Who Are We Anyhow?
By Lisa Macafee
I was talking with a co-worker who had a new grandbaby. She was wondering what color their eyes would be, if they changed from the blue they were currently. I bemoaned that neither of my kids got my blue eyes, at which point she looked at me and said “you have blue eyes?!” clearly inferring she did not think I had blue eyes.
I have thought of myself as having blue eyes all my life. Now I’ve spent a good amount of time staring in the mirror, taking pictures of, and trying to decide what color my eyes are, because clearly, they’re not blue. A person said so.
I have been thinking a lot about identities. What makes us who we are and how we conceive of who we believe ourselves to be. I was a blue-eyed person all my life, and now I don’t know what I am!
All this kerfuffle about eye color made me reflect on how much my self-concept changed when I got an autism diagnosis.
It felt as though for years, I was treading water, begging the world to allow me to exist just a little longer. Maybe if I prove myself useful to someone in need, that could justify the resources needed to continue existing. I felt the constant need to prove myself worthy of life because I had internalized a deep sense of worthlessness from being different, without knowing why I was different.
I got my autism diagnosis at 37 and it was like a new lease on my identity.
I believe now that I’m not worthless. But I’m still not valid in the neurotypical world. I am neurologically different from 98.2% of the world and will never be the same as these folks. I am rarely accepted by these folks. I will never fit in. I will never be their version of “valid”.
Getting an autism diagnosis allowed me to understand how and why I’m different. It allowed me to have words for the things I feel and accommodate the challenges I face. But mostly, it allowed me to see myself as a different kind of valid and allow me to be myself.
Different is not bad, but we are taught that we should not be different. We should learn to fit in. We should learn to adapt.
I spent much of my professional life trying desperately to fit into a set of rules I never understood. You know what that got me? People took advantage of me. People wrote me off because I was trying too hard. People assumed I was stupid because I was nice. People thought I was “off”, but couldn’t place why, so tried to get me fired.
I think, in retrospect, that I’m more accepted by the status quo now that I’ve given up on trying to fit in and am flamboyantly myself. I have hot pink hair in an asymmetrical bob. I wear my combat boots to work every day. And neurotypical folks see that and seem to think “oh, there’s Lisa, repping for queer neurodivergent folk, cool” instead of “oh, there’s Lisa, there’s something weird about them that I can’t quite place…”
Since I cannot adapt my neurology, I have decided that my version of valid is to dedicate my life to service, but not to justify my worth anymore, it’s to give me a purposeful life that feels rewarding and good to me. Not for them.
I don’t know if I have blue eyes or not, but I do know I’m autistic, and that gives me a sense of freedom I never had by having blue eyes.
Hello friends! I would like to publish writings from myself and other people with autism as snapshots of how autism has affected them, since there are so many misconceptions and confusions about adults with autism.
Some background: I completed a 12 unit certificate program to be able to serve autistic students and am angry at how the program focused only on little boys as autistic and completely left out adults, the trans autistic population, and girls/ femmes/ women autistics. I am currently pursuing a PsyD to do more research on autism and gender.
Please contact me if you would like to add a story! If so, please send me your piece, publish name, title, and an image (can be a picture related to your content, your picture, an autism meme, etc).
I am interested in publishing this collection, because people don't know enough about us (but sure do assume a lot). Also on Facebook!
Lisa Macafee, autistic counselor with a hankering for social justice.