Starting therapy on the very first day of my university classes in August didn’t seem like a bad idea. No real crisis was happening, as I’ve experienced many times before (you know, like the catastrophic consequences of active alcoholism, an eating disorder, or intrusive thoughts causing me to fantasize about suicide but resort to sleeping instead). Rather, I was in a rut of overwhelm and discomfort….just managing to tread water and bear the weight of each day.
I was perpetually itchy in my own skin, teetering on the brink of self-destruction. The whole world was a tangle of untied loose ends surrounding me. From the outside, I was functioning, but on the inside, shutdown, disassociated, feeling incomplete compared to others. Occasional meltdowns of despair and frustration with no identifiable cause. Wanting to implode and disappear from the stabbing sensory overload that is a normal day with three children. Nothing new.
I’ve been on this treadmill for 12 years. A friend casually recommended a therapist (who happens to specialize in treating neurodiverse women…and be one herself). Maybe I should try again to get established in therapy, for once, while I’m not in the midst of a total breakdown. This was actually pretty poor timing from an academic perspective, with a new semester of classes beginning at the same time. Hello emotional upheaval and identity crisis! Goodbye control of focus and executive functioning!
This wasn’t apparent to me because I hadn’t really had a productive therapy experience in adulthood… just a handful of what amounted to interviews which led to meds, after which I would take the meds until I didn’t feel like it anymore. Productive therapy doesn’t exactly feel productive at first. At least not to someone like me, concerned with tangible products and tied loose ends.
It’s a mess. So much talking. I’ve never been one to talk about it. It’s often just made me feel even more messy on the inside…like losing myself. I never understood those lady friends that chat and process everything on the phone with each other. Or go to the gym together. Or the bathroom together! Why?! I am a solitary doer.
But here I was, coming to this office once a week to talk to this lady. So much latent hurt, and so many things explained. The last few months have been very disruptive to my familiar discomfort. They have been a whole new kind of uncomfortable, which I guess was the point? I’m still not sure.
As a matter of procedure, this therapist has incoming clients take the RDOS assessment… just to get an initial picture of your neurological situation. From these results, and our first few appointments, it became pretty clear that the disparate “issues” I’ve dealt with throughout my life could pretty neatly be explained under the umbrella of Asperger’s.
In the past, I’d self-deprecatingly referred to my problems as self-imposed. I had a pretty great childhood, by most accounts. My parents have always been extremely supportive. They didn’t hesitate to get me help when OCD became such a torment for me at the age of 10. That was my first diagnosis.
Being a high-achieving student, and a girl, I slipped through the crack that so many women on the spectrum do… even though I was well-acquainted with mental health services. I felt guilty that I had so many problems with no clear cause. But apparently it isn’t my fault. And there is even a name for it.
This revelation has been at once painful and a relief. First came the adrenaline storm where you take inventory of your entire life and obsessively research your condition to make some new sense of yourself. You question how to approach disclosing this new information to loved ones. Things are explained, and new questions arise.
The spectrum is so vast… you may question if you’re actually on it, or if it’s just an easy “excuse.” You mourn the idea of the person that you will never be. Then, you realize you’re still the person you always were. It’s a breaking down and rebuilding of identity. This process consumed me for a few months.
Now I’m at the end of this first phase. The drive is less intense. The same old loose ends are still there. I have been extremely fortunate to have had a support system throughout my life, and to have experienced unconditional love. Looking back through this new lens, I realize that I am not as self-sufficient as I’d always thought myself to be.
I want to learn how to maintain and strengthen my connections with the people who have given me that love and support. I want to fine-tune my masking and unmasking skills so that I can enter the workforce for the first time and help financially support my family.
I want to let go of the guilt and shame that has stifled me all my life. Generally, I want to be more comfortable in my own skin. I want to understand myself better so that I can help my daughters do the same. They are also likely aspies.
So I’ve let my therapist know that now I’m at the what now? stage of self-discovery. Talking is okay, and has given us a foundation, but my core recurring problems will still be there until I do some work. I’m coming out of the fog and looking for actionable steps.
I need a workbook to write in. I need practical coping strategies for things in my life that I can’t tailor to my comfort zone. I need to sort out which loose ends to tie and which to let loose. So, that’s what we’re going to do, I guess. And after some processing, I’ve realized that starting therapy in the fall was as good a time as any. It’s a revelation that is extremely difficult for my Aspie mind to accept: that Time is the biggest loose end, never to be tied.