Monthly Archives: June 2014

Formal assessment

Well, my assessment was yesterday. I still have to wait a couple of weeks for the results appointment. But at the end of the session, the assessor person told me she thought I’d very likely get a diagnosis.

Since the assessment I’ve been doing lots of research about the diagnostic tool that was used, the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule). It’s been very interesting to find out what the ‘expected’ responses were and how I compared.

Note: If you are expecting a formal assessment soon that might use the ADOS, I would recommend you don’t read the rest of this post. The assessment will be more accurate if you don’t know much about what to expect.

There were several activities involving objects and tasks. I assumed that they were the end in themselves, but of course it turns out they were just opportunities for the assessor to look for certain social behaviours. How very autistic of me to be so focused on the task at hand that I forget what the actual purpose was!

The first task was a simple puzzle. There was a laminated sheet with the outline of the completed shape, and then a set of foam pieces which were all the same shape, to be fitted together. When the assessor gave it to me, she gave me only a few of the pieces and said “Let me know if you need any more bits and bobs”. I thought it was weird that she didn’t just give me all of them straight away, but I didn’t even consider the fact that it might have been deliberate (my mum pointed it out afterwards!).

The task was actually supposed to see how I asked for the extra pieces. I was quite focused on the aim, so I don’t fully remember how I asked. I’m pretty sure I didn’t make eye contact, I think I just said something short like “Can I have some more pieces?” I remember that when I asked for more, she didn’t give me all of them – so I had to ask a second time to get the last ones. At that point, she said something like “It might need all of the pieces”, and I think I just said “Yeah” because – it obviously needs all the pieces!

Another task was to tell the assessor how to brush her teeth, imagining that she had “forgotten how to do everything”. When I looked this up, apparently the instructions are to “show and tell” – and the task is supposed to test how well you use gesture in combination with words. I can’t remember whether the assessor actually used that phrase, but if she did I must have ignored it. I told her using almost exclusively words. The only gestures I used were when I moved my hands in order to remind myself which parts I was talking about – and to check which hand was left and right so that I said the correct one.

Then I had to make up a story using some objects. The assessor got out a box full of things, and then chose five and told her own story with them. Then she told me to choose five of my own and tell a story. I chose a Rubik’s cube, a small red wooden cube, a black feather, a block of white foam, and a purple spiky ball. I had trouble thinking of any ideas for the story. The first thing I said was “This is a baby cube and this is the parent cube” to describe the Rubik’s cube and the red block. It seemed logical because they were the same shape but different sizes.

Then I said “They’re playing catch with the ball” and showed the purple ball moving between them. Then I couldn’t think of what to do next but eventually I said “this is a baby block as well, but it’s older” about the foam block – because it was a sort of in-between size (but not actually a cube). Finally I added the feather and said “This is like a bat, and the baby uses it to hit the ball”. Then I said that was the end. It wasn’t much of a story. When I looked it up, I found that it was testing your ability to assign personalities to objects (which I guess I… sort of did?), and your ability to make a story with a beginning, middle, and end (which I… definitely did not).

The next task was to tell the story from a picture book with no words. The assessor told the first few pages, then gave it to me to carry on. I noticed that she seemed to talk more about intentions and emotions, “The frogs want to go that way,” “The frogs are having fun”. When I carried on, I just described what was happening in each individual picture, “They’re going over some houses,” “They hit a washing line,”. (Yes, the story was about flying frogs). I didn’t really make any connections between the pictures or create an overall story from it.

The last activity was to describe a picture. I was given a laminated sheet that had a photograph of a piece of embroidered fabric showing a scene. I described what I could see in the scene – “There are lots of people around a table and it has food on it.” Then I tried guessing what the scene might be “It looks like it could be a party. Maybe a birthday because there’s a cake, although there aren’t any candles on it.” The assessor asked me where I thought the picture was set, and I said I couldn’t tell because all the people looked different. Then she said something like “It looks like it’s made of fabric. I’ve always wanted to get into quilting like that”.

