Guest post #6: Deb – “I have vast wells of empathy”

I had no idea I might be autistic until I was 45, despite many people joking about it over the years, because of silly things like having to have all the cup handles facing the same way when doing the drinks trolley at work. I am generally oblivious to what people are getting at if they don’t just say what they mean (which they rarely do). Social cues are lost on me. I have trained myself to do eye contact as it seems to be important to people, but it’s deeply uncomfortable and I can’t keep it up for long. I am tactless and can’t do small talk, but I have vast wells of empathy that I have learned to put strategies in place for, to prevent me becoming overwhelmed. Parties and social gatherings make no sense to me, and are usually excruciating, so I don’t go to them. I often have a strong sense of having been dropped off on the wrong planet.

By chance, in 2017, I saw a video by Tony Attwood, in which he talked about how autism presents differently in females than it does in males. The video was 30 minutes long, and I spent most of that time with my jaw dropped as he basically describe me and my life, in quite some detail. That was when I realised this might be the answer; I’m not weird (the word most often thrown at me at school), I’m not on the wrong planet, there’s nothing really ‘wrong’ with me…it could be autism! It really did explain an awful lot.

Diagnosis was brilliant for me. I often cite it, along with marrying my husband and having my son, as one of the best things I ever did. Over the four-hour assessment, the psychologist’s main concern was that I was not currently using my talents in any way. And she was right. Having written a novel several years before, I had by my mid-40s become so worn down by life, and exhausted by the constant masking autistics do in order to function in the world, that I’d completely given up on any kind of creative outlet. I no longer had the energy or the inclination, and I was thoroughly miserable.

I was given a much-needed kick up the backside to start trying to fulfil my potential, and now I’m enrolled on a Creative Writing degree (distance learning, naturally), and have written a poem every day for 4 months, with no intention of ever stopping. I feel so much better now I’m using my creativity, and it’s true what they say – the more you use it, the more inspired and creative you become. I’m entering poetry competitions and submitting to magazines, which I would never have had the confidence to do before assessment. I also have a much greater understanding of my difficulties and strengths, and no longer wander the world thinking, ‘What is wrong with me?’ I’ve found a little peace of mind.

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