Using a mindfulness approach, I can now lean into the sharp feelings I used to turn from. As I have befriended them, I have also befriended me. The Past Since I can remember I thought something was wrong with me. I lived in a world full of “too’s.” Too quiet, too monotone, too meek, too emotional, too serious, too anxious or too exhausted. Eventually I just tried too hard or I didn’t try at all. Trying to be myself, or being what I thought others wanted didn’t work. I spent my life trying to like me and trying to get others to like me too. Determined to find more peace, I sought many methods to heal and prevent more pain. I was progressively getting more peaceful and contented in moments on my own. Then people would just keep happening. Again and again people kept on happening. I felt that people were good, but not for or to me. I was baffled. I often liked me on my own or with a trusted few, but generally not with most. I’m not sure if that’s because people didn’t like me or if my discomfort made them ill at ease. Maybe both? Either way I tried and tried and tried, and spent many years confused, hurt and often lonely. It was like I had no skin; everything got through. The years of incongruence, anxiety, rejection and exclusion left me feeling, tired, helpless and so shamed. I felt others must have known why I was “defective,” but I didn’t. It was like a secret they all knew. I felt ashamed of my ignorance and incapacity to remedy it. It left me constantly ill at ease and vulnerable. I had some solid friendships and real connections, but I was always ready and raw for more hurt. It became a predictable cycle at a new job or school. Folks were initially friendly, but my lack of social skills, fear and anxiety left me odd and they turned away or against me. I always had great hopes of a new start, but the difficulties started again. The First Diagnosis In 2014, I was 41. The elder of our two kids was diagnosed as autistic at age 3. I had another challenge to fight, now not just for me, but for him. How could I teach my son about overcoming social deficits, sensory overwhelm and being organized when I was bemused about my own capacities? The memories of my past hurts just never seemed to end. Can some of you relate? I assume I’m not the only one. I wonder how many other undiagnosed adults live as I did. My son’s diagnosis was the start of a new beginning for me. His diagnosis was a blessing, the first of so many unexpected blessings of autism. Before, I tried to fix me. Now I understand, accept, empower and heal me. Nothing is wrong, just different. Since his diagnosis we have had some rough times, but at least now I know why. I have many new tools to help us all to know when to get assistance, or when to accept and work with what is. Understanding my traits has changed how I look at my past and current circumstances. I give life a great go and always do my best. But now I have the right questions, so I can get my right answers and solutions. I have found my tribe, a loner finding a band of good and brave others. Now that both kids are on a great trajectory, I can start to look after me and really tip my toes into my own neurology. I’m starting to understand and be at peace with my and my family’s unique cluster of challenges and strengths. Initially I was raw, in pain and ached from the years of abrasive and rough interactions. I was deeply ashamed of my journey. I had tried to keep an open heart, but it was reserved for so few. In the past meditation, Buddhism, new age spirituality and a bookshelf of self-help books all helped ease in more inner peace. I was officially diagnosed in 2016. Then in 2017, my daughter was diagnosed at age 5. Her diagnosis was a relief, as it can be difficult to get girls diagnosed to get access to support and funding. By then my identity had transformed from broken to empowered. Mindfulness Transforms After his diagnosis and my own self-diagnosis, autism became a passionate interest for me, as well as self-acceptance for myself and my kids. I found mindfulness meditation. I discovered self-compassion was the core, and that allowing and accepting my past and current painful experiences would allow them to dissolve. As I began to lean into my feelings and was curious about them, they eased. I observed them and they withered. Then wow, they yielded. Trickled to nowhere, leaving a space for a little more acceptance, relaxation and positivity. I do not meditate daily, although I know I should. But I am again curious and welcome my uncomfortable emotional and body sensations as a path towards more comfortable emotional experiences. Initially my habit is to push them away, then I remember it feels better to befriend them, sit with them and even let them have a say. Together we can share ourselves, we can make peace and then part ways. I don’t have to fight the feelings to go, they just seem happy to have had their moment and they ease away. I didn’t expect this retreat of years of aching memories. When I greet the discomforts and they ease, I am finally peeling my eye-watering onion layers. As I accept them they go, and wonderfully now I’m not wondering how to prevent them all coming back again. As they go, they aren’t instantly replaced by more pain and confusion of not knowing my traits. They are not compounding but releasing. Falling away layer by layer until I finally feel light and a kind of freedom. Now after an awkward or out-of-sync interaction, I think, “OK. That again. Does that matter? Not sure. Uncomfortable, yes. Painful, yes. But does that reflect the core of me? No. Does it matter. A little, but not really.” “You did good,” I tell myself. “You tried, better luck next time. A sting, yes, but it’s OK.” I try to be kind, let the feelings in and they seem to know their way out. It’s human to hurt, but I want available space for the good stuff. I am growing skin, a new way to keep the good stuff in. I am awkward, clumsy, kind, inspired. Regardless I matter, my feelings matter. My awareness and insights matter. My loving heart and curious soul matters. I want space for these. Lilting into my shame and vulnerability has released me from recurrent wounding interactions. Befriending them has befriended me. I am now comfortably and gratefully setting myself free. The traits won’t go, but my negative appraisal of them is progressively leaving. I am taking love into the shadows and accepting more feelings of light. Even more importantly, I am teaching my kids that they are amazing, and they can embrace and accept themselves just as they are. We will have tricky and hurtful moments, but we can also lovingly sooth these and get on with great, expansive and free-to-be-me days. They can also appreciate that their vulnerability makes them loving and creative people. And they know if people are unkind, it is about the other person, not them. For me, this is gold. They will not live a life being shamed for being different, but be absolutely proud and protective of it.