Talk with pride. Are you proud to be autistic? How do you show the world your pride?
I’ve been musing over this for quite a while, thinking about how I understand ‘pride’. When you look up the definition, you get told that pride is “a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements… or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.” I’m not sure it makes sense to think about being autistic rigidly in those terms, but I do think it makes sense to think about pride, here, as an alternative to shame.
Shame is absolutely something I struggle with – not just in relation to my autism diagnosis, but in all kinds of contexts. I am often violently overcome by a sense of being wrong, being not good enough. In the case of autism, I hoped that getting a formal diagnosis would alleviate that sense at least a little, but if anything I think it’s become worse over the past year or two. Rather than being able to throw my mental energy at the bureaucracy involved in securing an assessment, I’ve had to try to come to terms with the fact I have been diagnosed, that this is something others consider a ‘fact’ about me, that the things I find difficult are not necessarily ‘my fault’. I still find it excruciating when people act as though I have a right to be accommodated for things I find difficult, or generally have positive things to say about me, because I feel like I’m systematically misleading them, and at any moment they’re going to see what I see.
While a large part of myself fundamentally believes that all that I am is not enough, this “30 days of autism acceptance” challenge has been in large part an attempt to combat that belief. I suppose I could have called it “30 days of autism self-acceptance”, really. Whether it’s worked it would perhaps be premature of me to say. Without being melodramatic about it, I have a lot of self-loathing to unlearn, and a couple of months of sporadic blog posts are not some kind of panacea for that.
That said, this project has given me an opportunity to discuss a lot of aspects of autism in a space that’s reasonably distant from my usual internet presence, with all the baggage that can generate. I have made a concerted effort not to apologise for all that I am and all that I think, and not to pre-empt criticism by getting defensive or dismissing myself. It’s been quite a selfish project in a lot of ways, but I think I needed it – both to work through it in the first place, and to make it available for others to read, to ‘put myself out there’, as it were. I’ve found openness a good antidote to shame in other areas of my life, and though I’m finding my autism diagnosis far more difficult to be open about IRL – it’s far more fundamental to who I am, I suppose – I have been taking steps to make it an ‘open secret’, I suppose.
To me, to have a sense of pride in oneself is to positively assert some aspect of one’s identity, to not feel that it (or you) are fundamentally wrong. I suppose a significant step would be to say something along the lines of “I am autistic and I’m ok with that.” I’m phrasing it as a hypothetical at the moment, as this still feels like a difficult step. Maybe it’s time to take that step – maybe taking it will reveal to me that it’s really not as big a deal as I’m making it out to be in my head.
It’s an issue I’m having to tackle head-on at the moment, as I’m in the process of starting a new job and working out how to disclose my diagnosis. I’ve previously only disclosed in certain online spaces, or IRL when directly asked or when it’s been directly relevant in a medical or support context. I have a meeting on Wednesday where I plan to ‘come out’ to HR and discuss how best to disclose to my new manager (honestly, she may already know, but I have no way of knowing and need to talk to her about it for various practical reasons). I’m shit-scared, but I expect it won’t be anything like as bad as I’m imagining.
Anyway, the point of the above paragraph in particular, and this post in general, has been to talk a little bit about my motivations for embarking on this project and whether I think I’ve succeeded in reducing my sense of shame. I don’t think I’ve progressed hugely, and I think my progress is rather flimsy at the moment, but I do think this has been a helpful first step.