I thought that was a kind of weird thing to say – why would she start talking about herself in the middle of an assessment about me? So I just ignored it and kept looking at the picture to try and think of more description to add. When I looked up the ADOS, I found that the assessor talking about herself was supposed to be a ‘cue’ to get me to chat. Apparently I was expected to ask her more about it or say something in response.

The rest of the assessment was mostly an interview, with questions about things like emotions and relationships. She asked what things made me happy/sad/angry, which I found really hard to answer. I said I thought being happy was something that seemed to happen more randomly, rather than as a result of specific events. And she asked me to describe how certain emotions felt, which I also found really difficult.

We also talked a lot about childhood, things like difficult making friends and having restricted interests. My mum said that there have been times where I get obsessed with something and don’t want to talk about anything else – she listed lots of examples, past and present. I found that interesting, because I thought that I was pretty good at ‘hiding’ my obsessions. I mostly just want to think about them alone anyway, so I thought I didn’t usually get into talking about them that much – but apparently I do!

It was a very interesting experience, and it wasn’t as stressful as I thought it might be. At the end, the assessor told me she has to get all the information together and consult with a colleague before she can agree on a diagnosis. I gave her a printed list of traits which I had annotated, and she said that would be very helpful. Now I just have to wait until the 11th for the results appointment.

Edges

I think that the edges of myself are not very well-defined. It doesn’t take much for me to lose track of where those edges are.

Other people’s edges are much bolder, so they overwrite mine when they’re too close. Socialising is when I can’t be sure which edges are mine and which are other people’s. Sometimes it’s nice, more often it’s scary.

Strong sensory input is dazzling and makes the edges too dim to be seen. Sensory overload is when the edges become completely invisible and all I can do is hope that they are in the last place I saw them.

Anxiety is when the edges seem to be shrinking in and cutting off the important bits of me, so that I can’t defend myself or block anything bad from getting in.

Meltdown is when the edges are gone completely. They shrink so much that they disappear, and everything becomes a part of me and I can’t escape.

Contentment is when I find something that perfectly fits the shape of my edges, and I can hold it against myself and it becomes – not a shield, not armour – but perfectly fitting clothing. Something that does the job of reminding me where the edges are, so I don’t have to keep focusing on them.

Joy is when my edges swell and grow and envelop everything I care about and it all becomes a part of me and everything is right.

Stimming

I’m not going to do an elaborate description of stimming in this post. I’m going to assume that anyone reading already has a rough idea. The short version is, ‘stimming’ is the name for certain repetitive and/or not-otherwise-functional actions. It’s common among autistic people as a way to handle sensory input and process emotions. This post is all about me and my own stims, I’m really just writing it as a way to organise my own thoughts.

I have three main categories of stim.

Grounding

I’m not quite sure ‘grounding’ is the best word for this, but I couldn’t think of anything better. These are stims which help me control and understand where my body is. They don’t actively feel good to do, but I feel uncomfortable when I’m not doing them. There are a few different categories:

  • Pressure. I always want to have my legs and/or lower body under some sort of pressure. Most often I have my legs crossed, curled up, or folded under me. I am uncomfortable in bed without a duvet over me, or at least over my lower half (which is horrible in summer because I’m also extremely sensitive to being too hot). When I’m sitting at/under a table, I normally try to press my hips or legs against the underside of the table by pushing my chair in as close as possible.
  • Movement. I rock back-forth or side-side a lot of the time when I’m sitting down. I frequently rearrange the position of my legs, or bounce one leg on the floor. I pick my fingers almost constantly, and fiddle with my hands in other ways a lot, too. I click and chatter my teeth together all the time (I get pretty bad TMJD symptoms as a result).
  • Touching. I spend a lot of time touching things around me. Any small objects get picked up and fiddled with – anything disposable will probably be destroyed (I leave a trail of ripped-up shreds of paper everywhere I go). I tap on surfaces a lot, and generally grab and touch my surroundings all the time.

