It Would Be Easy to Disappear

I moved to a new state about a month ago. It was a decision that was both sudden and a long time coming. I love the atmosphere here. It is a rural town with everything I need within a 5 minute drive from my place, but I can also drive for hours and see nothing but livestock and country. I live with one of my best friends and just a couple of minutes away from my other best friend, which is great, but it makes it tempting to disappear.

I dislike trying to make new friends. I have never been very good at it. People do not usually like me right away. I am intimidating. Even my best friends found me intimidating when they first met me. I do not tend to make good first impressions. And living with one of my friends makes it easy to not feel like I need others. Emotionally, I am an extrovert. I need people like I need to breathe. But I struggle when I have negative experiences with people.

Tonight was hard. I tried to go to an activity for my church group, but I could not find them at the park area where we were supposed to meet. I haven’t been there long enough to recognize faces in crowds, and there were a lot of other groups there tonight. I want to give up. I have friends. I live with a friend. Do I need to try to make more friends? Do I need to try to socialize here? Or can I just disappear? It would be easy to disappear.

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Best Friends

I was feeling lonely a few days ago because none of the things I was trying to do to spend time with people were working. I had invited people to a conference, movie night, game night, I even organized a committee meeting at church, but no one came to any of it. And I found myself in a lonely and vulnerable spot because I desperately need people, but I am terrible at figuring out how to spend time with them.

In my lowest moment of complete desperation, I got a message from someone thanking me for something I did for them. I broke down because I felt like I was doing everything I could, but I was still alone. And then, after a while, I felt the gentle reassurance that I was doing okay. I mean, I don’t have all the friends I want, and I wish I could spend more time with the friends I do have, but I have the friends I need.

When I was a kid, I prayed every day for a best friend, any friend. I prayed that someone would see me and like me and want to spend time with me. And I got some friends over the years. I only saw them at school or church or things like that, but it was something. And finally, at the age of 20, I got a friend that I could count on, that I felt like loved me, that I felt like wanted to be around me, and that I felt I wouldn’t ruin our friendship with my problems.

It was pretty amazing to feel loved, wanted, needed, important. For the first time since I was a little child, I felt whole. And then I became friends with the most wonderful person. And it was like every bad thing that ever happened to me was okay. I looked back at my life and saw hope in places I had previously seen pain. And it was life changing to feel safe with someone, to trust them with myself, to want to tell them everything. My best friend has been everything to me. She has had a healing impact on my life that I could not be more grateful for.

So, that night when I was feeling utterly alone, I remembered the little girl that just wanted one friend, and I thought, I have the most amazing friends I could ever ask for. I still get lonely. My best friends are farther away from me than I would like, but they still love me. I am still wanted, needed, loved, and safe with someone.

I heard about a school that was trying to ban best friends. They said that it was unfair to those who didn’t have a best friend. I grew up all through school with no best friends, with hardly any friends at all. I ate lunch alone and played alone, and when someone did talk to me, it was usually to get help with something. But I would go through that all again for a best friend. I don’t think you can truly ban best friends, but I would never want that for anyone anyway. As someone who knows what it is like to be jealous of other people’s friendships, I plead with you to never try to prevent a friendship. Teach inclusion, teach children that they do not have to only have one friend, teach children to make best friends with everyone, but don’t prevent that special bond with someone.

Having a best friend has changed my life. With each best friend I had, I became a little less broken, less lonely, less scared, more confident, more secure, more at peace. I think I will probably always have lonely moments. As an extrovert with autism, I simply do not have the capacity to create the friendships I want and participate in the amount of social activities I need to feel completely fulfilled, but I have the relationships I need. I have the friends I need to get through the lonely moments, and that is enough.

Different in Happy Ways

If there is one thing that life has taught me more than almost anything else, it is that I am different. That fact has been drilled into me from teasing in elementary school to tutoring in high school to not fitting in at church. I have just always known that I am different. Other people don’t see things the way I do. They don’t think the way I do. I see shapes and patterns, connections and intersections, possibilities and additional realities, where other people seem to just see an object or a story.

It is not bad to be different, but it can be difficult. It can be difficult to communicate so much where other people seem to see so little. It can be difficult to express feelings and emotions when others don’t seem to have the same connections. I have struggled with feeling different from others, feeling out of place and awkward in the things I do.

