Blog Birthday!

A year ago today I shared the link to the first entry on this blog, having put it up the night before but not yet told anyone it existed (I wanted to “sleep on it” before sharing). My facebook memories stated that I was “really really nervous” about it and I certainly remember it feeling like a “big thing” at the time and hoping that people would treat me gently.

I didn’t actually state that I’d discovered I was autistic until the end of the third post. The first one was hastily written and rather patchy, and I wasn’t in a great place mentally at the time. I’d originally intended to wait until I had a formal diagnosis before I “went public” about being autistic, but my first assessment going so badly wrong meant that I had to change plans.

When I first set the blog up the title was simply “Finally Knowing Me” and I didn’t add the subtitle “An Autistic Life” until after I was formally diagnosed and started to become much more confident about the whole thing. I also didn’t know about tags and categories on the blog – just posting at all was a massive deal and I had to get my spouse to sit with me throughout the entire process in order to be able to do it at all.

Initially I didn’t post anything at all without him reading it first. I wasn’t confident enough. I was afraid of getting things wrong. I still am sometimes, and I want to write all sorts of posts about all sorts of things, but I also need time to absorb everything that has happened during the last 16 months – I find it hard to believe now that just 17 months ago I didn’t have the first idea that I was autistic and had very little knowledge of what autism even was. It has been a steep learning curve.

And I’m still learning. Following my diagnosis, just under 10 months ago, I became more confident about joining autistic groups online and interacting with other autistic people. Since then I’ve also been through an ADHD diagnostic process as well. There is a constant stream of new information, of new things, of articles and tweets and facebook posts and blog posts and so on. I have hundreds of links saved, so much still to learn and analyse and think about.

And I still wonder where I might fit into this world of neurodiversity, and what I might eventually contribute and how far autism will continue to be an interest I pursue in that “very interested” kind of way, and so on. For now I’m blogging less than I was, partly because I have needed a break for the sake of my health (I was beginning to become exhausted) and I’ve needed to take a step back, partly because I’ve become aware of so many more issues since I started blogging and I want to start to investigate and research more thoroughly (I need to read, I need to think, I need to learn – then I’ll be in a better position to analyse and write), and partly because I’ve been starting to rebuild my “real world” life a bit (getting back to music and running and seeing a few actual people from time to time).

I feel I have time to do some of those things now, in a way that I didn’t this time last year. I got frantic in October as I saw the number of views here plummet (as they would, since I wasn’t generating new material, and I was engaging less and less online as my health took a nosedive – I’m also a terrible publicist and not very good at publicising this blog beyond sharing each new post to facebook or twitter) but I forced myself to stop fretting. If only two people read each post then so be it, if someone “unlikes” the facebook page each time I post then so be it!

Which takes me back to a year ago. To the point where I decided that I HAD to start explaining what was going on in my life, and that I HAD to be openly autistic. And to the point where I concluded that even if nobody believed me and all my facebook friends unfriended me and dumped me for claiming the identity “autistic” for myself without official permission, then that was the way it would have to be.

That was the point at which I could no longer pretend. I saw it as a two way choice – either live openly and freely as an autistic person (and probably go on incessantly about it for a while), or kill myself. The former risked me ending up getting laughed at or disbelieved or alienated (all of which were potentially reversible), the latter ended up with me being dead (which, of course, is irreversible). And so this blog was started, as it was the best way I could think of of making the information available to people.

As it turned out I wasn’t disbelieved or anything else, rather the opposite. And this blog has since grown into something I’d never have expected a year ago. I wrote 170 posts in the first year of its existence (this is the 171st), which I’d never have imagined when I started out.

Who knows where it goes from here. I know it’s not finished yet. I know there’s more I want to do. I know I need to give my head processing time and that life continues to change. I know there is SO much more to learn, and that some of the issues surrounding autism and being autistic are complicated and that many are controversial. I don’t cope well with conflict, which means that I have to consider how “activist” I can be before it becomes seriously detrimental to my mental health.

I know that lots of people also produce vlogs and that accessing information presented only in speech is exhausting for me because where reading is something that takes very little processing for me, speech takes a great deal and I tend to save my “speech processing spoons” for real life interactions, which is when I need them most. Perhaps as I continue to recover from burnout this will improve.

