[Trigger warning: death/bereavement.]
October 2006 (12.5 years before autism identification).
It’s a Saturday morning. I’m at the last of a series of counselling appointments provided by work.
The ostensible reason is bereavement; my two remaining grandparents recently died within one week of each other. But actually, we dealt with that in the first week. My maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother had lived long and fruitful lives. Their final months had been full of pain and paralysis, preventing them from living as the people they had been their entire lifetimes. They had been suffering, and they were suffering no longer.
(I’m not incapable of profound grief. I was ten years old when my best friend, a two-year-old black cat named Catkins, was killed by a car. The weeks of disbelief, crying and loneliness that followed were some of the most painful I have ever experienced. And in years to come, I will be devastated by the untimely death of a friend my own age. This will also affect me far more deeply.)
We’ve moved onto something else. Something I alluded to briefly in early sessions, that my counsellor is keen to explore.
The counsellor has been sitting opposite me. Although I struggle with eyes, I can’t escape the compulsion to stare at his.
He has some kind of tic (or other neurological quirk?) that makes him flicker his eyes from side to side. I know he can’t help it, but I also can’t help but be intrigued as to its cause, and mechanisms allowing it to happen.
I try to avert my gaze.
We’re approaching the session wrap-up. I feel a sense of release, but also depletion. I have expended much today.
“So, as you know, this is your last session with me. But I think we need to look at where to go next. This idea of ‘social impediment’ you’ve been referring to – this seems to be really significant. I feel it’s something that it would be useful to explore in more depth.”
“So I’m going to give you some details of other providers. You can continue coming to see me. You’d have to pay for future sessions, of course. Then there’s [Service X] – you might find their approach useful. There are a few other options – I’ve written them down for you.”
“Thanks. The thing is…would I have to pay for all of these?”
“Unfortunately yes. Of course you can talk to your GP, but I know the NHS waiting list is really long. You’ll be waiting a long time. And I think you really need some continuity. I don’t want you to have to wait too long – what you’ve been talking about seems really pressing. It would be really useful for you to be able to delve into it properly. We’ve not been able to do this in six sessions.”
“But I really can’t afford it. I don’t earn that much. My husband and I don’t have a lot of spare income.”
“I’m wondering whether you need to think about how much of a priority this is. Your feelings that you are ‘socially impeded’, as you describe it – they seem to be really affecting you. I think you’d benefit from being able to explore it, and get to grips with what it means for you.”
“There might be some subsidy available – have a look at [Organisation Y]. There are some criteria, but you might be eligible for some help.”
I look at the piece of paper, and come to the conclusion I probably wouldn’t qualify.
I take a deep breath.
“I’m really sorry. I know this is important. But the thought of having to pay for more sessions stresses me out. I don’t think I can.”
“That’s a real shame. I really feel more sessions might help. But it’s your decision. Anyway, I hope you’ve found this useful for you, and I hope I’ve been able to help you in some ways. Good luck with everything.”
Years later, I wonder. Was autism the thing he was getting at? And what would have been my response at that time? At that age?
I’ll never know.
[Image description: Close-up photograph of household vertical blinds. The lighting emphasises the textures within the blinds, creating an image that seems almost abstract.]