Learning to love myself

I feel very emotional tonight. It is my last day of being 32. This is long and pretty much my life story so bear with me, I couldn’t really fit 33 years on a meme 😂🙈

Three years ago, on my 30th birthday, I realised I am autistic. Tomorrow is not just my birthday but it is also my autie-versary.

Life felt very scary and very challenging for a long time. I never felt safe, even as a very little girl. I started to school refuse age about 8, around the time my parents separated. I would make up illnesses so I didn’t have to go. Later, I started stealing. I have always struggled with selective mutism and school would say, Kitty is bright, but she never contributes in class (she chats to her friends though…). It was always my problem to work harder on. No-one knew that the environment was too much for me. That I was already working really very hard on doing the best I could. They didn’t know that I have attention difficulties.

My parents were into Friends of the Earth when I was little. That was fun. We planted trees and collected money. After my parents split up my dad started working in climate change and researching sustainable development. He would talk to me about his catastrophic fears for the future. About ways my brother and I could prepare for an apocalypse. It was very hard. My OCD got out of control. The world already felt very scary. I felt totally responsible for fixing climate change. I thought, if I die, I will go to hell for not having fixed this, so I never tried to kill myself. It was better to be alive and terrified than in hell.

I was diagnosed with two different infertility conditions very young – a balanced translocation and polycystic ovary syndrome. The future looked so bleak. I probably shouldn’t have children because climate change, but even if I did want them, it seemed insurmountably hard. I was bullied at school, and I couldn’t see that I would ever find anyone to love me and spend my life with anyway. Never pictured a wedding.

I left home young and drank and partied my way through life. Tried to stay out of my head as much as possible to not think about the climate and everything else. Because what could I do about it? I didn’t know I was depressed, autistic, have OCD and probably ADHD. I didn’t know I have attachment difficulties. I just thought the world was very very scary and I was failing, badly.

When I was 21 I became ill and was tested for a brain tumour. It was very scary and because I was ill, I couldn’t run away any more. I told God I would start living my life for something, that I didn’t want to run away any more. And I had a vision of a little boy. Two years later I met Pete, and he found out we could be funded for IVF with PGD. And that’s what we did, and almost five years ago, my son was born. I was 28.

My 20s had been hard, too – but things were improving. I had a breakdown at 23 and I lost some close friends and took it very hard. It lasted a few years and it forced me to confront my life. I started working on my mental health at that point – really working on it, with everything I had. I knew it was my only option if I wanted different from my life. I had dropped out of uni already. I had to opt out of having a career in order to choose my mental health.

Until we had our son, it was hard to overcome that legacy of things not going right. I was just a dropout. But something I did have was Pete. And Pete really believed in me. He was happy to support me to get better. And he believed not only that I would get better but also that we would have a baby. He is the antidote to me. Life has been pretty good to Pete. He is a resilient person and he has been able to overcome challenges. And he has given me that gift, and he gives me that, all the time. That security. That faith. That hope.

I feel like that’s not spoken about enough in regards to mental health. Yes, people can work on their mental health. But often, at least in my experiences, breakthroughs are needed in life as well. The story that person is living might need to change. Positive thinking can’t change a life where everything has hurt, all by itself. And as a society, we could do more to create positive change in people’s lives.

Sam changed *EVERYTHING* when he came along. God had trusted me enough to give me a child. I had a job to do. And so much joy and energy came into my life with Sam. A new fight I hadn’t had before. He is hands down the best thing that has ever happened to me. He was so unexpected, because after the life I’d had, I just expected IVF would fail too. But it didn’t. It worked first time. And almost five years later, here he is. My baby. My miracle.

When Sam was one, my mental health collapsed. Completely. I was suicidal and couldn’t get through the day. I didn’t know how to take care of this little boy. I had no one to look after me. Pete had to work, so we had income.

Looking back, a lot of changes happened just about that time. My husband started a new job. We put our house on the market to move here. Searched for a new house. There was also the ebola epidemic and the conflict in Syria taking off. And those triggered all those nightmare fears I had about climate change and the future. I was living back in my teenage head again.

My mental health also took a new battering right when my daughter turned one, but there were no other life changes accompanying, so, I suspect there is unresolved trauma from being that age myself. It seems strange it started bang on one both times.

We moved here. And I was trying to hold it together because I didn’t know what else to do, but I could barely get through the day for feeling so awful, and I couldn’t look after my son, and I knew I couldn’t, and I’d wanted him so very much, that the guilt was immense. He started to struggle with behaviour and I blamed myself and felt horrendous.

And then. And then.

I turned 30. A year after my crisis started. He was just about to turn 2. And just before my 30th birthday, someone asked about their husband possibly being autistic, in a Facebook group I admined. And I related to more of the traits than I realised.

