High Functioning Autism

At my office, autism has been on our minds a lot since the release of Love on the Spectrum, Season 2. My friend and I can’t stop discussing it and how much we genuinely love the people on the show. However, it is somewhat hard for me to discuss from a neutral position. If you’ve read a lot of my posts, you may already know that I believe I am on the spectrum. I’ve mentioned this to my work friend, but he seemed to shrug it off as if I was mistaken. I’m one of the many people that are just starting to be diagnosed later in life who “don’t look autistic.” My friend sees the way I behave and how well I manage interactions and daily responsibilities and assumes I couldn’t possibly be autistic.

But that’s part of the problem. It’s why so many people like me go undiagnosed for so long. Autism Spectrum Disorders are just that. They’re on a spectrum. Many people with high functioning autism, formerly known as Asperger’s, are able to fly under the radar for most, if not all of their lives, especially when these individuals happen to be women. People assume we function just the same as everyone else, but no one can see or hear what goes on inside my head. Even though I am able to appear “normal,” no one knows what immense effort that takes. How much time and energy I have to invest in learning the correct social etiquette for different situations, how awkward and anxious I can be when caught off guard or placed in an unfamiliar social environment. The only reason I am able to mask my struggles so well is because I am also extremely intelligent. Even though I don’t have the natural intuition for social cues, I have worked tirelessly to teach myself throughout my life.

Autism is still a fairly new disorder, and I have faith that we will be able to understand it better as time goes on. We have already made a lot of progress. However, I find it frustrating, given my experience with autism, that it is used as an explanation for a lot of the struggles for people who are autistic and low-functioning. In my opinion, their autism isn’t necessarily what is making it so difficult for them to function in society. It plays a part, but I think there are a lot of cooccurring disorders that are also playing a role, as well as the difficulties faced by those with general intellectual disabilities and low intelligence. If you have an IQ below 70 you are going to have a lot of struggles, regardless of whether you’re autistic or not. I don’t think it’s accurate or fair to pin it all on autism, especially given that there are so many people that function so much better with the same disorder.

I think this misunderstanding and/or misdiagnosis does a lot of damage to the general public’s understanding of autism. My friend at work actually mentioned a potential “cure” for autism. I know he meant well, but I was still slightly offended. I don’t want my autism to be “cured.” I value my differences. Autism is an important part of who I am as a person. Would I be an atheist or a vegan if not for my autism allowing me to disregard social norms and societal expectations? I can’t say for sure, but I have to think it’s at least a possibility. It seems like a lot of the vegans I follow online sooner or later come out with an autism diagnosis. Of course correlation (especially anecdotal) doesn’t prove causation, but it’s an interesting theory I’ve been mulling over for awhile now.

I’ve heard a few autistic individuals refer to it as a superpower and I am inclined to agree with that description. They are certainly drawbacks and I often wish that I could “just be normal,” but if I had the choice, I doubt I would change myself to fit in better in the world. Society sees autism as a tragedy. How sad it must be to not understand these treasured social norms. But for those of us living with autism, we could care less about your social norms. You’re perplexed why we don’t understand, and we’re perplexed why you think they make sense.

I love myself for exactly who I am, autism and all. And I hope that the day comes where I can afford to be formally diagnosed. I also hope the day comes when I won’t have to fear disclosing my autism to others. I am simultaneously fearful that they will think there is something wrong with me, or that they may think I’m not really autistic. I am very selective with who I confide in about this conclusion I’ve come to. I haven’t even told my boyfriend about it. Honestly whenever I do get tested I think he should be as well. His older brother is definitely autistic, although undiagnosed, and autism does have a genetic component. God only knows if I’ll ever discuss this with him though for fear of offending him. I am equally fearful that he will look at me differently when I disclose my own autism.

The increasing number of people being diagnosed with autism and the sheer amount of it I see in my own life, leads me to believe that it is a valuable part of human evolution. And it’s nothing new. It’s just starting to be more understood and recognized. Autistic people are important. Our contributions are important. Our perspectives are important. I’m sure plenty of the eccentric, brilliant people that have made important contributions in the past would have been diagnosed as autistic if they were alive today. There is no “cure.” And there doesn’t need to be. I don’t think of it as a disorder at all. It’s just how some people are, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that.

Autism is My Super Power. Lettering. World Autism Awareness Day. Quote To  Design Greeting Card, Poster, Banner, T-shirt Stock Illustration -  Illustration of design, campaign: 125997775
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Why So Anxious?

