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.
6 thoughts on “Autism Aware”
Do you ever have fears in your mind that are just like they’re your imagination? I have been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder almost my entire adult life, but now I realize I have had something like “rocking behavior” the whole time. I’d like to talk to you personally. Isn’t there some way to message people on here?
When I see schizophrenic delusions depicted on television or in the movies, like in “A Beautiful Mind”, they do seem like “structured beliefs” to me. For me, it has always been like it’s just my imagination. I wonder if you have ever had any experience like this? I think I am moving on into schizophrenia now. I realize I am doing something like “hearing voices”. It’s like I hear voices in the wind.
🙂 loved this one.
i’ve spent a decade (my twenties) reading self-help books, trying to “fix” various things i felt i’m somehow not good at (like, emotions management and connecting to most people – except for the eccentric outsiders; that i highly appreciate, but still i wanted to have a broader spectrum of people i can get on with) …
and the thing is, every time i came across that “push yourself out of your comfort zone” slogan – i thought “what the heck do you want? what comfort zone? what do you even mean by that – cause when am i ever comfortable (never)? i’m almost burning out, you mean i’m not already freaking doing *enough*?”
now at 33 i realised that i’m also autistic 🙂 i don’t feel i need an official diagnosis to know that. but it explains so much about why this self-help slogan, as well as other well-meant advice was total backfiring and misguided, without first knowing that i’m running on a different operating system than the people it’s mostly written for.
i’m just at the beginning of this journey, but that seems so helpful to know. also reading this post is encouraging, perhaps can help me believe that after learning to cocoon there will come a time when i can also reach out to the world again, but without violating and overriding myself in that way.
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You are so very welcome! Thank you for sharing your experience with me. Knowing how you work is at the root of everything.