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Why Is It Hard to Love Our Autistic Selves?

“When you gonna make up your mind?
When you gonna love you as much as I do?”

–Tori Amos, “Winter”

It’s Sunday night and I’m in my office in my log cabin in the Missouri Ozarks. I’m sitting in my newest Facebook find, a plush rocking chair, listening to music and thinking about the coming week.

Music is a big part of my life, and it’s currently coming out of my computer speakers, just a few feet away when a song I’ve loved for years starts playing. It’s “Winter” by Tori Amos, a singer/songwriter/pianist I’ve listened to since 1992 when she debuted.

As Tori began striking the keys, I closed my eyes and let myself really listen to the lyrics. Not just hear them but listen to them. I’ve heard the song hundreds of times in the nearly two decades since it was released, but as I was relaxing and thinking, I shut out everything but the music.

It’s a song about her father, and when I heard the lines above in the chorus the first time, I just let it pass through me. But when she sang it for the second time, it struck me that those words apply to so many of us on the spectrum. To be fair, they also apply to many neurotypicals, but the reality is that a lot of us with autism simply don’t love ourselves.

At all.

Over time we may grow out of that and learn to love the traits that make us the perfectly created autistic beings that we are, but some of us will take that feeling of loneliness and emptiness to our graves.

Not being diagnosed until I was nearly 46, I lived most of my life as an undiagnosed person with autism, being shoved and pushed into a neurotypical mold that I simply did not, and never will, fit into.

It’s like the analogy of the square peg being forced into a round hole. Society can push and pound until they can pound no more, but eventually, they’ll realize that it’s just a waste of time. We are who we are.

And that’s OK.

During my life pre-diagnosis, I had periods where I didn’t like myself, and times when I did. Again, something not unique to the autistic population, but I think it can be very prevalent with us.

I don’t know that I can say I truly loved myself back then, but now I do. And it took work. A lot of it. And soul-searching, and forgiving myself, and accepting myself just as I am. Quirks, strange traits, and all.

As I think back, I guess the beginning of loving myself came in two parts.

The first hit me as I sat on the couch in my psychiatrist’s office and heard, “Yep. I was right. You’re Asperger’s.” The second came not much later as I walked to my car and had a thought that would begin the next chapter of my life, and define who I truly am.

That thought? “Wow… I’m not weird. Just autistic.”

Let those words sink in as you realize that beginning in fifth grade, I was told by my teachers that I was “weird,” “stupid,” and “lazy.” And that I could never reach my potential. Then, as an adult, I had a boss who called me Forrest Gump every working day for nearly a decade.

Can you begin to see why I had a hard time liking myself at times, much less loving myself? Keep in mind that I was out of high school for over a decade before autism as we know it began being diagnosed in school-age kids.

For most adults with autism, that diagnosis came later in life. Many of us will never get diagnosed. So, when the CDC says that, as of 2020, 1-in-54 children have been diagnosed with autism, believe me when I tell you that number is off.

They’re not counting the late-diagnosed adults and the undiagnosed. I would venture to say that the correct number is more like 1-in-4o-something.

People shun us, it’s often difficult to make (and keep) friends and I believe that a lot of this comes out of fear. People fear what they don’t understand. And too many people don’t understand what autism truly is. Many may be aware that autism exists, but they remain ignorant as to what it’s truly like to live as a person with autism. I was one of those people until shortly before being diagnosed.

So, many aren’t fully aware of what autism is, and of those that are, many still don’t accept us as we are. And that needs to change. Fast. It’s one thing for people to be aware of autism. It’s something entirely different for society to accept us.

But, back to the love.

When you’re pushed away, misunderstood, and shunned, it can be hard to find a way to love yourself. So, what do we do?

We say, “screw them,” and accept that we are who we are and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with us. We learn to see our unique abilities, gifts, and traits and accept ourselves as we are.

“Autism,” and, “autistic,” aren’t dirty words. And they’re not words that define us. I used to think those words defined me, but I was wrong. Those words simply describe part of who I am. Much like my purple goatee, autism tattoos, and greying hair.

After you learn to like yourself for who you are, then you can begin the process of loving who you are. For me, that took several years after my diagnosis, but it happened. I do love myself now. Sure, we’ll have moments where we don’t love ourselves, but, at least for me, I always come back around to loving who I am. Not all of us are that lucky, but if I can make it through, so can you.

It’s much easier to love ourselves when we have someone in our lives, a parent, significant other, or a good friend, who accepts us as we are and who cares about us just as we are. Many of us don’t have that, and that makes it difficult to keep the love going.

For the first time in a very long time, possibly for the first time in nearly 56 years, I have someone in my life that I truly believe accepts me as I am and cares about me. Not the J.R. who self-advocates, speaks, writes, and podcasts, though that is part of who I am. This person sees Jason, the kid who really didn’t think he had a chance to succeed, who felt out of place most of his life, and the person who now not only believes, but knows, he can, and has, succeeded.

And I am so lucky to have that. But the reality is that no one else can accept us for who we are and care about us as we are until we first do it. It’s only after accepting ourselves for who we are that others will do the same.

Look at yourself and don’t see things about you that are weird, odd, or quirky. See those things as part of what makes you uniquely you. Learn to like yourself, and then, learn to love yourself.

I believe you can do it. How? Because I did, and that was a very hard task for me to accomplish. I believe in you. All my brothers and sisters on the spectrum. I know you’ve got this.

So, before I finish typing and head off to bed, so I can edit this in the morning, I want to ask you two simple, yet very difficult questions.

When you gonna make up your mind?

When you gonna love you as much as I do?

This story originally appeared on Not Weird Just Autistic.
Getty image by Piksel.

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