Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My high school reunion

This last weekend my high school grad class reunited our 20th anniversary. It was great to see a lot of the people from my high school and get a chance to get caught up. It also gave me a chance to reflect on my childhood.

Before I go on any further, I should be clear that I've never been diagnosed with anything, this is merely my own selfdiagnosis.

I didn't speak my first word until I was almost five years old. I was also very clingy, attached to Mom's pant leg most of the time. My parents were very concerned, thinking that I might have autism. Even after starting to speak, I was extremely shy as a child. Everything seemed so loud and big and noisy.

I do have happy memories as a child, but the main thing I remember about being a child is just being overwhelmingly afraid. I remember wanting to have lots of friends, but also being afraid to talk to anyone lest people might laugh at me. Wanting to join the kids outside playing, but just being too afraid to.

As a teenager, I never dated or went to school dances. I was far more likely to stay at home and watch TV or read a book.

The worst thing was I knew my fear of people made no sense. Yet there I was, wanting to be social, yet for some reason, unable to be social. I was also convinced that I was the only person in the world with my problem, that everyone else was more social and therefore better than me.

I hated myself.

Then one day during college, I had an epiphany.

I thought, "OK, you're shy. Is this honestly the worst thing a person could possibly be? Really?"

I realized that no it wasn't the worst thing a person could be. There are things that are a lot worse. I realized that I didn't have to beat myself up for being who I was, and that other people aren't necessarily better than me automatically. Yes, I should work on my shyness, but I should also realize that I have a lot of positive qualities. I should realize that I'm never going to be the most gregarious person around, but that was fine. In fact, it was great because it was part of what made me me.

I've come to accept that, at least, I have some features of autism.

Which brings me back to this weekend.

I did get a chance to talk to a lot of my classmates, but there was a lot of time when me and my wife sat at a table by ourselves. I felt myself slipping into my old role of being a wallflower.

I was totally fine with it. I was there with the person who understands me better than anyone else in the world. I didn't feel envious, I was totally happy. A little unsure about what to do socially at times, to be sure, but (and this is the key thing here) not hating myself for that.

The happiness that comes with liking yourself for who you are can be hard-won, but there's very little in this world that beats it.

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