This is (also) autism
Finding out I am autistic so late in life has been incredible for me.
I have experienced a flood of emotions and thoughts since receiving my diagnosis – so many that it is hard to differentiate one from the other, but here are some of them:
Shock – this was definitely the first one. Shock – as I never, ever in all of my 45 years ever, not even once, for a millisecond, considered that I could be autistic. Sure, I had gone for an assessment* – for ADHD – where other questions were asked that I felt sure, certain, would dismiss any other neurodiversity, and confirm what I already knew – that I have ADHD. It did. I do have ADHD. But autistic .. what do you mean? Hang on, what does this mean? And this quickly led to
Fear – what do I even know about autism? I am ashamed to say that as a 45-year-old psychotherapist working supporting clients with their psychological wellbeing, the answer was, in fact, very little. My uninformed understanding was that autism was first and foremost very visible, in terms of facial expression, eye contact and behaviours. It can be, sure, but for many it isn’t. There are many autistic adults who have masked so strong for so long that their autism is almost entirely invisible to them and others. There is a huge internal struggle for autistic people that although I had some understanding of, in the spectrum of autism, I knew little about and this led to
Anger – why on earth is there not awareness in society that if you are:
- frequently overwhelmed
- often feel lost and confused
- fear being exposed as ‘other’ ‘weird’ or just getting ‘found out’ (not even sure of what)
- retreat often from society
- are honest and trusting
- have a never-ending dialogue in your mind
- feel your own and others emotions deeply
- feel misunderstood by peers
- have had friendship challenges
- have an aching need for peace and calm
that this is (also) no, actually, mostly what autism looks like. How many have been mis-diagnosed with mental health conditions because autism isn’t well understood?
Sadness – for myself and the inner struggle for self-awareness when the biggest piece of the puzzle evaded me through my own and society’s lack of awareness and desire to understand autism. It is like waking up and realizing I am in fact, French, and have been trying to keep up in an English-speaking world.
Worry – of how my husband, kids and friends would see me now that I have what society sees as a disability. Will they reject me, or worse pity me, thinking that now spending time with me is their good deed and walk away thinking ‘ah god love her’. Will they have a narrow and uninformed view of autism and will this impact our relationship?
Shame – for all of those who I could have supported more respectfully had I known better
Stupid – that I didn’t see it and
Validated – that life is bloody harder for me and there is a reason why I keep feeling that way
Amazed – at how well I have managed for so long with no understanding of my struggle – I honestly thought we all processed the world this way!
Isolated – well this has always been there. But now knowing I am autistic I also know that I am not the only woman to be diagnosed so late and there is a huge desire to meet others like me – who I don’t need to overexplain myself to – who I don’t need to monitor myself with – who would ‘get me’ in a way that I see others get each other so easily and this ‘getting’ has always evaded me. And well, finally, that brings
Hope – that in sharing my story, in educating myself and revelling in autistic research, in showing that this, me, this is also autism, I might help to challenge the narrow perspective and fear of autism that exists in society. And all of this together, brings, more than anything
Relief. Relief that I now see myself as I am, I now see myself reflected in the stories and experiences of other autistic people, that I now understand so many of my whys, my confusions and my overwhelm.
Relief that in picking up one label, I get to put down, let go of so many unknowns and lifelong mysteries.
Relief that I now know, I now have, the words and the understanding that I was seeking that allows me to see me in a way that finally makes sense.
And that, feels, incredible.
*I am forever grateful to the wonderfully compassionate and professional psychologist who assessed me. She was very clear before, at the start and throughout that the assessment was for ADHD and ASD. However, my narrow view and, on reflection, fear, of autism never allowed me to consider it as a possibility.