Diagnosis: Isobel’s Story

Part of the problem was that I look normal. Some people say stunning (although I cannot see the big picture becaue I get stuck on the multitude of details that I find grotesque about myself). I went to a private girls school in Surrey (darling) and one of Britain’s esteemed red brick universities. In 2001, I was recruited as a graduate in to one of the ‘big five’ consultancy firms in London. I scored myself a husband who looks like Matthew Fox and we have two spectacularly gorgeous children. What on earth could be wrong with me?

The first page of my first diary written a few days after my 12th birthday in 1991 gives us a clue:

“I am going in to one of my dark moods again. I don’t want to trust or talk to anyone. I don’t want attention. I’m not going to talk about things to people. I’m going to be me in myself but be my normal loud self to cover it up. Soon someone will see what is wrong. I suppose I do want someone to pity me, which is really stupid because I don’t want to talk about it. There are so many things to think about. I am one of my problems but I just want to put everything out of my mind. Oh f*ing hell what am I going on about coz I don’t know how I feel and I don’t want to sort feelings out to write them in here either”.

The last page of my last diary was written about ten years later but the message was the same. By that time, I had already received (and ignored) several diagnoses of depression and made my first rather lame attempt at suicide.

Where were my parents? They were there and I am told that I was loved. My mother recalls that I was a perfectly normal, happy, popular, confident child. My childhood was said to be better than average because, in an era when divorce statistics were accelerating, my parents (who, as far as I could tell despised each other) remained married. She attributes (a) my decade of nuclear meltdowns to my insolence as an only child (b) extraordinary anxiety-led insomnia to a short period of post-natal separation and (c) my refusal to interact with any female of the species to ‘growing up’ with two boy cousins who lived 200 miles away. Where was my father? He was sat in a corner with his eyes closed, quietly fuming.

I was not happy, popular nor confident. I was not ‘normal’ in the neurotypical sense. I was squarely on the Autistic Spectrum in the Aspergers zone. Apparently the condition is hereditary but neither of my parents can fathom where it comes from. My mother cannot recall any signs in my maternal grandparents who were “nice, normal people” (NB. This would be my maternal grandfather who once beat his son with a metal pole during a fit of rage) nor my paternal grandparents who were “calm and placid” (NB. This would be my paternal grandfather whose wrath you would not want to incur, according to his niece). Hmm. Was my Aspergers an immaculate conception or did I grow up in a fully-fledged Aspergers household? Answers on a postcard.

In the aftermath of my diagnosis, my mother said that it was a shame we did not know about my condition before I had children because we should not knowingly pass on these problems. (She is apparently now praying to God that genetic engineering will solve everything before her grandchildren are ready to procreate). On the contrary, my diagnosis is my friend not my enemy. For thirty-five years, I have been wondering why it was so hard to walk on my two legs. Now, I understand that one of my legs is missing some muscle. So, like everybody else, I have two legs – and whilst walking does not feel too problematic (well, usually…), running certainly exhausts me more rapidly than the neurotypical person. I also understand that this same muscle is missing in the leg of at least one of my very amazing children. He is six years old and has already developed dark thoughts in response to the perception that he is disliked. Somebody wise said to me, “Your son is a genius and he will fly academically –teaching him how to be happy is going to be more challenging”. Now that I finally know who I am, I am ready for this challenge.