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What it Was Like to Find Out I Had Autism as an Adult

I was a young adult when I was diagnosed with autism. When I found out I had autism, I didn’t want the diagnosis. I didn’t want to be different. When you are different, you are bullied. People see autism as a label. They don’t see the person. I am more than the label.

At the time of my diagnosis, I was employed at a toxic, chaotic, and unstructured job where I worked for a long time. When I first started, the job was manageable and I liked it. The responsibilities stayed the same and I could handle the pace of my duties.

But after a while, lots of things, including the owner of the business, began to change, and I couldn’t keep up with what was going on around me. After the new owner’s first year, things changed more. The job became faster-paced and there was more chaos. This happened around the same time that I finished at university and moved out on my own. The new owner gave me more management responsibilities and although I tried my best, I was not able to handle all of the change. It hurt when my position as a manager was taken away.

My worst traits came out. I began to have meltdowns and obsess over items and people. I was told that I was inappropriate with someone. I didn’t realize that I’d done anything wrong. I still got in trouble for it. I had to get help or I’d lose my job. That job was so stressful and I encountered behavioral and emotional challenges. Looking back, I should have quit.

When I was about to lose my job, I told my mom and she got me help at a mental health clinic. I’d been to a therapist as a child. Then, I would only talk if I had my dog with me or if we played the card game, Uno. Without that distraction, I would not talk. I would cross my arms and pout. However, as I got older I became more mature and eventually I stopped going to therapy altogether. Now I needed therapy again as a young adult.

The counseling helped at first, but I was jumping around between therapists and their usefulness was inconsistent. I finally found a therapist who could see me consistently and helped me find stability. He diagnosed me with autism, anxiety, depression, and OCD. I talked to him more than I did my mom. With his help, I kept my job. I had that therapist for 13.5 years until he retired. I miss him.

Although I kept my job at the time, I stopped talking to my mom about what was going on at that toxic job. She always got me through difficult times even as I got older. Still, there was one period when I didn’t want to disappoint her or see the pain in her eyes so I didn’t talk to her.

As I think back, I was on my own for the first time. As an adult, I was acting like a teenager because I thought I could do this without her. I just did not want her to know I still had issues. In retrospect, that decision wasn’t a wise one. I am sure if I’d confided in my mother, she’d have told me to leave that job sooner. I thought I had time to tell her, but she got sick and I never had a chance. That was a sad part of my life. It was a sad decision. It was just painful in general.

When I told people I was diagnosed with autism, they started to treat me differently. My new diagnosis, combined with other issues I was having, resulted in a generally bad time for me. According to people at my job, I was not easy to get along with. I struggled with social interactions.

When I told someone, they looked tired, they got upset, offended, and angry. They thought I was saying they looked bad, but that was not my intention at all. I thought everybody noticed things about other people. I didn’t understand their reactions.

My obsessive traits also came out during this time. This made my job difficult. Although my boss did try to help, there were times he was upset with me. I was emotionally immature and demanding.

I was bullied by other employees at that job and treated horribly. They were uncomfortable because I was autistic. Their ignorance made me feel like I was worthless. I would go home and cry. I wanted to be someone else. I did not want to be me.

I broke things. I had meltdowns. I cried and got hysterical. I wasn’t doing my job right. I didn’t follow directions! Even though I was told what to do, I just didn’t understand and I would forget. I was confused. One time I put others in danger. My behavior and feelings affected how I did my job. There were so many times I thought I would be fired, but I never was. Thinking back, I wish I had been fired because I thought I deserved everything I was put through. I thought I earned how others treated me. I was a mess. That job was a mess.

There is so much more I am not telling. I want to forget that job and those times. However, after experiencing all of that, I became stronger. It made me the person I am today.

I took a break from that job when my mom became sick. When I lost my mom to dementia, I returned to the job. I managed to do better because I found Morning Star, Inc., a social support, networking, and recovery center. This center gives opportunities for members to transform their lives through informative groups and peers supporting peers. It took a long time for me to emerge from that dark period. I credit my growth to the center I attended and the peer support that was provided to me.

Morning Star gave me the opportunity to find myself and understand who I am and who I may become. It took a while but I have found some amazing opportunities for myself. I want to do what I can. At my other job I was made to feel like I was worthless and saw no future. I also thought I was a failure. Today this is not true. From all the bad experiences I had at my other job, I became such a positive person with an ongoing positive future.

Before, people saw me as a label and I did, too. I am so much more than a label.

I have come to terms with autism because I don’t let it define me. Being different is not a bad term to me anymore because it makes me unique. In the past I wanted to be normal, but who is normal? Everybody has characteristics of positives and negatives. Everybody likes what they like and decides who they want to be. This includes me.

At Morning Star, I was treated with respect. I was encouraged. I had talents that I did not appreciate that were brought out at this center. I was given opportunities and tasks like bookkeeping which gave me the opportunity to excel. I surprised people and myself. I was given a chance and I matured. The less stressful environment helped me gain confidence and avoid mistakes. Morning Star helped me and helps others to succeed. The opportunities allowed me to develop a sense of self- worth. I found my job at Morning Star was something I was good at!

At one time, I had my Morning Star job and my other, stressful job at the same time. Eventually, I left that terrible place and the toxic people because I wanted to be treated better. I don’t like change or do well with it, but it was the best decision of my life.

I am reaching for the stars!

Angela Chapes

Photo of Angela Chapes

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the NLM Family Foundation.

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