Telling my Ex I’m autistic

I invited my son’s father (Mr X) to join me in a drive to a buddhist meeting – he practises Nichiren Buddhism too.  He took a few days to think about it, saying he might need to work, then texted yes, he’d like to go in my car for the 45 minute drive.

Why am I telling you this? We had a short marriage around 30 years ago and because I told him about my autism identity today. I felt I needed to. Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: Because of the difficulties I’ve had this year, I’ve ended up talking to a mental health adviser and was referred to the adult autism team for them to identify if I am autistic. I have specific problems they feel are potentially on the spectrum.

Mr X: What?

Me: I know it sounds strange, its probably my use of the word ‘autistic’. As an adult, being identified as autistic is about certain social problems and behaviours that have become really difficult for me. The impact of these mean I fall within the autism spectrum. Its something that’s always been there in my life, its just affecting me quite badly now, particularly this year.

Mr X: What do you mean, affecting you? How? All I ever hear on the radio these days are mental health, help adverts.

Me: OK, well most people find me socially awkward, I don’t socialise well and there’s other issues to do with communication difficulties. It means I’m neurologically in a small percentage of people that experience these types of difficulties. I don’t think like the majority of people. I’m just blind to a lot of these behaviours in myself and it causes me a lot of anxiety.  I’ve been seeing a Counsellor and I’m identifying my weaknesses in these areas that are causing difficulties. I have strengths too. It’s a good thing, it just means I’m finding some things out about myself that are really helpful.

MrX: What kind of difficulties?

Me: Well you know I’m still being treated for anxiety and depression? I’ve been able to bounce back a bit but was at a point where I just couldn’t talk to anyone and had virtually become mute. I just felt misunderstood the whole time. Its not anything new, it just became acute.

Mr X: Oh right, that makes sense.

Me: Why does it make sense? 

Mr X: Well I was interested in coming to the meeting today but didn’t immediately say yes, as I didn’t know if I could face being in the car with you that long.

Me: WHAT? Why, what did you think I would do?

Mr X: Well you’re either totally silent or make me feel… bad, inferior every time we talk. So I didn’t know if I could actually face it.

Me: Really?  I get the driving silently thing as I have to concentrate on, well, absolutely everything, but what do you mean I make you feel inferior?

Mr X: (Silence)

Me: I really want to know. One of the issues is that although I know there are communication problems, I can’t necessarily identify what they are. I know that sounds strange, but it would help if you told me.

Mr X: Well, either you drive in silence which is pretty uncomfortable, or you shoot me down with anything I say.

Me: Can you give me an example of what you mean, it doesn’t have to be specific or anything.

Mr X: Well its like whatever I say, you start digging into it to prove I’m inaccurate or wrong. I end up feeling inferior in anything I say.

Me: Oh, right, I know what you mean. Yes, that is one of the things… I think it’s about attention to details and having to forensically investigate everything to make sure it makes sense to me. Another identifier is being very direct, blunt.

Mr X: Haha, yes, what you’re describing makes sense. You’ve always been like that.

Me: I guess so, it’s like I’m aware of it but at the same time, I’m not. I have this urge to really, really get to the point of what’s being talked about – without the small talk. Its like a different way of communicating.

Mr X: (Laughing) everything you’re saying makes so much sense, you really are like that.

Me: Part of it is that I tend to think in pictures, so if you say something, I have to try and match what you say so we’re kind of both on the same picture page. It can take a bit longer than regular discussions, which is why I get into detail too. Not only that, there’s often a delay whilst I double check everything I’m carefully listening to. Apparently I miss other things during communication, like body language and facial expression. Its been a really big learning curve, but it’s all good.

Mr X: Everything you are saying sounds so familiar. How do you feel about finding out about this? It must be a bit strange?

Me: Well it is, but I’ve been doing a lot of reading and seeing Counsellors most of the year so I’ve been able to discuss it. Everything I’ve been reading has been like pieces of a puzzle finally fitting into place. Things I’ve struggled with all my life, by looking at them in a different way, everything just fits and makes sense. I’m actually really happy to find my struggles can be identified in this way. Its not a big problem. I think its like being left-handed. 5% of people are left handed. 5% are dyslexic. These are neurological differences. I’m thinking probably the figure is more like 5% of people have this neurological difference that is currently called ‘autistic’.

