For me, 2012 is somewhat special. You see, ten years ago, in the fall of 2002, I sat in a psychiatrist's chair and heard the words that pretty much changed my life.
It's been 10 years since I've been diagnosed with Autism. That's ten years of self-discovery and growth, of learning to understand myself, not as broken or a monster, but as an autistic person with strengths as well as weaknesses. Ten years of learning what works for me to use my strengths instead of my weaknesses.
Ten years of learning to be comfortable with myself, with my own skin and ways of doing things, of forgetting the rigid rules I made for myself in attempts to conform and fit in. Ten years of undoing all the damage that I've done to myself in order to fit to some abstract concept of normal.
Ten years of being free to just be me
Ten years of making friends who accept me for who I am, not who I pretend to be.
Ten years of friends and people who not only accept, but celebrate and cherish my gifts and differences
Ten years of learning that I am no less different and not alone.
I am never alone.
You are not alone.
It is also another anniversary. On October 31st, 2008, I graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with a General Bachelor of Arts in English. After six years of studying in the Honors program, I decided that I really didn't care to write another essay on abstract literary terms and found the loophole that let me graduate "early". I liked the university lifestyle, at least, the rather geeky aspect of it: the schedule of classes, sitting in lectures, the predictability of assignments, the campus clubs. I met good people in university, both in the administration (especially the Accessible Learning Centre, excellent people there) and in the campus clubs, people who welcomed me, accepted me, and liked me for everything that I am.
While university was a challenge, it was also very rewarding, even without the friendships I treasure and cherish. It got me thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, and has helped me to develop my research, thinking and writing skills to go on to my current studies. The successes I've had in Disability Studies has confirmed a lot of things about myself and has directed me towards many engaging projects.
I can honestly say that I am a much happier person now than ten years ago, that I am proud with whom I have become. It's not all the autism diagnosis, no, but it sure played a big part in me coming to understand myself. By learning more about other autistic people and Autism in general, I now have words to describe my experiences, to explain to others my needs, and to grow in some many ways. My heart grows light when I consider how my younger child-self would view me; I have grown up to be the type of person I have always wanted to be.
Honestly, how many people can say that? Are you who you want to be?