What People Don't See About My Life as an Anxious Autistic Person
For most of my life, I knew there was something different about me. Even as a child, I sensed that I responded and reacted to life in different ways than those around me.
In my youth, I was outgoing to a certain degree, but there would be moments where I just didn’t want to speak and tried to hide away somewhere where people weren’t. For the longest time, I blamed it on being an introvert, and everyone around me went with it. Sometimes my emotions got the better of me and I’d say or do things that stuck out, that didn’t make sense, that embarrassed me. But I blamed it on being immature and on not having complete control of my feelings. Sometimes I was whisked out of my core classes and taken to a small room to talk about how to better be social.
But I didn’t truly even understand the reasoning why. I didn’t understand how different I was in comparison to everyone else. I thought that I was the “superior” one, and assumed I’d hit puberty faster than my schoolmates. (Not even kidding on that one.) But I was also embarrassed that I laughed at the crude jokes my middle school male classmates made, and that sometimes I blurted out things I was thinking but didn’t mean to say.
Looking back, now that I have the diagnosis of autism and now I understand that anxiety seems to flow through my emotions like blood through my veins, it all makes sense. Since I process and respond to the outside world so differently, my response to my classmates when I was in elementary/middle school and how I acted seemingly irresponsibly and inappropriately now makes total sense. But because I was made fun of for responding so differently, anxiety seemed to build roots in my mind and still have yet to let go.
I started feeling self-conscious about what I said, and began holding my tongue so much that as I matured and grew throughout my tween and teen years, I became the girl who sat in the back, the girl who didn’t raise her hand unless something truly interested her and she had something she felt was worthy enough to contribute. I became the girl who everyone called “shy” and “quiet” and “meek.” That became my personality trait that everyone knew.
They believed I didn’t talk because I was just that way. That I didn’t contribute in class, even though they all said what I had to say was important and valid. That I didn’t really want to be included because I hated people.
In retrospect, I wish I had been told of my autism diagnosis, or even been diagnosed early in my life. I wish I had known why I am so different from most people. I also wish I could have just been allowed to be myself instead of being forced into a small classroom and told how to behave so I could fit in (also known as ABA therapy).
Being an autistic person who is also an introvert and who struggles with anxiety on the daily is so hard. I don’t think most people realize how hard it is. I’m constantly wondering if what I want to contribute to conversations is good enough, or if I’ll just get made fun of for it and have that on repeat in my brain for the next year. I’m constantly afraid of someone bringing up something embarrassing I said because of my autistic brain not handling something “normally.”
I’m constantly second-guessing whether or not people want to be around me and include me, or if they’re just asking so they don’t feel bad about leaving me out later. I’m constantly in fear of acting out and being the person people don’t want to be around. I’m constantly in fear of speaking up and contributing something and people pointing out the fact that I barely talk and being shocked at hearing me say more than a few sentences at a time. It’s happened many times before, and it’s not a fun experience.
Being autistic in a world that wasn’t made for people like me is hard. Being a social butterfly as a child who got her wings clipped and who lives in constant fear of what others will think because it’s all been said and done before is so hard. Being an introvert by choice and it becoming the identifying factor of who I am is almost heartbreaking to think about.
I do want to get help. I am seeking out ways to try to come out of my shell in a place where I won’t get made fun of and a place where people don’t know me yet so I can be my true self in front of them. I am seeking help through counseling, and if all goes according to plan, I want to have an emotional support animal that helps me overcome the hurdle anxiety plays in my everyday life.
But I have to take it one step, one day at a time. I can’t just throw down the walls and completely be “who I am” without somehow receiving consequences for it. I have to approach this in a way that won’t hurt me later on in life.
It doesn’t help that our culture has very little knowledge of what autistic people go through on a daily basis. It doesn’t help that people around me just assume that I’m introverted and try to force me out of my shell in ways I’m never going to be comfortable with, no matter the situation. It doesn’t help that people assume more than ask. But that’s what needs to start happening. Asking questions.
I can’t be me without people around me who want me to be me. I can’t stim, enjoy my special interests and do things my autistic brain wants me to do without people understanding why I do them. I can’t speak up unless I feel like I’ll just be treated like everyone else in the moment.
So take some pointers from an anxious autistic introverted person, and don’t shove us all into a box.
We were made to break that box.
Image provided by contributor.