Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Blogless Friend Jo’s Autistics Speaking Day Post

Trigger warning for mentions of suicide

I found out that I was autistic when I was sixteen, but it was not something that I was ever told. I had to discover this in secret, overhearing my parents talking quietly with my therapist—I was not invited to participate, then or later. I wasn’t permitted to think that I was anything but neurotypical, or make decisions on myself.

I was suicidal when I was sixteen.
The years preceding it were not pleasant ones; I come from Navy family, and I have lived on Pacific and Atlantic coasts, seen the beaches of a half dozen states, and attended nine different grade schools. From as far back as kindergarten (and I suspect farther still, although my memory fails me here), I was the victim. I couldn’t make eye contact, I couldn’t remember how to speak when stressed, I fixated on strange things. I was small and clumsy and idealistic, and all of this made me the perfect target.
I was pushed on the way to every recess by a girl in overalls when I was five; my ideas were stolen and shared by a girl with the ability to speak in front of others when I was seven; only one girl would let herself be seen with me when I was nine. I withdrew into science and literature; in time, I could give the Latin names of every bird of prey in North America, and I escaped into dreams of dragons and magic and valiant heroes who would accept me as one of them.
I was known as “Bird Girl” and “Dragon Master” when I was twelve. I remember the sudden, awful epiphany in the midst of seventh grade history class: people were mocking me. I was a failure. Then, I thought that everyone else had been dealt the same hand as me, that they too had started life with eyes downcast and trouble reading faces, but they had learned to adapt. I alone had been left out from this—I could not overcome that which everyone else could.
By sixteen, I thought that if I could not even manage to live properly, I might as well not live at all.
That was when I found out I was autistic. It changed me in ways that therapy had not. I wasn’t the same as the others. I wasn’t failing the same test that everyone else passed. I was playing a different game entirely, and could I be wholly blamed for getting a different outcome than the others? Could a football team be blamed for getting a different score than a basketball team?
It was a daunting thought. My worldview, my thoughts, my outlook on life slipped out from under me like my feet do so very often. Had I been doing my best? Had I been succeeding as an autistic girl, as I had not as an allistic one?
At seventeen, I began to wonder just how much of my personality was the autism, and just how much was me. Could I learn to only use the parts of me that were okay? I burrowed into writing and arts and sciences, and reveled in it. No one reading my works knew who I was, or what I was; they were free to appreciate my writing without my human faults getting snarled up in it. I could be quietly, passively autistic, and carry on in my life. I didn’t realize that I cannot be passively autistic any more than I can be passively myself; it is something kinetic, fundamental, as powerful as the earth beneath my feet or the bitter bite of winter in the air. Attempting to duck under it would be as impossible as attempting to quietly exist outside of gravity.
I learned at eighteen that, while I could not tolerate this sort of passiveness, the world would not tolerate a brash announcement of who I am or provide the slightest bit of leeway. I would still be expected to write the same papers and work the same jobs and attend the same events. I would still be expected to follow social etiquette and make small talk and understand when someone isn’t feeling well. Outing myself would garner either disbelief or pitying treatment akin to that of an untrained puppy. Whether or not I started on the same level as everyone else, I would still be expected to meet those same standards.
I worked at McDonald’s when I was eighteen. It was not the sort of drudgery that is so often feared by high school students facing their first jobs. It was a den of ignorance and outright malice. I was mocked by my own boss for being autistic after I made the mistake of outing myself to her—and even that was brought upon by her habit of shouting an inch from my face. I do not know how I managed to survive three months there; the prospect of returning for another month this winter is a fearsome one, but I cannot afford to go without employment and my prospects for other work are bleak, to say the least. I learned from them that people will, willfully or not, attempt to destroy the last fraying pieces of an autistic employee’s confidence.
I learned from college that being autistic would not prevent me from living a good life.
I made friends. Awkwardly, painfully, clawing for every inch of ground, but I made friends. I worried that I was screwing it all up; I still worry that I am. I still can’t make good eye contact, and I still miss half the sarcasm bandied around. There is not a minute that passes that I don’t worry about whether I seem normal enough, but I can clumsily manage life in an allistic world. I sometimes even hear the phrase, “There’s no way you’re actually autistic,” which would have filled my sixteen-year-old self with pride; it now fills me with venomous contempt.
The life I live now is not a secure and solid thing. It is built on a cracked and warped base, and I am perpetually forced to spend more time mending myself than making progress. It hasn’t been easy. It won’t likely ever be easy. I second-guess myself and klutz up conversation, I trip over my own feet and know more about a bird’s psyche than a human’s, I eat the same thing for lunch every weekday and cannot remember anyone’s name, but on most levels, I am managing.
At nineteen, I am autistic, gay, optimistic, and I lead a good enough life.

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