For perhaps the first time in over forty years, I am being myself. I am taking a break. Pausing for a few hours, and just being me. Setting aside the exhausting work of trying to be the person that my allistic acquaintances expect me to be.
You see, I’m autistic.
I’m successful in my work, I’m the father of two wonderful children, and I am autistic.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to fit in, but until recently, I didn’t really understand why I’m
different. I’ve struggled to understand what people mean when they say things that don’t make sense to me, and I’ve agonized about trivial misunderstandings for days. I’ve gone to unimaginable extremes to avoid conflict, because in conflict I fear that my differentness will become a weapon to be used against me. I’ve thought and thought about things that many people would probably consider trivial, yet thought nothing about things that they seem to worry about a great deal.
And this past summer, I finally learned why.
Because I am autistic. My mind works differently.
In order to succeed, I’ve spent most of my life subconsciously compensating for the ways that my mind works differently. I’ve tried to behave like the many non-autistic people with whom I must interact. Ignoring the odd looks and blank stares at my failed jokes. Counting everything I see, absorbing patterns, getting lost in details. Struggling with words and feelings, experiencing powerful emotions but not knowing how to describe them or react the way allistic people do.
And yet, most people I know would not recognize me as an autistic person.
Eccentric, weird, aloof, or perhaps even reclusive. But not autistic.
Because I have unknowingly worked very hard to hide behind a caricature of myself. An allistic version of me. A facade. A fake.
The real me, the autistic me, has been here all along. And it feels good to be able to drop the charade, to just be myself.
Until I have to leave the house again, when I will put on my mask, slip back into character, and try to blend in with the alien expectations of this strange world that is my home.
For the time being, I am myself. I am relaxed, and comfortable, and enjoying some quiet time with my spouse. And I am me, not the character I often play, or the person that society expects me to be, but my happy, eccentric, autistic self. And that feels good.
Happy Autistics Speaking Day!