It’s been about three months since I had my official autism assessment that, yep, confirmed what I’ve known for 18 years already. I’m squarely on the spectrum.
There have been some ups and downs over the past months, as I’ve thought back on all the stuff that went on in my life… thinking how different things might have been, had I known what the deal with me was, and had I actively managed my issues all along the way.
All this old pain came up. Lots and lots of it. I went into a bit of a tailspin,
I disclosed to an old friend. Her response was mixed. She was a little dismayed that she’d done things in the past that really put me off (tho’ I didn’t tell her). And she apologized for not being more sensitive. I brushed that off. And for the most part, her reaction was to pretty much shrug it off and said, “Well, you’ve always just been you, so…”
She didn’t see why an official DX was a big deal. To her, I was still the same person, and knowing the name behind it didn’t actually change things for her. If anything, it just made her a little uncomfortable, and she became more self-conscious. So, in the end, there wasn’t much point to disclosing to her, after all. I mean, an official positive-for-autism assessment means the world to me, and it helps me put things in perspective. But the rest of the world doesn’t exactly know what to do with that specialized information. Just like they don’t exactly know what to do with a lot of other specialized information — like how to operate a drill press safely, while drilling holes in pieces of metal… like how to code up an interactive web page… like how to quickly get the lay of the land in a new locale and find all the hardware stores within a 10 mile radius and identify which among them have the best deals on potassium chloride water softener alternative (I highly recommend it!), home repair supplies, and that particular type of steel wool that isn’t chock full of chemical cleaning agents.
I don’t fault the rest of the world for not being as adept at acquiring the specialized knowledge which I consider required for effective living. And I’ve stopped faulting others for not understanding autism / Aspergers and how to best interact with people like me. I’m the resident expert in that, and I realize it’s “on me” to give them the clues they need and the guidance they desire, to be on good terms with me (if they like).
I’m headed down to see my extended family for Thanksgiving. I’ve been considering disclosing to them there. I’m reconsidering. I think I’m just going to let that ride. My nephew who’s such a textbook Asperger’s case may or may not be there. I’m not sure I’m going to have time to talk with him, anyway, because we’re all like ships passing in the night, with my side of the family. It will probably be easier to just email him about it.
Anyway, what was I going to talk about? Oh, yes – positive discipline.
A lot of people have a negative perception of discipline. They equate it with punishment – perhaps because when they were punished (perhaps unfairly) as kids, it was called “being disciplined”. I don’t have the same association. For me, discipline is a key cornerstone of life. I have to have it, or things just dissipate and fall apart. And that’s where my tendency to descend into chaos actually comes in handy — because it’s forced me to acquire habits that keep me on the good foot… balanced and productive… happy and healthy. I have to really work at it, to be honest. It doesn’t come naturally. But because I descend into panic, if things come apart at the seams and I lose sight of the patterns in my life, the alternative to NOT being disciplined is simply too stressful for me to handle.
So, I keep myself intentionally oriented… on track… disciplined.
And that’s a very positive thing. It’s not the most pleasant experience, to live with this little cloud of panic / anxiety hanging over my head. But hello, I’m a grownup. And I am totally capable of doing something about it. I don’t have to give in to it. I don’t even have to experience it fully. I am perfectly capable of keeping myself on my schedule with my routines and my discipline and my re-direction of my nervous energy in a positive direction.
The net result of my management of the considerable levels of pain and discomfort I can find myself in, over the slightest little thing, is a positivity and a self-directed-ness to my life that outweighs and out-classes any amount of panic, anxiety, dread, discomfort, confusion, and so forth — all the stuff that comes along with living on the autism spectrum. And the fact that I am really not a fan of living an excruciatingly disordered life, gives me impetus to do something about it.
Because I can.
So, I do.
And in the end, I have to say that the pain and discomfort and confusion are so, so worth it. I doubt I’d have the fortitude and the discipline I have, without the downsides.
Now, I’m not going to tell anybody else how to live their life. I’m not going to pass judgment on anybody else who’s living on the spectrum in extreme distress. I feel the deepest compassion for them and their situation. Mental illness often walks hand-in-hand with Autism / Asperger’s, as does physical conditions like EDS / hypermobility. I’m in no position to judge anyone else, other than myself, and I can only speak to my own experience.
My own experience is one of living for half a century of pain and confusion, frustration and unmet needs… The vast majority of them unmet during my childhood, teen years, and early adulthood… even my middle-age.
But there’s another side to that, and it wouldn’t be fair to overlook it, for the sake of dramatic impact. That’s the side of having learned the hard way, just how to understand and manage my issues. How to cope with them. How to offset them. How to integrate them into my life in a healthy way. It’s the side of me being extraordinarily happy in my life, despite all the wretchedness — which has been a direct offshoot of a disciplined approach to my life. By keeping myself on a straight-and-narrow path — the one that works best for me — I’ve been able to transform a ton of terrible stuff into pure joy. Making the proverbial silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Because I can. I’m autistic. I’m not Wonder Woman, but I do have some pretty super powers, and if I don’t use them for my benefit, what’s the point?
Seriously, what’s the point in me being autistic, if all I have is pain?
There’s a whole other side of it for me, which has been hard-fought — and hard-won.
And that’s the side I choose to focus on. Along with everything else.
Life happens. I get to choose what I do with it.