I am Autistic

It is National Autism Awareness Week and last month I received my own diagnosis as a person with Autism. I have had Autism since I was born, however I only received my diagnosis at 32 years of age and as a woman I feel that it is important to share my story.

The rate of women and girls diagnosed with Autism compared to men is disproportionate. There are many theories to explain this but it is thought that Autism in women presents differently to Autism in men and the assessment system that is place is outdated and designed for men only. Many Autistic girls and women slip under the radar and never receive the diagnosis and help that they may need. However, there is currently a lot of research and changes taking place with the diagnostic procedure to allow for both men and women to be assessed and supported equally and to meet their needs.

After repeatedly being misdiagnosed with a range of different mental health difficulties I was becoming frustrated and annoyed that I did not have the answers to why I found some aspects of life so challenging. At times I felt like I was watching life from inside a goldfish bowl, I did not really quite understand how others managed to achieve what they did without the problems and disasters I often seemed to encounter.

Certain situations, heightened senses and social interactions were making me have frequent meltdowns, these manifested in many different ways, and were causing me to become more anxious, especially now I had children of my own to care for.

For years I had devised a complicated and stressful ability to camouflage and concealing my difficulties. This ranged from observing and mimicking the behaviour and language of my peers, to over working and overloading myself to breaking point, in order to complete tasks to a high enough standard that no one would ever notice my struggles. I would often camouflage for an entire day, resulting in a meltdown as soon as I had got home. I would then have to spend the whole evening in a state of anxiety and exhaustion, attempting to recharge myself for the next day.

My growing inability to change routine and my frustration at even the smallest, last minute alteration to something as insignificant as what we were having for tea, was beginning to take its toll on my husband and to be honest myself too. I felt like having Cass gave me the strength to say, ‘this is really fucking shit and I’m not willing to do this anymore.’ I needed answers in order to recognise and deal with my difficulties in a healthy way and with a bit more knowledge and understanding about myself.

Since getting my diagnosis I have been trying to unpick a web that is now 33 years old. I understand the main things that I find difficult and challenging, but I do not want to stop doing them, I just have to work out a way that works best for me and my brain. I am learning to be more forgiving of myself and not push myself to breaking point. If there is something that I feel like I cannot do today, then I will just do it the next day or find a way to do it that makes me comfortable, happy and does not result in a melt down.

I am giving myself more time to indulge in the things that I enjoy, my ‘hobbies,’ allowing myself to hyper-focus for large amounts of time on the things I love, without feeling guilty. Having more open conversations with my husband about even the smallest of things that may lead to a meltdown, instead of pushing it to the back of my mind and becoming anxious. The most important thing for me now though is having the confidence to say no to people if I know that I am going to find a situation difficult.

Autism for me is not a mental health condition, a common misunderstanding, it is a neurodevelopment condition that means my brain is wired differently and without the correct treatment and knowledge can cause poor mental health. I identify myself as having a communication, understanding and sensory disability. I believe that without my diagnosis my mental health would have suffered greatly, but this would be a product of me lacking self-knowledge and being Autistic.

This is Autism. I am still the same person I have always been, just better, because now I have more knowledge and understanding of who I am and what I can achieve.

Big brother

We are now past the half way mark and despite being so poorly, baby girl is growing and so is my belly. Cass is starting to notice too, finding my belly button hilarious and jabbing it with his little fingers. He is starting to stroke my bump too whilst saying ‘baby’ which is amazing.

Even though he is still only a baby himself, I can feel that Cass is aware that something big is about to happen. It has been hard on him with all the hospital visits and quiet days in the house with me throwing up everywhere. However, I cannot wait to see him as a big brother, he is so loving and playful, but I know that this baby will bring about some huge changes and my baby boy will suddenly grow up overnight.

I love to watch Cass grow and it fascinates me how he learns and changes every day and I know the arrival of a new little person will change us all. I think it would be silly to think it will not. I feel like I need to really cherish these last few weeks alone with my baby boy, he has not asked for the chaos that comes with a new baby and as resilient as he is, at times he is going to find it hard. We all are.

