You know that saying “life begins at 40”? Well, that statement couldn’t have been more spot on if it tried.
My diagnosis of Asperger syndrome didn’t eventuate until I was six weeks shy of my 40th birthday.
“Congratulations, here is your certificate on surviving life thus far, now this will give you a clue as to what life is really all about. Asperger’s, good luck…tallyho.”
It was those words that scrolled through my head, like subtitles on a foreign movie.
After fudging my way through the past 40 years, I finally had some clarity and a sense of freeing from the internal anguish I was never, ever going to understand this damn strange world around me. I did actually believe I was losing my mind at one point as I could not fathom, for the life of me, how people existed on, let alone navigated life on terra firma. As far as I could ascertain, I was the problem and no matter how hard I tried mimicking or masking who I essentially was, I just couldn’t perform naturally like my fellow non-autistic beings. And I was tired of it all.
That one fateful day
Up until this point, I had resigned myself away to never being able to function “appropriately” in society. Until that one fateful day.
The local community center in the town I was living had brought together a day of speakers centered on women’s health and well-being. Venturing in and positioning myself at the back of the room had me sitting there flicking through brochures while doing my damnedest to filter out the high-pitched chit-chat that irritated like a splinter in an index finger.
The presentations were interesting and I smiled when they announced the next speaker was running late for her presentation. “That is so me,” I thought.
As the speaker warbled away their insights of a life full of wonderment and wellness, it became obvious the“late” presenter was trying her utmost to sneak up to her chair at the back of the stage where she would perform. Obviously, the furniture got annoyed with her lateness and added to her challenges of taking her seat quietly. Those bloody tables and chairs certainly know how to manoeuvre themselves into position, ready to strike at the most inappropriate moments.
With a trip and thud she had arrived.
With forgotten notes and wild, wind swept hair, the furniture-challenged presenter took stage. A local doctor. With my analytical and judgmental thoughts, I questioned internally: how on earth did she become a doctor if she can’t even win a duel with the chair? And she’s fat. Really, how can you be fat, uncoordinated and be a doctor? For some reason I had been conditioned to believe that those who offer help with our health should be a shining example of just that. Perfection, wellness, measure up to the figures we are led to believe we must strive for. There was that rigid conditioned thinking again…
But the rigidness waned as she spoke. The words were not of perfection but about accepting yourself, being kind to yourself, and that we all are valuable and deserve a life that makes us happy. She cared, deeply.
When I reflect on how I charged up like a rampant bull after her presentation, hoping for an opportunity to speak with her, I did wonder if she thought I’d lost my mind. Well, that was what I was thinking that she might be thinking as we tend to overthink EVERYTHING and more so after an incident like this.
But in reality she just stood there and smiled, took in everything I was saying and told me to come and see her at her little practice nearby. When I told her I thought I was “crazy,” she just looked at me with compassion and said, “No, you’re not.”
It takes just a moment like this to completely change your world, set you on a path to try to find yourself again. I know so many women who are getting a diagnosis later in life and the impact it has, not just on understanding ourselves; it is literally life-changing.
It does take some time to rediscover who you are.
After what seems like a lifetime of never understanding the world let alone yourself, you have to take the time to go back and reflect on your life to move forward. So there I was, a middle-aged woman who was basically starting life over again. I had to untrain all the misconceptions about how I should behave, what was expected, and to let go of what other people thought. That was a hard one.
But my past started to make a lot more sense.
When you don’t understand yourself, it’s hard to accept not just what is happening but why. It is virtually impossible to rationalise with yourself when you don’t understand why you feel such an outsider.
But it does change.
So where does the story begin?
It doesn’t have to start at the beginning and it doesn’t have to feel as if it is all overbefore you got the chance to begin. It is never too late to find happiness, and that is our ultimate goal. To find peace within, to find where we belong and to be valued for who we are.
Repeat after me: “We deserve this.”
Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism
Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism is an edited collection that tackles a range of issues autistic women experience, including chapters on growing up, identity, diversity, parenting, independence and self-care. Well-known writers provide advice, support and empowerment to fellow autistic women/non-binary people, and expert Dr Michelle Garnett provides professional commentary for each chapter.
Whether you are just at the beginning or have been traveling this path for some time, the Spectrum Women welcome you into their lives. The front door is open, the kettle is on… Come on in, you are welcomed, you are home.