Social Anxiety & Late Diagnosis – Mental Health Week

How being diagnosed later in life can lead to mental illness.

In honor of mental health week I am going to talk about some of the darker corners of my mind.

My social anxiety grew out of repeated failures, confusing social interactions, and a life time of feeling out of sync with the rest of the world. It is the words of doubt – self questioning every interaction.

Did I say something offensive? Is she making a face? I can’t tell. (I have face blindness.) Shit! – Round and round in my head. So much work navigating interactions that others find pleasurable. I’m happiest at home with my husband and a good book.

In my teen years I learned to blend in with others around me by mimicking their behavior. I didn’t fit in naturally, but shallow teenagers were easy to copy.

Unfortunately adult humans are much more complicated and subtle. Non verbal communication skills are valued in society and employers want fast talkers who can read between the lines. I can’t do either of those things without great effort.

I don’t come off as smooth and slick in casual conversation. Often I play the fly on the wall in large group settings. It’s easier than talking and lets me pay more attention to the people around me (assuming the room is not too loud for me to focus).

Being put on the spot in an office meeting will cause me more stress than most people because words stop flowing ineligibly any time I am put under pressure or asked to speak spontaneously.

Naturally I am unfiltered, however, I have learned to cautiously monitor everything I say in certain environments (mostly at work). My opinions and humor tend to be a bit beyond what is culturally acceptable / office appropriate. Starting controversy in the office is not my goal.

Social Filter V1.0

When I was a young undiagnosed Autistic woman, who did not care what other people thought of her, I was happy. I offended people constantly and often had no idea. If I ticked someone off bad enough they would blow up at me and I would dismiss them as being an ass or too sensitive. People who could not handle me were kicked out of my life.

Burning bridges does not work in the adult world. If you want to get a good job you have to learn to play nice and “have good manners”.

Social Filter V2.0

When I was young and learning to hide behind a social filter it was easy to copy my peers. All I had to do was “hold all my weird in”. Social Filter V1.0 was fairly basic.

As an adult, developing new social coping strategies, more and more rules were added to my social program. Every time I have a social blunder I make a rule. There are so many rules in my head about socializing that it is difficult to filter through all of them in every social situation.

It’s a workaround, a patch designed to help my computer keep up with computers that were built for socializing. My brain was not meant to work this way, so it is running hot and fatigued, but somehow I am getting by.

Running Social Filter V2.0 on my computer is like trying to run Windows 10 on a computer built for Windows 95. The hardware was not made to handle so much data so quickly. I’m working overtime and still not keeping up with the expectations that society has for me as an “exceptionally bright young woman”.

Why can’t I just be normal? Why can’t I hold a conversation? What’s wrong with me? Am I antisocial? Why doesn’t my memory work? – Questions in my head before my late Autism Diagnosis.

The constant failures caused my self esteem to fall. I began to hide myself from the outside world. So bright but so rude. You should know better. – people would say. My best never seemed good enough.

Eventually a computer that was running happily with Social Filter V1.0 became overloaded and crashed due to the more complex Social Filter V2.0 software.

Suffering from Autistic Burnout, tired from constant unexplained social blunders, and feeling completely insecure, defective, and sick –  fearing the worst, and afraid of my own mind, finally I ended up speaking to a Psychologist.

What happened?

I ended up with an Autism Spectrum Diagnosis, started reading blogs and watching videos by other Autistic people online and eventually started my own blog and began virtually networking with other Autistic people.

Knowledge is power. Now that I know I am Autistic I don’t have to try and hide my little quirks. I do keep things to a minimum at the office, mostly for my own privacy.

Social Filter V3.0 is working well. I’ve designed to work in harmony with my brain. I keep stim toys in my hands and don’t try as hard to talk unless I feel like it. I wear hats and shades indoors. Sometimes I use ear plugs if I need a sound break.

I am kind to myself and explain Sensory Processing Disorder when appropriate. I speak up if I am confused and laugh at myself if I make a mistake. I forgive myself and accept myself. Other than trying to be kind to others, I try not to have a filter. That is Social Filter V3.0.

This filter, made out of self love and knowledge, will allow me to defeat my social anxiety. Now that I know I have nothing to be ashamed of. If only I had found this information years earlier – perhaps I never would have developed social anxiety.

This is why we need awareness – but not just awareness. We need understanding and acceptance. Being aware of something and having compassion for someone are two different things.

