Maybe I should have known back then.
My brother had cerebral palsy, my mother was a disability support worker. My childhood was surrounded with a magical array of characters + blazing souls, all with their own diagnosis. I loved all of them, but I especially got the Asperger’s ones. I understood them. I could disappear into their world with them.
“You’re so similar to them,” my mum said one day. “Except you don’t seem to struggle with yours.”
All of her Aspie clients were boys, and I understood how their brains worked, but I was different in how my brain worked. We all know the stereotypical signs of an Aspie… but that is only half the picture. It is the stereotype of an Aspieboy. Aspiegirls are different.
I didn’t know that then. My mum didn’t know that then.
I laughed, and carried on, doing life my own odd, happy way.
It was another 16 years before it came up again.
In the space of a year, a number of my friends either came out of the Aspie closet, or got diagnosed.
Each time I’d have this ignorant little moment of:
“Really? But how can that be? They are the coolest people I know! We get along like a house on fire! I totally understand them and we’re exactly the same kind of person!”
Then one of them shared a checklist of diagnosing Aspiegirls.
I rolled my eyes, and did it anyway.
Within 10 questions, I was wide eyed.
There was me.
All written out in text.
Every part of me that I thought was my own 1-in-7-billion quirk.
I continued on.
“Holy shit. Holy shit. HOLY. SHIT.”
My life made sense. It was world changing.
All the funny little parts – from being a socially inept, chronically shy kid (who mostly grew out of it by watching intently others to work out how to have a conversation and be a person) to the digestive issues to the general anxiety disorder. From my ability to hyperfocus, to my predisposition to get overstimulated + need to to hide out from the world for a few days to integrate again. Also, I’m blunt as fuck, hilariously naive and have a nervous habit of flicking my fingernails (which drives Chris bonkers).
That and a hundred million other things.
There I was.
My first reaction was:
Who the fuck am I? Am I just my diagnosis? Do I even HAVE a personality outside of it? Because it all seems to be listed down here.
I also thought:
I will never, ever tell this to anyone.
I didn’t want anyone to treat me differently. To believe that I was less than them. That I was any less intelligent or successful because my brain was atypically wired.
I told Chris, of course. That bloke knows almost every one of my passing thoughts. I’ve even been known to wake him up in the middle of the night because not another moment can pass before I tell him my latest thought/idea/insight/dream.
When I told him this latest development, he too was worried about reactions from other people.
And he also knows me – truly knows me – after almost 15 years of watching me build a business, sing Ronan Keating loudly on road trips, suffer through illness, squeal with excitement over eleventy billion things, give birth to our children, dry hump him every time he turns his back — all of those myriad of ways I’m a Leonie. I’m a Leonie more than I’m an Aspie.
Over time, he felt less guarded and worried about it. He did his own reading. And he’ll often send me articles on Aspiegirldom.
We carried on, with this new awareness slowly sinking in.
I read Rudy Simone’s “Aspiegirl” book which was infinitely helpful.
And even though I told myself to never, ever tell anyone… I’m not very good at keeping secrets.
I’ve told myself that before of course. I swore I wouldn’t speak a word of me suffering Post Natal Depression.
Both times it felt too new, too raw, too precious a truth, too able to cause me damage with insensitivities.
But just like with PND, as I grew more comfortable with my story, and less ashamed, I began to tell others.
First my Aspiegirl friends who all responded: “Yeah, we know.”
And then I grew stronger with talking about it.
It became less a diagnosis of a disability, and more a loving acknowledgment of my superpowers, and also what particular environments I need in order to thrive.
I love my Aspie superpowers:
- my intelligence
- my ability to focus like a motherfucker
- Aspies tend to have a pretty high level of self confidence and belief that they can do anything (BOOO YEAHHHHHH)
- my bluntness
- my ability to look for patterns in business and relationships so I can grow as a person.
Some of the challenges I’ve had that are Aspie related:
- I tend to have lower physical energy levels than others, especially in regards to social situations. I have to limit the amount of interviews, calls + live events I attend because it’s incredibly stimulating and takes me a while to chill out again. I LOVE doing them and enjoy the fuck out of them, but get burnt out socially pretty damn quickly.
