When one is diagnosed as Asperger’s/autistic (or otherwise realized to be on the spectrum) as an adult, an interesting dichotomy emerges, fairly quickly. At least, that’s how I have experienced this key piece of my personal reality. And in talking with–and reading about–many others, once again, I know that I’m not alone.
The dichotomy is a yin yang of bittersweetness.
On one hand, I’m relieved.
Relieved to have been set free, finally liberated.
Relieved that all of my quirks are imperfectly beautiful, and that they all come together from the corners of my being, to form a sharp-focused, fine-tuned high-resolution image of the Real Me.
Relieved that everything I’ve wondered about, questioned, been chronically perplexed by, and even cursed at times, can all be summed up. Not even with a simple sentence, but in a single pair of words: Asperger’s/autism.
I’m relieved that everything I had self-consciously harbored as embarrassing secrets (not because they were embarrassing in themselves, but because no one else I knew could have ever hoped to identify with or share them), were actually common phenomena experienced by hundreds of people whom I would soon meet.
Relieved to know that there was finally a plausible explanation for all this, and that I was indeed “normal” when compared with the right people!
Relieved to know that I could be myself, without shame.
Relieved to know that I could stop trying to morph myself into something I wasn’t. And in fact, the truth is that I should stop trying so hard to do this, because it was impossible anyway.
Relieved that I could finally let myself off the hook of striving for something I could never be. Relieved to realize that I probably didn’t even want to be that way, because the general NT world is not without faults of its own, and sometimes it seems like ours are lesser faults than theirs.
Relieved to know that everything I had supposedly “failed” at wasn’t attainable, and I wasn’t characteristically flawed for not being able to attain it.
On the flip side, there is also grief. I don’t grieve about my Asperger’s/autism itself. I don’t grieve for the “loss” of the illusion that I was allistic (non-autistic).
Instead, there is grief surrounding what could have been, had we known the truth much sooner.
Grief over the lost time spent at futile efforts to attempt to achieve the impossible. Grief over the energy wasted on doing this. Grief for the good health I might have enjoyed had I not been tied up in stress-frazzled knots, as far back as I can remember…which is incidentally a long, long time.
Grief over the lost opportunities, the more compatible school I had never attended and the teachers I had never been able to work with and form supportive bonds with. Grief over the supports I could have used throughout my entire 25+-year academic career, from kindergarten to med school. Grief over the weekends spent with frayed nerves as I tried to make sense of the nonsensical, struggling to convert the plain meaningless words on a page into mental pictures I could grasp and retain.
Grief over the lack of time spent on recognizing my need for a different teaching method and learning style. Grief involving the recognition and praise I never got, the grades I never achieved, because my only academic option was to be shoehorned into the mediocrity of mainstream public education.
Grief about the Gifted and Talented programs I had never been a part of or considered for.
Grief surrounding the friends I never made. Grief regarding never having found other people like me in those schools and programs, never having had the opportunity to meet people more like me, never having been accepted for all the right reasons and for all the right attributes.
Adult autism spectrum discovery is a double-edged sword; for every advantage benefited from and every bullet dodged, there is also pain–a misunderstanding here and a faux pas there, an insanity that comes with attempting the impossible, trying to live up to unreachable standards, learning to live according to someone else’s values, when they diverge so sharply and conflict so violently with one’s own.
But what happened, happened. The hand was dealt as it was, and the cards fell as they did. The dice were rolled, set in motion sometime before birth, and my fate was sealed. A fate that, incidentally, turned out pretty good, over all. My code had been written before I had a chance to review it. A code that I probably wouldn’t have changed anyway. Maybe a tweaking here and there, but even that is up for debate.
I haven’t always been able to say that. In fact, I gained the ability to be comfortable in my own being just about a year ago. I was 38. And a half.
And the world is what it is, too. Outnumbering me anywhere from 50 to 100, to one. The deck isn’t exactly fairly stacked, but again, it is what it is, and I accept that. Call it internalized ableism or not, but my reality is that I have to learn to live and thrive within it. And that means doing a lot of bending, until the rest of the world realizes that it, too, has some bending to do.
To have been released from my own prison of uncertainty and inadequacy also brought a life sentence of its own: a clear view of the invisible dividing line that separates me and others like me from the world at large. It doesn’t matter that we were born into our native cultures; we never quite grasp their idiosyncrasies.
Ultimately, that’s OK, though, because I’ve since realized that many of those idiosyncrasies aren’t exactly worth grasping. They’re overblown, overemphasized, overrated anyway.
I’m content as I am. I am now free to say that, and mean it with sincerity.
It is said that “the truth shall set you free”. Whoever came up with that must have been an adult-discovered Aspie/autie 😉
This is one of my more popular posts!
“The Silent Wave” ~ April 28, 2016
“One Aspie’s ‘Autism Discovery Soundtrack‘” ~ May 1, 2016
“Now I Know Why” ~ May 7, 2016
“Everything Old Is new Again ~ My Vocabulary Transformation” – May 8, 2016
“‘Serenity’ ~ A Pleasant Surprise Guest Post” ~ May 26, 2016
“My Experience of a late Asperger’s/Autism Diagnosis As Seen Through a Creative Writing Filter” (my alternate “lyrics” to Disturbed’s “Sounds of Silence” cover) – July 26, 2016
“Positive Aspects of Asperger’s/Autism” ~ July 31, 2016
(Image Credit: Android Jones)