Introduction: When I first started this blog, I made two posts detailing my experiences growing up. Having become a little too uncomfortable with them, I removed both posts, although there is a slight possibility of editing and reposting them later. However, there are some experiences that I need to write down, and would like to share in hopes that it brings understanding to others. I initially had not planned to split this into two parts, but as I wrote, I realized I had a lot more to cover and decided it was for the best.
Content Note: This covers receiving a diagnosis as well as an overview of difficult life experiences, including bullying, violence, social abandonment, abuse, and trauma. It also briefly touches upon suicidal ideation.
For most of my life, I grew up with a diagnosis of Autism (then Asperger’s), and ADHD. I had come to terms with the fact that I was multiply disabled, and had endured my fair share of struggles; some out of my personal weaknesses, but many because of social attitudes. But little did I know until I read about it about a few years ago, there was another neurodivergence, a disability of a psychological nature, often brought on by trauma – that described me quite well. And about a week ago, I was told I had it. It was not very surprising to me at all.
Like most Autistic people, I had many traumatic experiences growing up. I still have flashbacks of meltdowns in my childhood. Of being attacked, betrayed, bullied, or ignored. I was not perfect either; many of my flashbacks also consisted of me doing things I was not proud of. We all make mistakes. Yet I felt as though what was done to me was a lot worse than anything I could have dished out. Possibly because I was only one person, and things done to me came from many angles.
By now, as an adult, I have learned a lot more about friendships and interactions compared to what I knew as a child, and adolescent. Moreover, I am also a lot more confident.
As a child, I was obviously socially awkward, or at least viewed as such by the majority of neurotypicals I knew. I had a few friends, some of whom I suspect may be Autistic as well, or were otherwise neurodivergent. I seemed to get along more with other social outcasts than I did with most people. I was okay with that.
The social world was quite confusing for me, though. Sometimes I would do things that I realized later were considered inappropriate, or wrong. I would learn from such experiences and not do it again. Sometimes I would imitate what I saw others doing in an attempt to gain popularity, however that too, often backfired. No matter what, I was seen as weird or awkward. I found that acting out sometimes gained me attention, but it was negative. Sometimes when I look back at things I did, I can’t help but wonder why I did it. I guess it’s a normal experience, but to me it is no less mortifying or upsetting, as I recriminate various scenarios to see what I could have done differently to have not been treated or viewed negatively. I realize now that a number of factors could have contributed to certain negative ways I reacted – sensory confusion, aggravation, copying the actions of others, trying to gain attention – however, I also realize to an extent that I may be going a little too hard on myself. Yes, I did make mistakes. But so did many others. As an Autistic child I was naturally labeled a troublemaker and someone to blame things on. Nothing I did in elementary school after-school programs warranted parents ganging up on the managers to have me removed for being a “troubled kid”, or for parents to tell their kids that I’m “challenged” and that they should take pity on me.
More importantly, a lot of the ways I acted were natural Autistic ways of expression. Vocal stims in class. Acting out. Having a few intense interests and following them even while being mocked. And having meltdowns. And sometimes I was bullied just for not following the norm, or for making simple mistakes, such as when playing sports – mistakes that had anyone else made, they’d probably be let off the hook more easily than me.
And I often did good things as well. Helped others. Stood up for people who were being bullied or excluded. I was good at heart, even if others didn’t always see it.
And while I definitely did things I regret, and while I may have been violent or bitter at times, it’s something that’s bound to happen to someone who was stabbed in the arm by a pair of scissors at age five by his babysitter’s children and beaten multiple times because they thought he acted “weird”.
Though I never would have admitted it a year and a half ago, I was definitely abused as a child. Only some of the time would it actually be physical beatings. Other times it would be emotional: left out, socially rejected. I was often labeled “friendless” by others. Lonely, a loser, an outcast. Someone nobody really cared about. People would avoid me, mock me, talk and whisper about me, sometimes attack me. Sometimes I would fight back, yet the blame was usually always placed upon me. Sometimes rightfully so, but usually not. Meltdowns were often punished.
I was also bullied a lot. In elementary school, it often took place at the hands of groups: perhaps gangs; groups of people who would name-call, harass, attack me, and sometimes lie to teachers claiming I did bad things to them, thus getting me in more trouble.
I knew I was Autistic during this time, this young in age, but I didn’t tell anyone; out of fear or embarrassment, I cannot remember.
Either way, back then it hadn’t bothered me as much. I always knew I was different. I just got along however best I could, knowing I would make it through in the end somehow. This turned out to be true, but at a price. The older I got, the more painful my differences became. I started to want to be closer with certain people but wasn’t sure how to approach it. Sometimes I did make friends only to have them leave later.
By the time I was in middle school, I was getting fed up. I also started to hurt more from the isolation. Started to ask myself why I was different – why others seemed to get along easier than I did. Teachers and others alike started to gang up on me – often unfairly punishing my Autistic traits. In addition, I only had a few friends, and my friendships with them were bumpy. In addition to this, others would often talk about me visibly, insult me, or sometimes even physically attack me, however if I chose to defend myself, or fight back, I would be the one getting in trouble.
The sixth grade ended with me getting into a fight. Back then I wasn’t that strong, but I could do a few things. However, my opponent, a bully who had teased and insulted me repeatedly, broke one of the rules of our engagement and tripped me, then held me down. This humiliation was the last straw. From then on, I vowed that anyone who ever caused me any pain and suffering would pay for it. I became a better fighter, and entered the seventh grade with that confidence.
