‘After a life of pretending to be normal, I finally let myself be me.’: Woman diagnosed with autism, ADHD as an adult

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“This story may feel disjointed, and I apologize my writing skills are rusty. But this is the easiest way I know how to tell my story. The last few months are something I am still trying to process and writing it out is a daunting task. Writing out my backstory and what led me to where I am today would require several novels whose length rivals that of any George RR Martin book, but I will include what I can to hopefully tell my story clearly.

young girl smiling
Courtesy of Eli

Growing up in a Christian household meant I was constantly inundated with purity culture and the expectation I remain perfect. It was a cacophony of rules and beliefs that tangled my life into a theological maze that left me constantly terrified. Over the last 4 years, the behavior of my once Christian brothers and sisters has reached new levels of depravity I can no longer ignore. This meant deciding what I still believed was true, and what now felt like a dark and evil lie. Deconstructing my faith is terrifying, and I spoke to so many fellow deconstructionists who felt the same way I did: Christianity wasn’t working anymore, but we didn’t want to end up believing in nothing. The thought of no higher power was terrifying to me. Growing up in the church means Christianity was woven into the foundations of my identity. Changing those beliefs also creates a massive shift in my identity that has rippled through my entire life. This was the beginning of my deconstruction process.

Christian purity culture taught me my beauty was something to be ashamed of, the behavior of men was my responsibility, and my sexuality belonged to everyone but me. These last 5 years, my partner and I have been working to disentangle those beliefs that resided deep in my heart. Relearning my sexuality is anything but evil has been a challenge, one I still think about on a daily basis, but this last year has seen both new improvements and new questions. Questions I was never allowed to ask before.

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In addition to working through my deconstruction, I have been continuing to work through my mental health. The panic attacks and insomnia have been part of my life since I was younger. Paralyzing, life-altering panic attacks. We had been working to treat them but new questions were emerging, maybe there was more to it than simply a panic disorder? My partner asked if I considered I had ADHD, but not all the pieces fit. However, the research segued me in a direction I never expected. I realized I am Autistic, specifically ADHD/Autistic.

I think a neurotypical person might think such a revelation would be devastating, but any Austist who discovers their diagnoses later in life will tell you, it’s one of the biggest reliefs of their life. Suddenly, every moment you felt alien, the reason any kind of interaction outside of your safe space is exhausting, your ticks and quirks you always hid make perfect sense. The sensation that surprised me the most was the freedom I suddenly felt. I’m not sick, I’m not broken, I just run on a different operating system. I have different needs than most people, and there’s nothing wrong with ensuring those needs are met. I felt free to build a life that worked around me and stop trying to work my way through a life designed for people different from myself.

couple with two dogs
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Around the same time as realizing I was ADHD and autistic, I started feeling that deep and frustrating restlessness that stirs deep in your soul. Anyone with ADHD reading this knows exactly what I mean. It’s the existential crisis of wondering if everything you’re destined to do is so mundane. Nothing you do can cure that boredom because you’re desperately searching for so much more. You feel empty and lost.

So to recap, I started deconstructing the belief system I was raised on, began questioning my sexuality, realized a major mental health diagnosis, and struggled to decide the future I wanted all within the span of a few months. Any one of such an identity crisis would be enough to send someone into a spiral, experiencing all four at once was more than I could handle. I explained to my partner it felt my identity had been built up like a Jenga tower. I started removing bricks—many foundational and thus pillars of my existence—at the same time, I was piling new bricks on top. Yanking out old bricks, frantically stacking new ones led to a complete collapse. I broke.

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Courtesy of Eli

What I needed to pull myself back up was surprising and to be honest, I am not sure I can fully explain it but I will do my best. I realized I had no idea who I was anymore. I had never asked myself, ‘What would make me happy?’ Only ‘What does God want me to do?’ or ‘How do I make my parents proud?’ I have the perfect partner, he’s truly an angel, but I found myself looking for space. It took a few weeks to realize I was simply struggling to rediscover myself while so tightly tied to someone else. I didn’t need a separation or by any means a divorce, just some time. He relentlessly encouraged me to do whatever I needed to be ok again. When I tentatively mentioned spending a few months in another country without him, he lovingly agreed this was what I needed. I can never express enough gratitude for his selflessness through this time.

I booked a trip and have started putting the pieces back together, slowly and intentionally. Questioning every brick I stack and giving myself unlimited grace and mercy. Reminding myself again and again that everyone is allowed mistakes and one mistake won’t ruin my entire life—contrary to what my upbringing taught me. I started letting myself be autistic which might sound strange to most but after a life of pretending to be normal, I finally let myself be me. A remarkable amount of anxiety was lifted when I started giving myself what I needed. Tools to block out overstimulation, toys, and gadgets to aid in stimming, permission to move, wiggle, and pace whenever I needed to. I realized stimming helped burn off nervous energy before it became a panic attack. All along my mind and body knew what to do to deal with my anxiety, but I always stopped it to conform with the people around me.

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Courtesy of Eli

Easing the expectations of the church and Christianity from my life felt like taking a deep breath for the first time in a while. One of the most surprising shifts was realizing I now get to unconditionally love everyone for exactly who they are. Not quietly, and often even subconsciously, judging people’s lives through the lens of theology I was raised on. This unconditional love and acceptance I began to extend to myself. I began actively loving my body, instead of treating it as dirty and sinful. I also found myself feeling more spiritually alive than I had in years. I was no longer living in contention with my higher power, I was flowing through life with them. God, the Universe, whoever you want to call it, became so wonderfully real and peaceful to me in a way I had never experienced. I wasn’t focused on following doctrine, for once I was simply focused on life.

In 2 days, I leave for South Korea for 2 to 3 months and I actually feel far more excited than nervous—a feeling I’m not used to. The opportunity to learn new skills that could help me decide where I want my future to go has come along as well and I truly can’t wait to see where this time in my life takes me. My partner remains patient and selfless as I push myself through this uncertain and transformative time and for that I will always be grateful.

If you’re ever considering reinventing yourself, know this: it’s terrifying and painful. You might lose people in your life and find yourself wandering through a lot of uncertainty, but becoming yourself brings more peace and joy than you’ve ever known. I am lighter, more liberated and staring down a blank canvas I finally get to paint myself.”

Courtesy of Eli

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