Birthdays are a funny thing. For one day every year, you stop to celebrate the day you first came into this world. The day you took your first breath on your own. The day you began to accumulate knowledge and experience that made you the person you are today. That is what we celebrate on birthdays. But what if the day you took your first breath on your own isn’t the day you arrived naked and screaming on this planet? What if the day you really began to accumulate knowledge and experience was many years after that fateful day you left the womb behind? Because for me, the day nature took its course and pushed my tiny body out into the world isn’t the day I celebrate myself. On that day, my mom did all the work. It was her day to celebrate.
My day to celebrate is the day that all of me entered the world. The day I took my first real breath, and was finally ready to experience life, all of it. That day is the day I received my official autism diagnosis. And that day is my real birthday, it’s my Spectrumversary.
People are often curious why I celebrate my Spectrumversary every year.
Why would receiving such “horrible news” need celebrating? To begin, it is the furthest thing from horrible news. Receiving my diagnosis was like being washed over with the freshest of clean air. It freed me and allowed me to finally understand myself, my life, my choices and my mistakes. It allowed me to forgive little me and gave me the courage to discover my adult self. I was suddenly free to just be me. No excuses. No apologies. I was no longer broken and useless. I had direction and purpose. But most of all, I felt validated. Validated that my experiences were true and that my struggles were real. I found I had strengths that had previously been called by many other names. I learned that perseverance can have purpose and special interests can become skill sets. My diagnosis woke me from a stifled life of depression and suicidal ideations and gave me a viable chance at actually living the life I was given decades ago.
The real question people should be asking is not why I celebrate my Spectrumversary, but rather how I celebrate.
A Spectrumversary is more than just a day for cake and balloons. It is a day for mindfulness and gratitude. A day for acknowledging my growth and setting goals for the future. I start my Spectrumversary early. At the beginning of the month I re-read the very first AS book I ever read, Pretending to be Normal by Liane Holliday-Willey. When I first read it, it was like reading my own biography. It gave me an inkling of the idea that I was no longer alone. It also provided me with my very first lesson in autism vocabulary. I suddenly had words to describe what was going on for me. Years later the impact is not lost. Now these words feel familiar and comforting as my ASD community has become my home. I can see my growth in the book and each year I find another new piece that rings true. It is a perfect way to check in with myself on my growth and to see how far I come as person in these past 5 years.
Then I remember how giant this diagnosis was. How there are things that I do and say and know to be true now, only because of that amazing revelation. I spend the rest of that day being kind to my autism. I stay sensory low and social low. I wear only comfortable clothes and eat only what I like and can tolerate. I wear my autism tee shirts with pride. I don’t edit my behavior or language. I let my body and mind guide my day. In other words, I let my autism flag fly freely. I give myself a break from all the neurotypical hoops I hop through just to live an independent life in a world that was not built for brains like mine.
Sure, the day finally ends with dinner and cake but no balloons for this spectrumite. No surprises or singing. The focus is not on a number or another orbit around the sun. Instead the focus is on congratulating myself for all my hard work, for spending extra time on self-care, for setting mindful goals for the next year, and for relaxing inside and out, something those of us on the spectrum rarely, if ever, let ourselves do.
Once a year, I stop in my tracks to celebrate myself in all my quirky and complicated glory.
I pause and thank the universe for allowing me survive and thrive. I acknowledge my differences and honor my challenges. My Spectrumversary is all about me. It is the one day of the year that I allow myself to say “Yay me! You go girl! Keep rockin’ this life with your bad self! You are a survivor. You are worth it.”
And do you want to know what? This year I said something new to myself. This year when my Spectrumversary swung around, I hit the biggest of personal milestones. I looked around at my life and was genuinely able to say to myself for the very first time, “I really like the person that I am now and I am proud of myself.” I have never been able to say that before and really mean it. This year all my hard work started to pay off in all aspects of my life. My dedication to learning about myself and living a self-defined, successful life on the autism spectrum is really paying off big. I can genuinely say that I like who I have grown into and it feels amazing!
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