“Every time someone steps up and says who they are, the world becomes a better, more interesting place”Captain Raymond Holt, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
I try to live my life being my true self these days. I am upfront about who I am and what my experiences are with as many people as I can, unfortunately this was not always the case.
There was a time when I was afraid to tell people about being autistic, and my experiences with psychosis and addiction (yes, I do consider psychosis and addiction to be tied in with my neurotype, they have shaped the identity that I have today).
Why was I afraid to be my true self? Simply put, it’s the stigma surrounding my existence. Even without psychosis and addiction, being autistic is complicated in a world dominated by neuronormative rhetoric. Being an outlier means facing the judgement of others, for reasons that are so numerous it would be impossible to list them all in one piece of writing.
People have preconceived notions about what it means to be autistic. I have had people doubt my autism diagnosis because I was both too normal, and not typical of the idea of autism they had built up in their mind. Some expected me to be a savant, while others believed that I should be incapable of taking care of myself on even the most fundamental level.
The neurotypical opinion of autism has been shaped by a world consisting of functioning labels, while it ignores the very fact that ones functioning is a constantly moving target, shifting from day to day, hour to hour. What I am capable of on Monday, may be impossible on Tuesday.
For this reason I know that when I disclose my autistic neurotype to a person, it is likely that they start picturing something that is very different from the person I actually am.
This is compounded when taking my experience of psychosis and addiction into account. Society has spent at least the last century painting the psychotic as dangers to society, and presenting addicts as a worthless drain, stealing resources from the more deserving for what they consider a moral failing.
It’s terrifying to face up to. How does one break these preconceived notions and show themselves for who they truly are? I know that for anyone getting to know me, there is a great deal of learning to be done about what it means to be me. I don’t ever want someone to feel uncomfortable around me, but I also need to be sure that whoever I am discussing my experience with is going to take the steps necessary to leave behind the ideas of the past.
I am blessed. The people in my life currently are incredibly accepting, and where they have an incorrect idea about me, they are willing to learn without judgement. So many I know are not as lucky as myself. They face the judgement of the world, and have to choose whether or not to disclose their neurotype in a world that has literally murdered people like us for simply being who we are.
This is why the work of advocates is vital. We must continue to dismantle the stigma surrounding neurodiversity and mental health so that people can see us for who we are. The diversity of minds in this world is one of the things that makes life beautiful, and we must fight to show the world our beauty.
It is up to us, as the voices of lived experience to teach the world to take pride in it’s own diversity. Where it is safe to do so, we must always be authentic. We no longer live in the shadows; it is time to stop being the proverbial wall flowers and step onto the dance floor.
To my friends and loved ones that have supported me in being my authentic self- thank you. I will continue to show you what I love about being me. Thank you for celebrating my strengths, and supporting me through my struggles.
To the autistic person struggling to disclose their identity- you are beautiful, don’t ever be ashamed to be the real you.