I didn’t know I was autistic or had ADHD until adulthood. Then I was diagnosed with both at once. I went for the assessment for autism and got two diagnoses for the price of one.
The autism I kind of expected, even if I debated with myself for years if I can be really autistic, or if I’m just making it all up. Ironically, It didn’t occur to me that I could have ADHD – but when I got the diagnosis, I thought “Huh. Of course. That totally makes sense.”
I accepted my ADHD side immediately. I still haven’t found my peace with the autistic side. I have a problem identifying with it because of my internalized ableism and outdated stereotypes of what autism looks like that still somehow live in my unconscious mind. I have autistic imposter syndrome. I’m having trouble accepting autism as a part of my identity.
The ADHD side wants to live to the fullest… and the autistic side is holding her back
For me, the ADHD side represents my ideal self – adventurous, bold, friendly, outgoing. She is the person I want to be. She longs to live the life I yearn for: having adventures, cherishing new experiences, connecting to all kinds of people and making friends, and living every moment of life to the fullest.
I feel that my autistic side is keeping me back from this all. She is easily overwhelmed. She has problems with new environments and new things. She is easily exhausted by human contact. She craves routine and is unsettled by the lack of it. No matter how adventurous I feel, I have to always, always keep in mind my limitations. And that rankles. I despise them. I want to be free.
I follow the adventures of various people who travel a lot, hike in nature a lot, do new and interesting things a lot, and I feel like they are somehow living MY life, the life that should belong to me, the life I always imagined I would have. This is one of the most terrible feelings I know.
And now I know I would probably never have that kind of life. But I can’t make myself let go of that dream – not yet. So I just silently suffer and feel like I’m not really myself. I haven’t felt like myself for years.
Oh, the adventures I had… Until I didn’t.
When I was a teenager, I happily jumped on whatever opportunity for a new adventure that came by. I went on a skiing trip designed to bring together able-bodied and disabled children and I got lost in a snowstorm with two of the other girls. I went planting trees with an ecological organization. I was the youngest one there and had to be helped home by one of the older guys because I got a fever.
I went on a horse camp that went terribly wrong (read: exciting) as we had to move from the campsite that somehow wasn’t paid for into an old house that was falling apart. We smuggled food leftovers to a scrappy dog that lived there and were enjoying ourselves. At another horse camp, they just sat me on a horse and started galloping – so I learned how to ride a galloping horse while doing it. At first, I clung to him for my dear life, but by the end of the camp, I was riding with my back straight and a smile on my face.
One summer, I went to a Shaolin-themed camp (by another ecological organization) which was one of the best experiences of my life. They did things like gather us in the middle of the afternoon to tell us that we are to go away for a weekend in groups of two or three, and we can bring only 5 items for a group in addition to what we had on our person. No money was allowed. We had to complete a list of tasks in various villages and towns around the campsite. I went with two of my friends. We hitchhiked, we slept on a train station bench and ate fruit that fell from trees. I had the time of my life.
When I came home from one of the weekends spent in such a fashion, my friend from school remarked that I somehow seem taller. I felt taller. The world was my oyster.
I don’t feel like myself anymore
And all that time, I was suppressing terrible anxiety and wondering why I’m always more tired than everyone around me. As the years went by, my reserve of strength and willpower ran out, and suddenly, I couldn’t go on adventures anymore. And I stopped feeling like myself.
I have yet to go backpacking in a foreign country. I have yet to go on the pilgrimage to Santiago do Compostella. I have never seen the total eclipse of the sun, never been on another continent, never slept in a desert with a sky full of stars. I have so many dreams that I’m not any closer to fulfilling and I’m so frustrated, so sad because of it.
The autistic side and the ADHD side of me are in a constant battle over the way I should live.
Other people can prefer their autistic side
I know of some people that have it the other way around. They want nothing to do with their ADHD side and feel much more comfortable in the autistic one. One person said to me that he got into so much trouble because of ADHD. He was on the verge of big legal and financial problems when he started being treated for ADHD, and it felt liberating for him. His autistic side is the one that keeps things in order and organized. He likes it a lot.
I’m learning to love and accept autism as a part of myself
When I was speaking about this to my therapist, she suggested that I make a list of the positive qualities my autistic side has. And I found quite a few. For example, she helps me to get enough rest. I would never stop and be still without her. I would burn out so quickly! She can keep my things organized. (Well, mostly.) She grounds me. She is the one that loves reading and immersing herself in imaginary worlds for hours, which is my favorite activity.
Of course, the attributes I assign to my autistic and ADHD side aren’t necessarily directly caused by autism or ADHD. That is just my interpretation of them. My autism and ADHD both live in the same neurodivergent brain and are so intertangled that there is no separating them.
I can’t change who I am – but I can change if I love myself or not
I have come to realize that I’m ALL of this – ADHD, autistic, a woman who wants to live an adventurous life and who fears it at the same time, someone who is a passionate bookworm, who goes for walks daily, who likes writing, and who thinks poodles are the best dogs ever. All of this is me.
I now strive to accept all my sides. After all, I can’t be anyone else than whom I really am. I don’t want to struggle for the rest of my life with things that I find difficult to accept about myself and miss out on how they can enrich my life.
I want to love who I really am.
What about you? If you are AuDHD, do you prefer your autistic side or your ADHD side? Or do you like both of them? Neither? Share it in the comments!