Living with autism

Last week I ranted about anti-vaxxers and the Coronavirus.
It was followed by me discussing my Autism/Asperger’s, briefly. It’s not something I tend to talk about in detail normally. But as I’m writing a column. Perhaps it’s about time I did. So here it goes…

I was diagnosed in my late thirties. I’d already guessed so a year or so before. What lead me to suspect I had Asperger’s Syndrome was someone on a reality TV show, of all things. He described himself as almost identical in the way he thought and acted. The penny dropped.

I’d always felt ‘different’. In primary school, this wasn’t a bad thing. I was the daft kid and popular. I had obsessions, but they manifested themselves in silly TV shows or toys. I wouldn’t have stood out as Autistic because I wasn’t the stereotypical introvert. I was shy out of my comfort zone, but I had many friends. I was happy and laughed my way through most of childhood. It felt safe.

Then high school. Straight away I felt out of my depth. I was completely overwhelmed by the size of the place and all the new faces. The sounds – like the crowds of students moving down the corridors seemed deafening. There was no structure – a different classroom for each lesson, different faces every time. I still had my small group of quirky friends I was comfortable with. But you do spend your majority of the time in the classrooms.

Hitting teens was hard. I wasn’t ready to grow up. I still felt like the daft kid in primary school.  So, I faked it. Not uncommon in Autistic girls, they call it ‘masking’ and it’s exhausting. I also developed an eating disorder at around 15. Again, not uncommon in Autistic girls. I lost a little weight to be told how good I looked. Well, I didn’t stop there! Because typical of someone with Autism, I became obsessed. I left school after achieving very little. I missed most of the final year because I’d fallen behind. By this time I was experiencing what I now recognise as anxiety. A panicky feeling which forced me to protect myself by zoning out, what is known as ‘shutdowns’. Lessons were too stressful.

Further education and work were up and down. I tended to excel in jobs where I worked on my own initiative. The eating disorder dissipated towards my early 20s. Life generally from then on was good. But I still felt like an alien. There were still situations I couldn’t handle too. Shopping centres for, example. The panicky feeling would come back. If I couldn’t leave straight away, I’d start to feel frightened. I couldn’t identify with the way other females thought either. But I got married and started a family. I did all the normal things that are expected of us, but still felt very detached from the human race. Then came that realisation. My new obsession became Autism! The diagnosis wasn’t a shock, because I’d already become a mini expert on the topic.

So there you go. It’s not something I want to define me. But it’s part of me. Apparently, there are many undiagnosed adults out there. So even if just one person identifies with this and that penny drops for them too, I’m glad I wrote it. Because once you realise why you’re not ‘normal’ you feel more normal. You’re not alone.

Next week it’s back to ranting!

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Written by

Julie Frank

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