The Disconnect

You can be in a room by yourself and not feel lonely. You can be in a room full of people, sitting by yourself and not feel lonely. What makes you feel lonely is not being alone, it’s feeling disconnected from the people around you.

I don’t know what I have in common with people. I don’t think like other people. I have been through things that a lot of people my age don’t understand. I’m not super involved with my appearance like most girls my age. I don’t obsess about boys. I haven’t even really been on many dates.

Sometimes I just don’t see what I have in common with the people around me. And it makes me feel like an outsider. I wonder how I’m going to find a way to be part of the world around me when I don’t seem to be like anyone else. Where do I fit? Where am I meant to be? How do I find my place? And will I always feel as lonely and separated as I do now?

I don’t know. I know I don’t want to be like everyone else. I know I’m not really meant to be. But I want to feel more like everyone around me. I want to feel like I belong. I want to feel connected.

It’s Okay to Be Different

It’s okay to be different. I have to keep reminding myself of that. As I sit rocking in my car before class, I have to remind myself that this doesn’t make me a failure. As I feel the urge to bang my head against walls or hurt myself in other ways, I have to remind myself that this doesn’t make me a bad person. As I flap my arms out of excitement or anxiety, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to be different.

I don’t know why I feel these things, but I have to resist the thoughts asking what’s wrong with me. Maybe nothing is wrong, maybe I’m just different. And maybe it’s okay to be different.

Where Do I Fit In?

I will always be different. There are a dozen reasons why this is the case, but the simple fact remains that I do not fit the established norms of society. I am not talking about everyone being unique and the fact that everyone is different. I am talking about the boxes that we put people in. I am talking about the labels that we all use to make sense of this world we live in. The truth is that I do not fit the boxes.

Whether we talk about gender or religion or personality or even autism, I tend to defy the stereotypes rather than connect with them. I guess some people might say this is a good thing, but it makes it hard to feel like you belong. The symbol for autism is a puzzle piece. People say the phrase “until all the pieces fit”. What if you are a piece that cannot fit? What if you were never made for the puzzle that is this world and your piece will never fit because it was never meant to?

I do not know what I am trying to say with all of this. I guess I just wish I did fit sometimes. I wish I was a little less different. I wish I could find my box, my place in the world. I wish I felt like I belonged. But maybe I was just never meant to belong in the first place.

Recognizing Change

November 14, 2015 dispelled my hopes of having friends. It was a blatant reminder of all the times I was excited at the prospect of friendship and disappointed by the outcome. To me, that day was a sign that nothing had changed.

The day after though was a sign that I was wrong. Things had indeed changed. It was just a bad day, a bad night, an unwanted reminder of my past, but also an inaccurate reflection of my future. Since that day, I have seen just how wrong I really was.

I had recognized change before in me and in my life, but that Friday made me question the reality of that change. Did I really have friends? Was I just dreaming that things had changed, that people finally saw me? Was it even worth trying if my life seemed destined for loneliness?

It seemed incredibly hopeless. If I had changed that much and had forged so much progress only to find myself back at the beginning, there was no use in trying. I was ready to consign myself to a life of loneliness, but that unconquerable part of me told me to keep on going, to keep trying, that I was close if I just didn’t give up.

So I kept going and I tried to be brave and act like I was okay. I tried to pretend that it didn’t matter, that I wasn’t affected by it even though it killed me inside. The facade can only last so long though and I broke. I broke down to my friend and in doing so, realized that I was indeed wrong. Things had changed and I really would be okay.

So many experiences since that day have reaffirmed that things are not how they used to be, and I don’t have to be alone. I am recognizing the changes in my life and in myself. I am recognizing that I am not alone and that I don’t have to be alone. I admit that I still struggle with lots of other things, but at least with having friends, I have made some progress.

And I continue to work towards change and improvement. I recognize the changes as little things happen to reassure me of my progress. I recognize that things are not how they once were. I am different. I am better. Life is better, and I really will be okay.

Disconnect

My mind goes a lot faster than the rest of me. It takes me a long time to translate what my mind is thinking into words. I know what I want to say, I just don’t know how to say it. I first have to focus enough on forming the words in my head, then on keeping the words while I focus on finding the opportunity to say them.

When I am sitting in class, I often have many thoughts that come to me. Sometimes I can form those thoughts into words before the teacher moves on, and I have the opportunity to contribute. Usually though, the teacher moves on before I can form my thought and I have to wait for another opportunity where my thought might fit. Or I move on from that thought and start over again.

It can be frustrating sometimes- this disconnect between my thoughts and my ability to communicate or act on those thoughts. I sometimes wish it was easier. It would be less embarrassing. I would be able to contribute more often. I wouldn’t have to work so hard to pay attention and still focus on my thoughts.

But on the other hand, if it wasn’t so hard, I might say things before they should be said. I might offend more people. I might not give meaningful input because I would be more focused on the output. It’s hard to think so much and try so hard when it seems that other people put no work into their thoughts and fill the time with little long-term value.

