When I get in my car, my phone immediately connects to the Bluetooth. Usually, the audiobook I’ve been listening to begins to autoplay. But every now and then something glitches and I receive a random throwback to the iTunes library downloaded on my phone. There is not a lot of music on my phone—only around six hundred songs or so—but they range from Rachmaninoff concertos, musical theatre and TV soundtracks, through to my preferred genre; indie folk. Tonight, instead of my book, the last refrain of Walk Alone began to play.
For the last two nights, I’ve been outside between 10 pm and midnight with my telescope, waiting. Trying to catch a glimpse of the green comet. But the last two nights have been too cloudy. Tonight, I am back at work, and afraid I will miss the once in 50,000-year event. It will disappear from view tomorrow night and I will again be here, at work. I am trying to not be too distressed about it. Except I am. I want to be one of the relatively few (comparatively) people on earth who get to see the comet with their own eyes. I’ve seen plenty of pictures. But that’s not enough. Armed with new terminology, astronomy would be considered one of my special interests.
I have begun making lists of memories, events, and behaviours that may be relevant to my assessment; you could say autism and its diagnostic criteria have also become a special interest.
Just as G’s CNS lymphoma became a special interest.
In three and a half weeks, he will have an MRI. It’s been a year since his last. I’d like to believe my anxiety about him experiencing a recurrence of the cancer will reduce if the scan is clear. But I’m almost positive it won’t. I want us to have a more normal life. I want us to be able to do things. (Do I?) I want to be able to take my mask off. (I don’t.) But it feels like I should say I want these things. That I should want these things.
One of the guys at work asked me when I would feel safe taking off my P2 mask. And I answered that I would only do it when G’s immune system returned to normal functioning.
In truth, I love this mask. I mean, I love not being sick with anything, that’s great. But what I love more is no-one seeing my face. No-one seeing my mouth move as I run through conversations in my mind. No-one seeing the faces I make when I sit quietly at my desk, processing information in my head. I love it and I never want to take it off.
I have told a few different friends, now, that I might be autistic. And almost all of them have responded with some version of “oh, yeah, that makes sense” which has been validating. So much so, that I have wondered whether seeking a formal (expensive!) diagnosis is necessary—but without it, I don’t feel that I have the right to call myself autistic. Just as without my diagnosis of anorexia, I never felt I could say I had an eating disorder. I fluctuate in my thinking; between not wanting to pathologise the myriad of human behaviour styles and experiences but also in wanting validation that my lack of ability to communicate easily has impacted my life and I’m only now starting to understand why: That there’s not anything wrong with me (though people might say there is) but that I probably just process the world and everything in it differently to others.
What I wonder the most, though, is how I have been able to identify and celebrate these differences in others, while completely missing (and misrepresenting) them in myself? There is a grief in that—in how hard I have been on myself for not understanding, for failing at relationships and communication—that will take time to process.
A few years ago, in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, G was in the family room on his bike trainer about to start a three-hour virtual race on Zwift. He was warming up, pedalling slowly, as the competitors gathered at the on-screen starting line.
“Can we move the safe?” I asked him, having wandered out from our bedroom.
I’d been reorganising our ensuite (master) bathroom and on the floor in a weird little alcove that housed the electrical switchboard was a small safe. The alcove was large enough for a set of shelves where we could store the towels and toilet paper and I wanted to put the safe in the walk-in robe so the space was useable.
He fiddled with his heart rate monitor, glancing occasionally at the race timer countdown on the screen. “Sure.”
I’d already measured the recess and found a set of shelves online that were in stock at a local budget hardware department store that would fit in the space. He would be busy on the bike for hours, enough time for me to run out, buy and build the shelves, install them and clean up. It was perfect.
I went back into the bathroom, pleased I could progress with my project, and began emptying the contents of the safe into a shoebox. Once I had everything out, I attempted to lift the safe but couldn’t. I noticed the problem immediately. It was bolted to the floor. I unscrewed the nuts from the inside of the safe and popped them in the shoebox with everything else.
Again, I tried to lift the safe, and while I could now raise it off the ground, I could not remove it from the alcove. The alcove had a small lip that wrapped approximately a quarter of an inch across the front of the safe, making it so tight that I could not tilt or turn the safe in such a way as to remove it from the space. I marched back into the family room.
“You said we could move the safe!!!” I said, loudly (and completely unaware).
“Yeah, you can,” he replied panting and puffing, the race now in full swing, “do whatever you want with it, it doesn’t worry me.”
“I can’t!” I said, even more loudly than before. “I can lift it, move it up and down, but it doesn’t come out of the alcove. Why did you say we could move it if we can’t actually move it?”
The conversation disintegrated. He was pedalling, racing, and through gasps and huffs, said he was done discussing it. He didn’t want to talk about it while he was trying to race. I didn’t want to do anything except talk about it. I wanted it resolved, and I wanted it resolved now. I felt betrayed. I did not understand why he would say I could move the safe, if I could not, in fact, move it.
I marched back into the bedroom and unleashed my anger in a text to a friend. Before her reply had come through, I already knew what I had to do. I had been using a tool for a few years–a process called “The Work” by Byron Katie. And I began the Judge Your Neighbour worksheet.
By the end of the worksheet, I had calmed.
G has not, nor will ever, intentionally hurt me. He has, on occasion, hurt me accidentally but I know these instances are exactly that; accidental.
And in that same way, by working through the questions Byron Katie has you ask yourself in The Work, I realised that we had been discussing two different questions.
My original question was “can we move the safe?” but what I actually meant was “is it physically possible to move the safe?”
He answered “sure.” An affirmative.
Because the question he heard when I asked “can we move the safe?” was “do you mind if we move the safe?”
One question; two very different interpretations.
That was why I became so distressed when I was unable to move the safe; because I had understood that he said “sure” to my indirect question of “is it physically possible to move the safe?” meaning that when it wasn’t possible, I felt he’d lied.
When he got off the bike some hours later, I explained all of this to him, what I’d worked through and what I believe had happened with our communication. Since then, when we find ourselves in a sticky confusing communication situation, we often look at each other and ask, “are we trying to move a safe?”
And then we start over and clarify exactly what it is we are trying to communicate. It doesn’t solve everything but it has helped having a shorthand signal to suggest we might not be looking at things from the same frame of reference.
I am not sure exactly what G thinks of it all—this autism thing. He says he doesn’t care, that it doesn’t change anything. That I am who I am and he loves me. And that if I am autistic, then that is part of what makes me, me. Of course, it shouldn’t change anything. But I still worry it could. Studies have shown that in cases of serious medical illness there is a significant gender disparity in the rates of separation and divorce (partner abandonment) if the woman within a heteronormative relationship becomes ill. Partner abandonment also occurs in instances of chronic illness. Because caring for a partner with a significant or chronic illness can be exhausting and debilitating. And while autism is not the same as a significant medical or chronic illness, and while I have mostly adjusted to neurotypical ways of life and have found work-arounds for the areas I find difficult (no matter how ineffective or exhausting), it does feed into my anxiety that a formal diagnosis could change the way he sees me and our relationship.
I would like to believe it will make things better; that a more thorough understanding of myself can only improve how we relate, that it will help us both navigate conversations more effectively.
I would like to believe that it will help us move more safes.
You must be logged in to post a comment.