The Me Between the Lines

Alexandra Heather Foss
Article
inspiring testimonial of self-acceptance as a woman with ASD

Why, in my mid-thirties, did it become essential for me to get the neuro-psych evaluation that determined I am on the autism spectrum?  Two lines.

Let me explain.  

My entire life I felt like a foreigner in a strange world.  My father joked he was from Jupiter and I believed maybe the same was true for me, that from Pluto I hailed, or Veritas 2982, some distant Earth-like planet, where kindness and candor are the norm.  My face looked human, and I studied, through shows, books, and movies, how to behave, but there was this feeling I had of being different that remained. Time reinforced that message, until I felt fundamentally wrong.

I believed that not only was I like Peter S. Beagle’s last unicorn, searching desperately for my kind, but that perhaps my kind did not exist, not from a blight or kidnapping, but because evolution, through Darwinian selection, had eliminated those like me, those who could not assimilate and thus did not benefit our species.  More than once I wished for death, because I thought maybe there the pain would end, that perhaps after this life, existed a space where I could breathe unthreatened and unthwarted. I craved like air a place without fight or flight, without duplicity, where people said what they meant, and did what they said, a place where misfits fit, and nowhere in life on Earth could I find it.

There were therapists, who diagnosed, and traumas, that concealed.  My pain felt rooted in soil ripe with bullies, family discord, health ailments, and sexual abuses.  And my learned ability to adapt through pretend garnered me passable acceptance into the human clan.  I dressed not in my preferred rainbow mismatched feminine fairy garb, but in clothes streamlined and trendy, and I found a college and a partner that for 4 and 15 years, respectively, cloaked me in relative normalcy.  I transformed from “troubled,” to “quirky,” and even when, despite my magna cum laude degree, I could not fledge professionally or financially, I was more regularly labeled “lazy,” or “spoiled,” than autistic.

Autism and Asperger’s never were suggested, not when in the classroom corner I quietly read every book in a series of hundreds to avoid confusing social interactions, nor when as an adult I had meltdowns in superstores from sensory overload that only solitary walks in nature could cure.  There were clues – the nickname “HeatherMDB,” for one intense interest, a love for weighted rollerblades, recognition when I saw Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, as if I were watching me on the TV, and eventual close friendships with other Aspies. It was like the Universe was identifying subtly, and then obviously, my operating system is, in fact, different from 99% of the people I am going to meet.  But I had to be ready to see.

It was between two lines I saw the truth.  The two lines that made me a mother.

Pregnancy is the ultimate acceptance of Other.  Into self, then hopefully into being, as from scratch a child is grown.  Fate offers no guarantees, the future the ultimate question mark, but whether a child remains the size of a piece of lavender, or comes to full term, nowhere in the womb is there room for rejection.  

When he was but two lines on a pregnancy test, I knew only that my son wanted to be here and that he was strong enough to stick.  Everything else was an epic mystery – his eye color, his dreams, what sights in his lifetime he would see, his lifespan. I realized during my pregnancy, as for 41 weeks our hearts beat as one inside the walls of my skin, that my only hope for my son is that he be happy and kind.  No vicarious desires, no set expectations. I want for him what I never had, for him to know that whoever he is, however he is, whether he is the 1%, or the 99%, he will be accepted.

I began to think of acceptance, of what it means, globally, and personally, and with how absolutely I knew I was going to offer such consideration to him, I questioned why I had denied that of myself.  I knew always I was different, Other, but was that reason enough to let myself shrink into invisibility? I had spent decades punishing myself through rejection, to the point of self-flagellation, marring my skin with all the things about others and the world outside myself I could not understand or accept but felt I had to.  Why had that time been spent on self-hate, when self-love was as available an option? Why did it take my diagnosis for me to offer myself kindness?

Last summer an Aspie friend recommended the book Odd Girl Out, by Laura James, the latest Universal cue, and with my son inside my burgeoning womb, counting on me to provide not only him but myself with the best from life, suddenly everything clicked.  I knew I was autistic.  I read it in the pages, I corroborated it with outside sources, an autism expert confirmed.  Everything finally made sense, as if the puzzle pieces formed a whole picture. I felt overwhelmingly relieved, even empowered.  I may have been born into a misunderstood minority, but I have a tribe. Other fireflies shining through the thick mass of night.

I survived a world misfit for me, learning, in the process, a truth that outlasts all others.  Who we naturally are is not a thing of shame to be concealed. Each of us are complex, luminous beings, deserving of love, despite our varied stories, or positions on or off the spectrum.  There may be things in my life I still wish for – romantic love, professional success, travel – but at least, at last, I no longer wish to be someone else.