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Autism: On Parking Lots and Belonging

25 Jul

As usual I was already anxious that morning. I had an appointment with someone I didn’t know, and it was important for me to be able to share my struggles in order to get the help I have so desperately needed.

Forty minutes before my scheduled appointment, I left home. It only takes ten minutes to get there, but I always have to be early. It is a compulsion. I need the time to sit and find some form of calm. I need to know that I am not late – and so I am always early. I always have to wait. I like it that way.

I had been to the health unit for an appointment before. My heart thudded from thoughts of crowded parking lots – but that time it had been nearly empty. All was okay. I was sure it would be the same today. After all, my appointment was for the same time as it had been the week before.

Coming down the hill I couldn’t see the parking lot until it was time to turn in. It was full of cars. People everywhere. Instant panic set in. What do I do? I saw an opening, and turned towards it, praying I could get into the spot without too much trouble. I pulled around, and that is where I saw the sign. The spot was reserved for staff.

Dead end. People were around. Watching. So nervous. Block them out. It took several tries, but I turned around. Was that my psychiatrist watching me? Not sure – I am not good with faces. Probably.

I turned to go further into the parking lot. It looked like there was another spot further in. A white truck. Stopped in front of the entry. I can’t get around. What do I do? You are not supposed to stop there. Wait behind him. My mind becomes fuzzy. So much stress. It is getting later. I need to get past.

I move forward. Maybe I can squeeze between him and the parked car beside. A smaller car comes toward me, and I have to back up. I try again. Why won’t the white truck move? Can’t he see I need to get by? The minutes on the clock move forward. Now twenty minutes from my appointment. Now fifteen.

What would others do? Honk the horn, probably. He shouldn’t be there. I put my hand over the horn and try, but I can’t do it. I have never used it before. Why can’t he see me? Why doesn’t he know I need to get by?

Twelve minutes until my appointment. He pulls forward. I can get through. I start to drive, but another vehicle pulls out of a spot and comes toward me. I have to swerve between the two trucks. Finally able to park.

Shaking, I walk through the doors. Ten minutes until my appointment. I am late. Not enough time to calm. No longer can I focus on what other people may think. I rock and twist my hands, holding back the tears. It didn’t need to be that way.

My name is called. Head bent low, I walk with him down the hallway. How are you? What am I supposed to say? The words won’t come.

We arrive in his office, and I sit in the seat. My tears start coming. I tell him about the parking lot. He doesn’t think it’s a big deal. “Park across the street,” he says. I didn’t know.

My focus is gone. It is all I can think of. I can’t get beyond it. I can’t do this.  I don’t belong in your world.

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