I am trying to appreciate each moment with Cass as much as possible before we become four, but I also want to try and prepare him too. He is off to choose his own baby and pram this weekend with his dad, so that we can talk lots about the new baby arriving and how he can help be a big brother. He also helped me dig out all his old baby clothes ready to be washed for baby girl.

We have been taking time to talk to Cass about the new baby, asking him questions about the baby’s name and what he thinks is growing in mummy’s tummy. I still think he is a bit too young to understand fully but he is definitely interested, I cannot wait for him to feel her kicking.

We cannot wait for the arrival of our new baby girl and going from three to four is obviously going to have its challenges, but we are working to prepare Cass as much as we possibly can. Like most things with children though, it is impossible to know what is going to happen and in my experience, a waste of time and energy to plan every last detail. With Cass my expectations have always been exceeded, the good times have been better and the tough times harder and on many occasions my mind has been blown away. So, we are taking each day as it comes and going with the flow as much as possible.

Bring it on baby girl, we are ready for you! (Kind of)

Changes

When you have small children everything shifts, my social life is pretty limited and I just prefer a quiet ten minutes with a brew rather than going for a run or heading to the gym. I am not complaining, I think if I attempted to go on a night out I might actually die and running is definitely out of the question.

A number of years ago I gave up alcohol. Those of you who know me well know that I can put away a few drinks, those of you who know me really well know that that is not necessarily a good thing, I do like a good party.

As I got older I found that drinking made everything so complicated, one night out and a few drinks made me feel terrible for days. Anxiety attacks, mood swings, not to mention memory blanks and all of the embarrassing things I may have done or said. I could not deal with the hangovers or the fall out of a night out drinking.

Giving up alcohol was not an easy thing to do, I had worked, managed and hung out in bars and restaurants for years. I had to change a huge part of my life. What would my friends think? Who would want to hang out with someone who never drinks? I was worried that the boredom alone would kill me.

This was half of my problem, I was worrying about what everyone else would think, how I would be perceived as a sober person. Worrying that I would be judged for ordering a soft drink and driving home rather than drinking all the wine and getting absolutely smashed. I was worried that I would not know what to talk to people about, that I would not be able to dance without worrying what I looked like. Seems silly really, but at the time it felt important.

To be honest though, I was judged, people did make comment. I remember one person telling me that they ‘didn’t trust people who didn’t drink!’ – that said more about them than me though. I did and still do find it really hard, I had to learn about myself and actually become an interesting person rather than a drunk person chatting nonsense all night. I had to spark up witty and scintillating conversation whilst being sober. You learn very quickly who your friends are when you stop drinking and that is absolutely a good thing. You also learn that your drunk conversation would have never been ‘witty’ or ‘scintillating,’ and you were actually giving yourself far too much credit than you deserved.

I have been on nights out sober and danced more than anyone in the room, most of the time people are so drunk they just think you are as drunk as them and to be honest no one really cares. Once someone even tried to take my car keys off me after only drinking orange juice all night. I have learned more about my friends and who my real friends are, because when you are sober you remember everything. You remember stories and conversations and you remember organising when you are next getting together. You also NEVER lose your stuff (well, almost).

I also learned that I do not have to be the last man standing at a party. The worry about leaving early and missing out does not exist when you are sober, because you realise that very drunk people become very boring, very fast. They also become very sleepy and less fun than you remember. I take as much enjoyment as possible from going out and then when it’s over, I just leave with amazing memories.

Being sober is not for everyone and I am not trying to preach about the evils of alcohol. I worked with alcohol for many years and I have a lot of knowledge about the drinks industry and it has been something that has fascinated me for years. I met most of my best friends drinking and working in bars, I met my husband in a bar. However, personally it has been and still is, good to take a break.

There is nothing better than waking up hangover free, remembering all your conversations, not worrying about who you may have offended and how badly your shoes have been ruined and where your phone and keys are. Now I only feel anxious about things that are real not things that I think I may have done or said when I was drunk.

Having Cass has ensured that nights out have been well and truly off the cards for a long time, but I am happy about that. I would rather spend a weekend in the Summer taking him to a festival or be able to get up with him on a weekend without feeling like death. Drinking made everything feel too hectic and stressful. I do sometimes miss going out, but I would miss feeling this good more. There is plenty of time for being wild again when the kids move out!