Discovering meSep 26, 2022
A guest post by Alana Reeves
Most people don’t get to discover who they are at 40 years of age. It sounds like it could be an overwhelming experience, doesn’t it? To discover that you’re a completely different person than you thought you were. You would think it would feel uncomfortable or discombobulating.
For me, it felt like coming home.
After my son’s ADHD diagnosis, I pretended that I wasn’t relating heavily to what I had learned about ADHD. A year later I was diagnosed too, aged 39. Medication, therapy and some seriously deep diving changed my life for the better.
Initially I thought the point of stimulant medication was to become more neurotypical – that being more organised, on time and having the ability to pick up that random sock in the middle of the hallway, instead of step over it for a month, was the benchmark of success. Thankfully I came to my senses when I realised that I didn’t give a hoot about those things. Instead, I explored what it felt like to speak kindly to myself. I learnt to not apologise, but to explain instead. I was able to have 4 thoughts at a time, instead of 745. Although I did always still have random songs playing in there. And the weight I had carried on my chest for my whole life was lifted.
I began to embrace my neurodivergence. I started to push back against the idea that I should fit into a neurotypical society and decided to make changes for me that made life better in a way that suited my magical brain. I became an advocate for my young son and discovered that my older son also had ADHD.
Interestingly, my sensory sensitives picked up. My tolerance for inane chit chat plummeted. Smells that didn’t bother me before felt like they were burning my skin. My dislike for ‘people-ing’ increased rapidly. My emotional disregulation had somewhat improved but I was still prone to losing control often.
One day I was on yet another (pointless) Zoom meeting for work, and the attendees were discussing things that had already been discussed and then bafflingly ending in small talk that dragged out for eternity. My face was fixed in smiling social correctness, while my foot was tapping vigorously, and my hands were silently clicking a pen open and closed. Behind the mask, I could feel something building up inside of me, a tidal wave of pressure. The moment the meeting finished I clicked the big red LEAVE button, and I screamed. I jumped up and down, shaking my hands – still bellowing. I had something inside of me that needed to get out.
I went into my 8-year-old son’s room (who was completely unfazed – bellowing is common in our house) and asked if I could lay on his bed, and if he would lay on me. My feelings were too big for my body, and I wanted to be squashed. It was the only thing I could come up with that felt like it might help. As he lay his 30kg body on me, a thought popped into my head. “I’ve heard that some autistic people like using pressure to help themselves self-regulate.”
Wait a second.
My brain wanted to challenge it. And equally my brain wanted me to see the truth.
I would have known.
-But you didn’t know about ADHD.
I’ve seen autistic boys – I'm not like them.
-You’re not like boys with ADHD either. Yet here we are.
But I don’t have meltdowns.
-Are we conveniently ignoring what just happened? And the times when you have lost control emotionally and not been able to stop yourself from screaming and crying?
You don’t have an issue with eye contact.
-What about the fact that you think constantly about if you’re ‘doing it right’ and how you can’t look at people you don’t like because it hurts?
That night I woke up every half an hour, my brain repeating, “You’re autistic” repeatedly. It fit, like my comfiest and softest favourite t-shirt.
Google only offered me heavily pathologised information, focused mainly on male presentation. I sought out autistic social media content creators who talked about how autism felt and in them, I found myself. It is a surreal feeling to spin your world on its axis but instead of feeling dizzy, you feel grounded. Things that I had always done, or felt, or thought – but never spoken about – were being spoken about by other people. I learned that no autistic person is the same, but we share many variations of similar things. I discovered why I always felt like I was fighting a battle internally. And I started to feel the edges of the mask I didn’t even know I was wearing.
I started gravitating towards other neurodivergent folk. Being able to communicate in a way that felt right to me was a delightful relief. Being amongst others who wanted to endlessly talk about the human existence and who didn’t want to physically spend time together felt wonderful. Experiencing the incredible and magical brains of these people was somewhere I wanted to live.
At 40, I finally discovered who I am. And I realised that it’s not that I found out that I’m a completely different person than I thought I was. Instead, I found out that I am exactly who I have always been and who I have hidden away. I have begun the wonderful unravelling of me. And it feels right.
Some people wonder, “What’s the point? I’ve made it this far, and I’m ok.”
And that might be right for them. For me, it’s like being out for a walk with a pebble rattling around in your shoe and acting like it’s not bothering you. It’s uncomfortable and doesn’t feel right, but you don’t want to make a fuss and make your walking partner stop. They’re having a great time but you’re in pain and it’s all you can think about.
Imagine the sheer relief of explaining to your walking partner that you need to stop so you can take out the pebble. Then being able to walk and admire the wildflowers and listen to the birds and stare in wonder at how the sunlight filters through the trees, instead of being uncomfortable. And then you buy higher walking boots so that pebbles can’t get in your shoe. You access things that help you to enjoy your life in a way that suits you.
THAT, my friend, is the point.
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