I am delighted to introduce to you Lee from Diary of a Sydney Mum, who is raising two gorgeous daughters, Chelsea (3.5), Audrey (2) and fur baby Burmese cat Mika with husband Jacob in the beautiful Sydney Hills.
Lee shares with us a very special story that I hold very close to my heart. Her diagnosis of Aspergers (Autism Spectrum Disorder).
Diary of a Sydney Mum
It’s been an eye opening few years as a Mum, and as someone who’s grappled with anxiety over many years, I have been seeing a psychologist to adapt to the change in my lifestyle and responsibilities. This woman has changed my life! I don’t say that lightly. Through seeing her fortnightly for about six months, she was able to recognise that a lot of my panic attacks were PTSD triggered, and that the reason I’ve always felt like a black sheep in life is because my brain is wired differently to most people’s.
Hearing the word “Aspergers” was almost comical at the time, I remember giggling inappropriately and then gawking, whispering “I can’t be – but of course I am”, in one absurd but profound (for me) sentence. It lifted a huge weight from my shoulders and gave me a box to hold all the quirks, challenges, limitations, embarrassments and exhaustions into. It explained so perfectly my life experience that I feel daft for not knowing all along. The beauty is that, I did know I was different. I just didn’t have a name for it. I feel like now, I hold the key to myself.
I have the power of knowledge which is invaluable. I’m now passionate about opening dialogue on Aspergers and mental health, and ending the stigma surrounding these topics.
Here’s what I’ve learnt about Aspergers, and myself, since my diagnosis a year ago:
Firstly, there are a few names which have come and gone in the history of Aspergers: High Functioning Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder. I call myself an Aspie, but when I explain my diagnosis with others, I say that I have Aspergers or that I’m on the Autism Spectrum.
Sharing the news of my diagnosis with family and friends, I’ve been met with responses ranging from understanding, to surprise, to disbelief – which tells me that there’s no one Autism profile, and that people who have Autism are as varied as those that don’t.
Historically, society’s understanding of Aspergers is based on the profile of abilities and development of boys and men. Male adaptations and behaviour can be quite conspicuous and therefore boys with Aspergers are (generally) diagnosed sooner, leading to early intervention and assistance.
Girls and women on the other hand, have the same core characteristics, however they use specific coping and adjustment strategies to camouflage their confusion and often achieve superficial social success. This unfortunately results in a far lesser rate of diagnosis and therefore assistance. While females may figure out “how to play the neurotypical game”, it comes at a psychological cost and results in emotional exhaustion, problems of self-identity and low self-esteem. Many females with Aspergers struggle with extreme anxiety and clinical depression. As I touched on earlier, I have battled both, though my most chronic challenge is an inability to turn off my mind. It churns with preparation, practise, performance, and analysis through every interaction I have with any animate and inanimate entity and process I encounter and it is thoroughly exhausting. Becoming a mother has exacerbated this. Juggling my anxiety and desire to appear normal, I pendulum between being a helicopter to hands-off, when my true heart just wants to be: present. I want to live in the first person yet I remain the puppeteer and commentator of myself. It’s an odd position to be in.
It’s not all bad news: Among a plethora of astounding abilities, a multitude of Aspien girls and women are intellectually gifted and their inclination and ability to focus on special interests gives rise to many becoming leaders in their fields. Aspien females are often extraordinarily empathetic and have a strong moral compass. I like to think I have the latter at least. Abilities aside, all Aspies and Auties are whole, valuable individuals who are capable of leading fulfilling lives.
With all of the above in mind, I am choosing to embrace my different theory of mind and forge an authentic life where my desire for structure, creature comforts, kindness and peace prevail. If you spend time with me then you probably already recognise some of my characteristics: I love to socialise, but huge crowds turn me mute (though wine does the opposite!). I love to host, but small talk makes me physically nauseous, so please don’t mind if I busy myself making a killer cheese platter while you settle in. Playdates are an awesome and necessary part of my week in forcing myself out of the house, but more often than not I want to play with the kids rather than chat to the parents because I can’t do both at once (so let’s also book a dinner sans kids, then I can focus on you!). Oh, and I take things very literally which is why I don’t always laugh at your jokes, oops! I am still me, but now I am kinder to myself and want to make up for the three decades of attempting to fit in.
To give you some more insight into how the mind of my Aspie mind works, I thought I’d share with you something that I wrote recently about my worldview.
Everything eventually connects.
I’ve read time and again that it is human nature to seek out patterns in our daily lives in order to feel like life has meaning. For example, those who notice the clock turning 11:11 each day, or those whose lucky number always appears in the most unlikely of places to remind them of their good fortune. Never mind that the clock has no choice but to pass through that minute twice a day and we see untold numerals by simply walking down the street at any given moment but of course our favourite digit always catches our eye. It’s a comfort to feel that that the world intended to have you in it; and there, where you are, in that given moment, was no coincidence but fate.
That feeling never came to me, that I’d been put in the right place at the right time, and life was planned with me as the captain steering a true course. I watched as my school friends chose careers and pursued study, confident in their decision and purpose. Others broke out to travel and gain worldly experience, itching to satisfy their craving for adventure. I yearned for neither; whilst I enjoy study, no one topic seemed thrilling enough to clutch my attention and efforts for three years; and though I dreamed about visiting the places I’d read about in books, it all felt like too much risk for not enough reward. I never vocalised my feelings because we’re told so often that there’s no success for drifters. I spent the next five years hopping between unfinished study, abruptly departed jobs, and struggling to maintain any real relationships. Fortunately, somewhere along the way, along came my (now) husband who introduced me to quiet thoughtfulness, and we have been married and have two children to keep us grounded.
Now, at the age of 30, I’m starting to see that the confusing, disorienting markers in this abstract dot-to-dot puzzle I call my life, were placed deliberately with the purpose of creating a beautiful picture. The world and my reason for being, has been coming into focus and my sight is almost crisp. I’m not left wondering about the relevancy of each decision I make; there is clarity in not just my next step but also the road ahead. The patterns aren’t simply numbers, they’re breadcrumbs and I’m on the home stretch.
I’ll leave you with a poem I came across, that reflects this point in time in my journey.
I tried it… fitting in, you know
I’d change my colour, change my face
From red to blue, from green to pink
Masochistic attempts to belong to some place.
You all thought I was one of you
Whoever ‘you’ were that day
I’d nod and smile and empathise
‘She understands’ you’d say.
But then I just knew that enough
Was enough, I couldn’t go on anymore
All the colours I’d turned merged into sludge brown
I was lost and fatigued to the core.
I thought about fading away into nothing
But then I began to see
All the times that I’d changed to try to match them
All those colours belong to me
And now when I stand, being me, being proud
Whole rainbows of colours appear I belong to myself,
I fit in where I want
Psychedelic Chameleon, I’m here!
– By Rachel Phillips, United Kingdom (taken from “I am AspienWoman”, Tania Marshall).