Mr X: (Laughing) 

Me: Another thing I found out which was useful, is that because of the difficulties I continuously experience, I’ve become more and more anxious. I read that anxiety in a person can be misunderstood as ‘being angry’. There’s been so many times people have said to me, you sound angry or, why are you angry?. And I’ll be trying to find a way to say, no, I’m not angry, I just want to be able to explain what I think. My voice often speeds up to add to the tension. Its so frustrating and it leaves me feeling like I can’t communicate. On top of that, because of the way I listen and process information, it may seem like I’m ‘acting’ when I’m talking, you know, not behaving like you’d expect.

Mr X: OMG!!! This makes so much sense, it explains so much!

Me: Well I wanted to tell you and could really do with you explaining to me what the ‘so much’ is you’re referring to.

There’s a phrase “mindblind”. Now that I have identified many of the ‘autistic’ behaviours, I can clearly see them in others. The weird thing is, now I know what they are, I am trying to watch myself to see how or when I behave in that way. Honestly, I’m not aware of when I’m starting to ‘do’ these behaviours, but I can clearly see it in others. I can see how blunt, direct or intense someone is, I can see the effect it has on people around them – including me. I just have difficulty seeing how it is affecting other people when I am communicating that way. 

Mr X: This is just so strange! I can really see what you’re talking about, sometimes you’re just rude.

Me: People don’t tend to tell me I’m rude! Can you give me another example of what you’re referring to?

Mr X: Its just the way you speak, you often come across as not saying much, but when you do it’s just too direct.

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We carried on talking about autism after the meeting.

The understanding between us grew so much today. Mr X seemed really relieved that there was some sense he could make of things in my character which he has previously found difficult. He was completely supportive and kind.

For me, I feel like the universe is having fun. Maybe something like 5% of people are born with neurological ‘autistic’ differences and maybe it’s just necessary to life on this planet.

Two different ways of communicating – like two people arguing about whether a glass is half full or half empty. One focuses on the word ‘full’ and the other on the word ‘empty’.

It creates the potential for damaging conflict because both are blind to agreeing the measurable volume of either air or water. I don’t want to argue, I want to get to the specifics.

Here’s a childhood experience; I had a brief argument with a primary school teacher when she told me, (at the age of 9) that the trouble in my peer conflict that particular day, was six of one and half a dozen of the other. Me – the visual thinker = half a dozen hot cross buns looks way more than the number 6! And I was not the hot cross buns!!

11/11/18 is a milestone Armistice day today and both me and Mr X deepened our friendship and mutual trust. We’ve both become happier after chanting together for Kosen Rufu and having the courage to engage in sincere dialogue.

It feels like I found a compassionate friend to help me!

Life is conflict

‘Life’ is conflict. Life is struggle. A living planet in this universe is not inert or it is ‘dead’. Anything connected to life is struggle. To be ‘alive’, this planet has to be in a state of continuous change. Human conflict does not have to be connected with suffering, hatred or the barbarism of war. Respectful conflict is a natural part of growth.

I heard a story once where a buddhist practitioner went to a leader for guidance. He was so tired of endlessly struggling in his life. He wanted a rest, he wanted a break. He spoke to the leader at some length. Why did he have to struggle, what was the point? Eventually the leader said “there is a place I know of where people don’t struggle’ and offered to show him.

He took him to a cemetery and said “all the people here are resting.”

Is that a bit dark? Sorry!!

There is a way to ‘win’ and not feel ‘defeated’ in my struggles. One of my quotes now…

“…So where does Buddhism play a role in such daily battles?

Ideally there is no separation between daily life and Buddhism. Buddhism does not exist in the realm of theory, and as Nichiren wrote: “The purpose of the appearance in this world of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, lies in his behavior as a human being.”

Nichiren also stressed that it is victory as a human being—including both tangible achievements and moral or spiritual victories which may be invisible to others—that matters…” You can read the full article here

Have a great day

Jo