Finding your authentic self after diagnosis
There has been much discussion lately, in the online forums I attend , about masking and finding one’s own identity.
How to drop the mask and be more authentic? How to know who I really am beneath all the adaptive and self protective behaviors I have learned over my lifetime? How do I know which parts are “real” and which parts are camouflage for self protection or ease of coping?
I was at a loss for a long time about these questions. For me a lot of these questions did not apply because as I had aged, I had adjusted my style of dress, my social behavior, my willingness to put up with discomfort, etc.
I had become more authentic to myself for the most part before I learned of my autism.
It might be a process of ageing that we become less willing to put up with social and physical discomfort or meaningless rituals or distressing social situations, or I might have been lucky to have sorted out sources of discomfort and to have allowed myself to discard those things that were most difficult and distressing to me.
I understand the need to sort it all out, and to self accommodate in order to have the best experiences that life has to offer and to eliminate pain and discomfort where we can.
May I suggest we start with the things that we find most difficult and distressing? By figuring out different ways to do things, we can eliminate at least some of the things that are hardest for us to tolerate.
I learned to avoid physical discomfort first. Stopped spending hours on clothing, hair, makeup, and worrying about being “in style” or if I looked right. Flat shoes, loose fitting clothing, easy hair cut, minimal makeup applied only for very special times. Works for me! Even within dress codes, unless a certain specific uniform is required, there is usually some leeway.
I got rid of the scratchy couch that I could not bear to sit on, the bright flickering fluorescent lights. When I lived alone I did not use TV or Radio. I now remove myself to my quiet zone if my husband wants to participate in things that drive me wild (TV and Radio for example).
I have bright clear lighting that doesn’t flicker in places where I need it for reading and close work.
I stopped forcing myself to go to concerts, listening to podcasts or videos, trying to interact in large groups (4 or more is a large group to me), stopped going to restaurants, shopping malls, and other places that caused my sensory struggles to make me anxious and put me in ‘stampede mode”. What was the point?
If things like wedding receptions, anniversary parties, retirement parties, etc send you into panic or meltdown, consider a congratulatory card, note, email, or phone call along with polite regrets.
( you don’t have to explain, just say you are sorry you missed their big day but wanted to send congratulations or whatever message you’d like to give).
I found new ways to get a lot of things done, adapting them to my sensory struggles so that I no longer suffered loud noises, chaotic surroundings, etc.
In replacing those old painful experiences I found joy in solitary walks in nature, taking photographs, doing crafts, listening to my choice of music (peaceful or upbeat and not dissonant, no lyrics since I can’t readily process spoken or sung words), I found the ‘real’ me.
I lost a lot of anxiety and anguish by simply declining invitations to loud parties, noisy social gatherings such as dinners in restaurants, classrooms, malls, etc and substituting meeting with one or 2 people for quiet shared activities.
It may require others in your life to make adjustments too, or you might need to compromise to keep peace, but I urge you to find your most distressing activities and find ways to eliminate them or change them to things that provide pleasure or at least reduce discomfort.
Change clothing, change shopping habits, change the way you socialize or interact with others, change decor or arrangements within your home to accommodate your worst struggles. Many of us have it in our power to make adjustments that can make life so much better. You do not have to do anything one certain way, or in many cases you might not have to do it at all.
Sometimes we need to just stop and consider alternatives. Change can be scary, but taken in little bites, and not all at once, sometimes changes can bring about a lot of relief and comfort in exchange for the pain, anxiety and frustration.
What can you do, one step at a time to remove painful experiences from your life and to substitute or build new and pleasant experiences for yourself?