women and AS

The Legacy of Asperger’s Syndrome and Being Diagnosed As an Adult

There is a legacy left in the wake of childhood and adolescence lived unknowingly superimposed upon what is the foundational hard-wiring of difference and social disconnectedness that are central to the reality and scope of Asperger’s Syndrome and that form different ways of thinking and perceiving that are outside the ebb and flow of the landscape of the stratum of social terra firma. A legacy of defectiveness that my personhood was engulfed in and defined by through the judgment of the NT masses.

A legacy created by the reality of not having been diagnosed and informed so many years ago.

When the way one thinks, perceives, and experiences the world is then challenged and one is labeled  weird, bullied by others for their differences as I was as a child, the legacy is one of ominously oppressive observation that leads to a negative association of all that it means to be who one really is. Being who I was as a kid was definitely not okay for so many reasons. Reasons that all these years later are all befuddling and bound together into one heterogeneous conglomeration of massive weighty wearisome foreboding familiarity.

Never mind the underlying reality of the social impairment of Asperger’s Syndrome the obliteration of any competent feelings of esteem and worth for who I was were annihilated. I fell of the wheel of life. Little did I know all those years ago that the wheel of social life that it felt like I actually fell off of was one that I never truly got to ride in the first place.

The reality of the social impairment and disconnectedness of the Asperger’s that existed underneath all of my experience unbeknown to me until I was 40 was formidable and painful and has definitely left in its wake an aching of longing as a legacy in my life. A longing that has been misleading. A longing that really wasn’t ever mine. A longing for all that I was told I was supposed to want, supposed to be, supposed to do and supposed to achieve, learn and be adept at. The longing was driven by how others defined me. It was driven by what others thought was who I should be, how I should be, what I should be interested in, what I should and should not pursue.

This long-enduring legacy in my life – this Asperger reality – cast a wide dubious and damaging shadow over my perception and experience in life and my psychological understanding of myself. There is nothing short of heart-ache associated with the great lengths that I went to try to pretend to be normal. I so tried to be what I thought it was that everyone else was. I failed miserably all over the place, and in each and every stage of life. (socially)

As an aside but also illustrative of the legacy of this hidden Asperger reality in my life, I was a lesbian growing up not knowing that, either, in a world that tried to teach me what my role as a taken-for-granted heterosexual woman was expected to be – that I would grow up, get married, and have children. When none of those things were unfolding in my life in my early and mid-twenties I can liken that experience somewhat to finding out about having Asperger’s and to having been banging my head on my Asperger wall as hard and as often as I pounded my psyche into the wall of sub-par woman for not getting married or having 2.5 children, to say nothing of the dog and the white picket fence.

I have managed the dog but that’s all of that dream that I was told I wanted that I could make come true. After all it was never my dream. It was society’s expectation of me. It meant I was flying in the face of a cultural norm. That’s lonely territory, but barely when compared to being socially clueless at the hands of what was most of my life a well-hidden and totally unrealized and overlooked enigmatic entity – Asperger’s Syndrome.

Legacy handed down from the past. A past in which a neuro-typical world tried to ram this round peg into its square hole over and over again. That took its toll. Legacy, the word, can also pertain to old or outdated computer hardware, software, or data that while it still may well function, does not work well with more up-to-date systems. That’s how I feel in a way. I feel that I do still function and in a way I have always functioned but much like an old computer functions, in a very tossed aside and not appreciated kind of way. I function differently from the NT masses just as an older computer functions differently than a newer one. It may not be adept at all the new bells and whistles of its social and user-friendly software but leave it to its own device, literally, and it will still get its job done, in its own way and its own time.

Falling Off The Merri-go-round of Life – A Ride I Wasn’t Ever Really On

My childhood was a world unto its own in so many ways as I look back on it. I remember my first day at grade school, kindergarten, I was four, almost five years old. I had been led to school by a neighbour girl after my mother had asked her mother if she would take me to school that day. This girl, who lived down the road was all of five. She was however more schooled in the ways of the world than I was. As we arrived at the school yard I was lost. I felt as if it all wasn’t really real. It was too much. Loud yelling and playing and screaming. Too many voices. Too much noise. The sun was so bright. I felt hot. I felt dizzy. I felt overwhelmed. None of those feelings were foreign to me, even at the age of four. I felt exhausted and the really alarming part of my day was yet to unfold.