Enjoyment

These are stims which are simply pleasant. Unlike the above stims, I don’t feel uncomfortable if I’m not doing them. It’s just that I can get sucked into doing them for a long time and don’t want to stop.

  • Sounds. Probably the most common. Certain sounds make me feel incredibly calm and relaxed. Mostly they’re things like, tapping, scratching, crinkling, rustling. One of my favourites is the sound of someone shuffling through a box of jigsaw puzzle pieces. When I’m doing a jigsaw along with someone else and they are shuffling through the pieces, I end up distracted to the point of not being able to concentrate, because it makes me so sleepy and relaxed. I also like making these sounds myself. But because of the relaxing nature, I prefer when I’m not the one making them – so that I can flop and enjoy the sound without physical effort.
  • Tactile/movement. I’m not quite sure how to describe these but they are definitely a category of their own. Certain specific movements of objects are really enjoyable. A simple example would be clicking a pen (although that’s not really one of my favourites). But also other things which have a clicky mechanism, like doing and undoing a clip or latch of some kind, or pushing something in and out of a clicking holder.

Anxiety

These are stims which help me handle and process anxiety. When I’m anxious, my usual ‘grounding’ stims aren’t enough. So I do different, more intense things in order to process.

  • Impact. Hitting things. Generally myself, but it’s not self-harm in the sense of wanting to hurt myself. It’s more that: I need to punch something, and a pillow doesn’t provide enough resistance to be satisfying, and so my leg is the best target.
  • Movement. I usually need to be pacing when I’m anxious, because if I’m sitting still I lose track of my body. I’m also likely to start waving or flapping my arms. It’s like I become even more distanced from my body than I usually am, so the input has to be more intense to have the same effect.
  • Tension. I find ways to make certain muscles or parts of my body tense. I often pull my hair – by grabbing a fistful and squeezing so that it makes even pressure over my scalp. I twist and wring my hands and fingers together, often squeezing and crushing as hard as I can. I will also grip and crush objects around me if they’re available.

Overload and shutdown

I had a busy weekend. In the course of about twenty-four hours, it involved:

  • Two long car journeys (including one which was almost double the expected length due to traffic)
  • Near-constant social situations except for sleep
  • Eating unfamiliar things in unfamiliar places, repeatedly
  • Sleeping in an unfamiliar place
  • Several busy social situations with lots of new people
  • Unstructured time in inescapable social situations

…and that’s just the highlights. Overall, it wasn’t completely un-enjoyable – it was just extremely tiring.

I thought it would be a good occasion to write about how I deal with overload when it doesn’t turn into full meltdown. The busyness was spread fairly evenly over the time, and I managed to get enough breaks to keep myself together until we got home – for which I’m quite proud of myself!

Noticing Overload

This is something I am really not very good at. When I’m in a social situation, I automatically switch to ‘NT-passing mode’. Stimming gets shut down, speech gets ramped up, and I start to drain all of my excess resources to keep it going. It requires an unsustainable amount of energy – that is, it takes more energy in a given time than I am able to renew.

But its only fairly recently that I even realised I had an NT-passing mode. I used to just think that I became inexplicably more sociable and energetic when I was forced into a social situation, even if I had been dreading it. In fact, that’s something that had me confused about depression for a long while, too. I used to doubt that I could be depressed, because I always seemed to be so happy when I socialised. But really, that ‘happy’ act had nothing to do with depression, it was just my automatic NT-passing kicking in.

So, I’ve learnt that I do have an NT-passing mode. But I still have great trouble identifying it. I can talk about it in a detached way like this, but it’s very hard for me to recognise it when it’s actually happening. And that can be troublesome, because it means I can’t always tell when I’m being overloaded (until it’s too late and I’m melting down).

