Ever since I can remember, life has always felt a bit like a jigsaw puzzle that I couldn't quite complete. Pieces were missing, edges didn’t correspond, and sometimes the ball of chaos left me feeling isolated and misunderstood. It wasn't until my early years that I discovered the missing piece - Autism.
When I first learned about my autism diagnosis, it was like stepping into a new world – an alternate universe of sorts - with its own language and rules. I finally understood why social situations felt like navigating a dense forest, why specific textures felt unbearable, and why I often took words too literally. But I also understood why I noticed intricate details others missed, why I enjoyed being in my own company, and why not a day would pass by without delving into my love for music.
The Initial Turmoil
From the outset, being autistic felt like a double-edged sword. On one hand, it provided an explanation for my experiences, but on another, it marked the beginning of my struggle with self-esteem. The media's portrayal didn't aid either. My life wasn't a tragedy as depicted in newspapers, and neither was I a genius as characterized in the popular series – The Good Doctor and Atypical.
This battle with self-doubt led to frustration, anger, and periods of self-loathing. Hurtful words from peers echoed in my thoughts, "Why can't you be normal?" "Why can't you get the joke?" To me, these questions implied, "Why can't you not be you?"
Discovering the Autism Community
My turnaround point came when I discovered the autism community. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by individuals like me who processed the world differently. Through social media groups, forums, and even real-world meetups, I could exchange my daily experiences, aspirations, and challenges without fear of judgement or criticism. In this diverse community, I was not an anomaly, but a person with strengths, weaknesses, and everything in-between. I found solace in this camaraderie, fueling my longing for acceptance.
Autism Acceptance: A Journey of Self-Love
My journey towards self-love and acceptance has not been easy. It has been a conscious and continuous effort to appreciate my uniqueness and celebrate my accomplishments, regardless of how small they may seem to others. I started being kinder to myself, understanding I had to learn things in my own pace and style. Autism wasn't a flaw that needed fixing, but a different way of experiencing life.
While countless therapy sessions helped me develop strategies for addressing my sensory issues and social difficulties, I realised the most crucial element was my attitude towards autism. Instead viewing it as an antagonist, I began to regard it as a “neutral-accomplice” - instrumental in shaping me, but not defining me.
Over time, I've learned to appreciate my heightened senses that allow me to enjoy music on a profound level, or my ability to focus diligently on tasks that intrigue me. I've also cherished my empathetic nature, my knack for remembering specific dates, and even my enduring routine of quietly sipping my afternoon tea.
It’s Autism: It’s Me
Autism is not my adversary, nor is it my superpower. It's simply a fundamental part of me. Some days are challenging, filled with sensory meltdowns or frustrating miscommunications. But there are also days of immense joy, creativity, and personal accomplishments.
I am not "living with" autism. I am living, and I happen to be autistic. I savour my own company, and my unique perspective of the world gives me joy. I wish to bridge the understanding gap, not just for me, but for all those who walk in similar shoes. Because while the world sees me as different, I feel it's this difference that makes me the person I love being today.
In the end, my journey towards self-love and acceptance has taught me an invaluable lesson: autism isn't a label, it isn't something to be "cured", it’s a part of my identity – a unique one. It has set me off the beaten path, an unfamiliar one, for sure, but it’s one I wouldn't trade for a more “typical” journey. Because this is my journey, unique in every right, into understanding me, into self-love and acceptance.