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Things I’m Learning as an Autistic Adult: Grief is a Physical Emotion

TRIGGER WARNING: PARENT LOSS AND GRIEF


I walked away from a very secure 6-figure job in DC to come back to Ohio. It made no sense. I was 33 and opting to go literally live in my mom’s basement while I transitioned instead of stay in a place with a position most people would have jumped at. It wasn’t that I don’t recognize and appreciate my privilege, but something wasn’t right.


This was one of the first times in my adult life where I followed my intuition even though it wasn’t entirely rational – and to be honest, not what I wanted. I can’t say I wanted to leave DC… it was more like…physically had to.


Growing up undiagnosed Autistic ADHD, I’ve learned to internalize my emotions rather than have them continuously invalidated, and so dissociation was my normal mode of functioning. DissociationLITE, perhaps? I’ve read and seen a lot of people talk about their experiences with dissociative identity disorder and I don’t entirely relate to those experiences. For me, it’s more that I've prioritized what needed to be done over how I felt… pack that away and deal with it later – you know, probably during my next undiagnosed autistic burnout.


Anyway, moving back was rough, which is a story for another day, but what it allowed me was a year and a half developing an adult relationship with my dad before he was diagnosed with cancer. He wasn’t the best dad growing up. He was very unreliable, which hurt me immensely, but we made amends and found peace in a way that worked for us. I didn’t live very close, but we’d get together at least every couple months to grab food and get outside together if we could – walking in the woods was our thing. Go figure.


And after he got sick, those visits turned into things like bringing food I made to see if he could stomach it and getting him settled outside to watch my stepmom and I take care of the things he so desperately wanted to do himself, like lawn care.


Throughout his life, we both functioned as undiagnosed pda autistic adults and found an understanding in that without knowing it. Now that he’s gone and I’m learning about all of this, it has healed parts of my inner-child who didn’t understand why her dad was avoiding her… I get it now though. It had nothing do with want. And I’m grateful for my stepmom every day because she was his co-regulator. The safety and security she gave him just by loving him and allowing him to be himself made him a better father. He wanted to be a better father long before I let him, and that was because of her.


I’m grateful for listening to my intuition and moving back when I did, getting that time with him. I have so many memories from that time that have been integral in piecing things together – both personally and generationally. I’m certainly not the only one in the bloodlines… just the first to figure it out.


Why am I bringing this up? My mom had a hip replacement recently and has needed a lot of assistance – understandably. I am very fortunate in that I live close and can get over there once or twice a day to take care of whatever she needs… but as I stood there loading dishes into her dishwasher the other day while she watched me, trying so hard not to tell me how she wanted it done and just let it happen, all I saw was my dad watching me mow the lawn, wishing it were him instead.


I’ve been really tired and initially I thought it was just all the extra stuff I’m doing – taking care of her bits and bobs and my bits and bobs, but… nope. This is about my dad. This whole thing with my mom is triggering those emotions in my body even though my brain knows my mom is okay and this is just temporary – this time. But my body wants to grieve my dad right now and so I’m trying to let it. I’ve been trying to sleep more than usual and am emotionally isolating more than usual because that’s the shutdown my body needs to process through and continue getting things done that, well, have to get done.


Instead of seeing my brain and body as functioning separately and using one to push the other through, I’m trying to let them hang out together and do their thing; I look at my job right now as creating the right environment for them to do this when I can.


As always, no real point here… just sharing how this whole late-diagnosed autistic generational trauma thing is working for me in real-time.


Stay regulated,

Shauna

 

I wanted to share some photos... this is me penguin pebbling <3



TIMELINE:

Move DC to Ohio: July 2015

Dad diagnosed with cancer: March 2017

Dad passed: August 2017

My audhd discovery: September 2022

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