Occupation: Girl

Please close the door and switch on the fun without fail.

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cleolinda
As I just said on Twitter, I keep forgetting that chronic health issues are chronic and that I can't just wait them out. "Oh, I feel like shit today, I'll post/work/exercise once the aches and/or pains and/or anxieties have let up." And then they just... don't, and another four weeks have slipped by. In fact, I'm typing this straight into the "new post" field on my phone because if I try to ~draft~ something, I won't finish it. I wanted to post something, several somethings, more substantial about the last few months, but: ow.

At this point, the best and easiest thing I can think of to do for myself is drink a shit ton of water, healthwise, and try to catch up on some reading, considering that I am specifically in physical pain right now. I feel like there is probably always something you can do for yourself, even if that something is "breathe deep and drink a water."

I have a yearly PCOS checkup scheduled for September, which I think is also when I have my next quarterly med check (for bipolar II, if you do not have my health conditions memorized, she said dryly). You know, I'll go ahead and say--it's a long long story that I don't really know how to start or finish, and so maybe I'm finding reasons to put off more in-depth posts on (subconscious) purpose, but: it seems, based on some preliminary discussion, that I may be on the autism spectrum. I have a referral to a clinical specialist, but I don't think I can afford another doctor's visit right now, or maybe even for 2-3 months.

So it's not an ironclad clinical diagnosis. But it would explain A LOT about my painfully lonely and anxious childhood, why I have panic attacks while trying to drive, problems I have both starting and/or finishing things, and those times when I'm just like "that's it, I'm done, I have lost my will to function, I will be sitting in this corner of the convention hall if you need me." And I know some of these things may be true of many people. But in the preliminary research I started doing, a revelatory preponderance of them turned out to be true of me.

And that's the kind of thing I wanted to post about in depth. Things like how autism can present very differently in girls, how many women aren't diagnosed until adulthood, how (contrary to a lot of stereotypes) empathy overload and high verbal skills can be involved, mirror neurons, how bipolar disorder often overlaps with or is mistaken for autism, intense world theory, executive dysfunction, sensory overload, how Hans Asperger only studied boys, how I'm not sure if Asperger's syndrome is still clinically a thing or if it even reflects what's going on with me but who am I to say that, how I'm not entirely sure if "high-functioning end of the spectrum" is a thing or if that terminology upsets people, how I might be blundering into an existing community, and not knowing the right words and being afraid I don't belong because I don't KNOW for sure, but how it's already helped me a lot to reconsider how I think and feel and function. It has, perhaps contrary to expectation, been a largely positive experience.

Anyway. I think I am stealing my own thunder here because trying to write about Autism, Maybe has been turning into Let Me Slideshow You My Brain. Like, we could be here a while. So. Voilà.

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Question! (If you are knowledgeable and feel like answering, that is.)

I have some issues with executive dysfunction and occasional sensory overload, and have long suspected I might have ADHD (though I have not been diagnosed). It sounds like some of your symptoms might be similar to mine? I guess what I'm wondering is how you decided that autism was the more fitting diagnosis, or if that's too personal, how one might generally distinguish between the two.

Oh, no problem! I talk about mental health issues a lot around here, you can only hope to contain me.

Diagnoses are honestly a guessing game with this kind of thing--I was diagnosed with chronic depression and ADHD in college, which later got refined to bipolar II (i.e, manic depression). I might still also have ADHD qualities, but I don't know to what extent I might actually still have it, or if those aspects belong to the bipolar business. But my doctor and I realized after several years of medicating for depression that I had a pretty visible mood cycle and distinct hypomanic episodes--I'd been having them since I was a kid, but because they were largely positive and creative, it never occurred to me to describe them as symptoms. Which is something I keep telling people over the years--they can't diagnose you with something you don't tell them about. It really has to be kind of cooperative, and it's kind of guesswork. I honestly didn't think to ask about bipolar until a longtime reader said, "You know, I've noticed some manic patterns in your posting over the years." So for the last few years, my doctor and I have worked on a mix of meds to keep the cycle more even--I know I'm going on and on about this, sorry, but this is kind of my standard Mental Health Spiel at this point--medication really does not work for everyone, nor is it necessary for everyone, even everyone who happens to be bipolar. I'm a big advocate of finding a doctor you trust and being upfront about whether something is or is not working for you, and making sure that doctor respects your concerns. Certain medications do work for me, and I was having real trouble coping with depressive downswings and manic upswings, which became less pleasant as I got older.

What happened, though, was that even considering that the depression and the mania and the cycling itself was being treated, I still had several problems or issues I just didn't know how to get through. I felt blocked or stuck or incapable and didn't know why. Disordered eating, panic attacks, I know how to drive but I panic, I can't finish or sometimes even start projects--I just kept thinking, maybe I'm not "good enough" at being bipolar, somehow? Maybe if I just try harder... even though I didn't know what "try harder" in this context would even mean. So when a teacher friend said, "This chart about how autism manifests in girls, I think you need to look at it," it suddenly explained a LOT of the things that were left over after bipolar disorder was accounted for.

But the thing is, iirc, a number of these things light up the same areas of the brain on scans. Several of these conditions have symptoms or traits that overlap or coexist or present similarly while not quite being the same. I have a friend who is autistic but not bipolar, as she discovered when meds went horribly for her. I have another friend who only recently realized she IS probably bipolar as well as autistic, like me. My sister has had tactile sensory issues since she was a kid, but an informal internet test ruled autism out for her about as definitively as an informal internet test can; I think she's still diagnosed as bipolar and most likely ADHD, if I'm remembering correctly. So any of these things could coexist--or not.

I think what you really pretty much have to do is start looking at the symptoms and traits of various conditions and start looking for what you DON'T have. It's really easy to end up with that internet hypochondria thing, so I started looking for reasons I WASN'T autistic, and... that counter-hypothesis didn't hold up. Not everything I read applied to me, but a preponderance of major things, in terms of how autism presents in women, did. I think talking to a professional at some point would probably help; I know my psych ran through a whole checklist of things when I first saw her. And even that initial diagnosis evolved. Really, you probably want to look for a therapist or doctor who says they specialize in one or more of the conditions you think might apply, too--they might have a more finely-grained idea of what to look for, what to rule out.

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