Two months ago, Allyssa and I sat down and watched Hannah Gadsby’s new special on Netflix, Douglas. Much like her Nannette special, she mixed vulnerability and comedic observation so few others can. In Douglas, instead of talking about her sexuality, she delved into her experience living on the autism spectrum.
I remember thinking, this sounds a lot like me.
That night I googled adult autism and aspergers (which is a term I don’t like, mostly because it’s the name of a Nazi who is responsible for the death of countless children! Look it up and please do not use it around me). I found a few simple assessments, including a list of bullet points. I was laying in bed and Allyssa was trying to go to sleep when I tapped her shoulder.
I showed her the article and let her read the bullet points.
“At least half of these points sound like me.”
She nodded and passed the phone back to me. I got distracted researching some more, and she fell asleep.
That morning, over breakfast, I brought it up again.
“So that list of adult autism… I think I might be autistic.”
She took a bite of cereal and looked at me.
“What do you think?”
She put her spoon down. “When you showed me that list last night and said half of the points were true for you? Well, honestly, all but one of them seemed to describe you.”
“Really?” I got excited. This would be a big deal! A whole new way of looking at myself and the world.
“In fact,” Allyssa added, “Last year, when I was seeing a counselor and I was talking about our relationship, she asked me, ‘Do you think Joe is on the autism spectrum?’”
“You’ve got to be kidding me? She asked that?”
After that breakfast conversation, I began reading and talking with friends. I shared the insights with my counselor, and she affirmed what I was learning about myself. I shared similar insights with my doctor, and he too affirmed the conclusions we were making.
It turns out that I am on the autism spectrum.
Realizing this has brought greater clarity to my life than any other realization I’ve had. Allyssa said countless times that first month, “Our marriage makes sense now. My life makes sense now.”
We used to argue about how we spent time together. We spent months with a counselor dealing with the fact that my favorite activity with Allyssa was when we got to do our own things in the same room. She couldn’t understand why I would enjoy doing something by myself without her. Now we have a word for that. They call it “parallel play”—a term used for children, in general, but a good description of my perfect date.
Countless times I would hurt Allyssa by saying something mean—except I didn’t know it was mean. This wasn’t unique to Allyssa, as I’ve ruined a lot of relationships by saying and doing (or not doing) things that I did not know were hurtful.
Most of my social anxiety comes from the fears that I will say or do the wrong thing, constantly wondering who might get upset, without warning, at something I did not know I was doing. And there’s plenty of evidence for this—for it has happened countless times.
Everyone has always told me I think outside the box, but now we know why.
Allyssa gets annoyed I fixate on things and devote all free time to them… except it turns out it’s not a character defect, it’s just the way my brain works.
I don’t like change that I’m not leading.
I get overwhelmed with loud noises and crowds and too many voices. Dinner parties are one of my circles of hell.
Most of my struggles with mental health and anxiety seem to point back to my experience with autism.
I no longer beat myself up for finding human interactions exhausting.
I no longer beat myself up for over sharing.
I am me, and I can’t be anyone else.
I know God’s grace is big enough for me (and for you), and I believe we are all created to contribute something positive to the world.
I am proud of who I am and who I am becoming and see my neurodivergence as an asset I hope to continue to offer to the world.
But I know it’s not all good. If I have ever said or done something that bothered you, hurt your feelings, or failed to show you love, I’m sorry. There’s a good chance I wasn’t fully aware of what I was doing and I deeply regret any pain I caused you. I am not making excuses for unacceptable behavior, but I hope to increase understanding.
There’s a lot more to this than I can spell out in a single blog. And there’s a lot more to unpack and learn than has happened in the last two months. Maybe over time I will share more. Until then, I thank everyone who has given me a chance, as a friend, family member, coworker, church member, and colleague. I love you in ways I find hard to express.
I am lucky to have you in my life and grateful to have you on this journey with me.