With all of this play on the playground, all of the frantic mind-numbing activity, suddenly there was this very loud bell that sent a shrill pain of panic right through me. I didn’t know what was happening to me then or why. I just ran. I bolted. I took off. I ran all the way home and in record time. That was it. I was four and already I had enough of this normal life out in the what was such a foreign world to me. That bell had just blown a hole clear through any sense of being that I might of had. It had assaulted my entire existence.

I was of course dragged back to school, kicking and screaming by my mother. Once the bell was explained to me I learned to live with it. But, I could only live with it after I had made a point of knowing when it would go off and paying particular attention to that. I would worry about it and anticipate it long before its scheduled two rings each day. I managed to survive the bell ringing because I was able to plug my ears and somewhat protect myself from its daily assault on my being.

School, the merri-go-round work of childhood, was for me the very un-amusing ride off of which I fell abruptly, brutally and in many lasting ways. It made little sense to me for so long because I love information and I always loved to learn. I just could rarely go a whole day at school with all the stimulation, noise, and light that assaulted my senses in ways I had no reference point from which to understand.

As l recall from my childhood, while things were never really alright in my world, those shaky anxiety-producing experiences morphed into monumental trepidation of mammoth proportions when it was time, at the age of 12, to go from grade school to junior high school. It was a change I simply could not and did not cope with. I never knew why. From that point on I was on a mission to just opt out of what my imposed daily routine was. I had no way to cope with all the things that inundated me endlessly in all of the chaos that was class after class in sprawling buildings (we moved twice when I was in my two years of junior high) that I could never master finding my way around in.

Ironic that I would often get lost as I did in high school too. The getting lost just added to the reality of the fulility of even trying to be there at all. My school struggles left me feeling so damaged, so less than everyone else. I never dated in high school. I didn’t have friends at school and except for answering the odd question asked of me by teachers most days the whole day would go by and I wouldn’t utter a word. I talked to no one. I was suffering and suffering badly in so many ways. Some ways I found out about in my early 30’s as I dealt with mental health issues but I wasn’t really going to be able to put it all together in a way that imperfectly as hell made perfect sense until, at the age of 40, I found out that I had Asperger’s Syndrome.


When It Hurts – And it Does Hurt

Though I did not know I had Asperger’s Syndrome, as I said above, until I was 40 years old there was always its palpable pain present in my persecutory experience of what it meant to just fight to exist. So often so much hurt. The lights at school hurt. The cafeteria noise hurt so much I retreated to eating my lunch alone in the washroom.

I just couldn’t relax enough amid the noise and lights of the cafeteria to actually swallow food in there. The pressure of doing what everyone else was doing also really got to me. The socialization that was everywhere confused and overwhelmed me. I never really knew what to do.

I have lived in a world of hurt. When I could retreat to my own world I could find relief from most of my hurt. I would then only have to endure the enigma of my weirdness. The consternation of the judgment of others that I was beginning to impose upon myself. The reality that I wasn’t cutting it. The fact that all I knew I wanted and needed was my quiet dark room. My own world and to be left alone in it.

When it hurts I wonder, where is it I go? When it hurts I wonder, where is it that I am? When it hurts I wonder where have I always been? When it hurts it puts me in touch with the infinitely  infallible precision with which I have always been here. Here, under all of this pain. Under all of the “supposed to’s” and feelings of being different and weird.

Here, I have always been – here. Way down deep under it all. Under it all. So under it all. Under the constriction of trying to pretend I was normal. Under the negation of not knowing how to be who I really am instead of who everyone has tried to tell me I “should” be.

