Posts Tagged ‘autism’

I’m not exactly sure when or why I started suspecting that I might have autism. Perhaps it started way back, several years ago, when my sisters first teased me about my eccentricities as a child, telling me that if I had grown up a decade or so later, I surely would have been diagnosed with autism. We laughed about it then (though I have never been entirely comfortable with the way my childhood struggles seemed to amuse my siblings), and that thought stuck in the back of my mind somewhere.

Some time later, I rewatched one of my all-time favorite movies, Benny and Joon. That movie has meant much to me since the first time I saw it, soon after it first came out (I believe I was 10 when I watched it first). I always just explained to people that this movie came along at just the part of my life when I was beginning to feel different from my peers, and that this movie made me feel more comfortable about being “different.” Fast forward twenty years or so, and I read this article which speaks about the movie in terms of autism, which the main characters likely have. I found the article to be unsettling but incredibly interesting, and I saved it as a bookmark on my computer to revisit from time to time. Still, at this point I would jokingly think of myself as “having been an autistic child,” and I seriously wondered how it was that I had somehow managed to grow out of it.

It wasn’t until about a year ago that I started thinking that perhaps I hadn’t grown out of it after all. I had a conversation with a sibling in which we discussed our mutual inability to develop friendships in a normal manner. We revisited, in a more serious way, the symptoms that I displayed as a child, including my speech difficulties, selective mutism, avoidance of eye contact, and troubles with communication in general.

At the same time, I was experiencing great difficulties at work with trying to communicate with the people I was working with. I was having meltdowns after every social event that I went to. I was, unknowingly at the time, alienating both my boyfriend and my best friend through my lack of “proper” communication. I was beginning to see that I was the common denominator in all of these situations, and that I really didn’t have the ability to connect with others in what is seen as an appropriate way. My peculiarities in speech and mannerisms were becoming more glaringly obvious to me, and it started to feel like everyone all along must have realized that I was autistic, and I was the last to know.

I have spent a great deal of time reviewing my life in view of what I am coming to realize about myself. I mourned for the struggles along the way, the lost opportunities, the crushing lack of self-esteem that I have always harboured, even in these days of greatly enhanced confidence and self-love. I cried for the child who got bitched at for not looking other people in the eye, or not responding to her name, or not wanting to play with other children. I cried for the young adult who was constantly told that she was too quiet, needed to talk more, needed to get outside her comfort zone, needed to conform to societies expectations, needed to do this and that and try to make other people happy even though she couldn’t. I cried for the woman I am now, approaching middle age, who is told by those closest to her that she does damage by being uncommunicative. That she has no personality. That she is like a zombie. That she brings nothing to the relationship. Told again and again, implicitly or explicitly, that she is “boring.”
I am just beginning to realize the power and benefit of my self-identification as an “autie”. Most importantly, it has given me the opportunity to express empathy toward myself, and to understand why my life is what it is, and why I have struggled so much (and so secretly) for so long now. I know now that, if and when I begin a new relationship (romantic or not) with somebody, then I will have the courage to tell them early on that I struggle with typical communication, and I become overwhelmed and overstimulated in many situations, and that I am doing my best and will need some straightforward guidance along the way.
This is all very much under development as an idea, and I continue to process my new-found self-identification on a constant basis.

I am beginning to have greater patience with and appreciation for people in my life who do not act in ways that I expect them to act. I think less, these days, in terms of “What the hell is wrong with her?”, and more along the lines of compassion and understanding. It is an interesting and a heart-warming development, to be sure. I hope it continues in this vein, because I would very much like to continue to appreciate other humans in a much greater capacity than I have been able to thus far. Especially the odd ones.

Another aspect of my discovery has been rethinking all my former diagnoses in light of current realizations. People with autism are known for their emotional outbursts, their self-harm, their inability to cope with stimuli, their difficulties with relationships, their mood swings, and their repetitive behaviors. What if all along I have thought that my twenties were plagued by borderline personality disorder, but I really only was an undiagnosed autistic, trying desperately to cope? Does that distinction even matter in the long run? Perhaps it does, in that I am still struggling greatly with certain aspects of my personality that I have previously seen as shortcomings. Maybe I don’t have any kind of a “disorder” at all. Maybe my brain is just wired differently than many others, and I haven’t fully found ways to cope. Maybe there is untapped potential out there for me, in which I can learn how to be healthy in a job, or healthy in a relationship, or find and maintain a friendship that doesn’t fizzle out because I can’t keep in touch in the expected ways. Maybe I will learn how to do new things and travel new places and attend events without having complete meltdowns during or afterward? Or maybe I can find ways to inspire compassion and understanding among those who expect me to do things that I find impossible, or traumatic.