The thing is that most of my differences are good. I see needs that other people miss and I respond in ways that others might not think of. I notice details others ignore and draw connections to things other people are not thinking about. But sometimes, I just feel out of place. I feel lost in a world that seems to be lost in itself.

I have never been very good at joining groups. I struggle to find ways to become included in things without specifically being invited. So I do things for people. I notice needs and I respond to them. I do everything I would want someone to do for me. And people appreciate it, but it doesn’t make me belong any more than I did before. I still don’t feel like I belong. I still don’t feel like I fit in. I still feel out of place.

In a general meeting for women that my church does, one of the speakers said that people are drawn to our church when we “are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.” As I have been struggling with feeling different lately, I have repeated this often to myself. I can be distinct and different in happy ways. It can be hard and lonely to be different, but maybe somehow, people are or will be drawn to me because of my differences.

Everything I Ever Wanted

I haven’t written much in the past few weeks. I don’t feel that I have much more to say than what has already been said. I have everything I ever wanted.

It is an unfortunate truth that you generally have more to say when there is conflict in your life. When things are going wrong, words flow from me because I need them. I need a way to express what I am feeling to get the feelings outside of me. But now, I feel such amazing peace. I feel immense gratitude and love and hope. I don’t want to talk about my feelings as much as I just want to feel them. No words can adequately express how I feel and I am not sure I could share the words if I did have them.

My whole life I just wanted to be loved. I wanted to feel like I had a place in this world, a purpose for my existence. I wanted to feel safe, whole, wanted. I have that now. I have everything I ever wanted, everything I ever longed for, everything I always prayed for. I don’t know what to pray for anymore. I don’t know what to think about anymore. I just feel incredible gratitude. Gratitude is my most common feeling. It fills my thoughts on a daily and even hourly basis.

I had a breakdown yesterday though. I started thinking about the things I do and felt a little ridiculous for feeling such strong love and gratitude for someone. I felt small and inadequate and insecure. It didn’t last long and I felt better after being reassured by a friend. But the point is that even when you have everything you ever wanted, even when everything is as good as it could possibly be and you can’t imagine how things could get any better, you are still going to have bad days. You are still going to have moments of feeling inadequate and not being okay. But that does not make all the good in your life of any less worth.

It is okay to have bad days. It is okay to not be okay sometimes. Even if all your dreams have come true and you have everything you feel you could ever want, it is okay to have a bad day every now and then.

The Cure for Autism

It is amazing to me how much things can change in a year. With everything that has happened this year, I feel like much more time has passed. I look back at who I was 10 years ago and laugh at my selfishness and childish thoughts. I wonder how anyone put up with my whining and shortsighted views. I look back 5 years ago and am amazed at how much I have grown since then. I look back at two years ago and can hardly believe the healing and help and hope that has come into my life since then.

Two years ago, I posted about how I wanted to experience friendship like the love I had for others. I wanted to learn to love better and to love myself. I had grown to be strong and intelligent, resilient to the trials life would bring, but I was haunted by loneliness. Loneliness was a familiar friend, and many nights were spent in the deepest despair of want for human interaction.

I am not lonely anymore. That is the most beautiful statement in the world. I do not feel lonely anymore. I never thought this was possible for me. For so many years, I longed for a single person to see me and want to be more than a situational friend. It wasn’t until college that I felt like I had friends outside of church or school or activities. At that time, I was still getting used to the idea of having friends, and I messed up more times than I care to relate. But a little over two years ago, I started to really feel wanted. I started to have people I could call friends. I started to believe in hope.

I feel so blessed. I have felt love beyond my capacity to comprehend. I feel wanted, needed, important, and safe- most of all, safe. Two years ago, I was terrified of everything I was doing. I was stepping out of my comfort zone and talking to people that I had no idea how to communicate with and doing things for others that scared me almost to death. Every day felt like walking around with my heart in my hands, hoping that it wouldn’t get crushed along the way.

But those sleepless nights and silent tears and debilitating anxiety led to the most wonderful friends a person could imagine. All my loneliness, all my pain and suffering, seem like nothing now compared to the love and protection I feel. I feel overflowing gratitude for my friends and for all that I have learned. I feel healed, whole, loved.

I can text someone when I want to talk. I can say hello to someone I recognize when I see them in a store or on the street. I can ask for help. I can tell people how I feel without feeling awkward or out of place. I can hug people or let someone give me a massage. I can relax. I can be myself.

