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  • Writer's pictureJulie Terry-Jenner

Me? Autistic?? Huh!!!

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

The day I discovered I am autistic and have ADHD was quite literally life-changing!

Throughout my life, I have had all kinds of struggles and pain. I have been in more abusive relationships, including friendships, than I care to admit to. I had always put it down to my rough start in life, in feeling not good enough, to being wrong somehow but not really knowing why. There were so many relevant reasons as to why I was the way I was that my skills in masking and fitting in were off the chart. I could almost convince myself I was just like “normal” people.

I have lost count of how many times people jokingly called me quirky or very different to what they expected. I seemed to surprise people in all kinds of ways, depending on which version of myself I presented on any given day. How I was with others very much depended on how safe I felt with them, and if I thought they could handle me being me.

My counselling training, and the years of counselling I had to do as a requirement for this, only further aided my skills at fitting in, and acting in a certain way and gave me understandable reasons for some of my thinking patterns and odd behaviours. I have always felt things so deeply and it could become overwhelming, but I never managed to express this how I thought I did, and never really understood some of what I felt. It would cripple me at times, I would hide from the world, and I would push important people out of my life through fear of being hurt even more. Shame and fear of humiliation were near-constant companions, and it took me a very long time to learn to soothe those feelings. Counselling gave rational explanations for all of this and, for a while, I thought I was “cured” of everything that hurt me.

Masking and acting in order to fit in is so damaging, and exhausting. Like many people with autism, I have suffered anxiety and depression many times throughout my life without understanding that something more than life and my experiences were driving this. I didn’t know my brain was wired differently from the majority of people, so I didn’t know that no matter how hard I tried, there are some things I will never do like others.

Well, how little did I know!!! Some time ago, I was talking with a friend who was going through a rough time of things. He started telling me about some of his experiences leading up to his diagnosis. Something he said about interactions with people got me thinking and started me researching. I pulled together my life of confusion, abusive relationships, self-harming behaviours including a suicide attempt early in life, repetitive behaviours in the form of all my strict routines, how fixed my thought patterns get at times, how overwhelmed I could get in situations that others were fine with, meltdowns, too much emotion and so much more. Finally, I had the real answer. Now I am not usually one for labels, as there are times they can be so damaging. But what the labels of autism and ADHD gave me was an explanation, a deeper understanding of myself, and ways I could try to manage life and human interactions better – without having to mask!

I have worked in mental health for many years now, and have been a counsellor with a busy practise for over 6 years, and during this time I thought I understood stigma and ignorance. I didn’t have a clue really until I experienced it for myself. When I started telling people about my autism, I got a variety of responses. Some laughed and shared how not surprised they were. Others said that I don’t look or act autistic so didn’t know whether to believe me. Others were disgusted and accused me of using it as an excuse for bad behaviour. I was even negatively judged by a fellow professional and told I just needed to do what was needed to fit in and be accepted.

Some of these reactions left me feeling crushed and imposter syndrome kicked in big style. I retreated from my personal world and my professional world became even more important to me, as this was somewhere I could just be me, be accepted, and be able to provide something that helped others.

One of the hardest things I had to deal with was the loss of two really important friendships, and yet again me not understanding why. With one of them, there was no warning and, as far as I could see, we went from being very close to her blocking me and even intentionally ignoring me when she saw me out. Yet again I was left feeling bewildered and having so many questions about what I did wrong. I hid from the world for months, and it was a slow process to step back into life again. During this time, I learned more about how autism and ADHD affects me, what my traits are, and I learned to embrace every one of them – well the ones I had discovered anyway as I am still learning now.

What all this gave me was a huge feeling of freedom. I now understood many of my quirky traits, and why I didn’t fit in everywhere and I started to give less fucks. I know I am not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and I am ok with that. Finally giving myself permission to be me has been the best feeling. I now understand my highs and lows better and can use strategies to avoid or minimise burnout. I accept there are areas of everyday language where I might miss the point, and now feel able to ask for a little clarity. I understand why I read Harry Potter repeatedly and why my morning and nighttime routines are so vital to me. More importantly, I have stopped fighting all of this.

My life could have been so different had this been picked up and diagnosed earlier in life. I could have been saved from so much hurt and confusion. I wouldn’t have had to work so hard to act like a “normal” person and possibly wouldn’t have suffered so much rejection. I could have accepted my difference rather than seen myself as always being wrong. Being autistic doesn’t mean I am broken, wrong, or stupid. Autistics aren’t always 8-year-old boys banging their heads on the floor or Rain Man. There are as many versions of autism as there are autistic people. There are more undiagnosed autistic women than men, possibly because women are taught to mask in order to fit in better.

No two autistics are the same. The spectrum of behaviours and difficulties is full and the extremes are so very different. We can’t just NOT be autistic, it’s a lifelong difference. We are as capable as anyone else, and like everyone else this is within our individual capacities. I bet you already know someone who is autistic and doesn’t know. That someone might even be you.

*** If you would like support or help to talk about anything in this blog, please get in touch. I know things can be confusing at times, and that's why I am here. I provide a non-judgmental safe space to ensure you get the best possible outcome from your sessions. I offer both online and in-person treatments. My therapy room is based in Alton, Hampshire. I'm on the Hampshire/Surrey Boarder and just 15 minutes from Basingstoke and Farnham. Talk Helps is at the end of a direct line from London, Waterloo. ***

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