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Just re-evaluating my entire life over here
Notes from inside an identity storm
I keep trying to write this newsletter and I just end up with drafts that don’t feel right. But I created this newsletter to be a place to share my process, so I’m going to try to put this nebulous inner-storm feeling into words.
Realizing that I am autistic has made me have to re-assess everything I thought I knew about myself and my life.
Masking is so much deeper than just putting on appearances. Looking at my life now, everything I’ve ever done feels tinged with some version of trying to become what I thought I was supposed to be: neurotypical.
I have always been driven by different versions of the question: What is wrong with me and how can I fix it? I thought I figured it out many different times, but every answer (multipotentiality, giftedness, HSP, trauma, attachment, ENFP, etc) still left a pile of unanswered questions.
But now everything actually does make sense. Even the questions I hadn’t articulated, that I only knew as a constant hazy sense of dread about being a person in the world. The underlying driving anxiety to figure out why life is so hard is finally addressed. I understand now. I get it.
But the answer opens up an entirely different set of questions: What now? Where do I invest that drive? What is it for, if it’s not trying to answer this question?
My goals and dreams were all shaped by masking as well. I don’t actually know what my authentic goals are. I have the label to describe who I am now, but I don’t actually know myself yet as an autistic person. I know myself only as a person trying very hard to not be autistic and failing at it.
I have been “working on myself” my whole life, and I realize now that a lot of that effort was a bit misguided.
I am not knocking my obsession with personal growth overall, because it did eventually lead me to the answer I needed. And it helped me resolve my trauma, and develop a huge capacity for joy. But I can also see now that I had always invested it with the power to make me normal, and that was unfair to do to myself. I don’t need to be normal. I need to discover who I actually am.
I have so many questions:
What is autism, actually?
What is this community to which I now belong? How do we relate to each other when we aren’t masking?
What do I want when I’m not trying to figure out what’s wrong with me or how to fix it?
How can I welcome back all these parts of me that I abandoned when I was a child? How can I own the things I do and enjoy without fear of being called “cringe”?
What is my natural pace and way of life, when I stop trying to keep up with a neurotypical world?
Who will I be once I’ve processed all of this?
Do I want to create content about neurodiversity? And if so, is that content advocacy, activism, self-help, or something else?
How do I design an autistic-friendly and ADHD-friendly business? What service could I authentically offer the world that would be structured in a way that is healthy for me?
Finding the answers to these questions is a different quest than I’ve ever undertaken. It’s not a mountain to climb. I can’t conquer it. There isn’t a clear goal. It’s the most journey of all the journeys, the one where only the journey itself matters. It’s not growth. It’s not healing. I think the best word I can use is integrating. I need to integrate my entire life up to this point.
I need to merge the person I tried to be with the person I really am, and those two codebases forked around age 5, when I started kindergarten.
So I’ll be answering these questions for a long time to come.
I’m realizing that I actually process a lot slower than I thought.
I talk fast (ADHD), and think fast (giftedness), but I process slowly (autism). I integrate slowly. I come to terms slowly. I adjust to new things slowly.
And this is a huge, life-changing thing to adjust to. So I have to take my time. I don’t really have a choice. My brain has to work out these “who am I?” questions in its own time, and I can’t rush the process, even though it’s uncomfortable, it makes decision-making difficult, and it throws my sense of life direction into chaos.
And it’s not just the anxiety of uncertainty. My emotions are doing their own rollercoaster dance through anger and anguish as I look back over every memory of my life with new information.
Oh. I probably wasn’t pulling off “normal” as well as I thought. Probably a lot of people thought I was weird or inappropriate and they were just too polite to mention it. 👀
Oh. All those kids were picking on a disabled kid and everyone just let it happen and sometimes the teachers joined in, cool. Cool to realize that people are worse than I thought. Again.
Oh. I’m not actually a good judge of character. I trust people way more than I should. I’m a lot more vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation than I thought I was. Cool. Good to know.
None of this is easy to process. It’s heartbreaking and overwhelming.
But I’m just going to have to let it happen, and love myself through it. There is no shortcut. I have a bunch of emotional tools that I have picked up over the years, and I have friends and community and books to help me through it. But it’s not going to be easy, because it’s just not an easy thing to do. 💚