Is an assessment worth it at this stage in my life?
Since I started speaking of my late diagnosis of Autism and ADHD I am so grateful to have heard from so many who have trusted me with their own confusion. Who are thinking, now, this could be me too. And with these (mostly) women, “What is the point of an assessment at this stage in my life?” is a question that keeps popping into my DMs. So, here, I will try to answer as honestly and as clearly as I can.
Firstly, receiving a diagnosis has been incredibly positive for me. I wrote a blog about it recently which you can read here: this is also autism. In my blog I talk of the rollercoaster of emotions that came with my diagnosis. There were certainly some tough ones, and these continue to rear and then settle again as autism is becoming more and more real for me (living 45 years as an assumed neurotypical to then find out I am not neurotypical takes a bit of adjusting!) Among these emotions are sadness and fear, confusion and anger, hope and relief, but never, ever, regret.
To put some context on it, getting a diagnosis of autism is not akin to getting a diagnosis for a mental health condition. Anxiety and depression, for example, are mental health conditions, that, with the right support, can be successfully worked through. An awareness of what they are and why they are showing up is often a starting point, followed by psychoeducation and a personal exploration (often with a psychotherapist) around behavioural changes and cognitive restructuring that can help alleviate these conditions. They are not, and do not need to be, a lifelong condition; there is a lot a person can do (with the right supports and environment) to minimise their presence.
Autism is different.
Autism is innate; something you are born with. It is not transitory. You do not become autistic because of a life experience / series of life experiences. Autism is not something you can work through, minimise, or recover from. Autism is not something I have. It is who I am. I am autistic and how I interpret the world and my sensitivity to the world is because I am autistic.
So how does an assessment of autism change my life? I am not going to ‘improve’, ‘recover’ or ‘get over this’. So, with no road to recovery, what is the point?
For me, the answer is the power of self-awareness. We see all around us those who have found peace from truly knowing themselves and being fully aware. In pursuit of such peace I’ve done it all – meditation retreats, sobriety, self-care, calm, self-compassion, reiki, mindfulness .. in fact, the lifelong thirst for greater self-awareness directed me to become a psychotherapist. I’ve tried everything to get my ‘a-ha’; for the penny to drop, for the missing piece to be revealed so that life makes sense more fully. I see it time and time again in my therapy room. I see the beauty of deeper self-awareness and how freeing and transformational it is.
And yet, still, I searched.
For me, life and negotiating life was confusing – a case of trial and error, learning as I went, when others seemed to naturally know the way; for me, it just didn’t make ‘natural’ sense. I am a happy person with all I want; I have a beautiful family, home, lifestyle, I have few worries, I feel good in myself and about myself. And yet despite all this I just felt like I was a bit awkward at life, like I didn’t know the rules, that I might hurt someone without meaning too, that there was something about me. Something that made me a bit, well, different. And there is. I was right.
Now that I have my diagnosis, the wondering and searching has FINALLY stopped. The confusion as to why certain things are hard has FINALLY stopped. And knowing I am autistic, I am finally, self-aware and with that self-awareness, much more self-compassionate.
And that is a wonderful place to be.
The pushing through, keeping up and overloading of life tasks has stopped. It doesn’t suit me – because I am autistic. Not because I am crap at life, just autistic.
I forgive myself easily; I will forget things – because I am autistic. Not because I don’t care, just autistic.
I am really sensitive to sleep conditions and need to accommodate for this – because I am autistic. Not because I am a precious princess – just autistic.
I do find life overwhelming, and I love a lot of alone time – because I am autistic. Not because I am stressed, just autistic.
I do startle easily – because I am autistic. Not because I am anxious, just autistic.
I do loathe chit chat – because I am autistic. Not because I am socially inept, just autistic.
I am blunt, honest, and to the point – because I am autistic. Not because I am rude, just autistic.
I am autistic. And in realizing that, I also realised that all I feared I might be – I am not.
My diagnosis has stopped the search. It has helped me to find the words to articulate myself to myself and to others. My diagnosis has changed nothing. But it has changed everything.