Yesterday I was asked what difference an autism diagnosis has made to me. I talked about my self awareness having been increased because I seemed to be more in tune with my reactions to situations. I talked about having a language to describe things. I talked about having a better understanding of why I do things in certain ways. I came to the conclusion though that the main difference for me was an acceptance of myself. I no longer feel I am mad for instance in times of stress, I berate myself much less now when I do something wrong and I understand better why I do certain things more than others.
In some sense I can feel a framework forming in my life. A framework built around who I am that allows me to alternate the challenging with the refreshing, the work with the rest. I am tempted to write that the challenging always involves other people, and the refreshing means being on my own but the truth is murkier than that.
Writing this for instance is a challenge. I have no real idea where I am going with this and only a starting point to trace out from. I have to trust myself that the words will come and I have to trust that there will be something worth reading. The challenge then is starting to write in the first place followed by fighting against the insecurities of whether there is a point to this or whether anybody else is going to read it. There is also a fight against accepting the invitation of tiredness and trying to sleep.
Sleep in fact might be a reward after a challenging but I suspect sleep without a corresponding energy drain, whether physical or mental, is an escape from engagement. There are times like now when I have a dull tired ache of inactivity in my head that calls me to sleep but I know from experience that entering into the door this sense invites can lead to a downward spiral of fatigue and inactivity. I feel more dulled and depression is only a short hop away.
So sometimes when the words don’t flow or in general the activity stalls it is time to take a short break, for instance a couple of coffee and a biscuit or five (just done) or singing a favourite song. I just switched on the television too for a friend who is staying he wants to watch the Formula One Grande Prix, or does that count as a distraction?
Food and music will quite often feature in my reward list but so does exercise whether it is walking the dog or going for a bike ride but even then there can be difficulties. The weather can play a part in walking the dog and, as well as weather, riding a bike means getting changed (generally), whilst swimming requires getting to the swimming pool and facing unknown crowds. All require an effort to overcome. But then music isn’t always singing, it can mean practising, transcribing, or in an extreme composing. Food isn’t always as easy a grabbing a biscuit out of the tin. It may mean creating a sandwich, reheating some food, or even cooking something from scratch.
It would seem that anything involving making decisions is where the effort lies. When I think of household chores like washing clothes or hanging them up, or cleaning the dishes, these processes are set and flow once they are started. Mental energy is minimal. Whilst things like gardening can be relaxing they can also be full of decisions. Do I do the easy things like trim the hedge and cut the grass, or is it more important to do the difficult weeding or decide where to put new plants? Trimming the hedge seems more attractive, but it is quite windy so perhaps it will be cold and I won’t go out at all.
Then there are people. I have to make continuous decisions to talk to other people, it is no wonder this wears me down. Then when I add in doing some work it seems obvious that decision making amongst other people over shared work would prove to be impossible sometimes. So I can be perceived as rude, awkward, lazy, and controlling and it takes an effort to change that perception, the explain the process I need to go through to come to a conclusion. Of course it would be a lot easier if I let other people make the decisions and I just implemented their ideas. I wish it were that simple but it isn’t. I simply cannot accept a decision that directly affects me without at least having a say in it. Even then it is better if the decision made agrees with my viewpoint.
I guess that at the end of the day, getting an autism diagnosis mean recognising that I have challenges in making decisions and that difficulty doesn’t need to be judged but accepted because it isn’t something that can be changed. And maybe if I am less critical of myself, then I will be less defensive and more able to explain to others what goes on inside me, and perhaps they too will be less judgemental in turn.