One year ago, I started this blog and journey. When I began I never expected to have posts that reached millions (yes millions, my mind is still blown) of people and the impact it would have. I didn’t know I would be speaking regularly to share my experience and help advocate. Or the people who I would help. The friends I would make.
When I started this, I was going through a rough time. I had been unemployed and just gotten out of a manipulative relationship where I had been taken advantage of for almost a year. I needed something to put all of my energy in. I needed positivity back in my life. It was April and I decided I wanted to do the puzzle run for Autism Society here in NC. I hadn’t actively fund raised in a long time. To my amazement, my team raised over $2,000 in just over two weeks. Even more unbelievably, I placed third in my age group during the race. To avid runners, this may not seem impressive but to me it was everything. I have never placed in any kind of athletic event. I was the girl who was teased in school with kids telling me I ran like a duck, and always with too many health, coordination, and spatial issues to do well in sports. Now here I was all these years later placing.
I felt an energy I never have before. Impassioned to do more.
When I graduated from school Lance Armstrong was our speaker. He told us of his experience with testicular cancer. He said something that has always stuck with me ever since that day. After all his treatments were over the doctor told him he had a choice. There were two doors out of the office. He could either go through the back door, and live a normal life, no one would ever know what he went through and he could blend into the background. He could hide in plain sight. Most people choose the back door. Or he could go through the front door and share his experiences and vulnerability with the world. This is the harder option, but it paves the way for others who are going through the same thing. It gives hope.
I realized until now that I have been going through the back door. Masking, hiding, and not sharing my autism because of my fear of rejection by society.
It was in that moment that I knew I needed to take the front door. I didn’t know how or when, but someday I would. I am well aware of how blessed I am and the privileges I have. I realized that my purpose here is to use all of those blessings to help all of us, and be an advocate for every autistic person so that no one gets left behind. Over the years I’ve learned so much about how my own autistic mind works and it was time to share it.
This past year was the time. It had been years since I had heard that speech, yet it stuck with me. I had gone to law school for the purpose of using the degree to advocate for the community. I had recently opened up about autism to everyone in my life, not just close friends and family. Autism is not a dirty word. It was a hard habit to break, growing up in the 90s when you couldn’t say you had autism if you wanted to be enrolled in school or have other opportunities. But now it was time.
In some ways the world has changed a lot, in others not at all. But I was no longer living as two versions of myself. I was whole.
The more I make autism a normal part of everyday life, the more the world is forced to accept us and address our growing needs like housing and employment. I finally had the time, energy, and bravery to take the leap.
Throughout this year I have written for major online blogs and publications, spoken at advocacy events, educated families, and met so many people who have profoundly changed me. People are always quick to tell me that my story inspires them. But this is just my life. What they don’t realize is that all of their stories inspire me. That finding this community has shown me why humans like to connect and socialize. Inspiring me to never give up, to keep going no matter how many times I fail.
Because I see so many other autistic people in my community doing fabulously. Starting their own local businesses, advocating, having families, living fulfilled lives. It is all of you who inspire me. To make sure we always get the quality of life we deserve. It may look different for each person, but if we were all the same how boring would that be? No path is better than the other, the only thing that matters is your joy and happiness with your life. And if there is anything that I have learned, it is that you can always find joy, even in the places you least expect.
Thank you for being a part of this community. I can’t wait to see what happens next. I was just the girl on the edge of the playground who couldn’t tie my shoes. I am so thankful I ventured into the world.