Tuesday, February 25, 2020

I'm 36 years old.

I was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska. Fairbanks is in interior Alaska. The weather is severe to say the least. 7 months out of the year there is less than 4 hours of daylight, and it is literally so cold it’s unsafe to be outdoors. Drug and alcohol abuse are rampant. There is a lot of money in Alaska, and a lot of mental illness. In many ways, it feels like it’s another country! I left Alaska when I was 24. I currently reside in Palm Bay, Florida. I ended up in Florida because my Grandparents live here, and my mother grew up here, also, the beach and year round sunshine are a plus!

I'm an executive assistant for a small Land Surveying and mapping company. I don't like it, I love it. I could not ask for a more ideal work environment. My entire life I have had difficulty holding jobs. Before this one, the only job I had maintained and enjoyed for a long period of time were the ones that required no office politics. The reasons it's so ideal for me are because I'm the only female, there are only 5 other people in the office, we all have our own work spaces, my boss does not micro manage or infantilize us, we are left to devise our own methods to complete our work, everyone is respectful and cooperative, there is minimal social interaction and frankly, we're all a bit odd or nerdy 🙂 also, my boss is very flexible when it comes to allowing me to bring my 2 young sons to work if I need, or to take time off if they're sick. I also love the actual work. It's detail oriented and tedious, which is super satisfying to me. I love the repetition. I also get to organize data and color code EVERYTHING it's so wonderfully satisfying to me. While I do interact with clients daily, it's mostly phone and email, and the face to face are always very short and sweet. The cherry on top is we have an office dog, Maggie, who brightens up everyone's day. I’m also a full time college student. I’m in the online program and it’s going well. I actually changed my degree program because my boss said he wanted to help pay for my schooling so I can eventually be his office manager! I’ve never had an employer appreciate or believe in me so much, he’s a wonderful boss.

People would be surprised to know that I'm autistic. HAHAHAHA I was only diagnosed within this last year, and have only disclosed to 6 people close to me. I have disclosed to strangers, and the reaction is always surprise because they 'never would have guessed'. Such an obnoxious reaction but whatever. People are always fascinated that I'm from Alaska as well; they react like I say I'm from Mars or something. Also, people are always surprised to know that even though I was born and raised in Alaska, I don’t hunt, fish, camp, or generally enjoy outdoor activities, I’m also vegetarian! My profound compassion for animals is ingrained in me!

I'm not trying to be dramatic, but surviving my childhood has probably been my greatest feat. In addition to being an undiagnosed autistic child, I experienced every kind of abuse. My step father was a monster, and every adult in my life failed me. My mother and I have a wonderful relationship now, but it took me a long time and three years of therapy to forgive her mistakes. I know now she was dealing with her own trauma and naivety. I had to grow up a bit before I realized that, and that she wasn't apathetic or uncaring. What really saved our relationship was her reaction when I just completely unloaded all the emotional shit on her one day and her reaction was horror and guilt and apologies. She completely took responsibility for her part, and that meant everything. I was able to forgive her and start over because of that. My mom is my biggest fan and support system and I'm so grateful I have her. I'm also proud of the perseverance I've had in seeking therapy and knowledge to better understand myself. It takes guts to look at the scary, ugly, and unknown parts of yourself.

The notion of changing the world seems pretty cliché to me. But in regard to changing myself, I don't think of it like that. I approach self discovery as simply getting to know myself fully, and evolving through that knowledge and acceptance. I suppose being the best mom I can be is my contribution to bettering the world. I choose to treat my children like actual humans with actual needs and feelings. I talk to them like they're people. I apologize when I mess up. I protect them at all costs. I encourage them to be brave even when I'm terrified. I answer their questions honestly, age appropriate of course, but honestly. I teach them what I learn in therapy and through my research, and do everything I can to give them coping skills I never had. I do all this while maintaining a realistic expectation, that’s the key. I shower them with encouragement and affection, and respect their boundaries.

