I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how my dreams and ambitions have really suffered and been stunted, because I’ve felt compelled to pursue them along neurotypical lines. I’ve somehow believed that if I followed “the rules” — of engagement, of customary behavior, of social interactions, of the right job or locale — that things would come together for me, and I would be able to follow my dreams as naturally as everyone else outside the autism spectrum follows theirs.
I thought I could go to college, and everything would be fine. I thought I could get a regular job and things would sort themselves out. I believed that if I moved into a certain neighborhood in a certain town, that would confer certain advantages upon me. I was convinced that if I just did a great impression of others, I could connect with them and find a sense of belonging. My family (bless their Aspie hearts) raised me with a strict set of guidelines that were supposedly guaranteed to provide me with a sense of community and connectedness. If you live in their world and do precisely as you’re told, it works. I’ve seen it work for countless people I grew up with, including my family.
Except… I don’t live there, anymore. I never wanted to live there, in the first place. Their Aspie-ness is diametrically opposed to my own rendition. What is life for them, is death for me. We may all be on the spectrum, but I don’t inhabit their quadrant. And the things that bring me to life, really dampen theirs. So, I’ve had to move on.
But I’ve still carried this Aspie-fied devotion to figuring out HowThingsWork and then following that set of specifications to a “T”, in hopes of achieving the expected results in the neurotypical world I now frequent. It hasn’t worked nearly as well for me, as it has for others. In short, I’ve often lost sight of my autistic nature, and that’s limited me. It hasn’t provided me the kind of options and opportunities that non-autistic others have found. What works in one situation with a select group of people, doesn’t necessarily work for me.
Yes, I’ve overlooked myself. I’ve ignored my own individual ways and needs. I’ve discounted my own individual inclinations. And I haven’t made the most of my own individual proclivities. And yes, I’ve neglected developing my own individual skills and talents, which are nowhere near the radar of the NT world.
There’s a whole lot of me that isn’t acknowledged by the neurotypical world, including:
- Extreme Empathy — which is so intense that it causes me to co-experience the full range of emotions of everyone around me, including (especially) the negative ones. That impassive presentation everyone sees… it’s a direct response to the emotional upheaval of my milieu. Somebody has to keep calm in the chaos and the storm. I can’t rely on anyone else to do it, so that role falls to me.
- Profound Productivity — which lets me accomplish more in a weekend than most “regular” people do in a month. Or a year. I can’t even tell most people all the things I do with myself on a regular basis, because they become alarmed at how much I’m “taking on”. It’s not “taking” anything on. It’s simply letting myself be what and how and who I am. I flow. My work flows. The words flow. That’s how I roll.
- Experience like they wouldn’t believe. Seriously, nobody outside the autism spectrum is gonna have a clue just how much experience I’ve accumulated over the years… what kind of experience I’ve had… what I’ve survived… what I’ve created… what I’ve incorporated into my world view. I’m not alone in that. Countless other autistics have done as much as me — and more. And what we assimilate isn’t this 2-dimensional mind-driven experience of the neurotypical world. It’s a full-spectrum, body-mind-heart-spirit inundation in the world of What It Means To Be Human. We have capacity for it. We take it in. Some of us can handle it, others can’t. But for autistic people like me, it’s inescapable.
- Resilience, resilience, resilience. To the point where I can sufficiently “self-heal” from a devastating, debilitating meltdown to be reasonably functional in a matter of days. Yeah, I still feel the effects of it, and I’m still shaky for weeks after, but it doesn’t stop me from living my life. No how, no way. I’ve been roughed up and trampled and put through the proverbial wringer for 52 years, now, and it’s taught me a thing or two about how to take care of myself. If I hadn’t figured that out, I wouldn’t still be here. You’re reading this, so I’m still here (by god). And I will continue to be here for the long term.
- Pain tolerance / indifference of many kinds. “Life is pain! Get used to it!” said Geena Davis’s character in the movie “Long Kiss Goodnight”. And it’s true. My life is chock-full of pain… not that it’s going to stop me. Pain schmain. Life isn’t waiting for me to feel better. It’s not going to pause for me to climb on its metaphorical merry-go-round. Physical pain. Emotional pain. Spiritual pain. Mental pain. Just living in the NT-centric world is an exercise in extreme discomfort. It can be debilitating. It’s definitely disabling. And at the same time that I’ve learned how to handle the pain, I’ve learned how to negotiate my way out of it…. to create a separate space for myself, where I can simply be. See the next point:
- Independence of mind, spirit, body. I’m on my own — and as an autistic adult, that’s precisely how I like it. Autism is Self-ism. I know there are people out there who would like to help me. They offer. One of them offered just yesterday. But honestly, it’s pretty stressful trying to communicate with them… to express my needs in ways that they can actually understand and act on. Ultimately, it becomes more frustrating than anything else. Managing others is just one more thing I have to do. And I don’t enjoy it. I’d much rather handle things on my own, thank you very much.
To the non-autistics in my current world, those skills / traits / qualities / talents don’t even exist. According to them, they can’t. Because they don’t conform to their way of experiencing things. By allistic standards, they’re often considered pathological. And that attitude gets a little tiring. Because nothing could be farther from the truth. Seriously. Nothing.
Thank God I’m autistic. Praise be.
Because all the things that the neurotypical world considers liabilities are extreme strengths with me. And my sh*tty experiences with non-autistic folks have taught me loads about how to just be true to myself. It’s been a master class in just walking away from a losing proposition and creating a separate reality for myself. I’ve always done that. I always will. So long as there are people who A) don’t understand me and B) feel the need to punish me for not being transparent / energetically available to them, I’ll keep my own interior space well-organized, clean, tidy, and extremely well-appointed. Like so:
- I bought myself a new bookcase last month. This month I’m rearranging my study, so I have a proper retreat that suits me ideally.
- I’m not driving in to the office today. I need the extra hour I’ll save by not doing that, to take care of myself and tend to my own interests. I also need a break from their needy dramas.
- I’m getting some extra rest today, along with getting a massage this evening.
- I’m cooking my favorite meal, tonight, letting it stew in its savory goodness that feeds my soul as much as my body.
- I’m spending more time working on my book about an extremely autistic hyper-sensory day.
- I’m dropping some of my near-future plans, because they would demand more time, energy, and money than I’m prepared to spend… and the payoff wouldn’t necessarily justify the expenses.
- I’m widening my inner world, and relishing the pace and the flow that is mine, and mine alone.
All these things are mine. Truly mine. There’s much more, but I’m bumping up against my personal blog post limit, and I need to move on to other things. To be truly autistic, in my mind, is to be truly myself, to relish the strengths I have, the abilities I possess, and to make the most of every . danged . thing . that makes me the person I am. The autist I am. The supreme exemplar of me-ness that I can (and should) be.
In the face of a world that attacks what it doesn’t understand and punishes those who step outside their norms, I have a choice. I don’t have to conform. No way, no how. I can step away. I can create my own space. I can follow my own dreams, cultivate my own skills and abilities in ways that no neurotypical institution can recognize, let alone serve.
I can be true to myself, no matter what the rest of the world thinks or does.
That’s my right. Frankly, it’s my obligation. To do less would be such a waste.