Coming to Terms with my Diagnosis: Revelation not Resolution5 min read

Starting therapy on the very first day of my uni­ver­sity classes in August didn’t seem like a bad idea. No real crisis was hap­pening, as I’ve expe­ri­enced many times before (you know, like the cat­a­strophic con­se­quences of active alco­holism, an eating dis­order, or intru­sive thoughts causing me to fan­ta­size about sui­cide but resort to sleeping instead). Rather, I was in a rut of over­whelm and discomfort.…just man­aging to tread water and bear the weight of each day.

I was per­pet­u­ally itchy in my own skin, tee­tering on the brink of self-destruction. The whole world was a tangle of untied loose ends sur­rounding me. From the out­side, I was func­tioning, but on the inside, shut­down, dis­as­so­ci­ated, feeling incom­plete com­pared to others. Occasional melt­downs of despair and frus­tra­tion with no iden­ti­fi­able cause. Wanting to implode and dis­ap­pear from the stab­bing sen­sory over­load that is a normal day with three chil­dren. Nothing new.

I’ve been on this tread­mill for 12 years. A friend casu­ally rec­om­mended a ther­a­pist (who hap­pens to spe­cialize in treating neu­ro­di­verse women…and be one her­self). Maybe I should try again to get estab­lished in therapy, for once, while I’m not in the midst of a total break­down. This was actu­ally pretty poor timing from an aca­d­emic per­spec­tive, with a new semester of classes begin­ning at the same time. Hello emo­tional upheaval and iden­tity crisis! Goodbye con­trol of focus and exec­u­tive func­tioning!

This wasn’t apparent to me because I hadn’t really had a pro­duc­tive therapy expe­ri­ence in adult­hood… just a handful of what amounted to inter­views which led to meds, after which I would take the meds until I didn’t feel like it any­more. Productive therapy doesn’t exactly feel pro­duc­tive at first. At least not to someone like me, con­cerned with tan­gible prod­ucts and tied loose ends.

It’s a mess. So much talking. I’ve never been one to talk about it. It’s often just made me feel even more messy on the inside…like losing myself. I never under­stood those lady friends that chat and process every­thing on the phone with each other. Or go to the gym together. Or the bath­room together! Why?! I am a soli­tary doer.

But here I was, coming to this office once a week to talk to this lady. So much latent hurt, and so many things explained. The last few months have been very dis­rup­tive to my familiar dis­com­fort. They have been a whole new kind of uncom­fort­able, which I guess was the point? I’m still not sure.

As a matter of pro­ce­dure, this ther­a­pist has incoming clients take the RDOS assess­ment… just to get an ini­tial pic­ture of your neu­ro­log­ical sit­u­a­tion. From these results, and our first few appoint­ments, it became pretty clear that the dis­parate “issues” I’ve dealt with throughout my life could pretty neatly be explained under the umbrella of Asperger’s.

In the past, I’d self-deprecatingly referred to my prob­lems as self-imposed. I had a pretty great child­hood, by most accounts. My par­ents have always been extremely sup­portive. They didn’t hes­i­tate to get me help when OCD became such a tor­ment for me at the age of 10. That was my first diag­nosis.

Being a high-achieving stu­dent, and a girl, I slipped through the crack that so many women on the spec­trum do… even though I was well-acquainted with mental health ser­vices. I felt guilty that I had so many prob­lems with no clear cause. But appar­ently it isn’t my fault. And there is even a name for it.

This rev­e­la­tion has been at once painful and a relief. First came the adren­a­line storm where you take inven­tory of your entire life and obses­sively research your con­di­tion to make some new sense of your­self. You ques­tion how to approach dis­closing this new infor­ma­tion to loved ones. Things are explained, and new ques­tions arise.

The spec­trum is so vast… you may ques­tion if you’re actu­ally on it, or if it’s just an easy “excuse.” You mourn the idea of the person that you will never be. Then, you realize you’re still the person you always were. It’s a breaking down and rebuilding of iden­tity. This process con­sumed me for a few months.

Now I’m at the end of this first phase. The drive is less intense. The same old loose ends are still there. I have been extremely for­tu­nate to have had a sup­port system throughout my life, and to have expe­ri­enced uncon­di­tional love. Looking back through this new lens, I realize that I am not as self-sufficient as I’d always thought myself to be.

I want to learn how to main­tain and strengthen my con­nec­tions with the people who have given me that love and sup­port. I want to fine-tune my masking and unmasking skills so that I can enter the work­force for the first time and help finan­cially sup­port my family.

I want to let go of the guilt and shame that has sti­fled me all my life. Generally, I want to be more com­fort­able in my own skin. I want to under­stand myself better so that I can help my daugh­ters do the same. They are also likely aspies.

So I’ve let my ther­a­pist know that now I’m at the what now? stage of self-discovery. Talking is okay, and has given us a foun­da­tion, but my core recur­ring prob­lems will still be there until I do some work. I’m coming out of the fog and looking for action­able steps.

I need a work­book to write in. I need prac­tical coping strate­gies for things in my life that I can’t tailor to my com­fort zone. I need to sort out which loose ends to tie and which to let loose. So, that’s what we’re going to do, I guess. And after some pro­cessing, I’ve real­ized that starting therapy in the fall was as good a time as any. It’s a rev­e­la­tion that is extremely dif­fi­cult for my Aspie mind to accept: that Time is the biggest loose end, never to be tied.

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