I've said this before: I thought that coming to terms with being autistic would be simple but the reality has been that it's possibly the most difficult thing I've ever done. Yes, this is another one of those "Learning to be Autistic" posts.
As time goes by I begin to realise some of the reasons why it's so hard.
Last night I was writing to someone and used a metaphor for my life - that I'd tried for decades to be a washing machine but it turned out I was a bicycle.
This morning I mentioned this to someone else, who said "Great metaphor ... it's like this ..." And she showed me a blog post, "A hair-dryer kid in a toaster-brained world." And that's a much better metaphor so for this little post I'm stealing it. I hope she doesn't mind me borrowing her rather fabulous metaphor. If you're not stopping right now to read that post, I can recommend that you do so.
The metaphor explains some of the reasons why I, along with many undiagnosed adult autistics, had a difficult life and why being diagnosed throws up so many more difficulties rather than it just being a pretty rubber stamp on a piece of paper.
The author of the blog explains some things - as to how the autistic brain is quite simply different to the NT (neurotypical) brain and how autistic people thus have different skills to NT people and can have great problems in a world that simply isn't geared to autistic people's needs. So if you grow up knowing you're autistic you can grow up knowing that you are different - but never less - and learn to be the best version of you that you could be.
But if you are autistic and grow up not knowing that then things become harder.
If you don't know you're autistic then you grow up ignorant of your hair-dryer self and are taught to emulate the toaster people. You spend your life trying to make toast. And you keep trying. And keep trying. And you fail so many times. And even when you spend an age working very hard to make toast it ends up looking like very strange toast. You spend your life wondering how everyone seems able to make toast so easily. You look at the way the toast just pops up in their lives, how they have heat settings, a defrost button, a neat tray to catch all the crumbs. And you do everything in your power to toast bread, muffins, crumpets just as they do and to toast in different ways. Life becomes a frustration of failing to toast bread and you know you're failing and a failure because you think that you're created to be a toaster. You're a bit useless because your toast making capabilities have obviously been destroyed. But you keep trying each day to fit in as a good, functioning toaster.
So life can become very difficult and then you can be given all kinds of diagnoses as to why you're a rubbish toaster. You're a toaster with borderline personality disorder. You're a toaster with schizotypal personality disorder. You're schizoid. You're schizophrenic. You're narcissistic. You're depressed and that can only be solved by drugs and then therapy to become a working toaster. I've received all those diagnoses and all those experts who diagnosed me completely missed the truth that I'm autistic and transgender.
In short you're a complete mess. Because you can't make a decent slice of toast.
But then, eventually, you learn the joyful truth: You're not a toaster after all. You're a hair dryer. Bliss. Wonderment. Excitement of excitements. You were never meant to make toast at all. You're not a failure, you just can't do something that you weren't made to do. Then you read and study and learn that as a hair-dryer there are lots of things you can do. And you think that's the end of it. I'm autistic. Hallelujah! That explains it all. Let's move on with the rest of my life as an autistic hair-dryer.
It doesn't work out that way.
What I've learned is that learning you are autistic changes everything. Everything. Your entire life has to be seen and understood in a brand new, unfamiliar way. And that process can become more difficult than you could possibly have imagined.
Today I've been thinking hard about just one aspect of this process: the coping mechanisms and all the things I learned over decades to get through life. And today I come to a stark conclusion: All those things were learned in order to get through life as some kind of toaster. I sought so hard to be what I'd now call neurotypical, rather than seeking to be gloriously autistic and proud of who I really am.
That means I've now got to set myself to examine everything I ever found to get through life. Because I am not a toaster and no longer want to be a toaster. I don't want to try to make toast and be a terrible version of something that I never was in the first place. I want to be me and learn to become the very best version of myself that can exist in this world, to become free, to become fully human, fully myself, fully at one with autism and and with every other aspect of myself.
I need to look at every coping strategy. Every bit of therapy. Every self-help technique. Every little tip I've got in order to get through the day while trying to make toast. And I've got to ask myself serious questions about them:
Will this strategy help me to become free as myself, or will it hinder that process due to being wholly centred around toast making?
If the strategy is a toast-centric strategy, can it teach me anything about how to be a hair-dryer?
What strategies are equally applicable for a toaster and a hair-dryer? And I know that there are many things that are good tools for everyone to use. Because we're all human and whether autistic or NT we share our humanity and share so many traits as individual human beings.
If a toast strategy does turn out to be of use, does that actually make it something I want to continue with, or are there other strategies that would more effectively help me learn to be myself?
What strategies are stopping me shine, stopping me live - even though I might have spent many years using them in order to try to shine and live?
And what new strategies could I learn to replace the old? Strategies that will help me be who I was always meant to be.
I don't know the answers to any of those questions yet. It's going to be an interesting ride finding the answers.