We live in a society that tells us that if we try hard enough, believe and work hard enough, anything is possible. We can make our dreams come true through sheer bloody-mindedness. It’s not true.
I come from a version of the Christian faith that gave me the sense that if I did everything right, God would bless me and even if the world was going to hell in a hand basket, I should still have peace, and rejoice, and be happy because God had somehow chosen to allow me to go through this trial. That good things always come out of the bad. That if I just waited long enough and tried hard enough, God would give me everything I ever wanted, and more. This is also untrue.
For as long as I can remember, people have confused me. But more than that, I think I may have been confusing the people. I always knew I was different. As a teenager, the term “nonconformist” was bandied about. I was never going to make a song or dance about the thing, but if there wasn’t an obvious reason to do the thing, I just wasn’t going to do it. I can remember going to learn about makeup and skin regimes because I thought that knowing that stuff might be a key to being more socially acceptable. It wasn’t, and so now I am a woman in her 40s who can’t put on eyeliner.
From a young age, people described me as independent. It seemed like a good label, so I kept it. Between being independent, intelligent hard-working when motivated, doing and believing all the Right Things, and not being tied down by social sterotypes while also avoiding the rebel tag, I was definitely going to be A Success. You know, eventually. I would do all the right things, jump through all the hoops, and then I wouldn’t have to worry about … all the things I was pretending not to worry about.
I’m not actually that independent. It’s a story, a front, a mask. An unintended consequence of the whole “people confusion” thing. Yes, I did lots of things for myself from a fairly young age and yes, I am extremely good at finding work-arounds, but it doesn’t come from a determination to do things for myself. It’s simpler than that – I can’t ask for help. And when you can’t ask for help, you end up becoming an independent problem solver. Which is not a bad thing, and can be a nice story to tell yourself.
When I say I can’t ask for help, I mean that I cannot communicate my need for assistance and /or support in a way that will reliably result in that assistance becoming available and nobody being hurt in the process (this may, on reflection, explain my one significant social skill- apologising). I have watched other people ask for help, and seen them get it, and copied exactly. I have asked around for scripts so that I will say the right thing. It doesn’t work. Either people think I’m not being serious or that I’m blaming them, or goodness knows what else it could be.
Trouble is, I still need to ask for help sometimes. It becomes a meta-problem. I need help asking for help. But there is something about me that makes it look like I don’t need help, or help asking for help.
So a perceived strength is actually a consequence of an “unsolvable” weakness – why does this matter? It matters because I need to know who the true me really is. I need to go beyond the story I tell myself about who I am, and what the world is, and recognise that for all that I may work really, really hard, and do what seems to be “all the right things”, there’s some differences to my way of being.
It matters because fighting against that way of being, trying to be what I am not even though it looks like that is who I am, isn’t good for me, nor is it good for those around me. I firmly believe that we are not here to try to make our dreams come true, to work hard and get what we want. We are here to betruly ourselves, wherever we may be. So it matters that the stories we tell ourselves reflect the truth – that we have value and worth just as we are, bit also about the things that no amount of hard work is ever going to “fix”.
This is where self-acceptance becomes hard. Because we live in a society that tells us to ignore our weakness. But if we do that as an autistic person we will break. Autism isn’t a superpower. It’s a different way of being. I need to accept what that means, and stop getting annoyed with myself for not being able to do the things I’m never going to be able to do.
I need to tell myself a different story.