Gardner Variety: living with autism
We’re going through a turbulent time in America. Things are changing. People’s voices are finally being heard. I realize we have a long way to go, but I genuinely feel we’re on a path of healing and acceptance.
Along with race relations, I think a lot of people are starting to understand the importance of embracing and sharing some of the other things they struggle with, whether it be depression, anxiety, or anything else of that nature.
Today, I’d like to talk to you about autism. I’m autistic, something many of you don’t know. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 26, which is more common than you might think.
Late autism diagnoses are becoming more prevalent, in part, because doctors simply didn’t know enough about it in the seventies and eighties. As their knowledge on the topic increased and more indivudals began to openly talk about their diagnosises, it opened up the door for more individuals learn about it and potentially seek diagnosis.
In fact, there are a lot of people with autism that you likely weren’t aware of.
Comedic actor Dan Aykroyd, who starred in Movies such as “Ghostbusters” and “The Blues Brothers,” was diagnosed as an adult and now speaks openly about his experiences growing up undiagnosed.
“I wasn’t diagnosed until the early Eighties when my wife persuaded me to see a doctor,” saidAykroyd. “One of my symptoms included my obsession with ghosts and law enforcement — I carry around a police badge with me, for example. I became obsessed by Hans Holzer, the greatest ghost hunter ever. That’s when the idea of my film Ghostbusters was born.”
Television writer and producer Dan Harmon, who created the shows “Rick and Morty” and “Community” also went undiagnosed as a child.
Bestselling author John Elder Robison, who wrote “Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, also wasn’t diagnosed until he was an adult.
As a kid, Robison was often punished for “misbehaving” and “laziness.” It wasn’t until adulthood that a doctor suggested to him that he might have Asperger’s. “The knowledge,” said Robison, “changed my life forever. It took some time, and a lot of hard work, but the knowledge of how and why I am different transformed my life.”
Jim Eisenreich was a Major League Baseball star in 1982, where he played for the Minnesota Twins. He was diagnosed with autism when he was still with the team.
As a man with autism, I struggled throughout most of my youth and early adulthood to really find who I was as a person. I always felt like I was so different from everyone around me. It was incredibly confusing. Instead of embracing myself, I mimicked the people I thought were “cool.”
I shifted my personality at will, as I bounced around from group to group. I’d change the way I talked. I’d feign common interests. I’d turn myself into a completely different person, depending on who I was talking to, because I was afraid they’d think the real me was weird. I was a chameleon trapped inside a human’s body, and I can’t begin to explain how exhausting it was to constantly change myself to fit the needs of the people around me.
As this continued into my mid-twenties, I really started to question my own self-worth, which led to serious depression. I rarely gave myself a chance to actually be me, and when you do that for long enough, you start to lose sight of who you are. You lose sight of your own individuality — all the things that make you unique and beautiful.
When I found out I was on the spectrum at the age of 26, it felt like I was literally meeting myself for the first time. I was finally able to accept most of my stranger quirks as a part of me, but I didn’t embrace everything.
As a young adult, I really struggled with taking care of myself. I struggled with basic human functioning that most people don’t even think about. I wouldn’t clean myself. I’d leave food rotting on the table. The first time I briefly lived alone, I’d let my trailer get so disgusting, it amazes me today that I was able to live surrounded by so much filth.
Nobody knew any of this. I was kicking ass at work. I was quickly moving ahead in my field. To everyone else, it looked like I was killing it, when honestly, had I not been forced to move back in with my parents, I might not have survived.
Accepting that part of me was the hardest part of being diagnosed with autism. At first, I leaned on the lack of “executive functioning” as a way of explaining away my behavior. I didn’t really accept it as a part of me. I used it as an excuse more than anything else, but the more I pushed that part of myself away, the more those behaviors resurfaced.
I was living with my parents again at that point, and I came home from work one day to find my mother cleaning my bedroom. I don’t even want to describe the state it was in, but I’ll at least tell you I’d known for months that it was disgusting and had done nothing about it. I remember being so furious with her — so angry that she would invade my privacy like that, but really, I was just mad at myself.
Despite fully accepting all my likable oddities after my diagnosis, I’d still ignored the uglier ones. I sat by myself in my room for hours, as the anger slowly shifted to shame, and I finally embraced fact that I had serious issues that I had to address. I can’t remember how long I cried by myself, but it was a lot. That night, I finally accepted that part of myself — the part that somehow allowed me to genuinely not care about my own well-being, despite logic and reason.
From that day forward, I started to develop strategies to address my issues. I wouldn’t allow myself to eat in my room. I would clean my dishes and cups the second I was through with them. I wouldn’t allow myself to read or play video games after I worked out unless I took a shower first.
Well before the day my mother cleaned my room, I’d accepted in my mind that I’d never be able to live alone without supervision. To me, that was a fact at that point. Five years later, I’ve been living by myself for almost a year, two hours away from my parents, and it’s gone so smoothly. I don’t even have to think about taking care of myself. It’s just become a part of the routine.
I guess the reason I’m telling you all this is because I want you to avoid the crippling depression I spent so many years of my life struggling with. You can’t push away the things about you you don’t like because of what other people might think. You can’t push away the things about you you don’t like because of what you might think. They’re not going away. They’ll always be there. They’ll fester if you let it, and it’ll slowly eat away at you every second you refuse to address it.
Love every part of you. Embrace your strange quirks. Sing loudly in public if it makes you happy. Tell that hilarious joke that pops into your head and laugh by yourself if no one else thinks it’s funny. Most importantly, accept the parts of you that you think are holding you back. You have to embrace them, too. Everything about you makes you beautiful, but the world will never see that until you see it yourself.
One last thing. Seeking help is never a sign of weakness, as many might lead you to believe. Dealing with our personal issues is inevitably a painful experience, but it’s the only thing that will allow you grow.
Mentalhealthmatch.com is a solid resource for anyone seeking help. It will help match you with a therapist near you suited to fit your needs. Be brave, loved ones. You’re all beautiful souls.
Wesley Gardner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org