Our life and times – working out who you really are

You have finally got that interview for your bucket list job. You have washed, cleaned your teeth, brushed your hair, iron your clothes, clipped your nails, you know, all the things you normally intend to do but never get the time in the morning, or just can not be bothered. You sit in the room, opposite the interviewer as they quietly scan your application form, you are fidgeting nervously, your palms sweaty, tongue dry, and then they smile sweetly at you and ask you the all-time, no 1, worst question….’tell us about yourself?’.

Suddenly the walls come crushing down on you, you struggle to breath, a hot flush seeps across your face and you look longingly at the window calculating your chance of escape! How many floors up are we? will I survive the fall? How is it possible to encapsulate ‘yourself’ into a 60 to 90 second reply? What even is ‘yourself?’, do I even know? And then when you have finally stopped dwelling in this Kafkaesque torment, you tend to ramble of list of professional accomplishments, or your favourite hobbies and hope this is enough to impress and deceive that you have started to doubt that you truly understand ‘yourself’, and that in their position would never dream of giving you the job!

Now that I’m really confused lets really think about this, if you asked me to ‘tell you about myself’, and if I wanted you to understand who I am and what is important to me, how would I answer? So, I’m thinking I’m going to write my obituary to see if we can work this out together.

‘Me’ – The man. The myth. The self proclaimed legend.

‘Me’ died today, a result of being too stubborn and doing things that he knew better than to do. ‘Me’ was killed when he rushed into a burning orphanage, tackled a troop of blood crazed tigers and saved a group of adorable children. Or maybe not. We all know how he liked to tell stories.

‘Me’ loved kebabs smothered in Burger sauce, Zombies, sleeping, toy soldiers, Supernatural, one beautiful woman, four amazing children, cooking and Diet Coke. He hated tuna, tying shoelaces, having his toenails cut, blue ink, injustice and hypocrites. ‘Me’ didn’t suffer fools and had a certain disdain for people. Individuals were OK, he would even go so far as to say that he liked a few of them, but people, a collective mass would have him running to the hills in terror. He didn’t understand them, and they didn’t understand him.

Peas were the food of the devil and Julia Roberts the Devils ambassador.

He was master of the remote control and ruled the television with a fair and equal hand, providing it was nothing medical or slushy. He excelled at never losing competitive illnesses and reading any history book he could find.

‘Me’ loved to tell stories, and you could be sure 50% of every story was true. You just never knew which 50%. Vin Diesel, The Rock and Jason Stratham were his movie heroes.

He adored and cherished his four children: Cuddle Bear, Baby Bear, Poppy Bear and Fourth Bear. Mummy Bear, he felt that at times he was more of a burden, but despite this he loved her with a furnace of passion, she was the ballast that kept him afloat and for which he was eternally grateful. She taught him the importance of laughter, generosity, compassion and never to put chilli in a salad dressing.

‘Me’ was a fashion trend setter, he took cues from no one. He exclusively wore his soft trousers with pride and often formed long lasting, deep and emotional relationships with them. He was also a champion for Crocs, who can forget the stoic look of ‘Me’ trudging through the snow in his Crocs and socks? But of course, given the choice, ‘Me’ would choose to be naked, bearing his buns to the sun.

‘Me’ lived his life to the mantra ‘Carpe Diem’, providing he could do it tomorrow, and if he couldn’t, the day after that would be fine. ‘Me’ lived with a shadow throughout his life, a fear that he could not find his original voice, that he was missing out, that his purpose would be lost, that he was without passion. ‘Me’ often felt misunderstood and unfairly judged by the world, and no matter how hard he tried he always felt it was never ‘just good enough’. But then in a lightning bolt from Zeus, he discovered that his original voice lay within his family of bears. His children are his passion. He just hopes that the realization hasn’t happened too late.

‘Me’ would like to feel, that despite the struggles he did a wonderful job at life. That he’ll be remembered for his smile, his warmth, his creativeness, his playfulness, and that he made a difference. Each day he would try to do at least one thing right. But most of all for his lifelong crusade to educate on the dangers of holding in your farts. He tried to find humour in every situation, whatever life throws at him, he tries to get through it by laughing. Unfortunately, not everyone had such a finely and uniquely attuned sense of humour so wouldn’t always get the joke, which just made ‘Me’ laugh even louder.

In accordance with his wishes, we have grafted his top half onto the bottom half of a horse, and hope as he does, that in future years when he is excavated by a Tony Robinson equivalent that he’ll cause a few bemused smiles and head scratching’s. Although his desire that the discovery of his centaur like corpse will cause recorded history to collapse and a new cult to emerge in worship of him, to be a little far fetched.

A few years after ‘Me’ passing, he discovered he was autistic. If you listen closely you can just hear him laughing from among the stars.

So that’s my attempt. Do you feel you understand me better now? I tried to be as honest as I dare, and it felt good. It was silly, because I am silly.

