So, before you judge a book by its cover or this post by its rather hopeless sounding title, give me a chance to explain the situation and maybe you’ll get a better idea of what I mean.
2018-19 has been a rough period of time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s had its ups (getting engaged and acquiring what may arguably be the cutest puppy in the world being two prime examples of moments of elation) but it’s also had its downs, sideways and wonky diagonals.
For a start, I found myself struggling at university towards the end of my first year which led me to practically beg my tutor to allow me to retake the year. To which she replied that I could not because I wouldn’t be motivated enough if I had to redo certain things and I shouldn’t worry because first year grades aren’t important anyway. Now, this deserves a whole post of its own but, in short, I think the fact that I’m an obsessive perfectionist may have flown slightly over her head. Cue a major depressive slump, complete lack of motivation (yes, I see the irony) and much worse performance and attendance at uni.
So, what would be the best solution to getting over and round these issues? Well, in my mind, the best solution would be to seek medical help to sort out the depression, try and take it easy and catch up at a steady pace whilst trying to keep the rest of my life as stress free as possible. This was my plan.
I don’t know if you know this, but life rarely cares about what you’ve planned. So instead of a smooth academic year of trying to dose up on happy pills and cram some text books, what I got was an autism diagnosis and a positive pregnancy test. I think Santa may have misread my letter.
I would tell you now about what both of these life changing discoveries were like in the moments they happened but, in all honesty, I think they deserve their own posts outside of this strange overview of the current events of my life. Both events were such emotional roller coasters that to talk about them in too much detail here could well turn this from being a blog post into a novella and, in the words of a wise woman, ain’t nobody got time for that.
Now, I know some of you are probably reading this and thinking ‘Why aren’t you counting the pregnancy as one of your ‘ups’?! Aren’t you happy and full of expectant love!?’. Well I do and I am… Now. Unfortunately for anyone who is trying to plan a stress free year of recovery, let alone a 20 year old student with very few career prospects, a then-undiagnosed mystery condition and a documented aversion to change, pregnancy can be a rather unwelcome shock at first and a big thing to worry about even when you start to love your bump.
The autism diagnosis came a couple of months after finding out I was pregnant. I’d been in the process of being diagnosed for a few months but weirdly enough was still convinced that I would never receive an actual diagnosis. Despite knowing quite a few autistic people already and knowing that our behaviours and experiences were often quite similar in many ways, I still had this feeling that it couldn’t be me. Surely there couldn’t be an actual explanation for the way I was? They were just my ‘natural deficits’ that I had to fix with pills and ‘bad thought patterns’ that I needed to work on with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) … Weren’t they? And if the pills and the CBT didn’t work then surely that was just me not trying hard enough… Wasn’t it?
Well, no. It turns out that there is an explanation of why I am the way I am and why I struggle in the ways I do. It turns out CBT is actually horribly inappropriate for me (as some small sensible part of my brain had always quietly suspected) and that while I may need medication at points to help with the depression I also struggle with, much of the anxiety symptoms I experience are actually symptoms of the hypersensitivity that comes with my condition and are best managed through altering my environment, as it’s not something I can change about myself.
If you’ve not gone through it, I can’t fully describe how it feels, after years of mental health care where the central theme is that how you think and act is wrong and the talk is always about ‘getting better’ and ‘recovering’, to find out that there is no recovery because you are not ‘wrong’ – you are just different. It is as terrifying as it is liberating.
So when I say ‘What Next?’ I am not holding my head in my hands and bemoaning all that has and may still happen. I am standing tall and saying, ‘This is my life. What next? How do I move this forward?’. It is the genuine question of someone trying to figure out what to do with their life upon finding them self in a totally new chapter of it.
‘What Next?’ is the question I need to ask myself to find out where I want to go now that I know what I know. Because if I don’t know where I want to be, how will I get there?
I am autistic. Ok, that’s fine. What next? Well, I want to learn what this means to me and find out who I really am behind the walls I have put up to camouflage myself and make myself seem ‘normal’. I want to meet me face to face and be able to accept her.
I am pregnant. Ok, that’s fine (way more than fine if you ask me when I’m thinking about the sweet little scan photos). What next? I want to be a good parent. I want to work on finding ways to get out more so that I can teach my daughter that the world isn’t a place to be frightened of. I want to work on my empathy so that I can teach her that it’s still OK if she is frightened of it. I want to be the best I can be so that I can be there for her when she needs me.
I have no job and no money and university is a struggle. Ok, that’s fine. What next? I want to find a way to support myself that fits around my issues instead of making myself suffer through circumstances that are intolerable to me. I want to catch up with my academic studies because learning makes me feel good. I want to support myself through expressive, creative means.
These are the things that come next for me; these are my goals, my destination and motivation.
The next big question is how to get there but, somehow, knowing the intended destination makes that huge question of planning the journey just a little less intimidating.
What about you? Have you struggled with finding direction in your life or been blindsided by a huge change recently? Are you affected by similar issues? I’d love to hear about it, so let me know your ‘what next’ in the comments.