Pressure. The pressure to succeed. The pressure to fit in. The pressure to be normal. Pressure leads to anxiety. Anxiety and autism and Aspergers Syndrome often go hand in hand. I know because I am autistic.
Knowing that I am not ‘typical’ often fills me with dread and overwhelming anxious thoughts. Do not get me wrong, it was a huge relief when I was diagnosed with autism. I finally felt the freedom of being myself. There was a reason I am different. Knowing who I am has made me a whole person.
Anxiety has always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Since I was not diagnosed until my mid-thirties, I grew up without the benefit of social therapies or interventions of any kind. I was always the odd kid in elementary school. By junior high and high school, I had learned to mimic other peers my age. I could act ‘normal’ when necessary, but it was a challenge. Obviously, in my head, I knew I was trying really hard to be like everyone else. This “acting” caused more than its fair share of anxiety. I constantly worried that people would find out I wasn’t what I appeared to be on the surface.
The mask of normality often hides the raging anxiety trapped inside me. Sometimes the curse of Aspergers is awareness. I am aware that I am different. I am aware that I might say or do the wrong thing in a social situation. I am aware that it is really hard to fit into a society that thrives on sameness.
Everywhere you look, everyone wants to be like everyone else. Social media, magazines, television are all yelling at you to be alike, to blend in. When you don’t conform to the norm, people tend to notice. So I spend way too much time worrying if I am doing and saying the right things. Small talk makes my skin crawl. My anxiety ramps up and I worry how long I will be able to keep the conversation going. And I also worry when I should stop talking or about facial expressions and body language, because I am rarely able to pick up on subtle cues. This is especially true when I am talking to someone I don’t know very well. It seems that anytime I am around people, other than close family, I am worried or anxious.
Then there is that huge word…AUTISM! Do I tell people we first meet that I am autistic? Will they notice if I don’t tell them anything? Anxiety twists around like knots in my stomach. As you are reading this, you might be thinking that I am super open about my own autism. I hate to say it, but sometimes it’s the exact opposite. I get anxious that people will not understand that autism is a spectrum. We are all different. We all have different capabilities and functioning levels. I have not always received a positive response when revealing my autism to others. And once people know I am an autistic mother with children with autism, I often become more anxious because of all the questions people ask me. I won’t list every question I have ever been asked, but the vaccination controversy tops the list.
So, what do I do with all this anxiety? First of all, I have a good support system—loved ones and friends that accept me are the best gifts I’ve been given. If you are in the pressure cooker of life and feeling anxious try not to worry too much. My message to you (and myself) is that everyone deals with nervousness and anxiety sometimes…you are not alone. Get help if you need help. Talk to a therapist, counselor or join a support group. I try not to let my anxiety control my life. I find spending time reading a book or enjoying a cup of coffee is often the best way for me to relax and let go of anxious thoughts.
Someone once told me, “Stop worrying what others think of you, they are too busy thinking about their own problems.” Focus on what makes you happy. And be glad that you are you!