Several months ago (I’m not sure exactly when–I only remember that it was hot outside, which narrows the timeframe down to somewhere between May and October of last year), there was a neat “hashtag campaign” going around on Twitter – #IveLearnedToAccept (“I’ve learned to accept”) – and many of us used that hashtag to describe various Asperger’s/autism characteristics that we’ve come to recognize/realize and make peace with.
I know that this is old news for my fellow Twitter neurosiblings. I had indeed meant to write about this back then, when it would be more time-relevant, but the notes had gotten buried and today, they’ve been unearthed.
Autism Awareness Month is understandably a point of contention for many people on the spectrum. The majority of us would rather see Autism Understanding and Autism Acceptance. The way I see it, acceptance begins with ourselves. Of course, many of us already accept ourselves as we are; my own self-acceptance is a new concept for me, in the grand scheme of things.
Over the past year, I’ve finally learned to accept myself as I am.
What does this mean?
I’ve learned to accept…
My quirks. They make me, me. Stuff like examining my hair. Sitting on my jacket in the parking lot of our apartment complex. Being awake. Being fascinated with pathogenic microbes. Pulling over to write down sudden inspiration. Spotting the zebras while ignoring the horses. Using zillions of emojis when chatting. Making up my own words. Making up my own world.
I’ve actually learned to accentuate my quirks. That’s not to say that I’m looking for attention or trying to make my life more interesting (it’s pretty amusing and even frequently complicated as it is, despite my efforts to simplify it).
My limits. Sometimes I can’t do what I had set out to accomplish on a particular day. Sometimes I can’t even do what I did yesterday. Sometimes I suddenly realize I’m spent and that I’ve had enough. Sometimes I put my head down on my desk in the afternoon and take a two-hour nap. I’ve learned to give in to these limitations when possible. I’ve learned to go ahead and take that nap. I’ve learned to go ahead and oblige my brain when it says, “yo – I’m done for the day. Let me rest now”.
My needs. Sometimes I decline an invitation to hang out with friends. I’m so grateful to be invited, but there are times when I simply want to be invisible. Sometimes I just need to recharge. I’ve learned that ignoring these needs makes breaks me down–mentally, emotionally, and physically. I’m slowly learning to listen to my body when it sends me subtle signals.
My introversion. On one hand, I don’t want to be ignored. But on the other hand, I usually pray that the passerby stranger doesn’t say hi, because then I would feel obligated to respond and I might get tangled up in a conversation I wasn’t prepared to have.
My social awkwardness. I hardly ever know what to say. So I sneak a peek at what others have said on message boards, social media, or their own blogs, and I parrot those words and phrases. I’ve been known to look up words in the thesaurus so that I don’t sound too monotonous. I’ve even been known to take my mobile’s autosuggestion.
My lack of fitting in. I don’t look like other people; I wear no makeup, and my fashion sense is about 10-30 years behind. I don’t care. Yes, my clothes are that old. But the important part is that by now, they’re well-worn, which means they’re comfortable, and that is ultimately what counts.
My lack of eye contact. I look away a lot, especially when I’m thinking or when I’m the one speaking. I can’t think straight enough to talk if I also have to stare at them. I’ll find a spot on their forehead to look at, or maybe their mouth.
That not everyone is going to like me. I’m blunt at times. I generalize at times. I’m bitter sometimes. I get short when I’m nearing my resilience threshold. I don’t always filter what I say. I don’t always check my initial impulses at the door. I say what I mean, but I don’t always choose the best wording right off the bat.
My social fatigue. Sometimes I get “peopled out”, and that often happens fairly easily, so I don’t go out much. It takes a lot of energy to interact with people on an ongoing basis, especially in person. This holds doubly true the more public the place, because there are more people to watch me, and I’m acutely aware of how many people like to people-watch.
My meltdowns. They happen. They’re a pain in my arse, but a part of my life, and they’ll always be both. They’re inevitable, especially after a while. Every few months–boom. The seismometer registers activity. If the earth trembles under your feet just a little wherever you are, that’s probably me, facing a Cleaning Day, or getting tired of my mess, or my physical health failing just a little bit more, I’m fed up with yet another technology mishap, and so on.
My shutdowns. Sometimes I’ve had it up to here with another person complaining at work, or another instance of criticism, or getting called out by over-sensitive people about something I feel is trivial and not even a first world problem, or being trapped in the middle of another blow-up between friends on social media, or whatever. Or maybe I’m grieving and can’t function. Or maybe I’m having a PTSD flashback.
My insomnia. It’s been sitting on my shoulders for seven years now. I’m hoping it’ll go away someday, but I’ve made peace with it for now. I’ve realized that I can get a few more things done at night. Overnight, if I want to go outside, I feel like I have the world to myself. It’s due to cumulative PTSD, that much I know.
My anxiety. I can’t stand loud noise, especially intermittent, and especially if it’s close by. I can’t stand the idea that I might have hurt someone. I get overwhelmed easily, especially about finances.
My past. I’ve been called all sorts of things, most of which were unjustified and inaccurate. I flunked kindergarten. I failed biology in high school. My family came from a very odd walk of life. I’m a member of a rare and dying breed. It used to be somewhat of a source of embarrassment sometimes, but I’ve not only learned to accept it, I’ve actually learned to embrace it.
My learning style. I thought I was the “Read-Write” type, but that’s just because that’s what I spent most of my time doing. It took so much time because it was actually quite inefficient for me. It turns out that I’m actually a visual person. Pictures and diagrams are where it’s at. I’ve learned to take the time to draw the picture and study off of that.
Being alone. I’ve found that I’m actually not lonely when I’m alone. I can entertain myself. It used to be a source of pain, because it meant that no one wanted to hang out with me, so being alone was more of a last resort, a lack of options, rather than a deliberate decision. Now, it is indeed more of a voluntary choice.
Having quality over quantity of friends. I used to want a lot of friends. Having a lot of friends meant to me that a lot of people liked me. I know now that that’s not true; when you have tons of friends, you never quite get close to any one of them. Now, I have just a few friends, but we’re close, and that means more to me.
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(Image Credit: Vitalik)