The office was quieter today and I was more productive. I finished the leftover work from yesterday, did my work for today and finished early enough to ask my boss for more work, so I think I redeemed myself.
I just had dinner with my parents, sister and brother-in-law. I was depleted enough that I didn’t really want to socialise, but I was good and stayed even though it was draining and even though I may not get the relaxation time I desperately need if I am to be functional tomorrow. Routine won in the end as I had to make my lunch and start getting ready for bed. I’m not sure if that’s autistic routine or genuinely necessary routine as I’m starting to second-guess myself (more on that in a minute). I did struggle at times, though; socialising is never easy for me, even with people I feel comfortable with.
I’ve started reading The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood, on the recommendation of someone from my autism support group. I haven’t got very far, but already I’m having mixed feelings. Some of it seems very familiar and I’ve taken a lot of notes of things to write down and show at my assessment, if I go for one. On the other hand, a lot is unfamiliar, or is stressed more than I feel it, reminding me that if I am autistic, I’m very much at the high-functioning end, which in turn (a) makes me feel guilty for being so dysfunctional (in the sense that other people are worse off than me so I shouldn’t complain and in the sense that I “should” function better) and (b) makes me suspect that a putative third assessment will be as ambiguous as the first two assessments. I’m now scrutinising and questioning my actions more than I probably should, trying to work out what is autistic and what is neurotypical. I find myself wondering what I would think or do if I don’t get diagnosed (again), how I would square another non-diagnosis with the mental health professionals and friends who think I am on the spectrum. Do I just want to be autistic for some perverse reason? Do I think it makes me more interesting? That it makes concrete the distance I feel from society? Makes my unipolar depression somehow less mundane, even sexier? I suppose I need to remind myself that regardless of what the professionals say, I genuinely do struggle with a lot of basic social interaction, over and beyond my mental health issues. At my depression support group, during the tea break, very depressed people are able to make small talk with each other; it’s only me standing there, feeling too shy, confused and awkward to talk to anyone, unless someone comes and tries to rescue me by starting a conversation, which I usually engage in rather awkwardly.
That reminds me of a passage I read in the book today. It says that people with high-functioning autism sometimes “avidly observe and intellectually analyze social behaviour” and interact successfully based on imitation and a rehearsed social script. This sounds like me. It is apparently more common in girls with autism than boys (I noticed a while back that I behave like a girl with autism more than a boy with it. Autism in girls seems to be under-diagnosed, perhaps because girls are socialised differently or are better at deliberately compensating for problems.) The result is that signs of difficulty in interactions may not be noticed by a professional during a short diagnostic assessment. This sounds like me. I believe can ‘pass’ as neurotypical up to a point; every week I manage several short conversations with neurotypicals at work, shul and shiur, but if the conversation goes on for more than a couple of minutes, I run out of “script” and start to panic, both at what I should say and how to respond to what they might say to me. It’s at this point that things can start to go wrong, as I become so focused on my anxiety that I can’t concentrate on their side of the conversation, or even hear it properly.
The other thing I thought about today was my religious life and how much I’m struggling with it. I feel I’m going through a crisis of faith, albeit a strange one: I believe in God, I just don’t believe in myself. I have minimal motivation for prayer (set or spontaneous/hitbodedut) or religious study. Prayer seems pointless, as God always seems to turn my requests down, or at least the important ones. I suppose He knows best, but then I wonder why I bother saying anything. I know there are reasons to pray – I gave a shiur (class) years ago on approaches to prayer and why we should pray, given that God knows everything and is benevolent, which would seem to render prayer immaterial. I know, but I don’t feel. Similarly my mind has little space or ability to deal with the agricultural laws of the shmittah (sabbatical) year (the Mishnah I’m currently trying to study), the laws of prayer (the Gemarah my shul is studying communally) or even the prophecies of Hoshea (Hosea, the book of Nakh (the post-Mosaic books of the Hebrew Bible) that I’m trying to re-read). I’m slightly more involved in the weekly Torah reading, but not much (we’re currently in the early chapters of Bereshit/Genesis). I don’t know what type of study would pique my interest at the moment and still be something that I can study from a practical (energy/motivation/concentration) point of view. It’s very tempting to give up and take the extra time for myself, for sleep or relaxation. I suppose it counts for something that I’m still trying to stick with prayer and Torah study, although I’m not sure what it counts for or says about me.