Those of you who know me well will know that I am spending the winter in Mallorca. I have run away. I have left my job, my home and my poor unsuspecting husband and come away to a foreign place where I will spend my first Christmas ever away from Scotland. If I had had my way, this would not be my first Christmas spent elsewhere.
No prizes for guessing that I am not a fan. I seek solitude and peace at this time of year, and I find the whole seasonal hooha completely overwhelming. Yes, I have had Bah-humbug fingers pointed at me for long enough. And I always give in. I always do the Christmas thing because it's, well, it's what you do. Isn't it?
Apart from the fact that I tend to celebrate the Solstice rather than Christmas, and - as a Druid - I gently navigate the dark months of deep inner soul tending, I just can't go the whole enforced jocularity thing. You see the thing is, Christmas, for people like me is like the perfect recipe for overwhelm. I have always been like this. I enjoy the magic, the snow, the cake. But the shopping and the travel and noise and the groups of people day after day and having to be so...fucking...happy about it all, when really what I want to do is curl up under a blanket in front of the telly and eat chocolate? No. No. No. No. Just...no.
Am I just a miserable bitch?
Possibly. Probably. But there is a bigger, more important reason. Important to me anyway.
This will come as no surprise to those closest to me, with whom I have shared this information quietly over the past few months, but it seems there is a VERY good reason I don't much like Christmas ( and parties in general) There is a reason I feel overwhelmed by crowds, and noise and having to socialise too much and too often. There is a reason that I get freaked out by too much food, by bright lights, by too many colours. Why the merging smells of pine and turkey and scented candles conspire to give me a migraine. There is a reason why the whole thing requires me to lie down in silence for hours, if not days, afterwards.
Here's the coming out part. In April this year, I was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (Asperger's Syndrome)
Of course, this is nothing new. I didn't just develop AS. I have always had it. I was born with it.
It explains a lot. It explains many of the difficulties (challenges, is that what we call them nowadays?)I have experienced during my life, including eating disorders, anxiety, OCD and depression. It explains my obsessiveness, my poor boundaries, my deep and private internal processing, my social awkwardness. It explains why I have an IQ for 150 and yet why I sometimes can't count the correct change in a shop. It explains why I can balance on one leg, or on my head in Yoga but often fall over my own feet. It explains why I don't always get jokes, why I hate practical jokes, why I don't know when I am being teased, and why I get so upset when I realise that I am. It explains why I trust too much and too readily and why that means I often feel let down or taken advantage of. It explains my sudden, seeming burning of bridges (I may have been processing for months - even years - when this is the first anybody has heard of it)
It also explains why I am sensitive, psychic, and deeply empathic. It explains why I have the heart and vision and drive of an artist. It explains why I can see details in things that no-one else can see, and my ability to photograph them so beautifully. It explains my passion, my activism, my ability to love deeply and fiercely and with unswerving loyalty. It explains my support for the underdog, the oppressed and the marginalised. It explains my my nose for whisky and wine (even though I hardly drink) and for perfume (even though most of it makes me feel sick) and for the subtleties of aroma than nobody else can detect.
In short - sugar and shite. A blessing and a curse, this autism thing. And I am learning to be with this new identity. It is only now that I realise how big it really was. And as I shared the news with my nearest and dearest I recognised that it wasn't going to be an easy thing for them to assimilate. Your loved one or friend has a "disorder" that has affected her whole way of being. It's easier to carry on as if nothing has changed. And of course, nothing has changed. Because well - it's still ME! The same me who has for her whole life had to learn strategies for being in the world, ways of passing as "normal".
So if I can pass as "normal" (NT we call it in the autism world = Neuroptypical) well, what's the problem? Just do that and we'll all be happy.
No. Not doing that any more. It's exhausting. I'm exhausted.
And it has pissed a few people off. People are hurt, and sad and worried. And I am not unaware of, or unsympathetic to this reaction. I have - literally - run away. Not from myself. Of course, that is impossible. I have learned that lesson too often. I haven't spent the past few years of deep process in body and mind to get to this point and avoid the "work."
The thing is, even though nothing changed, EVERYTHING changed. As an autistic person I have the ability now to view myself from the perspective of someone with a disability. Although I don't particularly consider myself disabled, I know that I am - in official terminology - "disordered." Official terminology is moving from using "disorder" to using "condition" and I don't much like either term. Like many autistic people, and others whose brains vary from NT, I prefer "Neurodivergent." My brain is not wired like Neurotypical brains. I think, feel and perceive differently. And this can be challenging and disabling as well as a wonderful gift.
There were times, pre-diagnosis, and throughout my life, when I thought I was going mad. When I was really struggling. Despite my intelligence and creativity and ability, there was something wrong with me. I didn't fit. And others could see it - giving it their own labels: "weirdo", "arrogant", "not a team player", "loner", "malcontent" . Now, I realise that in trying to pass as NT - even though I didn't know that is what I was doing - I was literally denying my own reality, exhausting myself and proving to myself more and more that there was something wrong with me.
In running away this Christmas, I have given myself space and time to be autistic in whatever way it manifests. I am still working, on a reduced schedule and on my own terms and I am engaging with loved ones back home in a way that feels manageable for me. They don't all like it. I understand that. But I trust that they trust me to know what is best for me. In being here, I am discovering my boundaries, my rhythms, my needs for food and sleep and company in a wholly different way. Without the pressure to pass as anything other than who I am, because I am not required to be anything here, other than simply be here.