The Chrysalis of Autism Discovery

A green chrysalis attached to a long leaf.
A personal reflection on the interior process (confusion, discomfort, and transformation) of accepting my autistic identity.
The Chrysalis of Autism Discovery

What’s in a name

I’d like to reflect briefly on the journey of figuring out you’re autistic as an adult.

There’s a reason why I named my coaching practice “chrysalis.” 

When a caterpillar forms its chrysalis, it literally dissolves inside the chrysalis into this goo. It’s like caterpillar goo; it’s DNA soup.

It will never become a butterfly until it lets go of being a caterpillar.

And out of that soup, it forms a completely different creature that is made out of the exact same materials, the same DNA sequence. 

That transformation is necessary. It will never become a butterfly until it lets go of being a caterpillar. Until it breaks down entirely, everything that it ever was and everything that it’s ever thought about itself. (Yes, I’m reading a lot into the interior life of caterpillars here; it’s a metaphor, just go with it.)

My goo state

I, too, had to break down and be goo for a while before I could create who I am now. And that took a lot of work. And I got a lot of “questions” and ”comments” about my choices during that time in the few years after my autism diagnosis, because it’s not the same kind of ”work” that we’re used to seeing, or that our society values. 

It’s not the caterpillar going around and eating every leaf in sight. It’s not the butterfly flying from flower to flower. It’s not a pretty, observable, achievement-oriented, or obvious kind of activity. 

The chrysalis hanging on a branch isn’t going anywhere, but there’s a lot going on inside. It’s breaking down an entire living creature in a very specific way and then creating another complete creature out of it. There’s a lot happening, even though all you see from the outside is this little chrysalis hanging on the branch. 

But what you don’t see is that inside, everything is changing.

It’s just hanging there. It’s hanging there. It’s still hanging there. Nothing’s happening. It’s just hanging there. But what you don’t see is that inside, everything is changing.

And when you identify yourself as autistic, or otherwise figure out what’s been going on in your life that you’re just now being able to put words to, it prompts the kinds of interior reflections, dissolving of the old identity, and forming of the new one, that I describe as that goo period. 

Everything is breaking down and forming anew. 

What the goo is like

That’s hard sometimes, and wonderful sometimes, and sucks sometimes, and hurts sometimes, and is amazing sometimes, and is confusing a lot of the time, and is punctured with revelations occasionally.

From the outside it might not look like you’re doing much. It might look like you’re wallowing, or self-indulgent, or lazy, or making excuses. But what’s going on inside is that you are breaking down the mental framework that you used for decades to think about yourself, the people around you, and the world and systems at large, and building up a new conception of yourself and others.

That’s a lot of work, even when it’s not obvious what’s going on. And it is necessary work. It enables every new possibility that will ever come to pass, that wasn’t available within your old conceptions.

Coming out of the goo

What those new possibilities are, I can’t say, and you probably don’t know either at this point. There might be an inkling in the back of your mind about something that you would love but that doesn’t seem realistic, or you might not have any clue. Either way is OK.

It’s not easy, or fast, but it is worth it. Oh my goodness, it is worth it.

By definition, those new possibilities aren’t realistic within the old mental framework, and therefore you have to create the new one first. 

This is how I did it, and how I’ve seen many others do it as well. You heal the old hurts, the old wounds, understand yourself better, figure out what you need, and figure out how to communicate that in ways that are more yourself but translated for others. You learn to be yourself more than you ever have been, in ways that feel right to you, and that contribute to healthy relationships with others.

It’s not easy, or fast, but it is worth it. Oh my goodness, it is worth it. It’s worth everything and anything it takes. 

Because what you get at the end of the process are wings.

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One Response

  1. I am going through this right now and your words resonated so much, that the last couple of sentences made me cry (in a good way). Thank you!

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Picture of Heather Cook

Heather Cook

Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an Autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other Autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, just about every -ology, and Star Trek!

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