What I wish non-autistic's knew about autism? So many things oh my god. That it’s not an intellectual disability. That it’s not a mental illness. That you cannot ‘look’ autistic. That self diagnosis is valid. That we have a full range of emotion. That we have a sense of humor, and empathy, compassion and the like. That we can love fully. That we can be productive members of society, great employees, and wonderful parents. That we still want to be invited, even if there’s zero chance we’ll go. That our differences are often strengths and they could learn a lot from us. The big one is probably how different females can present autistic traits compared to males. I have deep grief for the generations of autistic women who live their entire lives feeling ‘wrong’ or defective, or alien. It frightens me to think of how many little girls will struggle all the way through childhood because the adults and professionals around them aren’t educated on the different facets of autism and how they project through girls.

What I want my fellow autistics to know: First off, FUCK WHAT EVERYONE ELSE THINKS. They. Don’t. Matter. You are under no obligation to pander to someone else’s idealization of you or who you should be in their limited view. Be yourself, do what makes your weird little heart happy. There are so many like minded people out there, so many, more than you can imagine. There are so many wonderful accepting people out there. People who will love you for everything you are. People who will gladly let you infodump because they see how happy it makes you. People who will actively listen and learn about you. People who won’t judge you negatively for your special interest, or food preferences, phobias or stims. Furthermore it is 100% okay to cut people out of your life that are degrading or unaccepting or abusive in any way. Fuck family. Who gives a shit if you share DNA? An asshole is an asshole. Friends can be more family than someone who contributed to your genome. Someone you just met could have better intentions for you than someone you’ve known for years. It’s not selfish to protect yourself.

Secondly, don’t be ashamed of being autistic. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I use the word autism loud and proud and not only for my sons sake, but for the good of normalizing it. I have relieved so much anxiety from my life by simply saying you know what, I’m autistic, and I need a moment to gather my thoughts. Or, hold on a moment please, I’m autistic; I need to take notes while you talk. Let me stop you right there, I’m autistic, I’m not a hugger, but hey, hifive? Lol Or, I’m autistic, not stupid; please talk to me like an adult. I have a strong belief that it’s best to operate with all the facts. How can we expect people to accommodate or have compassion if they don’t KNOW the situation warrants it? In my experience, most people are open to helping once they know the facts.

Resources that benefitted me is Facebook. Plain and simple. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 35 years old. 35. I lived 35 years of my life feeling like everything about me was wrong, and that is was because of the abuse I suffered as a child. I had a constant feeling of my abuser having a hand on me, affecting every second of my life. Realizing that I would have many of the struggles that I do regardless of what that asshole did to me was so incredibly liberating. My nightmares stopped almost immediately. I’ll repeat: MY NIGHTMARES STOPPED. My son was diagnosed at age 3, and while I was a bit suspicious of myself, I shrugged it off because I was comparing myself to how HE presented. My lightbulb moment was literally a total accident. I was reading through a comment thread on a facebook page for parents of autistic children to ask questions and someone mentioned how females present differently than males….I popped over to Google and started researching autism in girls and autism in adult women. Yeah. I kind of spiraled out. You know that Mr. Krabs meme? When he’s spinning and everything is blurry? That was me. I completely shut down, went non-verbal, lay in bed for 3 days (my bf and children were out of town) and devoured every ounce of everything I could find on autism in adult women. I took every single assessment I could find, I think it was like 11 different ones, and scored very high on every single one. I didn’t eat or sleep those 3 days. I was in shock I think, totally emotionally overloaded. On the fourth day, I showered, and ate and took many naps and cozied into my new life-altering revelation. I felt a sense of peace and a new love and gentleness for myself. I joined every facebook group I could find and I learn new things all the time through them. I’ve made some wonderful friends too. So yeah, facebook, who knew?

