When I was first diagnosed autistic, at the age of 29, I started to revisit my childhood memories and situations in my life with a new and fresh perspective. There had always been curiosities. Things about me that were either “very special” or, depending on who you spoke to, “not quite right.” For example, my curiosity led to me teaching myself to read at age one and a half but also got on people’s nerves because it also meant I questioned everything and everyone around me.
There is a LOT of duality with autistic people.
For example, some of us have overwhelming empathy and emotions but may struggle to express them. We may be highly gifted in one or more areas but struggle significantly with things non-autistic people find simple. We can be calm when everyone else is panicking but be unnerved by things other people seem to ignore. As a child, I often seemed wise beyond my years, but at the same time, was very immature in many ways.
There is even duality in our deficits, which we are often defined by.
In medical textbooks and diagnostic manuals, also our greatest strengths, like intense passion and focus, are often laid out in a negative light.
Once something’s caught my attention, I don’t’ have the ability to tune it out. Questions pop out, calling to me like a homing beacon and I feel compelled to ask or answer them. “WHY????” – one of my favorite phrases growing up. It is essential to who I am, and taken me down some interesting paths.
This intensity CAN also be a weakness. I’m like a dog on the hunt. When a problem or a question can be solved, having a problem stuck in your head can help you to find a solution. If the problem stuck in your mind is impossible to solve, it’s hell.
My drive and problem-solving ability are my biggest gifts, but on the other hand, sometimes I make myself ill, worrying over problems with no solution.
The inability to let things go, for me, is equally a gift and a curse. It’s an essential part of who I am, neither good or bad. Like everything else with autism, all my strengths and weaknesses, they are just “me.”
Only recently have I learned to treat myself with love and self-compassion.
If I’m honest, I’ve not always loved myself. For many years I hated myself, and abused my body accordingly. In fact, there are still days, when my mental health slips and I fall into old cycles of self-hatred. It’s hard sometimes, especially if you want to do something and your body or mind throws in the towel before you are ready.
I’m learning, thanks to finally discovering that I am autistic, that we all have our limits and areas of stretch.
We all have to stretch and do things that are outside of our comfort levels from time to time. Still, eventually, we must rest or risk wearing ourselves out (especially if we’ve been doing a lot of new tasks or tasks that are far outside of our natural aptitude). Autistic stretch is different than neurotypical stretch because some of what is difficult for us is easy for the majority of the population. When we let others set the pace for us, autistic people are asked to stretch too far too often, resulting in burnout and poor mental and physical health.
Many autistic people say that they are continually teetering on the edge of burnout, just trying to keep up with what is expected of them in the day-to-day. They go at the end of the day and crash, with nothing left to give to friends, family, or the things that bring them joy.
I’ve hit the burnout phase more than once in my life, but hitting it in adulthood has been eye-opening (partially because it led me to my autism discovery).
Unfortunately, most people don’t KNOW what an autistic person in good mental health looks like because of a problem with the way autism is diagnosed. The medical books define autism based on the model of an autistic person in distress. Autistic people who don’t struggle are often missed until they suddenly lose one or more of their supports or encounter new demands in life – this was my experience.
I had managed to slip through the cracks, “succeeding” in life by only engaging in areas of my life where I had a skill or that I enjoyed while avoiding tasks I was ill-suited for whenever possible.
“When allowed to manage myself, I can do quite well, as long as I’m not holding myself up to neurotypical standards.“
In my thirties, I’m finally learning that it’s okay that some things are difficult or beyond me. I’m learning to love and have compassion for myself, even in times of weakness (because before I was diagnosed, I would have berated myself mentally for every failure). It is a lesson I wish I could tell my younger self, maybe knowing I was autistic long ago would have helped.
If I could go back in time, I would stand behind my younger self and whisper, “You are capable of so much more than you realize. It is okay to love yourself. Believe it or not, right now, there’s plenty to love. Oh, and by the way – you are autistic.”
What would our community say, if they could send notes and messages to their younger selves? To the keyboard and Twitter I go, asking another question:
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
“Don’t allow other people to tell you how you are feeling, physically or mentally. You perceive the world differently from others and what works for them won’t necessarily work for you, find your own creative solutions. Stay away from manipulative people.” | Amy, @PlantsandPups
“You are NOT a lazy slob.” I actually have good, even thorough organizational skills—when I can break down the task and not get overwhelmed by it. I now see there was a lot of overwhelm, rather than willful laziness, growing up. My self-esteem may have been better had I known. | @QuirkyQuandary
“Listen to your body. It knows.”
Chloe Heuch. @clogsulike
“You are loved. You deserve to love yourself. Turn inward. Love yourself ten times over for all of the people who don’t love you. Learn to say Yuck Foo. Don’t be nice. Don’t accommodate. Don’t be a people pleaser. Don’t be a pushover. Be unapologetically you. Be safe, solitary.” | @WomenInAutism
“If I could go back in time to tell my younger self one thing… You are autistic, embrace it, learn from it, and don’t let anyone tell you you are less than. You are strong, you are unique, and you have a lot to offer this world.” | Matthew Gross, @gross42
“I would tell myself that I’m doing great and that the situation is awful, not me. I’d probably advise myself to seek less approval because it’s loaded and I’m awesome. Past Vanessa looked out for me as hard as she could and if I went back, I’d thank her.” | Vanessa Blanchard, @ladysnessa
“You are not broken.
Don’t be sad that you don’t fit in.
You are Limited Edition.”
Andreas Zierhut, @AndreasZierhut
I would say “Hey, the reason why you’re finding life so challenging and university so overwhelming, and creating a career so impossible, is because you’re autistic. You’re not bad or broken or shit or not as good as everyone else. It’s fine. You’re autistic” | Badger North, @MxBadgerNorth
“Be kinder to yourself, and stop trying to fit in socially.
Your brain works differently,
and not everyone understands or appreciates that
– and it’s okay.”
Kara Robinson, @KaraRobinson56
I wish I could tell my younger self:
- It’s ok to be different.
- Pursue your interests, instead of wasting time ruminating over the past.
- Believe in yourself and don’t give up.
- There are other people like you; you’re not quite so alone as you might think.
| Autistic Widower, @AutisticWidower
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