Is my autism a blessing or a curse? How do I see it myself? That’s a difficult and important question and I will try to answer it.
It is easy to focus on the deficits that autism causes me: the difficulties with social interaction, the over-reliance on routines to shape my life, the utter confusion I feel sometimes when I cannot understand people. Then there are my associated issues with sensory processing, alexithymia, anxiety and depression.
I could go on: many of you reading this are familiar with the ways in which autism and common co-morbid conditions can make it so difficult to even get through a “normal” day out in the world.
There are people I observe on Twitter and other social network sites for whom autism is a burden. Some of them dream of a life without the myriad obstacles in their path. I have had times in my life before I was even aware of autism as a condition when I despaired of ever being able to fit in. When I became so frustrated by my own failings that I felt desperate enough to consider suicide.
I can’t claim that I had any moment of clarity where I understood. No epiphany for me. I simply got away from the environments that were causing me to feel that way. I never used to be half so introspective as I am now: I never examined my own motives and was not very aware of my needs or desires. Things had to reach crisis point before I even realized that I had a problem.
It is only with hindsight and the knowledge that I am autistic that I am now able to look back on my past with enough insight to allow me to explain why I was that way. Why I had the problems with people. Why I always felt different, an outsider.
But also why I have always had such strong, almost obsessive interests. How this drives me to seek knowledge and learn new things. It’s why I’m so good at my job — at least when I’m not under the doctor for an episode of depression.
As I have grown older I have continued to learn. I’ve learned ways to cope with a lot of my issues and most of the time I get through with few problems. This didn’t happen overnight and there were missteps along the way. I had support and help from a number of people. I have no idea why but people seem to like me and offer to help me when I need it.
That’s the thing: people seem to like me. But more than that I like me. I have come over many years to accept the way I am as integral to my identity. This doesn’t mean I believe I am perfect or that I have no problems. Far from it. It means that I recognize that I am the sum of everything that makes up my body and mind, good and bad.
To deny any part of that, even the part that makes me want to run away and hide, curled up in a corner, when everything gets too much to handle, would be to deny part of what makes me who I am. I find I cannot blame autism, or anxiety, or anything else for my problems: my problems exist and I try my best to deal with them.
So to answer my own question, I do not see my autism as either a blessing or a curse. It is simply the way my mind works, for better or worse. It is an indivisible part of me: I accept and own it, internalize it. By doing so I rob it of the power it had over me as an external entity to be feared or hated, to be fought.