Highly Functional originally started as a concept that I used to use to describe myself, specifically my nature to smoke lots of cannabis and get lots of things done. It still holds this connotation to me although I’ve been working on changing my relationship with Cannabis.
In the last year I am finally starting to understand and accept my autistic nature and I now see “Highly Functional Growth” as an homage to that journey. Many autistics are put off by the terms “high and low functioning” and I can understand why because being labeled as “low functioning” could be a huge blow to the psyche. The reality for many autists is that we bounce between both, depending on stress levels and other influencing factors.
It’s called a spectrum for a reason….
For me high functioning autism means I am able to support myself emotionally and financially...most of the time. That is not to say I don’t deal with many of the same struggles as someone who considers themselves “low functioning”. This just means that I have an easier time supporting myself. And I have a theory that I’d probably be much closer to “low functioning” if I were in the United States trying to work a job to support myself. I think someone who’s considered “low functioning” could easily become “high functioning” in the right environment and life situation.
My ability to embrace my nature has led to a diverse life tailored to me in which I don’t have to just pick one thing to do. It’s extremely common for people with autism to also experience ADHD symptoms and the two are commonly confused. Combine that with the low cost of living in Mexico and I’ve built a life where I do what I want, when I want. I can take a mental health day if I want, or I can spend all day working. It’s always up to me and I’ve found that sort of control greatly increases my ability to cope with the world.
My process of growth the last 2 or so years has been a messy one.
I can’t say I really started to feel growth in my life until I started to address my health, both mental and physical. In both regards I had sinking suspicions that things were not “normal” with me but I had no idea why. As a result I spent most of my life scared, loathing what seemed to be failing body and mind. I was 25 and felt like I was both going crazy and falling apart, which is terrifying.
Things really started for me when I realized I am autistic. I am undiagnosed because I don’t feel the need for official diagnosis living in Mexico in this extraordinary lifestyle I’ve built. When I realized my autism, I’d just had a meltdown after a relationship quarrel that ended in self harm. Putting it simply, I was hitting myself uncontrollably. I felt broken, terrified and crazy.
So I googled something along the lines of “why do I hit myself?”
And virtually all the results were related to autism. So I jumped down that rabbit hole online for a few days. At first I cried. A lot. My brother was diagnosed with autism and he faced SO many challenges as a result. All his official diagnosis brought him was being drugged before 5 years old and being labeled a “problem child”. Truth be told, he’s one of the most loving people in my “family” but you wouldn’t know that with how they talk about him.
As I kept reading a sense of relief set in as I finally started to understand my behaviors. Everything from aversion to eye contact to the fact that I used to pick at my acne until my skin was raw and bleeding. I was a mess at that time and there were many people close to me who really wondered if I didn’t have some drug addiction, perhaps meth or crack. And I couldn’t help but wonder if there actually was something wrong, until I found autism. Then it was pretty obvious to me and I stopped feeling broken.
Here’s a list of the things I’ve noticed seem to be related to my autism:
- tendency to overthink
- stimming behaviors like picking skin
- obsessive interests in special topics. For some just one topic…for me many.
- inability to stick to one thing for very long
- inability to communicate feelings clearly or understand the feelings of others
- eye contact avoidance
- can seem emotionally cold (when I’m locked in my head usually dealing with anxiety)
- storming away when stressed to self isolate
- extreme dislike of confrontation
- lack of social awareness (tendency to interrupt conversations inappropriately, oversharing where it’s not appropriate
- need for routine
- missing social cues and difficulty with nonverbal communication cues (standing too close, being too loud ect)
- hypersensitivity (sensitive to sounds, touch sensations, tastes and textures in food, temperature and more)
Women aren’t commonly diagnosed autistic.
Usually we’re just labeled “weird” and forgotten about, forever criticized for not acting like most women yet never understanding why. I am not alone in my lack of diagnosis and through support groups I’ve found so many of my strange behaviors and obsessions were all linked.
Many people have criticized me for my embracing of the autistic “label”. Most people who are autistic knows the label can actually be a freeing thing, as you can truly begin to understand yourself. That’s when I stopped seeing myself as broken and started seeing myself as different. The self abuse has more or less stopped and meltdowns are now few and far between.
Since joining support groups, I’ve also learned to replace unhealthy habits like my addiction to picking at my skin with things like crochet or fidgit toys. I realized that my need to pick at my skin was really just a need for release, something we call a “stim.” Stims can be healthy or destructive, so it was just a matter of replacing habits at that point which seemed doable.
The next step for me to truly start to grow was trying the Carnivore diet which saved my life.
When I found the carnivore diet, was at a point where everything I ate made me ill. I had horrible skin, digestion and I was suicidal. Within 3 weeks of going carnivore I suddenly had hope for my life. I stayed carnivore for over a year an a half, even going strictly beef for 5 months. At the time, I thought I’d have to eat that way forever to be happy.
But, I’m a chef.
I love to cook and cooking meat gets boring after awhile. So eventually I quit the diet to enjoy my life more and what I found was surprising. There are certainly things I can’t eat but I can eat way more than I used to. I feel just as good as I did as full carnivore consuming carbs again and I think that’s because I committed so fully for so long. Also in my research into autism, food intolerance are EXTREMELY common. Just another puzzle piece falling into place, so to speak.
When I went to college I was pretty quickly depressed at the idea of having to chose one thing for the rest of my life. What if I get bored? At the time I thought I was broken because my friends seemed to have no issue choosing and it seemed like I just couldn’t stick with anything.
Now I understand this to be to my autistic and likely ADD nature. I get bored after about 30 minutes to an hour of doing anything. It really doesn’t matter what it is. And you want to know what? That’s okay. For me depression and anxiety come when I go against my true nature. And only when I embraced that nature did my life truly start to bloom.
At this point I have many skills, hobbies and jobs.
I do lots of different things every day and I thrive with that. I couldn’t imagine a job where I had to do the same thing every day for years on end. My happiest days are my most diverse days, really. And I’ve learned to use the strengths that come with the way I am in my favor instead of just wallowing in being different, like some do.
And all this peace and growth came from my ability to accept myself for who I am. The only reason I was able to find this peace was because of others sharing their experiences online. For this reason, I think it’s time I start sharing more of the vulnerable stuff because you never know who might read this and go…
“Wow, so I’ve been autistic all along? What a relief!” like I did.
Curious about autism?
Check out this fascinating test to see how neurodiverse you likely are! Obviously not to be taken as a diagnosis but the results can help you understand your behavior more than you’d expect!