Monthly Archives: July 2012

Self Esteem

When I was a kid I was both hurt by people in power and bullied by peers. As a kid I wasn’t very self aware and didn’t realize I processed things differently. When the hormones of teenagehood hit, I became painfully aware that not only was I “weird”, different, a convenient target, I also thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me to cause people to mistreat me so much.

They put me in smart kid classes because I could spell, read, and do math beyond my years, but half the time my different way of processing things meant I didn’t understand conversation. I felt like a dumb kid pretending he was smart. I was convinced they had made a mistake, and eventually, my processing skills did not advance at the rate of my age mates and I was no longer a “smart kid”. I almost failed regular math in grade 11 and 12.

I internalized the thoughts that I was worthless and that no one liked me for a long time. It led to some hard roads. A combination of my worthless feelings and my autistic obsessiveness led me to develop anorexia. It was going through treatment for that that started me on the path of really being able to take an objective look at myself.

It’s been five years since I wrestled my life back from anorexia, and slowly since that time I’ve been able to change those old messages.

It wasn’t my fault I was a target.
I was not a dumb kid.
There are people who appreciate me, weirdness and all.
But best of all, I appreciate me. Weirdness and all. Especially weirdness.

It was hard to get here. I’m not even completely sure how I did it, but it took some emotional maturing, a better understanding of myself, and a few experiences of community.

People have said to me “wow, you’re really self aware for an autistic person.” I don’t think autistic people are any less self aware in general. Some are and some aren’t. I think it’s just that I’m more self aware than the average *any* type of person. My life led me to be that way. In order to survive, I had to learn to examine myself and understand. I wasn’t born with this understanding. I worked hard for it.

And what I’m finally starting to develop after more than 25 years, is a sense of self esteem. As I start to understand my own strengths and limitations, I start to see the beauty in my life. As I start to lovingly project the real me to the world, people start to like me.

It was never going to just bang down my door as I hid in the dark. Life does not come to you, you have to seize it for yourself.

I’m not a victim any more. I think I’m a pretty cool guy, and if someone doesn’t agree, that no longer diminishes my own flame.

It took me 28 years to get to this point. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

What I learned at Autreat

I attended a conference called Autreat this year as a presenter. It’s a conference run by autistic people, for autistic people. It’s such a safe space. My goal this year is to try and carry some of Autreat into the rest of my life.

I don’t have a lot of experience with autistic communities. Certainly not ones where the autistic person is encouraged to be their own true autistic self. Most groups I’ve found have been about trying to pass as “normal”. So I absolutely loved that at Autreat, I could interject musical theatre or Minecraft into almost every conversation I had and no one thought less of me for it. If I couldn’t look at you, that was fine. If there was a long silence, that was just part of the conversation. If I had to wear headphones, that wasn’t rude, and if I’d rather sit near the dance for most of the event instead of participating, I wasn’t called weird.

I realized a lot about how I communicate while I was at Autreat. I have been told by a few non-autistics that they wouldn’t have thought I was autistic because I seem to be so self aware.

I don’t think autistic people are NOT self aware. I just think we have trouble putting it into words.

Imagine having a conversation with someone. For non-autistics, most of it comes naturally. But an autistic person has to deal with understanding what the person has said, filter out background sound and visuals, figure out posture and non-verbal communication, deal with the other person expecting eye contact, and formulate an appropriate response. All of this has to be done quickly. When I’m in a conversation, I feel like a computer without enough memory – it’s impossible to process all these things at once so the system gets slowed down.

Most of my life I thought I was stupid, because most of the time I didn’t understand people when they talked to me. I have to work really hard to make sense of conversations. Autreat taught me that was all right.

I have to speak to a group of actors I’m working on a play with about my experiences, and I’ve asked the director if I can communicate this in writing. Maybe it’s time to stop forcing myself to communicate like everyone else, because that only leads to me feeling stupid. I am a fluent, evocative communicator through text, so why not try and show people the real me that way?

The more I discover about my autistic self, the more I realize that there is an incredibly interesting person waiting to come out. I only need to let him be autistic, instead of forcing him to appear “normal”. Thanks, Autreat.

What does the title mean?

I was diagnosed with autism as an adult. Here is where the box idea came from.

As a child, I couldn’t figure out how to connect with anyone. I felt like I was locked inside a glass box. People could see me, but they couldn’t get close, couldn’t hear me speak. Everywhere I went, I looked like everyone else, but I was different. Separate.

I tried forever to get out of this glass box. I tried to punch holes in it so I could breathe. I banged on the side, imploring people to see me, look at me, hear me.

But they just walked past.

Eventually, I was referred to a doctor who diagnosed me with autism. That was the first crack in the box.

Then, I met other autistic people. Another crack.

Then, I started realizing that different was not less.

Finally, I accepted that who I was was worthwhile and that I just connected to people in a different way.

My confinement shattered. I am no longer in a glass box.

Welcome to my autism blog.