I take in a gulp of air and shut my eyes tight before I plunge beneath the surface.
One, two, three…
It starts to feel like my brain is tingling from the inside.
Four, five, six…
I'm not counting in seconds, not in minutes, but in hours.
Seven, eight, nine…
I search for anyone, anything who will ground me through my ever-increasing internal chaos.
When given the cue, I cannot break the surface fast enough, gasping for breath. I've done this thousands of times and yet, after twenty-five years of daily descents, I am no more sure that I will survive the next one.
I'm really not a writer. Writers have readers. I write because it's the only way for me to get from one day to the next without semi-spontaneous internal combustion taking effect.
I'm not a writer. I'm a processor of the world, an organizer of experience and, certainly, a weaver of words. Much like typical people have no need for the world to tune into their every thought as they learn and grow by connecting this neuron to that one and forming new pathways, it matters little to me whether others read the ways in which I develop my sense of myself and the world.
My memory goes back to before my first birthday. Prior to sometime much later, though, my memories are only sensory; I remember smells, tastes, and sounds…the painting on the end of my crib, my sister's writing on the chalkboard, and smell of the air sanitizer at my daycare…but I really cannot remember almost any of my thoughts and opinions. Without a way of processing the world and my place in it, I had no means of forming these memories.
I was an early and voracious reader. I had sight words in my second year and devoured The Hobbit in third grade. Yet, my language development was uneven. I asked my mom several years ago when I began to ask, "How are you?" to other people and she responded, "Lyd, we're still waiting."
I taught myself to type in fourth grade and took to instant messaging much like I take to cats and pink and Diet Mountain Dew. In middle and high school, I would form rather close friendships with kids in my grade online but when we met in the hall or in class, I was absolutely silent. I didn't understand why I had so much language ability…and yet, simple conversation evaded me entirely. I could lecture, for certain, and at home, my mom was either asking me to say something, anything, to anyone, or, conversely, for-the-love-of-all-that-is-good, please stop chattering. My sister (to this day) answers my every conversational volley with either, "I can't hear you! Speak up!" or, "Geez, Lydia, I'm right here!"
I kept no friends from high school and made none in college until my senior year. I met Leigh in late August and one rainy evening in mid-September during which I had dragged her to the gym with me, she asked, "Hey, have you heard of Asperger's?"
"Yeah," I said. "We learned about it in one of my education classes; I think I have it."
"Um, I know you do."
Several months later, I met with a clinical psychologist who had oddly-perfect teeth and a heavily-gelled comb over. I left with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. It was January 7, 2009. I was 21.
My final semester of college began just a week later and with it, so did the crumbling of my world. I had pushed so hard and tried to just be normal for so long that I simply, one day, could not do it another minute. The social and communicative demands of student teaching put so much stress on my atypical neurology that I became violently ill. After two weeks, I dropped student teaching in order to take an “alternative assignment” with more support but upon doing so, I had to forego any hopes of a teaching license. My plans for the future had burst.
I stumbled and staggered through the months until graduation, every moment ready to fall over the edge and into total burnout. Rather than all at once, it came on gradually and by the time I went home in May of 2009, I was a vacuum. Everything went in - I heard, I thought, I felt. Nothing, nothing came out.
Nothing came out…unless my hands were on the keyboard. It became my lifeline. I used it to communicate anything more complicated than simple questions-and-answers for over two years. During that time, I also began to blog and I was surprised when more than a few parents of children with autism were interested in my writing. I was able to articulate why autistic people do the things we do that strike typical people as downright odd. “Just as a newsflash,” I would say, “I think you’re odd.”
During the last two years, I have read dozens of books about autism and connected with others (mostly online, of course) who have it. As I learned how my mind worked and how I could make myself more comfortable in this world, I slowly came out of my shadowed state. My typing, mostly in the form of blog posts but also in books comprised of short essays, emails, conversations and texts, has been the lifeline that connects my brain to this world. Every moment I don’t spend at my computer is like holding my breath under water.
I take in a gulp of air and shut my eyes tight before I go out for the day.
One, two, three…
I run errands with my mom. Grocery store, Target, post office.
Four, five, six…
Doctor appointment and drop off the dry-cleaning.
Seven, eight, nine…
The light, the noise is so overwhelming. It’s become unintelligible.
Breathe. I’m settled in my comfortable spot with my favorite blanket, with my fingers at home on their keys.
About the Author
Lydia Wayman is a writer, graduate student, devoted cat mom to the Goose and Tia Marie Rose, and proud auntie to the cutest baby in the world. She was diagnosed with ASD at age 21 and has since been active in the autism community via her blog (Autistic Speaks), through other writing venues such as magazines and bulletins, by attending conferences, and in her local speaking engagements. As typing gave Lydia a way to process her experience and connect to the world around her, she strives to help others find their means of connection and, through it, their voices.