In the course of working to become more in tune with myself and nature, I often find myself thinking about situations I’ve experienced and working to unravel them. Like many, my mental health conditions have been “hand waved” away by medical professionals. My primary care doctor uses them to deny me healthcare, and since I am on “maximum anxiety protocol” medication-wise, the mental health doctor won’t do anything else, or explore any other options. Except, I’ve long realized that my panic-attack inducing anxiety is only related to situations where I need to mask. (I mean sure, I’m worried about finances and the future and political issues like many, but not to the point of panic attacks or the same level as anxiety as I experience at work or running errands, which are the two times when my anxiety is the highest also the only places in my life where I need to mask.) So before I go any deeper into this, let me address the question you have:
What the hell does this have to do with being on a blog with someone who does yoga, meditation, and tapping to help people rise and shine in tune with themselves and nature?
The answer lies “in tune with themselves”. Just as you wouldn’t treat someone with a broken leg by offering them an asthma inhaler, likewise, sorting out the Gordian knot of whether something is my anxiety or my autism is a big step in becoming more in tune with my body and mind, it’s rhythms, and learning to navigate the sometimes-choppy seas of life.
And to be honest, I do this because the people I want to work with, those I feel most called to serve, often have the same situations happening. I want them to feel they’re not alone, that it isn’t “just them”. And so I share my stories.
And this one begins with a meltdown. Between a too-rough work week (see above and needing to mask. If I can’t get a break from the mask, it gets heavier and heavier to wear.), the window ac unit in our bedroom being on the fritz, and the replacement having improper parts sent with it (and the unit I wanted not being on the shelf and the stock person being completely unwilling to help look for it), last night not only did I hit the end of my rope, but I slipped right off it. Meltdown.
Thankfully, I knew what was going on because I’d been doing this kind of inner exploration, and so I had been staving off this meltdown all week, honestly. My spouse is wonderful, and so I was able to tell him I was having a meltdown, that it was all TOO MUCH. The idea of dealing with a hot room in yet another week when we were going to touch, or even surpass 100F was the proverbial straw.
Then I remembered I’d forgotten to take my evening anxiety meds. I’d been so focused on trying to find a fix for the problem time blindness struck–I’d completely lost track of time.
And that’s when it hit me. I knew I pretty much needed my anxiety meds just to keep the panic attacks down to a “reasonable” 2-3/day during my work day. But what if, those anxiety meds helped the existential anxiety that seems to come with autism?
I’ve recently read and watched a lot of great work around those AFAB and autism, and one of the biggest takeaways is that doctors will diagnose those AFAB with anything rather than give them an autism diagnosis, and because so many of us are good at masking and mimicking others what is seen is the mental health issues and not the autism. It’s more socially acceptable, sadly, to be a neurotic bookish awkward female-presenting person, than someone with autism. In my case there’s a whole bunch of workplace and childhood trauma wrapped up in why my chosen line of work is so distressing to me (Again not advice. I’m working on making healthy changes. You’re reading the space where they’re happening!) which makes this more complicated.
But this blog has already been more about me than I’ve intended, so I really think that just like on many things we need a huge structural shift in how we think about autism and comorbid (the technical term, just means concurrently occurring) mental health concerns, so we can do BETTER for everyone who either experiences neurodivergence or mental health concerns or both. Because while Alexander the Great may have cut through the Gordian knot, figuring out if it’s anxiety or if it’s autism isn’t that easy.
I think it’s vital for us to work through these things in our own minds. The labels only matter to the health system and what they can put in their computers. And for an autistic with difficulty in naming emotions, yet feeling them all so acutely, calling it autism or anxiety doesn’t matter in the long run. It’s how you work with them, how you acknowledge them that helps you stay mindful and hopefully closer to the moment while you poke around to figure out what makes you mentally tick. (I don’t know a single person in the neurodivergent community who doesn’t do this.)
Will I ever get an answer to this? I am hopeful eventually that I will. That the labels required by certain medical professions will fall away as I transition into a healthy and better working environment for myself. And then, the question won’t even need to be asked at all. I’ll be me, and that, finally, will be enough.