Welcome to the club!
So you got your diagnosis today. You’re autistic. It’s official. Congratulations!
You’re about to begin a new chapter of your life, one which promises wonderful adventures, and, of course, like every good adventure story, there will also be challenges to overcome.
When I got mine, it felt like I had been handed a get-out-of-jail-free card. It was permission to stop trying to be something I could never hope to be, although I had spent over 30 years trying, so I could finally be myself.
That was the wonderful part. Then a harsh dose of reality hit. I realized that I wasn’t sure who I really was, or what to do with that newfound freedom.
But…who am I?
You see, I had spent so much of my life trying to fit in to the mold of other people’s expectations that I had thoroughly lost track of who I really was, what I wanted to do with my life, and even things I liked. Not in every single way, but a lot of it.
I was fortunate to have gotten my diagnosis in a time of personal crisis: I was burnt out and unemployed (again), and didn’t have many obligations, so I had the time to really dig deep and explore myself.
I didn’t think of my unemployment and fried nervous system as a gift at the time, but I do now. In fact, I am intensely grateful that my body repeatedly cried out to me, saying “Stop! We can’t keep doing this! It hurts too much!”
Every few years, I would hit a wall, burn out, collapse in depression and chronic fatigue, adrenals barely functioning, and all sorts of medically unexplainable symptoms. I’d sleep through a year or so, recover some strength, learn a little bit about myself, and then go right back to pushing too hard in the wrong direction. It was in the midst of this that I got my diagnosis.
One of the gifts in it was that it explained so much of my life. I spent a while just going back through my memory, peppering family with questions about my childhood, looking through old pictures and school assignments and things I wrote.
It explained why I had so many of the difficulties I had growing up, and as an adult. It explained why I kept doing things that hurt me but also couldn’t stop. Why I could be so smart academically, and yet so stupid socially. Why I had serial obsessions when everyone else had serial boyfriends. I could go on.
I also read about autism online and participated in adult autism forums to connect with others like me. It brought up a lot of big feelings, and not all of them pleasant (I had to process a lot of anger for a while), and eventually I came to peace with who I am.
Who I am
I process things differently. I approach problems and projects and people differently. But that isn’t wrong. It’s just different. It has some distinct drawbacks, which were pointed out to me over and over growing up, yet it also has some incredible strengths. In seeing the world differently, I’ve often come up with novel solutions that people have praised me for. I’ve fixed things that others were baffled by. I remember details that are helpful later. And more.
As I continued on this journey of self-discovery, I began exploring what I liked, what I really loved, and I learned how to do those things in ways that worked for me.
It tuns out that I can do just about anything I want to, including getting along easily with people, as long as I do it in ways that my brain and nervous system can process.
I’ve heard similar stories from other autistics, and I hope you also find self-acceptance, peace, and joy as you explore this new chapter in your life.
Congratulations again on your diagnosis! I hope you have an amazing journey.