There are a lot of things they don’t tell you when you get your Autistic Spectrum Disorder diagnosis.
They don’t tell you about the shame and embarrassment at being other and different. And a whole lot of other negative things too.
But they also don’t tell you that you’ll be going on a journey. And it will be a really long one. That there will be mountains to climb and dark fog filled valleys to navigate. That there will be multiple epiphanies and it will change you, your partner, your family and your entire life.
You start to know things. Really know them, instead of people telling you them but the reality not actually sinking in. You start to accept things, things that used to be hard, become suddenly easy.
You start to know your worth. Because suddenly you’ve stopped measuring yourself in comparison to everyone else who has a different brain to you and you start measuring yourself against yourself. And you suddenly find that you’re not wanting. You’re not stupid. You’re not horrible and you’re not crap. You’re just different.
After a longer while you get to accepting that different is actually awesome. It gives you things others don’t have. Different perspectives, different rhythms, different hearing, different sight, different everything. And if you decide to see that as a positive thing, that’s where your career can come from – from playing at the edges, from saying things that you see and seeing them differently, from seeing straight through bullshit and calling people on it, from seeing beautiful patterns and colours and recreating them exactly.
Even after that, you might come to know and understand that everything balances. That for every single thing you cannot do – people, noise, surprises, unexpectedness, lack of routine, exactness – there is conversely something that you are awesome at – online communication, writing to make people think about what they think and why, challenging status quo’s, crossing streams of thought to create new thought, creative stuff…
None of this comes straight away. You have to climb the mountains of despair and shame and hopelessness first. And it’s almost like you have to climb those mountains in order to get to the quiet even plains which contain no moutains or valleys at all, only consistent endless calm and serenity.
My brain was full. A diagnosis and the ensuing counselling have given me emptiness and quiet. There is so much quiet in my brain that I am protective of it, defensive even. And I come to know that this is what others, the neurotypicals, are born with, a defensiveness of that quiet and calm, an evolutionary inbuilt knowing that we are perhaps not born with. Or is it that we’re missing the limiter? That we know no limits and so we stuff our heads fuller and fuller, wishing to know all the information, all the data, our curiosity driving is further and further down the road of a brain so full it will inevitably eventually explode?
I have no limiter. So I have to be super careful about my brain, about keeping it well, keeping it empty. I have learned that I can stuff it full, of learning and conversation and thought, but at the end of each day I must determinedly think of something else, anything else, and not of the subject I have been stuffing my brain full of during the day, in order for my brain to do its thing, of working through all that input and discarding the irrelevances. It works for me, I don’t know if it will work for you. But it means I start each new day with space in my head ready for the new learning and curiosity and enthusiasm that being a girl with ASD inevitably brings.
Without a diagnosis I would have had none of the bravery it took to establish these things about myself. Because diagnosis is the foundation, a firm and immovable fact, upon which I can build all these coping strategies and techniques.
My brain is faster. My intellect is probably wider, I don’t know I don’t have a term of reference. I suppose I am gifted? I don’t know. I do know I can pick up a book on almost any subject in the entire world, consume it and then summarise it, explaining the core principles in terms anyone can understand. It doesn’t matter what ti is, I can learn it. My speed of learning is accelerated, I can pick up something like crochet or knitting and become good at it far faster than most. There isn’t a su doku puzzle I can’t do (though there definitely are crosswords) but I can’t do maths. I can close my eyes and visually recall almost every thing I have ever seen. I can read a book before bed and reread the 20 pages I’ve read after I’ve put the book down and closed my eyes. I didn’t learn to do any of this, and until very very recently had no understanding not everyone could do these things. I assumed everyone could. I assumed everyone could keep up and assumed the failure was entirely mine when people couldn’t, that I was the reason people were always confused.
I’m not. I’m just faster/make different links/make links faster.
That’s not my fault.It’s not a fault. It’s just that I need to spend a lot of time explaining things to people. So what.
I used to think I was a freak. I still think I am. But the difference is, that after 12 months of examining, analysis, careful consideration and quiet contemplation – I’m a freak and I don’t care. I used to get depressed because I felt lonely. Because I felt different. Because I felt everyone else found life so easy and I didn’t and what the hell was wrong with me? Because I couldn’t sleep properly, because I couldn’t go to bed until I’d finished the thing I’d started, because I was anxious and panicky and didn’t know why, because people didn’t like me and I didn’t know why.
I know all these things now. All of them and more. I know all the answers to the things which used to worry me and the okay so the things I don’t? Well I know how to minimise the anxiety. I know how to soothe myself, how to cheer myself, how to calm myself. I know how to ask for help but also how to decline help and I’ve abandoned the millions of scripts I was trying to learn on the fly, and instead accepted that sometimes, I will say the wrong thing.
Worse shit happens at sea.
I’ve learned to cut myself some slack. I’ve learned when to disclose and when not to. I’ve learned to modify my behaviour in some situations so it doesn’t draw attention, but also learned when and where it’s okay to not worry about modifying it at all.
I’ve learned freedom and serenity. Bravery and warrior ways. But most of all I’ve learned that I am special in terms of the ‘special bus’ but I’m also special in terms of there is no one like me. I’ve learned to laugh at my synaesthesia, and to celebrate my brain.
Hi. My name is Louise. I am autistic. I have the most amazing brain. Sometimes I still get depressed, but not very often at all. Sometimes I have anxiety attacks but as long as I can work around these by avoiding offices and busy scary situations, most often I don’t. I am smart, intelligent, fast, funny and silly. I have a personality which autism is a part of but which it doesn’t actually define.
I am me. I am happy. And no one is ever going to take that away from me again.