Spectrum Women Magazine Interview by Jen Elcheson
Cynthia Zuber is a health and wellness writer from the U.S. who lives in the state of Minnesota with her husband, their adorable dog Jonah, and their 18 year old black cat, Juniper.
Cynthia, now 43, professionally identified as having Asperger’s (which in North America, according to the DSM-5 is ASD Level 1, or autism) at age 40, recently joined the autistic blogosphere with her Facebook based blog, The Neurodiverse Woman, which she hopes to eventually turn into a website. Her musings are deep and insightful, brimming with self-awareness, and empowering sentiments that aim to bring the neurodiverse community together.
Many readers, me included, see themselves in a lot of her words. Using smooth prose, Cynthia speaks her truth and shares with everyone the trials and tribulations of being autistic alongside chronic illnesses and a high dose of hope and compassion. She is definitely one to watch and connect with!
I decided to ask her some questions about her writing, the community, being diagnosed later in life, her hopes and aims, what it is like living with autoimmune illnesses, and how we can make the world a better place for autistic people. And, as always, we talked about pets!
Hi Cynthia! Great you could talk with me and for Spectrum Women. First off, I would like to ask you a bit about your background as a professional writer for a health publication, before life had other plans and illness took over. What did you write about? What did you like about it? And how has that helped you as a writer, new to the autism/autistic community?
Hello! Thanks for having me, I appreciate this opportunity. So, I started my holistic autoimmune wellness blog almost seven years ago. I did that for a year or two when I noticed an ad on Facebook for an online healthcare publisher looking for writers to blog for them! I applied and due to the success and readership of my personal blog, I was accepted as a blogger on their team. One of the autoimmune diseases I live with is Type 1 diabetes which I was diagnosed with at age 11. Most of the articles I write for OnTrack Diabetes revolve around some aspect of my diabetes or other health conditions, autoimmune and otherwise, and what I do to heal and feel my best. They often have a holistic focus — looking at the health and well-being of the whole person in body, mind and spirit.
It has been a fantastic opportunity for me as it has gotten my writing out to so many more people than I would have experienced otherwise through my personal blog alone. Although I’ve been on break to heal from some serious health issues I’m hoping to get back to writing for them soon.
And I’d say it’s the experience I’ve had blogging and growing a robust and engaged Facebook community with my personal blog, Sprinkled with Light, that has most helped me connect with fellow autistics in the community I’ve created on Facebook for my other blog, The Neurodiverse Woman.
How did you first discover the vast online autistic/autism communities?
Gosh, that is a great question! Around the time I was first diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, which wasn’t that long ago in January 2016, I was looking for characteristics of autistic women and found Sam Craft of Everyday Aspergers. [Sam was also a contributor to Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism, (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2018)]
I was instantly mesmerized by all of her words. Somehow I had the unique insight to look for women’s support groups on Facebook. I felt healed and transformed by my overwhelmingly positive experience right off the bat. These Facebook women’s communities are where I learned the most about myself in the first year or two after diagnosis. It’s also where I was introduced to a number of wonderful autistic bloggers and Facebook pages.
I actually wrote a poem about my experience joining the women’s groups but haven’t published it yet. Basically, I had to ask myself, “Why have I been running from this (me!) my entire life?” These were the most compassionate, wise, sensitive and caring women I had ever met. I had found home and never wanted to run from myself anymore.
Can you tell us a little bit about what it has been like to be a late identified autistic woman? Where do you see yourself now compared to when you first were identified? And where do you see yourself going?
Oh wow, another great question, Jen! By the time I was diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 40, just four months prior to my 41st birthday, I was a broken mess. I was hurting in every way including major depression, deep pain in my heart that really felt quite excruciating and unbearable, confusion in several aspects of my life, especially relationships, low self-esteem as well as a copious amount of self-doubt. These were all issues I had worked on in therapy over the years but in some ways hadn’t gotten very far, you know?
It’s like the elephant was in the room but without it being addressed it just kept making more of a mess that became harder to clean up.
Now at age 43, I understand myself to a tremendously greater degree than I ever did before. After a lifetime of feeling lost I am finally finding my voice and internal truth. No longer do I have to go to everyone else for answers, I have many of them inside myself! And, I’m no longer enmeshed in severe depression and crippling, repetitive self-critique and doubt.
Figuring out autism was the root of everything I’d ever struggled with, and questioned after a lifetime of searching, was the key that provided many of the answers to what I need to live an enriching life filled with joy, peace, personal empowerment and the freedom to finally be me.
Every day I work to better love, understand and extend compassion toward myself as I grow in self-awareness, with the goal eventually to have complete self-acceptance; something I’ve struggled with my entire life.
You started your blog, The Neurodiverse Woman, last June. What has the experience been like for you? Has it helped you feel more accepted and welcome?
I actually started The Neurodiverse Woman a little over two years ago as an anonymous page on Facebook in June, 2016, just five months after my diagnosis. Early on, as I developed my own understanding of autism in women, I had a knack for finding memes that others could deeply resonate with. I was sharing to the women’s groups daily with my finds, sometimes multiple times a day, and decided I wanted somewhere to house the information I was finding and maybe help a few people in the process.
