Words and imagery by Jack, 19 VIC
I am an outsider. I am a man. I am young. I am an autistic person.
It’s important to define what you are. Not in words, or for anyone else to hear. But it’s important to know who you are, where your strengths lie, and most importantly, where your limits are. Many young people try to define themselves as soon as they are able. They want to have a core, an identity. To know oneself is a valuable tool.
It seems people, of any age, struggle the most when that definition breaks down. When they hit something that warps their perception of themselves.
As I mentioned, I have autism. When I was much younger, I would run. Whenever I was faced with an obstacle, my strategy was to get out of my chair and bolt. I just ran, making every single problem I had worse. People would chase after me. They just wanted to make sure I didn’t hurt myself, but I was too young to understand that. I felt trapped.
So I had to do something. My parents had to do something. They couldn’t raise a feral little monkey boy who would run away from everything. So they put me in therapy. Over nine years I saw dozens of therapists and psychologists. Each time I saw someone new, I would become a bit better at facing my problems. A bit better at opening up. A bit better at defining the boy, and later the man, that I was.
But the scary thing about it is that every session I had with a therapist, every talk, broke a bit of my definition for myself. Sometimes a chip would come away, something I would never care about. Other times, it would cleave my sense of self in half.
That is what people are afraid of. Who am I, if the definition I have now breaks apart? I have met some people who so desperately need therapy. They need it just as I did. They suffer. From depression, from anxiety, from all manner of cruel jokes their minds play. But they don’t get the help. And that’s because some of them are scared.
“I’ve felt like this for so long,” they say to me, “what will be left of me if this goes away? Who will I be?”
I never have a good answer for that.
Because the man I am today is different from the one I was a month ago, a year ago, a decade back. I would say I’m better. I don’t run anymore, I understand sarcasm better, I don’t have a meltdown every time I don’t get my way. I would say I’m happier. And many of the people who’ve known me that long would agree.
But it fucking hurts to change. To admit that something is wrong, something inside you is wrong. It’s so, so easy to beat yourself up this way. To think that the caustic, blackened bits of yourself are incurable, permanent fixtures of your soul. To bemoan that you simply can’t change, that you’ll always be this way.
But that’s a goddamn lie. You’re tougher than that, after all. I could have just been stuck with my position, my mental disability that was once so potent that it made me violent, self-centered, apathetic, skittish, unfocused, and panicked. I could have never grown, and been stuck in the whirlpool of my own brain for the rest of my life. My parents, my teachers, and the therapists in my life pushed me, and in turn, I pushed myself. I swum out, and came onto the shore.
And now? I keep pushing myself. Pushing that definition of myself to breaking point. The trick is to be happy when it goes, to look forward to the pain. Every crack in that armour, every readjustment, is a step closer to the person I’m meant to be. I have to keep practicing, because if I ever fall back into that whirlpool, I’m not going back to the beginning.
The best way to challenge your mind and the definition of yourself is to spend time with a diverse range of people. It was through this that I gained valuable information. Many learnt lessons spring to mind, but the greatest among them was learning to respect my own body.
I was bullied when I was younger, because a boy who runs is a weak boy. They broke my sense of self quite a few times, and it left some scars. Cripplingly low self-esteem, a lack of love for my body, and distaste for my mind. Forcibly humble, as it were. Now I’m slowly punching through that quagmire, regaining that love that I was stripped of.
And that’s why I do this, because I love myself, or at least I try to. I like being me. I’m not perfect, but I’m not running anymore.
I am a mentor. A brother. A son. An optimist. And I can’t wait to see what else I’ll be tomorrow.