Identity. It seems like a word that has a pretty clear meaning, right? We all have our own identities and that is what makes us unique individuals. What if you are a 42 year old aspie and still unsure of your identity?
The topic of identity makes my anxiety rise to the surface. I always imagined I’d figure out my identity in my 20’s. When that didn’t happen I imagined I’d find it in my 30’s. Lo and behold, here I am five months after being diagnosed with Asperger’s and just starting to figure out my identity.
When I was old enough to start noticing there were social norms that had to be followed to be accepted, I began to adopt the likes and dislikes of others. I had become so good at being a chameleon that I wasn’t sure who I was. It’s something I call being “identity fluid.”
In my late teens through my early 30’s, I drank a lot. I went out every weekend with my neurotypical friends to drink myself into an oblivion and convince myself that was what I needed to do to be accepted. When I drank, I was “fun”– or so I’m told.
I think maybe people enjoyed laughing at me rather than with me. I didn’t care. All I knew was that drinking took away my anxiety over social situations. I felt like I could be “normal.”
What the heck is “normal,” anyway? It’s interesting to visit each person’s often-radically different ideas of normal. In doing so, I wonder how any one person can ever say, “That’s not normal!”
In the last six years, I’ve had two children. One has autism and the other is neurotypical. Advocating for my son who has autism has forced me to look into the mirror. It essentially led me to see the similarities between us and to eventually get evaluated myself. I never would have thought my son’s journey would lead me to answers about my own journey.
Now I know at least one true thing about my identity: I am an Aspie. I have Asperger’s. Asperger’s is not what I originally thought it was, and it presents a bit differently in women. Thus, my journey to identity identification began with my diagnosis.
The post-diagnosis journey has proven to come with its difficulties. Differentiating between masking and what is the authentic me has been difficult. After all of these years, I’ve become a master masker. I work in the IT field where being a little weird is totally accepted.
I mastered the expected small talk replies by watching and listening to others. I learned how to go unnoticed and subdue or hide my self-regulating fidgets. I’m a perfectionist, I take on too much work, and have a visceral need to know how all things work together as a whole, which all make me a valuable employee.
I don’t work well in groups and thankfully have a job where I am rarely required to. I work from home, away from the regular office chatter and constant interruptions, away from the infuriating sounds of throat clearing and chip crunching, and away from the bright lights and keyboard clicking.
I’ve found a way to adapt to a world made to confuse an aspie and drive them to the brink of madness. I’ve found a way to keep my strengths at the forefront in order to hold a steady almost-twenty-five year career. I don’t see the friends from my drinking days very often, but we do check in on each other every few months.
I’ve begun to rid myself of the unhealthy masks that involve spontaneous bad choices and binge drinking. I thought those masks made me fun and well-liked. And maybe they did, but that’s not who I am or who I need to be. I think tossing out those masks was a great starting step.
I think some of the healthy masks I wear are a great asset to my life and it would be a set-back to let them go. Each of us needs to determine the worth of each mask we own and determine whether it is an asset or a detriment to our lives and/or identities.
So the question is and might always be: who am I, really? I’ve determined that the best way to find out is to go back to basics… to find that person I was becoming before the collection of masks started. There was nothing I loved more as a child than watching movies, writing lyrics, laying in my dark and quiet closet, my spirituality, wearing clothes that felt good on my skin and depicted the things I love, walking and exploring in the woods, drawing logos, singing, writing, reading… I can’t completely start my life over, but I can try to find a happy medium between the young, oblivious me and the older, masked me.
They are both people of value and deserve their place in this world. They are both interesting and talented and when joined together can be an exemplary and inspirational entity in the aspie tribe.
My search for identity and wisdom will never end, and I’m finally okay with that. A late diagnosis really gave me some clarity and direction in my life.
Do you have a story of diagnosis or identity to share? If so, I’d really enjoy reading about it in the comments.