I finally feel like I am allowed to talk about my experiences. I am finally allowed to be unashamed, unembarrassed. I am finally allowed to take off my mask, because for the first time, I recognize it’s there. I know that my experiences are real—my experiences which are the result of the wiring inside my head. But as Dumbledore so brilliantly says: “Of course this is happening inside your head, …but why ever should that mean it is not real?”
My experiences are real. The ones I’ve denied and kept quiet about. The ones I’ve done my best to ignore, the ones I’ve been told are only in my head and I just have to outthink, just have to move past, just have to push through, just have to exercise, just have to practice, just have to deal, just have to, just have to, just have to.
Not only are my experiences real, but over the last 8 or 9 months, I have learned that they are not unique. My experiences belong to many others, too. And there is no “just have to” ANYTHING. Finally.
I finally have a framework that makes sense for my life—a framework I can finally build from. I guess I shouldn’t really use the world “finally” because it isn’t “final.” This isn’t the end. It’s only the very beginning. But what other word do you use for something you spent 32 years waiting for? 32 years struggling AGAINST instead of working WITH? After 32 years, there is no other word—so “finally,” it is.
At 32 years old, I finally have an explanation. I know the reason my experiences in life seem different from everyone else’s. I finally have a word for that invisible wall, keeping me separate from the rest of the world. I know why my senses overlap—why light is so loud, why sound is bright, disorienting, physical pain. Why I can hear, smell, taste, feel, and see the things that no one else seems to be able to. Why my entire physical experience of the world is different.
I have always wondered what is wrong with me. Always wondered how I can be so smart, so talented, so driven to contribute something meaningful to this world, and yet so physically unable to handle some of the most basic things life can throw at a person. Things like timeliness, things like laundry, things like friendship.
It wasn’t until this past winter that the possible explanation suddenly presented itself to me through someone else’s post on my Instagram feed. I was a little stunned, seeing it. It was a word I was familiar with, but I had never seen explained in a detailed way. I had never thought to look it up, never thought it could apply to me. But this Instagram post spelled it out in a way that was undeniable. This is a word that belongs to many, and seeing it clearly for the first time, I knew.
I began researching, collecting every fact, every story, every other lived experience I could. I began reading books, blogs, and journal articles. Watching Ted Talks, lectures, and YouTube videos. I knew, but I had to verify. Every shred of information I gleaned added more and more evidence to the pile. The pile grew, and yet I could not find a single thing to argue against or contradict what has now been confirmed through weeks of assessment by a specialized professional.
The word that belongs to many, belongs to me too. That word is Autism. And finally, I know—there is nothing wrong with me.