If I were to tell you that I was suffering from post-natal depression, you may feel a little awkward about what to say. Some subjects in our society are still taboo and another person’s suffering is always hard to navigate.
When I lost a baby at 10 weeks, the people I told had mixed reactions. Some said they were sorry, some said they had been there too. Others gave me meaningless platitudes about how it was “for the best” or “not meant to be.”
No one’s pain is exactly the same as the next person’s. Even when we share our sorrow, grief is an isolating experience.
When disclosing personal details about yourself, it is a given that you will not always receive the reaction you hoped for. There are so many things that separate and divide us: religion, or lack of it, gender, sexuality. It is hard to offer up something intrinsic and intensely personal, when you do not know how others will take it. I understand that. Some things are hard to talk about. Sometimes it is hard to know what to say.
But, overall, I hope, people’s reactions are becoming more compassionate. Awareness grows every day. There are brave people who talk about how they feel, who connect with others, who make them feel less alone. Whether you are fighting your way through something difficult and painful, or discovering something about yourself and you need validation and support – there are those fighting in your corner. There are those who speak up, so that you may stay silent, if you choose to. You can also raise your voice with theirs, if that is what you want to do.
I think I have concluded that I am an autistic adult. The realisation came slowly. The seed was there, before I had my son, but it was brushed aside, dismissed. I was too social, too eloquent for it to be a possibility. Then, as my awareness and understanding grew, so did the seed.
It would take too long to explain the myriad and complex reasons that led me to this understanding. Suffice to say, I had always put my problems with anxiety, interpersonal relationships and executive functioning down to general personality flaws. If I clearly displayed ‘obsessive’ interests, burnouts, inappropriate emotional reactions and a total inability to let anything go, I never really linked the dots, or labelled them as such in my mind. They were just my problems, my challenges.
My “not giving a f*ck” button was completely missing, as my dearest friend has always said.
But, through raising an autistic child, and devouring every scrap of information about autism that I could find (those obsessive traits can be so useful), finally, I started to see. A psychologist agreed enough to give me a full referral.
There is a long wait to get a diagnosis, but I have tentatively told a few people that it is likely that I am autistic.
And I have been met with…. silence.
Mostly silence. A few ‘Oh’s. A few people who have carried on talking about autism but as if I had not added my own neurodivergence to the conversation. One person said, “I am sorry.” It is embarrassing and awkward. On social media, the only reaction I have had is for people to ask what difference it makes, ask what the point is in labelling myself at my age. It will not change anything. Most friends and relatives, save the closest, have a similar perspective. There are raised eyebrows, unspoken scepticism.
You have got by for this long. What does it matter? It will not change anything.
But it does, you see. It changes everything. I am not weak. I have a different kind of strength. I am not unlikeable. I am misunderstood.
I am not broken. I am neurodivergent.
Talking about this is not comfortable. Usually, writing comes easily. It is a pleasure – or at least a cathartic release. It takes no effort, no bravery, for me to write. My heart spills out onto the page. It is harder to keep some things to myself than it is to share. I have always had trouble gauging when to stop, with knowing how much is too much.
But not this. This has brewed for months. This has been deleted and reworded, revived and killed off a hundred times. This is HARD.
Because no one will know how to react. Some will not believe me, will think this is self-indulgent. Mostly, I expect silence.
There are others, out there, feeling this. But at the moment their voices are too few, too quiet. They may not feel like they can speak about it. They may tell friends and relatives and be met with silence,or disbelief. People do not yet understand. This is still taboo. They stay silent and feel alone. I do not know what the answer is except to be brave and hit publish.
So, this is my voice, for what it is worth.