Ten years ago at exactly now, I was packing my car for the long drive to Portland, Oregon trying to find a place where my personality was less alienating for me. When I got there, my hosts were terrible, everyone judged me for the same reasons plus my Southern accent, and I was unable to find all the “weird” that Portland claims to keep. I discovered I was too weird for Portland as well and I shouldn’t have watched Dig! so many times.
I came back to the South nine months later in an epic cross-country solo road trip on nearly no sleep while very mentally ill, my terrified cat in the back seat. I moved into my parents’ house again and soon began a tepid relationship with a classical guitarist for a year. We were both on the spectrum, neither of us knew it, and we “coped” with our general dysphoria by drinking a lot.
We broke up and I proceeded to flail around for mental stability. I was 33-34 years old and had failed at every attempt to “adult” my way to respectability despite my intelligence and talent. I was experiencing extreme pain in one of my fingertips and no one believed me about it for the next three years, but I was unable to work for long, fix food for myself, or function at all. Eventually I had three excruciating surgeries to remove a very rare, very debilitating series of tumors with the help of a charity organization. During the chronic pain, I drank even more and acquired a third DUI one summer night.
That night when I was 35 years old changed my life – for the worse in the short run and eventually for the best in spite of what was done to me. I was tied down and tasered by the cops during a mental health crisis and had the next three years of my life utterly destroyed. I became a shut-in while dealing with the tumors and unable to drive.
It’s hard now for me to comprehend how beaten down and subhuman I felt mid-decade.
During all this, I went to community college to get a secretary degree and failed to complete my studies. I received no accommodations although I tried as hard as possible to get help without any concrete diagnosis or disability. I was sexually assaulted a few times during this period. I was trying as hard as possible to make my parents love me and get society to tolerate me by wearing multiple masks which resulted in dissociative identity problems on top of the PTSD.
I was very close to taking my life for real (rather than just fantasizing about it like I had since turning eight years old) when I decided to go off of the ever-changing psychiatric cocktail I had been fed since I was fourteen. It was not easy. It was like tripping for about three months, and not in a pleasant way, while the drugs worked themselves out of my system and I readjusted. I stayed off the booze for the most part.
It finally dawned on me in my new mental clarity that I was not a broken freak or a loser, but rather a remarkable type of person and this culture, this country, is built to quietly dismantle people like me. I didn’t fail out of society; every layer of society had failed to protect me.
And then 2016 happened. And then #MeToo.
And then I was clinically identified as autistic.
The past long three years, for reasons personal and political (because there is no difference), I have made the decision to live openly by not hiding my identity as a neurodivergent person with a lot of unpopular opinions to share. There has been backlash for this in my life from family and the autism industrial complex.
But it was all worth it – even these past three years of constant existential panic and alarm as the world burns and heaves with discontent. There’s nothing like finally having the language and framework for understanding where you fit into the universe, if not humanity. Once I knew I was a non-binary autistic person my purpose snapped into focus and my genuine identity began to solidify.
I began to value myself, take up space, accomplish things, and heal the profound gaslighting of the first 40 years of my life.
Trans pastor and speaker Paula Williams says, “The call to authenticity has all the subtlety of a smoke alarm.” I think the major conflict in the world right now is the battle between authenticity, objectivity, and facts and the forces of greed, illusion, and mass manipulation. There is power (and risk) in authentic perspective, in truth telling, in abandoning language that frames people and events in false terms.
I feel a great awakening of people who refuse to be silenced and destroyed by tired and dangerous social controls and this is most apparent in the new visibility of gender queer and/or neurodiverse people.
2020 will be a year of great upheaval as well as shocking enlightenment.