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To Myself Before I Knew About My Autism

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Right from the time I started school at 4 years old, I was different. My peers found any and everything they thought was wrong with me and joked about it. From day one, it was that I was left-handed, and it progressively became different things as my peers and I matured. There are some words I’d like to share with both my past self and past peers.

Thank you — all of you who put me down and shut me out. Who pointed and laughed when I smacked my head on things or slipped and fell. Thank you to that kid who threw basketballs in my face every day for three weeks in grade four. Thank you to the girls who would run away from me. Thank you to that little boy who called me a “freak of nature” in grade seven.

Why would I thank them? They hurt me so deeply. But I like to think that every single time someone hurt me, I learned. If it weren’t for the people trying to smother me out like a single ember in a candle, I could have been someone else. I believe because of the struggles they put me through, I became someone people are proud of — someone who I can be proud of.

If it wasn’t for the people who told me I couldn’t, I might not have dived into the depths of my endless work ethic. If it wasn’t for the people who laughed at my drawings, I might never have spent hours a day learning how to draw. Had no one called me “stupid,” I might not have done everything I could, pushed myself to do my best to prove them wrong. If no one told me I sucked at music, I may never have become a first chair flutist or been asked to join choir without auditioning. If it wasn’t for all of the girls I thought were my friends picking on me, chewing me up and using me, verbally abusing me to my wit’s end? I might not know that I deserve better.

Thank you to everyone who didn’t give up on me. Thank you to my ex-boyfriend who asked too much of me all the time. Had it not been for him, I might not know I was capable of removing myself from toxic situations.

But now that my thank yous are over, I would like to apologize.

Dear Rachel, dear self,

I am so sorry for everything I put you through. For the things I forced you to endure. For all of the times I let you down, that I let you get thrown away by countless people. I can’t put into words a sufficient apology for the pain I’ve forced you through, trying to prove things to sightless people. I’m sorry for the pain I put you through by my own two hands for a senseless cause.

Every day, I am amazed by the things I’m reminded that you go through. It’s incredible to see the things you’ve pulled from your circumstances. To see what you’ve taken from your pain and struggle and abuse and to see how strong you’ve become. I know that 16, nearly 17 years is a long time to wait to feel any sense of self-respect or self-worth. But it is worth it.

You are not “weird.” You are not “stupid,” “useless,” or “incompetent.” You are not a “freak” or a “bother.” You aren’t “hideous” or “arrogant.” You are yourself. You are powerful, you are brave, you are an abuse survivor. You are a good friend. You are opinionated, stubborn, intelligent.

I know you haven’t found your voice yet. I know you are scared, hurt, confused and full of self-loathing. But that will change. Some day, you’ll see someone, and you’ll hear those words that upset your mental balance: “Asperger’s syndrome.” You’ll be stressed, more confused than ever, wondering when the list of things that are “wrong with you” will come to an end.

But it’s those two words that turn things around. They zero you in, make you focus, get you educated. And suddenly, you make sense. You belong, you understand the things you do, and it feels like it will be OK. Sure, the challenges don’t stop coming, but some day, that security in your diagnosis will surface.

One day, you just begin making editorial comments in your AP English class. Mitchell will turn around and ask if you’ve fallen on your head and you’re scared. It stops for a while, but eventually those comments happen again, and they become more frequent, and you’ll realize you have a voice. A voice that is strong, powerful, opinionated, educated. That voice gets others to respect you — not your peers so much, but your teachers. Your parent’s friends. That respect slowly becomes a part of you. It’s terrifying some days to talk aloud, but others, it’s nothing. You stand up for yourself, your friends. You no longer need to be protected, but rather you can protect yourself and others.

Be proud of yourself and your accomplishments. As I write this, I realize we’ve made it further than I ever thought. Never once did I think I’d get this far in my life, but here I am, alive and well. Stronger than before.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Originally published: December 21, 2016
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