I’ve been feeling a bit down, lately. This time of year usually does it to me. For some reason, I have experienced a lot of difficulty and challenging times around the end of January and beginning of February. Major life changes – starting a cross-country relocation… leaving a formerly “secure” marriage and stepping out into the freezing cold unknown with just a bag of clothing and one friend who offered to help me. My partner becoming seriously ill and ending up in the hospital for a week (I stayed with her, sleeping on the bench in her room the whole time). Job changes. Major job changes — the kind of life-altering shifts that change everything.
So that nothing is the same again.
This year, things have been mellow. Strangely so. And it’s give me time to think – kind of – in the midst of my busy time. I’ve got projects going on that mean the world to me, and some days it feels like there’s just not enough time. But there really is. It’s a matter of focus, to be honest. Just focus. Dedication. Concentration. I can do all of the above. It’s how I’m built. It’s actually what I do best.
Anyway, I’ve been feeling down, because I feel like I’m falling behind. Behind what? Well, where I want to be. There’s so much I want to do, so much I need to do. I’ve been stuck in autistic-in-neurotypical-land limbo, pretty much my entire life, and looking back, I can see so clearly how it’s held me back. Some younger folks feel like they’re falling behind, if they haven’t got stuff figured out by the time they’re 30. I’m 20 years beyond that, and only now am I really stepping into where I “should” have been, years ago.
At work, I’m surrounded by people 10 years younger than me who seem to just know how to get ahead. My boss is a decade my junior, and he just seems to know how to roll with everything and get stuff done. He seems to know how to go about life and interact with others. How do people do that? How do they figure people out? I don’t get it.
But never mind my day job. It’s really just a way to support my “habits” of being able to write and read and draw whatever I like, to my heart’s content. I’ve got a stack of books to my name, and I’ve got portfolios filled with artwork. And I think they’re pretty good. So, they must be. I’m pretty exacting, so if they pass muster with me, they must be OK.
All my writing and artwork notwithstanding, I’m still feeling sequestered and consigned to my autistic corner. I googled a childhood friend of mine, who was a good buddy and cared about the kinds of things I cared about. Philosophy, especially. We used to have great conversations, intriguing discussions, energizing debates. At least, it was energizing until he decided he was going to prove himself right and prove me wrong. Then, it wasn’t so much fun anymore. And I distanced myself from him, because it just seemed like yet another domination play — yet another boy trying to prove how much better he was than the girl he was talking to.
I haven’t kept in touch much, over the years. I heard he wrote a pretty ground-breaking book. I checked out his website. I saw him once at a family funeral. But this past weekend, I googled him and discovered that he’s a visiting lecturer at Oxford, and he’s become quite a renowned philosopher.
Good for him. Good for him. I’m happy for him, that he’s got that.
At the same time, I can’t help but wonder about myself… WTF?
We were literally intellectual equals, all along, and I was every bit as competent as he was, in breaking down concepts and exploring ideas. Maybe even more competent — or, at least, competent in my own unique way that he could never begin to rival… just as I could never begin to rival the unique strengths and qualities of others. It’s not about rivalry. It’s about being who we are, to the best of our abilities, and developing as best we can.
And yet, I can’t seem to shake the idea that I’ve pretty much wasted my life. Like I should have been his peer, all these years. I should have the same kind of trajectory as he, for I had ever bit as much smarts and inventiveness as he did, along the way.
So, what’s the difference? Uh, well, I’m autistic. And I’m female. With other chronic health conditions that have nearly wrecked me a bunch of times. I grew up in a world that literally told me I would never use any education I got, because I’d just have kids and raise a family, and I’d never be able to make the most of what I worked so hard for. And since I couldn’t navigate the social landscape very well at all, over the years, all the mixed signals, the misinterpreted clues, all the disconnects… well, it’s added up.
I’ve had to learn critical lessons the hard way, about a hundred times. Without help. Without sympathy, let alone empathy, from the neurotypical world. And that can set you back, I guess.
And it just infuriates me. It fills me with a burning anger, frustration, pain, and regret that never really goes away. I’m better than I look. I’m way better than most people realize. I have to tone down my abilities when I interview for jobs, because nobody realizes just how much is possible, and how much I can accomplish. They judge me according to their own low standards, and it takes me years to show them — irrefutably — that I can not only do the job, but transform it into something quite different.
It drives me. I look back on my life, and most of what I see is a long string of missed opportunities, exhausted failings, confusion, misunderstandings, and the cold parsimony of too many people who didn’t realize just how much I was capable of, if I just got the right information and the right opportunities, and I was given just a little bit of understanding. I didn’t need a ton of support. I’ve never wanted that. All I’ve ever wanted, was to not be blocked, not be stopped, not be discouraged, not be treated badly. Is it so much to ask, for people to simply be neutral — or maybe a little encouraging and patient?
Apparently, it is. For I got precious little of that, while I was growing up.
Which, sorry, is just stupid. It just makes no sense. It’s counter-productive in the extreme. It hurts people. A lot of people — including all the folks who actually could have been helped by my efforts, as well as the work of so many autistic folks like me – women and men – whose unique skills and abilities could have fixed a whole lot of this shit we’re dealing with, a long, long time ago.
But what’s done is done. It’s all proverbial sludgey water under the proverbial bridge. I can’t let it consume me. That would be a waste of time.
I do wallow, now and then, as I did a little bit, this past weekend. But then I get fired up. I get fueled. I can’t dwell on the past — it’s over. I have to look to the future. I just have to believe that my developmental trajectory has been very different from others’, that I’ve had a greater need for actual life experience… a solid footing on How Things Truly Work in the world… in order to move forward in my own work.
I’ve believed for years that in order to offer something genuinely valuable to the world, I have to work on myself first. I need to mature. I need to get experience under my belt. I have to get out into the fray and find out how things work, before I can even begin to think that I’ve got something to offer, in terms of arts and letters. The idea of sequestering myself in an ivory tower has been oh-so-tempting, but a bigger part of me has shuddered at the thought… I’ve always wanted to get out into the world. To truly engage with the world around me, before trying to figure it all out.
Well, now I’ve done that. I’ve had my experiences. I’ve had my ups, my downs, my adventures, my catastrophes. I’ve dealt with police and lawyers and judges and authority figures of many an ilk, and I’ve had some close brushes with disaster. It’s rounded me out. It’s made me who I am. It’s taught me so much, and my developmental trajectory, while considerably longer than others’ (the norm), has been incredibly rich and enriching. I’ve got a story about just about every conceivable experience… and it’s all true. Why would I embellish?
So, while I do feel as though I’ve wasted a lot of time, I’ve missed so many opportunities, I can’t help humming that Sinatra song about doing it “My Way”. And to be honest, I don’t want to entirely eradicate the sense of regret, of disappointment, frustration, and anger. I use them as fuel. They propel me forward. They prompt me to take action, to dig deeper within myself, to not waste time, to not sit around feeling sorry for myself… but to get moving, get working, using everything I’ve learned and gained over the years for my own — and others’ — benefit.
Life shapes us in some strange ways. It takes and it gives, and then it takes again. And I can choose for myself, what to do with it all. I choose action. I choose to move ahead. I choose to use my lessons for what good I can. I can’t waste more time feeling bad about the past. Everything I’ve been given (or lost) is useful, so very useful.
So, there it is. Use it all. I’ll do that. Today and (almost) every day. As best I can.