The Other (other) A Word

I will go off-road for a moment to say that I normally do not advocate usage of terms like “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” for people. They oversimplify symptoms and difficulties that come with them, and attempt to sort people into boxes that almost no Autistic person can perfectly fit. But tonight I will use one, simply because I can think of no other way to contextualize my experience.

I am unquestionably considered a “high-functioning” Autistic person. I speak clearly and concisely, I have excellent motor control and no uncontrollable spasms or tics, and my symptoms are primarily sensory and related to either taste, touch, or overstimulation. Even in the last case, I am capable of removing myself from overstimulation, and the most extreme symptom I have (bouts of non-verbalism in emotional distress) can be bypassed by writing what caused it to happen. Others are surprised when I tell them I’m Autistic – “You’re very high-functioning,” I’ve heard more than once, but I know better than to go into long tangents about correct jargon with acquaintances. I know better about most things.

But not all of them.

I am aware, factually, that I still have a developmental disorder and will face limitations from it. I am aware, factually, that I am 23 and have relatively little life experience, particularly outside of my college education. I am aware, factually, that I am not an expert on living the perfect life. What I struggle with is reconciling these facts with my mental “shoulds”: that I should have no limitations, that I should have it all figured out, that everything I do and am should be perfect the first time.

A “should” is the most dangerous thing in the world. It’s what kept me off this blog for over half of a month, it’s kept me from finishing or even starting projects I care about, it’s kept me from asking for help. That third “should” can sometimes feel like I’m in a chokehold, with something leaning over me out of my reach and speaking so only I can hear. “You should already know how to do this,” it says, “and if you have to ask for help, you’ve already failed.”

I wish I could pin the reason for this on a solid thing. I wish I could say it was middle school or high school or a certain person or people, or even just one event. The closer I look, the closer it seems to looking like it was what didn’t happen. I always did well, never truly failed at anything. Maybe it was because I never failed, never truly needed to ask for help when I would fail without it, that failure was so frightening – the nothing in the dark was scarier than when you saw the monster, after all. Whatever the case, once I tasted the poison of “should”, I couldn’t seem to stop drinking it.

I still can’t. I want to, but I don’t know how.

But I have to try.

I wish I had some sage advice for you. I wish I could pull out some easy dotted list that had the answers to make your life easier, to make coping with it easier. But I haven’t found those answers, and I need help finding them, and maybe admitting that is the first step to getting out of it. But the first step can’t be the only step. I have to find the second. In the meantime, I’ll give you the one thing I have learned:

Do not listen to “shoulds”. There is no “should”. The shoulds are a poison that will get in your lungs and turn the air you need to breathe into more of itself. The world is chaos, there is no guarantee about what will happen if you do or don’t do the thing that’s tying your stomach in knots. I know it’s hard; it can feel impossible to get away. But if I don’t learn to get away from the “shoulds” and breathe again?

I’m going to suffocate.


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