Who would ever have thought there was a proper diagnosis for my strange kind of behavior? That, I was, after all, different from the rest. When I was presented with the report of my neurodivergence, it wasn’t as if they were telling me something new, but rather as if they were finally agreeing with me after so many years.
In fact, my diagnosis of ASD didn’t arrive until I was 40, as has happened to many others (especially women). I didn’t exhibit repetitive behaviors or get into trouble at school. I even had a small group of friends. Moreover, I got good grades and respected the rules of coexistence.
Because of this, my ‘eccentricities’ became a part of me. Over time, they became embedded in the back of my mind, repeatedly reminding me that I was different. However, they didn’t really go any further and I accepted that I was just a little strange. Therefore, it wasn’t really too much of a surprise when I finally received my diagnosis. This is my story.
Social integration and masking
My stereotyped behaviors went unnoticed. I forced myself to look others in the eye. I was able to socialize in groups or go to parties, even though I needed a day in bed to recover afterward. And my selective eating was viewed as me simply being fussy.
Therefore, the traits I exhibited that were linked to the autistic spectrum and that could’ve precipitated a consultation and a diagnosis weren’t sufficient for the adults around me to direct me down that path. So, I had to continue to survive in a neurotypical world. This meant I had no choice but to imitate certain behaviors and integrate specific conventions into my behavior.
The symptoms of ASD in women and girls often go unnoticed. This is because the diagnostic criteria are biased towards the male population, despite the fact that there are differences between the phenotypes of both sexes.
Thanks to this adjustment in my social behavior, which I later found out was called masking, I was able to go through my childhood and adolescence without really deviating from what was expected of me. I just acted as I thought others expected. I was successful at it, so just kept doing it until it became a part of me that I didn’t question. Nevertheless, the pain was still there, behind closed doors.
The consequences of underdiagnosis
As I told you, my neurodivergence diagnosis didn’t come until I was 40. It meant that, until then, I had to deal with the maladaptive part of my brain makeup. My social burnout was seen as extreme shyness, and my crises of frustration as explosions of rage. I was so mature in some ways and childish in others, they said.
But, what I was feeling was real. My feelings against injustice were stronger than the rest of the world and I felt attacked in ways that others didn’t seem to experience, My hyperfocus became an obsession. Every relationship I had suffered as soon as it got too deep but I didn’t know why. Above all, my identity was shattered. While I had built a functional personality for others to see, I knew that I didn’t process the world in the same way as others.
Hence, I became depressed. I had treatment for it. Also, for my relationship with food and the consequences of the abuse and the toxic people I’d suffered in my life. Yet, my neurodivergence signals continued to be seen separately, not integrated. In effect, they were viewed as a set of disorders rather than a specific condition and its consequences.
Neurodivergence at 40: a beginning and end at the same time
It isn’t easy to find signs of autism in a person who’s been masking neurodivergence for more than 40 decades. However, I only had to meet one other person like me, recently diagnosed with ASD, to recognize it. When we had a conversation about their experiences, diagnostic process, and the difficulties they’d gone through, it was like looking in a mirror.
Thanks to them and a few others, I managed to make an appointment to get a diagnosis. In the meantime, I devoured all the information about ASD that I could find, both in the clinical and social realms. In fact, it seemed incredible to me that, in all my life, no one had ever brought the subject up before.
With each article, each testimony, each link that I identified with, I became more convinced that no one around me had wanted to face reality. Indeed, I was different and my brain configuration had a name: autism spectrum.
When the diagnosis confirmed everything I’d read, I felt completely liberated. This was me. I was different, worthy, and didn’t need to try and fit in anymore. Today, although the road continues to be tortuous in a world designed solely and exclusively by regulations, I now recognize who I am.
While I’m continuing to explore myself, I know who I am and show myself to others. I explain who I am and what I need. Those who can’t or don’t want to give it to me don’t hang around. There’s no point in them staying so we just end up suffering together. Masking, burnout, depression, my difficult relationship with food, everything is still there. But, finally, my pain is mine and I can learn to heal it as I need.
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