Well, it’s been a while readers. Lately I’ve been trying to figure myself out, taking time to reconnect with myself as the world shifts back towards normality.
It’s pretty fitting then, that I would find myself trying to figure out who I am at a time when I had planned to write this blog post, all about figuring out who I am.
I should point out too, before we begin, that there are topics mentioned here that I never thought I would talk about, yet here I am, sharing it with you all publicly.
A Childhood Reflection
Let’s go back quite some years, to when Mikey was a child. I’d say from like 7 or 8 years old, I had already felt like something was different. Like there were others and then me, separated. Of course I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, I just knew I didn’t fit in.
I never got invited to sleepovers, nobody liked the things I did, I was bullied for being weird, I didn’t understand peoples “in-jokes”, my family listened to different music and so the list goes on. As a kid though, your mind doesn’t go to “okay well there’s a reason for this, let’s figure it out.” Instead your mind goes to “why doesn’t anyone like me, I just want to have friends”.
An Education on Mental Health & Disabilities
Even into my teens, I was still in the mindset of “I just want friends, please love me.” It wasn’t until the last year of school and the years that followed that I learned about mental health and that I was actually depressed and anxious.
Nobody had ever talked about it, it was taboo, it was wrong. At first I kept it all to myself, but as time went on I decided I would just talk about it. The rest of the world soon seemed to follow, which was great to see.
Suddenly we all went from ignorance to openly discussing depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, suicide awareness and so much more. It felt great to have that acknowledgement, to understand myself a little better. Yet there were still some things I didn’t quite understand.
As the world opened up and started conversations, my knowledge on other topics grew as well. I learned more about the LGBT community, I learned about anti-black racism and the affect it has on people, and I learned about people living with disabilities. A lot of this came from Twitter, which wasn’t the online equivalent of Mad Max like it seems to be nowadays.
The main one there is learning about disabilities, as I found something about it particularly fascinating. These were people who either physically or mentally were different to your stereotypical “normal person”. They were outcast by society and forgotten, leading many to band together and take up “advocacy”.
It would be remiss of me to not mention that a lot of this came to light from a very good friend of mine, my best friend, of whom you have no doubt seen a lot of on both the blog and my social media; Vicky of Actually Aspling.
Watching the growth of your friend from someone who had just made sense of their life, finding out they were Autistic, immediately get to work on raising awareness for their disability, was inspiring to see. That’s really what the purpose of this advocacy was.
It was to raise awareness for people like them, to fight for human rights that they were regularly and blatantly being stripped of. No matter who they were or what disability they had, they were unapologetically themselves.
Through talking to Vicky and seeing tweets by other Autistics who I had since followed on social media, I started to see patterns, started to feel a sense of belonging. I wasn’t really sure of what it was, so I just kept asking questions and learning. The more I learned, the more it started to click…
These people all felt like me and for the first time I think ever really in my life, I felt like I belonged, like I had found where I fit in. Except I didn’t, because I wasn’t diagnosed, there’s no proof of anything, just a gut feeling.
Instead of making a claim, instead of saying hey that’s where I fit in, I kept out and just observed, asking questions and still learning. A lot of what I’ve learned has been from Vicky herself, who has been massively supportive over the years.
To show my support back, I indulged in some cross-promotion between my blog and her advocacy. Interviews from one to another, guest blog posts, Instagram lives and more, almost always talking about Autism and raising awareness for the disability.
From these and her hard sell of all my work on her Instagram (thank you by the way), I’ve amassed more followers than I likely would’ve just by writing about how sad I felt one time. As can be expected by the target demographic, a lot of my followers were Autistics and Autistic advocates.
So… You’re Autistic, right?
If you’ve been following me the past year, you may remember I ended up furloughed from like April until August, so dedicated myself fully to working on the blog.
There were a few things that were notable during that time. The first was the major cringe of the “Post-Lockdown Oath”, a trend I tried to make that almost nobody got on-board with, and then there were the weekly lives me and Vicky held on her Instagram stories.
Both of these were keenly picked up by the Autistic community. I had people messaging me and thanking me for the idea of the Oath post. The lives garnered a lot of attention too. It started as two best friends needing a way to find structure and routine, and ended up in long chats and Q/A’s about particular topics.
As mentioned earlier on, because of all the work I was doing with Vicky, my follower count was flying up and mostly with Autistic followers. From here came some awkward moments where I would either get messages from followers asking me questions, or I would get offers to take part in projects intended for the Autistic community.
The one constant among it all, was they assumed I was Autistic. Now it’s something myself, Vicky and various others have talked about for years, but it’s always something I put off looking into. The reasoning is something I’ll dive into at a different time, but the point is that on paper, I was not.
This went on for long enough that I actually had to post a few messages screenshotted from my notes app, where I told people that yes I’m looking into it, but until I have proof, I will not say that I am. Not that self-diagnosis isn’t valid, it is, but I want authentic clarity.
In doing this, I felt myself push away almost, putting a wall up around the one thing I’d felt comfort from. Yes this was a community that made sense to me, everyone was nice and a lot of us thought the same. I wasn’t one of them though, I was a fraud, I was an outsider.
There were accounts I unfollowed, accounts I stopped talking to. I saw how people were acting and realised that maybe I’m not like them. I ended up in the position I am today, as I write this. Still trying to figure out who I am.
The truth is that I very well could be Autistic. I also could easily not be, and that’s the hardest part sometimes. I happen to fall into that weird category where if I told someone I was neurotypical, they’d believe it. If I told someone I was neurodivergent, they’d believe it.
I don’t regularly meltdown, I have lots of friends that I socialise with quite often, I like going outside and can work a normal 9-5 job. I like adventures and new things, I can live in a house by myself and for the most part, can pretty much maintain a regular life.
In the same breath, I get overwhelmed with loud noises, bright lights and too many people. I eat the same things constantly because I know what it is and I know how my body reacts to that food.
If I am mentally burnt out, I can’t always verbalise and will use nods or pointing to communicate. I tap my fingers to “stim” as it’s called and almost always will not look people in the eye when I talk to them.
I’m too normal to be different and too different to be normal. It’s something that’s bothered me for a long time and I’m still working on even now.
What’s the next step?
I really have no clue. Sorry if you were expecting a big conclusive paragraph of wisdom all about how things worked out and Mikey lived happily ever after. My reality is that I’m still not sure where I fit in, I still don’t understand how my brain works.
I’m at a point in my life, at 25 years old, where although I would like clarity of some kind, I’m pretty content in knowing that I am just me and that’s okay. I can’t change how my brain works and how I act, it’s who I am at my core.
I’ve had people tell me I might be Autistic, both neurotypical and divergent. I’ve also had people call me “stupid” and tell me that I’m “obviously not”.
All I know is what I’ve always known, and it’s that I am not like other people. I’m different, in whatever way that may be. Who knows what the truth is, I guess it’s something we’ll just have to find out in due time.
That seems like a good place to end it, on a personal cliff hanger. I’m sure as I go I will talk about this topic more, but that all depends on some circumstances that may or may not happen. Regardless, thank you for reading this long existential ramble of a madman. I appreciate all the support.
Post by Michael Sallabank.