An interview with the eminent developmental psychopathologist, Prof Simon Baron-Cohen, reminds me that I once took his famous online ‘Are you possibly a bit autistic?’ test*, and passed with flying colours.
My condition has essentially remained undiagnosed for 65 years. Other, that is, than by the many people who glaze over when I try to respond to their neighbourly attempts to engage me in conversation (never, for instance, ask me how I am?), or who press the hidden buzzer to call Security whenever I make what I imagine to be icebreaking humorous comments in a store, or on public transport.
Consequently I have learned to avoid stores and public transport; and to immediately counter people’s enquiries after my health with disarming words: ‘yeah, good thanks. You?’ Even when I am feeling I should take poison.
Prof Simon Baron-Cohen (oh, for Pete’s sake. Is it okay if I just call you B-C? Thanks.) expounds two interesting theoretical developments in the field of autism study: that autism is a spectrum disorder, not an absolute condition; and that there are lots of different types of brains. So people with severe autism simply are at one end of the spectrum and have an unfortunate combination of brain types. The rest of us may be just a bit odd in one or two respects.
Is it possible, though, that this incurable condition can a) get worse as you get older, and b) be faked? (Corollary: if faked, is faking a symptom?)
For much of my life, I have gone about rescuing small creatures. Whilst being often quite beastly to larger ones.
The actual deaths of people close to me, friends, parents, ex-wives and so on, scarcely seem to affect me. I feel a bit sad when I think about them. I shrug, and say ‘That’s life. It’s how it goes.’ I can mourn, sure, but I don’t really get grief. You’re still alive, no? So they’d be happy for you?
But if on my walks with Hunzi along the footpaths through the exurban space that passes for our local park, I see a poor little worm gasping for moisture, or maybe drowning (it rains a lot here) right where a cyclist could ride over it – a bug, or a caterpillar struggling to get across the tarmac, I will always stop to help. I keep a spider rescue kit, a glass and a postcard, in the bathroom. Even though I find most spiders comically sinister. God knows what they make of me.
Now, such behaviour might be described as minorly obsessive. Worse, I know it. Part of me is standing back and saying, you’re just showing off, Bogler. Doing it for effect. Hoping for a spot of good karma. What if, by moving that bug to the long grass on the other side of the road, you are increasing the likelihood it will be eaten by that blackbird on the fence over there? Or that the spider will find nothing to eat in the new home you have unwisely chosen for it? And so on.
Then, another part of me smirking annoyingly behind the second part of me is saying, why are you saying these things to yourself? Rationalising? You know you know it’s only an act. You want to be seen as eccentric, don’t you, to cover for your other personality defects: being thoughtless, ill-mannered, lazy, cowardly, pompous and manipulative – a bad listener – has become your default personality. Now you can’t be anything but, else everyone will be disappointed.
Ah yes, says yet a fourth person in the queue behind the other three, but then when you do show a rare flash of compassion and are kind to someone who is down in the dumps, or behave expansively, maybe buying someone a drink at the bar for a long-overdue change, doesn’t it show that there is a whole other side to you that people are missing and they will then go home thinking maybe people are not so bad after all? So you can feel better about your miserable self?
And that this is easier than being nice all the time?
The thing is, I feel so damned guilty and depressed. It’s the Hamlet complex, thinking too much and doing damn-all, until some random Norwegian comes over and slays you. Overanalysing situations. Looking for pattern and meaning in everything. Not believing for one second in the veracity of astrological predictions, yet following minutely the prognostications of pop astrologer, Russell Grant, and finding timely significance therein.
Not believing for one moment in the existence of God, yet making endless demands on his patience.
Avoiding stepping on cracks. Counting things, like the bars in Coltrane solos. Lining up piles of leaflets on counters. Straightening pictures on walls. Tidying stationery on desktops, pens and Post-it notes – always ensuring that just one item is aligned widdershins, counter to the overall strategy, just to show there is one. Just to show you’ve got a subversive streak, really. While watching yourself doing it.
I’m not a compulsive hand-washer. But every time I do wash my hands, it’s a performance. Method-acting. My ‘motivation’ is to adopt the character of a man who is following precise handwashing instructions. As it happens, I received these instructions ten years ago on a course in food hygiene. I think most people by now would be ignoring them, or have forgotten. But certain things stick in the mind.
I engage in these obviously sociopathic behaviours. Yet I am aware that I am doing it with full self-awareness. And aware that self-awareness itself suggests that I am creating an artificial response to the world, an observed act. Observed usually only by me.
Look, there he goes, showing off again, straightening those disordered piles of booklets in the exam room, just like a real OCD person, half-believing it will change the energy vibe in the room, cursing himself at the same time for even pretending there is such a thing as an energy vibe – New Age drivel.
Knowing he is doing it because it fits with his self-made image of eccentricity, unpredictable yet entirely predictable, that he uses to cover for his real feelings of guilt and insecurity and isolation.
Significant in his insignificance.
Knowing too, that he cheated the results of the B-C ‘Are you possibly a bit autistic?’ test….
He always likes to pass tests, however negative the outcome; believing he is smarter than the test-setter and can second-guess the answers to produce any desired result. He imagines that a healthy dose of autistic spectrum disorder, a score of 35 (16 is borderline) will assuage his concern that the face he presents to the world is an invention, when he has no real idea who he is or why he is here? and so cannot know if it is an invention or not; and, frankly, because he is bored.
And lurking behind the fourth person is yet a fifth, who says, ‘For fuck’s sake! It’s twelve noon already, and you’ve done nothing. Get over yourself. Go and do something useful.’
*No, I know. It isn’t called that. Sigh.