But I am grateful that it’s so hard because it means that everything I say has been carefully contemplated. Everything I do has a specific purpose and meaning. It gets me in trouble sometimes and can make me look incapable or unintelligent, but I would rather look incompetent than say something that could hurt someone else. In the end, it is worth being slower because it gives my insights that much more thought and meaning.

My Story- Autism

It is difficult to tell my story with autism because I’m not exactly sure what autism means for me or how much of my life it has affected. I felt like a pretty normal kid until third grade. I had a good group of friends that I would spend time with at recess or during lunch. I was in speech therapy because I had a hard time saying the letter “R”. I didn’t feel like therapy made me any different than anyone else though. I went with a few other students and we played games. It just felt like a break from class for a while.

In second grade, I started hanging out with a certain boy in my class. Typical, elementary school crushes, we would sit on the swings at recess and talk. I hardly spent any time with my group of friends because I would be with my seven-year-old crush. The next year, he moved away and I assumed that I could go back to my group of friends and nothing would have changed. Of course, I was wrong. A lot changes in a year. My friends had new friends, a new leader of the group, and new things they liked to do to pass the time.

I no longer felt like I fit in, and set off on my own to find other friends. The thing is, I had no idea how to make friends, how to talk to people, how to recognize facial expressions or know if someone liked me and wanted me around. My first group of friends evolved around the sister of my brother’s best friend. She had been to my house before and so it was natural to gravitate towards her at school. When I left her and that group of friends, I had no leads. I had no one to gravitate to, and not being able to say the letter “R” made it difficult to avoid teasing or misunderstanding.

It’s a pretty simple story and seems to have little to do with autism, which is exactly why it took until seventh grade to receive a diagnosis. People said I was shy; they blamed it on my speech impediment; they said I was lazy or that school was just hard. I don’t even think my family understood. How could I explain something so simple and yet so difficult? In my seven year old vocabulary and social skills, how could I explain that I was still the same person, that nothing had changed about me; it was the situation that changed and I didn’t know how to handle it.

Once I was diagnosed, nothing really changed. I had some accommodations for school work and we focused more on social skills in my speech therapy sessions. It was still incredibly difficult, but I just kept going. That was all I could really do, all I can really do.

Now that I  know more about autism, I am beginning to explore what it means. I’m beginning to explore the differences in social reading, emotional reciprocity, and giving of social cues. I’m not good at it, but I am pretty good at faking it. I guess and then search for clues that I was right or wrong and make a course correction. I think we are all like that. We all don’t fully understand each other, no matter how well we can read social cues. For me, it’s just been more of an emotional and psychological journey.

What I am learning more about and learning to embrace more is the “restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior”- the sensory side of autism, the special interests, stereotyped movements. In my intellectual, black-and-white mindset, it’s not easy to accept these sides of autism. My mind tells me they are wrong, abnormal, different, unacceptable, unforgivable, unlovable. I’m just starting to get past those thoughts, but it’s difficult. It’s difficult to rewrite years of observation, experimentation, and self-experienced research. But that journey is a story for a different day.

My Story- Introduction

Have you ever been so different that you just wished you were the same?

That has been the story of my life. When it comes to being different, I have experienced quite a lot of differences in my life. Racial differences, political affiliation, religion, gender stereotypes, disability, speech deficits, intelligence, poverty or lack of government benefits have all been part of the thoroughfare of differences that marked my young life.

No matter where I have been or what I have done, I was always different. I was the exception to every rule, the outlier, the odd one out. And I knew it. I have always known it and will likely always feel it. Not that I can’t blend in, I just know things others don’t know, I have experiences others don’t have, and no matter what group I am in that will always be the case. I know that’s a truth for everyone, but sometimes your differences don’t matter as much as other times. In some groups your differences don’t matter as much as in other groups; I have yet to find the group where my differences don’t seem to matter.

At some point, you learn to accept your differences and live with them. I am close to that point, but I’m still working on it. Growing up, I just had so many differences that I would give them all up to just be the same. I would have given up my intelligence, talents, athletic ability, anything good about myself just to fit in. I wouldn’t do that anymore, but when you are bullied, lonely, teased, and simply ignored as a kid, you’d do anything to be normal.

However, it is only through my differences that I have learned to be myself. When you are so different that you can’t even blend in by conformity, you learn to be who you are and not buckle under pressure because acting like everyone else will never allow you to fit in anyway. Through my differences, I have also learned compassion, sympathy, understanding, courage, perseverance, and ultimately love (which I am still working on learning every day.)

So, welcome to my life. I hope as you read about the different stories that have made me, me, that you will find hope, inspiration, and connection. I have never before shared the many stories that have made me who I am. As I write, I will be discovering along with you the person that created autismthoughts, underthesurfacepoetry, and servingaservicemission.