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I am autistic

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

A welder, masked and forging a glowing project

I set out early this year to reposition my business around Trust. (You’ve witnessed some of that metamorphosis already.) I assumed that deepening my commitment to trust and integrity would challenge me to be better on a personal level, but I didn’t comprehend just how much it would transform my life.

My main awakening came as I contemplated Authenticity. It’s a personal value for me. I try to be true to who I am, truer with each passing year. But parts of me wondered: How much do I really know myself? What are my blind spots?

For example, I know I have trouble speaking my mind, especially in conversation. Does that make me inauthentic? Or would it be more inauthentic to force myself to speak up against my own resistance?

I kept pushing my worries away, largely by reminding myself that I’m 41 years old now, and I darn well know what I like and dislike in the world. But then something crazy happened: A woman reached out to connect on LinkedIn, and I freaked out.

Why? Because the woman, Lara, is an expert at helping people to discover their autism and navigate a diagnosis. Autism.

“My Asperger’s is showing,” I told my husband when he got home from work. This was a calm way of voicing what was happening inside my head, which sounded more like this:

OMG what did I post to LinkedIn? What if everything I write is just so damn awkward that everyone in the world knows I’m weird and unrelatable and trying harder than I should? What if I am the only person who doesn’t see how embarrassing I am?

But worse: What if I am inauthentic?

You see, in the three months prior, I finally got serious about writing regular blog posts for this website, and let me tell you, putting myself out there every week felt terrifying. I kept reassuring myself that it was fine – no one was really reading what I wrote anyway, which is mostly true. Over time, it got easier and quicker to hit “publish” and move onto the next thing without anxiety stealing my day.

But Lara’s connection request brought it all back to me. Maybe I was getting noticed, and maybe this kind woman was reaching out to save me before I decapitated my career.

The next morning, I accepted her into my network then sent her a hasty, hungover message: How did you find me? I agonized nearly 24 hours before her answer came back: You "reacted" to my recent post about the neurodiversity movement.

Wait. What?

First, I felt relief: She didn’t reach out to rescue a maiden in distress who didn’t even know she was so obviously failing.

Then, I felt suspicious: Maybe this is just a nice way of saying that she knows I’ll eventually need help, and she’s here for me when I need it.

Then I remembered the Wait. What? and scrolled back to find out what post resonated with me enough to react to it.

Keep in mind: All of this, everything you’ve read so far, is a very typical autistic response. Anxiety, panic, over-analysis, the lengths to which we go to mask what might be true, a desire to stay hidden – all of it internalized – while on the outside, I keep posting blogs as if I’m having the most profitable year of my life. (I’m not.)

Naturally, then, I did the next most autistic thing possible: I scoured the internet for books I could read to uncover whether I might actually be autistic.

Here’s where I should explain the comment to my husband.

Many years ago, when he and I were still dating, I came across a series of blog posts about a woman finding out she had Asperger’s. I devoured them one afternoon while avoiding work… and it all felt so familiar.

  • My inability to fill out forms correctly.

  • My desperation for time alone.

  • Hating small talk.

  • Saying the wrong thing while thinking it made sense.

  • Saying something five minutes before the conversation landed there naturally and wondering why no one heard me.

  • My affinity for the types of people who probably have Asperger’s themselves!

This came fully seven years after I read an article on synesthesia and found out for the first time that most people don’t see color or feel textures when they listen to music (I feel so sorry for you all! It’s awesome!), and also that having mixed-up senses can be related to autism.

So, I’d long suspected I was on the spectrum, and seeing it as a spectrum, I estimated I fell somewhere closer to the mild end of that line. After all:

  • I could navigate life okay (as long as I kept meticulous to-do lists and planned well in advance).

  • I could communicate quite well (as long as I wasn’t tired).

  • And I could hold down a job, buy a house, all of that (nevermind that I burned out from every job before I lasted 30 months and sold every house within 40 months of buying it).

I really didn’t want to think about my neurodivergence “getting in my way.” Instead, I wanted to beat it like cancer.

That’s not how neurodivergence works.

Imagine my shock, then, when in the course of my reading this spring, I discovered that Asperger’s is gone. It no longer exists. It’s all autism now.

That’s when I decided to face my truth.

Between the books, several great blogs, a few YouTube videos and a podcast, I realized that my only path to authenticity led straight through understanding autism. There is no escape. But how would I know for sure? Every resource pointed me away from an official, medical-world-sanctioned diagnosis process because it’s hard to obtain and isn’t always accurate for adult females.

Long story short, 10 weeks after Lara reached out to connect with me, I reached back out to schedule her services. And I’m glad I did!

Working with her was transformational. The process she uses, tailored from her own diagnosis through NYU, uncovered blind spots I didn’t know I was hiding from myself. Hearing her experiences and feeling her empathy for my discoveries eased my shock and positioned me toward self-acceptance instead of denial and shame. Even just seeing an autistic woman navigating her world with courage and authenticity changed how I envision my future self.

Let’s get to the point now.

Folks, I'm autistic, and not mildly so. I embody the autism experience, from difficulty socializing to repetitive thinking and behaviors.

  • I have meltdowns and shutdowns that few ever see.

  • I lose my ability to speak when I am exhausted or under a lot of stress.

  • I stim in myriad ways.

  • I’m easily overwhelmed by incoming information and sensations.

  • And I can see the 100,000-foot view and the 10-foot view, but struggle to see the very practical “big picture” in-between.

The most disturbing realization? I far exceed the metric for masking. What you see is not what you get with me. I do everything I can to hide who I am and what I feel – I monitor everything I do except when I am 100% alone.

…which means I haven’t been living very authentically at all.

So now begins the long and challenging process of masking less. I will probably never be able to fully unmask, and maybe it wouldn’t be healthy if I did. Masking is probably partly authentic for me. But masking less and owning who I am is what will make me fully authentic.

That means:

  • I’ll probably make less eye contact next time we interact. You’ll see me glancing around a lot more. Don’t worry, this is normal ME coming out.

  • I’ll probably smile less, and my resting face might not be pleasant. But it isn’t your fault, I promise.

  • You might catch me spacing out more often.

  • I’ll talk less, but I’m likely to write even more than ever. No apologies.

  • I’ll post more imagery without faces, as you see on just about all my blog posts. I just don't much like looking at faces.

  • I’ll disappear into the endless lineup of special interests that I can’t help but explore, even if it makes me seem flakey, bouncing from topic to topic like each could be my raison d’etre (hello volcanoes, hello congas) because they are.

Authenticity is the goal, absolutely. Without it, there is no trust, but with it, I stand a better chance of reaching my full potential.

Now you know.

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