My best solution is simply to learn what kinds of situation overload me, and then assume I’m being overloaded, even if I don’t actually feel it. I’m getting better at doing that – and this weekend is a good example. I knew in advance that it was going to be difficult, so I made sure to look after myself during the time – even if I didn’t think I felt overloaded.

Recovery

Being in NT-passing mode or in an overloading situation uses more energy than I can replace in the same time. That means that after the situation is over, I’ll be left with an energy debt. The longer-lasting or more difficult the situation, the greater the debt. In order to ‘repay’ that debt, I have to find a way to renew as much energy as possible, and spend as little as possible.

This is what I think of as a ‘shutdown’. I know that definitions of shutdown vary even more than meltdowns. Some people say a shutdown is a type of meltdown, or that it’s what happens before a meltdown, or after a meltdown, or it’s a meltdown in a specific situation… But for me, a shutdown is the opposite of overload – it’s the way I recharge my energy in the most efficient way possible.

There are different degrees of shutdown, just like there are different degrees of overload. If I’ve been socialising with my parents for a couple of hours, I will want to go to my room alone for a while afterwards. That’s the same type of response as when I sleep for ten hours solid following a huge party.

Defining shutdown

Shutting down involves two main things: 1. reducing the energy I’m spending, and 2. maximising the energy I’m gaining.

Reducing energy expenditure

  • I’ll always avoid further socialising after an overloading situation. Ideally, I would be completely alone until I felt fully recovered. Otherwise I’ll hide in my room away from anyone who might be in the house, or spend my time on independent activities and avoid unnecessary interaction.
  • I avoid physical activity. Although physical tiredness is different to overload tiredness, they feel similar. And physically exerting myself will drain overload energy as well as physical energy. I generally want to stay in the house and spend most of my time sitting or lying down. I often sleep a lot more than usual following an overload. Generally I need a pretty small amount of sleep, and I never nap during the day. But the day after my busy 24 hours this weekend, I slept in until almost midday and then dozed on and off throughout the afternoon. It’s disconcerting to feel so sleepy, but I’m getting better at accepting it as part of overload.
  • I avoid anything which may provoke anxiety. Anxiety contributes to a lot of overload for me, so I do everything I can to reduce it. This generally means avoiding any situation which is remotely threatening, difficult, new, or unpredictable.
  • I avoid thinking about anything too difficult. I’m in no state to make important decisions or solve problems – everything gets put on hold until I’ve recovered my energy.

Maximing energy gain

  • Stimming. Lots and lots of stimming. I find that I’m much more interested in large-scale movements when I’m recovering from overload. Lots of rocking, swaying, waving my arms, pacing. These movements help me figure out where my body is, which is important after overload – because NT-passing mode involves being very distracted from my internal state.
  • Physical rest. This is partly a way of reducing energy loss (like above), but it also recharges energy in itself. I sleep a lot, and when I’m not sleeping I’m flopping around or dozing or lying down.
  • Doing my favourite things. After overload I’m usually too tired to properly concentrate on learning about my special interests, or actively engaging with them. But doing things which are tangentially related makes me feel happier and calmer. So I’m likely to do easy special-interest-related things like watching my favourite TV shows, or even just thinking about my special interests.
  • Waiting. In the end, there’s nothing I can do to skip over a shutdown. Once I’ve been overloaded, I will have to spend time regaining energy. I can help that process along and make it more pleasant by doing all these things, but it’s still going to happen whether I like it or not.

Acceptance

My busy twenty-four hours was from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon. It’s now Monday afternoon, and I’m almost feeling back to normal. I’m still a bit more sleepy than usual (and I slept for longer than usual last night). I’m still feeling a bit more averse to going out. But I’m able to do some light socialising today, and my cognitive power is pretty much back to normal. I’m getting better at knowing my limits, and knowing what I need to recover.