I find it quite humorous at this point how many times I have been asked why I’m so anxious or what exactly I’m anxious about. Especially because those are usually the immediate follow up questions when I explain that I have an anxiety disorder. Even other mental health professionals that I work with ask me these things. Maybe it is just a reflexive question asked to be polite or seem interested. But once you’ve been asked so many times it becomes frustrating and eventually funny. It is like asking someone with clinical depression, “why are you so sad?”

My latest response when asked what I’m anxious about has been: Nothing. That’s why it’s a disorder. That can at least get a laugh sometimes. And I don’t really blame people for not getting it. I struggle to understand it myself a lot of the time. I am constantly having to step back from my racing thoughts and tell myself, “You are OK.” It also helps sometimes to go through a mental list of all the things that are going well in my life.

One of the most bizarre aspects of my anxiety is that I often feel anxious about “being rushed.” Yet I’m the one rushing myself. I have to stop and remember that I am allowed to take as long as I want. I’m not on anyone’s schedule but my own. It is quite a strange and often frustrating feeling.

For some reason when my anxiety used to be mainly focused on social situations, it made more sense to me. At least then there was a fear I could pinpoint. This vague fog of anxiety that surrounds me now is just unsettling. I never really know when it is going to appear. Which creates its own mist of anxiety. I become anxious about getting anxious. It’s all just so ridiculous. I’ve got to laugh at myself sometimes.

Over the years I’ve come to learn that I am able to take a lot of the power away from my anxiety if I can just remind myself not to take life so seriously. Because life doesn’t have to be so serious. In the end I think we are all here to take pleasure in the little moments we share together. When you look at anything in the grand scheme of things it seems small and insignificant. Then it feels silly to be so upset.

Just as with most things in life, a lot of our suffering is self-induced. I’ve noticed that when I allow myself to feel anxious, allow those feelings to exist, just accept them instead of resisting them and desperately trying to push them away, they dissipate on their own. I am prolonging my own pain by refusing to make space for all of my experiences and emotions. Even the difficult ones.

So maybe in the end, “why are you so anxious” isn’t that bad of a question after all. Maybe I should start asking myself that more often. Rather than denying myself the right to feel those anxious feelings, I can react in a more gentle, inquisitive manner. Instead of getting angry and frustrated with myself, cursing my defective brain, I can surrender to those feelings. Cradle them softly, be there for myself like I would a good friend, and just listen.

OCD

Today I have a fun excursion planned with my very best friend whom I’ve known since we were in third grade. We’re both 26 now and despite how we’ve both changed, we’ve miraculously managed to stay dear to one another for all of these years. I am constantly humbled by her friendship. I am filled with gratitude knowing that I have such a wonderful, loving person in my life who I share so many poignant memories with.

Given this background, you’d think I would be quite happy and calm this morning, looking forward to our day together. However, I have been on edge since she asked me to hangout today. This flare up of anxiety at the idea of spending time with someone has become a real worry for me. What am I worried about? Well I’m worried because now my rigidly structured day won’t be the same as usual. Ridiculous right?

I woke up extra early today so I could make sure I had enough time to check off all the little boxes that I normally do. Workout, draw, write, read, study Spanish, yoga, meditation, etc. All wonderfully productive and positive things. However, my obsession over making sure that each and every one is accomplished every day no matter what is unhealthy.

I don’t know why it’s always got to be all or nothing with me. It doesn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of things if I skip a day of doing yoga or drawing something. I recognize that this anxiety over not performing these tasks is a symptom of OCD. I don’t know if I’d be diagnosable, but I certainly feel confident saying that I have a lot of obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

I’ve only come to really accept this recently. It is a scary realization. As a psychology student I learned a lot about OCD, and I know if ignored it only continues to escalate. The best way to combat this is to intentionally do (or in my case, not do) the things that your brain is telling you will be negative. This inevitable results in pretty much nothing significant happening and the brain can be reassured that its fears were unfounded.

The problem with OCD is, even though I know all of this, I’m too afraid to implement this plan of action. It seems far easier to just continue on the way I have been, avoiding my anxiety while simultaneously being enslaved by it. Once again, a great reason for me to seek out a therapist that can help me. I hope something comes of me coming back to that idea again and again. Maybe if I think about it enough I’ll eventually build up the courage to make an appointment with someone. For now thinking about it seems like all I’m able to do.