On my 30th, my whole birth family forgot my birthday (apart from my grandad). I felt bereft. As I cried, something said, look up female aspergers. And I did, and my whole life fell into place. Here was an explanation for why I felt so rejected. For all my struggles. And here was an explanation too, that my family didn’t hate me. Maybe they just struggled with their working memories, too.

And actually, you know what, I couldn’t care less whether anyone forgets my birthday since that day. And I no longer stress myself out trying to remember birthdays. Because that day I realised, we’re all different, we all have different capabilities and we all express love in different ways. And that’s OK. People aren’t required to show me love in the way I want or expect.

Realising I am autistic is hands down the best 30th birthday present I could ever have asked for. The last three years have been crazy. I was diagnosed eight months later and fell pregnant with my daughter (also IVF) in the same week. Another baby that took first time. A diagnosis that was very easy to get. Things felt like they were falling into place for the first time in my life, and 2.5 years later, they still do. And it scares me. I don’t know what to make of this life that is so different. But I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I am so grateful, every day, to have my two babies and my Pete and our dog and to live in a place that we like.

The first year after I realised I’m autistic continued to be really challenging. I was still struggling with feeling suicidal about the state of the world, with catastrophic mood swings, with basic care for my son. He was still having a hard time too. And on top of that I was overwhelmed by this realisation that I autistic. All the “I am broken and less than” internalised ableism from our cultural narrative around autism hit me hard. I assumed life would never get better. That the things I struggled with – isolation, crippling fear – might just be part of me.

But autism brought me something I could never have foreseen. It has given me something to fight with. Climate change is huge and it needs all of humanity to work together to fix it. And that can feel overwhelming. It’s a pretty vague beast to fight and the ways to overcome it are not clear. But autism – autism is something I can make a difference in. Because with autism, comes the autism community. There is a community that comes together around people with autism and we are all united in the same cause, and by sharing my story along with the other brave people who do, I can make a difference. I can make a difference. And autism took me from feeling like a failed person, to a person who had persevered through unrecognised and unsupported differences in my brain. I can’t tell you the difference not feeling like a failure makes to my life.

And along with my autism, I learnt about all the things I am good at. I always felt like I wasn’t good at things. But I learnt about hyperfocus and hyperlexia and pattern recognition and all these things I do WITHOUT EVEN REALISING. I do have things I am good at. And I never realised that before. And it’s led to me sharing my writing, and even being confident enough to give a little sermon in church. And actually, even being confident enough to be part of a church community is something that autism has brought me. I was always too scared to invest in a church community before. And I didn’t know what church would fit me. Once I realised I’m autistic, I found it easier to spot a church that would suit us as a family, to find our niche. I realised I didn’t have to make myself fit a box I could never fit. It was OK just to be me, and expect the world to work around that.

Something else autism has brought me is a hope in the face of climate change. For a start, I started to throw myself into climate activism, because I realised that with my particular talents, that’s a pretty good niche for me. (Actually, I’ve started to think that empowering autistic people might be the fix we need for climate change. If you want a tough problem solved, look to your Neurodivergent out-of-the-box thinkers.) And I also realised that engaging with other people to think about climate change felt a lot better than sitting by myself and worrying about it. It’s a good socialising technique for me, as well – to find ways to meet people in structured ways and with similar interests.

The other way it’s brought me hope is this. When I was a teenager, I saw myself living a lonely, unloved life, and dying very young and alone as society collapsed around me. I thought I would have no children or stability. But actually, adulthood has brought me an amazing man, and two amazing amazing children. It has brought me joy, and meaning. And I could never, ever have foreseen meeting Pete (it’s a story for another day but I’d just walked away from the person I thought was the love of my life two months before I met Pete). I could never have foreseen IVF PGD – that didn’t exist when I was a teenager. I could never have foreseen TWO babies when I shouldn’t really have been able to have one. I could never have foreseen autism coming into my life.

And you know, it makes me think. We live in an amazing world, full of possibility. We never know what’s just around the corner. Yes, it is full of sorrow too. But the things I have seen in my life, they honestly make the idea of a new creation seem like a not so crazy concept. Who knows what’s happening in the future, and I’ve thought about it today more than I do most days, as I’ve sat and listened to various concerned clever people – Christians, a Quaker and a Muslim – all working hard to bring hope and combat climate change. People who really know what we’re up against. I know how very urgent and seemingly out of control the situation is. And I’ve also experienced the most unexpected of hope in my life. It seems crazy to say, but if it can happen to me, why not to the world?

Love is at work in the most unexpected of ways. And that is something I celebrate tonight, on the eve of my autie-versary.

And these are my unedited, very raw thoughts. And as much of my life story as I could fit into a blog post.

(First published to Spectrumy Facebook page, July 14 2018)

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