For years I thought I was crazy. This was a fact for me. I was always different from the people around me. I had many problems with “belonging” and adapting to people around me. Certainly during my first years in high school I noticed this very strongly. This was much less of a problem during primary school. I suspect by the fact that I was in a small primary school, in a small village. That actually made it less noticeable. I was very much like my father, so that was how my behavior was explained; “Oh, he’s just like his father”. And in hindsight that is also true.
My peers in high school confused me. I found it hard to adjust and actually found little connection with the children around me. It made me the odd one out of the class. This eventually led to bullying. I became the target of scolding, the target of things that were thrown and was looked at by the majority of the class.
As a result, my results plummeted. I could no longer keep the focus on my work and felt (in retrospect) the first depression of my life. Afraid and sad I locked myself in myself. I don’t know why I never said anything to my parents during the harassment. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to disappoint them, or maybe I thought I had to solve it all myself. Finally (I thought) it’s me, I’m weird, I’m crazy.
After an intervention at school due to my disappointing results, I was placed back one level. I entered a different class and that was a relief for me. This class was very different from the class I was in. Much more of a group feeling. “We are 1 class, coincidentally divided between two” was a bit of the mentality. Although I was still in the same school as my bullies, I already felt a lot better. It also went much better in terms of results. I still had problems with people around me, but the classmates understood me more. I was perhaps weird, but not unkind. And after a while I also started to crawl out of my shell.
I am Crazy
However, somewhere during the harassment, a thought had settled in me; I’m crazy. And by that I do not mean “strange” or “odd” or “exotic”, but really literally “crazy”. And I resigned myself to that. I continued my life. But in my mind that first thought was always present; I’m crazy.
Strange how that first seems to be a problem for you, but later it actually is a liberation. Although it certainly caused problems at a later age, it was actually no problem at first. I often accepted social failure that way; “Oh well, I’m crazy, so what do I know about it”. It certainly didn’t do my self-confidence any good. I assumed that what I thought usually didn’t make sense. That is why I always tried to ignore my own thoughts and to look for other answers or ideas. After-all; who listens to a fool? Nobody right?
From Crazy to less
This process took years. After having experienced enough and gaining experience, the depression finally got a firm hold on me. Without going into too many details, the depression was bad enough that I fell out of my work and actually my life. The depression was bad enough that I went to GGZ. There, suspicions of ASD came to light and I was (eventually) sent to the ATN. My diagnosis was made there and things became much clearer.
I’m not crazy, I’m an airplane!
After my diagnosis, many things fell into place for me. And yes, then came the time of processing it all. The regret and the grief about my earlier years, things that could have been different. Things I could explain now and it “if only I had known”. But the most important thing for me was a simple fact; I’m not crazy!
This may sound strange to someone who has not experienced this; but it was a moment of relief for me. What I think and feel is not strange or weird or crazy; it can be there! It may seem strange to people, but now I know why. I can explain to people that I have Asperger’s syndrome, that may make me think in a strange way. Or that it is partly because of that that I can adopt a somewhat rigid attitude in my beliefs. Now that I know what I have, I can understand the world better. Or actually, now I know that my view of the world is not crazy! Only different than for most people.
Acceptance as a first step to growth
For years I had embraced that I was crazy. But now I know I’m not crazy, just different. Other than people around me, and that’s fine. By accepting myself as I am, I make steps to get to know myself better and I can explain myself better to people around me. I actually achieve two goals at the same time; I gain understanding for myself as an autist and I often receive feedback from “normal” people. Through that feedback I learn more about the world around me.
I am convinced that this is the first step for every person to grow; acceptance of yourself. Unfortunately I only got to know myself late in life, but that doesn’t mean I can’t grow! It is the first step to growth, not the last. Autism is part of me and will never change or leave. And that’s okay. That is part of me and I will have to live with it.
The trick is to not only look at what your difficulties are because of your autism, but also at what it brings you. Where I thought before that I didn’t have to express my solutions (everyone has thought of that for a long time already, right?), I now express them. It often turns out that “outside the box” thinking is appreciated (although for me it is often just a logical solution). And so there are more strengths that are partly due to my Asperger.
But it all starts with that first step; acceptance of who and what you are.