Have I accepted my autism?

A post about the autistic experience for Autism Acceptance Week (27 March to 2 April 2023).

I watched the second part of the BBC/OU series Inside Our Autistic Minds with Chris Packham.  Watching the two episodes (I couldn’t watch them back to back, was too much) was extremely emotional for me.  The first part followed two autistic adults, Flo and Murray, attempting to explain their experiences in video presentations.  While Murray is non-verbal, I understood his need to be seen and heard just like a person that verbally interacts with the world.  We often forget that we say far more with the volume, tone and pitch of our voices as well as our body language than words can express.  

I identified the most with Flo, the high masker.  She hid behind social conventions and comedy, but she was struggling.  Maybe that’s where my humour comes from.  I have a very dark, dry and self-deprecating sense of humour.  Flo’s video was very emotional for me; I sometimes feel like a disappointment.  At almost 40, I am still in an entry-level job, despite being told throughout my life I am bright and smart.  Let me tell you, I do not feel bright and smart.  I feel like I am just winging it, just getting by, teetering on the edge of burnout.  Much like Flo was in the episode.

The second episode followed Anton and Ethan.  These two were both verbal and I identified with both in different ways.  Anton had to be in control of time and struggled with sudden changes in routine, which would mess up his timekeeping.  I realised my persistent bad mood is because I feel like I have little control over my time.  I work only for the money; I am not passionate about my job, which eats at me every day.  I wish I had more time to devote to study and gain experience (I am in my fifth module of BSc (Hons) Social Psychology).  

Ethan, on the other hand, struggled with noise.  As someone who really struggles with auditory and visual overload, his story resonated with me.  Everything is just noise, yet I love to sing and listen to music.  Add sensory seeking for certain noises and sights, and finding the balance is so difficult.  ADHD wins the fight sometimes, then I end up with a sensory hangover, which is not fun.  My brain can just completely slow down, which is when I’m in shutdown.  A shutdown is when an autistic person withdraws partly or completely from their immediate environment.  Shutdowns are considered quite worrying, as more outward signs of distress (meltdowns) mean the person is communicating with the environment.  If I really melt down I feel it’s more the ADHD side of me – very destructive and exhausting.  I avoid these wherever possible.  As a nearly 40-year-old woman, I find the fact I do this very demeaning and humiliating.  The fact of it is our tolerance to stimuli is much lower than a non-autistic person (sensory issues are also an ADHD thing) because our filter is much more conscious – we have to MAKE our brains filter stuff out.  Sometimes, if tired or stressed, our brains are dealing with enough already and we can’t.

Autism Acceptance Week is coming up and it had me thinking: have I accepted my autism?  I acknowledge I am autistic, unashamedly, but for a long time, I had held the belief in my mind that I am.  I had believed for much longer I can’t be because some of my traits aren’t typical of autism.  I have a talent for understanding the quirks of the English language, such as puns, metaphors and idioms.  Yet I fell so terribly short in social communication and reciprocation.  

I am in a phase of my life (again) where I have no friends and have been ghosted because people have gotten fed up with me.  If people can’t accept me, so be it, but I can only be me. Even then, I am not so sure who me is.  I masked my difficulties all my life, as a shy, quiet child.  Don’t get me wrong, I can be shy, usually around those I feel guarded around.  I am louder and brasher around those who accept me.  My husband sees the whole of me and no other person on Earth has seen that, not even my parents.  Who am I really?  Who would I have been had I not needed to mask? I might have been the Sunday child, bonny, blithe good and gay instead of the Wednesday child, full of woe (I was born on a Sunday).  That part of my mind will not rest.  Perhaps I am both, due to autism and ADHD?  The quiet, reserved me and the brasher, fun-loving me?

Life is a process of discovery, made more intricate like the spinning of a web.  Gossamer threads forming my personality up to now.  What will I be in the future?  I prefer the idea of bold and bare acceptance over shying away anytime.

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