“ - And I imagine it makes you politically angry as well -” says Serena (not her name, but it'll do).
“Yes!” I exclaim. We’re talking about the fact that I am shelling out eye-watering amounts of cash for a private consultation with a clinical psychologist, and am painfully aware that so many people who need this kind of help can’t afford it. It’s funny that Serena knows I’m politically angry about this, because we’ve just met. But then, talking to her is really fucking expensive, so it’s reassuring to know she’s perceptive.
This consultation could not be more different from the one with the NHS psychiatrist. Apart from anything else, it feels like Serena and I are bonding. It’s remarkable how comfortable I am here, 45 minutes into a chat about whether or not I might be autistic. NHS guy had squirmed a little when I suggested it as a possible cause of my recurring (and recurring, and recurring) depression, said “You see, the thing is, it’s a developmental disorder…” and when I couldn’t provide a completed questionnaire from either of my parents, declared there was nothing that could be done for me. (I was politically angry about that, too.)
Serena asks me about sensory issues. Sounds stress me out more than most people I know. A lot of people's voices are too loud for me, but I know it's weird to ask them to be quieter, so I don't. If I hear a sound with a rhythm or tune, I can’t help but tap it with my fingers (pinkie for higher notes, thumb for the lowest, and a complicated mapping for tunes with more than five notes so that - never mind). I startle so easily that people think it’s odd. I can not cope with warm rooms or the heating in cars or bright sunlight –
OK, so, social communication. I'm OK at this, I think. But I remember the day I learned about hyperbole. My mum explained it to me. I’m grateful to her that she always took the time to explain things to me. She told me about sarcasm, too. I can spot it most of the time (I think?), but I have not yet learned how to respond to it with the right combination of words and tone to tell the other person I’m in on the joke. I have ‘small-talk scripts’ which I can run without too much bother, but if you ask me a hard question it’s quite likely that I’ll have to shut my eyes to formulate the answer, or maybe stare at the wall above your head and answer in a monotone. I hope one day to learn how to say “I’m really sorry to hear that” without it sounding horribly phony. The fact that I can’t makes me sad.
“What about intimate relationships?” asks Serena.
“Ah, I knew that was coming!” I laugh. So does she. But seriously, we have to talk about that now. OK.
Serena nods a lot while we are talking. It is the nod of someone who is finding what she’s hearing very familiar. She asks me if there’s anything else about me that people might consider ‘weird’. This question was also not in the NHS consultation.
So I tell her a few things that come easily to mind. When I was a kid I loved car number plates. Still kind of do. A digital clock display is ‘good’ to me if the sum of the digits is divisible by the number of digits it has, and this has been the case since before I could use the word ‘divisible’. When I take eggs out of the box, I like to make sure that the ones that are left are arranged in a symmetrical pattern. My housemates at uni said that watching me eat a meal was “like watching surgery”, so now I try to eat in a less weird way, but if I’m not concentrating I’ll still eat my food one component at a time.
All of this discussion takes place over an hour and a half, interspersed with observations about how the Fucking Patriarchy impedes women from getting the mental health help they need, discussion of the possibility that I might also have ADHD (it would explain my relationship with deadlines), the pros and cons of SNRIs, and what a shame it is that I got slapped with a personality disorder diagnosis by NHS guy when everything about my presentation screams ‘autism spectrum’ to someone who knows a bit about how it presents in women - especially ones who happen to be good at passing exams.
Serena says that I seem to be more concerned with finding out about myself and making peace with whatever I find than actually putting myself into a diagnostic category straight away, and she's right. But as the session wraps up it looks like I might be on my way to being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Like my sister, now I think of it.
I go back in a month.