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.

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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.

Purpose

The things that happen, the people that cross your path, and where life takes you can’t all be coincidences. There has to be something bigger here. The perfect timing needed to meet certain people and all the little steps that lead you to a certain place in your life where you can become friends cannot be random happenstance. There are too many factors, too many possible variations, too many choices along the way for some things to not be destiny.

I don’t understand a lot of things in this life, but I do believe there is a purpose. There is a purpose to you being here. There is a purpose to your life. There is a purpose to my life. We are not aimless beings wandering in a world of uncertainty and discord. We are travelling in a direction, making a course towards something. We may not know what yet, but as long as we keep trying, we will never really be lost because we are travelling towards where we’re supposed to be.

Grateful for a Best Friend

Thinking about the last two years, there is one thing (or rather, person) that I am grateful for more than anything else that has happened in that time. Becoming friends with my best friend, Shannon, is by far the most wonderful thing that has happened to me in the last two years. I cannot describe the joy and peace and love that she has brought into my life.

She taught me how to trust. She helped restore my faith in people. There is no one that I feel more safe with or more loved with than her. She has brought such a beautiful peace into my life. She has given me hope in the worst of circumstances. She has been my constant in a world of disorder and uncertainty. She has helped me make more progress individually and personally than anyone else.

Shannon, if you are reading this, know that you have changed my life. There are very few people that I am more grateful for than you. Your friendship means everything to me. Your love has made the biggest difference in my life. Thank you so much for everything.

Thank you for seeing who I really was and could be. Thank you for taking the time to get to know me. Thank you for the long nights when you were there for me in my most desperate hours. Thank you for the times you helped me or stayed with me when I was sick or hurting. Thank you for being the friend I always wanted but never knew existed. Thank you for allowing me to practice talking with you. Thank you for allowing me to be autistic with you. Thank you for letting me not be okay sometimes and not judging me or condemning me for it. Thank you for never making me feel like less than a person. Thank you for helping me to not be scared anymore. Thank you for teaching me how to love myself.

There are so many more things I would thank you for. I would thank you for every note you ever wrote me, every picture you ever sent me, every prayer you ever prayed for me, every conversation we ever had together. But I think most of all, I would thank you for every smile, for every night that I wasn’t lonely, for every breath that I felt at peace because of your wonderful, beautiful, perfect friendship. I know that you are not perfect, and our friendship is not perfect, but you have been the perfect friend to me. You have healed my heart and mind, and I could not be more grateful for all you have done for me. Thank you. Thank you for being the best friend I could have ever asked for.

From Your Friend with Autism

I’m scared that I won’t know how to talk to you because I don’t.

I’m scared that you’ll leave because I’ve never kept a friend very long.

I’m scared that I don’t know how to be a friend because I haven’t had many.

I’m scared that I’m too much or too little because I can’t tell the difference.

I’m scared about how I feel because loving so much can lead to more hurt later.

I’m scared because I’ve never done this before.

I’m scared because I’m not good at reading signals.

I’m scared because I’m getting better, which makes it harder to handle if I mess up.

I’m scared because I don’t think you know how scared I am or how much I try.

But most of all, I’m scared because friendship means so much to me and I don’t know if or when I’ll get another chance.

Finding Your Voice

I have a hard time talking. I mean, I can speak. I just have a hard time finding the words and putting them in sentences when I am speaking. I have heard a lot about assistive technology for communication. I don’t need a device to communicate my needs, but I can relate to the feeling of helplessness with communication. I have needed to find my voice many times over my lifetime.

I found that voice in writing. Most of my good friends have been made through letters or texts. I need to write like I need to breathe. I am a very social person, but I struggle with spending time with people because I don’t know how to talk to them. But when I write, I can say everything I need.

I used to get embarrassed by my need to write things down to communicate. I know it is a different way of communicating than most people use these days, and I felt awkward and alone. People just don’t write letters very often anymore. People don’t write messages to put on the wall for people to see. And if they do, it’s usually something cute or important. My messages were just about telling someone how I felt or what I needed. It was the only way I knew how to tell people what was going on with me.

I have become more comfortable with how I communicate now. I know it is different, but I am different, and surprisingly, people understand that. So I encourage you to find your voice if you have trouble communicating your needs to others. Find a way to tell people about you and what you need. And remember that it’s okay to be different. The ones that matter most will understand and love you for it.

 

Friends Forever

Having friends scares me. I love people so much, but it seems that friendships hardly ever last as long as you would like. I have had so many people who said they would always be there for me, that they would never leave, but they have been gone a long time. I still think about them and wonder if they ever think about me. Sometimes when someone says they will always be friends with me or they will never leave, the thoughts return of everyone who has ever said that to me.

Friends forever

Having friends scares me because I don’t know what I am doing right or if I am doing something wrong. I try to understand what other people need, and I try to be respectful of their needs. I try to be a good friend. I try to be myself, but not overwhelm them.

I used to wonder what was wrong with me, why I could never seem to keep a friend. I came to the conclusion that maybe people just don’t need me as much as I need them. Why be friends with me when they have other friends… better friends?

Having friends scares me because losing a friend is the hardest thing I have ever done. People think that autism or depression or anxiety or so many other things are incredibly difficult (and they are), but the most difficult thing for me is feeling like I am loved and wanted, then having that feeling taken away. You cannot miss what you have never had, but once you have something that makes you feel better than ever, taking it away leaves a gaping hole in your heart.

I wonder if forever friends are possible. I wonder if I am worth being friends with forever. My views of myself have greatly improved over the last couple years. I no longer hate myself. I see good in me. But when it comes to friends, I still feel hopelessly lost. I still don’t know what I am doing. Maybe I never will. But even though I have lost many friends over the years, I still hope that you mean it when you say forever.