No one knows how far I have come, but it is impossible for anyone to miss the progress I have made. Everyone who knew me before can see how I have changed. We talk about milestones in autism- being able to talk, looking someone in the eye, communicating a need, but the most important milestones are the ones that make you want to be you.

I learned how to do everything I was supposed to do at an early age. I analyzed people to the point where I knew how to appear normal. No one would guess that I have autism, unless it was one of those rare moments when I made a mistake. But despite my capacity to fit in, I could never find the capability to belong.

My milestones are hope, love, and belonging. If there is a “cure” for autism, this is it- hope, love, and belonging. All I ever wanted was to feel like I have a place in this world. I wanted to feel like I belong, that I am wanted here. I wanted to feel like autism wasn’t a wall that kept out love. You want to find the cure for autism? This is it- love, accept, embrace, help. After that, everything else will just fall into place.

The Gap

It’s 6 a.m. I’ve almost been awake for two hours. I have two finals today. I should probably study for them but I don’t really feel like it. Instead I’ve been reading stories online and singing songs in my head. But mostly when I wake up this early, I just think.

I am not like anyone I have ever met. Honestly, I don’t know anyone that thinks like me. I’m not sure what that means. Maybe it just means that I need to get to know more people. But I wake up at 4 a.m. singing Disney songs. I think about people all the time. I’m a people pleaser and people watcher and people analyzer. My best friend was frustrated with another friend of hers, and I told her what was probably going on. She told me later that I had been right. I’ve just spent my entire life learning about people, but I feel like I hardly know anything.

There seems to be a gap between me and the rest of the world. I have a lot of friends. Most are distant or just slightly closer than being an acquaintance, but they are friendly and we talk sometimes. I just feel separated. There seems to be a gap keeping me from becoming better friends with people.

I contemplate suicide a lot. It’s mostly in the quiet moments like this that I think it would be easier to just go, to silently slip out of everyone’s life. In truth, I never really want to die. I just want my situation on the outside to fit my feelings on the inside. I feel so far away from people emotionally that I just want to be that far away from them physically, like on another planet type of distance. Or I feel so torn up on the inside that I just want to be torn up on the outside to match all the things I’m feeling.

I know I’m going to do fairly well on my finals today, mostly because I don’t have to do very well. I have already calculated my grades and my final won’t make much of a difference. There’s something about life that I have never understood- how can it be so hard and so easy at the same time? I don’t think life is really that hard or complicated. You find something you want to do, learn how to do it, do your best at it, and try to make friends and have fun along the way. Yet, there is a dichotomy and a distance between physical life and emotional life. I want to be loved. I want to feel needed and wanted and important. That’s what we all want, right? And I know that I am. I am loved and needed and wanted. But there still seems to be a gap. Does everyone have that gap or is it just a product of my own creation?

Keep Going

The other day, I did something that was impossible for me a year ago- I said hello to a friend in the grocery store. I know that probably sounds pretty trivial to most people, but I have never been able to greet someone if they were not looking directly at me. I have a hard time controlling my voice volume so I was always worried that I would be too loud and scare the person or that I would be too quiet and they wouldn’t hear me.

I also had a major fear of touching someone, like on the back or shoulder to let them know I was there, which is another thing that has changed recently. I have gotten “pins and needles” before when a friend rubbed my back. I was not used to being touched and my body reacted in negative ways to it. But the other day, a friend rubbed my back and there was such an incredible warmth that went through me. It felt like love radiated through me from the touch of their hand. It was such a beautiful and calming feeling.

Anyway, I said hello to this person in the store, and we had a conversation like we would at church or any other place I might see them. It was simple, natural, completely normal to any onlookers and something that person probably didn’t think twice about, but I was ecstatic. I texted another friend to celebrate my accomplishment. I had wanted to do this my entire life. I even asked for help on this blog at one point to get ideas about how I could learn to say hello to someone. It seemed like a daunting task at the time, but has become less terrifying as I have learned how to communicate and express myself better. In this moment, I celebrated how far I have come in the last few years.

I have come so far and made such amazing progress that I just want to encourage everyone to keep going, keep trying, keep working on getting better. Looking at all of my progress is almost unbelievable. Things that were impossible are now normal. Things that used to make me feel uncomfortable can now help me feel the incredible love others have for me. These changes have truly been a miracle. One of the biggest miracles is that most people don’t know how hard these things used to be for me. They see who I am now and think nothing of these major milestones because it fits me now. I have become the type of person that talks to people and loves and feels love, and that is probably my biggest miracle of all.