I thought I knew what Autism was; a close male relative was diagnosed with Aspergers when he was a young child, I watched him grow from a baby to the amazing young man he is now.
As it turned out, I didn’t know very much at all and what I did know was based on outdated stereotypes. For example, Autistic people have no empathy.
This last year has been a bit of a roller coaster ride, perhaps some may say it has been a journey of enlightenment, one which started with trying to overcome my social anxiety.
Okay, perhaps ‘a journey of enlightenment’ is a bit steep, I’m still trying to figure things out, im still learning what’s what and trying to change the way I see myself. I am still trying to work out how I feel about possibly being Autistic; I am currently on the waiting list for an assessment, but from what I have read and talking it through in therapy I think its pretty certain I will end up with a diagnosis. I am pretty certain I am Autistic.
Empathy and Emotions
I will let you in on a little secret.
Autistic people do have empathy!
To much empathy perhaps. Its one of the reasons I struggle with groups of people, I can feel the emotions they are experiencing, I can sense it in the atmosphere and I take it on board. When you can feel a mixture of different emotions from different people all at once it becomes confusing, the intensity of them often leaves me feeling overwhelmed and with a strong need to escape.
Afterwards, trying to decipher which emotions were mine to begin with and which belong to other people is rather difficult. It can take a while.
Which is why I avoid busy places when possible. Social Anxiety has ruled my life for so long.
I used to think it was an Anxiety thing, long before I knew about Autism, but no-one I spoke to about it understood what I meant, in fact the looks of skepticism I received put me off talking about it.
Even with one or two people I pick up on their emotions. Sometimes it is a really handy tool to have, I can tell when someone is lying to me for instance. But, it can also create its own confusion, when the emotion I feel from someone doesn’t match their body language or expressions it can result in misunderstandings. Which, let’s face it, is a lot of the time. People try to hide what they are feeling around others don’t they.
I struggle with my own emotions, Anxiety, Sadness, Fear, Anger, excitement, Stress to name a few, are all strong emotions and felt deeply. Sometimes I struggle to work out exactly what it is I am feeling, more so when I feel a variety of strong emotions at once. The intensity of them floor me. When I feel trapped in the midst of these emotions, there is no hope of me trying to explain to others what I am feeling because putting it into words is just to difficult.
It has been 4 months since the bombshell of Autism was dropped (it feels so much longer than that), I have experienced a mixture of emotions, fear and grief were a big part of that, but now I am a little more positive. As someone quite rightly pointed out to me, I am still the same person I have always been, I just have a greater understanding of my difficulties and strengths.
The Journey ahead
I am the type of person who likes to know how things work, Mental Health and Psychology …………………….. I have read tons of books and explored the Internet on. I am currently doing my second Mental Health course.
I now have a greater understanding of why I do what I do and why I react to certain situations the way I do, but I don’t know how I am supposed to overcome it and live with it. I wish there was a manual that told you how, but no such luck, so I am going to have to figure it out for myself.
Looking back over my life I am able to understand certain aspects better, like the difficulties I experienced at school or at work or with people. Some of it could have been down to emotional noise or sensitivity to sound and smell, some of it Anxiety and PTSD, but I have no idea how I am meant to deal with those reactions in the here and now, as they happen. How do I stop them from happening and not beating myself up over them when they do.