When Autism Makes Me Feel Like a Misfit Among Misfits
“Even among misfits you’re a misfit,” Yukon Cornelius says to Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer when he and Hermie the Dentist are rejected by Moonracer, the ruler of the Island of Misfit Toys. This little phrase accurately describes how I have felt my entire life. I have never felt “normal.” I always felt like I was made wrong. I never fit in anywhere. A misfit among misfits. I felt like an alien on another planet – I looked human on the outside, but on the inside I was so wildly different that I was never quite able to figure out how to pass as human. There would always be differences and quirks that would set me apart.
I recently described this feeling to my therapist as me on the outside of an impenetrable bubble everyone else existed in. I could see them and they could see me, but I couldn’t enter their world. I was an outsider and always would be. Little did I know there was a valid reason for this feeling. A valid medical reason — a complex developmental condition called autism spectrum disorder. A disorder that impacts a person in so many different ways both big and small, setting us apart from our peers. It took nearly 40 years to find my way towards a diagnosis and an explanation for the struggles I’ve had my entire life. Forty years of hiding, masking, pretending. Forty years of exhausting myself, of trying so hard to be what the world expected me to be and somehow always falling short. Forty years of wishing I could just be “normal,” wishing life could come easy for me like it seems to for everyone else and yet also wishing to be loved and validated as I am.
I’m not sure anyone in my life truly understands me. I’m not sure anyone ever has. It’s an isolating experience. It’s not that I haven’t tried to be understood, but no matter what I do or did, I have never been able to penetrate the minds of the “typical.” I am learning now at age 40 just how misunderstood and judged I have been my whole life, even by the very people who are supposed to love me unconditionally. The one person who viewed me as perfect exactly as I was is gone now, living on only in my memories. She died a mere two months before my autism diagnosis. The earthly angel was finally released to the heavens. Her mind had been absent already for so long that by the time she died, I had made my way through the bulk of the grieving process. There is so much I never got to share with her, so much I wish I could. She left a hole in my heart and in my life that will never again be filled. She was made all the more special to me because of how special I was to her. She loved me as wholly and completely as a person can love another. When she looked into my eyes with her own bright and beautiful blue gaze, I knew I was loved. She shone with it. It radiated outward from her face and her eyes and I basked in it like a flower beneath the sun. I bloomed in her presence. She nurtured me and loved me in all the right ways. I consider myself lucky to have known such a love. I feel like no one will ever look at me that way again.
I know I will never replace my Gramma. She simply is not replaceable. But I wish the other family members in my life would be willing to see me and love me as I am, instead of always expecting me to be something I’m not and judging me whenever I fail. I wish I could find acceptance outside of the Autism Center for my differences and struggles. I wish my barriers and limitations could be recognized and accepted instead of viewed as negative personality traits. I am one of the kindest people I know. I care deeply for the earth, humanity and all life. I am not materialistic, as much as I love my “things,” and life experience is more important to me than material or monetary gain. What I want most out of life is to love and be loved; to be happy and share that happiness with others; to accept and be accepted; and to live with peace, kindness and joy all around me and within.
And yet I have recently been called selfish, needy and spoiled. I have had years’ worth of examples thrown at me and my first instinct was to throw up my arms in defense and then retreat in confusion. The hurt these barbs caused was deep and immense and I don’t know how long it will take for me to heal from it. Yet after examining the things I have been told, I realized something. These instances were all a direct result of the struggles I have because of my autism. It is sad that these people who claim to love me would judge me so harshly from afar instead of seeking to understand why I have lived my life the way I have and why I have made the decisions I’ve made. They might just realize that these things are not steeped in selfishness or neediness, but in something more complex, and something I can’t always help. They might just see me for the kind, joyful, sensitive, deep, soulful and colorful work of art I am.
I am still learning to appreciate myself as I was created, with all of my quirks and colors, but it would be so much easier if others would see the good in me too. If instead of judging me, they would try to understand and accept me. If instead of expecting me to always be better, be more, and to overcome, they would help me through my struggles. Autism is not something to overcome. It is part of me, part of who I am, and it always will be.
I am Autistic. I am Autism. I am Me.
Getty image by Allan Swart.