I believe in myself… finally. It hasn’t always been this way. Life was this strange existence that I could never quite figure a way to get through. Well, that was to the outside world. Life in my own world made perfect sense — especially as a young girl — but that changed as the years went by and self-doubt began to creep in.
I have blundered my way through most of my life until I learnt about the autism spectrum in 2008 that lead to a diagnosis in 2009. That day, March 3rd was the best day of my life. Seriously. It was a licence to finally accept me for who I am and to embark on a journey to find my true self.
Putting back together the missing parts of myself that had been lost and buried under the layers of chameleon masks, took an enormous amount of effort. The years of pretending what the world expected me to be had taken its toll. I had been broken from painful moments in time, lost in the ocean of despair of never believing that anyone would truly understand me and the loneliness that had crept in from the lost friendships where I could never understand the dynamics. The constant pretending was actually causing me more harm than good in the end. Heading towards 40 I had resigned myself to being an outsider, a loner and lost.
But those words emblazoned on the computer screen of that night when I first saw the term Asperger syndrome has never left my memory. As I sit here, the movie is replaying again like the vivid first time I encountered this. These memories felt tangible, and I could just reach out and touch the very essence of who I was. I had an answer and a meaning to my existence. I wasn’t broken, just neurologically different.
Finally I could stop hurting myself, blaming myself for not fitting in. I didn’t need to fit in; I just needed to find my tribe. And that I did.
My autistic tribe was always there, waiting to embrace me for who I was; I just had to find them. That day was the day I learnt about myself and became curious.
Researching is certainly high on the list for most of us and I do this with a ferocious passion. I can never get enough information to fill this skull of mine and now autism knowledge was my priority. And in no time, I had thrown myself into the information filled pages upon my computer screen and soaked them up like a sponge.
Little by little I made connections with others in my tribe. I had so many questions and we all shared a common theme. We connected in a way I had never known with the non-autistic community. There was no need for padded out conversations. We all wanted information, understanding, support, validity of who we are, but most of all, we accepted each other without judgement. I felt I was finally home.
So for autistic pride day, this day is not just about celebrating me but celebrating all the people in my tribe and for finding you. It has been nine years now, but it has been some of the most fulfilling and self-accepting years of my life. No longer do I feel isolated and alone, no longer do I feel an outsider, but accepted and respected for the person I am.
To all my fellow autistics, my tribe… thank you for waiting for me to find you. And to the future I now wait with my tribe, ready to welcome you, and embrace you into a place where you can truly and unashamedly be you.
About Barb Cook
Formally identified on the autism spectrum along with ADHD and phonological dyslexia at age 40, Barb is editor and co-author of the internationally acclaimed book Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism, and editor in chief of Spectrum Women Magazine. Barb is an internationally recognised speaker and writer and was awarded a Special Commendation in the 2017 Autism Queensland Creative Futures Awards by the Queensland Governor. Barb is also currently studying a Master of Autism (Education and Employment) and Research Assistant at the University of Wollongong, Employment Services Manager at Thriving Now Pty Ltd and provides consulting, workplace/environmental assessments and mentoring services for the neurodiverse community. Barb is an internationally recognised speaker and recently keynoted and panel participant for a special event “A Woman’s Voice: Understanding Autistic Needs” for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIHM) in Washington DC, USA.