Two things changed my life when I learned I was autistic:
I finally understood why my brain functions as it does
It opened the door to learning new strategies to work with my brain as it is
Before learning I was autistic, I desperately tried many strategies and therapies to help me think and feel less. Most of them didn’t work.
I’ve now learned new strategies to work with my autistic mind. Some of those strategies I learned from reading material and others from my fellow autistics. Some of those strategies I already knew, but felt ashamed to use.
For example, whenever I get upset emotionally, it’s like I don’t have access to my logical brain. I need time to calm down. When I say “time” I don’t mean 10 seconds of breathing or “walking away.” I mean I need a quiet night to myself and some good sleep. Then I can approach the subject the next day with a clear head.
Before I knew I was autistic, I used to feel ashamed to use that strategy because I thought I should be able to “face things” and “work through them” right away. I thought I shouldn’t even be so upset in the first place. I thought I should be able to get more control of myself.
Now I just accept that this is how my brain works. It’s not that I need to try harder or be better. I just need to do what works best with my mind. I instinctively knew before, I just thought there was something “wrong” with me for needing it.
Another example is my sensory system. I used to think I needed to not be so “sensitive” to things like chemical smells, overwhelming environments, or night driving. I thought that if I could just get my “anxiety” under control, those things would stop bothering me. I could be like other people and not notice them. I even had hopes that I could enjoy busy environments.
Deep down though, I knew I didn't like any of those things.
Deep down, I was right. When I learned I was autistic, I learned about our enhanced sensory perception. I also learned that no amount of exposure or therapy will change my sensory system. It meant I could honor what I knew all along. I could simply ask someone to unplug that horrific chemical air freshener, tell my friend I cannot drive at night, or decline to go to social gatherings in overwhelming environments.
In essence, learning I was autistic was like learning I could trust my intuition all along.