Earlier this week, I had a missed call on my mobile from a private number. This washed waves of anxiety over me. I’d asked my local NHS adult autism service to put me on the callback list in the event of any appointment cancellations – a year’s wait from the date of referral for assessment (the likely duration I’d been forewarned about) was a long time to contend with when I was already convinced I was autistic. What if it had been them? What if this was the only opportunity in the next 12 months I might get to come in earlier? Too late. I had no idea who it was who had called me.
Two days later, just as I was about to leave the office to go and deliver some training, I received another call from an undisclosed number. This time, I picked up.
“Hello is that Lady Ananas?”
“This is X from the Adult Autism and Neurodisability Services. I understand you’re on the short-notice callback list, and we have a cancellation this afternoon? Would you be able to come in?”
“Er no, sorry. I’ve due to be doing a whole day’s training that I can’t get out of. Thanks, anyway. Can you still keep me on the callback list in case anything else comes up?”
“Okay, love. No problem – it’s just that cancellations don’t happen very often. But if you can’t make it, not to worry.”
“Okay, thanks very much. Bye.”
What. The. Fuck. Did. I. Just. Do?
Walking up the road to the training venue, I tried ringing the public number I knew I had for the service. Voicemail. Shit. Cue rambling message.
And so, for the entire morning’s training, I was fidgety, anxious; not really fully there.
Why is it that I never put myself first? I’m always so desperate not to let other people down. People know me and respect me – they could cope in this situation. I really should look after myself more. I’m so stupid. This is really important, and I’ve blown it.
My training delivery partner, who was already aware of my situation (I have a very accepting, diversity-friendly workplace), asked me what was up. I told him.
“Oh, you should have just said ‘yes’! I can cover the whole thing – we’ve worked on it together. Just give them a call again – even if they’ve already offered the appointment to someone else, at least you’ll know you did all you could.”
And so I rang back. The appointment was still unfilled. I said “Yes”. And in that moment I went from still-low-down-on-the-waiting-list to autism-assessment-in-T-minus-2 hours. Yikes! Not ideal preparation time, but hey.
In the taxi to the assessment venue, I felt sick. Deeply sick. What if I lost the plot? Forgot to tell the psychologist all those necessary things that had been whirring round in my head, and populating this blog, these past few months?
Caaaaalm. Breeeaaathe. Fidget with Tangle.
The service is based in a green, leafy part of town, with wide, clean streets and large buildings. The sun was shining. All outside was calm, as I was fizzing and churning inside. I buzzed in, went through the large glass doors, and signed in.
Inoffensive décor. Nothing too jarring on the senses, apart from one flickering light near the reception desk, which I could look away from quite easily. A very welcome cup of tea available for the princely sum of 50p. A box of sensory items in the waiting area, plus an enormous beanbag, which I opted for instead of the horrid, low-seated, upright, square chairs that I can never, ever get my body comfortable on. My Tangle was still preferable to the other fidgety items on offer.
And ten minutes later, I was in the appointment.
Another oversized beanbag was made available. I sank into it and let it cocoon me. The light in the room remained off throughout. I decided that it was okay to make minimal eye contact with Dr S, while I fidgeted, fidgeted, fidgeted with the Tangle, and talked. Dr S was supportive, kind, encouraging; sensitively and gently steering me in another direction if I talked too long on a point for which he already had sufficient evidence (brevity is not a strength of mine).
And, after two and a half hours of answering questions, and a provision of my life history (in addition to the eight-page document I’d offered up to support my referral request), it was all done. I was utterly exhausted.
And I had gone from self-diagnosed to fully-fledged, bona fide autistic. Just like that. Written report to be typed up and posted to me, of course. But the diagnosis was clear. Autistic spectrum disorder (with caveats that my autism is of a very ‘atypical’ nature), with probably ADHD and dyspraxia. Explanations for a lifetime of struggles, but also validation of my many strengths. And the prospect that I will be seen again, and can start to work through how I might work, and be supported, to be a happy, autistic me.
And with that, a weight was lifted. A key aspect of who I am was finally confirmed to me. And whilst I cried and cried, I was happy.
That was yesterday. Less than 24 hours ago. And however I’ll be feeling as the days and weeks go by, right now, I couldn’t be happier.