When I was a little kid, I loved anything and everything that sparkled. I was infatuated with glitter. To me, there was nothing that glitter couldn’t improve, except for maybe pancakes. As I grew older, my love of glitter intensified, but the kids around me had moved on to more sophisticated mediums, like paints and markers. Glitter was messy and hard to clean up, after all. It stuck to everything and became a nuisance. So, as my peers moved on, begrudgingly, so did I. This was one of the first times I remember hiding my authentic self in order to become more tolerable to those around me. I did what everyone else did and hid away the parts of me that were weird. The glitter had to go.
I had never once considered that my struggles were not universal. I thought that everyone experienced the world in the same ways that I did. It was just my own fault for being unable to cope with life and relationships as effectively as everyone else. The harder I tried; the worse things got. Friendships were fraught and stressful. School became increasingly difficult to manage. Adults saw me as an incredibly intelligent kid who was shy and socially awkward. A phase to be grown out of. Like lots of autistic girls, I flew under every single radar.
I was 35 years old when I started considering that I might be autistic. When it finally dawned on me, I was scared. I didn’t think anyone would believe me. And I had no idea where to look for help. Most mental health services that work with autistics only treat children. So, I started therapy. After a few months, I expressed my concerns and was encouraged to seek diagnosis. Once I received one, my therapist informed me that she was not equipped to work with someone like me and gave me other therapy options to consider. This was truly devastating. I felt like I was being punished for finally figuring out the source of my struggles. We ultimately continued for a while, but our relationship never recovered. Unfortunately, a lot of late-diagnosed adults experience this. Even many mental-health professionals are afraid of the word autism.
It was at this time, however, that I decided to apply to grad school in order to become a mental health counselor myself. Throughout my adult experiences with the mental-health system, I found there is very little neurodivergent representation in the field. I wanted to help others on their journeys back to their authentic selves and be a resource for those who are late-diagnosed neurodivergent like I was.
I’m slowly still adjusting to living a life that feels more authentic to my true self. There will always be situations where masking will be the safest option for me, but the more I can avoid it, the healthier I feel. I have come across many other adults in the last few years who share similar experiences to mine but feel like it’s too late to start down their own path toward living authentically. Every autistic person’s experience is different, as is every path towards understanding and healing. But no matter what shape someone’s mental health journey takes, you’re never too old to get your glitter back.
Author: Meg Coughlin, Key Assets Kentucky Office Manager