One of the things you discover as a late-diagnosed autistic adult is the idea of suddenly finding yourself becoming “more autistic” after your diagnosis. You’ll hear it from others, and you’ll start noticing it about yourself.
Take the way in which the knowingly autistic mask and camouflage as they make their way through a world designed for more typical neurology but add in the fact that being unknowingly autistic results in masking and camouflaging your nascent atypicalities even from yourself. What happens after diagnosis is that those internal blinders start coming down, the fingers in the psychic dam start getting pulled.
What’s difficult (or, one of the things that’s difficult) is that if you’re late diagnosed you really only have apples-to-oranges comparisons.
Today I did only two things that required giving the world any degree of social access: around midday I went out to my regular spot for breakfast, and in the late afternoon I walked down to a cryptozoological art installation to try to take some photos of (actual and non-cryptozoological) alpaca.
The autistic overwhelm started to descend before I’d even gotten inside: standing in line, conversations and impatient children swirling both ahead and behind. Once inside, I had two interactions, both very brief: I said hello to the alpaca person, whom I know from my having once been a goat person; and I told the artist that I’d appreciated the art he’d recently done of those selfsame goats.
By the time I got myself the five-minute walk home, I was orbiting a potential sobbing fit.
As a late-diagnosed autistic, the questions arise. Was I always like this? Was it always this bad? The thing is: you can’t answer these questions, because when you didn’t know you were autistic, when you “simply” and instinctively shaped your behavior to ape that of those around you, the severity of the mismatch between your neurology and the world was kept hidden from you.
That force I’ve alternately called the background radiation or the gravity of social conformity is powerful—enough so to make yourself come not to know yourself at all.
It very well could have been this bad all along. I very well could have been like this always.
It feels worse now because you feel it at all now, but what’s more: you also begin to feel—at first a bit and then a lot—the damage that was being done to you for all those unknowing years and decades. The damage that just quietly accumulated.
So, yes: it was always this bad, but also; no: what you’re feeling now is how hard it really is, how hard it’s always been, and you’re feeling the fact that the hard that’s today is pressing down on (if you’re lucky) the scar tissue or (if you’re unlucky) the open wounds of all those yesterdays you never knew you were accumulating along the way.