‘Confessions from My Early Thirties’
by Maria Tumnus
I was working in an office for three years and I couldn’t hide anymore. They left me alone for a while, as I came from a different culture (Romania), my English wasn’t that good at the beginning and I didn’t want to speak with grammatical mistakes. I thought they appreciated my discreet personality and respected my non-interference in other people’s businesses. But as my English improved, I started to understand more and more, and one of their favourite topics was… me.
“She sits at her desk all day; she’s so desperate to impress”, “She’s so rude!”, “She should show more respect”, “She is clever but she thinks she’s superior to everybody” were just a sample of the characterizations I got on a daily basis. Why do they think all those things? What am I doing wrong? I wondered. I told them from the very beginning that I was shy, introverted and un-sociable. So why after three years were they still surprised?
When I had a conversation with my boss, I explained that this was the way I was, I didn’t have anything with anyone. I apologized for my “odd” behaviour, explaining that it wasn’t intentional and I wasn’t even aware of it. Because I wasn’t confident with my English, I was still struggling to have a spontaneous conversation. Also, I didn’t watch TV and as I was only interested in arts, literature and anthropology, I didn’t know what to talk about. Half of their subjects didn’t make any sense to me. I didn’t think I was superior. On the contrary, I knew my conversation topics were so limited that I preferred to be at my desk working than in an awaked social situation where I would stay quiet while thinking of something else.
Also,with as I was so preoccupied with trying to speak correctly, I imagined my sentences in my head and revised them to make sure they would come out perfectly, which was why my answers were delayed. As the communication process involved some steps – translating in my head what people were telling me, coming up with an answer, translating it back into English, proof-reading it – it was simply too much for me to process ,so I preferred to avoid interactions altogether. While people were waiting for a reply or a reaction from me, I was failing to deliver it in time. They labelled me as awkward and unapproachable. My mind was set up in work mode and there wasn’t any room for small talk. I also wanted to enjoy the seven-and-a-half hours and a half I spent there, because to me, enjoying work meant understanding what I was doing and improving my performance every day. I didn’t want to impress anyone but myself that I could do it.
As I described myself to my boss, thinking this was only a cultural difference, I didn’t realize I was describing a possible Autistic trait. People’s judgemental attitudes didn’t stop until I resigned and my zero confidence brought me to a chair in front of a counsellor. When she asked me to think about my childhood, I was a bit angry. Why do psychologists think all your problems start in the childhood? Is she going to apply the Freudian theory on me now? I thought sceptically. I only wanted her to tell me how to behave because obviously something was wrong and I didn’t know what. Why were people so offended that I didn’t talk about non-work-related topics, I didn’t socialize and I didn’t respond to their humour? Why did they pity me for being alone when my oneliness was a matter of personal preference? Why did they feel the need to judge me all the time and make fun of me behind my back? And ultimately, why didn’t I have those needs that people called “normal”?
As I was thinking about my childhood, I realized that I have always been a loner. Being clumsy and physically slow as a child, I always struggled to fit in and therefore started to do things I really enjoyed, like painting and reading. I was fine with my own company. Other children used to tease and make fun of me and I never knew how to respond or why they felt the need to do that. Some teachers used to say I was lazy and I didn’t meet my full potential. I used to get punished for my short-term memory problem, as I used to forget simple things that my peers didn’t. Half the time I thought I was sent from another planet and I had no idea what to do to assimilate people’s costumes which didn’t have any logic to me. I was struggling to keep up.
Paradoxically, except for PE classes, I did quite well in school. I was the best in my class at grammar, at 17 I was awarded my first international poetry prize and I always had strong arguments in philosophical debates. After a while I managed to surpass all those difficulties and I metamorphosised in a confident young woman, able to do everything I put my mind to: complete a degree and a Masters, publish books and enjoy life with its unexpected events.
When the psychologist said of I had Dyspraxia and explained briefly what it was, everything made sense to me. The counsellor was right: people’s problems DO start in childhood. I went home and I looked it up on the Internet and finally understood why I couldn’t learn to swim, to ride a bike and to catch a ball, why I have this right and left confusion, why my reactions are delayed regardless the language I speak, and the list could continue with other difficulties I had and still have. I wish I knew before, as my life would have been much easier.
Yet I managed for 33 years, and I think I can manage from now on too.
I just want to tell people that I am completely harmless and I genuinely believe that if we all love ourselves as we are, there would be no envy or negative feelings regarding other people’s differences and lives. If Dyspraxia made me creative and good with words, or it gave me the capacity to see behind appearances without judging and the foolishness to give up everything to follow my dreams, then I am happy I have it. They call it the hidden handicap, but I call it an extraordinary gift.