In search of a coherent narrative

by Kat

But seriously legal pads are awesome

“But seriously legal pads are awesome” by Derek Schnake (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I can picture myself in a series of spaces in which salient conversations happened:

Consultation room where I pondered taking anxiety medication
Steps outside the local cafe where I grieved for lost things
Office where I felt blindsided by expectations I couldn’t meet
Between two chairs where I alluded to the possibility of being an autistic woman

I suppose I’m in search of a coherent narrative. I know what happened and when, but the hows and whys are much harder to understand. When I blog or write poems about these perplexing, often emotionally fraught, scenes, I’m recreating what happened. Maybe I’m looking for patterns in the events that led up to that moment and the ones that followed.

Lately I’ve been making lists about why I think I’m autistic (or to use the DSM-5 verbiage — meet criteria for autism spectrum disorder). I’m not sure who I’m trying to convince that I’m autistic — myself perhaps or the imagined clinician who asks why no one noticed me earlier. I remember talking with my previous psychiatrist:

“So it says here [in your chart] that you’re concerned about having Asperger syndrome.” “I wouldn’t say I’m concerned,” I reply. “It just seems like a strong possibility in light of my experiences.”

“So why pursue an ASD diagnosis in your mid-20s?” I ask myself. I’m still not sure if I have a concrete answer. Perhaps so I could request workplace accommodations in the future. That sounds reasonable, right? But it’s more than that.  I’ve been trying to account for my struggles at work and social settings that remain unexplained by GAD or longstanding familial conflict.

“If you’ve managed for this long, maybe you don’t need a diagnosis.” “Depends how you define managing,” I’d counter. “I started a blog as a repository for the complicated thoughts and feelings I had about someone else labeling me — an armchair diagnosis, couched in an open question. I left my master’s program because I couldn’t adapt to its ever-changing professional environment. I thought there was something wrong with me. Now I think there’s something different about me. I would like to know what that is. I suspect it’s autism.”

I’ve been trying to talk with people in my offline life about wanting to be autistic. Mostly this has manifested as references to my previous posts sent in emails or carefully written on legal sheets (1) and forwarded links to other autistic women’s stories (2, 3). I want my close friends and mentors to understand my thought process, but it’s hard to find audible words. Instead I’m relying on written ones to serve as conversational bridges. When the words do come, they arrive in floods I can’t seem to contain.

“So what do you want to do with these questions of identity?” my therapist asked the last time we talked. At that point, I didn’t know how to answer. Maybe I still don’t, but as I talk at/with friends about this search for a coherent narrative, I’d like to explore the possibility that being autistic is part of my story.