Meltdowns and panic attacks

I realised after my latest post that I didn’t really explain how I learnt that my ‘panic attacks’ were meltdowns all along.

I spent so long researching meltdowns and trying to figure out if I experienced them or not. But it was only when I did more research into panic attacks that I realised my assumption had been wrong from the start. My first ‘panic attacks’ were when I was pretty young, so I just trusted the people around me when they told me that’s what they were. There was no reason to question it, because anxiety was the predominant emotion.

But one thing I came across when I was learning about panic attacks recently was “sudden onset”. Mine almost never started suddenly. Instead, they came after a gradual increase in stress and anxiety, as a result of various (mostly external) factors. That’s when I realised the description of meltdowns was a better fit: because it took into account the way that seemingly unrelated input could contribute to the overload.

The most confusing part is that emotion itself can add to overload. Which means that anxiety can push me towards a meltdown, but when I meltdown it’s expressed through anxiety! So it’s a strange sort of feedback loop, a bit like the kind that happens in a panic attack, but a bit different.

Defining meltdowns

What is a meltdown?

Eek. This is probably the most difficult part. Everyone answers differently, and descriptions are always subjective and individual. Here is my ‘objective’ definition of my experience of a meltdown.

An intense, involuntary emotional release due to complete overload.

“Intense”. Yeah. A meltdown is the most intense emotional experience a person can have. It is what happens when other emotional responses have failed to solve the problem/s.
“Involuntary”. Once it’s going to happen, then it’s going to happen. It can be avoided by preventing overload, but once overload has happened then a meltdown is inevitable.
“Emotional release”. This is the part that describes what other people see when I’m melting down. The emotion in question can vary (more on that later), but it’s always powerful and negative. So it probably involves at least some of the following: crying, shouting, hitting myself, hitting nearby objects (sometimes people), intense stimming, attempts to escape.
“Complete overload”. This is the ultimate cause of a meltdown. ‘Overload’ is a vague term on purpose, because the type of overload can vary widely. (more on that later) It can be a combination of similar or different things, it can be long- or short-term (or both), it can be internal or external. No matter what it is, it results in an emotional inability to cope with the situation.

Types of Overload

The ultimate overload can come from a combination of different factors. In fact, it’s most likely to be a result of several different things.

  • Social. Being in any social situation for a long time, being in a situation with lots of people, interacting with new people, unplanned social interaction, confusing or difficult interactions, unavoidable but unwanted interactions… etc.
  • Sensory. Being somewhere loud, being somewhere crowded, being in bright sun, being too hot or too cold, being hungry, eating something I don’t like, being tired, wearing uncomfortable clothes, standing/sitting/lying in an uncomfortable place or position, bad or strong smells, people talking over one another… etc.
  • Internal emotion. Being anxious about something, being angry about something, being excited or nervous in anticipation of something… etc.
  • External emotion. Being around people who are arguing, people who are stressed, tired, grumpy, upset, being criticised or told off by people, being around people of incompatible emotions (e.g. someone trying to cheer up a grumpy person)… etc.
  • Cognitive. Being pressured to make a big or difficult decision, being rushed to complete a task, obsessively trying to solve a problem, plans changing… etc.

These types of overload are artificially-imposed categories. Really, any factor could be put into more than one category and there are lots of things that don’t fit into any. But these categories are a good summary of the most common factors with examples.

Types of Meltdown

Although all meltdowns are ultimately the same thing, the emotion through which they are released can vary a lot. And it’s the way they are released that has the biggest effect on how they look from the outside. In my experience, I’ve noticed three main types of emotion.

  • Panic. This is by far the most common one for me. In fact, this is a big part of the reason I didn’t know that I had meltdowns. It turns out that a lot of the experiences which I (and others around me) had classed as panic attacks, were actually a type of meltdown.
    These are expressed through fear, anxiety, and panic. Most of the behaviours and symptoms look the same as panic and anxiety in other situations. So, lots of hyperventilating, pacing, attempting to escape the situation.
  • Anger. This type was more common when I was younger. Expressions of anger through things like: throwing objects, hitting people, shouting, attempting to destroy things.
  • Depression. Expressed through sadness and despair – mostly inconsolable crying, hopelessness, that kind of thing.

