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Chapter 11: Unmasking the Self

It has been an extraordinary journey for me to reach the realization of my true Self, the innate being within me that exists beyond societal conditioning and the masks I've worn throughout my life to feel connected to humanity.

As I sit down to write this morning, I am filled with gratitude for every step and misstep that has brought me to this point. I had an affirming and validating call yesterday with the ND therapist who will conduct my autism assessment. The initial step was to complete some online questionnaires, which she explained would aid in the development and validity of my work accommodation requests based on the results.

The results of the online questionnaires confirmed my intriguing suspicions, bringing both relief and a slight nervousness about the upcoming six weeks of intense assessment. I had read online that the assessment typically took six hours, which caused me to dread the inevitable sensory overload and anxiety that would accompany such a lengthy process. Fortunately, my assessment therapist (whom we will call D) is neurodivergent and understands this well, as she has scheduled six one-hour sessions to break up the assessment.

Regarding the four questionnaires I completed, the most significant outcomes were from the Cat-Q assessment. This evaluation measures the degree to which individuals conceal their autistic traits and produces scores for total camouflaging, as well as three subtypes: Compensation, Masking, and Assimilation.

Considering my 43 years of experience, it comes as no surprise that my results were well above average for autistic women.

Since I have “come out” as autistic, I have encountered numerous individuals who have dismissed the possibility of me being autistic due to my lack of certain behaviors. This is because I learned to imitate neurotypical behavior in order to blend in and conceal my differences. To cope with the strain of suppressing my true self, I turned to alcohol, but that is no longer an option for me. The process of unmasking oneself can be difficult and awkward, but it was the unkind and undeserved criticism from my former boss that ultimately led me to accept my neurodiversity. Although it was painful, it was a necessary step in my journey.

I find it both intriguing and disheartening that it took me 3 1/2 years of personal research and self-discovery to reach this point, as no clinician had ever mentioned the possibility of me being neurodivergent. Despite earning a degree in psychology of addictions and completing the academic program to become a certified alcohol and drug counselor, there was no discussion of neurodivergence in any of my coursework.

This highlights the importance of further research and understanding of the intersections of substance use disorders (SUD) and neurodivergence.

My friend and fellow autist Kat says “It’s almost like they’d rather criminalize it instead so they can fund their prison industrial complex.” This poignant observation suggests that society would rather criminalize substance use disorder and profit from the prison industrial complex, instead of accepting and integrating diverse individuals into our communities. This sentiment speaks to the current state of our commodified healthcare and justice systems, which seem to prioritize oppressive forces over inclusion and support for those with differences.

However, returning to the topic at hand, despite the challenging atmosphere in the workplace, I still hold onto a sense of cautious optimism about the potential benefits of receiving a diagnosis. In my opinion, a diagnosis could serve as a catalyst for promoting a more inclusive work environment not just for myself, but for the many other individuals who are neurodivergent or differently abled and work alongside me. These are crucial considerations, especially in light of the recent resignation of yet another leader in our Behavioral Health Unit, which prompted our new Behavioral Health Director to conduct a staff check-in which shed light on the prevalent climate of uncertainty, confusion, apathy, frustration, and burnout in our workplace.

During the team discussion, I observed a deep concern regarding the need for a transformative shift in the culture of OHA and the Behavioral Health Unit. As an active participant in the community, I have keenly observed a downward trend in the organizational culture. Although there have been numerous dialogues on the significance of behavioral health values, it seems that we are still far from realizing our aspirations of translating these values into tangible outcomes within our own internal dynamics.

This realization demands an urgent and profound shift in the way we operate, communicate, and engage with each other as we strive to rebuild and renew our culture.

From the moment I stepped into OHA, I recognized the importance of tackling theses critical issues and the necessity for cultural transformation. However, my approach was met with resistance, skepticism, and criticism from those who viewed my perspective as imposing. They accused me of assuming an expert role and failing to seek the viewpoints of those who held higher positions than I. Nonetheless, I remain steadfast in my belief that my role requires me to challenge the status quo, and my efforts to bring about change have been driven by a deep commitment to fulfilling my professional obligations.

Upon reflection of the last seven months, it is evident that the primary barrier to effecting cultural transformation at OHA is rooted in leadership. In awareness-based systems change, we understand that when we lead from a self-centered perspective, we perpetuate the status quo. Therefore, it is crucial for leaders to receive feedback with an open mind and an open heart. To address this, Otto Scharmer suggests a shift from an ego-centric to an eco-centric perspective, where "energy follows attention."

This entails redirecting our attention from what we want to avoid and focusing on what we want to create and manifest into reality.

After encountering roadblocks and temporarily halting my evaluation report and strategic plan for cultural transformation, I received a wave of encouraging feedback and support to resume the project and advance it. I was even on the verge of exploring new job opportunities and devising a departure strategy. However, following the recent all-staff check-in, I am revitalized and self-assured that the plan will be embraced by my colleagues and potentially even by our incoming Behavioral Health Director. I believe that the optimal moment for presenting it will become clear to me intuitively.

I wanted to share an update on Romeo and Sarah. They are both doing well. Sarah has been texting us daily and using this time to focus on her physical and emotional well-being, which is helping her get back on track with her recovery. Meanwhile, Kye, our pet sitter, has been taking great care of Romeo and sending us pictures and videos every day to keep us updated.

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