- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Being Diagnosed With Asperger's As An Adult
Finding out that you have Asperger's as an adult can be either extremely scary and confusing, or can feel like someone has suddenly shone a light that illuminates past experiences and why sometimes it felt like nobody could follow your thought patterns.
Luckily for me, it was the latter. In early June of this year, I went to a psychiatrist for the first time and was diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression, and mild Asperger's.
I'm going to go on a bit of a tangent here to give some background information.
In August of 2013, a former college roommate told me that she had a spare bedroom for me in her apartment in Orlando, Florida. She told me that if I wanted to move in with her, she'd let me wait to pay rent until I had a job that allowed me to continue paying my other bills. At that stage of my life, I was living with my parents, working a job that caused me stress and had put me into one of the deepest states of depression I've ever been in, and felt barely any ties to the rural Virginia county I'd lived in my entire life. There was my family, of course, but knowing how unhappy I was, my mom fully supported my idea of giving myself a new start in a new place. She worried, of course, but she just wanted me to be happy. That's a fact that I have repeatedly taken for granted throughout my life.
After a couple of months, I was able to secure a job doing data entry at a company that sold laptop parts. It was one of the best jobs I've ever had: my coworkers shared my nerdy interests, all had an amazing sense of humor, and the type of work allowed me to listen to music or audiobooks all day. I excelled in my job. It was repetitive and mindless, which to some might sound boring, but I liked it. Pick out a laptop part, find the part number, search the database, update quantity, then label the part for another department to put away. It's only now after finding out that I've found my place on the Autism spectrum that I realize it is perhaps that routine and predictability which I loved so much. It required no interaction with customers, and it was both an easy job to learn with only rare changes and an incredibly understanding, compassionate, and overall friendly manager.
After the 90 day probationary period, I was able to get insurance for the first time since I had graduated college three years earlier.
One of the "catches" to my living with that roommate was that I would have to find somewhere new to live once she had graduated. With her graduation rapidly approaching in June, I frantically searched throughout May to find somewhere I could afford. After a series of failed attempts, friends offering to help and then later backing out for various reasons (all legitimate, which may have made me feel a bit bitter but which I understood), and bad news from home, I decided to put an end to the indecision and uncertainty. Uncertainty is one thing I have never been able to handle. It makes my anxiety levels incredibly high, I get easily angered whereas normally I'm fairly even tempered, and it puts me into that deep layer of depression where suicidal ideation becomes an almost daily occurrence. I could never kill myself, could never put my family through that, but I recognized that the depth of my misery was at a breaking point.
Deciding then that I would return to Virginia, I knew I had to take advantage of my insurance to see a psychiatrist about the mental problems I had been dealing with for a great deal of my life. I didn't have much time, so I found a psychiatrist that dealt with all the issues I suspected I had, and made an appointment.
Seeing The Doctor
The first time I saw the doctor, he put me at ease immediately. He mistakenly thought that my roommate was my mother (having only barely seen her profile and that she was knitting), which made us both laugh, and had the sort of demeanor that made me feel like I'd made the right decision in coming to him.
We went through a series of questions to determine what exactly I may have been suffering from. Social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder were decided almost immediately, and my depression was a close second.
In one of the few lulls, I nervously brought up the fact that I had suspected for a while that I might be somewhere on the autism spectrum. My personable façade and seeming comfort with eye contact made him skeptical, so I told him about the things I'd read and the way I related to them.
I told him that I obsessed over things, specifically movies and tv shows (and especially in the last three years, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). I told him that I often have trouble empathizing or even understanding emotions in others, as well as accurately conveying my own. I'd also been told repeatedly throughout my life by my mother, affectionately but with a hint of exasperation, that I was incredibly smart but didn't have "a lick of common sense." It's not that I'm unable to see solutions to problems, there are just certain everyday things that most people seem able to comprehend and successfully navigate through some sort of instinct which I'd never developed. I had to "learn" common sense through experience or by watching others, seeing every step done in the order in which it was meant to be done, in order to do things that come easy to those with an, I suppose, more normative thought process.
I remembered an anecdote while speaking to him that perfectly encapsulated my childhood inability to understand nuances in speech and meaning. When I was around maybe 13 years old, I went over to a friend's house to spend the night. It was my first time staying there, and while there I met her younger twin sisters. Mostly what I remember of the days there was that they were a mischievous duo when they scattered my clothes along the hallway to the bedrooms.
