What does being an adult mean to me? My mother always defined it in terms of certain goals achieved by a certain age: a certain standard of living, children, a husband.
How are these goals defined? Mostly by mimicking. The vast majority of humans mimic their parents or social circle all the time to decide when they get married or buy a new house or how to behave with their children. Sometimes, they fail at it because of a lack of effort, sometimes due to other factors.
At some subconscious level, I have always instinctively known that I was bad at the mimicking – I take more time, I make more mistakes. I internalized this. All I had was the acute internal awareness that my inability to figure out the world would always play a role in how I achieve my goals.
The logic was irrefutable: the cost of acceptance in the world is a painful process of learning its rules. This is the cost of being an autistic adult. I will never quite understand all of the rules and I have to learn, even if it kills me. And so I nearly killed myself trying to figure things out, all the time not really knowing what I was doing wrong either.
Where others withdraw or give up or pick easier options, I drove myself to exhaustion every time. And I still failed. That only meant that my adulthood, as my mother saw it, and ultimately as I saw it, has been defined by failure.
How could I ever see myself as worthy or lovable?
Adulthood was never defined in terms of a slow or kind process of learning.