I have a nagging suspicion that, had I been born in another age, I probably would’ve been institutionalized. I think this for a few reasons, not the least of which is because as a child I used to routinely dismember the corpses of animals that I’d find in my yard. (I lived in the countryside, and spent part of my childhood in farmland). I collected skeletal remains, and had a very real affinity with the macabre.
But that’s not even close to being the weirdest thing about me.
My whole life, I’ve been able to have entire conversations with myself. When I was a kid, I called my conversational partners ghosts. My mother called them invisible friends. As an adult, I call them characters. Everywhere I go, I seem to have this entourage of voices inside my head, and by now, I’m used to suppressing them when need be. But that wasn’t always the case. Before I figured out what the voices were there for, I actually wondered if I might be mildly schizophrenic. (Is there such a thing as mild schizophrenia?).
When I finally started writing stuff down—whether it be the random things these voices would say, or the backstories I imagined that they had—it relieved a bunch of pressure inside my brain. At least, that’s how it felt to me at the time. But that didn’t even come close to solving my problems.
See, I have Asperger’s Syndrome. Yup, I’m autistic. I’m autistic AND weird. So while I had a whole gaggle of invisible friends to keep me company growing up, I was completely and utterly socially awkward with real, live human beings. (I still am, to tell you the truth, although I’ve become much better at pretending otherwise).
Because of that, I’ve always thought of the Asperger’s as something that somewhat hinders me. I don’t make friends easily, and meeting new people makes me tense and anxious. I literally have to force myself to do things that other people take for granted. I worked in retail for five years, and this is something of a minor miracle. I ACTUALLY TALKED TO PEOPLE. Complete strangers. Every day. I’m almost scared that now I no longer work in retail I might become a complete recluse. I’ll be that crazy lady who lives in the house at the end of the street and never leaves. Only, instead of cats, I’ll have guinea pigs. I’ll be crazy guinea pig lady.
Guess what, though? I’m not sure that I care. Last year, I learned something that I thought was pretty exciting. In an attempt to discover more about myself, I read The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood, and found out that people with AS are usually very creative. (This may have something to do with the fact that people with AS live in their heads much more than they do in the real world, I’m not sure). In much the same way that schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder have been linked to people who’re extremely creative, so AS has been linked to people who, among other things, write fiction.
At this moment, I had an epiphany: my AS isn’t a hindrance.
If I didn’t have AS, would I still want to write? If I didn’t have AS, would my writing be the same? Would my subject matter be different? If my AS is the quirk in my brain that makes me write the way I do—compulsively, to the exclusion of all else, and with absolute devotion—then I wouldn’t ever want to wish it away. Not ever. Not even if it meant I could’ve gotten laid more in high school.
I love my brain just the way it is. I love the characters it thinks up, and I love the worlds it helps me to create. So if the price for getting to tell all these stories is that, one day, I will end up a crazy old guinea pig lady, I’ll take it.
Keira Michelle Telford is an award winning dystopian SF author from British Columbia, Canada.