This week, I should finish an assessment to see whether I have autism or not. This could be a big thing on its own, but more important is what difference it might make to my internal story. What if I had something that explained my difficulties, meant that I no longer thought of myself as a failure but maybe even as someone who had done pretty well considering?
They say that every man is the hero of his own story; that outside of a few moustache-twirling fictional villains, everyone thinks that they are in fact the good guy, or at least that they’re someone doing their best in an imperfect world. For those of us with low self esteem, though, this can be a difficult proposition.
Let’s look at some common story tropes. The hero is generally someone who starts out with little, and rises in spite of the odds beings stacked against them. William Wallace in Braveheart is shown to be quite happy as just a villager until he is forced to become a war leader. Against him are sneering Kings and noblemen who were born with power and privilege but who still want more. In The Illusionist, a poor stage magician goes up against a spoilt prince who believes he can take what—or who—he wants (that film also features one of the all time great rent-a-villains from Rufus Sewell).
Another common trope is the wastrel. Take Gattaca: despite having a heart condition, the hero impersonates someone genetically engineered to be perfect, using incredible effort and motivation to succeed. His fake genetic supplies come from a wastrel: a genetically engineered “valid” who didn’t exert himself, became a drunk, and got paralysed in an accident that was his fault. While not a villain, this character is not shown to be heroic or sympathetic. Heroes are people who rise despite adversity and only fall briefly towards the end of the second act. If you sink below your starting point you are at best a supporting character or comedy relief.
My internal narrative is a lot closer to the wastrel. I was born a member of almost every privileged majority (and some minorities) going. I had a strong academic ability. There are some flaws and difficulties, but nothing that other people haven’t overcome to succeed brilliantly, or so it seems. Not me, though. I have struggled to find jobs or relationships, and the ones I have, fall apart. I lose contact with friends and family members. I struggle with some of the basic things of life and living independently. I get bullied. After burning out of my last job and relationship breaking up I have spent a great length of time single, unemployed, drinking and smoking far more than is good for me. I don’t even know how long exactly, as I can’t bear to look up the year it happened.
Be aware when people say things like “X years ago I was in a horrible mess and despairing, I had this terrible disadvantage, but today I have a wonderful job, partner and children, there is hope” it often isn’t helpful to people like myself. No matter how well meant, it is still implying that the job/partner/children are necessary to happiness. None of those seem likely to happen for me; I don’t even want at least one of them. I also blame myself for not having had a similar turnaround. I think something like “Well this guy had depression worse than mine but still got a girlfriend in less than half the time I’ve been single, I must be a terrible person.”
But that’s not the point. I should not be judging myself against other people. This is my story we’re talking about here. In Star Wars terms: a Sith wants to beat their opponent, a Jedi takes their satisfaction from being good at using what they have and cultivating inner peace. Science seems to bear this out when it comes to motivation amongst athletes: there are those who wish to master their discipline, and those who want to win. I’ll give you one guess which type tends to use drugs.
Now, it seems I might have a chance to turn my narrative around: I may have had autism all this time.
Autism is a spectrum; nobody has 0% autism in the same way nobody has 0% schizophrenia. But there are degrees. It could be that my social tolerance expires without warning for a reason other than self absorption. It could be that I can’t hear against background noise for a reason other than laziness. I might misread social conventions or signals for a reason other than just being a weirdo.
In short: I might be like the hero of Kung Fu Hustle who (spoiler alert!) turns out to have had a blockage in his chi flow all his life, rendering him a weak comedy character until it is corrected. Not that I’m counting on becoming a master of the Buddhist Palm or anything; but I would no longer be a wastrel, I would be a valiant underdog. Which is a role that our society loves; sometimes it’s funny watching every politician or movement try to portray themselves as such.
The diagnosis might be negative, of course. Which would force me to become a little more enlightened again: I would have to be more Jedi. I should not judge myself against other people, the standards of an often unenlightened society, or medical records. I am myself; I have my own standards, I can learn to manage my unique characteristics and relationships better.
Every person should be the hero of their own story. Unless you genuinely enjoy moustache-twirling villainy, of course.