The title of this post is one of the main things I remember my autistic Angeleno friend, Adam, saying to me on Christmas Day in 2020. On a Zoom call in the middle of a pandemic, he pep-talked me down from the ledge of my 24-hours-old autism diagnosis. The other thing I remember him telling me: “I always knew; I was just waiting for you to know, too.”
Like all of us, I didn’t suffer the pandemic gladly. Stir-crazy at home with also stir-crazy Ryan while the world outside switched off and stayed off limits. Hoping not to drop dead, then hoping to find a drug store with shot appointments. Never learning how to wear a mask without fogging up my glasses. Perfectly nailing how to day drink on a work Zoom. (Sip your Merlot from a coffee mug and blow across the top like it’s hot. You’re welcome—use this power wisely.)
2020—or as I think of it, The Year of Living Madly—was at least a great time to take stock. What the fuck else was there to do? I turned 50 in August over an Entenmann’s cake with a candle in it. We canceled our 10th anniversary vacation because every Disney park on the planet was closed. Eventually, like the world outside, I shut down, too. I stopped writing. (You literally have not seen a new word here in more than three years.) I started melting down over the most mundane things. I walked away from a job that didn’t fit me. Honestly, it was the most stressful year of my life.
But not by much. And when I finally realized that, the floodgates opened. Had I ever really felt like I fit in anywhere? Had I ever not been one stress trigger away from erupting into a shattered mess or shutting down into a tightly curled ball? To this day, my fellow 1980s alumni from Gay and Lesbian Youth of New York remember me as Angry Doyle. Had I ever really connected? Or ever, really, been happy? As long as I hadn’t dropped dead yet, I suddenly, finally, really wanted to know why.
A long-ago therapist diagnosed me with ADHD, but that label never really fit. There was always so much more to it for me. But what? I went searching and re-searching through all the ADHD literature I could, trying to find the key. And then I remembered long-ago friend Esteban’s words, shared with me on a Brooklyn stoop in the early 2000s. “Have you ever considered that you might be autistic.” At the time, he was a state crisis-intervention psychiatrist. I ignored him.
You can see where this is headed. But until 2020, I didn’t.
The memory of Esteban’s words were like a halogen lamp switching on above my head. I didn’t yet know for sure I was autistic. But inside, there wasn’t a doubt. I switched literatures and read myself blearly eyed about autism. I took every official and unofficial autism self-diagnostic imaginable, with every score as close to off-the-charts as they could be. And I started seeking a diagnosis. (Which, for adults, isn’t easy to accomplish and is depressingly expensive.)
On Christmas Eve of 2020, I had my answer. Michael, meet your diagnosis. It starts with an A and ends with an OMFGWTF. As a Jew, I wasn’t really looking for a Christmas gift. But there it was. And frankly, it was terrifying.
You don’t really want to let it in at first. But when I finally did—and I mean this literally—I watched my life flash before my eyes. Every second suddenly made sense, knowing that I experienced them as an autistic. It’s hard to describe the intense mix of clarity, mourning, shame, and liberation of that moment. I’ve spent the past two and a half years unpacking it all.
The clarity of knowing I have an autistic brain and neurology, and experience the world—and always will—through that lens. The liberation of knowing that being autistic is natural and normal. The needless, unearned shame associated with the condition that took a while to let go of. And the mourning of realizing who I always thought I was never really existed in the way I thought he did.
That last part was hardest of all—it was as if my sense of self just popped like a balloon. It took me months to figure out who I really am and how I want to be in this world as the autistic human being I have always been. I decided I would leave my blog dormant until the day I got my clarity back about that, too.
And here we are. Did you miss me? I missed me, too.
On the web for a while I’ve used the hashtag #ActuallyAutistc without yet explaining my journey. And although, two and a half years past diagnosis, I know how much of a hate group Autism Speaks is (you can Google for yourself “Autism moms” silencing actual autistic adults), I’m not here to Stan for autism.
We say if you’ve met one autistic, you’ve met one autistic, but I will share some of my autistic traits which many others have in common. I now know my ability to handle stress works in slow motion, so I have to carefully manage my triggers to not end up melting down or shutting down. (And all that anger with past synagogues now makes SO much sense.)
Noise canceling headphones and pulled curtains are life to me—sudden loud noise and sudden light glare are my anxiety-inducing Kryptonite.
My mother was always right—I do see everything in black and white terms. I am very logical but often also absurdly literal.
I will never look you in the eye while we’re talking. I expect you to smile while I infodump. Being a hardcore Disney Parks whisperer now makes 100% sense. So does my superhuman power of hyperfocus and my ability to zero in on patterns to solve problems in immediate and complete ways that often literally shocks people when they witness it.
I stim (insert your second trip to Google here) all the time—and it was quite a surprise to realize I always have. I am always casually rocking, or engaging in echolalia, or flapping my hands when I’m happy. Incredibly classic autistic behaviors—and I’m so happy they’re mine.
There’s so much more, but that really would be infodumping, so maybe my blog will become more about autism. But knowing what I know now about myself—just go ahead and re-read it. It’s pretty clear it always has been an autistic blog. Because I’ve always been what I am.
And that is, autistic. You can keep your “person-first” language. I am not a “person with autism”. As with all autistics and all people, my terminology is my choice. My disability doesn’t need your uncomfortable euphemizing of it. My autism and myself are inseparable. At this point, I very much like it the way. It hasn’t been an easy two and a half years.
But unexpectedly enough, they’ve been the most promising two and a half years of my life.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I’m an #OpenlyAutistic gay, Hispanic, urbanist, Disney World fan, New York native, politically independent, Jewish blogger in Chicago. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I write words and raise money for nonprofits. I’ve written this blog since 2005. And counting...
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