In January I decided that this was the year that I would step outside my comfort zone. The secret to being able to do that, is first you have to build a comfort zone from which to step.
Being an undiagnosed autistic woman meant that I lived in the desert. I was permanently outside my comfort zone. I was always pushing myself to do more than I could, and beating myself to a pulp for what I viewed as my weaknesses.
“Accept change, damn you! Stop being exhausted by socialising! Stop making mistakes! Why did you get that wrong? Do better!” These were my daily affirmations. Every day felt like a battle ground to navigate. Everyone was the enemy, there was no space around people that was safe.
Only alone could I trust that I wasn’t being judged by anyone else, but even when alone, my voice carried on, “Why is everyone so much better at this than you? Why are you failing to connect?”
When I told my now-husband, “I find you very attractive.” He did not believe me. Why? Because that’s not how people communicate, they don’t just tell you the truth. He explained that he thought that I must be trying to make him feel better, there must be a social rule I was following. It couldn’t just be true.
There are two ways that people respond when you are blunt and clear; they either believe you, or they don’t. In many ways it’s an excellent filter for compatibility.
Luckily, my husband realised that I was telling the truth, and a love story to rival the classics was born (with fewer murders and suicides than most, but plenty of connections).
He was the first person to tell me that I must work with myself to be happy. This was long before my autism diagnosis, and it is the most wonderful thing you can do for anyone.
It’s easy to tell people to be true to themselves. It’s harder when you don’t share that truth, and don’t understand it. It is hard to take that leap of faith and trust that other people’s needs and experiences are real.
I have to do it all the time. I have to believe that you need me to communicate in your ways. You need that style of small talk and slow build up. You need the constant, small, impractical interactions. These are your patterns and I believe them. When I have the social energy I will play to your tune. When I don’t, I hope that you can respect that my patterns aren’t trying to hurt you.
With the support to be who I am, and finally, armed with my official diagnosis, I built myself a comfort zone.
It is steeped in the cycles of nature. It is designed around my need to be outdoors without interactions. It has built slowly, with change guided by my needs. It is my place of peace and gentleness. It feeds something deep within me, and it makes me feel connected to everything.
Each zone is so personal, there is no blueprint, just a space that soothes and calms and is safe and secure from the barrages of the world. Now I have built mine, I am ready to rejoin the fray. I have an area to recuperate, and a right to rebuild myself.
This year I decided that, with one foot on solid ground, I can take on the world. I can try to be heard. I can share my world with strangers. I can say yes to things, and be a part of people, as well as the world.
Since my diagnosis I learned how to build my cocoon, now I am learning how to fly. Autism awareness is here. It is within me. I am aware of who I am and how I work, and I am aware that the world needs me, just as much as I need the world.
I am sitting on a branch, unfurling my wings. I am going to take my time to admire their patterns and their strength, and then I am going to fly.
Autism is here to stay, we are a part of the whole, we are necessary and needed, and our voices are gaining strength. This April I shall be more aware than I could have possibly imagined, and I will share that with those who want to see the world from my angles.
We are here, we are ready, and we are taking flight.