With my heart thumping hard enough to visibly rock my body this morning with each palpitation, I sent an email to my new boss disclosing my autism diagnosis. I hit “send” with more anxiety than I know how to diffuse, so I spent the rest of the morning nervously and desperately regretting my decision. All I could think about was how I had likely just sabotaged this beautiful opportunity. In the moment, it had felt like the right thing to do. In fact, my email disclosure was in response to a message I received from him the night before. When I first received his email, my gut instinct was to be honest and admit my neurodiversity because it was appropriate and would be helpful for him to be aware of in this case, but I had such an emotional repulsion to wanting to do that that I tied to “sleep” on it and come up with an alternative email. Nothing but honesty felt right or complete, so I chose to go with my initial instinct and simply mention it.
I’m still finding, in some cases, I battle the negative stigma and have to justify my worth and prove how I defy some negative stereotypes. I didn’t want this position to be another such case because I’m really enjoying the job and I just want to feel I belong without needing to put pressure on myself to continually “prove” I’m deserving and capable.
My mood markedly soured after sending the email. I tried a range of self-talk: you did the right thing; there’s nothing wrong with you; this will help you be more relaxed and genuine in Las Vegas, with less of a need to “act normal”; they were going to find out anyway; etc. With each rise of my internal cheerleader, my anxious and self-deprecating brain fought back harder. I paced in angst.
The company is headquartered on the other side of the country and I’m up for the day remarkably early even in my own time zone, so I waited hours and hours while my reply hung out there unaddressed. It was a constant (and losing) battle to remind myself how busy they are over there, which is why I have a job in the first place, but the day was unusually quiet in terms of communication. I heard virtually nothing from anyone on the team all day and I became convinced that I was getting the boot. I felt increasingly ill all day and depression swallowed me into her dark and icy squeeze. I was in bed by 5:00pm, unable to tolerate my feeling of loss and frustration at my own decision to disclose. Eventually, after reading three quarters of a book about a baker setting out to bake her sorrows away after a divorce, I fell asleep. I awoke later in the evening, afraid yet compulsively tempted, to check my phone. The response was there.
In the same manner that I remember being warmed and dried in a towel after dreaded freezing swimming lessons as a child, my team’s response was like a rescuing relief hug, wrapping me in acceptance and ridding me of the wet goosebumps of worry and shame. I was assured it was a non-issue and that clearly it hasn’t stopped me from achieving everything I have. Not only was I touched and my worry lifted by the response, but I instantly felt more comfortable. Sitting in a place of honesty and openness about this “difference” brings a level of happiness that only authenticity can afford. When you feel you need to hide part of who you are, it sends a constant message of questioning self-worth and lowered self-respect. I can’t stay in that place forever and achieve what I want to in my emotional growth. I’ve inhabited that space much of my life for various reasons and in order to step forward with respect to self-compassion and self-esteem, I can’t be riddled with so much shame.
Tomorrow marks a new day. My autism diagnosis shouldn’t affect my work either way, so nothing concrete ought to change, yet this “victory” demonstrates that good people are more open-minded than I fear and that self-disclosure doesn’t have to be a death sentence. On the contrary, it opens up little windows throughout my body and mind that normally conceal my true radiance and allows all my light to shine through.