More Hank Than Max – Part 1: The Challenge to Identity
Recognition. Resonance. Assessment. Diagnosis. Disclosure. These, it seems, are steps many Aspies, if not most, take on their journeys of discovery. I know I’ve taken, and am still taking, every one of them. And for myself, taking these steps has meant rewriting large chunks of my identity and self-perception. That has been challenging, to say the least.
But then when have I ever just said the least?
If identity is an onion (and of course it is), then I’d like to peel away a few layers and see what I find within. The first layer is the one you see when you look at the onion from the outside.
As I’ve contemplated “coming out,” I’ve wondered about how the “news” would be received. Would I be believed? Accepted? Ridiculed? After all, I thought, I don’t “look” Aspie, which is to say that, from what I could see, I wasn’t a strong match for the common cultural perceptions or stereotypes associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. From my point of view, I just look like I’ve always looked, like “a regular Joe,” like “one of us.” To some, perhaps, my claiming to be Aspie might seem as foolish as claiming to be Lithuanian, or short, or a gerbil. (And no, I don’t hold there to be anything wrong with either Lithuanians, short people, or gerbils. I do, however, have some rather unkind thoughts about hamsters. But then, who doesn’t?)
For those who’ve watched the NBC series Parenthood, I’m way more Hank than Max. That’s how it seems. Max, who we watched grow from child to adolescent as the series progressed, was the more obvious, stereotypical television Aspie: unable to hold eye contact, fairly obsessive in his special interests, at times rude™ or even cold™ (some might say), and prone to “acting out.” Hank, on the other hand, was a middle-aged adult with an ex-wife and a teenage daughter. He was quiet, socially awkward, and somewhat flat in terms of affect, but mostly lacked Max’s more obvious traits. He was quirky, you might say. A bit odd. Rather lost in the realm of human relationship. But not obvious. Just a regular Joe.
And that’s me. Hank was me. A bit odd? Sure, I’ll accept that. Socially inept? Check. Distant? Aloof? Difficult to know? Prone to anxiety? Eccentric in my interests and beliefs? All that. But I’m no more obvious than Hank was, am I? I mean, I’ve passed for “regular Joe” my entire life, haven’t I? What the heck could I be talking about with this Aspie thing?
That’s what I could imagine people saying. That’s what I said to myself. I’m just me. The same me I’ve always been. How could I expect others to accept something even I had doubts about?
But the relief I felt, from both recognition and resonance, was strong and real. The assessments all pointed in the same direction. The books, the blogs, and Sally – who has always seen me more fully than any other living soul – all argued the case. And diagnosis by professionals confirmed it: the story of Asperger’s was a fair and accurate tale to tell about myself.
And here’s why: It turns out that I’m only really Hank on the outside. Inside, I’m way more Max than even I ever realized, and way more Max than I ever let most people see.