As I work on my thesis and also try to manage and mind the other writing obligations I’ve taken on, I’ve become well aware that my intros are always too long. I have a point, but first, I have to lead into that point, and, well, I have to lead in to the lead in, too. This is the third step removed from my point–in case you wondered.
Now, this transition is acting as an extremely overt but also structurally sound and case-in-point connection between the first paragraph and what I’m about to say, which is that I’m not like other people. I was thinking about it earlier, as I was telling my mom that my professor for my (final) thesis work this term seems to have a similar quirky sense of humor. I hope that means she’ll get the zillions of funny points in my writing that, well, no one else seems to find funny. I crack myself up all the time, like, um, the first sentence of my paragraph here. I don’t think anyone else gets it, but I’ve learned to be okay with it, because I’m laughing, and laughing (as long as it isn’t at someone else’s expense) is pretty uniformly a good thing, no matter how weird the reason.
Listen, if I can deal with cleaning the litter box by pretending I’m digging for treasure, well, I might be weird but I’m also probably having a far better litter-box-cleaning experience than someone who is normal… and miserable. I’ll take weird but happy, very happy.
I don’t just have interests and passions. I am so wholly obsessed with cats that life without them isn’t a life at all. Spending 15 months in nursing home, I lived for going home and seeing Lucy. Every other moment of the week was in anticipation of that first little chirp she’d say as a greeting, and the thousand chirps that followed in the few hours we were together. Now, after two months in our own, teeny-tiny studio, I don’t think either of us has forgotten, or will ever forget, the time apart. She’s sleeping on the arm of my chair as I type. Every time I touch her, she chirps the most pleasant little kitty noise. It’s like a chirp button. Every touch, every time. I love it.
I love her toes. I love the soft spots behind her ears. I love the pattern on her belly, and the downy fur on her chest. I love her wide-open eyes. I love when she sits like a loaf of bread, and I love when she sleeps in a circle, and I love when a little doze on the arm of the chair turns into a sleep just a bit too deep, and she begins to sprawl and then startles herself when she flops off the limited space. I most especially love when she lays on her back, paws in the air, and looks at me with a cock-eyed expression that is so familiar but the meaning of which I cannot discern. I love sleep eyes. Most of all, I love that when I wake up over and over at night, or when I can’t sleep at all, she is snuggled up against me and always within arm’s reach. She and I are we.
I had a terrifying dream the other night. I don’t want to go into detail, but it was cat-related, too. I woke up almost panicked, and I reached for Lucy. Chirp… the chirp. I love the chirp.
I live hard. Intense is the word I hear a lot. When I do something–anything–study, write, work, learn, explain, love, dislike, try–I do it with everything I’ve got. Saying that “I don’t like” some feeds doesn’t begin to cover the fact that I want to gag when they’re in the same room and have never put many very typical foods anywhere near my face. “I don’t like loud noises” doesn’t describe my rigid arms and clenched fists at my sides when I’m in public places. What if something beeps, or worse, what if something bumps me? “I like words” doesn’t cover the all-encompassing need to write or the fact that I spend nearly every waking hour either reading or writing, because I’m not sure I exist if I’m not taking information in or wrestling with it as I put it back out.
I’ve always known I’m not like other people, but I also had an inherent certainty that I was the one who wasn’t okay. The autism community, well, we’re broken. I’m not sure why anything thinks that a huge conglomeration of broken people–a church or a family or a group of people focused around a cause–would be anything BUT broken. The sum of a whole bunch of brokenness sure ain’t perfection… but it IS completion. We are not perfect, but together, our abilities make great things possible. We don’t need to be perfect to be complete.
Sometimes I think, at least these days, as things are forever in flux (and oh, how frustrating that is), that autism is less of a diagnosis and more of a way that I find my tribe. I don’t need a diagnosis to know that I’m not like other people. My strengths and loves and passions are too strong, and my weaknesses are just too weak. Early on, I needed the word “autism” to give me access to reading that taught me about myself. I had such a lack of knowing who I was that I had to read external accounts to realize that, why, yes, I do have major sensory issues. I didn’t know until I read about common behavior that clued me in to the fact that I do those things and thus have a root cause of sensory dysregulation. Autism was a word that opened up the knowledge of who I had been and who I will be.
But now, I know. Learning that I wasn’t the only one gave me the all’s-well to discover myself and feel okay about my quirks. I am well aware, now, that I absolutely love kids’ movies and hate to be surprised, that I can’t make decisions when I’m overstimulated (grocery stores are the bane of my existence), that I lecture far better than I communicate, and that cats are my world. I no longer need to connect to the experiences of others to know what’s in me… or to be okay with it. There’s no changing it, so, I figure I might as well accept the quirks as I seek God in everything I do. As simple as as complicated as that.
Now, when I hear “autism,” I immediately think of other people… the kind of people I want to know. I want to know people who don’t do masks, who don’t speak in sarcasm, who get past the chit-chat and talk about real things that matter. Parents, grandparents, kids, adults, diagnosed, undiagnosed, verbal, nonverbal… this is my tribe. These are the people who don’t blink an eye at my monologues, who text me with a request for a current picture of my cat (because the one from last week is now outdated), and who help me do my laundry while snuggling Lucy between loads. They’re the toilet paper fairy, when they drop off toilet paper on my doorstep when I forgot to get it at the store. They’re the mentors who boldly live out their faith, who remind me that sleepless nights (a common occurrence) are the perfect times to pray. They’re the kids who trust me with their real selves… I hope because they know that, whatever and whoever they are, I’ll affirm their awesomeness.
The constant flux of the world–relationships, understanding, and my very messed up body–is an overwhelming thing. But I have an army… not behind me, but with me. In step, alongside, we’re in this beautiful mess together.