It could be the autism talking, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m just not cut out for city life. Or, perhaps I should change that to: I would love city life if it wasn't for all the people, the noise, the traffic, the dirt, the concrete, the pollution, the distinct lack of greenery, but mostly it’s the people–there’s just too many people.
London’s bustling streets represent little more to me than a million hair-triggered-panic-attack-flash-points just waiting to explode my mood into sensory overload. Each stride, a moment closer to an angry confrontation over the right to step on the only square foot of filthy pavement not already occupied by another human walking aggressively towards me, whilst completely engrossed in the four-inch hand-held screen that keeps them connected to the world.
In fact, I find the experience of venturing out past the garden gate so emotionally draining, that some days I am barely able to leave the safe confines of my humble abode without succumbing to an extreme bout of paralyzing anxiety.
Again, it could be the autism speaking, but another thing I’ve always struggled with is predicting which side an on-coming pedestrian is likely to pass me on. Should I always be the one to compromise my direction of travel by moving to one side, to give way, to be subservient to all who walk towards me? Or should I be brave and stand my ground – thus forcing the other person to steer an altered course around my stubborn path? And whilst I’m always happy to adjust my trajectory for pregnant women, the elderly and physically disabled, why in hell's name should I step aside for any young, healthy, egomaniac who thinks he or she owns the space, and would happily barge me out of the way to avoid the humiliation of allowing me to walk in a straight line…
Could it be there's some sort of unwritten law, or subconscious radar signal neurotypicals automatically send out in order to avoid endless collisions with oncoming pedestrians? Perhaps I’m overthinking things again. But there is just so much about daily life that I do not understand, inherent skills that people without autism seem to take for granted. I wish I could be like everyone else and glide effortlessly along London's heaving streets. To cut calmly through the rush hour’s tidal wave of unpredictable humanity without a care in the world. But I can’t. There are just too many things for me to worry about.
If I had my way, only those prepared to observe the highest levels of pavement etiquette would be allowed to leave their houses. Punitive fines would be handed out to those not willing to show unconditional respect and humility towards their fellow pedestrians. And furthermore – if I had my way – lengthy prison sentences would be imposed automatically on those who think it’s okay to empty their nostrils onto anywhere I may unwittingly step, or to those who selfishly release their obnoxious clouds of strawberry vape gas into the air I am about to breathe.
I just want things to be fair, and for people to follow the rules – my rules. Is that really too much for a sensitive autistic soul like me to ask?
Steve Slavin Author of: Looking for Normal (A Memoir about Autism)