I am an autistic woman. “No” was the first word I learned to speak. For a long time, I used it to exert my independence. It did not always mean I did not want something. It was an act of aggression, of defiance, a refusal to go with what others wanted.
My “no” however was not always taken as such. I learned as I grew up to attempt to fit in with polite society. As an autistic child, my reactions often put those around me on eggshells. I had to work hard to make others feel at ease To quote a friend, I was like a “startled ostrich” over-exhausted, visibly in distress while trying to fit in with the normal expectant behavior codes. I often found myself trying to make people understand by being conscious of my body language and the way I made eye-contact.
I stopped using “no” in the process of trying to become a polite person. What I did without realizing was say “no” to my otherness. Most autistic people are misunderstood and this is perhaps a big reason why. We are conditioned to hide our sensitivities and preferences, our needs and feelings in favor of a logic-driven world. This puts us in continuous duress. Most of us feel we are a burden.
The toll this took on me was heavy. I had to fight depression, anger issues, anxiety, sleep and food disorders, and even suicidal impulses. Harming myself felt like a better choice than being rejected or harmed by someone else.
Not saying no made me lose self-confidence. I was constantly apologetic and I readily went along with anything. I was afraid to raise questions. What if it led others to alienate me or label me as disabled?
I tried to find alternative outlets to explore my otherness. I turned to fashion. But while I was idolized for my eccentric wardrobe choices, I still did not find the emotional and mental accommodation of my differences. As long as I was careful about how I behaved and presented myself, I had acceptance. This constant need to conform was draining my energy.
It took me a long time to realize nothing would change unless I learned to truly take care of myself- I had to accept myself with my differences first. The realization led me to invest in my relationship to communication. I learned again to say “no” to things that caused me distress. I have learned what I really want to say “yes” to in the process. I have learned to be my own healing energy,
I have learned to celebrate myself as the void in the crowd if I feel like it. That is my reality and to deny it will never help me feel secure. I have learned to accept that facing social situations is never going to be as natural to me as it may be to others. I should not force myself to be like others. I am unique and with my differences it is possible to be happy, empowered, and even fulfilled.