A topic I’m sincerely and wholeheartedly passionate about is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This isn’t merely a hobby for me, this isn’t something where I sat here and said, “Welp, Brannen, you have to find your niche as a Social Worker once you start practicing for realz…go with ASD!” No, like a lot of things in my life — Harry Potter, cats, trivia, gender studies, Buddhism, the DSM, and other random things — it’s something that I will spend literally hours researching on my own, checking out a library’s worth of books on to learn more, and even recently found a job where I can get paid to assist in a study examining family dynamics in the context of ASD. Totally applying to that to support my broke grad student butt, by the way.
But I digress.
In the general theme of my blog, I’ve been thinking a lot about my identity. You know, that thing that I sometimes do. And in another related general theme of my blog, I’ve also been experiencing symptoms of anxiety. This is not new for me, and it should not be surprising considering I’m switching my anti-anxiety medication. But what really gets me, and has been a problem I’ve started pegging as an annoying, anxiety-inducing habit, is that when I get symptomatic in terms of anxiety my thought process looks a little bit like this:
Here’s a thing. I like this thing. I’m gonna do it. Oh wait, hold on, another thing I like to do! [sets aside random thing for another random thing, continues in this vein all day]
Wait, people. Oh, hi people! Oh crap, it’s a thing. A Social Thing. Did I do it right? I’m not sure…did I not make enough eye contact? Too much? Damn, I messed that up again, I just know it.
[Anxiety symptoms crank up a notch]
Oh look, another Thing. Think about the Thing think about the Thing think about the–
Shit, this is horrible. Why can’t I stop thinking about the Thing? Or that other Thing? What’s wrong with me?
Ad infinitum, ad nauseum. And the anxiety gets worse and worse, and my symptoms follow suit. I can’t decide if the behaviors precipitate the anxiety, or the anxiety the behaviors. I start struggling with eye contact. It’s harder for me to verbalize myself, and I find myself concentrating extra hard on forming and stringing words together coherently. I get twitchy–very twitchy. Loud noises, in particular high pitched ones, start making me jump. And don’t get me started on physical contact. Can you see where I’m going with this?
In short: even though I know I shouldn’t self-diagnose, even though I know it’s something I struggle not to do, especially when I’m anxious, it’s precisely when I’m anxious that I start thinking that yes, Virginia, this one has ASD. Specifically Asperger’s, before they combined it with Pervasive Developmental Disorder NOS (not otherwise specified), Autism, Rett Syndrome, otherwise known as the Pervasive Developmental Disorders for the ASD diagnosis. Told you I love the DSM.
Here’s the thing, though, because it’s a Really Important Thing…I’ve never been diagnosed with this, not clinically, which is my definition of truly being considered to have one disorder or illness or whatever it may be. Because for me, that’s how I have to frame it so that I won’t walk around a hypochondriac. I’ve been there, it sucks, and I really don’t want to do it. And no matter how bad I get, no matter how anxious I am, no matter how symptomatic I become, I have never — and will never — appropriate a label that others have for legitimate reasons for the sole reason that I suspect it might be true for me. This is something I struggle with regarding my dysthymia and potential anxiety diagnosis…I don’t even know how to identify as having a mental illness, because it’s so integrated into my personality that I feel as though it’s less an illness, and more of a character trait (or flaw, depending on the day).
So who’s to say I don’t have ASD? For now, probably my therapist…unless she agrees with me. But because I have this tendency to make up rules in my head that somehow equate to law in my book, like the not-being-a-hypochondriac rule mentioned above, I have this rule that tells me “Don’t self-diagnose, and don’t tell your therapist. It’s not good to self-diagnose, and she won’t like it.” I’ve brought it up briefly, and we moved onto other topics. But like I’ve said, ASD is really, really important to me. My brain latches on and won’t let go.
And here I am, writing this post. Not just because I can’t let go, but because I’m making a serious and honest attempt to be transparent about this issue. I can’t be the only one who’s ever thought they had some sort of sickness, mental illness, or neurodevelopmental disorder (as is the case with ASD). However, that absolutely does not make it okay to appropriate a term that, by rights, isn’t yours to take. At best it’s just rude; at worst you’re being uninformed and not considering people who truly need this diagnosis for treatment purposes.