Autism Interview #166: Holly Bishop on Autistic Identity

Holly Bishop is from southwestern Ohio and has a Bachelor’s of Art in European History, as well as a Master’s of Science in Political Science, from Southern New Hampshire University.  Bishop was formally diagnosed with ASD I in July 2020, at the age of 37. This week she shared her path to diagnosis, self-advocacy, and navigating personal and public life.

What made you decide to pursue a formal autism diagnosis? How did you feel afterwards?  

Most notably, I was finding that the personal steps that I was taking to address misdiagnoses were not working.  Some ten or so years ago, I read my own formal psychological profile. I was well aware of most of the information my doctor had put together on me. The “BPD?” on one axis was new. So I looked into borderline personality disorder, with great fervor. I bought books and things to help me take an active role in dealing with what might be “my problem” on top of the PTSD, depression, and anxiety that I already knew about. The methods were reasonable and easy to understand, but they clearly did not address what I was dealing with. I’ve always felt like I was the odd one out, living on the wrong planet; classic, I know. Last winter, just as the Covid pandemic was catching the world’s attention, I caught a TikTok video posted by a friend on FaceBook. It was a series called “autism in girls” by Paige Layle (@paigelayle). The apple had fallen and hit me right on the head. So I bought books. I got more nervous with each book. The prospect of having to fight for the diagnosis loomed large. As the pandemic lockdown started, I was learning all of this. I knew what I knew, and I sought out a therapist that was female and close to my age; a fellow Millennial. Miss Morton was the second in a search on Psychology Today’s search tool. It took two, one hour sessions, over two days. There was no doubt. I felt so much relief, and I was so glad to have answers.

How has self-advocacy played a role in your life (either as a teenager or adult)? 

While my formal diagnosis answers questions for me, it creates a zillion new questions for everyone else around me.  Self-advocacy is my only tool sometimes, in helping close friends and family to understand me in both the past and present. I had a lot of family trauma. The way I reacted all goes back to being on the spectrum. Trouble in school, trouble with my parents, everything.

What is something you wish the neurotypical people in your life understood better about autism or about you?   

I’m different, and that isn’t going to change. Your idea of who I am is not factual.

You’ve written that you recently finished your Master’s degree. What did you enjoy most about that process and what did you find the most challenging? 

I had a very difficult time during my Master’s program.  It was a whole new level of stress, especially due to the format of online classes and having dyslexia. And executive function disorder! The one thing I was thankful for, was that I was able to take one class at a time and still be considered full-time–though this made my program two years longer.

Describe social situations or environments in which you feel the most comfortable. 

To be at my most comfortable, I have to be alone. My partner and I live in a very small house. I have always had my own room. There is just no way around this. If I shop, I prefer to be alone. When I travel, I prefer to be alone. This is the only way that I can experience everything fully. If I shop with someone else, I forget things, even if I have a list. I am unable to fully take in my surroundings both mentally and physically. I am most comfortable blending into the wallpaper and attracting no attention. Holidays and personal celebrations are so foreign to me, even though they have been a part of my life from childhood. My family celebrates Christian holidays; but I am Graeco-Pagan. I questioned all things religious my entire life and fought against it just as hard. So, I’m constantly at holidays, standing there with everyone I love like, “WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?!” Screamed internally, of course.

What advice do you have for parents trying to raise children with a positive Autistic identity? 

Let them lead. 

What are you most passionate about? 

Advocacy for the voices rarely heard.  I am a bisexual woman, married to a bisexual man.  Whether it is sexual orientation, matters of gender, or race, I hope I can be a voice for good and understanding in some way. 

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