A funny thing about me: Oh god. This could have been so bad, but luckily it wasn’t lol….. One of my special interests is true crime, especially serial killers. I was interviewing for a nanny position, and the mom made a comment on how scary society is, and nowhere is truly safe from sickos, and that Ted Bundy was from Florida. Well. I stopped her right there and corrected her. Ted Bundy is actually from Washington state, but once he learned there was the death penalty in Florida, he escaped from prison up north and fled to Florida and went on his last killing spree….. I then proceeded to infodump a very inappropriate amount of facts I know about him. Yeah. CAN YOU BELIEVE I STILL GOT HIRED?! Fun fact: I became very close to the family, and through my own discovery of autism, she looked into it for herself and guess what? Yep. Hahahahahhahah I get such a kick out of that. It’s like, she recognized a fellow awkward weirdo kindred spirit in me lol

Signs/symptoms people saw in me that helped indicated I was on the spectrum: Others saw nothing lol and if they did, no one ever spoke up. I didn’t even see for a long time as my son was being diagnosed because I was like’ that’s not autistic, I do that’ or, I was the same kind of kid he is, and I’m not autistic. I laugh and roll my eyes about it now! The things that first stood out to me were the special interests and infodumping… I’ve always done this. Always. I’ve enjoyed the same activities since I was 6, and have always felt weird and insecure about liking what I liked. I don’t know, it’s wonderful. Also the eye contact thing, I can’t stand it. It’s like, literally painful. Like a system overload or something. I didn’t think I had any stims….until I read how many autistic women stim mentally…. I absolutely do that. So hard. Lol

When I was finally diagnosed it was a light bulb moment for me, happened in an instant. Is tumbled across an article about how autism presents differently in women than in men and spiraled out a bit. I went non verbal, stayed in bed for 3 days reading everything I could find and taking every assessment online I could find. My entire existence and sense of place in the world shifted in an instant. I can imagine how it must feel for some, scary or depressing even, but for me, it actually lifted a lot from me. My childhood was not ideal. My stepfather abused me in every way, and for my entire life I thought all of my anxiety and ‘issues’ stemmed from that. I had nightmares nearly every night; I would get lost in horrifying memories and was reminded of the prick by every little thing. It was a daily assault, even though the bastard is dead now. My diagnosis erased him from the equation. My nightmares STOPPED. I haven’t had ONE since my light bulb moment. That is the closest thing to a miracle I have ever experienced, and I am so grateful. I realized my literal brain is the reason I have so many quirks and anxieties, that I would have struggled with things regardless of my childhood circumstance. Going undiagnosed is what has snowballed into me struggling in adulthood. That realization was so incredibly healing and liberating for me. I didn’t feel like that monster was still touching my life, like he had finally been banished from having any kind of hold or control over me. There’s a great sense of peace that comes with understanding yourself better. For the first time in my entire life, I am finding self love, and a new appreciation for my strength and resilience. I’m proud of myself for the first time in my life, which is really saying something because this all happened when I was 35! I printed out all the assessments I had taken online, and the running list of autistic traits I relate too that I found through my online research and presented them to my therapist. She took it all very sincerely and studied it, did a bit of her own research and when my next appointment came around, she validated my suspicion. I appreciate that she was so honest about being in new territory with this, as she has no experience with working with an autistic adult. We are definitely learning together, and I’m very grateful to have such a wonderful ally.

