When I was younger, I never felt like I fit in with other kids. I always thought I was different, that there was something stopping me from being just like everybody else.
Most people feel this way at some point, but the thoughts tend to fade when they grow up and build more confidence. However, feelings of not fitting in lasted for me because I knew there was evidence that made them true, like my diagnosis.
When I was 2 years old, a doctor told my parents they discovered the reason I acted differently: I have autism spectrum disorder.
ASD contributes to my heightened self-consciousness. I doubted and convinced myself that my friends and people I know don’t want to be around me; they were just pretending to like me for the sake of politeness. I felt I couldn’t act like myself, as someone with autism, because it would expose me as a freak to my peers.
To avoid being perceived negatively, I shut myself off. I didn’t participate in school activities or interact with my friends outside of school. In my mind, there was a voice telling me to hide.
“Sit back and be quiet,” it said. “Don’t tell too much about yourself. You can’t let them find out you’re different.”
This voice was constant and forced me to live in fear of a piece of my identity being discovered.
I thought if I didn’t tell anyone that I have ASD, it might go away so I could finally become “normal.” I was hurting myself, slowly closing off from the world and punishing myself for a condition I had no control over.
I always envied my friends who participated in various activities, like honors society, sports and clubs, because I wanted to feel like I belonged, but I didn’t feel like I could because of my autism.
By the time I was preparing for college this past summer, I was exhausted with hating myself and the fact I hid my true personality for so long.
I realized college was my opportunity to reinvent myself, to stop living the way the voice in my head told me too. While Temple is only a half-hour drive from my home, being in a city is a completely different environment full of new experiences, people and a chance for a new way to live my life.
I pushed myself to try to change how I lived my life in college by getting involved in activities I never would’ve considered when my anxiety held me back. I joined Temple Model United Nations to pursue an interest in politics, and Active Minds to focus on mental health, which is an important issue to me. I also finally explored my passion for writing by freelance writing for The Temple News.
I don’t just go to the clubs; I participate in them when I would’ve stayed silent before.
More importantly, I stopped focusing so much on what other people thought of me. I let myself be who I am, not the version of me that I thought would be accepted.
The person I tried to be — the one without ASD — doesn’t exist. I’m finally ready to leave behind the scared child with autism who hated who he was and the voice in my head reinforcing those feelings.
Now, a new voice is telling me to embrace myself and try new things.
This journey isn’t over for me yet; I still need to work on myself more. The pain I forced on myself as a child didn’t magically disappear. However, for the first time in my life, I’m starting to let myself live my life the way I want to.
My brain works a little bit differently than everyone else’s, but it’s not a bad thing. I’m learning how to accept myself — the real me — not the mask I put on around other people. While autism is a part of who I am, it isn’t my identity. I’m finally living my life on my own terms without hiding.