Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Reveletory Hypothesis

Some things suddenly make noise in your mind when you're folding laundry. You ask if anyone else hears the noise and receive a chorus of "We've been hearing you emit that noise for years." Oh.

See, I didn't know until recently that I'm not particularly emotionally supportive. You may not notice this unless you've spent a lot of in-person one-on-one conversation time with me, which few people honestly have. The off-hand question I asked about this mental itch was confirmed by those who would know, but love me anyway. Upon reflection, I have to agree. Beyond a hug and a "there there", I usually have no real idea what to do with other people's word/emotion/facial expression combos or how to arrange my own face and voice so they know I care (and without making them feel worse!). I've unconsciously done a lot of work on mastering this sort of thing, but it turns out I still guess wrong A LOT.

Often, I either empathize all the way and freeze because it overwhelms me completely, or I don't notice/understand what's happening at all and end up being inadvertently cold or rude. I've developed a (not fool-proof at all) system over the years, so I'm not always a complete social wreck and can scrape by. Being "on" all the time is super exhausting, which is a big reason I hardly leave the house anymore. Online communication is infinitely easier (although it's difficult for me to not use universal emoticons for everything). Online, I have all the time in the world to craft my words. In person, my foot lives in my mouth.

So! The noisy thing that includes, but is not limited to, the social angst detailed above is that I think there is a place for me on the autism spectrum. I think the missing piece in my unwieldy and debilitating labyrinth of life struggles has been revealed at long last. Light bulbs exploded and all the bells that ever existed rang out at full volume. I heard my internal circuits crackle and a scaffolding rose up like a pop-up book under the left hemisphere of my brain. A banner unfurled: "EVERYTHING MAKES SENSE NOW. HOW ABOUT THAT?". My understanding of who I am and what autism is has been completely rearranged.

My hypothesis is that I started passing out almost four years ago because of finally being beyond overwhelmed due to autism. It's the thing that keeps getting missed. I've been doing as much research as I can. I brought it up with my therapist, who said I was not her first adult client to mention this and gave me even more resources. Everything I've read about being a woman who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome as an adult, every silly (?) internet quiz I've sweated through, has been like peering into an eerie, I'm-going-to-need-to-see-that-37-years-worth-of-footage-whoever-you-are mirror. (I realize that the term "Asperger" didn't make it into the DSM-V, but I need to use it for the sake of reference.) I'm not big on self-diagnosis and I do plan to follow up with someone who has that power. Apparently, this is very difficult to make happen when you're an adult, though. As I read more, it seems it's not entirely necessary, either.

I've written out many pages about all of this, but right now I'll keep to shining a brief light on why autism in girls gets overlooked (particularly 30 years ago when it would have been initially relevant for me).

"The fact that girls with undiagnosed autism are painstakingly copying some behaviour is not picked up and therefore any social and communication problems they may be having are also overlooked. This sort of mimicking and repressing their autistic behaviour is exhausting, perhaps resulting in the high statistics of women with mental health problems.” (Dale Yaull-Smith, 2008)

Ding ding ding! I learned early on that a large part of social survival meant repressing myself at all times. Unless I'm alone at home or in a pre-vetted controlled environment, I do not feel "free to be me". I strive to be as authentic a person as I can possibly be, but I do feel like an alien or a character in a play/dream every single day. It's incredibly taxing.

"Men! With your...sales!" (BtVS, S4:E22 "Restless")
Sounds legit. (BtVS, S4:E22 "Restless")
My bingo card is nearly complete!

I never, ever feel like I truly know what's going on in any given situation. People are often confused by what I'm saying and why my facial expression and/or vocal tone don't seem to match. I say the uncomfortably wrong thing a lot. I often don't know when or when not to talk and the volume of my voice is not well-moderated. Throughout my life, peers and authority figures alike have wondered aloud how someone so "gifted" could be such a woeful spaz all the time.

Even if the official diagnosis route dries up, it doesn't change who I am or what coping mechanisms I might find helpful. I already have a freshly built framework in my brain and am moving forward with that. I feel confident that if I can get this situation under control, my brain will stop trying to shut down so much and I can finally get back to a life that includes having a job and a view outside of my bedroom! Super jazzed face and spirit!