Big emotions are hard for me to process. Complex mixes are even more difficult to tease apart. Sometimes I feel my larynx tightening and tears welling up in my eyes before I can register why I’m having an emotional reaction. Sometimes the tears flow with no identifiable activating emotion. It is extremely confusing.
I’ve learned it’s best to let the tears flow when they come, rather than choking them down. Swallowing potent feelings makes me angry and sick. Vomiting the spleen back up indiscriminately, I wreak havoc, hurting myself and others in the process.
This was a pattern I repeated for nearly 30 years before realizing the extent of the injury I inflicted upon myself. There’s still no conclusive report on the full extent of the collateral damage.
Even after years of fostering acceptance of my tears as a natural and necessary overflow valve on the hurricane of intense feelings within me, I was shocked when they fell on my daughter’s ASD diagnosis.
For over a year now, we’ve been searching for answers. For more than a year, she’s known her brain worked differently from most other kids’. At the tender age of 5.5, she was able to list half a dozen other kids she knew whose brains worked like hers and make the astute observation that her brain was wired like mine, but not her dad’s or sister’s. Over a month ago, she pasted a label on her wiring: Autism.
Even after all this, the tears came. Just as they did when I read my own formal diagnosis nearly 10 months prior. Even though this was the confirmation we’d been seeking, the piece of paper demonstrating I wasn’t crazy or defective or a horrible mother. With this piece of paper we could finally get support, demand accommodations, revel in our Âûthentic selves.
So why was I crying?
There are many emotions that accompany a formal diagnosis. I would need to refer to a feelings wheel to sort it all out with any clarity, and even then I’m not sure I could accurately pinpoint every facet. I will try to extract those most pronounced.
The most salient, and initially overpowering, emotion is grief. A sense of loss for a future dream of who we could be. Those things we wanted to change and always hoped would get better as we worked hard and matured will just be with us no matter what. Loss of a previously-held self image, now shattered to be rebuilt.
Next comes fear. Fear we still won’t be believed, that this official pronouncement will be discredited, derided, or ignored. Fear we won’t be accepted by our new-found community because we’re not “autistic enough.” Fear we will still be rejected by our neurotypical peers and family, even with this newfound explanation. Terror even of the onerous path towards seeking professional supports and funding.
Then there’s relief. A sigh, a deep breath at the end of an arduous journey. A feeling we’ve finally come home, which brings with it another wave of loss for being without a home for so long.
Mixed in with these big three are joy, anger, indignation, pride, worry, and a completely-indiscernible tangle of other feelings. Some, like anger, cut in multiple directions: anger at the people who saw it earlier but said nothing, anger at the world for being so hostile toward us, anger at one’s self for not digging for answers sooner. Anger has a long, slow burn.
This emotional mélange has nowhere to go but out of my eyeballs. Holding it back doesn’t make it go away. It’s like capturing a tornado in a bottle: something’s gotta give.
So don’t mistake my tears for sadness. I couldn’t be happier that my daughter and I are both finally diagnosed. Please don’t console me or tell me you’re sorry. Congratulate us on graduating to the next phase of our fully-realized lives. And forgive me if I cry when you do.