A Life Illuminated

My name is Hugh Willis. I am autistic.

Having an autism spectrum diagnosis and changing my life narrative has been a difficult journey of self-discovery. Acceptance of my neurodiversity allows me to view my personality traits of seeking knowledge, demonstrating an unconventional sense of humor, and having quirky needs– once seen as negative by those whom I considered peers– are now encouraged, shared, and understood by those who see in me a peer.

Changing my self-narrative from one of a neurotic person who did not fit in with my peers to a self-narrative of a neurodiverse person with manageable needs, who is part of a community of peers with common interests and goals, has helped me to be okay with myself and being autistic AF.

As a young person, I was ridiculed for my special interests.  One in particular was my desire to understand how everything worked. This desire has always drawn me towards physics and specifically the unknown nature of black holes. My drive to learn new things was stifled by my parents and peers for being too annoying, too fringe, too destructive of property, and generally just too misunderstood.  Too much.

Fire is hot, there is no need to understand why it is hot. That is the typical response I would receive.

Eventually, I put aside my intellectual aspirations for just trying to fit in with my peers. I studied and attempted emulation; unfortunately there was always something slightly “off” with my interpretation of what was normal, and I was rejected. Now that I have been diagnosed and have been starting to understand myself, I have found myself amongst intellectual peers who drive competition in a healthy way, stimulating self-improvement and self-understanding in a supportive manner.

I, like many of my new-found peers, also have had difficulties with my sense of humor. I have gone through several attempts at making my peers laugh. Many of the styles of humor I found others using, I tried to emulate. Once again, not performing with the same nuances as others, my jokes were misinterpreted as mean, offensive, or impractical. 

Finding a community of like-minded individuals has allowed me to embrace my awkward, quirky sense of humor and has (hopefully) ended my streak of losing people from my life because dealing with me is too much work.

Perhaps the most substantial shift in perspective has been that my quirky needs are no longer something I need to hide from others. My personality has been called strange, quirky, pompous, know-it-all, and full of hubris.

I constantly question what others tell me in order to better understand or confirm that I, indeed, do understand the point another is attempting to make.  In the past, this made people angry or frustrated. I use schedules to maintain normalcy in my life, and I have difficulties adapting when others impede or change my plans. These are just a few of the idiosyncrasies that make most others uninterested in maintaining a relationship with me.

Since finding an open, understanding community of fellow autistics, I have been accepted, personality quirks and all.  What I previously perceived in negative light, I can now accept.  For those aspects of my personality which felt “broken” before, I feel that with practice, foresight, and mindfulness, I can cope.

My daily challenges are supported by my new peers. And when needed, my fellow aspies—who have been where I am—are there to provide judgement-free, empathetic advice about how to manage our esoteric needs.

My life has ultimately changed for the better since learning I am autistic. Accepting myself for who I am has allowed me to be happy with myself.  I read physics books, think about how physics relates to our everyday lives, and have friends with whom I can converse about concepts I only read and thought about privately in the past.

I now feel free to post memes from the internet I feel are funny and get interaction from others who share my sense of humor; or, even if not shared, who start a conversation about something real… no small talk required.

When I am dealing with a problem I would normally have internalized, I now have an outlet for discussion and support from people who do not scold me for my needs and who give helpful suggestions to situations I need help with understanding.

The culmination of understanding the life of miscommunications and failures has illuminated a forgotten path of my youth: to be autodidactic for the simple enjoyment of understanding how things work.

This change in self-perspective comes at an auspicious time for this avid science fiction fan, as these life-long questions are finally being answered when I reach level 42.

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