Looking for Love written by The Gentle Autistic community member, ‘C’.

Do you like yourself, and if not, why not?

I met someone just like me a few weeks back. To begin with I felt very suspicious, it’s rare to meet someone who can see me and actually wants to return for a second conversation unless I have a use. She told me she liked herself and I expressed admiration for this ability. She was curious about my comment and I confided in her that I don’t like myself at all.

A few days later I heard Chris Packham on a podcast, saying he doesn’t like himself either and not being satisfied with himself is quite a painful part of his personality. My brain was conflicted – I thought that most people didn’t like themselves – you know, secretly underneath when no-one is looking – but maybe I was wrong. Maybe Chris and I are in the minority, and my new friend is on a path I need to know about.

A lot of people will say they don’t like their hair or their feet or their nose – or another part of their body, but is it common for people not to like the inner bit of themselves – their engine, their inners, their heart and their soul? I don’t know enough people to carry out any meaningful research on this, so instead of looking for figures to prove or disprove myself, I decided to try to work out why I don’t like myself with the hope it might help someone who reads this.

A few years back I read a book which encouraged parents of girls to find their spark before they become a teenager. I took this advice very seriously. With our first daughter she loved cricket, and now at 17 is still playing cricket at a high level and her confidence is good, she likes herself and she’s relatively happy with the world. With our second daughter, we looked and looked and looked and the spark wasn’t obvious to us or her. I encouraged her to try any hobby she showed an interest in, but the spark still wasn’t obvious. She asked me what my spark had been, which really got me thinking. I never felt good at anything, I never felt a strong pull to any particular hobby – I never had a reason to feel confident, I wasn’t obviously good at anything. In digging deep for an answer to help my daughter, the only thing I could come up with, which is as relevant today as it was when I was younger, is that I am good at caring and helping people. As a journalist, 99.9% of my stories helped people tell their stories, raise money, raise awareness of a cause – I helped anyone who asked. Today in the corporate world, I care. I have a board level position and the best thing, potentially the only thing, I bring to the table is care. Hard-nosed corporate debates are held, and I always have an opportunity to make sure we care about people in a good and proper way. My boss calls me the moral compass.

What’s not to love about a chief carer? I don’t get it either, but no matter how much care pours out of me and how much affection and praise I hear coming back my way, reflecting good that has been done, I can’t connect it to me. There is a disconnect between what I do in all walks of my life, and how I view myself.

My long-suffering husband – I met him nearly 30 years ago – wrote a note to me when we’d been together for a couple of years ‘10 reasons I love (name)’. Even then, I was unsure what he saw in me, why he’d want to be with me and how long it would be before he dumped me. In the same way I await my p45 at work.

So how do I view myself?

In a nutshell, sparing you several servings of utter self hate. I feel like an alien, living on the wrong planet. I have three kids, a lovely husband, a great job, a little house with a pretty garden in a place where people fall over themselves to live (we ended up there by accident). I’m so lucky – but I don’t belong. It’s only a matter of time before they see my inner alien and reject me.

And maybe that is where the answer lies – rejection. I recently discovered I’m autistic, and now I know I have been living with autism all these years – 47 to be precise – I can maybe look back and see I didn’t fit the mould, and there’s no wonder I felt rejection at every turn. Regardless of whether it was intended or not, the eye roll, the sigh, the exclusions, the glances, the outright bullying, the put downs because I hadn’t conformed – they have all taken their toll and added up to a feeling of so much self hate, that it’s hard to believe anything that’s good.

But the problem runs even deeper. I have tried so very very hard to gain approval from anyone I come into contact with, and to be like them, that I have exhausted every last little bit of me. In the words of U2, I have been running to stand still – every single flippin’ day. And I’ve been running like Forrest Gump for 47 years. I’m knackered. But no matter how knackered I felt, I kept going because if I stopped, the disappointment that I really am would be clear for all to see.

Over the past few years, things started to get worse. It wasn’t just self hate anymore, I started to feel it physically too. What’s wrong with me? Why am I trying so hard to be so rubbish and why do I feel ill? Dearest Doctor, I’m not depressed. Dearest Friend, not everyone is finding life as hard as me every single day, you have no idea how bad it is inside me. Dearest Boss, I’m not a perfectionist, paranoid or overthinking. This is me and my skills are useful to you but instead you’re beating me around the head with them. Dearest Old Friend, if I leave my job I will work just as hard to please in the new job. Quitting my job is not the answer. Dearest Husband, I need help to make it stop or I will pop.

Oh wait! Hang on a minute brain – you’ve given me some warnings that I’m not ok and I ignored them. So now you’re going to embarrass me by making me cry a lot and taking away my ability to do the most basic of things like cook – who the hell starts making a bolognese, gets confused half way through and serves up a chilli? Oh and as a last resort you took away my ability to talk. And my mask, my mask which has cost me so much – my mask is lying face-down in the gutter, the water washing away all traces of a face which once hid so much sadness, confusion and pain.

I met my new friend, you know, the one who likes herself, in the same week that my brain actively withdrew my ability to talk as a way to protect me from myself. The peace and harmony I experienced in the hours I couldn’t say a word helped me to be me. Just me. And if being me isn’t good enough for anyone else, then I’m in the wrong place and I need to go home.

It’s only been a few weeks since my mask landed unceremoniously in the gutter and was washed away in a flood of tears and pain. Now numb without the mask, not daring to venture out in case someone sees me in such a naked and vulnerable state, I’m not sure of any thoughts or feelings. Sticking with the alien analogy, like ET, I needed to phone home and talk to my people. Thanks to my new friend, I have been talking, mainly listening actually, to my people through The Gentle Autistic community. No-one has rejected me yet. Maybe I am home and it certainly feels like a good place to start being me.

 

*We welcome posts from all of The Gentle Autistic community members, either to add to our Glossary or to share on our Experiences page.*