2021 is the year of change, awareness and acceptance. For the remainder of the year we will be conducting interviews with people in the mental health and autism spaces. This will include personal stories, discussions with allies and holistic medical practitioners. We want to share every story, because every story is relevant and leads to acceptance of neurodiversity.
This month, we were lucky to meet with Tasha Whitley. A neurodivergent advocate and blogger that recently dedicated their platform to sucide awareness. Tasha discusses her personal autism & mental health journey.
Thank you Tasha for sharing your story!
Check out Tasha’s Neurodivergence Blog - RhetoricalCuriosity.ca
Trigger Warning: discussion of medical diagnosis, suicide, mention of trauma related diagnosis & struggles
If you would like to share, what is your diagnosis?
I absolutely am comfortable sharing my diagnosis but thank you for being so respectful with your wording. I started with a generalized anxiety disorder diagnosis back in 2014. Over the years my anxiety started to worsen until I had severe depression but couldn’t obtain a diagnosis for depression. In December of 2019, I lost my father abruptly to suicide after he received a diagnosis for a rare progressive brain disease. My life changed irrevocably and I shut down further. The more trauma I experienced the less I coped.
Fall of 2020 I spoke to a psychologist and received a diagnosis for Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and started ADHD medication. I mentioned thinking I was Autistic and he told me “women can’t be Autistic”. After further listening to Autistic voices in hashtags such as #ActuallyAutistic I began accepting that I also am Autistic- though I do not hold an official diagnosis which can cost upwards of $5000 where I’m from.
What age were you diagnosed?
I started discovering my Autism at 31 years old only about two months ago did I start
openly claiming my Autism after facing much of the similar scrutiny depicted online.
“You don’t look Autistic”- but I am I just spent a lifetime hiding and withholding
information to keep me safe.
What barriers have you faced in your life?
The barriers I’ve faced in my life have been profound. In a general sense my whole life I was told how unsuccessful I’ve been meanwhile I couldn’t quite understand why I could never hold a job or why I suffered exponentially with things like physical sensations. I am very bothered by sensory things. Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria is debilitating. I have very high sensory needs which also affect my Physical Disability. It’s really easy for me to go into overwhelm but I’m learning to cope. I later learned definitions which helped me understand terms like Autistic Burnout or Sensory Overload. I wasn’t aware what sensory meant until recently. Personally, I have a complex history of trauma from early childhood so things such as a secure attachment style or a confident sense of self hasn't been something I developed naturally. Executive Dysfunction would be my greatest barrier since I also have ADHD and stringing tasks together is difficult. Though recently I’ve begun rewriting my life, it’s challenging knowing how to unmask
my Autism. Listening to other Autistic stories has helped me so much find a sense of self to
combat the constant state of burnout as I’ve been experiencing burnout the last 5
How have you overcome the barriers?
Doing trauma work to understand that I’m not responsible for what happened to me during my developmental years was hugely beneficial to start overcoming some of my ingrained ableism. It’s helped rewrite negative self-thoughts about some of the harsh words my parents would use regarding my performance levels. “Lazy” was thrown around a lot in my life but I just didn’t know how to execute a task. Mostly just working toward being my best authentic self while openly claiming my narrative as an Autistic human being. I had to re-learn the harmful information and stereotypes I’d previously learned about how Autism looks. There is a lot of misinformation and lack of understanding in medical documentation online and don’t get me started on the DSM5.
What advice or tips do you have for people that may be struggling with similar barriers?
I would tell you that it’s important to claim your narrative whether or not you’re self-diagnosed or medically diagnosed. Calling yourself Autistic can make all the difference. I spent months researching hashtags listening to openly Autistic voices- bloggers like Musings Of A Cornflower who have shared their late diagnosis story. I’d tell you to avoid medical research online since most of it doesn’t take into account actual Autistic experiences. I’d tell you that it’s super okay to be confused, and I understand that it might be scary especially if you’re like me and have an intense trauma profile or never fit in anywhere. I’d tell you it’s okay to not tell anyone you’re Autistic if you don’t have any safe spaces to be Authentic since you don’t want to further harm yourself. Trust me, I understand.
Mostly I want you to know that if you’re a late-diagnosed Autistic it’s okay to feel euphoric or a plethora of emotions that come with finally understanding yourself. Healing is so difficult and complicated- but what’s more complicated is growing up a lifetime without knowing who you are like I have.
My family wasn’t safe.
My Autism was missed.
My Autistic traits were in a sense abused out of me.
So I masked.
People mask for inclusion.
You are valid.
You are worthy.
You are loved.