Written by Jac Lai
Parts of me filled with anger and despair, equally intertwined, fluctuating throughout my body. How I craved to be part of that, connected to that …
Reflections of my adolescence, come back to me from time to time. Sometimes fleeting, sometimes so vivid I can still taste my favourite chicken and salad roll from the tuckshop, on my tongue. Memories are bittersweet, often on the more bitter end of the spectrum, filled with moments of hopelessness, loneliness, and despair. Why did I keep having to forsake my true self, for a version of ‘me’ I often didn’t understand or even like? There were moments of hope, of glee, where I finally thought I had found someone that knew me. (It did happen!)
Adolescence is a time of separation from what we have previously known, so is often turbulent and unpredictable. Of course, teenage brains are programmed to seek alternate forms of acceptance and understanding. This is from peers most of the time, a skill very much needed to navigate the world when they become adults. Yet, what no one tells you is how incredibly isolating it can be, how incredibly challenging it is to find where you fit, how incredibly despairing it can be to keep trying, without success.
The most painful memory – where it became very clear that I was in fact quite different from my peers – was at a party full of my co-workers from my part-time job. My parents were my ride, dropping me off and wishing me a fun time.
What no one really knew was how much it took me to step out of the car, how long I practiced conversations in my bedroom, how much my fingers bled as I picked them to stim and quell my anxiety on the car ride to the party.
Once at the party, I walked in, obtained a drink (I think I did?), and commenced the dance of pretending I knew how to be a typical, socially-apt adolescent. After standing quietly for a while, I proceeded to sit at the table, where there were a few familiar faces. Of course, I thought to myself. They know me, they will talk to me, they know what to say, I don’t! This was the quintessential moment! I was not alone, and I was surrounded by my peers. Desperate for connection, desperate to be accepted, yet desperate to escape.
I sat, and the longer I sat, the deeper I was pulled into the pit within my stomach. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. Where do I go? How do I start a conversation? The constant questions in my mind, exhausting me. The pit becoming deeper, sucking me into its depth.
My eyes were suddenly wet, as I sprinted to the front of the house, alone once more, in the darkness, just like the darkness from the depths of my stomach. Desperate for a lift home, my Mum saved me. I cannot express how grateful I am to this day, for the lift home that night.
I hope I haven’t pulled you into the depths with me, yet this was my adolescence – unfinished conversations, smiles unreciprocated, end of year journals with minimal signatures. I learnt to hide, I learnt be quiet, I learnt to stay safe in the library or toilet block.
Yet I still had hope because I knew I would find my people, others who I shared an unwavering bond, others who I did not have to pretend for, hide for, mask for. And I did find my people, who I love very deeply and fiercely protect.
Remember – you will find your people too. They will love you; they will protect you. It takes time, but at the end of the day, these people, who are so much like you, are the ones worth waiting for.
Jac Lai is a 38-year-old Autistic female, finding her own way in life. She is a mum, book lover, nature lover, and an avid animal lover (mostly horses, wolves, and cats). She is currently studying her Masters of Autism at Griffith University and is a Program Designer and Trainer at Empower Autism, designing programs for Autistic individuals and raising awareness of Autistic people in workplaces. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Reframing Autism team would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we have the privilege to learn, work, and grow. Whilst we gather on many different parts of this Country, the RA team walk on the land of the Birpai, Awabakal, Wattamattagal, Whadjak, Amangu, Bunurong and Kaurna Yarta peoples.
We are committed to honouring the rich culture of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of this Country, and the diversity and learning opportunities with which they provide us. We extend our gratitude and respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to all Elders past, present, and emerging, for their wisdom, their resilience, and for helping this Country to heal.