My practicum supervisor asked me, “Do you ever wonder if you’re on the [autism] spectrum?” and mentioned she saw me struggling to keep up with the demands of my field placement. I remember feeling blindsided by that line of inquiry and later calling a friend who works with autistic adults as I tried to make sense of things. She listened well and then responded in a way that I found just reassuring enough to get me through the weeks of uncertainty that followed:
This is an opportunity for self-exploration, maybe even a freeing experience. This can be one more way of making the world work for you, a process of finding where you can best use your gifts, but don’t look too far ahead. Maybe try illustrating your thoughts. Let me tell you a secret, “No one knows what’s going on, and some act better than others.” Ask yourself, what does [Aspergirl] need to get through ___________?
My friend reminded me that things would be okay, and they were eventually, but it was an emotionally exhausting few months. I was incredibly grateful that I’d started seeing my therapist earlier that month, so I had someone with whom I could talk and cry things through. For every time I expressed how broken and odd I felt, therapist lady continued to remind me that I was doing okay, all things considered: “I would be more surprised if you weren’t feeling like this considering all you’re going through.” It was good to have a safe person then, in the midst of how messy life seemed.
I made a list of all the people I’d cried in front of that week — my field supervisor, practicum supervisor, research mentor, and my therapist — and noticed that I was gradually learning to be emotionally vulnerable with people I trusted. When I reach my anxiety threshold, I tend to begin talking with whomever is around, so I tried to surround myself with safe people. I started seeing my chaplain friend around that time as well, which helped since she was someone who listened intently with no expectations for what role I should play in the conversation. I still find that terribly comforting when I’m having a long week.
I remember walking with my practicum supervisor, just outside of the classroom where we met, after she approached me about applying to the Ph.D. program. No one else in my program knew that I was planning on leaving at that point, so she discretely discussed the next steps in that process with me. I sent the emails, wrote the application essays, updated my CV, and met the program chair. Switching programs seemed possible, but scary (change is hard, dear readers).
I’ll fast forward to a year ago tomorrow. It was a Friday, the day I got the email: “I wanted you to know that your transfer has been accepted into the Ph.D. program.” I was sitting on my floor couch and was so excited that I ended up texting the various people who’d supported me during that ridiculously long fall. I still have their responses saved on my phone. I reread them when I’m feeling completely and utterly anxious about grad school.
Thank you friends who sat with me — via email, texts, phone calls, and even in-person — as I tried to figure out what I was doing with my life and for reminding me that things would be okay regardless — because they were, eventually.