- I was an awkward kid with no friends for a really long time. I could only relate to my animal friends (my dog + horse). Once I learned how to interact around age 11, I had some friends but was still bullied relentlessly. I sent myself off to boarding school when I was 16 to get away from the bullies.
School was not fun for the vast majority of time for this weirdo nerd. Loved learning, didn’t love the other kids. I mostly hung out with boys because I found them simpler to understand. It got easier once I went to boarding school and even easier once I left school and could remove myself away from bullies.
I’ve continued learning and growing my social skills. My friend Lena is one of my favourite people to study. She doesn’t know this and she will find it hilarious. She is so effortlessly graceful and thoughtful and such a wonderful friend. I love studying her and trying to be a better person and friend by adopting some of her habits and mannerisms.
For example: She ALWAYS asks people how their significant others are. (She even asked me how Chris was when she called to tell me she’d given birth. Not just once. BOTH TIMES. Seriously.) And she has a calendar she prints every year with all of her friend’s birthdays on it, and she sends a birthday card to every single one of them. In the mail. At the right time. *mind blown*
Some of the things I need in order to thrive with an Aspiebrain:
- A scheduled life with a LOT of quiet/down time at home.
- Time away from my kids super regularly. I get super-touched-out from too much physical contact + noise.
- Writing to process everything that happens – I seem to see and feel the world in hypercolour.
- Showers in the dark (I call it the Sensory Deprivation Chamber) when I’m overloaded.
I should state here as well:
- There are some Aspie qualities I don’t identify with. Most significantly, I don’t have emotional breakdowns or tantrums in the way they are described for Aspiegirls. I surveyed Chris and other close friends, and none of us can see that pattern for me. I DO tend to be incredible expressive in my feelings (both negative + positive). For example: “OMG THIS IS THE GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE DID YOU JUST SEE THAT FLOWER DROP ON THE GROUND IT WAS SO EXQUISITELY BEAUTIFUL ARRRRGHHHHHHHHHH SOOOO HAPPPPYYYYYYYY” to “HOLY SHIT I AM SO FUCKING PISSED OFF RIGHT NOW!!! THIS IS BULLSHIT ARRRGHHHH SO CWANKY!” My emotional expression is usually in capital letters, but I don’t seem to lose control of them.
- I have not been officially diagnosed. I am not seeking one. I have no need for one. I know whole of heart that my brain is neuro-atypical, and tends to fit Aspie characteristics. (I understand however that getting a diagnosis is so important for kids so they can access much-needed support services.)
- I would absolutely be classified as a “high functioning” Aspie, or AspieLite as I call it. So, I’m not able to speak to the specific challenges that others on the spectrum would face. I know they are significant, and I don’t have experience with them. I can’t speak definitely for all Aspiegirls. I can only speak for myself and my experience. /end boring disclaimery shit
I was at a dinner party a few weeks ago. I was seeing a bunch of my friends for the first time since I moved back. One of them has been dear to me for 12 years. We are polar opposites. She is a hardline atheist who ran screaming away from hippies. I was the first Great Spirit-loving, crystal-holding, artsy hippy she let into her inner circle (much to my incredible luck and infinite gratitude). We laugh often at our differences, and adore each other anyway. Somehow, from two very different places, we saw things just the same.
At the end of the night, she organised the money neatly into stacks, folded perfectly, paper just so. It was an impeccable achievement of OCD.
“Do you think you’re a lil Aspie, M?”
“A LIL? Oh babe, I’m hardcore, hardline Aspie. There ain’t nothing lil about it.”
“Oh… do you know I’m an Aspie too?”
“Well, derrrrr honey. Why do you think we love each other so much?”
[bctt tweet=”It’s only taken 32 years, but I know now: I’m an Aspie. And I’m delighted to be exactly who I am.”]
Edited to add
I’m writing this now in 2023.
I no longer use the term “Aspergers” or “Aspie” due to its problematic heritage.
I have a long resource post about Autism & ADHD here that you might find helpful as well!