Six years ago, I chose the religious name "Felicity." Not in honor of the 3rd-century martyr of that name, but because it means "happiness." And it wasn't aspirational, it was thankful. After many years of depression, and more years of anti-depressant medication, in 2016 I found that burden unexpectedly lifted. My life was better than it had been in decades. Depression had been a foundational, defining fact of my life, since I was in elementary school, and finally it was gone. And when I finally made the decision to accept the calling to consecrate my life to God alone, that added even more to my happiness.
So, reflecting back on the occasion of renewing my vows again, I've been thinking about how that choice of name has held up. How does the name "Happiness" fit me now? And I am very happy to tell you that I am so much happier now than I was when I changed my name. So much happier, that looked at from the perspective of now, back then doesn't even look like happiness at all.
When I made the decision to become a hermit 6 years ago, and when I finally retired into the hermitage full time 3 years ago, I was burned out. I felt like Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. And I had no idea why it was all so hard. Retirement from working for a living was a great relief, it's still a relief three years later. But it has been solitude, most of all, that has been the key to getting out from under that weight. Solitude has allowed me to stop masking.
Everyone masks sometimes -- you pretend to be interested in a boring story, or respectful of your insecure boss, or confident when making a presentation, that kind of thing -- but for people with autism it's a full-time job. Especially, for girls and women with autism. And for an autistic woman who has made it to middle age before being diagnosed with autism.... it is the whole weight of the world. It takes so much freaking energy! Such constant vigilance!
Yes, it's confirmed: I'm autistic. I was convincingly, though unofficially, diagnosed this week. I had been officially, but unconvincingly, diagnosed last year. "Official" is based on formal credentials, "convincing" based on actual, extensive knowledge and experience working with late-diagnosed, gifted, autistic, women. And the number one giveaway? Masking. The extent and impact of masking, in my life story as I told it to her.
I started masking, fiercely, at age 10 after school bullying. From then on, masking was so constant, and took so much energy to maintain, that I had to literally become a full-time hermit to begin to get reacquainted with who I really am underneath. All that about Fantasy Me and Real Me throughout this blog ... that was my mask, being painfully and painstakingly dismantled.
And as Real Me began to emerge underneath, I began to learn all about ADHD (diagnosed when I was 30), to start to make sense of myself. And from there opened up this whole new world of neurodiversity, adding in the generalized hypersensitivity, the autism, the giftedness. I'm still in the middle of this, making sense of this mysterious unmasked version of myself.
First was getting to know myself as I am behind the public mask. Then, learning a whole new language and framework for understanding my atypical self. That new understanding has helped me to accept my differences, my challenges, my weaknesses. And with acceptance, I give myself permission to find ways of supporting and accommodating my weaknesses, instead of continually stressing them by trying to live like a neurotypical person.
Happier is this new sense of freedom, peace of mind, self-acceptance, lightness ... the pure pleasure of letting my curiosity run loose through all the neuroscience and psychology and deep existential questions about a whole new (to me) dimension of human diversity ... and the excitement of finding my people, people who think like me, people who "get it." And thank God for all those (a lot of gifted, autistic, I'm just saying) geeks who invented the internet, and who keep making it more and more capable, to connect people like me with other people like me, all around the world.
And now, I'm moving into a whole new phase of my life, still learning about my own neurocognitive quirks, but also now starting to learn what I need in order to be able to help other people like me. Other people like me! People whose minds run outside all the boxes, gifted, sensitive, intense, mystics, deep thinkers, autistics and ADHDers, people who always felt alien in the neurotypical world. And I am so grateful to my teachers, all the writers and podcasters and researchers. I'm still at the beginning of this stage of my path, but it's a whole other level of happiness to know that I will be able to join that small company of guides and helpers before too very long.
So when I chose the name Felicity for my new life as a hermit, it was aspirational after all. I am far happier than I was back then, and that was already far happier than I had been for years before that. I get stressed out, I get overwhelmed, I have my ups and downs, sure. But it all makes so much more sense to me now, and that makes all the difference. I know I can live a good, happy, meaningful, life. I have God's love, I have a loving family, I've found "my people," and I have everything I need as I keep moving forward in this amazing journey. Thanks be to God!
+++ PEACE +++