I’ve started the process of disclosing my autistic self to other people – live, in the real world.
Finally. I’ve tried to do it in the past. When I first took the AQ test in February 1998, I got involved online. But I never told anyone in the non-virtual world about my suspicions / experiences. Autism was way too loaded for me to handle in person, back then.
And ten years later, almost to the day, in February, 2008, I tried again. This time, I didn’t spend a lot of time online, but tried disclosing the confirmation of my suspicions to people whom I trusted and thought would understand. That didn’t work at all. Strangely, everybody seemed so… invested in me being neurotypical. How very strange.
So, I shut up about it after that.
And now it’s back again… It’s not going away. The longer I’m knocking around on this planet, the more I see what a phenomenal waste of time it is, to fashion myself into something that suits other people. It could also be because I’m through menopause, and I’m less hormonally inclined to give a shit about what other people think about me. Seriously, I do believe that estrogen and progesterone make women compliant and susceptible to interpersonal pressure. I think childbearing and -rearing has a lot to do with it. Of course, it’s complicated with all the biology and biochemistry, and I don’t want to oversimplify, but I have to say that having “the hormonal profile of a 73-year-old woman”, as my former ob-gyn put it, correlates with a marked decrease in eagerness to conform for the sake of making others feel comfortable and cared-for.
The lower my “girl” hormones drop, the less I really give a damn about what those people over there are thinking/saying about me.
Anyway, three’s the charm, as they say, and after two failed attempts at integrating autism into my life, this time is way different. There is no way I’m backing down from disclosure to the people who really need to know about it… and possibly pursuing an official diagnosis. I do need to be cautious about it. I need to not flail around like a bull in a china shop, throwing caution to the wind and disrupting every interpersonal connection I have. And I’m not sure that an official diagnosis is even going to be all that useful to me. But I am proceeding with telling friends and family that I’m on the autistic spectrum, and that’s that.
I do expect there to be a bit of push-back from folks — especially those who are heavily invested in me being neurotypical, and/or who harbor ignorance and prejudice against autistic folks. Or who are afraid. Afraid of what it means for me to be on the spectrum, afraid for what it means for my employability, my safety, my ability to take care of and provide for myself and my family. After all, it’s one thing if I “am a certain way” — it’s another, if I broadcast it to the world, and I end up getting screwed over by society in the process.
Yeah, and me with a household to support.
I understand their concerns, and I share them. Believe me, I do. But just because I’m coming to terms with my autism and figuring out how to make peace with it, and just get to be myself after all these years, doesn’t mean I have to wrap a massive flag covered in multi-colored puzzle pieces around me and go screaming through the streets — although that might be fun. Without the flag covered in puzzle pieces, of course.
Maybe without clothing…?
Oh heavens… What am I getting myself into?
Back on track, grrl. Back on track.
Anyway, I started the disclosure process yesterday by telling my partner that I’m going to start attending support groups for folks with Asperger’s. I didn’t say “autism”, because she’s very old-school in many respects, and she has a lot of negative associations with the word and concepts about autism. She’s not particularly well-educated about it (I’ve played a role in that ignorance, I realize), and she has a visceral negative reaction that’s coupled with a “oh, poor thing” attitude, when it comes to non-standard types of people. Compassion mixed with lack of information, liberally coated with layers of backwater prejudice… It’s been a problem, now and then, over the years.
Back in 2008, when I was starting to loosen up and just feel like I could be my Autie self, she got irritated and anxious about my “behavior changes”. I was acting different. I wasn’t exactly like the person she’d married and expected to be around. I didn’t have the internal resources at the time to stand my ground and tell her that I wasn’t exactly behaving in a “new” way. I was behaving the way I’ve always wanted to — and always have, in private — but never could, around other people, including her. That was ten years ago. And there was too much else going on in our world for me to follow that track to where it was leading me.
So, I went back under cover, and I just dealt with my life as it came with the resources I could access most easily. I talked about my issues in terms of the issues themselves — extreme sensitivity to touch, sound, light… fatigue… frustration… emotions that welled up seemingly from nowhere… executive function issues… I took them all piecemeal and dealt with them like that, rather than talking in the wider terms of autism and Asperger’s.
Now things are very, very different.
And I’m handling it differently, too. I’ve been making increasing references to certain individuals my partner admires, as have Aspie traits. And I’ve given short lists of reasons why. My wife has always been put off by my tendency to go on and on (and on and on and on) about complex subjects, weaving them all together in a cohesive, coherent whole over the course of 20 minutes, and frankly, I tire her out. So, I’ve taken bits and pieces of my exhaustive research and contemplation, and boiled them down to the “bottom-line” bite-sized pieces of conceptual newness that I know she’s comfortable with.
Part of me thinks I’m just giving in to her biases and prejudices. But I’m in a marriage with this woman, and we’ve always met each other half-way. So, I’ve been translating all these details into conceptual chunks that make sense to her, that speak to her, that she can relate to and not just have a knee-jerk reaction to the firehose of information I tend to unleash.
When you’re living with someone who’s not as fond of complex narratives filled with nuance, you have to adjust — like you would with someone who’s got issues with hearing or sight. You have to accommodate them. If, that is, you want to include them in your conversation and not just hurl an info-tsunami at them.
I was pretty nervous about bringing it up, to be honest. But my partner actually took it pretty well.
“If that’s what you need to do,” she said. “Then do it.”
So, no push-back, this time. And a more measured approach. To some, it might not seem like that rousing of an endorsement, or that great of a show of support, but it’s actually pretty big, considering how many unknowns there are for me — as well as how much is on my shoulders. I have a lot of responsibilities, I need to stay employed, I need to use every advantage I have… and also keep my disadvantages to a minimum, wherever possible.
As much as I’d like to just be up-front about it, and not worry about the fallout, I have to consider the consequences of every single disclosure. So, I’ll be judicious. Take my time. Be smart about it. And not share overeagerly with those who have shown little-to-no capacity for understanding and acceptance. I value my own safety as well as my own sanity more than that. And being told so many times, back in 2008, that I couldn’t possibly be autistic because ________________, really did a number on my head.
It set me back. And it turned what could have been an amazing opportunity to change and grow and get some relief, into a prolonged period of me feeling like I was a pathological liar, just looking for attention because my wife was getting a lot of medical help at the time.
That’s not happening again. I realize now just how much it cost me, in terms of bad job choices, not taking steps I needed to take, undermining my self-confidence, and just keeping me out of touch with my greatest strengths. The last 8 years have been way too long for me. Too tortuous. Too convoluted.
I need simple now. Simple. Honest. True.
I need me.