I got similarly bullied then, but this time I was ready for it, and stood up. Not only that; I helped other similarly marginalized kids stand up and fight back. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I truly believe that if somebody is causing you pain, bullying you, or otherwise bringing you harm, it is fully within your right to fight back. In some cases, contrary to popular belief, it can dissuade them from persisting to trouble you. Bullies are interested in victims, not opponents. Of course, some people cannot fight back, which is okay. That just makes it more imperative for those who can to lend a hand. Those who claim to be allies but wouldn’t actually stick their necks out beyond their comfort zone to help whomever they claim to ally with; aren’t.
As a side note, I was also learning music for over four years at this point; talented with the piano and the voice. After years of nervousness, I put this talent on full display at a school concert, and then became ever-so-briefly popular. I liked it, although when I tried to further interact with the people who seemed to like me, I was once again pushed away.
At this point, I had also become a lot more openly kind, and less abrasive like I was in the past. Thus, by the time I entered high school I was a lot more well-liked than I once was. And so for once, I felt emotionally secure. This didn’t last.
I played things carefully in high school, but things seemed to go wrong at every turn. I struggled to keep friends for long periods of time, aside from a minute few. This time again, my Autistic traits were the contributing factor. People didn’t like a guy who was eccentric, talked about his few interests frequently, and was all-around awkward. And the lapse in confidence that resulted from this took a toll on me, and my performance levels dropped; something common that happens to Autistics who face trauma.
Eventually, I finally came out as Autistic. It brought understanding and acceptance, if temporarily. People understood that I wasn’t just choosing to be awkward; that all my idiosyncracies, as well as my talents were a result of a brain wired in a certain way; a sensory system that was configured in a way that made me see the world in a different way; that sometimes made things hard, but made it all the more worth it, and also gave me many skills and talents; some greater than others.
It was also around this time, however, that I felt myself breaking. I always felt excluded, lonely, and because of how I was treated, even inferior. I started to wonder if I had any real purpose in this world. I felt like I was expendable and not really worth anything to anyone. I had thought about suicide before, but this was the first time I really started to consider it. I started to feel as though I didn’t have a future, that my life was meant to end soon, likely by suicide. I started to obsessively think about it, and tried to learn more about it: different methods, as well as how suicide affected others. All in preparation for a scenario in which I may choose to leave the world on my terms.
By the tenth grade I was better known; better liked. My popularity had spiked, and I felt like I finally belonged. However, by this time I was paranoid. I was always afraid of losing people close to me, people I cared about. Sometimes I felt (and often was) unnoticed by others, and the feelings of inadequacy were still omnipresent. Only for a certain period of time did these feelings subside. I had started to bond with more people and make some truly great connections, and some really close friends. However, the paranoia stuck with me. And thus, my fear of losing my beloved friends led to me being rash and impulsive, terrified that my friends would leave me; desperately clinging on.
This, however, led certain close friends of mine to alienate me. All of a sudden, my intense feelings of sadness, of grief, of pain and anger, of loss, and of wanting to end my life, struck me – all at once. I spent the entirety of the next year in a very dark, angry place. I started to blame my status as a social outcast on being Autistic, and sought to find ways to “cure” it were it ever to be possible. During this time I unintentionally made myself a bit of a social recluse. Some of my friends noticed drastic changes to my personality, but abandoned me rather than find out or help. For a time, my suicidal ideation had worried people as well, although I did ultimately seek some assistance for that, with some difficulty.
By the time the last year of high school rolled around, I was tired. Beaten, battered, and shaken by my experiences of the world. I realized I felt more lonely than ever, and that so many who were once close friends of mine were now gone from my life; possibly forever. I felt lonely, forgotten, abandoned, and worthless.
Also around the eleventh grade, I had started to take up activism as a way to cope. The idea to become an Autistic activist actually came from a therapist I was seeing, and at first I started small, but ultimately went to town with it. In the twelfth grade I became ambitious and decided to make my activism grow; being an advocate, especially for my community, gave me a sense of purpose I didn’t have before. It was also an excellent way to cope with depression, and the feelings of worthlessness I often had. When you are making a difference, it is hard to feel like you’re not worth anything.
In the twelfth grade, I spoke to a parent of an Autistic child who was a teacher at my school, who saw potential in me. She introduced me to the term neurodiversity, and that ultimately led to me discovering the neurodiversity movement. Albeit with a bumpy start, I discovered the greater Autistic community and finally felt a true purpose and sense of belonging.
There was another emotion that drove me: anger. I felt a bitter anger at the world for how I was treated growing up. I also felt anger at how I saw society speak of me and my fellow Autistics. It made my blood boil. It made me act out of impulse, when it came to calling people out, both on and offline. As I learned the importance of intersectionality, my impulsive aggression reduced.
I fought for what I believed in. And I also started making new friends, and regained a few old lost friendships, though not many. Around this time I made one close friend who would become the best friend I’d ever had. Before this, I do not think I ever truly experienced what such a close friendship was like. It was beautiful, but it was also terrifying. The thought of losing this was unbearable, yet it always stayed at the back of my head. It was intrusive; the slightest discrepancy would raise a plethora of questions about whether I was really worth anything to my best friend at all. In addition, complications with a friend of that friend seeming to “compete” with me for their friendship made this anxiety worse.
I took in all of this, and thus graduating from high school was a struggle for me. By this time I experienced a phenomenon known as Autistic Burnout – having been drained almost dry of emotional and mental energy, it was hard to do well academically, despite being more than capable. In addition, I was terrified – of losing my friends, of my future, of ending up a failure. I was so afraid I sometimes wanted to die.
It was also around the twelfth grade that I first came across the term for a type of personality disorder that perfectly described me: my recklessness, my suicidal ideation, and my constant terror of losing my friends. It was a term I strongly suspected myself of having, but was only officially diagnosed to have the traits of such a week prior to writing this:
Borderline Personality Disorder.