(In honor of Autism Acceptance Month.)
Living life as an autistic person is an exercise in contradictions, every minute of waking. Life feels as though it were an elaborate game designed specifically to torture you.
Give her heightened senses and an above-average appreciation of beauty; let her find it where no one else seems to — and then punish her by giving her sensory overload and meltdowns.
Give her a burning, aching desire to connect with other people, an endless capacity to feel their pain, sorrow, joy, and hope — and then punish her by making her literally incapable of crossing the veil into their world.
Give her excellent language skills, an intuitive grasp of the English language, and a quick wit — and then punish her by giving her social anxiety. Make her verbally incompetent, anxious, and unable to articulate herself without stuttering or wavering, no matter how hard she tries, or how many times she rehearses.
Give her a radically open mind, one that sees the boundless possibilities of human connection; let her see all of the ways in which people can come together and live in societies that are full of love and real connection — and then punish her by making her live in a country that harshly sidelines any variance, that stigmatizes it by calling it disability, and entrap her in a hetero-patriarchal, capitalist system that thrives on the exploitation of the innocent without apology.
Give her boundless hope, resilience, optimism, and the ability to treat each day like a blank canvas — and punish her by giving her executive dysfunction, autistic burnout in heaping doses, and fatigue her so that it will take her years to catch up to her peers.
Give her the ability to understand what suffering humans are going through, give her the qualities of nurture, honesty, unconditional love, and empathy — and punish her by making her unable to understand how everyone around her keeps a relationship. Make her unable to read the body language of those she desperately wishes to help. Constantly place her in scenarios where she is humiliated by those who have been conditioned to mock the different.
Give her all this, and punish her by giving her: trauma, poor motor skills, a vitamin D deficiency, a convergence insufficiency, and a whole mess of other obstacles that would have been easy enough to prevent and treat, were not everyone around her — adults and family members, doctors and teachers — so quick to stigmatize, so quick to call her a liar, not believing her, every day implying or outright saying that she is just incompetent, lazy, and exaggerating her struggles.
Make her brain and entire being radiate with light. And then attempt to snuff out that light with each new day that comes.
This is what life seems to tell me, every single moment, and in my darkest hours, I believe it utterly. I believe that I am a walking paradox designed to fail and ride through the bleakest waves of depression, the most heart-rending pangs of anxiety, the most painful chokes of trauma.
And yet: When I wake up and begin anew, no matter how hard it might be to get out of bed and meet with the day, there is something in me that perseveres.
Even given this brain that is considered defunct in the world I inhabit, I find the simplest thing — a bird singing in my backyard — proof positive that I exist for a reason — no predestined reason created by God, or any utilitarian reason — but for a reason glowing in the deepest part of my core. I meet with the world in that moment of stillness, and the world extends itself to me.
And my nihilism wavers; the deep, hardened sadness and disappointment dissipate like vapor, just for a brief moment.
Call it a life instinct, obliviousness, or blind hope. I continue.