What kept me so under it all was really not knowing or understanding what “it” really was or that “it” was there and that “it” had so much influence and meaning in my life. It – Asperger’s Syndrome – was defining much of my perception (socially) and my experience in life (emotionally) and I didn’t even know it.

I think I get now, at the age of 50, that when I was flooded with such grief and utter despair that caused me to feel hopeless and suicidal for the better part of my 44th year – a year I spent actually trying to come to terms with having been told I had Asperger’s Syndrome four years earlier – wasn’t as much about all that I’d come through that had to do with mental health issues as I had originally thought.

There was that for sure. There was a sense of loss that I had worked so hard to become mentally healthy and to recover from so much – I wanted to be normal – damn-it – only to come to this brick wall of “you-are-never-going-to-be-normal-period – Asperger’s Syndrome.

Okay I relent, I surrender, I am not ever going to be normal That is finally okay. I radically accept that. I did, however, in reaching to be normal recover and heal from major mental health issues and I can honestly say that it was my quest to be normal that led me to the gift of average mental health – nonetheless. There are truly serendipitous blessings in all things.

Life has taught me so many times the hard way that it is important to note and notice and be grateful for all the times we do so much for one thing, that we can’t have or may never attain, but that in those efforts, there are other rewards. Rewards in the way of increased awareness that answers questions that we didn’t even know we had – the questions that even if we could have more awareness we’d likely be far too afraid to ever ask.

Questions that when understood by the unveiling of their unasked for answers solve the riddles we had yet to even ponder in any consciously-aware way.

This is why I have come to be a firm believer that it is so important to learn to live the questions. Living the questions of our lives and ourselves and our pain leads us to answers that we have no reference point for which to search until our experience in life unfolds in the form of questions. Questions arise when we meet with obstacles.

Obstacles are not stop signs.

In my experience obstacles are detour signs that take us down the highways of life that will yield us the bounty that we really need to uncover in our lives. If I had not been led down the scenic highway of having been sexually abused, raised in a dysfunctional abusive family, and having been diagnosed with a personalty disorder I would not have even been on the car in search of the normal whose yield to me, though it fell short, was not only average mental health but also the revelation of Asperger’s Syndrome in my life.

Asperger’s Syndrome the one remaining piece of the puzzle of my life. The left over lost legacy of what it means to truly be who I am.

But even more so than that dream I had to be normal the despair and the grief had an entirely different layer to it. I have just recently and slowly uncovered this layer. I am still uncovering it and really I may always be in some stage of its further being uncovered. This layer has all to do with the painful experiences of my childhood and adolescence.

Experiences that were enriched through their ability to cause me pain, in retrospect, no doubt, because I have Asperger’s Syndrome and I had no way, then to know that, as I know it now.

I had not yet been formally introduced to my Asperger wall of pain or its unending burdens and blessings in my life. There it was, my Asperger wall, stone cold, thick, inpenetrable, my worst enemy and my best friend.

For years I had no reference point for the foundation of my difference or for this wall that I would slam into over and over again. A wall, my Asperger wall, that I still do slam into with predictable regularity.

It is my Asperger wall that holds the very sacred parameters of my ability or lack thereof to find my way in the social sphere of life. As I continue to push the limits of my own social impairment and social disconnectedness I continue to not only hit my Asperger wall, but I get to know a little better each and every time I hit it. I learn just a little bit more about the nature of the pain of being one way in the world, autistic, and of being constantly expected to be another way – neuro-typical. There are so many lessons that fall to the foot of my Asperger wall where I sit, from time to time, crying and still trying to make sense of it all.

My Asperger wall is a sacred and paradoxical reality. It is the lighthouse of my limitations and the harbinger of all my potential to continue to find compensatory coping strategies that little by little do in some ways broaden the horizons of even my social understanding along with my ever-deepening understanding of who I really am and how okay that really is.

© A.J. Mahari December 2, 2007 – All rights reserved.

A.J. Mahari is a Life Coach who, among other things, specializes in working with those with Asperger’s Syndrome and their partners, relatives, or friends. A.J. has 6 years experience as a
Life Coach and works with clients from all over the world.