Same Same But Different

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I still remember the day my Mother told me that I was Autistic.

I was 15 at the time, and although I had been diagnosed several times, it hadn’t dawned on me that amongst my peers, I was considered neurologically atypical. In fact, I always found it somewhat bizarre that people didn’t have the same fascination with numbers as I did, or focused more on their interpersonal relationships rather than their ‘special interests’ (a topic I shall expand upon momentarily). Of course, when I take the time to look back retrospectively, I realise that I was at the time – and still am – an incredibly odd individual. The difference is that now I’m more accepting, and even proud, of it.

My mother decided to inform me of my diagnosis in the midst of a turbulent period of High School during which I experienced tremendous difficulties with bullying. I didn’t quite understand why she was so concerned about the diagnosis, if anything, I was relieved. After having suffered a number of seizures a couple of years prior, I was diagnosed with epilepsy and once I was medicated, the frequency of the seizures subsided. So, I thought the same would be true in regards to my Autism; if I worked on the deficiencies it caused, and put enough effort in, they would cease to exist right?

Wrong.

I’ve never really been adept at forming connections with people. When I was really young, the concept of creating, and maintaining, friendships seemed like the final level of a really difficult video game. You attempt the level over and over again, to no avail, before finally hurling the controller at the wall in disgust. During my formative years in Primary School, due to a mutual interest, I became close with another classmate. When I was invited over to their house, I thought “Wow, cool, I made a friend!”

I’d go to their house, hang out, and go home again feeling jubilant at having found that ever-elusive ‘friend’. First thing Monday morning, I’d seek them out to reflect upon our adventures like the chums we were, and they’d want nothing to do with me anymore. Often I’d get this blank stare, followed by“Please leave me alone”; when they didn’t preface their request with politeness I knew I’d really screwed up. The problem was that I knew, due to the other kids reaction, that I’d made some kind of unforgiveable social faux pas, however, I struggled to understand what exactly I had done wrong, and hence, would repeat this cycle again with someone else. I remember often thinking to myself that if I received some kind of report card after these social outings, that it would be far more useful than the ones handed out by my teacher’s at the end of each term.

At the age of 7 I discovered professional wrestling (i.e. WWE), my ‘special interest’. The difference between a neurotypical being interested in something, and a person with Autism, is the stark contrast in intensity. After watching it for the first time, WWE started to fill the role of ‘best friend’ in my life, which seems a laughable notion to a lot of people. From an early age I was enchanted by the mythical, enchanting world of WWE. It’s difficult for most Autistic people to express what their special interest means to them, because it’s often the subject of ridicule to most people, how we can get so fixated on something. As it pertains to my fascination with wrestling, other than my immediate family, it has often been the only thing that has kept me going. It makes me happy and is the only thing in the world that makes it worth getting up out of bed every day. On a daily basis I am overwhelmed by the chaotic and confusing nature of my surroundings, and it is only when I watch wrestling that this warm sensation takes over my entire being, and at which point the whole world starts to make a little bit of sense. Not only is it a means of escaping reality, but also coming to terms with it.

Still, even though I considered professional wrestling my ‘best friend,’ it didn’t mean I was done trying to make ‘real’ friends.

I’ve always been incredibly stubborn. After my diagnoses, this stubbornness resulted in me doing everything I could to ignore the fact I had Autism. It’s not that I felt a need to ‘fit in’, I just wanted to experience the most simple moments that seemed to just happen to everyone around me; things like parties, a random phone call on the weekend to hang out or just to be able to walk into a room and see people smile when they looked my way. While this may seem admirable, it actually ended up being incredibly detrimental to my mental health. After considerable effort on my behalf, and a lot of rejection, I was eventually invited to parties on a consistent basis, and accepted amongst several peer groups, but I never felt comfortable. Most of the time I would come home from parties and spend several hours curled on my floor crying due to the overwhelming nature of it all. The more friends I had, and the more social events I was invited to, the more depressed I became. Around this time – 18 or 19 – I began to lose a considerable amount of weight in a short period of time through questionable means, because it seemed like the number on the scale was the only thing I had control over.

Now, a large majority of those people are no longer in my life. I don’t even care to remember the last time I was invited to a party of any kind. Instead, I live a quiet life, and am fortunate enough to have an incredibly supportive family (most notable my parents and two siblings), as well as three close friends I keep in contact with on a weekly basis. While my social circle may be limited, that isn’t to say I ‘hate people,’ which is a common misconception many people have about Autism. I try to be as nice as I can, and am greatly accepting of most people; I just prefer to be an observer, rather than a ‘contributer.’

Although I still struggle on a daily basis with the many obstacles thrown in my path as a result of being Autistic, I am more content now that at any other point in my life; at some point I came to the realisation that running away from your ‘problems’ is about the silliest thing you can do, because it’s only when you learn to face them head on and live with them that you gain any kind of momentum. That being said, I don’t see Autism as a ‘problem’; in fact, if I had a choice I’d still not get rid of my Autism, because it’s so deeply ingrained in the fabric of my being, and the struggles I’ve had to overcome as a result of being Autistic have made me incredibly proud of who I am.

Written by James Ditchfield

Edited by Claudia Farnsworth & Samantha Callender

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Leanne Westlake