When I think back to all that I lived through in my teens and into adulthood; the trauma, the depression, the anxiety, the otherness—sometimes I am proud and other times I am furious. Proud because I learned how strong I am. No one was going to “save” me. I had to save myself. I have come all this way because I put the time and effort into healing. Though I am furious because I had to do it alone. I did not have a choice.
Few professionals (therapists, counselors, etc.) would take the proper time to listen to me and hear what I was telling them. My family listened even less. It did not take long for me to stop speaking all together. I spoke only when spoken to or when absolutely necessary. Conversation rarely moved past small talk. And if I’m being frank, I didn’t want it to. Conversation meant questions and questions meant I would need to provide answers—answers that remained palatable to the present company. I feared sharing too much. Sharing details that were not anyone’s business, that which would only make matters worse. Yet despite this silence, this fear of telling others how much I was truly hurting, there was also this deeply embedded sense of longing, of wanting someone to see through the walls and the mask I had built. But the one thing I feared above all else was letting someone into my life only to end up hurting them. I’d convinced myself it’d be selfish. If I truly cared about someone, why would I willingly bring them into my life of hurt and pain and sadness.
My loneliness, I know, was in part my own creation. It was also a matter of circumstances and culture.
I experienced a loss only a few months before I would begin high school. This loss, above all else, began my loneliness. I felt there was no one left who would understand me implicitly. When I try to explain this time to others, I describe a line of dominos where this loss acted as the first one to fall that then knocked the others down. I pulled myself away from my family, as much as they pulled away from me. Though I only have myself to blame for losing my friends, the few I had. I pulled away too much, and the people that were in my life by choice and not blood, chose to leave. I despised my loneliness, and yet I only wanted to be alone. People complicate things. People have opinions of who you should be and how you should act, and I could not meet these standards at the time.
I was grieving, slipping into a depression, and only trying to make it to tomorrow. That was the goal I set for myself: just make it through the day. I also remember, vividly, the night I experienced my first anxiety attack. It was a Wednesday in October, after an academic awards night when I was in tenth grade. I held off telling anyone something was wrong until I was close to blacking out. At the time I quickly became numb to the experience, but in hindsight I recognize the terror and dread I felt. I’ve only had a handful of anxiety attacks since then, none of them as severe, but it still takes everything in me to reach out to someone in the moment knowing from experience I cannot get through it on my own, though wishing I could.
These adolescent years formed an intense independence, one to my detriment. My extended family remains superficial in conversation, meaning speaking up about our struggles is not an option. I refused to see any more therapists that diagnosed me as a rebellious teenager even though I was very much a shy, goody-two-shoes. My school was not really equipped to help me, and I was more or less a straight A student, meaning I fell under the radar—which was exactly where I wanted to be.
I got really good at being invisible. Independent. I ceased asking anyone for help for even the smallest things. It is something I am still trying to unlearn.
Since my autism diagnosis I have come to understand why I pushed away so easily, why I struggled to make real connections with others and maintain those connections. However, understanding the why, doesn’t solve the how. I still, at times, find myself feeling extremely lonely and while I typically refuse to admit it, I crave companionship. I am desperate for a true, honest connection with someone, but my own brain is wired against it in such a neurotypical world. I know I am not the only lonely person in the world. I am not the only lonely autistic. But I am one of a small percent that has chosen to speak out about it. I am quite introverted, I choose staying in over going out every time. I am far too comfortable in my solitude. A worldwide pandemic didn’t help anyone form connections. I spent those years in online college classes and while it saved my mental health and emotional energy, it did nothing for my loneliness.
Now, I know I have grown. I’ve moved out of my parent’s house. I graduated from my college program. I’ve managed to continuously work in my field. I’ve started my own business. I have made leaps in these areas of my life, but in others I often feel very much behind my peers. I have friends, but those connections are limited, lacking in depth. I still have no one outside of my immediate family I can call up and talk to or go out with. I also struggle in balancing my energy levels because going out, even if I have a nice time, is draining and overstimulating. My very being seems to be at odds with what I seek. And I have no idea what to do about it. I have lived through loss, and now I am at a loss. I know why I struggle forming connections, but not how to make them. I know meeting people requires going out, but it’s a constant balancing act between too much and not enough. I know I am doing well and I’m in a good place, but those ‘what if’s’ and ‘what could have been’s’ still peek through every now and then. I feel I missed out, yet I am grateful for the life I have now. I wouldn’t change a thing. I would change it all.
I have not yet lived a quarter of my life, I have time. So much time ahead of me. To learn more, to connect, to lessen this loneliness. I no longer live a day at a time, but I try to make the best of every day. I didn’t have anyone back then, but I know I will.