I had suspected this for a long time, however a formal diagnosis in 2017 confirmed that I do in fact have high functioning Autism. Why does this matter at my age? What led me to this point?
To begin with it has actually taken me two years to decide whether I should actually share this with anyone. For many it will be a shock, for some it might be a case of – aha – now that makes sense.
Many little things over the years have made me suspect this might be the case. But things really came to a head when I started Ryding2Health Ltd and had to run a business. In the initial 12 months I began to feel very overwhelmed, incredibly stressed and actually believed I couldn’t achieve what I wanted to achieve because I felt like I was – ummm – broken in some way, or maybe going crazy. Everything around me seemed so simple but I just couldn’t grasp it. I nearly cracked.
I have a very black and white way of looking at things. I struggle to adapt to other people’s way of thinking at all.
How does this look in real life?
In sport – I gave up playing rugby in a team.. Teams were just not my thing. I quit as a referee too when they wouldn’t select me for the panel. I was successful in triathlon for a number of years at a very high level, a very individual sport. I quit all together when I couldn’t keep competing at that level. I tried road cycling (again, groups) and hated it.. Actually only did it once then quit.
In education – I started playing the flute at age 6. Had (and still have) perfect pitch. I did a music degree but then quit playing all together when I couldn’t achieve my goal of becoming a professional musician.
There are some things I just can’t get. It doesn’t matter how hard I try. Like maths. You might as well be talking gobbledygook to me. Numbers are such abstract concepts that they just don’t mean anything to me individually. It is really hard to describe what I mean.
Numbers on their own are just like hieroglyphics. Like one of those visual puzzles where you have to study them for a while to see it… numbers are like that. I can do it – to a point… but it takes a lot of concentration and mental hard work to do so. So with that in mind it’s amazing that I manage to write relatively accurate budget forecasts, do my own GST, payroll and PAYE. But at the same time it’s not. Because if I have a set of rules to follow then that makes things really really simple.
This black and white thinking has caused conflict in many areas of my life and my work. It was the constant conflicts that actually drove me to seek a diagnosis. And when I got it it was like an instant cure to my ‘madness’. Suddenly the whole world made a lot more sense to me, like someone had finally switched the light on. All my ‘weirdness’ suddenly had a name to it.
You might actually wonder why does it matter if I haven’t got it written on a piece of paper? It matters because that piece of paper that gave me the reassurance that I was not going stark raving bonkers. That black and white evidence was what I needed.
Understanding people is a mystery to me completely. As a business owner that is not at all ideal. I was struggling to deal with customers, had no idea how to deal with conflict / complaints (from customers or from staff) and my solution was to lock myself in my office because even numbers are easier to deal with than people and that’s saying something. Then the customers complained that they never saw me because I was always in my office.
See, running a one man ship was easy. It’s like doing a triathlon – just me to deal with. When you add staff, and even more customers, that makes the whole thing a bit complicated for someone who has autism.
I would frequently ask my husband Mark for a ‘normal person’s view’ of a conflict situation because I was all too aware that my view was often the wrong one / a biased one.
This became a big problem when I didn’t know that it was a problem.
As a relaxation massage therapist I would get totally irate with everyone because all the noises outside the room sounded crazy loud.. How could anyone possibly relax..!!! Till I realised it was just me.. and that my hearing wasn’t normal at all.
It also makes sleeping really hard too.
I hate change.. And like detail.. Fine detail
So adapting to a growing business and making systems that work was a massive challenge.
Like… I’m still using planning templates from when I did my training as a PT. I finally decided this week that I needed to change them because they were creating me (and everyone else) masses of extra work.
I LOVE that the booking system we use allows me to colour code my calendar.. This makes my autism very happy indeed!
I HATE when the other staff don’t do things exactly the way that I do.
I was just thinking (at the same time as thinking should I even post this) …
What impact did the diagnosis actually have on my life..?
My business is doing better, because I have accepted that I’m different and it doesn’t mean I’m crazy, just wired slightly differently. This means my systems and processes are now more autism friendly to me. When I need to do something business wise that I know will be mentally taxing for me, I take myself off to a quiet space. I also prioritise ME time more than I used to. Because someone with autism needs that quiet time in order to be able to keep functioning, not have a melt down and not suffer from complete sensory overload. I have also accepted that there are many view points not just mine. This means I do not usually go with my first reaction to a situation. I know I have to stop and think about it first (and try and put myself in other peoples shoes… which is a giant challenge but I can do it if I concentrate). Then I go to the pool for a ‘time out’ swim.
I’m not quite as stressed. Because I know that stressful things are probably not just me being mental, so I stop, reframe and remind myself that it’s my autism, and it’s ok. Then go to the pool for a swim afterwards for mental time out. Again. See a theme?
It has actually been quite a challenge and a long road to acceptance. Despite being an autism specialist teacher for many years, it’s an entirely different thing when it’s your very own self that you’re dealing with.
I’m not crazy.
I’m not mental
I’m not weird
I’m not a failure.
I am Autistic.