My own life is also still very chaotic. We live in chaos, in a constant state of mental fragility, on a financial knife edge, everything precarious and uncertain and unstable. I’d like to use some of my energy to try to improve that a little if I can. The burnout of 2016 meant my life almost completely fell apart – I’m still picking up the pieces and trying to stick them back together in some sort of sensible order. It all takes time and energy.

My spouse assures me that it will all be sorted eventually (he’s an optimistic type), and also reminds me that as far as autism and autism advocacy and so on is concerned, it’s still really early days for me. I look at the work of others and feel very far behind, but then I realise they’re often months or years further along their own journeys and I’m still really new to all this.

To those of you still reading, and particularly those who’ve been reading from the beginning, huge thanks. Sending virtual first birthday cake to you all!

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Hypothesis Formation

Yesterday, the following status appeared in my facebook memories from one year ago:

Did all that just happen? Now to try and remember what I was doing 3 weeks ago. And to consider what to do with the new information concerning how my head reacts to stuff.

At that point I didn’t mention on my facebook wall that it had been suggested by several people that I might be autistic. I just vaguely alluded to “new information” about “my head”. As far as I was concerned, the notion of me being autistic seemed extremely strange, extremely unnerving, and, as far as I knew at that point, extremely “not me”!!!

Oh, how I laugh at that last bit now!!!!!

I certainly wasn’t going to start chattering on about it on facebook at that time, and, as far as I can remember, I was still really regarding the whole “me being autistic” thing as one of those slightly wild ideas that folk have and that would eventually fall by the wayside as being just another one of those theories. I didn’t want to post something up on my wall, be shouted down by a whole bunch of people, and then unfriended by a whole bunch more. I wasn’t confident enough of anything at that time to mention the idea to more than my husband and one or two friends.

However, the fact that several people had, independently, suggested that I might be autistic was enough to make me take the idea seriously enough to do some research and see if I might find out what was at the root of their suggestions.

I did what anyone brought up with a toe in the world of science would do. I formed a hypothesis, which I called the “autism hypothesis” (i.e. proving the hypothesis would mean that I had gathered enough evidence to confirm that I was autistic, and disproving would mean that there was insufficient evidence and I wasn’t autistic and I could ditch the whole idea and just go and have a drink and forget about it).

So then I had to investigate the hypothesis. Gather evidence. Find out what this whole “autism thing” was actually about!

A friend of mine had sent a copy of Liane Holliday Willey’s Pretending to be Normal to me and I’d read it with a certain amount of bemusement – apparently it was something to do with autism, but it just seemed like a fairly ordinary account of someone’s life as far as I could tell. It was enough to convince me to investigate further, but I needed more INFORMATION! Actual information, not a life story.

And so I did the modern day equivalent of what my father told me to do when I was young. Back in my childhood if anybody wanted to know anything the answer was always to “get a book from the library” and to find out that way.

I have not been into a lending library for many many years (I think the last time I went into one was for a job interview and I was unsuccessful). And I don’t believe a lending library would have been much help to me.

So I tried Google, which was also no help because it presented me with page after page of search results about small children and parenting and so on. The world of adult autistic blogs was still inaccessible to me as I didn’t know what I was looking for, or that it existed, or how to find it. And it certainly wouldn’t have occurred to me at that stage that there were groups for autistic people on facebook or hashtags on twitter or anything of that sort.

So I went back to what I knew, which was books, and typed “adult autistic” into the Amazon search bar. And discovered a book with a promising title: Cynthia Kim’s I Think I Might Be Autistic (or as it subsequently became known in our household “The book with the pencils in the wrong order”).

And on the 23rd August 2016 I downloaded the sample from the start of the book onto the Kindle app on my iPad and had a look at it.

It pleased me from the start. It provided what I wanted – information, an outline of the diagnostic criteria for autism, and the start of a list of questions that was evidently continued beyond the free sample that I had. This book was speaking my language – it had facts and lists and promised to provide me with exactly what I’d been looking for to start to work on proving or disproving the newly-formed hypothesis.

My Amazon records show that I ordered the paperback copy the same day. And that was the day on which Time Stood Still for me. The 2016 calendar STILL shows 23rd August as the date, and maybe it always will. In Time Stood Still I referred to some sort of mental breakdown, which I now know to be a huge episode of autistic burnout.kn

It was to be months before I started to emerge from that burnout (and I still haven’t, fully) and from that moment almost my entire life was taken up with investigating the newly-formed hypothesis and, later, with trying to obtain a formal diagnosis.