My page only had a few hundred followers for the first two years then everything began shifting at once in June of this year. At the end of May I took my first online writing workshop, titled Memoir and I knew this was my chance to tell my story about being diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 40 and hopefully finally finding the courage to “come out of the closet” about it publicly.
Within a few days of the workshop ending, I wrote and published my first autism advocacy piece (a shareable meme with a few paragraphs of text) which had a fantastic response. A week later I wrote my first autistic poem which to my surprise was shared on Facebook almost 2,000 times!
Realizing my words were indeed needed in this world and that I might have something to say, I no longer wanted to hide. I came out to the world about my autism a week later in mid-June and the rest is history.
I am writing autism advocacy pieces, other creative writing, and poetry daily that I share to my blog page on Facebook, The Neurodiverse Woman along with personal stories, memes, information, and a whole lot of humor. I think humor is the best medicine!
In just a short handful of months we have grown to a vibrant community of almost 6,000 wonderful members! It’s been the biggest joy of my life as I truly feel blogging and writing are my life purpose and to have others enjoy my work and share how much I help them has felt more fulfilling than anything I could ever imagine.
There is your other blog page, Sprinkled with Light, that focuses on healthy living. I love your food pictures by the way, with lots of yummy options there! Is cooking one of your interests? Tell us about your other interests.
Sprinkled with Light is where I give hope, strength and encouragement to other autoimmune and chronic illness individuals that there is the possibility of feeling well in body, mind and spirit and that we do not have to necessarily be doomed because of any diagnosis.
After years of being given every pharmaceutical medication and even needing several surgeries and only feeling worse, I turned to holistic therapies, nutrition and lifestyle management at age 30 to feel my best which I share about with my blog community on Facebook.
And yes, I love to cook and bake healthy foods! I follow a Paleo/gluten free diet that focuses on eating real food to heal, and I love sharing pictures, recipes and stories about my creations.
As for other interests, I also love walks, time in nature, tennis, cycling, theater, live music, reading, lectures, learning, movies, volunteering, and spending time with my pets, family and friends.
What do you hope to bring to the autism communities?
Inspiration, hope, beauty and light. Autistics are typically very logical thinkers who are often in their heads. Through my creative writing training, with little thinking, I have learned to write from my body as this is where our truth lies and what helps the reader most connect with our words.
I’d like to help women and men alike have more of a compassionate heart toward themselves and a greater understanding about how being autistic weaves its way into us and every part of our lives and to feel less alone and isolated. To be able to find joy and laughter in life despite a condition that challenges us in at least one or more ways every day.
I love to bring beauty to the face of autism, with the goal of having it be something no longer considered so ugly, stigmatized or misunderstood.
Through my writing that really gives an inside look at my struggles and vulnerabilities, I hope to help others understand us better, therefore creating the ability to love us more completely and in the ways we need. And I’m extremely passionate about letting others know how very lovable we are.
Like many people on the spectrum, you also have chronic co-occurring autoimmune illnesses that you are very open about. I really like how you are able to discuss your health challenges, as there definitely needs to be more education and awareness around these things. Has this helped your readers?
I think so. Autism + autoimmune disease and other health challenges are a tough, tough gig. To balance both together takes a miraculous and resilient spirit.
I bring words and a voice to the experience of someone who has faced difficult health challenges since she was a young girl at age 11 diagnosed with her first autoimmune disease as well as the difficulties (and triumphs) I experience being an autistic woman.
It helps my readers feel less alone, gives them new ideas for their own health and healing and offers hope, inspiration and encouragement for their journeys.
Since all of us here at Spectrum Women Magazine especially love cats, tell us about your beautiful black cat, Juniper. She is 18 years old! How is she doing?
Oh, Juniper is a dear. I adopted her at only a few months old from the Animal Humane Society. She was the last of her litter along with another kitty I adopted that same day, who has now passed on.
Juniper is kind, generous and so loving, Very resilient at 18 years old bravely battling arthritis and kidney disease. She is my constant companion and a healer, tucking me into bed each night as she snuggles by my side under the covers, gently waiting for me to fall asleep before gently slipping away.
How many kitties put their owners to sleep every night? I think this says everything!
I’d also like to share I have a beloved 8 year old rescue pup named Jonah who recently came home just last week after we spent an agonizing two years apart while I’ve worked hard on recovering from some serious health issues. It’s been wonderful having him home again.
Right on! Animals really are the best. Do you have any last words or anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Thank you for reading! Thank you for taking a moment to get to know me and learn some of my story and passion for writing and sharing with the autistic/autism community. I share from my heart every day and wish nothing more than to make a positive difference in the world through my writing and honest sharing and hopefully make you smile.
I would love to thank Cynthia for participating in this interview for Spectrum Women. For more information, check out the links below.
Cynthia would love for you to follow her at The Neurodiverse Woman on Facebook here (https://www.facebook.com/theneurodiversewoman/)
And if interested, also at Sprinkled with Light (https://www.facebook.com/sprinkledwithlight/)