Or did it? Is good what I mean, it felt, well revealing and odd. Am I happy with it? Not really, I have no epic tales of daring too impart. I never climbed Everest without oxygen, in my underwear, walking backwards on my hands to reach the summit and take a selfie and call all back home. Amazingly you can get mobile coverage on the rooftop of the world, makes me wonder why I can’t get it in my home!!!!

In truth, I want my epic tale, or as the Beautiful South would lament, ‘I want my sun-drenched, wind-swept Ingrid Bergman kiss’. Naturally I don’t mean literally, that would be just plain wrong on any level, she’s dead folks. The great thing about writing your obituary while alive, is that you’re got time to change it…

And while admittedly I may not be the one to pen my own obituary when I’m gone, (which when you think about it, feels like an injustice, who knows what will be written?), I’ll at least, in some small hopeful way be the inspiration for it!

As much as this exercise has been about how well do I know myself, it’s also shown me that while I can’t change, erase, omit the past, the future me is a mystery, and more importantly a changeable me, and seriously, you never know what will happen. A year ago I would never have thought that I would be autistic, in truth, I had suspected, but for it to have actually been diagnosed, was so far off my radar. I do not have to be the same Me today as I was yesterday or will be tomorrow! I’ll have successes, I’ll have failures, probably, realistically more failures than success, but I would have tired.

‘Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom’ – Who would you be if fear didn’t exist?

When I try to think of me, I find it hard to see the whole of me.  I can slip and slide from one character to another – me, the husband, me, the father, me, the ex-smoker, me, unhappy with work.  These are just parts of me, are they, or are they not, equal to the sum of me?  bout the parts of me, not being equal to the sum of me.  But isn’t that true for us all?  Am I just defining what I am, rather than who I am? 

From my parts, ‘mes enfants’, we can infer or deduce all manner of identities, but how can we be certain, can we ever be, and how much does it matter, of who we really are?  And do we need to know who we really are to be happy?  Can we just assume to be happy?  After all, can we assume to assume anything?

To assume is one of the things that turns my skin green, makes my muscles rip through my shirt and causes me to communicate in monosyllabic grunts.  To assume is to dismiss a person’s truth.  We assume, when the truth is seen as too inconvenient, or it does not align with our narrative, or we simple do not have the inclination to listen.  Assumptions can lead to misunderstanding, which can lead to persecution, which can lead to anger, which can lead to conflict, which can lead to the end of humanity as we know it….all because we didn’t feel the need to listen. 

Sorry, I am ranting and digressing, so back to where I wanted to go.

So how do I find out who I am?

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~E.E. Cummings

Let us start at the beginning if you are sitting comfortably, then, I will begin.  I guess to help me fully understand who I am or feel I am meant to be, I should start by asking some questions. 

What is it that is stopping me form finding out who I am, well, it is the same as what was stopping me from quitting smoking for so long?

I was afraid, afraid I couldn’t do it, afraid I wouldn’t be good enough, afraid I would fail and in turn let the people I love down, so much so that it made me want to reach for another cigarette!  Over two years ago, I had my last cigarette.  It was hard, and there were times when I would have sold me wife I could light up, but I did not, and I have not since.  I decided that fateful day, that the fear of failing was not going to stop me, hold me back any longer, and this neatly brings us to my first question.

If there was no fear, that I knew I could not fail, what or who would I be?

At first, I thought, ‘How am I supposed to know, how is anyone meant to know?’, but with a little effort, a little dreaming, and then a bit more belief, the penny dropped.  I want to be a paperback writer!  As Leopold Bloom danced and sang when he had his epitome, so did I, albeit in my heart, in a dark room, lights off, curtains drawn and with no-one watching.   

While I’m sure you are thinking ‘writing?  never?  really?,  I would never have believed it!,  Well that’s a turn up for the books!,   Who would have thought it!. 

It has always been nestled, snugly in the back of my mind, fed with the occasional nourishment of dreams and aspirations.  The fear of failing had locked it firmly in place and tortured me with ideas of what if.  

The next, will seem a tad fantastical, but then I never said it had to fall within the realm of reality.  I would absolutely love to be a time traveller.  I am not so interested in going forward, only backwards.  I enjoy looking at old photographs, images from history.  I will look at the people in them and wonder who they were, what they did, what they were thinking.  I wonder what they would make of life today.  I will picture their world, their life, dreams, hopes, and fears and compare that with mine today.  I will try to forge a connection with this long dead person, or a scenery that has long vanished, sacrificed to the Gods of modernization. The oldest object I own is a French Napoleon III coin from 1856.  In that year, The Crimea War ended, the Wild West was still Wild, Sigmund Freud, Nikola Tesla, George Bernard Shaw, and Woodrow Wilson were born.  Slavery was still practiced in the States, the American Civil War was still 5 years away.   Man, only dreams of flying and the idea of an internet would have been the rantings of a mad man guilty of heresy.  But this coin has survived, survived the rise, and fall of nations, survived invasions and liberation.  It has survived a journey, carried in the hands and pockets of nameless thousands and eventually it found a way across the sea and into my hands.  It is worn and tarnished, but it shines, it glows with the stories of those that held it before.  This coin, as also the photographs, are history’s legacy to me, they speak of a bond between now and then, they whisper of the enduring curiosity of human nature, they reveal a commonality within the human condition and they promise that, like the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, life finds a way. 

