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And Then Sometimes, It Hits Me: I'm Autistic

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For the most part, I am happy to think of myself not as disabled or disordered, but simply different.

And then sometimes, it hits me.

I see that much of what I have achieved and overcome throughout my life has been a direct result of being autistic, because it is such an intrinsic part of who I am. I see the many strengths that come with being autistic. The many things I can celebrate about myself.

And then sometimes, it hits me.

Since my diagnosis, I have been happier with who I am than at any other point in my entire life. Often now, I move through my day serene, with an ease I have never before experienced.

And then sometimes, it hits me.

A weekday. Late for my first meeting at work. Still not out of the house. My beautiful children clamoring for attention, delaying my exit. No time to compose myself before entering into two hours of in-depth highly technical discussion.

I arrive, and try to pick up what’s happening. Try to shift my brain into a suitable work-gear, to mentally alt-tab to an appropriate application I can use to get through this meeting.

Approaching the two-hour mark, my brain starts to fizz. The jargon, the complexity, the people talking. Hunger. Tiredness. The knowledge that I have another meeting to attend in 45 minutes’ time, with an entirely different group of people, discussing an entirely different topic, at which I will have to lead the discussion because I instigated it in the first place.

And it hits me.

I need to get out.

If I don’t leave that first meeting now, I will never be able to shift gears in time; my brain will be unable to adequately switch to a new task, a new focus. I make my apologies and prepare to leave. Awkward exchanges of thanks and goodbye. I’m never quite sure how to verbally “sign off.” Then I’m out.

A quick visit to the office, just long enough to remind myself of this other aspect of my job, my day.

My next meeting involves an ordinarily 15-minute walk to another location. Construction work means it takes longer. There is noise. I walk past the local children’s hospital on my way to my next meeting venue, and suffer that oft-experienced pang of hyper-empathy seeing children and their families, wondering what difficulties and challenges they’re having to bear. That agonizing feeling of pain at the suffering I imagine others are feeling.

It hits me.

The air conditioning in the next meeting room is old, poorly serviced, and far too loud. The sound is like an aircraft taking off; except it’s continuous, relentless. There are no windows, no visible green. I crave all things green; green keeps me grounded, relaxed, peaceful. I focus on my colleagues’ mouths as they speak, only ever briefly glancing at their eyes.

I somehow succeed in getting the outcomes I need from the meeting. I’m able to communicate effectively enough. To the outside observer, the exchange will have appeared well-managed, efficient, and successful.

But I cannot go back to the office just yet. It’s lunchtime, and my packed lunch is in a bag under my desk in another building, but I need to sit somewhere else – somewhere anonymous. A café. Get down my thoughts in a blog post. Consume coffee and cake. Compose myself and empty my mind of the noise of the past few hours before I resume the role of capable, competent, clear-communicating professional.

Because sometimes, it hits me.

am capable.

am competent.

can communicate.

And I can do many other things besides. I am resilient and strong. I have powers. I have skills, expertise and intelligence. People often tell me so, and I recognise it more and more in myself. These days, for the most part, I am positive. Optimistic.

But sometimes, nevertheless, it hits me.

What comes naturally to others does not always come naturally to me.

There are times when I recognize that this fundamental part of who I am does make things difficult. I may be “verbal;” I may appear, on the surface, to “function.” But every day of my life, I contend with challenges because the world is not designed for people like me.

And mostly, that’s fine. That’s just the way it is. I like who I am.

But sometimes, it hits me.

A version of this post originally appeared on Anna’s personal blog, The Misadventures of Mama Pineapple.

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Image via Thinkstock.
Originally published: January 3, 2017
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