As I was going through the process of getting a diagnosis – which started with yet another treatment for over 25 years of depression and anxiety until I met a therapist who finally became suspicious and suggested we first exclude the possibility of autism; which, it turns out, we could not exclude – some people around me asked, “But what will a diagnosis do for you? It’s not going to change anything. Do you really need a piece of paper?”
Technically, of course, they were entirely correct. A piece of paper doesn’t change anything. Reality stayed the same. But fundamentally, a few things did change and a piece of paper does make all the difference – most of all in being believed.
First of all, I finally got to the bottom of the problem. Depression and anxiety were only symptoms. For years I struggled to function in a world I did not understand, believing that I was lazy, uncooperative, stupid, stubborn, manipulative, lying…and so on. As it turns out, I’m not – my brain just works differently. I found some of my own worth as a person.
Second, I am more free to be myself – now that I know a bit more about who that self is – and can spend my energy on what I’m good at, instead of waste it trying to do things I will never be able to do properly. I found direction.
Third, even though many people still do not understand after many many explanations, I can at least now explain what is going on, and why I cannot do some things, and can do others. Why I react the way I do, and why the way I react is slowly changing as I am returning to my default setting, and get rid of the many unnatural changes I made over the years in an effort to fit in. A few people get it, most don’t, but that doesn’t matter. I am learning to protect myself. I found boundaries.
In church, this translates to finding that I am not unspiritual, no more so than the average believer, at any rate. I am not a control freak (well…no more than autists usually are. Lack of predictability and clarity will cause us to try and create it for ourselves, and that shows up as control-freak-like behaviour as we try to make sense of the world around us, but it is a survival strategy, not a personality trait). I WAS going to type ‘I am not a heretic’ but I think, after what I’ve written in this blog so far, that the jury might still be out on that one 🙂
It also sets me free to explore why some things seem to be so difficult, some things do not work properly, and why some things work so very well. To not be forced into behaviour that, to me, is unnatural, and thus takes an enormous amount of energy. Not continually hold back what are natural reactions, just because they are not socially acceptable. Leaving church on the verge of tears most of the time from sheer frustration and exhaustion is not how it should be. I’m pleased to report that I now only leave church on the verge of tears less than half of the time, so that’s a major improvement.
It sets me free to work out my salvation – MINE, not anyone elses – and connect to God in the best possible way, instead of only barely getting in touch with Him because I am trying ways that my brain just won’t do. It’s been like being told that to connect to the person living down the street is utterly, vitally important, more important than anything I’ll ever do in my life – but I can talk to them only via smoke signals and Morse code. Now, I can find ways to walk down the street and talk properly, meet for coffee, set up a joint project to trim the hedge and all the other things that allows the building and growing of a relationship. Yes, the smoke signals and Morse code would have done, in the end. If that’s all I would have had at my disposal all my life, and had done with them what I could, I am sure the mercy of God would have done the rest. But this is a lot more fun and a lot more satisfying.
So, no – diagnosis hasn’t changed anything, and yet it makes all the difference.