Personal Stories, Autism, Diagnosis

My autism diagnosis: working out what it means to me

After getting diagnosed sooner than expected, I went home with a new view of myself and the world around me. It wasn’t all in my head, and I could stop beating myself up for struggling with many things that came so easily to others around me.

As I worked through things, I found myself thinking about my past and all the things I have silently struggled with. Through it all, I kept asking could it have been different if I had known sooner. Since then I have realised that my experiences have made me who I am today.

At the time I might have over-analysed everything, but that microscopic review of my past enabled me to gain perspective and consider my past in a new light. Since then I felt unburdened of all the luggage that I have been taking on over the years.

The past few 24 hours have been a whirl of emotions as I replay the assessment and what was said over and over in my mind,  working out what being autistic means for me.

Leaving the office it was a matter of fact, I felt neither happy nor sad. It is what it is.

Driving home, I listened to the radio (Heart FM) singing along to songs that suddenly took on a new meaning. “I know I’m not the only one”, “Islands in the stream, this is what we are” and “Don’t stop me now”. I felt empowered and positive as I thought, “this is me, no excuses”. I wanted the world to know so that they may start to understand, and I wanted to change things for the better by showing that it was the world, not me, which needs to change.

I was supposed to meet up with people from work last night but had to cancel as I just wanted to be alone to think things through. I also couldn’t sleep as my mind was whirring with thoughts of the years gone by.

My primary school lunchtimes spent in the library reading Nancy Drew, whilst the other children played together on the playground. Never feeling alone, but never feeling like I belonged. The fear of starting high school as I struggled with the large number of people I didn’t know. Sitting alone on the field in the first weeks of high school, watching everyone else get to know each other. My tears and despair the next year when I started the new year and found that I was no longer with the few people I had got to know. The years of not fitting in, being laughed at, and being bullied. The number of days I took off sick because I couldn’t face heading into school when things became overwhelming.

I thought of university and feeling out of step from the other students who seemed so much more carefree than I was. My awkward attempts to integrate during freshers week, and my determination that post-school life was going to be different. My low attendance as I didn’t enjoy lectures with the hundreds of students, and found it much easier to teach myself from the textbook, and copies of notes from those who did attend. My seriousness about everything, and my inability to just go with the flow. My quest to be out partying with everyone else, but never connecting in a way that led to friendship.  The series of boyfriends interspersed with feelings of loneliness...  strangely, it was easier to bond in a relationship than it was to make friends however it never lasted.

Then I thought of work. My difficulties of integrating into new work environments, and the need to find a friendly ally before I could break the ice with the others (which sometimes took years). The common misperception that people have of me, and their surprise when they get to know the real me. My feelings of being an outsider and wondering why I couldn't make friends.

The years of thinking I need to do better and be better. The self-help books, counselling and coaching to try to improve myself. The guilt as I struggled with the demands of being a wife and a parent, and my growing anxiety as I increasingly struggled to fit into the world around me.

I thought of my history of friendships and relationships. Short-lived and intense. Each one completely different. I morphed into each relationship - the reggae lover, the alternative rocker; the raver, the 90s pop princess. The supporter of rugby, football, golf, cricket, F1 racing and rowing. The party-lover, the theatregoer, the classical music aficionado, the fine diner and lover of simple pleasures. The crafter, the baker, the homebody and gardener. The career women, the innovative thinker, the methodological planner, the confident trainer and coach, the bold go-getter, and the cautious questioner. I took pleasure in how different I could be.

All of them me at one point in time - many of them forgotten as soon as the relationship is over. Do I even know who I am, and what I truly enjoy?

Would it have been different if I had known sooner? Would I have felt less isolated and anxious? Would I have felt less pressure to try to be sociable and fit in? Would I have been more comfortable with who I am, rather than try to be someone I am not?

I can’t change my past, I know that. I do wonder though whether I can change the future and use my experiences to change things so that my son doesn’t need to go through life feeling the way I did.

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About Helen Needham

Helen is the originator and founder of Me.Decoded. A passionate advocate for Neurodiversity, - diagnosed as autistic in her 40's after a lifetime of feeling like she was on the outside looking in.
  • England