I Am Autistic: An Evocation


This is a piece I was asked to write for the Autism Acceptance Blog last year in [this case] celebration of Autism Acceptance…..

I have become the person I was always afraid to be. I sit here at 57, typing, and saturated with visions of the World Behind the World and my internal language. It is beautiful. I became the person I was always afraid to become and I am beautiful. My body falls through space, sometimes too big and sometimes too small: feeling the pull of gravity bending light and matter. The world too pulls at the edges of my skin or bursts through my eyes and though my ears in multiples of five. My body falls through a world that is never quiet with its architecture assembled from an infinite number of quarks dancing in and out of existence-swirling and screaming: a world that sometimes tears at the edges of my skin from the inside, a world that sometimes breaks my heart too easily; a world I feared for most of my life; a world that constantly pours itself into my body as I fall through its atmospheres.

I am Autistic. “I am Autistic” is the kindest thing I’ve ever said to myself. It is my love song, my reason and my light.

There is a space in dreams you may know. It is an in between space, liminal, existing in the moment when you transition from a conscience state to a dream state or one dream scenario to the next. When I was a child I experienced this space by feeling my body accelerating through my bedroom; or at times, floating toward the ceiling. This is the space I live my life in, an in between space, liminal; A place of intuition and empathy; of metaphorical language where words and their meaning exist in color plus shape, solid and not solid.

A few years ago I found myself in therapy. I was trying to understand the strain and contradictions between my body’s space and the space created by others around me. My body was constantly melting with anxiety [cortisol driven electric storms]. I couldn’t sleep, I wasn’t eating. I couldn’t figure out how to be in relationships. I was isolated and lonely, and even more so when I was with other people. I felt like a ghost haunting the edges of other’s lives, but never a full part of anyone’s life. One can add shame, self-hatred, and lack of access to language to even communicate what is wrong, which in turn lead to years of alcohol abuse, depression and suicidal ideation.

None of these feelings and experiences existed because I am Autistic. “I am Autistic” is the sweetest, softest embrace I have ever felt. They existed because I did not understand that I was Autistic. I’d always understood how odd I was. The way I did things, saw things, understood things was always different than most people. I was ridiculed, bullied and shamed for who/how I was. I was given a flat two dimensional neurotypical world as my guide; a world of too many words and inexplicable social customs. A world where people said one thing with their words while saying something completely opposite with their bodies. A world that was too bright, too loud, with too many bodies moving in patterns my body could never begin to replicate. Perhaps I wasn’t afraid of who I was as much as I was afraid of who I could never be. I never fitted in, the ghost in the room, invisible, unheard, silenced.

Therapy offered some help and a diagnosis of PTSD, which I could never really reconcile. In my efforts to find others with PTSD who were like me, I stumbled onto the amazing Autistic online community. I devoured blogs by Autistics and for the first time found others like me, others with the same sorts of experiences and perceptions. Day by day I began to see myself a little clearer. When I told my therapist that I thought I too was Autistic they told me that, while I presented as Autistic in most ways, I was far too empathetic to be Autistic. I had enough understanding to know that my therapist didn’t know what they were talking about, so I quit therapy. A month or later I was officially diagnosed as Autistic.

When I first wrapped Autism around myself, I was cautious. My head was still filled with the narratives of the non-autistic people who have so ruthlessly constructed the story of Autism for their own benefit. I feared no one would believe me and being unbelieved made me feel vulnerable. However, something exceptional happened. The world rearranged itself right in front of me and I poured out into it. My mind began to remember the colors and shapes which express my internal language. My body unfolded itself and spoke to the natural world with rhythmic gestures and flapping hands. I made friends with others who are like me, neurodivergent, fierce and so magnificently odd. I found a community, a family and a place in the world where I am seen, heard and validated.

“I am Autistic” are the most magical words I have ever spoken; an incantation which brought me back fully embodied into the world after a lifetime of floating above it or just outside of it.

For a long time I tried to conform to neurotypical social constructs in order to participate in the world-often in ways which were counterintuitive to my mind and painful to my body. Conforming meant that I folded myself up into a tiny square and hid who I was, but all that ever did was to take me further from myself and from the world. It nearly ended me. When I think of Autism Acceptance I think of something personal, self-acceptance. I am 57 years old and filled with the profound beauty of my Autistic mind and the joy of my Autistic body. I can’t say that things aren’t still difficult for me, but now I have a framework from which to view my day to day experiences that keeps me from turning pain and anger inward.

“I am Autistic” is balance as I stretch my arms out into the wind. The trees are howling a secret language and I can see past the sky, into the universe and the universe behind the universe. “I am Autistic” is an evocation; a call to return, to become; a beautiful living/breathing/space of acceptance.

Brent White is Autistic, dyslexic and mulitply neurodivergent. He designs and directs adult programs for neurodivergent young adults for a non-profit in Berkeley, California.

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