According to the laws of time progression, I am now 26 years old.
I had intended to write a birthday blog on my actual birthday (Saturday), but unfortunately the universe decided to give me a taste of my ‘closer to 30 than 20’ future – I twisted my lower back whilst walking the dogs and spent my birthday weekend laid up on the couch.
With my upcoming transition to the second half of my twenties, I was already set on doing an introspective piece on where I am with my life and the intricacies of aging as a queer autistic woman. The ‘you’re not as young as you think you are’ nature of my current injury only reinforces that this is a discussion I would like to have.
I have a nasty habit of comparing where I am at 26 to where other people are/were at 26. This is an objectively terrible idea regardless of who you are and where you are in your life, and particularly so if you are autistic.
There’s something culturally shameful about telling people that you are 26 and still living at home with your parents, or that you’re 26 and haven’t had a proper relationship with another person, or that you’re 26 and still need an adult (a more ‘adultier’ adult, as I’ve been known to say) with you for appointments, or that you’re 26 but can’t sleep without an array of soft toys with you in bed.
When you’re surrounded by images of people you went to school with, and they have husbands, and wives, and children, and houses, and £30,000-per-year plus careers, it’s incredibly difficult to not feel that you have failed to keep up. As much as I adore social media, the constant proliferation of other people and their more ‘by the book’ neuerotypical lives can make me, as a person with different and perhaps more extensive support needs, feel as though I’m stuck in the realm of disappointment and irresponsibility.
It’s that niggling reminder that former schoolmate Norbert Neurotypical – with his job in a bank and his house and his wife and his baby and his mortgage and his vegetable couscous lunch – probably doesn’t have uncontrollable meltdowns that leave him hiccuping in the corner hugging a giant plushy Bulbasaur and having to be soothed out of it by his mother from the room next door. Knowing that just makes me feel like a fraud, playing at this idea of being an adult (with my job, and my commute, and my bank account) without actually being at the same level as everyone else.
It was difficult enough when I first got my diagnosis at 23 (almost exactly three years ago). Even then, I was considered a bit ‘old’ to be doing all these weird autistic things. But there was at least some understanding from people if they could see I was struggling – I was still relatively young-looking, and could come across as vulnerable enough in those moments that people could be persuaded to have some sympathy.
Now I’m a hulking great big adult who doesn’t really pass for a young adult or adolescent anymore. And the less young I look, the more trouble I have with people staring, laughing, judging, and lacking in basic empathy.
I’m very fortunate that I have autistic friends and acquaintances in their 30s, 40s and beyond – people I look up to, people I admire, and people who have experienced the bumpiness of Ageing Whilst Autistic far better and for far longer than I have. I have amazing people I can speak to about their experiences, many of whom did not even get their diagnosis until into so-called middle age.
They didn’t have that. And because they fought through that, I now do have it. For that I am incredibly, un-endingly thankful. And the best thing that I can do is look to the generation below me as these wonderful people have looked to me.
The fact is, when I sit back and look at the situation logically, I don’t give a damn that I’m still living with my parents at 26. In fact, I actively eschew the cultural expectation that once you reach a certain age you should move out or be forever marked as a failed adult. Throughout human history, and across the globe today, generations live together in order to provide mutual care and split the burdens financially and emotionally. It makes sense on several levels, and it makes sense for my family.
I am an adult. I am independent. I am just independently adulting in my own unique way.
Everybody is different. Everybody has different speeds, different bumps in the road, different shortcuts along the way, and different twists and dents in the framework of our vehicle (both as we start and as we travel along).
I am where I am with the means and resources available to me. And I’m proud of where I am. It may not be where society has dictated I should be, but it’s definitely where the universe wants me to be. I don’t know what the future will bring – I only know that I’m in a place that feels like the right place for me in this moment.
Am I worried about the future? I am. Of course I am. But I hope to be able to follow in the footsteps of the many autistic people who have fought so that I could have had the opportunities I have today. And, by doing that, maybe I can be a part of the next step towards the younger generation having a better time of it than me.
The world needs to hear the voices of autistic people. Particularly the voices of autistic women. It needs to hear our voices when we’re young. And it definitely needs to hear our voices as we get older.
And I only plan to get louder as the years keep coming.