Cameron: Well, I think it’s been over a year since our last post.
Sometimes when good things happen I get the urge to share them here. I’m reminded then that this blog isn’t only about autism, it’s also become a record of our life together, which I’m glad to share with others who would hear and show mercy.
The reason I haven’t written for so long, is due to the souring of my relationship with autism, especially as a subject.
I’ve been struggling with the parameters of my diagnosis ever since I first received it in 2012. Not only did it take some serious research, self doubt, and expensive professional assessment, but shortly after I received confirmation I had autism, ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ was rejected as an official diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association. It was like being admitted to a club, then having the club close the next day.
People started to say that Asperger’s didn’t exist any more.
As time progressed, the definitions of what did or did not qualify as autism, began to change. It felt like they were getting broader, with the goal being to include more people on the spectrum. This didn’t sit right with me, as I only considered myself just eligible for the diagnosis.
Then there were multitudes that diagnosed themselves with autism, which to me was the antithesis of one of the core fundamentals of Asperger’s: the need for certitude, and the idea that anyone could objectively diagnose themselves with autism, without being an expert on autism, just seemed ridiculous to me. Adding to that I noticed a growing opinion in the autism community that it’s the fault of others for not making life easier for us and that there was nothing wrong with being autistic. Fuck off, it’s a nightmare.
Getting the diagnosis felt like a home-coming, something to give relief to my strong tendency to castigate myself for my failings and lack of achievements. I needed and wanted to build an identity out of being an autistic person.
I know why I did this, but I’m not so sure it was the right thing to do. I’ve been obsessed with it too long, and have been foolish in placing too much emphasis on trying to wed this identity to who I am. I really should know better, but the need for comfort, certainty, and forgiveness has been too strong.
But whether I like being autistic or not, doesn’t change for one mote that it’s always with me. I can’t leave the club. Even if it’s closed or closing. I’m still reminded of it every day, every time I misinterpret things that others find obvious, or when my life shrinks to nothing but a tiny ball of fiery hate when external influences crush me with their unending noise and interruptions, or when I literally bounce of walls because of lack of coordination and spatial awareness. (Read our post about the latter here: Bouncing off the Walls.)
Anyway, as I started by saying, when good things happen, one of my first impulses is to share them on this blog. Maybe that’s because in its essence, this is about our journey on the spectrum’s edge, not about the edge itself, and I’ve always enjoyed how readers have responded to our writings.
I also wanted to talk about university in this post. In 1999, at the age of 22, I enrolled at the University of Waikato, and began studying towards a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English and History. A close friend of mine, Roel, had encouraged me to do this. We’d had hundreds (thousands?) of hours of private conversations, usually philosophical in nature, on anything and everything. We both were Freemasons, martial artists, fantasy role-players, and heavily interested with/involved in (to some degree or another) occultism and occult societies. Roel is seven years my senior, was a veteran university student, and also studying with me in a number of the same papers. He was the perfect person to have read over my assignments and show me how to improve them. Roel once handed an assignment in late, before the lecture started, to one of our professors. The man took less than a minute to read over Roel’s assignment, before giving him an A++ on the spot. I’m pretty sure some of the female witnesses swooned.
I managed two full years of study, before Asperger’s ADHD, OCD, Depression, Anxiety – and the rest – began to fructify into a bed of brambles, and fuckify my hopes of finishing my degree. I’d been driving myself at full throttle to get as far as I had. I’d passed papers by only 1% over the pass threshold; I’d handed in assignments under less than half the expected word count (but still passed, with appropriate reprimands). I was frequently drained of vital energy as I sat in classes that should have lit me up like a Christmas tree (such as Medieval Literature). As for exams, lack of time management (ADHD) and the fact that my fingers would frequently seize up in pain because I was unable to hold a pen at any grip , except for maximum squeeze (Asperger’s), lead to me often running out of time, still with plenty of things still to say.
In the first two years of study, I’d completed 14 of the necessary 21 papers to get the degree. But . . . Asperger’s. After a hiatus, I enrolled again, and completed four more. Then with only three papers left, something terrible happened: I fell in love with a woman in my history class. That didn’t go well at all, and it wrecked me for more than a year, and I was never to return to university again, except maybe to look at the ducks.
And, over a decade later, to walk Kirsten to the university library’s digital services department as she did her practicum before completing her second degree, this one in Information and Library studies.
So, there I was, aged 43 with a large student debt and not a bent bean to show for it. Until Kirsten had one of her ideas . . .
This is the part where it gets good, the kind of thing that makes me want to share on this blog. Kirsten, Lady of Miracles, Weaver of Words and Doer of Deeds, figured out that maybe all was not lost. I don’t remember the details of what she did, other than writing to the university on my behalf. But the upshot was, she figured out a way to transform the papers I’d completed, into something tangible. Or in this case, two things.
Which is why a week ago, I received in the mail my Diploma in Social Sciences and Diploma in Arts! I am now: Cameron James Elliot, DipSocSc, DipArts
They are on my wall, and I keep staring at them as if I’ve just discovered two Holy Grails.
God, my wife is cool!
Kirsten: Have to say this first – Cameron didn’t know that the letters you put after your name are called post-nominals, which is hilarious because he wants to be an over-educated snob but doesn’t really know the half of it!
Anyway . . . I struggled like a fucker to get my first degree, which I was doing at about the same time as Cameron was failing his. (We are practically the same age having both been born in 1977.) My health declined throughout and I went from being an A student first year to a C student by year three. I finally had my health problems diagnosed at the completion of my BHSc (Nursing), but that only served me with the reality that what I had wasn’t curable and I couldn’t go on to work as a nurse. To recap: I live with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), Fibromyalgia, and Irlen Syndrome has just been added to the mix.
Cameron and I both had never given up his dream that he would complete his degree. It’s a subject that we’ve returned to repeatedly in our dozen years together. This time it went something like: if we’re going to the UK next year then it’s now or never. After looking into the papers more seriously than ever it was quickly realised that ‘never’ was the only viable option.
But then I came up with the plan that resulted in Cameron’s new DipSocSc and DipArts post-nominals and we all have something to show for his hard work, determination and large student debt, which we have to pay off before leaving New Zealand for the Mother Land.
Cameron, and the many people that have congratulated him, have thanked me as well in numerous ways. But this is Cameron’s victory, not mine. I didn’t read over his assignments, support him during the stress and cheer him when he thought he couldn’t go on. But that’s exactly what he did for me when I completed my 2nd degree this time last year.
This is his success story and his alone. He deserves it. And we’ve both sworn never to go through formal education again!