One day, after a particularly agonizing morning, I called my mom and asked her if she thought I was autistic. Her answer was an unequivocal yes. I went to the doctor — and was told I was probably autistic, but that the waiting list was so many years long that there was no point trying. (In Britain, where I live, unless you can afford to pursue a diagnosis privately, you have to wait until the National Health Service, which is overstretched and underfunded, can find time for you.) I got fired instead.
Two years later, I accepted another office job. I found myself again overwhelmed and failing to work within the structures everyone else seemed to thrive under. So again I pursued a diagnosis, hoping for help. I was told that unless I was a danger to myself, the support was not there. It was ironic: I had been a prolific self-harmer when I was younger, but because I had overcome those impulses, I couldn’t get the support I needed.
When lockdown hit, I found myself taking to loneliness with an ease I half-anticipated: no more public transport, stores or awkward socializing. But I knew how hard it would be to come out the other side, and I wanted to be able to explain why. I had spoken to a psychiatrist about a private diagnosis before; now in a slightly better position, I committed to the expense of a diagnosis. She and a colleague spent several hours assessing me over three days. The result was clear.
I expected to be ambivalent, but I wasn’t: I was euphoric. I told everyone. I was the same person I was the day before, the same person I’d always been, but with the terminology to explain myself and to find a community. After pursuing it for five years, the diagnosis gave me certainty, solidity and the strength to articulate my needs to others. I looked back on the past anew, seeing my own behavior through a softer lens and pinpointing where others could have been kinder. I wished only that I hadn’t lost so much of my life hating myself.
People often emphasize how difficult life is for autistic people. And that’s true: From the moment I wake up (late), every task I do — making phone calls, taking public transport, eating and socializing — feels more and more difficult. It’s like a video game with no end goal but to stay alive.
But the experiences I’ve found most traumatic were avoidable. Throughout my life, I have been bullied and cast out by people who became frustrated when I didn’t communicate in ways they expected. My face doesn’t move much and my pitch rarely changes, sure, but I am deeply passionate. It is baffling and deeply hurtful when I am called cold, rejected for expressing myself differently.
When I was growing up, I was as unkind to myself as other people often were to me: I called myself evil, cold, weird. I internalized the worst things anyone could say because I believed them. Looking back at that child now, and that disruptive teenager, I just want her to know that she is loved. I see her staring so intently at her books or her train set or her Game Boy and I wish I could tell her that she’s autistic — and that it isn’t only OK, but good.
Marianne Eloise (@marianne_eloise) is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Vice, The Guardian and other outlets.
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