"It's more meaningful to follow your needs, not someone else's." - Nienke

I'm Nienke, I’m 26 years old and a student, studying to become a Dutch language teacher. I enjoy relaxing on the couch with my two cats, watching series or reading. If I want to be in a bigger crowd, I drink a specialty beer with friends or go to a concert. I also go to the climbing hall and do yoga.

Previously, everything was exhausting, confusing and heavy to me and I couldn't imagine that this was the case for everyone. When I saw the documentary about autism in women by Vet Gezellig, I had an ‘aha-experience’. This was the reason for my diagnostic process: I’m autistic and I got ADD as a bonus. Since then, I’ve made a lot of progress. That's great, but it also means that I managed to cram a quarter of a century of trial and error into one year.

The grieving process came first, together with the discovery that I’ve always copied others. Then followed finding the strength to give meaning to my identity. I get a lot of satisfaction from doing the things that I want to do. I’m more aware of my limits. I know I'm not neurotypical, so I can stop trying to be that way.

Autism is not a reason to think I can't do something, nor is it a straitjacket. It has an impact on many parts of life. For example, my boyfriend and I lived together, but we found out that it was better to live separately again. I get new insights every day. This is overwhelming, sometimes hopeless, but it helps me move forward.

During my diagnostic process I was in the first year of my studies. I was unsure whether my suspicion of autism was the explanation for me always feeling different, and what it would mean if I was indeed autistic. I'm surprised, but most importantly proud, that I survived this emotional rollercoaster, and embraced my diagnosis.

My tip: If you have autism, especially in an overwhelming neurotypical environment, it’s important to listen to yourself. Don't get lost in "that's what everyone does" and don't think it's selfish or weird. I wear sunglasses on cloudy days, on the sunniest days I stay indoors. I don't do small talk if I don't have the energy for it, and in a restaurant I ask if the volume of the music can be lowered. It's more meaningful to follow your needs, not someone else's.

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