(Content warning: abuse, trauma, gaslighting, violence, psychological abuse)
I am autistic. There is power in saying a truth. There is vulnerability in saying a truth.
It shouldn’t be that way, but there are a lot of things that shouldn’t be that way in this world. I shouldn’t have had to fight so damn hard to be seen, yet here we are. I shouldn’t have had countless people, people that said they cared about me, people that were in professional positions tell me that I am not what I knew I was. I should not have had to deal with the trauma of being labeled and treated with diagnoses and medicines that caused further harm to my already sensitive brain. I learned to keep my inner world very private for most of my life. Dipping my hand into that cauldron and bringing it into the light has been challenging, to say the least. It was only after I stumbled across neurodivergence a few years ago that I even had the vocabulary for what I experienced on the inside of my brain. And for that I am grateful. The fact that I dove so deep into research about this, learning everything I could, should’ve been the first sign to anyone that I am neurodivergent. My special interest became neurodivergence.
And then came the dissonance of how I knew I was navigating the world as a person, to who I knew myself to be on the inside, going as far back as I can remember. The steps it has taken to observe, assimilate the information, practice the scripts, learn the rules, mimic the behaviors has always been exhausting but ultimately led to the burnout I now live in. But in that burnout, I found myself. In that burnout and the crumbling of many relationships that were unhealthy and untrue, I discovered a glimmer of how I can bring those inner worlds to the surface and be a whole person.
These things take time. But the amazing thing about the way my brain works is that I have everything I need to learn how to be myself. To listen to myself. To learn the patterns of myself. To solve a puzzle, I’ve always had to do it my way. I like taking things apart and knowing what makes them work. I like to understand what all the pieces do and their function. I have to tackle things backwards and understand them in a different way, which has always made me feel odd but now I am seeing the gift of this. Yet, when you’re told you’re just being stubborn, resistant to critique, and all the things people say to shame the very way you’re wired, you form some really fucked up beliefs about yourself. We all want connection and to get that, I’ve had to morph over and over, losing myself, just to get it.
I am understanding that in trying to mimic social constructs and relational aspects from people who are not honest, people who have not dealt with their trauma, people with no integrity, I have felt insane most of my life. There is no connection there. I value honesty and vulnerability and safety above all else. I have been trying to understand that which does not deserve my energy and seeing myself through a skewed lens. The more I invest in healthy relationships, which interestingly enough are mostly neurodivergent, I am realizing I communicate just fine. I feel understood, accepted, valued even.
There is so much to reframe. While I claimed this truth for myself for a couple years now, advocated for myself, despite being told “no, you’re not that,” over and over, I was finally validated by a therapist yesterday and I think I really needed that. Imposter syndrome is real. When I first learned of masking, for example, I felt like I had been lying to everyone and had so much shame…because I NEED to be honest. It hurts me to not be so. Being 44 and made to believe so many things about myself due to the trauma responses I’ve had took its toll. But the truth will always come out.
The truth is, I do have extensive trauma. I’ve worked really hard on it. But can we talk about what happens when someone who has an autistic brain goes through severe and repeated trauma? Can we talk about sensory processing disorders and what witnessing repeated violence does to development? Can we talk about the statistics of autistic people being vulnerable to dangerous relationships and our predisposition to trusting the wrong people until it’s too late? Can we talk about the overwhelming need for support clouding our choices of relationships and how it drives the bus, causing us to make and stay in unhealthy connections? Can we have a talk about the trauma that occurs everyday when it all becomes too much just to try and navigate a world not designed for these brains and no support when we need it? Can we talk about the trauma of being put on anti-psychotics, anti-depressants that don’t work because that’s not the problem and causes one to turn into someone unrecognizable and suicidal? Can we talk about the trauma of trying to tell your loved ones that you KNOW this is what you are and still they abuse and lie and manipulate and then lie to everyone about you? Can we talk about what kind of meltdowns might occur in those situations? We need to listen to people. Period.
We could also have a talk about the shock a regular body goes through with a radical hysterotomy, much less a sensitive neurodivergent body thrown into menopause, but that’s a story for another day.
There’s a lot we need to talk about. There’s a lot to process. There is a lot to change going forward. But here is the sparkly, yet subdued truth that resulted of me having a total breakdown and all the behaviors that came out when I was under massive stress: It confirmed what I suspected.
I am autistic.
Now that I have begun my journey of investing in myself without any distractions of unhealthy relationships, I have had time to figure out what I need. I can now invest time in getting those needs met. I can approach relationships with this information and not feel as much shame for the way my brain works. I can celebrate the genius of the way my brain is constructed and the way I create. I can depend on systems I’ve put in place, through safe and trusted friends, to provide a gut check when I am unsure of situations and people in my life. Because I understand that I miss social cues and red flags sometimes.
And I can write about this openly and unafraid now. (mostly) Because I am part of a lost generation of people born and socialized as female that slipped under the radar because we present differently. My therapist and I had a talk about this. How the world seems to be coming around as far as awareness and recognition goes. And that’s so good. Because understanding oneself, no matter what the case may be, is really everything. As vulnerable as it is to crack myself open over and over, it is vital that I do so. To feel whole in my weird quirky way of being first and foremost, but also to show up for those who are seeking, like I was.
I am here and I am autistic.