Hello, I am Jim: Foreword and Introduction

Foreword

By Greg Realmuto

I have always regarded those closest to me as “family” whether related by blood or not, and there is no one that fits that description more than Jim. He is my oldest, dearest friend, going back to what seems like eons ago in the early ‘70s to a little town called Hazlet.  Whether it was growing up together, playing sports together, going to concerts together or getting into trouble together, you get the picture—we did it all together.  So when he first shared his diagnosis with me, my initial reaction was anger. Not anger at Jim, but at myself, in that I hadn’t recognized the pain and suffering that my friend had bubbling under the surface all these years. Being the good friend that he is, he was quick to ease my guilt, but that initial feeling remains.  It was reading this book that allowed me to understand how Jim, through the many ups and downs that we all experience in life, was haunted by this feeling of isolation, but was still able to bury that pain from the world and, to a certain extent, from himself.

We are all faced with challenges in our lives, and I have always had great respect for how Jim faced his head-on.  I have never known him to run from a problem or blame others.  And while I know he has many great qualities—his loyalty in friendship, caring nature, and desire to help others—it is this personal fortitude that I have considered one of his greatest attributes.  It has served him well in all facets of his life from simple things like playing ball, to chasing down the marathon, to raising his family, to facing his personal demons.  The pages that follow outline his captivating story and illustrate his strength.

To those willing to go on this journey with Jim, this book is so much more that a story about living with Asperger Syndrome.  It is a story about persevering, never quitting, and seeing that silver lining.  Simply put— it’s about living.  And through it all, Jim provides witting and engaging tales spanning from his youth to adulthood, chronicling each step in his own personal evolution.

Thank you to my friend and brother for sharing his story with the world. From a truly personal standpoint, the past 40+ years of life and friendship have been an amazing ride, and I’m looking forward to where the next 40 take you.

 

Introduction

I would like to welcome you to Hello, I am Jim. There was a time, not so long ago, that writing this memoir would have been an impossible task for me. It was inconceivable that I could ever admit that I was drastically different from those around me, let alone write about it. As the saying goes, “denial ain’t just a river in Egypt”. My name is Jim Gaffney and I, like so many others, have Asperger Syndrome— a neurobiological disorder on the higher-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Autism is a condition, not a disease, and there is no cure. The degree of severity can vary greatly. As a result, some cases are not diagnosed in children, but rather later in life. I am part of a generation of aspies (a person with Asperger Syndrome) that have flown under the medical radar or were simply misdiagnosed as children. In either case, this generation was forced to develop their own strategies and coping mechanisms to help compensate for their individual limitations. A lack of empathy from those around them, though largely unintentional, is a constant threat to their mental well-being and their very way of life.

I know with absolute certainty that I could have gone my entire life without knowing why I was different. I had accepted the pain and struggle of traversing daily life long ago, out of necessity.  Over the years, I developed my own unique strategies that have helped me navigate the world to a degree of success that I deemed satisfactory. Even with those skills, I once considered a life of mediocrity as the best possible outcome.  Fortunately, those closest to me have helped me redefine my lifestyle to an extent that I never dreamt was possible. Walking that path would require sacrifice, dedication, compromise, and truth. This process would span more than four decades.

The greatest challenge in writing this book was striking the proper tone for the message I wanted to convey. Illustrating the experience of my family while simultaneously staying true to my own voice and personal development was difficult to balance. The impact that autism continues to have on myself and my family is a journey I will share through personal stories from my grandparents all the way to my three children.

Throughout the course of this book, I will emphasize that Asperger Syndrome is neither a life sentence nor a curse. Even the darkest chapters of this story will eventually reveal a silver lining and I will share the positive aspects that I have drawn from these situations. While I consider writing this memoir a moral imperative, I realize the need to be fair and balanced when describing sensitive content and portraying the actions of others. The most sensitive content will include personal insight based on my recollection of events supplemented by my current perspective of those events and their significance in my life and development. I will state clearly that this is a story about family and the impact that autism has on a family both collectively and individually. Few people understand what it means to live with a disability or to raise a child with a disability. Even fewer know what it’s like to experience both. Within these pages, there are no villains or heroes – just a simple family struggling together as they face an invisible adversary. Please do no mistake any passage in this book as an excuse for or justification of any actions. I am no martyr! What I am is a simple, autistic adult who is ready to share the truth.

It’s no sin to despise what you see in the mirror.  The sin is not doing something about it.

–      James J Gaffney