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Day 3

It had not been an easy week for me. Autism research rabbit-hole aside, I was also trying to meet tight deadlines at work on a project. I was tired every day. It was hard to grapple with this new realization, that I may be autistic, during this stressful time. And yet, it also made me feel lighter. Despite the pressure at work, I felt confident in myself - a confidence that I’m not sure I ever really felt in my life. A sureness about who I was that never coalesced until now.

It really didn’t help that I had put a bit of a countdown on myself, for when I needed to bring this up to my boyfriend. In my excitement, I had already ordered a couple books on autism and they’d be coming in the mail in just a few days. He would, of course, be curious about what I had ordered, and I never had anything to hide before in my deliveries. Packages that we ordered were as much like opening a gift for the both of us, regardless of who ordered it. Maybe a little more for me. I have a fondness for traditional mail. My best friend and I send handwritten letters to each other, and it brings me so much joy to see the scrawl of ink on an envelope instead of laser-printing. A little less frequently these days, but that’s ok.

I digress. I had to bring it up before those books came in. But how do I bring it up? My default is to be very straightforward and come out and say ‘I think I might be autistic’. But that might be too jarring. Also, what if he doesn’t believe me? (foreshadowing for a later conversation with my dad) What if he points out I appear pretty normal? That I don’t struggle in school, but rather excel. That I don’t have trouble at work, but rather have gotten promotions (albeit through diligent hard work, not via a popularity contest). That I can go out and reveal a more social, normal side of me. What if I am my own enemy in broaching the topic of self-suspected autism?

I should preface this with a little background on our relationship, and where I was in life. Nothing too detailed, but it’ll inform why my boyfriend reacted the way he did.

With the stress of the pandemic, and on top of that the loss of a loved one, my mental, emotional, and masking faculties were in disarray. The shell I had built up over years, decades, was destroyed in a little over a year of uncertainty, trauma, and worry over job stability. I needed alone time more than ever. Most days I couldn’t muster the energy to even look in his direction to show, neurotypically, that I was paying attention when he was talking. I had given up on maintaining a routine since life’s lemons were being sniper-shot at me. I wasn’t the version of myself that he had known pre-pandemic. He was also having his own difficulties in adjusting and dealing with his own lemons. This led to a decent amount of conflict and misunderstandings between us.

I hadn’t realized all of this at the time, that my mask was effectively shattered. I thought I was tired, sure, but I was still trying to put the mask on every day and thought I was doing an ok job.

Let’s get back to telling my boyfriend about my suspected autism. I started with the experience of watching Free Solo together, and then mentioned the meme I saw. I brought up a few examples of autistic traits and explained how I related to them. I explained how I mask a lot, and that a lot of these traits exist in me internally, and I try not to show them knowing it would peg me as ‘odd’. He nodded. Then he nodded some more. Then he kind of smiled and leaned back, looking up.

“No offense, but yeah, it all kind of makes sense.”

I was elated. We continued to talk some more, me explaining more traits I have and he nodding along. He would ask about some ‘quirks’ he had noticed (that I thought I was hiding, but see above for how poorly I was managing that), and I would say, ‘Yes! That could be an autistic trait.’ We both realized why we were having so many communication issues. We assumed as long as things were explained clearly, the other person should understand. But it doesn’t work that well when you both think differently, and thus explain things differently. He was essentially going through the same realization I went through. You could practically hear it, everything was clicking so well.

He asked me if I was interested in a diagnosis and I happily launched into an explanation of the pros and cons of getting one. I don’t need a diagnosis at this moment, I am happy self-suspecting and exploring the condition. But either way, he was fine with it. Since then I have ordered two more books, noise reduction ear plugs, and a few stim toys (entries on how I am finding these resources/tools to come!).

I know not everyone gets such a welcome reception when they open up about self-suspecting, or even displaying a legitimate diagnosis. I know it’s hard to keep believing, to stand your ground, to stand up for yourself. But, I think, it’s something autistic people spend much of their life doing, even before a realization later in life. For most of my life I’ve struggled explaining my needs, how my brain works, trying to get people to believe me. I have been met with dismissive, bulldozing attitudes saying that I just need to ‘try harder’ or that I’ll ‘get used to it’ or that I’m just going through that ‘awkward teenage phase’. Invalidating attitudes are not new to me, which is probably why I feared it happening with my boyfriend. So this is another bump in the road, maybe a big one, but it’s something we can all get past. We’ve been arguing, over-explaining, fighting, rationalizing, and stubbornly still doing things our own way for most of our lives. We can do this.

As a post-final thought, I realized how sad it was that my boyfriend’s acceptance meant so much to me. That it was a feeling I had rarely felt in my life. Then I knew, it wasn’t me that was abnormal. It wasn’t me that was wrong. It was the prevailing attitude of people trying to reassure or convince me that I’m normal aka neurotypical (because that’s what everyone wants, of course [sarcasm]), that was slowly crushing my soul and largely unhelpful. A positive attitude for myself that I’ve taken from all this is ‘I was right all along! I am weird! But in a good, totally acceptable, and understandable way!’.

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Beanfinity
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