As a soon-to-be-twenty-one-year-old adult, I was recently asked about my behavior as a child. It took quite a few moments to recollect my thoughts, as twenty-one years is a long amount of time to sift through. They asked me if I was an introvert or an extrovert, and how I behaved in friend groups, and I couldn’t quite explain it on the spot.
But looking back to my youth, I was outgoing to a certain degree. There would be moments, though, where I just didn’t want to speak and tried to hole away somewhere where people weren’t. Sometimes my emotions got the better of me and I’d say or do things that stuck out, that didn’t make sense, that embarrassed me, especially as a middle school girl trying to grow into her gangly arms and legs. I blamed it on being immature and on not having complete control of my feelings. Sometimes I was whisked out of my core classes and taken to a small room to talk about how to better be social.
But I didn’t truly even understand the reasoning why. I didn’t understand how different I was in comparison to everyone else. I thought that I was the “superior” one, and assumed that I’d hit puberty faster than my schoolmates. (Not even kidding on that one.) I was also embarrassed at the fact that I laughed at the crude jokes my middle school male classmates made, and that sometimes I blurted out things I was thinking but didn’t mean to say.
Looking back, now that I have the diagnosis of autism and now that I understand that anxiety seems to flow through my emotions like blood through my veins, it all makes sense. Since I process and respond to the outside world so differently, my response to my classmates when I was in elementary/middle school & how I acted seemingly irresponsibly and inappropriately now makes total sense.
Because I was made fun of for responding so differently, anxiety seemed to build roots in my mind and heart and still have yet to let go. I started feeling self-consious about what I said, and began holding my tongue so much so that as I matured and grew throughout my tween & teen years, I became the girl who sat in the back, the girl who didn’t raise her hand unless something truly interested her and she had something she felt was worthy enough to contribute. I became the girl who everyone called “shy” and “quiet” and “meek”. That became my personality trait that everyone knew.
That I didn’t talk because I was just that way.
That I didn’t contribute in class even though they all said what I had to say was important and valid.
That I didn’t really want to be included because I hated people.
In retrospect, I wish I had been told of my autism diagnosis, or even been diagnosed, early on in my life. I wish that, before I matured, I could have been explained why I am so different from most people.
I also wish that I could have just been allowed to be myself instead of being forced into a small classroom and told how to behave so I could fit in (also known as ABA therapy, which I may discuss in a later post).
Being an autistic person who is also an introvert and who struggles with anxiety on the daily is so hard. I don’t think most people realize how hard it is.
I’m constantly wondering if what I want to contribute to conversations is good enough, or if I’ll just get made fun of for it and have that on repeat in my brain for the next year.
I’m constantly afraid of someone bringing up something embarrassing I said because of my autistic brain not handling something “normally” and me responding in such a way.
I’m constantly second-guessing whether or not people want to be around me and include me, or if they’re just asking so they don’t feel bad about leaving me out later.
I’m constantly in fear of acting out and being the person people don’t want to be around.
I’m constanly in fear of speaking up and contributing something and people pointing out the fact that I barely talk and being shocked at hearing me say more than a few sentences at a time (it’s happened many times before, and it’s not a fun experience).
Being autistic in a world that wasn’t made for people like me is hard.
Being a social butterfly as a child who got her wings clipped and who lives in constant fear of what others will think because it’s all been said and done before is so hard.
Being an introvert by choice and it becoming the identifying factor of who I am is almost heartbreaking to think about.
I do want to get help. I am seeking out ways to try to come out of my shell in a place where I won’t get made fun of and a place where people don’t know me yet so I can be who I truly am in front of them. I am seeking out help through counseling. And if all goes according to plan, I do want to have an Emotional Support Animal that helps me overcome the hurdle that anxiety plays in my everyday life.
But I have to take it one step, one day, at a time. I can’t just throw down the walls and completely be “who I am” without somehow receiving consequences for it.
I have to approach this in a way that won’t hurt me later on in life.
It doesn’t help that our culture has very little knowledge of what autistic people go through on a daily basis. It doesn’t help that people around me just assume that I’m introverted and try to force me out of my shell in ways that I’m never going to be comfortable with, no matter the situation. It doesn’t help that people assume more than ask.
But that’s what needs to start happening. Asking questions.
I can’t be me without people around me who want me to be me.
I can’t stim & enjoy my special interests & do things that my autistic brain wants me to do without people understanding why I do them.
I can’t speak up unless I feel that I’ll just be treated like everyone else in the moment.
So take some pointers from an anxious autistic introverted person, and don’t shove us all into a box.
We were made to break that box.