It’s also quite common for meltdowns to combine more than one of those types. The most common example is that something that starts out as a panic-meltdown then turns into a depression-meltdown before it subsides.

Suppressed Meltdowns

The descriptions above are what those meltdowns generally look like when I’m alone, by default. I’m lucky enough that most of the time I’ve been able to escape an unbearable situation and meltdown in private. When I was younger, meltdowns would look the same regardless of situation (for example, having huge anger-meltdowns in school at people who were making fun of me) Nowadays, if I’m trapped in the unbearable situation, the meltdown will be expressed differently.

All the emotional expression gets directed inwards instead, in order to avoid drawing attention to myself. If someone’s watching closely, they’d be able to tell – but otherwise it’s pretty well hidden. I withdraw from social interaction, make myself as small and invisible as possible, and stim in small but intense ways (like picking my fingers). All the internal symptoms are the same – the obsessive negative thoughts and strong emotion.

But this isn’t a ‘full’ meltdown. After a full meltdown, the emotion is mostly diffused and the overload meter gets reset. When I suppress a meltdown, all I’m doing is putting off the inevitable. Doing that gets harder and harder the longer I try to hold it in, until I’m able to escape the unsafe situation and meltdown for real. I imagine that if I was totally trapped in an inescapable situation, then the meltdown would eventually happen fully – regardless of the consequences.

Future

I’ve never really had concrete plans for my life. Most people are able to imagine themselves as an adult, with a career and their own home and maybe a family – or whatever they hope for. But I’ve never done that.

When I was much younger, I could imagine a distant adult and pretend they would turn out to be me. I’d imagine a successful career (whatever career I was imagining at the time), the family that everyone told me I must want to have, the busy social life that was supposed to be the marker of happiness.

As I got older, that type of imagining became meaningless. I started to see people around me growing up – like my family going from being children to students to adults. And I learnt that you didn’t suddenly ‘switch’ into a different person. Instead there was a gradual transition where you learned new things and developed your skills and interests until you were able to do adult things like moving out and getting a job.

But I knew that wouldn’t ever happen to me. Whatever the transition was supposed to be between being myself, and being a Person Who Can Go To University (or a Person Who Gets Married, or a Person With A Full-time Job…), I couldn’t imagine it – it didn’t exist.

The only adults I saw, were those unattainable things that I knew would never happen to me. People with jobs, people with kids, people who liked parties. I tried to work backwards, and figure out what those people’s transitions were like – what they were like at school, what they did at college, to make them into that type of adult.

When I did that, all I found was more stories I couldn’t relate to. There were all people who had no trouble with school, people who made new friends at college, people who were just like all the kids around me but nothing like myself.

The only conclusion I could make was that there were no adults like me. Either there was no-one like me, full stop – and I was an entirely unique and impossible occurrence. Or, more likely, everyone who was a young person like me never became an adult. I could never see my own future, so I had to assume that I didn’t have a future.

I ended up believing that I must be one of those people who’s destined to drop out of life at a young age. Either I’d go so insane I’d commit suicide, or be institutionalised for life, or become a completely different person somehow. Or I’d be struck by some hideous disease or unfortunate accident and be killed before I got a chance the grow up. The only future version of myself I could imagine, was the newspaper article about a young person tragically dying before their time.

It’s only really in the last year that I’ve learnt that I was wrong. And it happened because, for the first time in my life, I found People Like Me. People who had been the ‘troubled kid’ at school – and then grown up into adults anyway. People who never liked parties, and still didn’t like parties, and just didn’t go to them. People who couldn’t make friends at college, and socialised online instead.

