how am i not myself?

"If you've met an autistic person, then you've met one autistic person."

You'll often see some version of this quote around the internet from autistic people. It means, don't forget autism is a spectrum—a wide spectrum—and knowing or encountering an autistic person is likely to give you little to no insight into the lives of other autistic people.The behaviors exhibited by autistic people are part of a family resemblance that may give a perceptive neurotypical some clues, but trust me, you cannot spot an autistic person on sight. Even if you're looking in the mirror.

If you haven't already guessed where I'm going with this, I'm autistic. Earlier this year, I was officially diagnosed with what used to be called Asperger syndrome, and more recently so-called "high functioning" autism (as opposed to "low functioning" or "mid functioning," language many autistic people resent, myself included). The diagnosis did not come as a surprise to me. I'd read a bunch of articles on autistic women and taken three different autism assessments, each one indicating, "Autism Likely." I diagnosed myself, and my shrink concurred.

Self-diagnosis, while not a slam dunk, is common in so-called "high functioning" autistic people, women in particular. If you trust the results of RAADS-R data, most people who think they're autistic are autistic. (No exaggerated eye rolls when someone says they think they're autistic please, they just might be.)

It wasn't until this January, in my mid-30s, that I read an article about the specifics of autism in women, and I knew immediately. Oh. I'm autistic. That explains everything. Ever since my teenage years, I've been trying to tell close family and friends that there's something "wrong" with me, not "just" depression—something else. No one listened or cared. I couldn't figure out why I had to exhibit extreme control over every aspect of my life, while neurotypicals seemed to be floating just above the ground, casually making friends and proclamations about how other people should live their lives. "I don't always want to do certain things, but I just do them anyway, haha!" (That's an everyday struggle for me, by the way.) I couldn't figure out why people follow seemingly self-destructive paths because it's "tradition", or my favorite, "that's just how it is." I didn't get why people kept telling me that my emotions were bad and wrong when I was hurting and needed help.

At twelve years old, I started reading adult and child psychology articles and blog posts, trying to figure out the world, and myself. I also read etiquette books (from the library, I didn't have money like that) for young women, and they actually helped a lot, although I didn't care for the hair and makeup parts. (I later came into my own style, and learned to appreciate these things on my own terms, and not as a means of satisfying random people who didn't give a shit about me anyway.)

But without a supportive environment at home, or elsewhere, it was just a matter of time before I would crash and burn. And oh, did I. I crashed like a goddamn Texas-sized meteorite in college, singeing everyone and anyone who came near (most deserved, some undeserved). On several occasions. To my horror and disgust. I thought I was a lazy and stupid neurotypical who needed to get my act together.

Turns out, the act was the problem.

You don't need me to tell you (I hope...) that there's tremendous pressure on women to conform to certain standards, depending on one's culture. (Sadly, standards for everyone are rising and rising with each generation.) Generally, we're expected to be beautiful, poised, intelligent, caring/emotionally available, and saintly. In a word: perfect. Neurotypical women and girls struggle with this pressure, let alone neurodivergent women and girls. OK, so you want me to wear these sticky, scratchy tights to Grandma's house just because you think they're cute? What about how I feel? Oh, that's irrelevant. I see. (And that's a mild example. Being called a cold bitch—sometimes euphemistically, sometimes not—for trying to set boundaries was a confusing and hurtful aspect of my life for too long.)

I pushed back against this pressure as much as I could. I learned to defend myself physically and mentally, to some extent. But in order to smooth out conflicts, rather than get in a fight, I learned to act. I can act my ass off. I got so good at acting, I lost myself. I decided to bide my time. When I'm out of school, maybe things will be better. Maybe people will appreciate how hard I work and not fixate on how often I smile. Maybe people will respect my need for privacy and seclusion, rather than get annoyed when I reject invitations to go to happy hour. (Side note: Why anyone would want to get drunk with their boss and/or colleagues is fucking beyond me. Like, why the fuck...? Your boss is just using their authority and power to fill their empty souls, you do realize that right? And neurotypicals say we're naive. But I digress...)

Spoiler alert, because this post is already a novella, the bullying and bullshit didn't end when I dropped out of college. I'm stunned I thought it would. Between middle school and high school, I didn't have to worry as much about someone threatening to physically attack me over a misunderstanding. Between high school and college, people considered me outright intimidating, because I refused to entertain nonsense from anyone. And from college to a half-career as a web developer, it got harder and harder to bounce back after each indignity—until I landed flat on my face, 140lbs overweight, and nearly as self-hating as I was in middle school. Despite all my effort (because of it), I had digressed.

Then my baby cousin was born—an adorable, mostly nonverbal autistic girl who, aside from my aunt and grandmother, didn't like anyone—except me. She wouldn't let anyone else hold her—except me. I thought she was an extroverted, boisterous kid until everyone expressed jealousy that she favored me. I felt closer to her than I did to any of my other baby cousins, but I had no clue why.

Wow, a girl with autism... I thought. She's not going to have it easy. I wonder what life is like for women with autism...

#emotional abuse #autism #self-hatred #self-respect

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