All my life, I’ve known I was different. As a child, I would develop all-consuming interests, poring obsessively over a subject such as the kings and queens of England until my fixation waned and then I would move on to the next thing.
When I grew older, these obsessive tendencies helped me excel at my favourite sport, swimming.
I became so good that I swam for my country on numerous occasions before retiring due to injury. I loved swimming’s precision, from the carefully calculated biomechanics of each stroke to the timing, measured in hundredths of a second, as well as the way the water felt as I moved through it.
There are other differences between me and most people, too. I experience sights, sounds and touch with incredible intensity.
I can often hear what people are saying in another room when a regular person would just hear a murmur.
My skin is very sensitive, so I feel every fibre of the clothing I’m wearing. And I find it difficult to interpret people’s body language, which can sometimes make social interaction difficult.
This all began to make sense, when four years ago, aged 30, I was diagnosed with autism. It finally helped me to understand who I am: my obsessions, the excruciating sensory overloads I can suffer when everything feels too much, and the meltdowns they lead to.
My parents – a prison officer and a police officer who are both retired now – have always been wonderfully supportive of me and my ‘quirks’. I’d achieved a first class degree in education and had been working as a teacher in Tokyo, but when my brother died suddenly I found myself struggling to cope.