

****

The Life Autistic sucks sometimes.

I’m embarrassed by not growing out of it, not yet unlocking a level of conquering that makes me feel like I can be above every fray.

And while I’ve worked hard to adapt, some situations shred away the armor, tear off the mask, and goad my core in spiteful reminder that, yes, I’m still much the same Hunter within.

But that is the life indeed.

While I discover the ways through, the ways forward, I’ve always got to keep read the way out. 

Sometimes that’s the only way back in.

The Life Autistic: Why We Don’t Do ‘Resolutions’

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It’s New Year’s Eve, and if you haven’t started your parties yet, you should do those and come back to this.

But if you’re here: we autistic folks are not ones for ‘cheap, tacky, trendy resolutions.’

“Gee, that’s odd,” you might think. “I thought you all loved routine!”

We do. At least I do.

Which is why we’re pretty much set in our ways, and resolving to do things differently is a carefully measured choice and long-term effort.

For us, resolution is not a “thing to do” to ring in the New Year.

I’ve carried out two major, life changing actions as an autist, and neither of them could wait until some popular, traditional point in time.

See, we like being unique.

Undergoing (and often failing) some annual ritual of life change is too mainstream, popular, and the wrong kind of normal. For me, I need more successes, and a New Year’s Resolution isn’t giving me good odds on one.

When I resolved to cut down from being a whale to a moderate walrus, I needed to make it personal, not popular – and I needed it on my terms.

By New Year’s, I had something better than a resolution.

I had a habit.

If you’re the type for resolutions, good on you. Maybe you’ve done well. If so, awesome.

But if not, take a page from the autistic playbook:

Snap. Change. Continue. Forget about when and just go with what. Be different, personal, private, but purposeful.

Happy New Year. 

The Life Autistic: Our Kind of Christmas

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I’m taking a break for the holidays.

To my usual readers – catch you later!

—-

To those of you out there on the spectrum with me:

I feel the irksome woes of routines being all askew this season.

I don’t like that much either.

Christmas and the holiday season should be fun, but I get it, it’s just different. The shake-ups can shake you up.

They’ll be doing the same to me.

Hang in there.

Cheers,

H2

The Life Autistic: Why We’re Never All That Excited about Anything

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My wife, a wonderful human, has come to me quite often before, expressing her jubilation over legitimately awesome things: artwork, design, experiences, even things that happen to me — you name it.

She’ll then turn and ask:

“Aren’t you excited?”

I nod.

I grin, even.

I do try to sell it.

“…yeah….no?”


She hasn’t yet stormed off after asking what’s wrong, or how any normal human could fail to be excited or enthusiastic about things.

But we know.

I’m not a normal human.

I don’t get all that excited about stuff.

While depression is a serious challenge that many of us autistics face in some shape or another, that’s not always the root of our excited-less-ness.

Emotions are tough for us to understand, to process, assimilate, and synthesize. Not that we lack them, but they wax and wane in different ways, and not always for what we should get excited over.

But it’s OK.

We get that you’re excited, and we’re happy for you.

We’re just not always on the same bandwidth. We get excited about different stuff.

My wife chided me for being more giddy over the BattleBots final than I was for when I was promoted at work, or something truly important.

We’d help if if we could.

So am I excited, ever?

Rarely.

But I’m OK.