THE TRANSPARENCY CHRONICLES: FORGET BEING NORMAL
For Jim and Harold
It’s been a rough year for everybody it seems. I’ll admit I probably took it harder than I had let on before. I’ve gone months without a social outlet for things I’ve enjoyed like wrestling and music. I’ve missed being around other people in social settings under normal circumstances. I’ve often wondered how non-disabled people are able to make and keep friends so easily. I must have asked myself a thousand times, what are they doing right that I seem to keep getting wrong? What’s so wrong with me? Why don’t people like me?
I’ve gone back and forth a lot about having autism for as long as I’ve had a formal diagnosis of it. Sometimes I don’t terribly mind it. Other times I would resent it for the frustrations it’s caused me and my family. I’m very aware of it and I know it’s a part of me that won’t ever go away, yet I would still try to “pass” for being “neurotypical,” even though I know in my head that I’m not. I kept fighting this part of me in a futile effort to be accepted, because I know how people like me are treated in our society, and I would prefer not to be treated that way if I can help it. I want to be seen as an individual, not just someone with a disability.
All my life, I’ve chased after this idea in my head of what it means to be “normal” in our society. Sometimes I’ve put too much emphasis on wanting non-disabled friends, and I feel bad about that now. But I suppose 2020 has been good for something. It’s made me realize how subjective “normal” really is, that there’s really no such thing as “normal,” that “normal” is just a myth. Everyone has their own baggage. Everyone has their own issues that they’re dealing with. We all have to take chances and figure out who is a good fit for us, even if we’re afraid to find out, even if we don’t want to be wrong.
Slowly but surely, I feel like the pieces are starting to come together for me. All this time, I thought that having autism was something I needed to overcome if I truly wanted to be accepted. But maybe I’ve been taking the wrong approach this whole time. I’m my own toughest critic. I’ve been really hard on myself, and I’ve pushed myself really hard to be better. And it came from a place of internalized hatred and feeling less than human. So I started thinking, what would happen if I were kinder and more accepting of myself instead?
I care a lot about other people, and sometimes I wish I didn’t care so much about what they think of me. I’ve seen Crip Camp, the documentary on the origins of America’s disability rights movement that many people in SUFU have been talking about, and it’s made me realize the kind of advocate that I want to be. If I want to be effective, I need to do a better job helping myself first before I can even think about helping anyone else. So here I am, being transparent with my intended audience, leading by example and setting the tone for people I care about by encouraging them to talk to someone they can trust if they’re struggling for whatever reason so they can get the help they need as we ring in the new year together.
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