Several years ago, I bought a book by Cynthia Kim. It’s called I Think I Might Be Autistic: A Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis and Self-Discovery for Adults.
This isn’t the kind of book you pick up on a whim because you’re looking for a light summer read and you figure, what the hell, I need something to bring to the beach.
I won’t say how many years ago I bought this book because I’m embarrassed.
I’m not embarrassed by the fact that I need this book.
I’m embarrassed by the fact that I need this book and it’s taking me so long to read it.
This is not a long book. The print edition is just over a hundred pages. One hundred and eleven, to be exact. Which I like to be.
To put it in context, I recently finished rereading an eleven-hundred-page biography of the Brontë family. It took me a few months because I was taking copious notes and reading other books at the same time.
Reading that book went like this:
1. Sit down with Brontë bio.
3. Use miniature Post-It notes to mark passages that I find interesting and/or that contain information I’ll need for writing of my own.
4. Jot down notes in dedicated spiral-bound notebook.
5. Reluctantly stop reading when household chores need doing.
6. Repeat until finished reading book.
7. Optional: cry at the end because Charlotte Brontë outlived all her siblings and then died of pregnancy-related complications less than a year after she married a man she’d started off lukewarm about and ended up adoring.
In contrast, here’s how reading I Think I Might Be Autistic has been going:
1. Sit down with book.
2. Read maybe one page.
3. Start crying.
4. Put book down.
5. Studiously ignore book’s existence for like six months.
6. Sit down with book again.
7. Think, “Okay, at least I’m prepared this time.”
8. Read maybe two pages.
9. Go “OKAY YEAH REALLY WASN’T READY THIS TIME.”
10. Hide book for seriously a year and a half this time.
11. Think, “Okay, look – I bought this book. I need this book. I need to read this book, for crying out tears.”
12. Read two whole chapters.
13. Cry out tears.
14. Because one of those chapters was a test and you somehow scored 900% when it comes to “yeah, seriously, you really really might be autistic.”
15. Because this isn’t just one of those online quizzes where you find out which Disney princesses you’re most like.
16. This is a test written by someone who went through the long slog of getting a formal diagnosis as an adult and who went back and pulled together all the real tests people are given in the course of getting such a diagnosis and then wrote them up in accessible language so yeah you might not be talking to a professional just yet but yeah this test is fairly meaningful.
17. And some of this is stuff you didn’t expect to be on an autism test because you didn’t even realize this was a thing not everybody does.
18. I mean, how could you? If you do it, you figure it’s normal.
19. Doesn’t everyone write a script before making a phone call?
20. Even if it’s a social rather than a business call?
21. And if using lots and lots of metaphors is wrong, sign me up for Team Bad!
22. Oh, god – not everyone flips out when they have to do laundry on Tuesday instead of Monday.
23. OH GOD other people can just walk right into a new coffee shop and head straight for the place where you order coffee rather than being completely, debilitatingly distracted by details like a picture on the wall and then a pattern on someone’s shirt and then the sound the espresso machine makes.
24. Other people don’t feel like they’re getting thrown out a window every time the loud loud LOUD espresso machine does its business.
25. Other people don’t seem to think it’s all that loud.
26. Other people don’t even notice some sounds.
27. Other people can just go on talking even though there are cars driving by.
28. And birds singing.
29. And someone across the room who’s also talking.
30. And seriously can no one else hear that airplane I feel like I’m bleeding from both ears and everyone’s just chatting away like nothing’s wrong.
31. Nothing is wrong.
32. For them.
33. I’m the weird one.
34. I don’t know how to cope with this.
35. I don’t mind being autistic but I do mind feeling like there’s something “wrong” with me.
36. I’m stuck on a planet where all the tastes and temperatures and textures don’t feel right at all.
37. I’m a dog howling in pain because the humans designed sirens for their range of hearing, not mine.
38. I think I need to put this book down for a while.
So, yeah – it’s been slow going.
I posted in a group for autistic adults about how hard it’s been for me to read this book, and how ashamed I feel of that. I mean, I’m a research writer, for heaven’s sake. This is what I do. I get interested in a topic and read a million and six books about it.
And now I can’t read one? A short one?
The outpouring of love, sympathy, and support was immediate and overwhelming.
I won’t give more specifics because I haven’t asked to, but I will quote one message in particular:
“You are not alone.”
Maybe those words shouldn’t matter so much, but they do.
I am not the only one frightened and unnerved by this process.
Heck, I’m not even the only one panicking as I read this exact book.
“Be gentle with yourself,” several people in the group urged.
I’m reading this book, and I’m finishing it this time.
And I’ve got a blog to keep me honest if I start to feel afraid again.