Nothing much has changed since I posted about my fears regarding my upcoming autism assessment. I still wake up every morning with more questions than I had the day before. I notice and analyze everything I do. Is this an autism thing? Or is it a “me’” thing? Is this proof or just another quirk?
I’m yet to decide how I believe autism and myself interact. When I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and then bipolar, I saw each of these as “afflictions” I was prone to — less immune to the debilitating effects of the illnesses but always with the end goal of being free of the struggles they could bring. Of depression and anxiety I had the hope that I could be “cured.” Of bipolar, I began to accept I was in for a lifetime of management.
Autism is different. Autism isn’t an illness. It is a challenge, it can be a disability. It can be managed, but it can’t be cured — and the general feeling among autistic adults is they wouldn’t wish it to be even if it were possible.
The choice to define yourself as an “autistic adult” or “adult with autism” is a personal one, stemming from what role you believe your autism has played in who you are. Are we ourselves first, with autism on top? Or is who we are built on the foundation of our autistic experience? Neither answer is wrong.
This process of self-definition and re-definition is important, especially when being diagnosed later in life. At the moment I feel entirely lost, unable to really “know” myself until I have all the facts in hand. As with the constant analysis of all my actions, I find myself analyzing the past as well.
How many things occurred because of difficulties I didn’t know I was facing? How many times have I been hurt, confused, or lost because I failed to understand the world around me the same way others do? How many failures and successes can I attribute to this new (to me) aspect of my self?
From this exhausting process of self-analysis, I choose to take the positives. I can identify so many moments in my life where a better understanding of my brain function would have resulted in a better outcome, but I can’t change that. Instead, I decide what a diagnosis would mean for me.
It means forgiveness.
For the little girl who wasn’t able to control her bladder following a change of schools. For the times she didn’t meet her “potential” because she forgot or felt unable to do something. For the awkward running style that had her mocked, her preference to speak with teachers rather than her peers.
For the child who sat shaking on a bus while her 6-year-old sister punched the bully in her defense. For the nights she cried after being betrayed by old friends, the frustration of not knowing how to connect with new ones.
For the teenager who used the bathroom as a reason to leave class and shake in a cubicle. For her inability to console her siblings when they were in distress. For the exhaustion she felt every day, even if she’d barely moved — the draining effect of people and noises and light. For her reluctance to drive, to socialize, the lump in her throat that rose when friends mentioned night clubs.
For the adult who fails still to connect with her family in ways that are meaningful. For all the nights she’s cried over that inability, all the nights she’s wished some fairy would descend and make her “normal” like her siblings. For all the times throughout her life she was misunderstood, described in terms that hurt her heart. She wanted to be good. She wanted to be everything.
She didn’t know how.
For the almost-30 single woman I am now, a diagnosis means the ability to forgive myself of all the expectations I didn’t meet. To let them sink into the past. It means I have been trying to function under the assumption that I should be able to achieve the same things in the same ways as my peers. It means everything I have achieved is a testament to my strength, my ability to persevere in tough conditions.
Most importantly, it means adjusting myself to a new way of doing things — one that will enable me to maximize my strengths and not be stunted by my weaknesses. I can let go of the guilt and the shame from mistakes made long ago, the ones that came about because I was working under the wrong assumptions. Trying to do things the “normal” way was never going to work.
Not for me.
I can finally forgive myself for that deep and unsettling feeling that I am different.
I am different, and I am all the more wonderful because of it.
I still have a lot of fears. I still worry about the label, how others will react if I choose to disclose. But I can’t choose what other people think. What I can choose is how I incorporate the diagnosis into my sense of who I am. I choose how to frame this experience.
I choose forgiveness.
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