I’ve finally started to believe that I actually exist. That it’s possible for me to be an adult. That I have a future.

Swearing

(This was originally written on 17th November 2013)

I almost never swear. I occasionally swear in writing, but verbally I only say ‘crap’ sometimes, ‘shit’ very rarely, and I may have never said the word ‘fuck’ out loud.

To me, they just aren’t really a part of my vocabulary. I’m pretty sure it originated from my rigid rule-following as a child (they told me not to swear, so I didn’t), and just stayed on from there. But I’m not actually bothered by other people swearing. I used to get annoyed because they were breaking a rule and not being punished – but now I’ve taught myself that that rule is meaningless, so I don’t get upset when other people do it anymore.

But I still don’t swear, just because I’ve never really bothered to train myself into it. It’s funny because other people perceive it as me being somehow ‘prudish’ about swearing. A couple of times people in a social group have said something about me being the innocent or delicate one, or trying to dare me to say a swearword as if I think it’s immoral or dirty. But actually, the reason I don’t is no different to the reason I don’t use the word ‘bonjour’ in my day-to-day life. I just never need to say it. It’s not part of my language. I have other ways to express the ideas people use it for. And to say a swearword out loud seems just as odd to me as saying ‘bonjour’. That’s the only real reason I don’t do it.

Puns

(This was originally written on 9th October 2013)

OK. I’m just gonna come out and say it. I don’t like puns.

I tried, I really tried. I used to assume that I must like puns just because everyone who is anything like me loves puns. Puns are like the default humour for geeks. But.

I don’t know, puns annoy me. They stress me out. I don’t like not understanding what they’re meant to say. It’s like the epitome of ambiguous meaning – there is no correct interpretation. I just feel vaguely uncomfortable and confused when I read/hear them. Then I have to go to the effort of trying to work out what the two (or more) meanings are, and then think really carefully about how those meanings relate and why that relationship makes the pun humorous… it’s not worth it. I don’t get any fun even when I do understand them, I just remain slightly confused and irritated.

I feel better now I’ve got that off my chest.

I want a diagnosis.

(This was originally written on 9th September 2012)

I want a diagnosis.

I want to be able to remember events from my childhood and think “I know why I reacted that way. I know why those things happened.”

I want to be able to tell other people a handful of words and them be able to know – or find out – what problems I have, what I need, what I can’t cope with, and what they could do to help me.

I want to be able to tell myself that I’m unique, that I’m special, that I’m different.

I want to be able to find people just like me by typing the same handful of words into Google.

I want to be the only person like me, everywhere I go.

I want people to notice I’m different.

I want people to say “I never would have guessed” and later think “it makes perfect sense”.

I want a diagnosis of something rare and misunderstood. Something with stereotypes which are wrong. Something that will make people fear or respect or avoid me.

I want a diagnosis. I’m just not sure what diagnosis it is that I want.

In the end I tell myself that I’m making it all up. There’s nothing special or different enough about me to warrant diagnosing with anything.

But it’s only now that I am really realising how much trouble I had when I was younger. Maybe I just assumed that everyone feels like the outcast when they’re a kid. That everyone feels like they don’t have any friends, that everyone hates them, that they’re the butt of the joke every time. That they feel like they have nothing in common with their peers. That they can’t cope with living the life of the person they’re supposed to be.

Because I don’t think those things are normal. Not to the extent that I experienced them. But if they aren’t normal, then what? What does it mean? It would be so easy if everything I experienced could be pointed to one disorder, one cause, that would sum up my whole life. It doesn’t seem to be that easy. And I have no idea where I’m meant to go from here. Do I just give up? Assume I’m normal until proven otherwise? Maybe that’s the best way. But I’m not sure if I’ll ever actually be able to believe it. I’ll just be left, confused and unresolved about what might or might not be wrong with me. Maybe everyone exists in that state constantly.