It’s now been 18 months since I realised that I was probably autistic and only a little less time since my GP agreed with me that in all likelihood that was the reason for my emotional difficulties and referred me for an NHS diagnosis. The wheels turn slowly with the UK’s over-stretched health service and I have been warned that I might be waiting another 4 years before my assessment. The waiting time is far from ideal, but for myself at least I feel that the damage has already been done and a five year wait is nothing. This is not the case for my children: my daughter is having a private assessment straight after her GCSE exams and my son, who is 18, through talking to his best friend (a diagnosed autistic) has realised that he has both autistic and ADHD traits – the one masking the other and is planning to spring this new-found revelation on his new university in the autumn.
My husband remarked earlier this month how much better my mental health has been since I realised I had autism. Which isn’t to say I’ve been emotionally healthy throughout the past year and a half: I’ve had panic attacks, one massive autistic meltdown and a couple of incidents where I self-harmed, but I haven’t suffered my annual depressive episode and my mind isn’t constantly plagued with thoughts of how hopeless my life is and how impossible it is for me to be less unlikeable. I’m finally at peace with who I am and I’ve realised, as my many therapists would try to tell me, that it’s OK to accept myself as I am.
I do believe that a lack of either an autism diagnosis or an acknowledgement from a medical professional (and I’ve seen many over the years) that autism was even a possibility played a huge part in prolonging my emotional pain. When all around you, you see evidence that you are not accepted by your peers despite all your best efforts, a clinician’s claim that you just need to “accept yourself” is going to sound hollow. As people love to point out to others in comment threads online: “You’re the common denominator in your life.” If everyone you meet seems to have a problem with you sooner or later, maybe you really are a terrible person and if you can’t find a way to not be a terrible person …
This appears to be a common experience; that undiagnosed autistics suffer for decades with recurrent depression and/or anxiety disorders. Some people want their lives back, so they can grow up knowing they’re autistic. I understand that, but I’m kind of OK with how things have turned out. Would I have been even more reclusive than I currently am if I knew I was autistic from childhood, would I have married my husband, would I have had children even? While it’s nice to imagine that my life would have been better if I hadn’t spent the last thirty years suffering from recurrent depression, it actually might not have. Certainly it has made me more empathic and sensitive to the suffering of others. I could have ended up a massive jerk/cow/bitch.
But it doesn’t follow that I think it’s a good idea for every young autistic person to wait as long as I did.