Marco Orlando

One thing I can always appreciate about the pandemic is that it gave me a lot of time to think and reflect on things. Before COVID-19, I wasn’t always much fun to be around when I went out and did stuff, and I’m not proud of the kind of person I was back then. I was still struggling to fit in and feel like I belonged somewhere, not realizing I wasn’t going about it in the best way. I became this mean scary overprotective papa bear that felt like I had to look out for people I cared about because I didn’t know what to expect in certain social situations or how to be supportive of them without tearing down anyone I perceived as a threat or competition. If any of these people have still stood by me after all this time, they have more patience than me.

I have always been very hard on myself for about as long as I can remember. I expect and demand better of other people, so I felt I had to lead by example and expect and demand better of myself too, otherwise I would have been a hypocrite. I’ve struggled to accept myself as I am, not for who I think I ought to be. I’ve tried hard not to let it show that I struggle with guilt and shame around having autism. I’m very aware of it, and I know it’s a part of me that won’t ever go away. But I also know how people with autism are treated in our society, and I would prefer not to be treated like that if I can help it. So I’ve tried to “pass” for being “neurotypical,” even though I know in my head that I’m not, and I wound up overcompensating at times for my perceived deficiencies.

I envy those groups of close friends who stay connected, meet up somewhere in town, and do fun things together once and a while. During the pandemic, there really hasn’t been very many opportunities for that sort of thing to happen. But I craved that connection, that closeness, that camaraderie, the kind of bonding time that comes with being around other likeminded people and being able to relax for a bit, realizing I’m not as alone with my own thoughts as I think I am. It’s been discouraging feeling left out and missing out on these opportunities because I’ve struggled to find a group of friends like that somewhere where I feel like I fit in.

Lately, with more and more people getting vaccinated, and the CDC getting loose with the rules and easing restrictions, it’s been feeling more like there’s finally an end in sight. This is what everyone has been wanting for so long, yet it almost feels too good to be true. I have missed performing karaoke at a bar. I have missed having an audience. But without their support, it doesn’t really matter if I’m any good at what I’m doing. I have always had a hard time being able to handle not being liked. If I start performing again soon, would these people even remember me? Or would they just write me off as a lost cause?

I wish I didn’t always care so much about what other people think of me. It feels like I can never get out of my own head as often as I should so I can see things from another perspective. But if COVID-19 has taught me anything, it’s that I still have the power to rewrite the script. I can still find a way to come out of this better than I did going in and show people how I’ve improved. This could be the fresh start that I’ve always wanted. I just need to keep putting in the work to get the results I’m looking for.



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