Focus.

Hello, neurodiversity

I disovered I might be autistic when I was 40. Nearly five years later, I'm still trying to get a diagnosis. Do I need one? Yes, please.

Early on

I’ve always been a bit, well, different.

When I was a child, I enjoyed my own company far more than hanging out with groups of friends. The noise of groups was overwhelming. I couldn’t focus on single conversations, everything was a tsunami of overstimulation. At the time, I thought it was the same for everyone. Most of my childhood party pictures you’ll see me in a crowded room with my fingers in my ears.

The standard social cues that everyone instinctively understands were a minefield. Giggle loops* are still my enemy. I still can’t read a room, or walk into a crowded one first - I’m great at holding doors open for everyone else to walk through before me.

My later teenage years saw me finding alcohol as a self-medication strategy. I got far more relaxed with a drink or twelve in me. Only after 20+ years of doing that have I realised it’s a pretty terrible coping mechanism.

At 15 I got a guitar. I found that I could get out and play gigs in big crowds because I had a focus. Girls liked it too. Bonus. I’d still turn up to the gig three hours early, unpack and repack my cables and make sure my picks were lined up right. If it’s all feeling very ‘fizzy’, I’ll still reach for a guitar and shut myself away for a few hours. I’ll still do the same.

Your gate will open in 11 hours. Quick!

I flew to Sweden a few years back from Heathrow. I got to the airport twelve hours early because the tube journey was often delayed. I had a lovely day and Sweden was amazing (Stockholm loves a tunnel).

I’m an unbeaten pro at catastrophising. Give me the slightest glimmer of something going wrong and I’ll find a million ways to find the worst possible outcome. Optimism is dark, unobtainable art, to me,

I get waves of amazing, incredible ultra-focus. I listen to Deftones or Mastodon and plough through days-worth of work in hours. If I find a new subject that interests me, I’ll dive into it, feet first, lead boots securely fastened. If it’s time for a new TV or vacuum cleaner, I’ll be online trawling through specs and reviews. Conversely, I’ll get so burnt out from just a trip on a train that I can’t get out of bed the next day.

I frown, a lot. I started a few talks recently by saying “I’m not as angry as I look”. Turns out, it’s a good icebreaker and a lot of people really did think I was furious.

The drugs don’t work

Because of all this, I’ve often had bouts of depression. When I was in my mid-30s I went and saw the GP. Rather than try and get to the bottom of the issue, they put me on a chunky dose of Sertraline.

Sertraline is horrible drug, but is seems to be the catch-all for GPs wanting you out of the door. You turn into a zombie, all your peaks, impulses and emotions are squashed and flattened. I spent my time disinterested and shuffling around. Sertraline is also incredibly hard to stop taking. It’s not really addictive, but it’ll ruin you if you stop taking it immediately.

Eureka

When I turned 40 someone asked if I’d ever thought about getting a diagnosis for autism. I’m slightly ashamed to say I only knew the stigmas attached to autism and the generalisations surrounding. But the more I looked into it, the more I found myself nodding.

Holy shit. Epiphany.

I tried to see the GP about it. Dismissive doesn’t begin to cover it. (Sertraline was offered again, FFS). I began to doubt I had it (see also: imposter syndrome). I’d take online autism tests repeatedly - every time, the score was high. Dammit, ok, one more time. Dammit.

Right to choose.

Private diagnosis is available for a few hundred pounds, but the GP can still disregard the results. It’s a rather crazy situation. You can also try the ‘right to choose’ approach through Psychiatry UK, but I’ve heard GPs are getting pretty good at stonewalling that, too.

But maybe I don’t need my GP’s validation, maybe a private diagnosis is enough. Any sort of validation would do nicely, please and thank you.

For all the seeming negatives my traits give me, I’m not sure I’d want to be, or know how to be any other way. I’m good at masking my traits these days and it’s reassuring to know that others are going through the same situations as me.

My traits have given me some brilliant creative problem-solving skills, you’ll just never get me to be able to roll them out to order Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm. They’re bloody good at popping up a 4am on a Sunday, though.


* A giggle loop is when you’re in a sombre or serious, quiet setting (like a funeral, or important business meeting) and you start to think how bad it would be if you laugh. And you find the idea of laughing funny, so that makes it funnier - go through that loop 20 times and you’ll be crying tears of laughter and holding back an onslaught of guffaws.

Who wrote these words?

This post - Hello, neurodiversity - was written by James Kindred, a freelance creative director and graphic designer based in Ipswich, Suffolk. He has 20 years of industry experience creating brands and creative strategies for clients and his own businesses.

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