I’ve been thinking lately about how autism has actually affected me over the past five years. I don’t want to use the label as a crutch. I’m not expecting to ever really come off as “normal.” But it does get better with time.
Most of my friends are still outsiders. Which is fine. I’m more comfortable around them anyway. But since I was about 24 or so I’ve been getting better at talking to people. I put myself out there. I even get invited to parties. I’m still awkward obviously, and people still say I look uncomfortable. But they seem to like talking to me.
I’m starting to think that these problems are mostly in my head.
Usually I make friends with one semi-popular person and they bring me into the crowd. It’s a good strategy. Lately I’ve been hanging out with this non-autistic ex-nerd who’s been bringing me around to this fun house. The girl who lives there is beast. I just know she was a badass in school.
Lately I’ve been pretty busy and they asked him when I’d be coming back. Hearing that was such a relief. But it also made me sad, because I remember all the times I dipped out on people assuming they’d reject me first. Last time I was part of a popular crowd I fell out of touch on purpose. And that makes me the asshole. Growing up, I didn’t think the cool kids had feelings. Especially not feelings that could be hurt by me. But these people liked me more than I thought. They were probably thinking “gee, I guess Gwen doesn’t like us anymore.”
I’m not making that mistake again.
It’s hard, living with this. I’m constantly afraid of abandonment. I keep wondering when I’ll say some weird shit and everyone will stop talking to me. The possibility of immediate, unexplained rejection is always looming over my head. I need constant reassurance and it’s turned me into a narcissist. My friend knows a guy with autism who dumped his partner unexpectedly because he wasn’t catering to his every whim. The partner was really upset. I don’t want to be some needy selfish monster because of shit that happened to me when I was six.
Except it doesn’t just happen when you’re six. If you’re an outcast: a real one- it keeps going. You’ll never quite fit in.
Right after college I started a fashion blog. The blogging community was extremely cliquey. I used to comment on other people’s blogs like every week and most of them never commented back. I’ve gone to parties in adulthood and people didn’t invite me back because I was weird. Friends still drop me sometimes for no reason.
I’m even worried about being cast out of the autism community. So far things are good. But I have some points of view that are at odds with them. I never know how far I can go without alienating people. It seems like you have to be charismatic to get away with unpopular opinions.
This social anxiety carries over into my writing work too. When editors don’t email me back right away I’m thinking “oh my gawd I’m blackballed.” Which of course is never true.
I’m ashamed to admit that part of the reason I want to be an important writer is to get back at the kids who picked on me. I’ll be like “ha bitch, I’m famous. Respect, you peons!”
But the world doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t dole out fortunes evenly. And sitting around expecting my revenge won’t hurt anyone but me. Just like anyone else, us entitled nerds will have to work for what we want.
The world will always be stratified. And we can’t do much to change that. We can educate the public about autism. Teachers and parents can pay more attention to their kids to stop the worst of the bullying. But some people will always be socially inadept and the most we can do about it is move on. If you’re like me- anxious and paranoid- it’s important to remember that the world’s not going to persecute you. You do the best that you can. As you get older, everyone finds their tribe and starts to focus on more important things than being cool. We’re all people, we’re all suffering, and we all end up the same in the end.
I hate thinking about all the opportunities I’ve missed because I was scared.
As adults, the more well-liked people around might actually like you for being genuine. If they don’t, the worst that can happen is they’ll ignore you. But you still have the power to become an honest, open, interesting, and above all non-bitter person who has a lot to offer the world. And people will notice.
The bitterness is slowly starting to fade. I’ve been reaching out to people lately. And they’ve enjoyed spending time with me. That always surprises me. And it may never stop being surprising.
But it shouldn’t be. Because I’m cool.
*Image from waitsover.com