Being autistic is a challenge. It is not just a challenge because of the challenges it itself presents, it is additionally a challenge because it presents no clear signs for the outside world that those “suffering” from it are actually challenged. So often people will see myself, or others I know of with autism, and say things such as “but you seem normal”, or if I present an issue I have to deal with – dismiss it with “but I often feel that way too”. What is not obvious is that those evidences of normality are very hard fought. Where, when someone asks you a question, you might answer, and then give it little thought, an autistic typically suffers internally in knowing the answer to give – though you may see no signs of that struggle. Then a autistic person often worries and frets over that answer for days or weeks. And that will likely not be just that one conversation, but it, and another earlier the same day, and another an hour later.
Along with that – there are those times (frequent) when the world is loud, or smelly, or things don’t feel right – even familiar things we’ve worn often. At night, even on a $3000 mattress, there are those nights when there is no such thing as a comfortable position, those when the slightest sounds don’t allow sleep. Life is full of sources of fear, so many things that take so much effort just to get through, so many situations that are challenging – that are a source of questioning and insecurities. Insecurity, for an autistic, is not something we can hope to get past – only possibly to temper, to diminish once exposure to a particular situation gives us some ability to navigate it. Lessening that benefit, though – is that often situations that to many would seem similar, are riddled with specifics that an autistic finds overwhelming and sees as presenting a different set of challenges.
These might sound like little things, but there is one, after another, after another, after another, and each wearing and grating and adding a little more stress to lives that are already hectic. At some point, there is no escaping the collective stresses and just as a teapot, it has to escape somehow. Every effort is made to keep those times to myself, to not involve others, but without question over the years, my husband and my daughter have seen more than their share of tears and despair, my typical form of meltdown.
For years, I thought myself deficient, less than other people, inferior. For years I was full of self-loathing, considering only all my issues, and not realizing that although they perhaps masked my strengths, they did not negate them. Along with the challenges of being autistic, which are very real, I am recognizing the qualities in myself that I once admired only in others – neglecting to admire them in me. That said, it will ever be a struggle to be autistic. As much as there are so many memes that talk about “all you need is your own love” and “all you need is your own approval” – for someone who has spent a lifetime wanting to feel part of a society that they felt alienated from – that often alienated them – the approval of others is a necessary and significant thing. I told someone I admire and love two years ago that I wanted to be successful at being a person. I cannot claim yet to believe I have – or even can – succeed at that. In my mind, that success is only achieved when the society – or at least those members of it whose opinions I particularly trust and treasure – can confirm to me, convince me, that I have in fact succeeded.
This is something I have spent a lifetime working toward, that I have worked harder for than any other thing in my life. Understanding how to relate to people, care for them, respond to them, love them in the ways that they and society expect is a daunting task – one I don’t know that I ever will master. But as much as others might wish to be successful in business, or in any chosen career, I more than anything just want to understand how to be someone that the people I love will enjoy – will want to be around, will feel loved by. That to me, will be my life’s success.