It’s about a year since I got comfortable with saying I’m autistic. Shortly after I publicly “came out” I was asked why I would identify as disabled or allow a label like autism to be applied to me. I didn’t quite know what to say at the time, except to tell the person that labels aren’t negative and that I found it helpful in understanding myself. A year later, though, I have a more detailed answer.
For a few years before this year I spent a lot of time thinking and saying that I didn’t think I could do things, and avoiding doing things. Before that I spent most of my time doing what was expected of me by everyone else, and suffering in silence the effects it had on me; depression, anxiety, overwhelm, sensory overload, exhaustion, confusion, self doubt, self criticism, self punishment.
In the past 12 months, since I started identifying as autistic, I have:
*begun to work for pay again after almost a decade, both as a contractor and for my own small business
*co-edited a book
*travelled overseas for the first time in more than 2 decades
*been involved in some amazing advocacy projects
*become confident in practicing karate
*competed in karate tournaments
*navigated some really tricky personal stuff without losing my ability to do other stuff in life while it was going on
*continued to support my children in their varying education settings and other activities
The year since I first publicly stated I am autistic and disabled has been my most exciting and productive in a long time. It’s not that I don’t have moments of self doubt and drops in self confidence. I certainly still struggle with a lot of things, just the same as before. But I’m getting more done, and enjoying my life more. I’m pretty sure all this has been made possible because I now understand myself better, I have been giving myself permission to acknowledge my needs and care for myself in ways that met those needs, and I have friends and a support network who understand me too and who offer just the right words when I need them.
I have learned 3 important lessons this past year.
1. Self understanding is an empowering thing.
2. Self advocacy, though tiring and frustrating at times, is a liberating journey.
3. The value and power of an understanding and supportive community of true peers can not be measured.
So now if someone were to ask me why I would identify as disabled or autistic when so many see that as a negative thing, I would answer
“Because when I am strong enough to acknowledge who I really am,
when I am proud of my imperfect self, even in the face of criticism and discrimination,
when I take steps to meet my needs, and am open with others about my need to do that and my need for them to help at times, and
when I am wise enough to lean into my community for support,
that is when I can live as my best self.”