When I got home, my sister asked about the weekend and I told her about the twins. Her first question was, "Do they look alike?" My mind was focusing on my friend, on the experience of spending the night with her for the first time, and probably on excitement to do so again. When I heard, "Do they look alike?" I thought she meant "Do your friend and her sisters look alike?" I remember my answer was somewhat stilted, unsure why she would ask that, and I told her that, "No, not really. She has red hair and they don't, and she has lots of freckles..." When my sister laughed and pointed out that she meant did the twins look alike, I felt embarrassed. So much so that now, over 10 years later, I can still remember the story.
The psychiatrist laughed with me, since it's far enough in the past that I'm able to view it as a funny misunderstanding, and said, "That's a really good example."
He asked me then if there was anything that I had focused on as a child, any particular interest I'd held to the point of obsession. I only remember that as a child I enjoyed drawing and reading more than actually playing with other kids. I hardly spoke when I was younger, which was just attributed to shyness. Once I was a bit older and we finally got a computer and the internet (AOL dial-up, which must seem like caveman technology to any younger readers), my interest turned to movies and their actors.
Since this was before Netflix, as soon as I learned how to download things, I downloaded movies. I watched my favorite movies on VHS repeatedly (Mulan being a favorite in high school, especially on sick days spent on the couch).
As I got older, Netflix fulfilled my movie needs, and IMDb my interest in actors and the things they'd been in. I jokingly called myself "a human IMDb" to coworkers at my last job, but really it's almost accurate. If I watch a movie that I particularly enjoy, I look up the lead actor, see what else he or she has been in, and generally try to find a way to watch all of their other films. I know all sorts of useless movie trivia - did you know the actor that place Cornelius in the original Planet of the Apes later played the son of that character, Caesar, in the later movies of that franchise? I do, because I love that franchise. I'm unbelievably excited for the new movie. Because movies are my thing.
Most of the rest of my session was spent talking about movies. I don't know if the doctor was trying to see how deep the interest went or just trying to make me feel comfortable talking to him, but I surprised him by saying my most recent watch was "Raging Bull" (apparently not an expected answer from a 26 year old frail, pale woman). We discussed a few TV shows and I used my knowledge to connect actors in shows he liked to things I enjoyed.
I was given a prescription for an antidepressant and told to come back in three weeks.
With my time in Florida coming to an end, I called later in the week and moved it up. There was only about two weeks between my first and second session with the doctor, which may not be considered ultimately helpful, but when I saw him again and explained why I was seeing him sooner than he had asked, he was very understanding.
Asperger's, albeit a mild version of it, was agreed upon as my last remaining diagnosis.
Hopeful, Not Ashamed
Does it bother me to be on the autism spectrum, which is looked down upon by many and misunderstood by even more? Not at all. I finally have a frame of reference by which to remember my childhood and understand why I didn't always "get" what the other kids seemed to find so easy. I now understand why I feel a disconnect when people tell me about their lives, and no longer feel ashamed that I am unable feel more sympathetic to their problems. I no longer feel like I have to hold back when I want to say, "This reminds me of the movie..." or "This reminds me of the Buffy episode where...". It's true, like most "Aspies" it's hard for me to tell when someone is bored, but those that truly love and care about me will understand and accept that these things are just at the forefront of my mind and how it relates to the world.
I can now, with perhaps a bit more confidence, accept that I will always have to ask more questions than some might feel necessary to learn a new task, either in regular everyday life or at a job.
I accept who I am. I accept that I have Asperger's and that it will continue to affect my life and how I move through the world. I accept that I may annoy people by telling them my favorite Spike quote more than once ("Out. For. A. Walk... Bitch"), but I also accept that those who truly care about me will understand, or at least attempt to. I accept that I view the world differently, that I need steady routine to accomplish things, and that people may not always be willing or able to make concessions to that need.
But I feel optimistic. Because finally I know, and finally my suspicions were confirmed by a doctor. Finally I know that there are other people who have faced or continue to face the same difficulties that I do in understanding the world. And finally I know that there's not something "wrong" with my brain so much as it just works differently than other people's.
Asperger's, or any part of the Autism spectrum, isn't something to be ashamed of. I'm thankful that mine is a milder case, that I've learned by watching how to fake proper socializing, but I also hope that anyone who feels uninformed on the topic will do some research before writing me or anyone on any part of the spectrum off as a liability or even, in severe cases, as anything less than a normal human being that just needs extra help understanding and moving through the world.
It's hard enough being of working age with financial responsibilities in the world as it is in its current economic state. We don't need to shame or look down on those that might need just a little more help to make it through.