• Ashlea McKay

Quirk Monster #9: The ghosts of pre diagnosis life part 1


A building construction site with 3 cranes and a flock of birds overhead.

I was diagnosed as autistic later in life. 


While that was an amazingly positive step forward for me and finally gave me a sense of belonging and understanding that has enabled me to live my most authentic life, 30 years is a long time. A lot of bad habits, ableism and damage to be unlearned and undone. So many ghosts and moving on from them doesn’t happen overnight. 


When I was a child, I very quickly learned that everything I said, did, felt and thought was wrong. I was always a problem to or for someone. 


My voice was always too loud or too soft. I always laughed when I wasn’t supposed to and I rarely understood jokes so I struggled to laugh when I was allowed to. I was that ‘weird’ person who had no friends and came home crying from school every single day. 

I was taught to never discuss my achievements, never hold an unpopular opinion and that mistakes were unacceptable. Pre autism diagnosis me learned to never ever be the reason why someone has to wait or be inconvenienced. Never get in anyone’s way, always put everyone else’s needs first and if in doubt —apologise. Then apologise again. Profusely. Because if you don’t, you’re a bad person


Before my diagnosis I felt so out of step with the rest of the world. I was constantly grating against the grain of society and everything about me was wrong. Nothing I did was ever good enough. When they called me a monster, I believed them. 


This twisted mentality was drilled into me from a young age from multiple sources and has stayed with me as I’ve grown up. 


As an adult, these experiences held the door wide open for imposter syndrome, anxiety, depression and severe trust issues. I grew into someone who used to be very hard on herself, was terrified of failure, would apologise constantly, thought everyone was going to hurt her and really struggled with self care. 


I’ve come a very long way in the last 4 years, but I’m still a work in progress. 

I still have trouble putting myself and my needs first. I still feel a twinge of guilt when someone has to wait for me — if you hold a door open for me, I will start running towards you without giving it a second thought. It’s not that I think you’re impatient, I just haven’t managed to flip that switch yet. 


I still apologise for things I shouldn’t apologise for. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve apologised for apologising


And yep, I do experience both depression and anxiety. I’m not afraid to tell you that I know how to breathe my way through a panic attack. 

But, I’ve also made some great progress.


The number of people I trust can no longer be represented by one finger — it actually takes more than two hands to count that number up which is mind blowing when you look at where I started. I've got a lot of very patient and understanding people to thank for that.

I’ve learned that perfection is absolute f***ing nonsense. I make plenty of mistakes and I’ve learned to appreciate them as part of the growing process. I’ve learned how to be kinder to myself when they happen and know that ‘failure’ is not absolute or life ruining. 

I’ve started trying to say ‘thank you’ instead of ‘sorry’ in situations that don’t merit a heartfelt apology. I’m about halfway there on that one. 


My self care is a work in progress, but is better than it has ever been. 


I now stand up for myself and advocate for my right to be treated fairly. Ableism, intolerance and discrimination are experiences that I no longer sit there and take. 


It’s possible that putting the ghosts of pre diagnosis life to rest will be a lifelong journey for me, but they’re not stopping me from living anymore. 

Author’s note

This short article is a lived experience example shared from my life to help you understand a little bit more about what it’s like to be autistic. I am just one autistic person in a really big world. No two of us are exactly alike. I can only speak for myself and to my own experiences. If you want to know what other autistic people think — and you should — look them up, talk to them and read their work too. We all have our own voices and this is only mine. This article is part of a mini content series I publish to LinkedIn when I can. You can view the other articles in this series via my LinkedIn profile.

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