My happy place as a child was the nurses’ office.
Something about that clean, plastic-covered, piece of foam on a metal cot just called to me: “nap time.”
School was an overwhelming place. I had a little trouble making friends. These are all normal feelings for an autistic child, but nobody in my family considered I might be autistic.
A minor fall or scrape would bring on a full meltdown. From my teacher’s perspective, a trip to the nurse was probably the quietest option. More days than not I would come home with a little ice pack from the nurse in my backpack, hoping that my mom wouldn’t find it.
My parents described me as a “difficult child,” but not a disabled one.
I hated every grade of school. Each year was worse than the last. Through college, I struggled with a laundry list of daily symptoms. Nightmares. Panic attacks. Depression. Obsessive thoughts. I had never really considered that there was some underlying reason why; this was just who I was.
College is tough for everyone, though. I started to notice that so many of my friends were going to therapy. Until that point, therapy was something I knew existed, but never knew anyone who had actually gone.
Maybe it was peer pressure, but sobering up and going to therapy seemed like the “cool” thing to do.
I found a therapist close to my campus, but not at my university. I was paranoid that people would judge me for going to the health center so often.
We met every week, and I would meet with the in-practice psychiatrist once a month. They diagnosed me with anxiety and depression, and prescribed me some medication.
After nearly a year of getting worse, I researched a little more about my symptoms. I brought up with my psychiatrist that I was really struggling with obsessive thoughts, and I thought I had OCD.
My doctor told me that there was no treatment for that, so I should just work on “getting over it” on my own. He started moving things slightly out of place during our session and told me that this was “exposure therapy.”
I saw another doctor in the practice. She told me that I had bipolar disorder and prescribed me mood stabilizers. After another eight months of not feeling better, I graduated, got a job, and tried a new practice.
New doctor, new diagnosis.
This one said that I probably had OCD like I had thought, but that I also definitely had PTSD, schizoaffective disorder, and ADHD. I should definitely try these meds.
After burning through four mental health professionals, I had a mental break down.
I quit my job and let my house fall into disarray. I had bought and half-assembled a dresser. It sat in the corner of my room, mocking me.
I moved back home with my parents and tried an intensive outpatient program. When I started, we talked through my entire life story and every one of my symptoms that I could think of.
From what I described, they said that I sounded like I had schizophrenia and maybe bipolar. They hadn’t even heard of schizoaffective disorder. But by the end, they were sure that I had borderline personality disorder.
I accepted this new diagnosis, no questions asked. I was willing to take on whatever diagnosis my newest doctor saw fit. For a while, I thought that this was the norm. Perhaps everyone just has no idea what is wrong with them?
But after months without relief, I was fed up. Why couldn’t I get a clear answer?
When I connected with the autistic community online, I found that this is unbelievably common. After a life of confusion and multiple doctors, many autistic people decide to let go of the expensive and stressful process of getting a concrete diagnosis. Turning that energy toward themselves, and turning to their community for understanding. Self-diagnosis is widely accepted within the community.
Despite at least 6 different diagnoses from different doctors, I am still “undiagnosed.” I have transformed from the kid who was always at the nurse to an adult who is terrified of doctors.
But after research, learning meditation and mindfulness techniques, and learning about my triggers and limitations, I can see a path to good mental health. Finding a community online was also immensely helpful. Learning that there are others out there like me was incredibly validating, and I feel so much less alone and misunderstood.
What name to slap onto my mental disorder doesn’t matter too much, but how I treat myself and how to set my expectations helped me accept who I am. I can accept my neurodivergence and learn to thrive.
I would rather have an appreciation for myself and a community of like-minded people than an “official” diagnosis.