I read the criteria from the sample of the book on my iPad over and over again, and waited for the paperback to arrive in our mailbox so I could try to work out what the diagnostic criteria actually meant, and whether any of them had any relevance to me.

With all that’s happened in the last 12 months, and with the knowledge I now have, it seems utterly extraordinary that it was only a year ago that I started seriously to investigate the possibility that I might be autistic.

And I certainly wasn’t telling anyone who didn’t need to know about it at that stage!

If anyone had told me I’d be blogging about it publicly within 4 months I’d have thought they’d gone mad!

Unable to Wait

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This wasn’t the original first post for this blog. I wrote another one, over a month ago, which was to have been posted after things were “properly sorted” and I had the confidence of a piece of paper to enable me to tell my story to the world.

However, “proper sorting” is taking too long. I was told that things would be sorted last week – they were not (more on that in the future) and the effect on me was so catastrophic that I became suicidal and spent 48 hours living one hour at a time, waking in the night screaming, constantly tearful, and hanging on hour by hour, minute by minute.

I’ve never been good at concealing things. I can keep other people’s secrets totally reliably, but all my natural instincts are to be open, straightforward, and plain-speaking about my own life. I have written candidly about my mental health in the past, and for me that is much much easier than concealing the difficulties I’ve experienced. This new facet of my life will be no different. After last week’s disaster I finally started to feel that life was maybe worth living again when I decided that I would proceed with the original plan (slightly modified) with or without the piece of paper. I also now know that getting that piece of paper might be difficult, and a battle, an uphill struggle – the person I saw last week told me that “intelligent women were a problem” and that I was “very complicated”. I became so distressed during the appointment that I ended up self-injuring. My husband and I will continue to fight on, but my new life and way of living has already started and I need to be open about it now because concealing it is destroying me from the inside.

I don’t expect most people reading this will grasp the full enormity of what has happened to me since the summer. I do know that other people have been through the same thing and will fully understand. Some who’ve known me a while and have a little knowledge of their own might not be surprised. Maybe some won’t believe me at all (hence part of the desire for the piece of paper). Some might not have the faintest clue what I’m even going on about and will reach for Google to try to make sense of it all. Or perhaps think I’m even more crackers than I always have been and will wander off for a cup of tea, scratching their heads as they go!!!

However, for me, this is huge. The biggest thing that has ever happened to me. No question. It dwarfs getting married, getting my degree, burying my relatives, even discovering I can’t have children (I’m not talking here about whether things are good or bad, just about their magnitude in my life). This is the biggest. Is it good or bad? The answer at the moment is probably both, to some degree, although the question is much more complicated than that – and a discussion for a future post. In general, though, I believe this new knowledge will transform my life – it already has in many ways.

It has caused me massive swings of emotion over the last few months, from deep depression to relief and excitement, from severe anxiety to calm beautiful acceptance, and has meant that I’ve had vast amounts of new information to process and absorb. It’s still taking lots of energy. I’ve read over 20 books, hundreds of blog posts (one reason I’ve chosen to blog is that others might feel less alone by reading what I will write here), and lurked quietly on groups and pages on facebook, learning as much as I can. I’m probably still going to make mistakes with new language, recently learnt, and I expect I’ll look back on these early posts in a year or so and laugh at myself or cringe, but this blog is now part of the process too. Please forgive any errors while I’m still learning.

And as I am still learning, I’m not really in a position to start answering lots of questions yet – I still have more questions myself than I have answers, and my ability to respond to comments and questions might be somewhat limited for some time to come. My brain is still massively overloaded with new information and I absolutely need to learn everything at my pace, doing my own research, in my own way. That is really really important to me. I have now reached the stage where I can present the initial research and give my paper to conference, but taking questions from the floor will have to wait a while.

I have entered a world that, paradoxically, is completely new but also absolutely familiar to me. I will tell you as much as I can about it all in the weeks to come, but I’m not going to say exactly what it is yet. Let me just say that it has blown my mind, changed my life, and made sense of almost everything. If you already know what it is or have guessed, then don’t reveal it yet in case there are those who like a story. I’ll tell you very soon, I promise – after I’ve given you just a little bit of background in the next post.

I am still very much me. The same me. Much of my life will return to a normal, maybe not that different from the old one, once I have fully recovered from the seismic effects that the discovery is currently having on my brain, but I am learning a new way to live. A gentler, more forgiving way. A way that I hope will make life a bit easier and more suitable for me, now that I finally know what I am dealing with.