‘What the hell?’ was probably my first thought. Closely followed by an overwhelming and paralysing wave of relief, just that there’s confirmation of what I thought was right – everyone else is finding this life thing so much easier than me. Then the grief came, the ‘what ifs’ and ‘why nots’, because I mean WHY did I have to go through all that rubbish before the age of 26?! But the bit I got a bit stuck in was the worry, that I didn’t really know myself with all the masking (the process of copying neurotypical behaviours in order to fit in) and that if I do start to unmask will people still love me??
So yeah, it’s been overwhelming since I got the diagnosis. But then again, no one really gets it. You tell people: oh by the way I’m autistic and my life finally makes sense and I bet that’s quite a shock for you. Of course, my friends and family have been super understanding and let me know that nothing changes and it’s not a big deal etc, but the thing is to me it is a big deal. It’s the biggest deal. For me everything changes, I spend most of my days reliving memories from my past and being like ‘Oh my God, yeah that’s what that was’. I’ve started to be aware of just how much sensory stimulation freaks me out. I’m trying to find out my new identity and which parts of me are real and which are just a mask. I appreciate being told it’s ‘not a big deal’, but it kind of is.
Imagine all your life being told ‘you’re a cat’ and you’ve been trying to tell everyone you don’t feel like a cat but no one seems to listen and then 26 years later someone tells you ‘no, everyone was wrong you’ve always been a dog’. You’ve been living your life using scratching poles, chasing mice, eating Dreamies and squeezing through cat flaps just to fit in with the rest of the cats. Then you have to learn to be your real self – a dog – chase balls, chew furniture and go for walkies (okay maybe those comparisons aren’t great but you hopefully get my drift). What I’m trying to say is that my whole life changed overnight and no one else seems to get how big the shift is.
I’ve always struggled with my identity, never dressed how I really wanted to, always tried to be a milder version of my personality, always asking other people for their opinions before making decisions. I blamed that on anxiety, and in part it was I guess, but mostly I was just trying to fit in with everyone else. All those years I’ve tried to understand myself and who I am I’ve been missing one of the largest parts – Autism. And now, I have a completely new identity and all that I thought was my identity was actually a mask – that’s hard. The hardest part is wondering if the people who love you as you are, will they still love you when you become more of your actual self?
Day by day I’m changing little things to suit what seems more natural to me, like not putting x’s on the end of texts, being more causal in emails and wearing things that don’t freak out my senses rather than what everyone else is wearing. I’ve started wearing those boots I bought that I love but gets mixed reviews. I’m starting to be more accepting of who I feel I am naturally and that feels freeing. Living my life as someone who everyone else wants me to be has been 26 years too long, it’s time I’m more unapologetically myself.
I’m so unbelievably happy that I’ve finally got my diagnosis, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. It’s so hard and I have so much to learn. But the one thing I’ve learnt is that I’m not changing a single thing about myself to suit the neurotypical world that determines what’s acceptable and what is not, based on completely unwritten and confusing rules. Now, it’s time for the world to adapt to be a place for me and other neurodivergent people to just be. Autism is not less, it is difference and wouldn’t we all be boring if we were the same?
P.S. I don’t think I’ve actually been able to describe how much of a big deal it is.