By Kezia Pitt
Up until the last few years, it was believed that boys were one in four times more likely have Asperger’s Syndrome than girls. Tony Attwood, a leading expert on Asperger’s Syndrome (ASD) spoke out about this in a recent article. "The social life or interests of girls tend not to stand out in the same way as boys' do. They might have one friend, while boys with the condition won't have any. Also, boys hyperfocus on facts and certain interests, such as trains or weather. Girls escape into fiction. They have imaginary friends, live in another world with fairies and witches, obsessively watch soap operas or become intensely interested in celebrities."
I knew I was ‘different’ as a kid. I felt like an alien among the other kids, but was content enough in my inner fantasy world. I left the other kids alone, they left me alone, it was a good arrangement for everyone.
High school was a different story.
I was quite partial to tucking my trousers into my socks (I didn’t like the idea of my hems touching the ground) and when spoken to would launch into a 2 hour tirade about how much I loved whales and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The other girls were into music and boys. I didn’t care much about either, so immediately I began to stick out like a sore thumb.
The bullying eclipsed every moment of school. Students would spit on me in the corridors and put used sanitary towels in my book bag when I wasn’t looking. They nicknamed me ‘whale’ until they figured out that moniker didn’t upset me, so then launched into the fat taunts. Nothing was off limits. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, they even used that as ammunition against me.
I turned to junk food as a coping mechanism. My weight shot up to 182lbs, and any confidence I ever had died a violent death. By 16, I was clinically depressed. At my lowest moment I attempted suicide just to get away from the bullying. Somehow I managed to graduate. I never had dates or went to Prom, but I was grateful enough to be getting out hell alive.
Leaving school, I made the choice to learn how to mimic other people so I wouldn’t stand out so much. I spent the whole summer observing conversations, gestures and topics of interest for other teenagers. I approached ‘being normal’ like I’d approach a science project. There were graphs, binders of information and charts scripting out potential conversations and what would be the right thing to say. No whales. No Buffy. It was a shaky start to college, but it went a lot better than it’s predecessor. Ten years of practice and at 26 I can superficially appear quite normal.
Unfortunately it’s not genuine. It’s always an effort. I can recite my ‘script’ perfectly, but if someone asks me something outside of conversations I’ve researched, I fall to pieces and upset people.
“Hey, do you want to go out tonight?”
“I’d rather go home and play The Sims.”
To the casual observer, this may seem rude. People are so used to white lies, telling the truth often comes at a price. They don’t know that I map out every moment of my day in advance, and I don’t like to veer off the map.
I’ve never maintained a friendship or been called anyone’s girlfriend. Outside of work, I live a very solitary existence.
Being alone doesn’t bother me. Being around people really does.
I feel lonelier in a group of people than by myself. Even though I can’t be one of them, I still wish I could be. It’s as if there’s a wall between me and the world, but only I can see it. Occasionally I force myself to go out, but I suffer from what’s called ‘sensory overload’ – low level humming in UV lights, for example, makes me feel like a bat in a microwave. I have to leave where I am immediately and without explanation to rock back and forth behind a dumpster until it subsides. Between my abrupt freak-outs and unintentional rudeness I’ve never held down a friendship and never had a boyfriend.
Last year I had two friends who meant the world to me. Let’s call him Kyle. Kyle was my friend and seemed to tolerate the weirdness well. I had written off men as something that was simply impossible for me, but I fell in love with Kyle. After he reciprocated physically for a short time, Kyle eventually told me that he could never be my boyfriend. I couldn’t understand why. We were friends, we were lovers – what was I missing? Why did nobody ever want to be around me for very long? I knew it was the wall. For a while, I took it on the chin. Then after a few weeks I had the most epic Aspie meltdown known to man or God. Aspie meltdowns are well documented and easily put as a complete loss of control over your responses. Shouting, screaming, punching walls are common occurances in a meltdown. The worst part is afterwards, when you realize what you’ve done and feel like you had zero control over it. Imagine the worst you’ve ever acted drunk, and what it felt like when you sobered up.
That was the end of my friendship with Kyle – it scared the bejesus out of him and I can’t blame him for it. Despite what I did, I still wanted the best for him, and the best was not me. Some actions we can never undo.
I had developed a small group of friends over time, but after Kyle I decided having nothing meant having nothing to lose and it was easier to be completely alone.
Devastation and guilt over my inappropriate outbursts sent me into a tailspin of trying to seek control over something, anything – and I turned this onto food. I could control that. Putting emotional issues into eating is a dangerous path and the longer I went without eating, the more in control I felt. In 2 months I dropped from 170lbs I dropped to 120lbs in 3 months. At this point I was misdiagnosed as having bi-polar disorder and given the wrong medication – a side effect of which was immense weight gain. From last summer to this summer I went back from 120lbs to 186lbs. Finally, I’d had enough and went to a specialist psychiatrist who diagnosed me with Asperger’s and took me off the destructive meds that had been pulling apart my body and mind.
A book called Aspergirls by Rudy Simone changed my life. I understood what I had and why I acted the way I did. I also discovered that Asperger’s is commonly linked with digestion problems. 80% of children on the autism spectrum suffer from digestive problems.
I began studying foods and figuring out what worked for me and what didn’t.
So I made a list. What foods make me feel ill? What are my needs? I’m sensitive to dairy, gluten, pears and bananas. I don’t like eating meat, but I’m also anemic so need to get a lot of iron in my diet.
After embarking on a plant-based diet, using a lot of vegan and raw food recipes, the changes began.
Firstly that fug of depression began to lift; I felt more energized and peaceful. For the first time ever, I felt healthy on the inside. Even if weight loss wasn’t a goal, the mental clarity and stability was reason enough to keep off the processed foods.
What surprised me most was how much I could eat! I tend to stick with raw vegan recipes because I know everything in them is going to be good for me, but I’m not a fanatic about keeping raw. With a full time job, I don’t have time to be that particular. On special occasions, I’ll make a raw vegan chocolate cake or cookies, but mostly I like to keep plenty of ingredients that can be tossed onto a salad with no prep work.
Laziness is an important factor to keep in mind when beginning clean living. Getting home from work at 10pm and being faced with the prospect of making an elaborate meal is likely to send you into the arms of a pizza delivery service. I usually make one enormous batch of food if I know I’m working late nights so I don’t have to worry about it when I get home.
In the last 4 months I’ve lost 30lbs, in a steady and healthy way. I’ve also started taking ballet and yoga rather than punishing workouts. Both have been hugely beneficial for managing the sensory overload freak-outs; they still happen, but less often. I would prefer to take the classes alone, but a little bit of exposure to people is probably healthy too!
Although I still struggle with socializing, I feel healthy on the inside. As an Aspie, I will probably always spend a lot of time inside myself – but at least now I’m in a temple and not a dungeon.
Kezia Pitt- I love cooking, reading, painting, whales and ballet. Marine
conservation is my passion. If that doesn’t work out, I intend to
ghostwrite the autobiography of my cat, ‘Being Phelps’."