The point of this little exercise, I am sure you will see, is how am I meant to learn, to grow, to find me, to be happy, if I have forgotten how to dream? 

A Social Experiment…into Me!

“Will you be home for dinner? I’m making midlife crisis” “Oh, I guess I’ll have a slice, if you’re making it already.” – Maggie Stiefvater –

The Office of National Statistics reports that 40 to 59-year olds are the most anxious age group. The same Office further reports that in 2018 (most recent data available) males aged 45 to 49 years have the highest age-specific suicide rate (27.1 deaths per 100,000 males).  Let us not even get started on suicide rates among the autistic population!  I am no expert, but do you think the universe is trying to tell me something?

I was standing on the verge of an abyss, and this abyss was waving back, offering sweets with a sinister smile, dressed somewhat like a creepy clown holding a red balloon, that just took the irony a clown shoe too far. 

My ‘It’, my clown, was a traditional, passé and predicable mid-life crisis, which turned out to be anything other than a traditional, passé and predicable mid-life crisis.

I did not buy myself a brand new, little red corvette, nor was I tempted by any alluring adverts promising to improve my sex life.  I did not start wearing the latest youth trends or adopting the language of ‘cool’, ‘you get me? Fam?.  I did consider a tattoo, and I still am, I am allowed one little vice?  I did join a gym, and was doing quite well, until Covid told me that my ‘name is not on the list so you’re not going in.  When I did go, I didn’t wear Lycra, or any other type of harness that would have facilitated me hurtling off mountains, aeroplanes, bridges etc.  Extreme sports may rule Dude, but for me, the most extreme I dare to get is picking the dish with four out of five chillies at my local restaurant. 

But what I did, was fall headfirst, executing a perfect reverse 4.5 somersault in pike position, crashing into a crumbled, broken, and shattered heap at the bottom.  I wallowed, I squirmed, I thrashed around in the primordial ooze of my psyche, desperately seeking my answers, marbles, Susan, or anything!  I found answers, I made discoveries, some completely unexpected and some which I knew but had tried to hide.  One completely caused me to redefine my life, to consider all my experiences, all my choices, my failures, my wins in a new light.  One helped explain who I am, and, in that sense, I had found my answer, my truth, the reason for my struggles.  But I realised that now, the hard part truly begins.  I had been K.O’ed in my 44th round, I had felt like throwing in the towel, but hey, things always get better right?

In 2020, a year unlike any other in living memory, a year when globally we were all forced to re-examine how we live and how we should live, I discovered that I belong to that 1% of the UK population who are fully pledged, diagnosed and card-carrying members of the Autistic Condition.

I am now climbing out the other side, and every day I am learning more interesting and new aspects of me, and things, which to be honest, scare me.  How do I make it work?  Here I am, in my mid-forties, I really did think that growing old would take much longer.  I have reached the crest of the hill and it is a downhill ride from now on folks, the Grim Reacher is closer to me than the Stork. Has a realization of my own mortality released an anxious, nagging fear of my own failure? (Actually, it is not my mortality that I dread the most, it is the mortality of my children. When I gaze upon their sweet, beautiful and pure faces, the idea, that one day they will have to die, I pray long after I have passed, fills me more with anxiety than I have for my own life!) Is this my last hurrah, my last tango, my last stand? Have I failed at my life, will I never fulfil my true potential, that is the real nightmare question, but how can I know the answer?  And how can I incorporate Autism into this framework, I have felt differently for so long, I’ve felted I’ve struggled where others seemed to find it easy, but I always thought, or was it that I had always been told, that it would get better, I just needed to focus, apply myself, pay attention, that I could and would be cured one day, when I decided to grow up.

I began this blog just over a year ago, before I got my diagnoses.  I am now trying to rewrite with this new vision, when and where I feel it is important, but regardless of whether this is post or pre diagnoses rambling, the journey is what matters.  And through all this, I’ve never, and still do not, really feel like a grown up.  Does anyone? I’m not even sure what it’s meant to feel like, I just have this persisting itch that being grown up is not at all what it was sold as when I was a kid (the kicker being, there’s no return policy.) The other day, my 13-year-old daughter, showing a wisdom far beyond her years, proclaimed that ‘adulthood slowly dismantles your soul’ day by day’.

So that’s the plan, to discover myself, or re-discover, or reaffirm, or evaluate, or hold a ‘performance management review’, or ‘boldly go’, but essentially, this grown up kid has been playing a huge hide and seek game in which I’ve never truly felt I’ve pinned the tail on the donkey, or kissed the girl, or smashed the piñata! How is all that for mixed metaphors? Which is how I feel, a mixed metaphor!

You may feel that I’m being incredibly indulgent, but hey, you don’t have to read, but if you do, and I hope you do, I hope you enjoy, share and can find a thread of honesty in the incoherent and subconscious ramblings of this Dad’s (Autistic) truth.

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