I can't remember a time, when I didn't feel like something was off about me. As a child, I was doing well in school but I was painfully shy. So shy in fact, that I didn't dare ask the teacher if I could use the toilet during class. I couldn't admit to having made a mistake or not being able to understand a task and it was excruciatingly hard for me to deal with changes in the schedule or make friends. So hard in fact, that I never really made any friends in school. I was bullied for most of my school years and was too afraid to tell my parents about it. On the other had I did really well in class, my written tests were mostly As and Bs, so it wasn't all horrible and I mostly enjoyed classes- especially languages and science.
I suppose my parents thought that I'd grow out of my shyness and become more like my sisters (outgoing, likeable types) as I grew older, but I still preferred a good book to dressing up and going out. Loud music made me feel anxious, dancing and lots of people made me feel anxious and I never knew what to say to start up a conversation. What made it even worse was that people, who'd met me at social events, were coming up to my parents to tell them how odd I was, or about jokes I'd made, which they'd misunderstood. I remeber my parents telling me that they were embarassed by me and disappointed in me. And I just felt misunderstood and out of place.
in a good place
Thankfully I was offered a place as an Aupair in Ireland. Against my parents' wishes I left Germany and started fresh in a new country. For the first time in my life, I was able to be myself without having to fear any repercussions (i.e. someone telling my parents about my "bad" behaviour). The family I was working for just accepted my bookish behaviour and the kids were just happy to have someone to play with. In language class I met people from lots of different backgrounds and expressing myself in English made everything seem so much easier. I became friends with some amazing people- who I am still friends with- and became the person I felt I was meant to be.
being able to put a label on it- finally
But then I couldn't find work in my field and decided to move back to Germany to re-group and make a new plan. Without realizing it, I went back to the same negative environment that had nearly driven me to suicide as a teenager. But I also met my future husband. He, as a social pedagogue with experience with disabilities- helped me to realize that I was exposed to destructive behaviours by my family. He also made me see that there wasn't anything wrong with me, but that I was different:
I like and need the company of my friends, but can't stand large groups.
I prefer solitude and need quiet time regularly.
I need time to evaluate a situation before I engage with others, especially at large social events.
I am completely overwhelmed in social situations and don't know how to act around new people.
I make inappropriate jokes, that noone but me actually gets.
Numbers calm me down and I can still calculate a lot of things in my head quickly.
I can barely express my feelings and find it hard to make eye contact when talking about personal things
Reading facial expressions or sounds is a hit-and-miss- I guess, based on my experience, but I can't read the expressions
Hints or between-the-lines are beyond me, I can't decode them
Odd numbers are my kryptonite: I got a box of chocolates for christmas containing 5 different flavours; I had to take them all out and count the total number and then divide them up into the individual flavours; then I count the individual piles and eat the odd numbers and only then can I try all the flavours and always eat one each to keep the numbers balanced. Sounds complicated? Drives my husband bananas, but he can laugh about it :)
And most importantly, he helped me put a name to it: being on the autistic spectrum.
how it came apart again
I was doing quite well, balancing everything out and being comfortable in my skin. And then we decided to have children. Still one of my best decisions, but they also changed a lot of my coping strategies. Quiet time is almost completely out of the question and time for exercise is also hard to come by. It has left me feeling constantly overwhelmed (more so, because of the new mom experience) and frazzled. I have had numerous anxiety attacks and sometimes couldn't sleep for nights in a row, even though the baby was sleeping. And to top it off, I kept watching both of my daughters closely to check for any signs of the same disability, scared of finding anything. I didn't and don't want them to have the same experiences I did.
As if that wasn't enough, Covid showed its ugly face. I spent days crying and raging against everything, scaring my children more than just a bit. And then I realized I needed to find new ways of coping. I started sewing because it makes my mind calm down, whenever I can I exercise for 10-15 minutes on an app and include the children. We bake a lot together and if all else fails, we put on some music and dance through the house, singing along loudly.
the way forward
I know that this is not the final solution. I will need therapy at some stage to tackle the roots of some of my behaviours, but for now it is more important for me to be present for my family. And to enjoy the small things. It has been amazing to finally know what is wrong with me and to read up on it. Setting boundaries and reducing the contact to negative people have already helped immensely. I know it will continue to be a work in progress.