More Hank Than Max – Part 5: Integration
I’d been wearing the story of Asperger’s for a couple of years when I finally decided, prompted by the work of Michael John Carley, to seek a formal diagnosis. I’d been working with my wonderful guru, who is wise in the ways of the autism spectrum. I’d been reading and thinking and writing. And daily, I’d been processing it with Sally, the other half of my brain.
Yet when the formal diagnosis came. When the pdf arrived in the email. When I finally opened it, and forced myself to read it. When it hit me. It really hit me. A gut punch. A heavy club. A speeding truck. And I sobbed and railed, so stunned was I to see it all put together in one place, and to view it through the eyes of an outsider, a professional with her many assessment tools and more objective viewpoint. I cried. For that young Timmy, the rabbit in the open field. For that lost inner Max, who hid under the stairs. For that outer Hank, who strove so valiantly to hold it all together. I cried, doubled over, curled up. I sobbed.
And then I stopped. Because that’s the nature of truth, I think. It can slap you upside the head, but it can also set you free. And much of the time, it does both at the same time. With two years of processing under my belt, and now a formal confirmation, I could step fully into the relief of explanation and the light of insight. I began to feel, surprisingly enough, credentialed. With a Diagnosis for a Diploma, I could more fully join the ranks of those who take themselves seriously. Taking myself seriously, I could begin to speak.
Again: here I am.
But the journey is far from finished. Don’t get me wrong: insight and understanding are great. Explanatory stories and self love are wonderful. But none of these will make Asperger’s go away. It’s neurology, after all. It’s wiring. It’s being. It’s a thing of different needs, different abilities, and different limitations. It doesn’t just disappear in a puff of logic when a light is shined upon it.
Over and over, in the darkest days of my struggling, I would ask Sally, “Why am I not getting better?” All the emotional work I’d been doing. All the psychological sophistication I’d gained through study and observation and training. All the allowing that Sally had shined upon me. But still I’d get lost, stumble, and fall. Still I failed to meet her on the plain of empathy. Still I remained on alert, marinating in anxiety, awkwardness, and overwhelm. Still I could find only stray bits of “happy.”
How fascinating, to finally learn how much of my struggle was a matter of accepting and providing for different needs, rather than the healing of old wounds and the correction of broken reactions. I have trauma and reactivity a-plenty, of course. But those reactions can be teased apart from the suite of more fundamental characteristics with which I was born. It’s in accounting for those different needs, I think, that my new freedom will most fully blossom.
I remain on the human spectrum first and foremost. My “differences,” exposed to the light of day and examined honestly, are really differences of intensity or degree, matters of quantity rather than quality. And truth be told, I’m glad to have them. They make me who I am, and I’m very happy, to be who I am, pains and challenges and all. No one else gets to observe the Cosmos from my particular vantage point. Only I get to do that. It’s a fascinating view from here. And quite the responsibility, working, as I do, for the great Mind at Large.
And, truth be told, I’m envious of the television Max. His different way of being, more “extreme” or “atypical” than my own, gave him no choice but to express his true self in the world. Whereas I, seasoned with a lighter “dash of autism,” could hide my inner Max and present a more “acceptable” version of myself to the world. But it has cost me dearly, this denial of self. And I wonder sometimes, how it might feel, to let my inner Max show in the presence of other people, to reveal, in all its awkward, stilted, confused, needy glory, the truth of my inner experience.
That would be a difficult step to take. I’ve spent years training those around me to know me in a certain way: as “one of us,” as a “regular Joe,” as somebody not all that different from them. How can I change that now? What would happen, were I to acknowledge the costs I sometimes feel when I consciously maintain eye contact, and just look away as much as I wish I could? What would happen if I gave more social, face-to-face voice to the constant stream of thoughts, obsessions, worries, judgments, and confusions that now only Sally hears? What would people think, should I more openly demand my need for rituals and routines, or ask that they make adjustments to ease my sensory stresses, or share with them the full outlier truth of my emotional experience?
What would happen were I to let myself melt down on the outside in a way that truly reflects the meltdown going on inside?
What would happen, were I to finally become one person, Tim and Timmy and Max and Hank, all integrated together and alive in the world, capable and intelligent and limited and vulnerable and different, all at the same time?
The answer is: I don’t really know.
But I suspect that, as times moves forward, and as I take my hesitant, rabbity, yet needful steps out from under the staircase, I’m going to find out.
(Last Part of the Series. Read as One Page Coming Soon!)