A few weeks ago My separated partner told me that she was being “courted” by someone. Over the next two weeks her contact with me dropped. I began to worry and started to have feelings of abandonment, which many autistics struggle with. I became more and more upset emotionally. Then, about a week ago, I was resting after my daily hike when I suddenly realized that I was seeing my life through delusional eyes. The delusion was that life has fairytale endings. My partner told me almost two years ago that she could not see how she and I would be able to have a physical intimate relationship since she is an NT and I am autistic. These were her words. I did not believe it, even after all those years of failure on my part. My delusion prevented me from seeing the truth.
My theory is that because I have difficulty with the Gestalt (the overall picture of an event), and due to my difficulty seeing someone else’s point of view, I could not generate a negative outcome. Thus, I generated a delusion that “love conquers all”! Silly me!
Now, I am more aware of what is realistic. My partner and I talk very openly about our lives and we do it in a way which is gentle and safe. She has explained to me that she and I may not be together as physically intimate partners, but that we are a “package deal”. We are a family.
I think that the point of this is to look at ourselves as honestly as possible. In that way we can avoid delusional thinking.
Two or three days ago I began to realize that my walking might never become normal again. When I walk with a cane I do well. Without the cane, not so much. Also, my separated wife announced that she “has someone courting her”. She assured me that I am an integral part of her life and that she wouldn’t abandon me.
So, now I am dealing with some big changes. I am trying to understand and, at the same time, accept it. The problem is that now I am seeing myself as an old cripple, which is not correct. I think that it’s easy to feel sorry for myself. True acceptance brings peace. So, I believe the major job of acceptance needs to be based on self-love, a skill that I am just learning. Hopefully the lessons will come without too much anxiety and effort. I just need to stay focused on who I am and why I will succeed.
Recently, I was asked to contribute to a collection of writings about autism and ageing. The request contained guidelines for content, etc.. I found it very demanding, due to the structure required. I am still writing the piece.
While trying to figure out what to write and what to leave out, it occurred to me that there were two major variables operating that shaped my development: Awareness and acceptance.
I was unaware of my autism until I was 70. My behaviour reflected my ignorance. I was seen as an egotistical, cold, controlling person. I didn’t understand why I was the way I was. Once I became aware of my autism I began to see myself differently. Acceptance has taken me a long time, but it has happened and now I am comfortable with my autism.
Awareness and acceptance really are the key to living comfortably with one’s autism.
A major issue, from my point of view is the role addiction plays in folks on the spectrum. I have struggled with addictions for decades. However, I need to be clear that an addiction is not the same as a “special interest”. Addiction is characterized by a cycle of behaviour. First, there is the presence of stress which raises the level of anxiety, or excitement. This leads to the addictive behaviour, such as drinking alcohol or taking a drug like tobacco, OR playing a computer game. Some types of internet activity, such as online pornography can be very addictive, as can online gambling or shopping. This is a generalized description of addiction. Special interests are not addictive.
Some of my addiction struggles have included opiates, cigarettes and most recently, online pornography. I had always liked porn. I thought it was harmless. Then, there is an underlying issue of my penchant to want to hide. There was security knowing that I could hide from stuff that I could not handle, like crowded rooms or loud noises. Later, in adolescence, we would play war in a huge park, and I would always set up as a sniper. I could hide and see them but they couldn’t see me. Online porn allowed me to hide from reality and still “participate”. The reality is that what I hid from included my family, my work, and everything that I was doing. This began in the mid 90s when online porn first began to appear, and before it was found to be potentially addictive. I still struggle at times especially If I am very anxious.
For me, the major issue is how does my autism affect these behaviours, if it does? The answer, as best as I can see is yes, there is an interaction between addiction and autism. Autistics are known to have very high levels of what is called “baseline anxiety”, or the level of anxiety when not stressed. I am a high anxiety person. Addictions are self-reinforcing. When we do the addictive behaviour, we are rewarded (e.g. opiate or nicotine or an orgasm or winning a hand or game) for that behaviour. Autistics generally prefer very predictable situations. Addiction behaviours may serve to help provide this sense of predictability. Whenever I have had a lot of unpredictability in my life, I have found myself struggling with addiction issues.
I would be very interested in how addiction has affected other autistics, regardless of their age.
I have already written about the terms Autistic, Asperger and disorder. The labeling effect is strongly associated with our perception of the meaning of the word. An example is the word Asperger. It can mean a disorder, a neurotype found on the autistic spectrum, or even a form of autism that is “superior” to other expressions involving types of autism.
When I recently went to my G.P. for a follow up on my spine surgery, she used a term that startled me. The term was geriatric. It was used in the context of geriatric services and making sure that I was signed up for them.
I know that I am 74 years old. But, I don’t see myself as old or elderly! It doesn’t fit my image of who I am. I need the services because of my surgery, not because I am geriatric!
As has been said, “We are what we think we are”. I am a 74 year old autistic man, currently recovering from surgery and I intend to continue being physically very active as soon as it is possible.
My first response to new situations is usually NO. Like many autistics I prefer routines. They are predictable, and for me, feel safe. However, life isn’t always predictable or safe. So, since leaving the hospital, change has been the norm. First, my cabin was unliveable. I can no longer heat with wood since I can’t lift and cut the wood. I then lived a few days in a motel room. The owner of the motel then offered me a fifth wheel trailer to live in. It is just about perfect for me.
So, the point of all this is that the saying Good things come to those who wait, seems to be true. As an autistic, it’s the ability to see this that is a challenge for me. Words like stillness, waiting, patience, tolerance and acceptance now have a much stronger meaning.
In my last entry I described dealing with aversive stimuli while in the hospital. By centring myself in a quiet place, I was able to basically ignore the chaos that one is exposed to in hospitals. This is sometimes known as cognitive control and it becomes easier to develop as one gets older. Of course it takes awareness of our quirks and aversions to exercise this cognitive control.
The Red Cross loaned me a shower chair to use as my balance is still not 100%. I put it in a very small shower (barely large enough to turn around in). I turned on the water. The water filled the stall with spray. At that point I realized that I could not get myself to step into the stall. I have a strong aversion to putting my face into water. When I shower, I slowly put my body into the stream but keep my face out of the water. So, I stood there and began to choke up with fear. After a moment I turned off the water and took a sponge bath.
The point of all this for me is Stay aware and be prepared meet all challenges, including some really old ones.