Not having a diagnosis til later in life was very troubling. I struggled through every second of school. Third Grade was the beginning of Hell for me. I have always known I’m smart, but I did not do well in a traditional classroom setting. I was consistently a C and D student. I had no time management skills, rarely did homework, but would Ace tests. I always lost the class participation points because I was so terrified of speaking in front of my peers. Throughout my entire school experience, I only had ONE teacher take any kind of interest in me and why such a brilliant kid had such shitty grades, and that wasn’t until 10th grade! That sweet teacher had many sit downs with me, set me up with the school counselor, and really made me feel cared for. Because of her, I found the independent study program my school district offered. I switched to that program in 10th grade, and graduated second in my class, with a full ride to the local State College. I completed 10-12th grade in 16 months! I typically only maintained one or two friendships at a time, and it was always either a mother hen type friend, or a mean girl who found me easy to manipulate. My mother hen friends remain very special to me; I learned the most from them. Another reason I am so grateful for social media is I was able to reconnect with those sweet friends and rekindle friendships. The mean girls also found me on facebook…. I enjoyed denying those friend requests LOL I’ve always been pretty, and I feel like that has helped me along as well. Humans are inherently shallow, and it worked in my favor. Boys were typically always nice to me, and more comfortable for me to socialize with, boys have less ‘rules’ to follow lol As I grew up, I stumbled into a waitressing job at Hooters. To be clear, it was a corporate store, and was impeccable in standards. It was the first time in my life I had a large group of female friends. There was a zero tolerance policy for drama amongst the staff, and we were all very close. It was like a sorority or something; we looked out for and helped eachother. My first week, 6 girls invited me over to teach me what to do with my hair and makeup, and spent an entire afternoon building up my confidence and answering my million questions. I worked there for 4 years, made awesome money, and some wonderful memories. I am still in contact with many of the girls today, it’s so cool seeing us all grown up with families knowing how wild we once were hahahah As far as my romantic life, and I am just now realizing why all my relationships have failed so miserably. I tend to get into relationships where I am being parented, and that is toxic for so many reasons. I have had one healthy romantic relationship in my entire life, and I ended it because I knew I would never get out of my hometown if I married him. Breaking up with someone I loved very much was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I have no regrets though, getting out of Alaska was absolutely the best choice. Becoming a mother rocked my world completely. I struggled mentally and professionally. I had a hard time keeping ‘real’ jobs i.e.: office jobs where interpersonal skills are necessary. While I was married, I experienced way too much anxiety being away from my babies all day, so I ended up creating an at-home daycare. I did that for nearly 4 years and loved every minute. However, when I left my husband, I also left my huge house. I went from 3,000 sqft to 1000 sqft. I floundered for a year, went into deep depression, my mother was helping me financially, I was a mess. I made the decision to go back to school, and that lifted my spirits. I’m doing well in the online program, and finding my current job was a huge gift from the universe! I’m in the process of establishing my career, building my credit score and in the process of buying a house! I’m closer to actual independence than I ever have been before. I’m no longer comfortable in living off someone else’s accomplishments. For the first time in my life, I have the confidence to see my future self as happy and independent. My mother and sister are still very much holding my hand along the way, but I’m earning that’s okay too. It’s ok to lean on those who have the best intentions for me.

Florida is hardly a progressive state in the United States. There are little to no resources for autistic adults here, and the school systems are a joke. The amount of research and time I had to put into finding the right public school for my son was astronomical. We do have the Scott Center for Autism, which seems to be a great resource…but they also advocate with Autism Speaks which I feel is nothing less than a hate group. There are also a lot of boomers here, which is obnoxious as hell most of the time. Just the sheer bias and ignorance is unbelievable. The whole ‘respect me because I’m older than you’ bullshit has never sat well with me, and I have never complied. I’m also not religious at all, which clashes with local culture regularly. Being female has its own challenges lol I’m very blunt, and seldom sugarcoat anything, which isn’t a desirable quality in a woman to many, many, idiot men. I’m also an unmarried mother, which is looked down upon. I also rock an alternative ‘look’ my hair changes color and styles frequently, my wardrobe is almost entirely black and stretchy lol Day to day I wear very minimal makeup if any, but I love to get all dolled up for special occasions. I get a lot of the ‘you don’t look/seem/act autistic’ or ‘I never would have guessed’. I hate that. Hate it. It’s enraging actually. I’ve scripted a response that goes something like ‘thanks, a lifetime of ridicule for being myself has traumatized me into being able to mask and appear normal. It’s incredibly exhausting, and thanks for noticing! Overall, there is just little to no social awareness of autistic women and how they move in the world. More research and studies need to be done. Teachers and medical professionals need adequate training. I think society has a come a long way in recent years, I just hope we keep this momentum.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, your story has many parallels to mine, right down to 3rd grade/age 9-10 marking the start of the really obvious developmental divergence from our neurotypical classmates.