I was recently diagnosed with a high-functioning ASD, what used to be called Asperger’s. It is helpful as I approach 60 to understand why relationships, social situations, and oral communications are so challenging for me, particularly in the work context.
But many seem to express the opinion that “everyone has a diagnosis these days.” Others are still discriminatory, so at this stage I’ve only told one person: a friend in the UK (herself diagnosed as bipolar). Do I tell a manager at work? My teenage children? My partner?
Eleanor says: It wasn’t until very late in my life that I realized that keeping things private is not the same as keeping them secret. I think it’s easy to forget that, especially when it comes to mental health, where the value of “telling your story” is so well publicized and the value of being private is necessarily invisible.
It is natural to want to share our mental life. Talking takes a private and fleeting experience and transforms it into something that other people can see. It is a way of confirming what we are inclined to doubt: that we will be fine, that what is happening to us is important. When that works, it really works: in a conversation about the mind, a good interlocutor can make you feel like a gong that has not been played until now.
But not everyone is a good speaker. Most of us are pretty sad. Not because we try to do it, or because we are bad, but because we are not trained to know what to say: we are a cliché; we project; We can’t tell in advance which well-intentioned trivia will work and which form a spike that plunges into the other person’s mind. This can be terribly damaging, both to you, who may feel isolated and hurt, and to your relationship with the other person, which can easily melt into the resulting disappointment.
You don’t need to expose yourself to that possibility until you really feel ready. One danger in our confessional culture is that we risk bearing our suffering on a plaque, as if revealing it is the only way to gain legitimacy for our preferences. But you know your own experience and you are learning what helps: There is a nice sense of self-confidence in deciding that these things are legitimate with or without the recognition of other people. You can give yourself the feeling of recognition that talking to others was supposed to bring.
This is especially true in the time immediately after diagnosis. Over the next little period, you will rewrite what you know about your mind and your memories, and sometimes that means trying things to see what sticks. Some terms or practices may be useful to you now, but remove them in six months. You may feel a surge of resonance where everything seems explainable, and then discover in a moment that some mysteries remain. You are allowed to develop (and resolve) your relationship with this discovery before allowing others to intervene with yours.
Of course you can tell who you want. Close family and couples will feel belittled if you don’t tell them eventually, and if you’re lucky, they’ll make wonderful fellow travelers sharing a ginger ale and wanting to hear what you’ve learned. All I want to emphasize is that you don’t I have share right now for the simple fact of having shared: the goal should be whatever it is that gives you to share. If you are not sure at this point what that goal is, you can decide to go private instead. Learning your own mind is a very long journey – you don’t have to carry passengers until you’re ready.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism