In light of the fact this it’s Mental Health Awareness week, I thought it kind of amusing that my brain has chosen this week to finally start seeing some kind of pattern emerging in the impossible jigsaw puzzle that is my brain. And I thought well, now’s as good a time as any to put some of this tangled mess into words, and see what comes of it.
I’ll start with this:
“The assumption that we must have worked it out by now if we’re still walking, talking and have a pulse can hide a grim reality of difficult, isolated and unfulfilled lives.”
It’s from an article on autism as an adult by Susan Dunne. Dunne was diagnosed as autistic as an adult and, in a nutshell, told that although she had a neurological learning difference which did not render her “mad, bad, or dangerous to know” and nor was she intellectually challenged, that she was too “high functioning” to benefit from any autism services, discharged, and left largely to figure it out for herself.
Suffice to say, that this week has been pretty interesting, mental health wise.
It’s like I’ve realised I’ve been living in a Wonderland my whole life, trying unsuccessfully to apply “normal” to it, failing over and over and wondering more and more what the heck is wrong with me, and suddenly I’m shown how to make a map and see things as they actually are.
I can start to un-adapt, un-contort myself, and hopefully as I do that I’ll find the anxiety lessening and be able to cope with new/different better.
So what’s happened?
Well… every time it pops up in my social media news feed, I have a read of the “women who don’t know they’re autistic” article. And I get to the end, and think sadly to myself well it must just be me then, just stupid anxiety messing everything up, because I sound nothing like her.
Except for the camouflaging, the masking, the social mimicry.
And then on Saturday I read a cartoon describing the autism spectrum.
These links are all worth a read, by the way.
And as it talked about the whole point is that it’s a spectrum, not linear, that not all autists display all the same characteristics (yes there are some pretty well known ones but just because it’s well known doesn’t mean it affects everyone), I saw myself in it and ended up in a weepy heap on the floor. A sort of “oh my goodness maybe it IS me and I’m not just broken” relief mixed with sadness that life could have looked so different if I’d realised even half of this years ago. I called Steve to come and rescue me and he came and held me and pretty much just nodded and smiled like – like he KNEW this was me already. He already handles the anxiety-me really well, and this realisation was a logical conclusion to how I function (or not).
It started to trigger a LOT of memories. And Steve held me and said I don’t need to adapt any more. I can start un-adapting. I think I might actually be able to start healing from past damage now.
And then I was prompted to look into PDA – pathological demand avoidance, as this often crops up as part of the tangled mess. (Please note this was simply the first link I found on a quick search, might not be the full story, I have no idea, I’m still piecing bits of jigsaw together.)
By itself, again, it wasn’t sending up any red flags. But put it together with the ASD and the anxiety issues which aren’t classic anxiety symptoms either, and the sensory issues, and things started to make sense.
If I look back on pretty much any problematic memory from childhood (and there are plenty), and apply an ASD filter to it, all of a sudden my response to a given situation makes perfect sense.
I laugh about myself, I joke and say I just don’t like people, that I’m a happy hermit (or a sociopath when I’m feeling particularly prickly) and I’ve struggled in social situations my whole life, not reading them properly, camouflaging or contorting myself, noticing from others’ reactions when my actions or words have been not right and trying to adjust the strength of my applied reaction for next time.
It causes anxiety from the constant stress of having to contort yourself to fit in, and the constant anxiety is quite probably the cause of the PDA which from an adult perspective is a tricky label. I don’t say no or try to get out of things just for the sake of it. I do it because the anxiety things trigger is so awful and I’ve become so conditioned to people not taking “no” for an answer in the past that I automatically find a billion excuses for why I can’t possibly do something, and although these days the fantasy element is turned down (because adults didn’t tend to like it when I “lied”) there are memories of this happening starting to surface again.
The impossible jigsaw puzzle has shown more that a few surprises recently, a bunch more pieces have fallen into place. Who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll find out what I look like underneath the concrete I’ve built up around myself.
So if I come across as rude if I meet you in person, I’m sorry. I’m stuck between not showing any interest in you because I can’t think of appropriate questions to ask, because the questions I want to ask if they do pop up in my head are probably on the too forward end of the scale and I’m scared of coming across as inappropriate. So I tend to stick to quiet. Even though I genuinely would love to know what you got up to at the weekend. I just forget that I can ask those things because, well, words. And if I take too long to answer if you ask me what I did at the weekend, it’s because apart from trying to remember (even though I know this question is bound to come up at some point in the week) what I did, I’m trying to figure out which bits of it might fall into the “small talk” category and which bits are probably too much and because I still can’t figure out that bit of socialness I divert attention away if I can. And then feel sad that I never got to tell you that we built three composting bays over the weekend, and I had a huge revelation about who I am, and that I spent a lot of time reading about composting and mental health and plant identification and rhubarb recipes and ticks and embroidery stitches. But that I’d have liked to have been able to tell you some of what I’d learned. If I could remember it under pressure.
Now to take a very deep breath and hit “publish”….