When I was little, I used to count down sleeps until a significant event. Thirty sleeps until my birthday. Eleven sleeps until the end of holidays. Twenty-two sleeps until Christmas.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been counting down the sleeps until what is likely to be the most significant event in my adult life (likely, my whole life). Four sleeps until my autism assessment.
I have been seeing a clinical psychologist for some months, one who has a part speciality in personality disorders. I had had a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) for a year and a half when I started seeing her, and had made the decision then that I wanted to Get Better.
“Getting Better” was a concept I have struggled with for about as long as I have struggled with mental health issues (i.e., all my life). I thought the diagnosis of BPD would help with this, that now that I could identify what was “wrong” with me, I could fix it. When I first started reading about BPD on the internet, I could identify with so many of the experiences other people wrote about. Obsessive behaviours, abandonment and rejection issues, and invalidating childhood, issues with socialisation… I went to my then-psychologist with a list of things, and said, in a flood of scared tears, “I think I have this.”
For me, a BPD diagnosis wasn’t exactly a relief. I was grasping for any reason why I felt the way I did, and this was as close as I had come to identifying my experiences and feelings. I struggled a lot with it, and struggled with the concept that if I just DBT’d and mindfulness’d enough, all my problems would be solved and I would be a healthy, well-adjusted, normal person. But I just couldn’t seem to make it all work, I couldn’t make it make sense, which made me feel even more of a failure.
So I found myself with my current psychologist. A few sessions in, after crying about being overwhelmed by noise in a crowded place, and how I find it so hard to concentrate on anything, she mused, “I wonder if there is something neurological going on here. I wonder if you have ADD.” I went away and (obsessively) read about ADD and thought, “I identify with a lot of these things.” I made an appointment with a specialist. A few sessions later, I cried even more about how hard I found it to make friends, how I didn’t understand how people had the energy to go out all the time and interact with other people all the time, how pointless I think small talk is and how frustrated and bored I get at work, and she mused some more: “I don’t want to be diagnosing you with all sorts of things, but I wonder if you have autism. I just really, really don’t think you have a personality disorder, but I do think something else is going on and I think it’s something that doesn’t need to be “fixed”, because it’s just who you are.”
I went away and (obsessively) started reading about Asperger’s and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), particularly how it manifests in females. Much like when I encountered BPD, I related to other people’s experiences. Much like BPD, I cried a lot, but this time it was in happiness and not in fear. Unlike BPD, I had this overwhelming feeling of relief and lightness – I had found the explanation for Me and all of the “you should be like this” feelings fell away. Everything I read, I thought: “That’s ME. That’s so ME. That explains why I am the way I am.” I read a parenting forum where mothers talked about feeding their fussy autistic child, and I cried because I related so much to their children. Like BPD, I related to the descriptions of women as ‘chameleons’. Unlike BPD, I realised it wasn’t because I have an unstable sense of self, but more because I just don’t get people and was desperately trying to figure out how to fit in. I messaged my psychologist: “I think I need to get assessed.” She replied: “I think that’s a good idea.”
I made an appointment with a women who specialises in female autism (funnily enough, it’s the same day I have my ADD appointment, the importance of which pales in comparison to the autism appointment now). I started counting down the days and read more and more and just feel more and more that this is my identity, this is what I have been trying to figure out my whole life. At my last appointment with my psychologist, we talked as though I had already been diagnosed, and we had to keep correcting ourselves. I have to keep telling myself “You might not be autistic”, but really, I just can’t conceptualise that as being true. Autism is my truth, and although the realisation has come late, I am beyond thrilled that I have finally discovered it.