I’m autistic. This might be a surprise, or not, for some of you, and you may even question that it’s true.
The fact is, I am, and it changes nothing about me. I also don’t want it to change how you treat me.
What it has changed is me accepting myself the way I am, which is something I’ve never been able to do.
My whole life I have asked WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? Why is everything that seems easy to other people so difficult? How do people cope with the world? It’s so bright and busy and LOUD in every way – how do they all wind down afterwards. The answer is, they don’t have to, because the world isn’t as LOUD for them.
And I don’t even mean the outside world, I mean the inner one too. I literally found out last year that I don’t filter out background noise, as in, I just found out that’s even a thing. Ian always asks me why I’m so nosy and I ask him how he CANNOT hear a conversation on the next table.
Food and me – we have a weird relationship too. Turns out it’s sensory and routine, and it’s common in autistic people. Eating the same thing every day and thinking certain foods are repulsive isn’t fussy.
Talking of routine – I HAVE to know timings, I hate surprises, don’t visit me without plenty of notice, and god forbid there’s roadworks on my preferred route somewhere. If I like a piece of clothing, I’ll buy 3 of it and wear it to death, or I’ll buy 4 outfits the same but different colours and rotate them like a uniform.
All the silly things, the quirky things, the habits, the anxieties – everything about me I don’t like or other people think is unusual, they all appear in the books I’ve read about autism.
My mental health has always suffered because I hated who I am in my brain, I hated that I couldn’t cope with the world the same as other people. The constant trying to fit in and be a normal person is exhausting, and even then I’ve not been that good at doing it.
For the last twenty something years I’ve been a drinker – drinking masked my more autistic traits. By December 2018 I was drinking half a bottle of vodka every day, sometimes a whole bottle. People don’t believe this, because I hid it, and drinking made me appear more ‘normal’.
Eventually I stopped drinking because I was vomiting up blood and having trouble breathing lying down. That’s why it hurts when people ask when am I going to start again. Any time I’ve given up before I always went back, usually limiting it at first until eventually it’s back to every day.
I’m only mentioning this because not being drunk (at least one day a week if not more) made it almost impossible to cope at first. I thought it was just withdrawal but three months later it was still too hard.
I’ve since found out that a lot of autistic people have alcohol problems. It helps us mask our true selves, it helps us fit in, and it helps us cope with what we don’t understand.
After my first six months of sobriety, when things weren’t looking any better, (and after my dad told me he was visiting the next day and I had a meltdown) I googled ‘why do I hate everyone’ and somehow ended up taking an autism quotient test. I got 44 out of 50, with anything above 33 showing significant traits on the autism spectrum.
I thought how much can you trust an online test, surely everyone is saying yes to these questions? So I got Ian to take it, and he got 5. Even he was surprised by the things I answered yes to, I hide it so well even from my husband.
I’ve never considered before that I’m autistic – I used to work with autistic children and adults, and thought I understood the symptoms. Turns out, none of us really do, cause everyone presents differently, despite the things we have in common.
In the past I’ve been diagnosed with eating disorders, severe depression, and generalized anxiety disorder, and had assessments for OCD, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
Again, this is common, the struggle to understand ‘what is wrong’ and never fitting all the boxes.
The boxes I fit? Autism.
The more I, and eventually Ian, looked into autism, the more we realised it made sense of me. Before Ian has been dismissive of possible diagnoses, but this time he’s on board. It’s helped us to communicate even better than before.
My need for routine is at the root of my anxiety. So are my problems with knowing how to act in public. I was depressed because I didn’t understand myself or why other people behave the way they do – now I know neurologically I’m wired differently, and… it’s peaceful. I can’t explain it any other way.
I stopped taking anti depressants, not because I didn’t want to be on them but because I realised they wouldn’t ‘cure’ autism so I just stopped taking them (well, under GP advisement, obviously)
I still see my therapist, but now instead of talking about why I don’t understand the world, and how I feel like I’m an alien wearing a human skin, we talk about getting used to this idea that I’m autistic, dealing with people who might not believe me, and planning the future.
Because I finally know WHAT IS WRONG after years of asking, now I feel I have a future.