One year on …

[TW: suicideation in par one (only)]

I’ve been spending the last few weeks aware that my diagnosis ‘anniversary’ is approaching, and wanting to document the moment. The year has been challenging, actually let’s not euphemise, bloody difficult, in so many ways, with deep bouts of suicideation. But I’m still here, and there have also been positive trends. I want to acknowledge those positive things to myself, to prove I’m making progress. Marking them in black and white should do the job.

Actually, marking them out FROM the black, sometimes enveloping black, will hopefully do the job.

I’ve spend all month trying to think of three things. Rule of three. I like this ‘rule’. We autists don’t have a monopoly on rules – this one is known and used widely: speeches; writing; the lowest number of stuff to form a pattern; the triad of impairments …ha, ha, so it is useful for interacting. [Aside: I still reckon DSM5 diagnosis is a triad: (a) social communication stuff (b) rigidity and repetitivity stuff (c) sensory stuff — they’ve just mis-organised it into two categories].

Anyway, my rule of three has failed. I’ve ended up with four. Which means I must be doing better than I think.

  1. I’m allowing myself some recovery time. I always knew, without knowing why, I would end many of my days largely immobile/comatose on the couch, incapable of anything very much. A compulsion, one that I was unable to counter. Just so I could get through the next day. And the immobility was an opportunity to chastise myself and prove my worthlessness to myself. Because if I wasn’t utterly useless, stupid, a failure, I’d get up and do stuff (chores, productive, creative stuff, socialise, hobbies etc). Nearly a year on, and allowing myself recovery time, I have a sneaking suspicion that my general, overall exhaustion levels may be down a couple of notches. This would make sense. Allowing recovery time means I can relax into it, let it work. Previously I’d still have to do nothing, but would also be rigid with the tension of social and productive failure, i.e. not going out on a Friday or Saturday night. And not doing productively useful stuff either. Which was not greatly conducive to actual recovery.
  2. Turns out I’m not stupid after all. I still feel stupid a lot of the time, but I occasionally catch myself almost believing this one, i.e. I’m not stupid, then I need to cognitively acknowledge to myself and remind myself – yes, you’re not stupid, you’re autistic. What’s actually going on are social communication issues (despite knowing a large vocabulary and being articulate), and slow(er) processing capability (not stupidity or inability to understand / concentrate / follow instruction / remember), and sensory issues, hating crowded, noisy, smelly, person-to-person bumpy places (not being incompetent, stupid, useless etc).
  3. Turns out I’m not an utter failure either. As in, if I wasn’t a failure I’d have been successful in my career, in my income progression, in my personal and social life. Ditto the conscious, cognitive self-acknowledgement of this one. Okay, the facts are: I have scrabbled around the edges of my profession; my income is far from what it ‘should’ be for my age/skills/length in my industry; my personal/social life is severely restricted. But – now – in the light of diagnosis, I have to cognitively acknowledge I’ve probably done flipping well considering the difficulties I have, and those I have to face in an NT world. I work. I financially self-support. I do have half a handful of handsome friends, for whom I’ve always been grateful (if usually a little bemused as to how I managed to achieve them, let alone retain them).
  4. I’m just beginning to tease apart the mental ill-health issues from what is autism. I just thought I was totally, utterly crap (see numbers 1 to 3). Full stop. Decades of not improving, not ‘getting better’, not fitting in better, not making more friends, not making career progression, not knowing who I am, for all the trying to fathom and be what everyone else is. It’s definitely taken its toll on my mental health, and probably my physical health. I’m so pleased mental health is an Autistica top ten research priority. This is the one I’m stuck grappling with at the moment; I may still be grappling with it next year. It’s a biggie (not that the others aren’t also). But I begin to think I can feel the occasional tremor of shifting bedrock in the deepest foundation of my being. Not quite managing to grasp hold of much yet, though. But the idea exists that the aforementioned worthlessness etc – for sake of brevity – is due to mental ill-health issues resulting from decades of undiagnosed autism, not from autism itself.

I’m hoping not being quite so constantly, persistently, negatively critical will expand into beginning to learn I’m not to blame for everything (in my sphere of contact, not everything such as war, disease, poverty, etc). And maybe learning that I’m not always wrong (even when I’m right). I recognise overturning a lifetime of self-blame, criticism, profound self-loathing, worthlessness etc (oh, the et ceteras) is a difficult mountain to climb. But the only way is up. (I feel sure there’s an amusing pun there somewhere if only I could find it).

After half a century of failing, and miserably failing, to be ‘normal’, I am beginning to learn to be autistic. I’m taking my first tentative, toddler steps. And of course, I can intellectualise, learning to be autistic inevitably will mean learning to be myself. I’m just going to pause for a minute and let that sink in to my mind … I’ve said for as far back as I can remember that I don’t know who I am, I have no sense of self, no self-identity. This seems quite important … I don’t know how long it will take, but I may yet find my self-identity (tautological?)

On reflection, maybe I’ve come quite a way in a year.

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