Today was a better day. I seem to be relying on work days to give me a jolt of energy and snap me out of depression and into active mode. Which is good so far as it goes, but I worry about not having much positive in my life outside of work (my writing is positive, but as yesterday showed, the thought that I could/should be writing is not always depression-defeating). I also worry what will happen if my contract doesn’t get renewed past March.
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that my part of the library where I work is running an event/exhibition later this month for students from an art school. My line manager asked me to find material for it. The theme is ‘protest’ so I picked a load of pamphlets and books dating from the English Civil Wars and Interregnum, Chartism, Jewish emancipation debate and early editions of famous satirical novels (before everyone jumps on me, I was going to include women’s suffrage too, but my line manager said that was the theme last year and to avoid duplication). There was some other interesting material too, but I can’t really talk about it as it would make it more obvious (at least to some people) which university I’m working It’s a shame I can’t mention some of the unique material that would identify the university, as some of it is really interesting or exciting. In particular, we’re the semi-official archive for the papers of writer I really like, so it’s quite exciting to work with that.
I was talking my line manager and one of the curators through my choices today. My line manager has a PhD in history, but not in any of the periods I was dealing with and the curator I think didn’t have a direct history background. I was really nervous about talking to them and trying hard not to shake, but I think they liked it. To be honest, I hadn’t looked at the Civil Wars and Interregnum for nearly fifteen years (final year of my BA); Chartism for even longer (secondary school) so I probably made some mistakes, but it seemed to be good enough on the whole and my line manager was very pleased. I’m terrified of having to go through this again in a few weeks with a bunch of strangers (art students! Scary bohemian types, who probably drink pot and smoke acid!).
I did get a bit of a buzz from presenting, though. I’ve done public speaking in the past, but it’s something I haven’t done for a long time, because my previous experience was mostly in my old shul (synagogue); at the current one there aren’t opportunities to present and I would feel too inadequate and shy to do so if there were. I don’t lead services any more for the same reason. I do get something from presenting, though, even if I drive myself crazy with fear of shaking and over-analysing my mistakes.
Other than that, work was fairly straightforward today, except that there were severe train delays on the way in and I had to go via an alternative route. I was only a few minutes late in the end and I did work into my lunch to make up the time (and still ended up leaving late at the end of the day), but I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to tell anyone I was making up the time or if that just sounded silly and childish. My line manager wasn’t in when I arrived, so I told her line manager why I was late, but I wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to do or if I should have told my line manager when she arrived. It’s this kind of pragmatic social interaction that I find really difficult, being on the autism spectrum.
There were a couple of other moments of social awkwardness today, too trivial to mention, which could be plain old social anxiety and self-consciousness rather than autism, but I do feel like I’m in a world I don’t understand a lot of the time. I follow a blog written by the co-carer for a boy with autism and I was thinking recently of commenting to say that if he seems sometimes to be unintelligible to his carers, from his point of view everyone in the world is unintelligible, and then it hit me that that’s exactly how I feel, albeit with the caveat that my autism is not so severe and I’ve learnt masking and coping strategies over time and built empathy and perspective-taking skills.
I have also had some anxiety around locking doors at work, especially the strong room where the rare books are stored. I probably need to keep an eye on this to stop it turning into full-blown OCD. I’ve been going back to double-check things and I probably should not do so and just tell myself that I’ve got to move on (exposure therapy). This is easy to say, but hard to do.
I’m signed up to a newsletter with links to articles on autism on a health website and I came home to find a LOT today. Some of them look useful, at least for my family if not for me, but I’m not sure when I’m going to get the time to read them. Lots of useful-looking stuff about what “mild” or “high functioning” autism actually means and how to explain it to people, now that the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” has officially been scrapped. On the other hand, reading this kind of stuff makes me worry that I’m not ‘really’ autistic, I’m just lazy and useless, which I guess is the problem of having some symptoms strongly, but others very mildly or not at all.
There is a whole article about how mild autism can be masked in some people by high intelligence and strong language skills which I guess is what happened to me. I certainly learnt early on not to talk about my special interest (Doctor Who) to most people, and I remember my parents telling me after one parents’ evening that I didn’t make eye contact with my teachers all evening; ever since I’ve struggled consciously to make eye contact, even though it feels very uncomfortable and I have no idea if I’m doing it too much/not enough. I don’t know if I exhibited any obvious stimming or echolalia when I was very young, but I’m pretty sure Authority would have stopped me soon enough if I had. I do stim, but so subtly I’ve only become aware of it in the past couple of years and while I like the sound of some words (like ‘echolalia’) it would feel ‘wrong’ to say them aloud for no reason, although lately I have started to sometimes say words for no reason other than liking the sound when no one else is around.
A sympathetic psychiatrist might diagnose me, but an unsympathetic one would just reiterate all the assessments that said I was not on the spectrum. Naturally, I hear the voice of the unsympathetic one in my head and tell myself I’m stupid, incompetent and lazy. Actually, that’s not quite true. Since my positive autism screening it has been a little bit easier to accept myself for who I am, but I do think another negative assessment could set me back a long way. I don’t think I could easily be persuaded that I’m neurotypical now, though. I think there’s something different about me, whether or not it’s autism.
I’m getting more into The Dispossessed, which turns out to be as much about loneliness as about science fictional technology or anarchism vs. capitalism. There was a paragraph I read today, too long to quote in full, about how painful it is for a child to feel different and that the only way to alleviate this pain is to know adults who are also different to show that this is OK. Like Shevek, I had loving adults in my life, but none who were different and could show me how to be different and cope with solitude.
I need to respond to the email from the dating service I signed up to. I have very mixed feelings about that. Part of me wants to leave it already or at least procrastinate over taking the next step, while part of me wants to go ahead with it. I begin to suspect that Brexit will be quicker and easier to resolve than my love life…