This is probably my most honest blog post to date, and it will hopefully help friends understand me more — and maybe help others in similar situations too. I was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Probably a few years ago, this would have been referred to as Asperger’s syndrome, as I’m reasonably intelligent and hold down what could be seen as a middle-class professional job, though other parts of my life are more messy. Getting a diagnosis late in life has me looking back on my life through a new lens and understanding myself and my choices more. For me, one of the areas of my life affected by autism that now seems obvious is the social aspect and how I’ve tried to fit in. I hadn’t heard of masking before I fully understood autism insofar as not being authentic about who I am and making changes to fit in. I’ve visually changed, but I’ve also changed frequently in many areas, including my identity, voice, interests, beliefs, and more. So I’m going to briefly show you the journey of my life below. I think my childhood wasn’t too bad until I went to secondary school, where it quickly became obvious that I didn’t fit in. In my first year, got in trouble for acting up and disrupting the class with my friend. I got into a lot of trouble with my parents and teachers, which as a result made me quieter, less confident, and somewhat of a wallflower. I had a few similarly nerdy friends, got bullied occasionally, and generally hated school because I didn’t fit in. So at age 16, I left school and went to college. College was probably where I built my first persona as people didn’t know me, and it was a fresh start. I got into rock and metal music through a friend I made at college as well as my old school friend who lived across the road. So I dressed in black and grew my hair long, and “rocker” was my identity for a few years. During this time, I made a few friends who have stuck with me for over 30 years. They have stuck with me through all the changes in my life. In other words, they are true, reliable friends. In my 20s, I changed a bit, got more into indie music, cut my hair, and dressed a bit more casually. I also moved out of my parents’ house, which in some ways freed me up to try to live the life I wanted. During those years, my accent changed. It was not a conscious attempt to develop a new accent, but because I was working in a university, a lot of people were from middle-class backgrounds with less regional accents. I did try to improve my English and pronunciation, but through that, my Yorkshire accent got watered down. I also started listening to classical music and going to concerts and art galleries. It was again a vain attempt at trying to fit in. I would also pick up interests and habits from the various landlords I lodged with. By my late 20s, I had not had a long-term relationship since I was 17. At the time, I was noticing that I was attracted to some men, so my natural presumption was that I was gay. I assumed that was why I had not managed to form a romantic relationship with anyone. So again, being gay was not enough, I had to appear “more gay.” I started wearing different clothes, some of which now make me cringe. I started listening to pop music, which again was quite cringe-worthy. I briefly dated a few men in those years, but again, no relationship came of it. I began to realize I didn’t really have a strong attraction to either gender, and I had come out too soon without knowing who I really was. Also during this time, I was in a managerial job and was pushed to dress “smarter” and act more professional. I hated who I was, and I hated the responsibilities of management too. I could have difficult conversations, but I mentally tore myself apart worrying how I was making my staff feel when I had to manage others. Next up came the midlife crisis. In my late 30s, I was struggling with severe depression and hating my life. I started getting drawn back to metal music as this spoke to me more than any other type of music. I also started dressing in black again because wearing black made me feel more comfortable. I got my first piercings and tattoos, and the way I was appearing and the lifestyle I was living felt more like me. Now in my 40s, I look pretty similar to the way I did in my thirties — with the addition of a beard for quite a few years. I was also discovering religion again. I was an active Christian for a few years in my twenties and then became an atheist. In my early 40s, I discovered religion again, started attending church, and was full-on religious for a few years — including going through a reaffirmation baptism. After losing my job five years ago and moving away, though, I don’t regularly attend church, and my faith is not as strong as it once was. So throughout my life, I’ve considered myself straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, Christian, atheist, socialist, Green, liberal Democrat, carnivore, vegetarian, vegan, rocker, indie, and a pop fan. I’ve gone through lots of identity changes, but very little of it felt authentic. So who am I? I would say autism is a major part of my identity, which I’ve come to accept. I’ve come to understand when I’m masking and try to avoid this more — except when I feel I need to, such as at job interviews when I need to appear more like I think employers want me to. Sexuality-wise, who I am is a bit more difficult to define. I am probably bisexual, though I’m more attracted to women. Sometimes though, I wonder if I’m possibly asexual to a point, as I don’t have a strong desire for a sexual relationship. Veganism is probably quite a strong part of my identity too. I was vegetarian for a while, but I became vegan nearly a year ago, which has really changed my outlook on the world and how I treat animals. I’ve also gone back to the rock and metal life, and I’ve been part of that lifestyle for the past nine years. I strongly identify with the lyrics and feel most comfortable wearing black and having piercings and tattoos. Musically, though, I’m not stuck on one genre and listen to lots of different styles depending on my mood. My disabilities also unfortunately define me. Alongside my autism is recurrent depression and anxiety. I’ve now permanently been on different antidepressants for over 20 years. I also walk with either a cane or crutches due to the pain and instability in my legs. I have spondylolisthesis, fibromyalgia, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), trigeminal neuralgia, and other neurological conditions. My autism diagnosis has made me more self-aware and has helped me understand when I’m burnt-out and need time out. But these are the early days of my autism diagnosis, and it is still a journey of self-discovery of how autism affects me and how to live with it.