Remember that this week as we write about Mental Health Awareness.

#WorldMentalHealthDay #invisibledisability #Glitch #mentalhealth #iamwhole#WMHD

 

This post also can be found on The Mighty here.

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34 thoughts on “Social Anxiety & Late Diagnosis – Mental Health Week”

  1. What a great post – as the mother of 3 adolescents all with anxiety issues, a wife to a great man who had a stress breakdown, and being a fully paid up member of club Prozac myself, I applaud everyone who raises awareness & seeks understanding & acceptance

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello, my twin sister has been recently diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 30, and I still have such a limited understanding of it. What a surreal coincidence that you liked my latest blog post and it let me to this. I am grateful you did because your content is amazing and poignant and powerful and couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I look forward to reading more.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Your computer analogy is perfect. I talk about faulty or different programming when discussing my processing and emotional issues, and it works quite well. Even without mention of the Autism spectrum, people understand computers, and they understand how experience “programs” our understanding of the world and behavior patterns within that world.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a great post. I’m sure I have autistic tendencies myself and can relate the social anxiety thing…though test myself by doing blogs etc, to be brave and just think “fuck it!”. I love your phrase about “keeping your weird in” haha. I need to do a better job of that myself 😂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is another post I can completely relate to. Social Anxiety is something I am all too familiar with. I tend to overanalyze situations to a point of losing track of what really happened and what my mind conjured up as having happened. I will pick on nuances in facial expressions and tone of voice that may not accurately represent the attitude of a person. Perhaps in a way that is my own version of face blindness. It has taken me years to find a measure of comfort in myself when around people and yet I still prefer my pets and husband to other people. I hope that you gain more and more self knowledge and self love. There is nothing more freeing and comforting than knowing you are not alone. I keep gaining more confidence in myself whenever I share my experiences.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I can relate to this so much, thanks for posting Anna 🙂 I really get the not being able to read people’s body language/facial expressions. My own mental health issues ended up in me seeing a psychologist who diagnosed me with ASD in adulthood; being diagnosed has helped a lot in working through my issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your own experience. I agree about the diagnosis. The people closest to me did not understand why I would want a doctor to put a “negative” label on me. To them the label is a black mark on my medical record but to me it is permission to be kind to myself, respect my limitations – because they ARE real – and better learn to cope with and improve on my weaknesses.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Super post! I love your analogy of your computer running too hot. When I was diagnosed I remember saying to the consultant and the psychologist that I simply didn’t have the processing power to manage social interaction. For me too I went from copying to rule making and now just concentrate on trying to do the loving thing. You explained it so well!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. For me faking social connections was about watching what other people did and trying to copy my own version – so if someone in a group make a joke, I would wait for them to stop and then make a joke myself. It wasn’t always successful but it was better than nothing. Not sure what a hashtag is but it sounds cool! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. jofox2108, years ago I subscribed to alt.humor; a Usenet board where people shared jokes. I learned a lot of jokes on that Internet based bulletin board, and eventually became pretty prolific about posting jokes I made up, and jokes I’d heard, but hadn’t seen on alt.humor. When people spoke at work I’d look for an opening where I could tell one of my jokes.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Sounds brilliant! Did your work colleagues enjoy the jokes? I might work on my joke telling skills – at the moment the only people in the work who laugh at my jokes are my year 1 class (5-6yr olds)!

            Like

          2. Jofox2108, it works. I had so many jokes in memory that it sounded like I was a natural born comedian. Early on in my joke telling, a co-worker told me I shouldn’t tell jokes at work. He said he knew when I was joking, but most people couldn’t tell, so it was best to refrain from telling jokes. So I developed a joke demeanor; that worked.

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Jofox2108, my last job was as a substitute teacher. My second week on the job, I got a 1 week assignment working with autistic kids. The class teacher liked me so much that she asked me to stay on for the rest of the semester; I agreed. I only lasted 1 more week on the job. I was accused of telling an inappropriate joke to an 8 year old; I never told the joke I was accused of telling. So, Jofox2108, there are associated risks with telling jokes on the job.

            My wife thinks that since the people I worked with had autism training, they could tell I was autistic, and fired me for it. Jofox2108, has your autism ever been used against you by the school district?

            Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for posting this, and for the follow on my blog. I am not autistic, but I have several invisible disabilities, including mental illness. I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability, even anonymously. You are helping all of us. 😌

    Liked by 1 person

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