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What I (sort of) Learned in Therapy

Therapy. It has its pros and cons. And I've been in and out of it for a decade. So, here’s what I’ve learned. Sort of.

Everyone Missed the Autism by a Mile

Looking back, even when I did talk to my therapists and try to express myself, they had no idea how to handle my responses. None of them could really “read” me. It’s funny to me now, of course, seeing as that was my overall goal. I wanted everyone around me to only see what I wanted them to. Even in therapy. (Can you tell I have trust issues?)

I really can’t blame them. In therapy sessions I was so highly masked or I didn’t say a word the whole hour, so how could anyone have possibly seen that I might be on the spectrum. Besides, it did take living with my step mom for two whole years before she suspected autism herself.

I Wasn’t The Problem Actually

One of the key things I realized early on, like waaaaay early on, was that I was a child and I didn’t really have control over my circumstances.

My therapy journey started with grief counseling after my mother passed away. Did we ever talk about my mother and work through the grieving process? Not really. There was too much going on in my life that I didn’t have the emotional energy or the brain capacity to bother myself with healing. There were too many newly opened wounds. My teenage years were, simply, utter chaos. I had something new to talk about every week with the counselor, many somethings actually.

So yeah, sometimes your mental health is subpar not because of anything you did or have control over. Sometimes it’s just your circumstances and healing can’t truly begin until that chapter of your life has come to a close.

For me, that chapter lasted seven years.

I’m As Right As I Think I Am

The funny thing about being autistic - and not knowing it - is that you’re hyper self-aware. There was almost nothing a therapist could tell me that I hadn’t already thought about or considered.

Walk away, remove yourself from the current situation or argument. Sure thing. I was labeled as rude. Take care of yourself and try to meet your own needs. You’re insensitive. Express yourself, show emotion. So, I got angry. And then I was overreacting. The list, unfortunately, goes on. I got all the labels a typical undiagnosed autistic receives.

But, I was right. I was right in my emotions, I was right to feel what I was feeling. I was right to step back and take care of myself first. I wasn’t the one that had to change and be molded into something I wasn’t to appease the people around me.

I Had to Save Myself

Everyone who has ever struggled knows that at some point you reach a point. A point where you think, “is this all there is?”

And your answer becomes, “this can’t possibly be all there is, and I’m going to make sure it isn’t.”

I reached this point in 11th grade at 15 years old. I’d had enough. Enough of the sadness, the fear, the anger, the lack of joy. I was sick of it. I was sick of myself and the way I was living. If I were to keep going, something had to change. And I was the only one that could make it happen.

So, I took snippets, little pieces of advice from the many therapists I’d seen, and carved my own path forward.

I started focusing solely on myself.

And I wasn’t going to let anyone label me as selfish for it. I needed to get better. And if no one was going to help me, I certainly wasn’t going to let their opinions bother me either.

I learned to understand my emotions, reactions, and thoughts through a therapy practice.

While traditional approaches to therapy like CBT don’t always work for autistics, I did work through the book Mind Over Mood to get a handle on my anxiety. It’s what really got me into my journaling practice. I’d always been able to write down what had happened, but I didn’t know how to work through any of it.

This is where Mind Over Mood helped exponentially. It gave me instructions, a clear step-by-step process to work through. Plus, it was all independent work. I could work through it at my own pace and take the time I needed on each chapter. It gave me a new perspective on situations (and helped me feel less like an apathetic freak).

I found a way to track my emotions.

I remember one therapist telling me it would be helpful to track my emotions and activities to see if anything correlated. Like doing a certain activity puts me in a lower mood. I had to tell her I already did that.

I used Daylio at the time. While I no longer need to use it, I still highly recommend the app. I believe I used it consistently for three years. I kept track of my activities and moods every hour of every day. No, I’m not exaggerating. From the time I woke up to the time I went to bed, I checked into the app every single hour. I figured if I wanted an accurate picture of my mood I needed as much data as I could get.

I learned two things: 1) as I mentioned before, there were things I had no control over so my mood was going to be low no matter what I did, and 2) I was indeed happiest alone. In my room. Without any people around (yes, I know I’m extremely introverted).

I figured out what made me happy.

And then I did more of those things. I remember back in 11th grade when I'd hit that point - it was also one of my worst years because I was fully aware of what was actually going on. So, when I ended up in bed for a week and stopped going to school, I eventually got fed up with doing nothing.

And I made a list. A list of things that made me happy. I tried to write down as many things as I could from fictional characters, to tv shows, to old hobbies I’d given up. I no longer have the notebook I wrote this list in but I do remember Harvey Specter and Suits being on that list. As well as interior design, reading, and practicing gratitude. I spent the next three weeks doing these happy activities and configuring a solid daily routine.

I pulled myself out of one of the worst depressive episodes I’ve ever experienced. I got myself back to school and kept my grades up, all without any outside help.

Some people will tell me I was strong, that I even seem proud of this. I’m not. I was independent and “strong” because I had to be. While this was the start of my healing journey and it set in motion so many better things, I was also extremely lonely during this time.

But like I said, this chapter of my life lasted seven years, feelings of loneliness weren’t going to be all that uncommon. And this was long before I was diagnosed Autistic. So, that was a whole other upheaval in my life I had to figure out.

I tried new things.

One of the first things I tried was meditation. Meditation is one of those super common suggestions for people with mental health issues, but it did sort of work. I used the Calm app and while my brain was not meant to sit still for longer than five minutes, I took away a practice to collect my thoughts and center myself.

Whenever I’m feeling restless I close my eyes and “meditate” by slowing my thoughts down and working through what I really want to do next.

I started practicing gratitude and taking note of the things I already had in my life. This is a practice I still do today and has helped me appreciate how far I’ve truly come.

I started blogging more. Mostly on Tumblr. I learned the mere act of sharing something, even anonymously and on the internet, was helpful in making me feel more connected and a lot less isolated.

Things To Remember

  1. Everyone’s journey is different.

  2. Healing is not linear.

  3. What worked for me, might not work for you.

  4. You have to start somewhere.

  5. You actually do have the power to change things.

If you enjoyed this post, leave a like or comment below. Oh, and feel free to ask any questions, I’ll answer them to the best of my ability.

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