One thing is certain: my entire perception of who I am and who I want to be is shifting beneath my feet on a daily basis. How can I heal the trauma that is most of my past life, in light of the realization that all along I may have been neurodivergent? How much of everything suddenly makes far more sense than I ever dreamed possible? Will this knowledge make things any easier for me, going forward? Will I be able to be myself and like it, finally? Will I be able to find ways to accomodate my own needs while still maintaining the level of independence I have somehow managed to gain for myself?

I don’t know. I have the desire to find out more. I feel the need to connect with others who are like me. I certainly need to do more soul-searching. It is a great deal to consider, and I intend to give myself plenty of consideration going forward. I think this will be a promising development for me, in many ways.

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And so it has been nearly three years since I last shared anything here. It hasn’t been an empty three years, by any means, nor one devoid of writing. I simply lost touch with my desire to be heard. Or to hope to be heard. To want anyone to want to hear.

And as the end of the year draws near, I find myself, like many others, looking back over the past several hundred days and measuring the growths and contemplating the achievements. And my greatest achievement, perhaps, within this past year is my self-identification as an autistic person. It is a realization that has rocked my foundations, and one I still grapple with on a daily basis. I am still in awe of the magnitude of my discovery, and I am grateful that it finally found me.

But while I see my experience of life through much different lenses now, it will not be a topic that I post about any more than others. This isn’t a blog about autism; this is a blog about me. All of the posts from the past twelve years are about my autism. All of my future posts will be, indirectly, about my autism. It is everything I am and everything I ever will be. And that is totally fine by me.

I remember a project I did while studying art in college. I was a senior year photography student, so we were basically allowed to do whatever we wanted and call it art. For this particular project I selected a blank sketchbook and began writing: all of my memories, starting from the first, and proceeding all the way up through my childhood years, trying to be as thorough and meticulous as possible. I believe I got somewhere through my seventh year of life in memories before the project was due and I had to move on to other things. But when it came time for the class critique, I simply sat on a chair in front of my classmates, with the book on my lap. I told them what I had written, and I told them that they were free to read it. But they had to ask me, specifically, to see it, and they had to hand it right back and not pass it off to anyone else. Only those who asked could see it. Surprisingly, there were a few who did ask, and it meant a lot to me. As for the others, they didn’t understand why I would go through so much trouble to create something and not share it more openly. I explained to them that it is because this is how I am. I am a closed book. Inside of me is a world of memories and thoughts and ideas and fascinations and fears, but I never offer any of that to anyone. You have to ask.

I didn’t say this or know it back then, but I would say it now: I don’t know how to share myself if you don’t ask me to.

Back then I would have thought of myself as a very open person: I would answer any question you asked me, no matter how personal. But again, back then, nobody was asking me any questions. I can only remember a few people from my art school years who I would have considered myself to be on friendly terms with. I didn’t know why, back then. Even now, twenty years later, I still struggle with my disconnection from my peers. I can’t tell you why, on a molecular level, I find it hard to put anything of myself out there. Even though I know that I have gotten better – a lot better – at doing it.

And I now know this better than I ever have before: my insides don’t match my outside. I am like a snow globe made with mirrored glass. From my vantage point inside it is all glitter and chaos and beauty and me, self-contained, doing my own thing and thinking this is all so neat and complicated and difficult, and aren’t all these other snow globes around me cool too? But those snow globes are clear, many of them. They are marveled at and appreciated and treasured because their beauty is so apparent. Whereas I, and others like me, are attractive only to those who are curious and willing to press their faces up close to the mirror to see what is going on behind it. And there is a lot going on behind it. And it is a glorious mess, let me tell you. And I am grateful for those who have been able to look past the mirror, because they have made it just a bit easier to want to be seen on the other side.

If you have been around long you may remember that my very first blog post in 2009 mentions my desire to start opening up more: becoming more vulnerable and letting my words be heard. I still lose touch with that sentiment from time to time, but it always comes back to me in one way or another. Writing is the one thing I can do that can give others a tiny glimpse into my inside– why not encourage that to happen more? Who knows: someone might actually see something they can appreciate.

You don’t have to ask, any more. But you are still more than welcome to.

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