In this wild thing called life, I’ve come to know that overcoming is becoming. But to overcome anything, we must first invite it in for tea. If we want to experience a truly authentic life, we must be able to look into the crevices of our heart and soul and lovingly embrace every facet of our being, the light and the dark. Which leads to the question, why would one want to live an authentic life? I know I have asked myself that question on several occasions.
To me, living an authentic life is being the same person you are when you’re alone as you are when with family, friends, acquaintances and in public. It’s being transparent about your needs without expecting others to fulfill them. It’s owning your process and being the driver in your life. I believe in being dedicated and committed to always being the best version of ourselves, and waking up every day with the intention of living a life grounded in gratitude and inspired by something bigger than ourselves. Authenticity is about sharing our life experiences, not for the reactions or responses of others, but to create a space for others to embrace a part of themselves they may not have otherwise.
My childhood was nothing like the picture-perfect experience that was portrayed to the outside world. I felt like I was always living a double existence –-the one I experienced inside and the one I struggled and worked so hard to show on the outside. I always felt very different from others, and remember telling my mom on countless occasions that I felt like I didn’t belong, that something was wrong with me. Before I could articulate it to her, however, my mom had already endured years of searching –- asking for guidance, answers and help, always being told it was a phase and would most likely pass. Her maiden voyage with parenting found her with a child who was fully conversant with appropriate grammar, inflection and facial expressions at 10 months, well before she was even walking. By the age of 5 my mom had me evaluated by a developmental child psychologist because she didn’t know how to parent a child who could outwit and outsmart her, but freaked out over tags in her clothing, only wore specific socks inside certain shoes, refused to eat anything other than Cheerios and needed it to be very quiet almost all the time.
Thankfully my parents poured belief, love and confidence in me all day every day –- without them I have no doubt I would not be where I am today. But I still felt lost, scared, angry, terribly sad and extremely frustrated. I was bullied throughout my entire school career, straight through college –-physically pushed around, harassed and told everything from “You’re so weird, no wonder you have no friends” to “What’s wrong with you?” “You make things so hard,” “Stop being so dramatic,” and “I’ve never known anyone so needy.” Even various professionals I sought guidance and validation from would say things like “You will never reach your fullest potential,” “Your anxiety will always limit you,” and “it’s probably best for you to settle.” I listened to what everyone else had to say for so long, I started to believe it must be true. I compared myself to others and judged myself harshly. I started to see myself as weak and incapable, a burden to those who cared for me. There were times in my life when I thought it would be best if I was no longer alive.
Years passed, I got married and along came Myles, my son, who launched me into my parenting experience and way outside my comfort zone. I found myself a parent to a child with significant special needs overnight. I was lost, scared and grieving. It was not a loving invitation into this new life, a soft nudge or even a little push –– I felt as though my life as I had known it had ended. It threw me onto a path I walked without knowing where I was going or how I was going to get there. All I knew was that there had to be a better way.
It often seems like the most painful experiences end up being our greatest teachers. This was no exception, and in retrospect was exactly what I never knew I needed in life and love, what I like to call my rebirth or awakening. Along this journey I have discovered ways to revolutionize our health, mentally and physically, changing the way we feel and allowing ourselves to become more in tune with what makes us tick. I have learned more about myself in these past three years than I have in the 30 before.
As I navigated our path with Myles and autism, I tried everything he did just so I would be able to speak to the experience –- I never wanted him to feel like he was doing this alone. And as we tried one thing after another, I found myself growing more and more intrigued with myself. I began reflecting back on my childhood, as if searching for clues. I began to focus more on being present than getting it done, and prioritized pouring belief and love into myself for the first time. As each day passed, something new seemed to present itself, as if in direct response to my daily surrender to “reveal thyself”.
This past winter, as we adventured to Disney World, I was shocked to discover that I had a more challenging time than Myles managing the over-stimulation. That instantly set off flags within me, and raised all sorts of old feelings and memories. I tediously practiced lovingly inviting each one in, learning even more still about my inner workings. Slowly I was able to lay to rest each harmful story, belief and judgment I had held onto so tightly. I gradually peeled back the armor and protection that had allowed me to remain hidden, never actually revealing myself. It was both frightening and liberating. I felt that feeling in my belly that resembles butterflies –- the one you get when you just know you’re on to something. I’ve come to recognize this as life leading you, and those butterflies are our calling to follow.
Two weeks before my 35th birthday, I found myself recounting my life’s story with intricate detail as I sat on a couch in Boston, wringing my hands and sweating in places I didn’t even know existed. At the end of the visit I heard the words I had both dreaded and silently longed to hear, the words that instantaneously made my life make sense. I was overcome with gratitude, love and compassion. Pride flooded in, leaving me feeling truly humbled and more connected to God and a greater purpose for my life.
As I drove home that night, I felt the constriction that naturally follows any expansion –- the icy grip of fear beginning to encroach from the perimeter of my thoughts, almost leaving me gasping for breath, suffocating the present moment and the power that resided in it. My fear was tethered to the balloon of judgment that does nothing but drag us along, never allowing us to truly find our feet and develop our roots. In an instant, I let go and found my feet. I let go of the self-judgment, the comparison and the fear of what other people would think about me. I let go of the “what ifs” and the possibility that people wouldn’t be able to look past my diagnosis and really see me. I surrendered to a higher calling and decided once again that living an authentic life is always worth it. This life is about so much more…
This is about a girl who became a woman and learned how to love herself.
This is about having the courage to lay your heart out there with the hope that it inspires someone else to do the same.
This is about never letting anyone or anything box you in or keep you small.
This is about no longer denying pieces of ourselves, but rather embracing every facet and letting our light shine out through the cracks of our imperfections.
This is about being brave enough to fully commit to living a life where we love first.
This is about embodying the change I wish to see in the world -– where we embrace everyone for who they are and celebrate our uniqueness without fear, judgment or comparison.
This is my story about being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.