This might all be a bit speculative, a bit premature, but I wonder … if I document it … might it become real, tangible, even in the act of writing. It might be a bit speculative, but I’m not documenting anything that isn’t making sense, feeling a bit like pennies dropping, things slotting into place.
I’m wondering if diagnosis has given me permission. Permission to be. Permission to express the things I’ve expressly denied about myself because it meant I didn’t fit in (etc., etc.) Permission to say that despite a normal upbringing, I’ve found existing – by neurotypical parameters of measurement – to be a most troublesome, sometimes too challenging, too difficult, an occupation.
Does diagnosis finally give me permission to speak, live, try to reach my potential – that thing that school teachers repeatedly said I was not achieving?
Exactly what permissions do I now have? Well … let me enumerate:
- I have permission to no longer judge myself, measure myself, according to the criteria of normality that I was brought up to believe are the ones by which I should judge myself (to be fair, pretty much the only ones anybody knew, back then).
- I have permission to liberate myself from these constraints. Okay, I have to live and work in the NT world, and so I behave as best I can when I abut that world, but it’s not my natural habitat. It’s never been my natural habitat, and I’ve never understood why not, nor where I thought my natural habitat might be. Lo and behold, post-diagnosis, I have directions to what is undoubtedly my natural habitat. This is what is liberating. I no longer have to assess myself by the criteria I’ve used all my life. They’re not the correct criteria for someone with a brain hard-wired the way mine is configured. This is not to restrict, or limit, myself. But maybe, just maybe, after decades of trying – and failing – to be better, fit in more, improve my social skills, improve my people skills etc., I now know I’ve been starting from the wrong place, the wrong habitat. None of those attempts have worked … indeed my decades’ old mantra of ‘”I have no learning curve” begins to make some sense if I’m hard-wired this way, rather than merely utterly useless at learning and improving my personal, social, situation.
- I have permission to start learning from the right place, the right habitat. I’m reminded of the joke where a stranger in town asks a local person for directions. The reply comes back … well I wouldn’t start from here if I were you. Clearly I’ve been trying to learn/improve/fit in etc etc from the start point of ‘neurotypical’ (failed, repeatedly). Now I get to start learning/ improving/ fitting in etc. from the correct place of ‘autist’. This is actually quite exciting, now I write it down.
- I have permission to speak. To speak about how sometimes unbearably difficult it is to get through any single day. The plenitude of daily inadequacies and worthlessnesses I thought were shameful so would not speak of them. At one point towards the end of my ASD assessment, the assessor said something like “you’ve done really well to get this far, given all your difficulties.” I have permission sometimes to say things are quite tough. This is a bit big.
- I have permission … to experience, rather than to deny, quash, (at least in public) what I now know are my autistic traits. Those behaviours I used to think were me being weird, quirky, odd, eccentric, dogmatic, inflexible etc., and that people were tolerating, to be kind.
- I have permission, in short, to be autistic. In the few months since diagnosis I’ve already noticed some changes in my being:
- I make less eye contact. I’m not forcing myself so much to make so much eye contact.
- Rather than absolutely stopping myself, I’m allowing myself to express a little more of my literalness. In what I hope is an amusing fashion.
- I’m chastising, criticising, condemning myself a little less for ‘being antisocial, unfriendly, unfriended’ when I’m home alone on a Friday or Saturday night.
- I’m accepting more (condemning less) that taking time out to recover is simply essential. I have no problem taking ‘recovery days’ in a running schedule. I’ve decided it need be no different taking ‘recovery time’ in an autistic schedule. I notice I’ve even started calling it ‘self-preservation’ time. Just time to recover from the rigours of existing and working in an NT world.
- I’m even beginning to acknowledge (rather than berating myself for uselessness, inadequacy, stupidity, “oh, just get on with it, you stupid woman”) that some basic functions are just really hard e.g. public transport, town centres, anywhere with lots of people, anywhere with lots of noise, or even a little, but unexpected, noise.
- I have permission … to be myself. Whatever that may evolve to be. My only sense of self to this moment is negative, so I’m rather hoping myself isn’t worthless and inadequate. But there has to have been something lying dormant all this time, waiting for an opportunity to flourish. Surely? At initial sight, permission to be myself is rather shocking. Both from the perspective of loss, and waste, wasted time, a life not lived; and also from the perspective of potential. I may yet get to try to be the sort of person I’d like to be. And I’m finally starting from the correct place/habitat to reach my potential.
I know it’s not too late to teach an old dog new tricks … with patience, consistency, and the right kind of training.
I may well find there are other permissions I now have. My journey is already looking brighter.