Embracing Who I am as an Autistic Adult
Ever since learning I’m autistic in my mid-30’s, I’ve been working to embrace who I am.
Well, I think I’ve actually been trying to do that my entire life, but I just kept failing at it. I’ve always been a very emotional creature. I experienced a lot of ups and downs, an overwhelming amount of thoughts, and more. I always thought that something was “wrong” with me and if I could just fully accept and love myself, I would be a calm, serene person. All of the ups and downs would go away.
Turns out I’m autistic. I experience a lot of emotional ups and downs because my brain has more neural connections that fire rapidly and in conjunction with others. It means I quickly experience intense emotions. It also means I take in a lot of information at once, often impacting my energy levels, which then impacts my emotions. My enhanced sensory system also means my nervous system can be quickly overloaded, which also impacts my emotions.
Now that I know I’m autistic, “embracing” who I am means embracing how my brain works. It means accepting that I will always experience a large influx of information, emotions, and thoughts.
At first, I felt pretty hopeless about this. I thought it meant I was doomed to a life of overwhelm. To a life of being “high drama” or “too sensitive” or whatever negative stereotype I had absorbed into my identity.
With time though, I realized I could learn to work WITH my brain. For example, I can now see when I am beginning to enter a period of overwhelm. I can then take action in that moment to prevent myself from hitting a nervous system overload.
I also understand myself well enough now to know what contributes to overwhelm, and I structure my day accordingly. For example, I don’t schedule social meetings after work because I know I’m already exhausted by that point and my brain will obsess about it all day.
I used to “should” myself. Jackie, you should be more social. Jackie, you should really get out more to make more friends.
I now trust that my body knows what it needs. I spend a lot of time by myself recalibrating - doing art, doing puzzles, watching shows, writing essays like this one, etc. My brain needs this time to process and integrate all of the information it takes in from the world.
Before, it was hard to fully enjoy my alone time because I felt like I “should” be doing something else. I was trying to craft what a neurotypical life looked like.
My life will never look like most people’s. And that’s ok. We don’t have the same desires.
The more and more I have accepted my natural desires and worked with who I am, the better I feel. Ironically, I have less extreme emotional ups and downs now. I have less moments of autistic overwhelm or meltdown. I have less spiraling thoughts.
Yes, they absolutely do still happen. But they don’t throw me off the edge of a cliff like they used to. I feel they are getting less and less frequent, as well as less and less intense.
I think another thing that has helped in this area is that I have made a concerted effort to learn and identify the positive autistic characteristics that I experience. Before, it was easy to focus on all that was “wrong” with me.
Now, I see many ways that my autistic brain enhances my life (I’ve even written essays about it called The Joys of Being Autistic).
Like most humans, I’m guessing the rest of my life will continue to be a journey toward fully embracing who I am. I just never thought embracing would look quite like this.
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