It has been just over a year since I wrote my blog post about my diagnosis and told everyone about my neurological difference. I sat this morning and asked myself what exactly has changed? I feel it's a bit like marriage, everything changes and yet, everything remains the same, it's just a piece of paper, nothing special. Had it contained any other information, I would have shredded and recycled it. It didn't contain statements that I wasn't already aware of and it didn't leave me with
unanswered questions. So why has this three page document made such an impact?
Years of pondering had lead me to this document. Years of what ifs and why nots. Each time I lead with a why not, my inner critic appeared and shut me down. Having lived a life of confusion and self blame, an explanation was easily dismissed. I had joked that my quirks were "Laura-isms", I mused that food sensitivities were caused by "fruitextaphobia" (Don't google that one, it's a Laura-ism!) When friends asked me to get involved in any physical pastime, I joked that I was "sportily challenged" (even step aerobics had me falling into a pile of coats in the first 5 minutes). I had an explanation for everything, but the root cause was always, me. I was flawed. I was damaged goods. I was less than.
Fast forward to last year, August 11th to be exact. My anxiety was so high that I found it hard to even speak to anyone on the day of the assessment. My head was spiralling because if I wasn't autistic, then I was back to square one, and that was riddled with self blame and my flawed, less than, existence. I had booked the appointment in my married name, for fear the psychologist would recognise my name and dismiss me as a paranoid chancer who knew too much. On entering the assessment, I immediately confessed and gave a frantic overview of my professional experience. I was waiting for her to tell me to leave, when she smiled and said that I was not the first autism professional to sit in that chair and I won't be the last. I will forever remain grateful for her kindness and patience that day. She asked questions that I had never considered, which made me even more anxious ( I am the queen of practiced conversations and she had gone completely rogue on me). That two and half hours was emotional, raw and draining. At the end she explained the DSM V (Diagnostic Statistical Manual 5th edition) criteria and stated that I had met all of the criteria as laid out and that I was indeed on the autistic spectrum. I cried. Not because I was sad or angry. I cried tears of relief. I was not crazy. I was not flawed. I was not less than. I was, I am, autistic.
I wrote in my coming out blog post about how it took me time to process the information. In some ways I am still processing it. I have become far more self aware and noticed the level to which I had previously masked my autistic traits and needs. I am incredibly noise sensitive. I find it very difficult to concentrate when there is more than one noise source e.g. someone talking to me and the radio in the background. My Husband commented recently that I m more noise sensitive in the last six months. This made me think. Was I? In truth, the answer is that previously I had smiled through my discomfort, or when it got too much, snapped at people for no reason and retreated. I was now so aware of my overwhelm that I had begun trying to minimise the input. I had begun showing my discomfort openly. This isn't a new sensitivity, it is ancient, I just haven't admitted to it before.
I now ask questions when I am unsure what a person means. I will ask if they are serious, if they are odd with me, or if they actually meant what they said. Previously, I would have been consumed by those questions in the quiet of the night. I would have analysed every element of the conversation, every movement of their face (the scene was always etched on my retina at night) and every slight deviance from the original message conveyed. Now I know it is not necessary. I can ask the question without fear that I sound needy or nuts.
I can now see how my mind processes information differently. I had never really noticed how black and white I was (I have been called stubborn for a long time!) so now I try to shift my focus to the grey wherever possible. Sometimes I need others to point it out and I have wonderful friends and a very supportive Husband to help in that regard. I had also never realised how concrete and literal I can be. I was in therapy a number of years ago and the therapist finished the session by asking me to consider the following statement until our next session, "What does Laura love? What does Laura need? What does Laura want?" I left the session and went home to ponder. The following Thursday, I arrived at our session and proudly told my therapist that I had completed my homework. She was visibly pleased and asked me what the answer to the questions were. I excitedly told her that I had spent €26000( I could not afford this) on a car. To say she looked confused is an understatement. I can still see her face. I know now, that she meant I should consider my values and to consider what I want from life. I finished therapy that day, convinced I had aced the exercise and no longer needed her help. I cringe now to think of it, but I also giggle, we have to laugh at ourselves, right?
The biggest change for me, is that I challenge my "less than" beliefs daily now. When I catch myself making myself small or pulling away from challenge, I remind myself that I am worthy, I am capable, I am intelligent and I am exactly who I am supposed to be. I am me and I am proud. I have heard professionals advise parents that it's only of advantage to seek a diagnosis if the diagnosis itself will change the outcome for the child. I have to say I cannot disagree more with this. If you believe that your child is on the spectrum, please don't ignore it. Trust me when I say that they know they are different, even if they aren't saying or showing it. They know that they are not like their peers and this feeling will fester. Someone asked me in a question box on Instagram recently if I feel disabled by my autism. The honest answer is that I am more disabled by my anxiety, but I know that they go hand in hand. I know that had I begun this journey earlier, my mental health would have reaped the benefits. While this won't be true for every individual, it is most definitely true for me, as I have seen the impact that one year of truth has had for my mental health. It is scary for any parent to acknowledge difference. We all want our children to have a smooth, trouble free path. But here's the thing, not acknowledging that difference won't make the path easier to navigate for your child, only more difficult. The neurotypical world is confusing, the least we can do is allow them a map and a couple of guides to help them to navigate it.
So back to my question, why has this three page document made such an impact? The truth is I am living a life reimagined because of those words. I am living a truthful life because of that ink. I am happier and healthier than I have been in years because of that paper. I have found my tribe and I am surrounded by the most amazing women. My beautiful friend Jenny, (Mommyandtheherd as she is known online) calls us Unicorns. I cannot think of a better description for autistic women. People consider us mythical because surely we can't be autistic if we have lasting relationships, children, careers and intelligence. This inability to believe comes from societal assumptions and "less than" beliefs. We do exist and we are not all that rare as it happens. Women over 35 are the fastest growing group in diagnostic statistics. More and more women are joining our unicorn tribe and we welcome them with open arms. The more we talk, the more women will realise that they're not less than or nuts, they're simply unicorns, and that's pretty magical.