Shortly after my fortieth birthday, I was diagnosed with autism.
Like so so many autistic adult women, I had suspicions whilst going through the assessment process with one of my children. The more I researched, the more answers I had to questions I didn’t realise were swirling in my head.
Why was life so difficult.
How come I had the same opportunities as my peers, yet couldn’t act on them.
Why was I the same, but so, so different.
My childhood looked idyllic. Public school and privilege, siblings with an innate confidence that set them up for a lifetime of success. A childhood where autism was unheard of.
Working so hard to fit in with a large family of strong willed, gregarious extroverts, that confidence passed me by.
Instead I was filled with the knowledge that I wasn’t good enough.
I am sad for the child I was, because I was so much more than the fat, quiet, dull girl that I became. My attempts to fit in both at school and at home meant that I was lost. I was a shell. The real me huddled inside, cowering away from life. The fake me tried desperately to be a part of the family, a part of the school community.
I had no autonomy. When I was told to wear a certain outfit, I wore it, even though it hurt me to do so. When noises were too much for me, I put up with them in silence, because the level of noise was fine, it was me that was wrong. I had opinions, but knew that in the scheme of things, my opinions would not be listened to.
I stimmed, but this was simply an ugly habit, something else to be ashamed of. I bit my nails to the quick. I sucked my thumb constantly. I hid the stress until occasionally it would burst out of me and I would cry for hours on my own.
Change was terrifying, anxiety was rife, yet, again, these were seen as character flaws, something to be tucked away out of sight.
Friendships were an enigma. Groups of social misfits were formed to protect us from bullied. Sleepovers were arranged to keep up the pretence of normal.
My (lack of) career was based solely on choosing a course acceptable to my parents and grandparents. A course which, realistically, would leave me with no job prospects.
My choices around marriage and children were made because marriage and babies were the next life stage, taking role playing to extreme lengths, although my husband and my children are my favourite people in the world, and I wouldn’t be without them.
Learning about autism is slowly revealing a person I never knew I was.
I flap when I’m excited. I flick my fingers and my leg shakes when stressed. I hate the feeling of rain, and showers, but the feeling of cold, wet grass on the soles of my feet is intoxicating.
The sun is too bright, music is largely annoying (apart from in the car, when it drowns out the sound of the engine, which is more irritating), noise is unbearable, triggering whole body anxiety.
I am happiest alone, with my iPad or looking at stars. Alone time is when I can recover from family life and recharge my batteries.
Earplugs and my heavy fleece blanket are my favourite things.
Obsessions are wonderful and soul restoring, escapism from real life, giving me wings.
I know myself better than I ever have done, because looking from an autistic perspective, I can now understand Me, I can finally see who I am.
Adjusting to being me, autistic 40 year old woman, as opposed to me, the one that fits in and does whatever is expected, is difficult. It is frowned upon by some who have the opinion that because I was a fairly crap neurotypical, I would rather reinvent myself as autistic. I can see why they think this, because my whole life has been an act, they’ve never seen the real me, or rather, they have, but they failed to recognise me.
This is not reinvention. This is discovery.
I am no longer lost.
Though I am not yet found.
I am in the in-between stages of processing many year’s worth of memories and feelings, and instead of suppressing them, as has become my default setting, I am exploring what they mean to me, the real me, not the fake me.
This can be uncomfortable, realising that perhaps I have no place any more with my siblings and parents. I can no longer hide who I am to suit them. I don’t want to be with people who set me up to fail, then patronisingly pat me on the head and put me in my place.
I am finding that being neurodiverse means finding my people. Belonging in a way I never have before.
This processing stage is wonderful. I’m getting to know and like someone I haven’t seen for a long, long time.
Life begins at forty? You bet it does!