Updated: Mar 22
My journey into my own autism, my own awareness at least, started in 2018 after spending a couple of years utterly consumed by reliving my childhood traumas and attempting to process them. I didn't choose this timing, but looking back it all makes sense. My kids were either grown or very clearly expressing their lack of desire for being "mothered", when a traumatic event in our family threw me violently into meltdown and subsequent all too familiar, months-long shutdown. I did not know those words then and it's a story I'm not prepared to share yet. Everyone lived and we did our best to carry on.
My grandson was three and showing some key indicators that he might be autistic. This led me to begin learning about what it actually means to be autistic (I was highly uninformed until then). I had only knowingly met two or three autistic people, all with severe comorbidities, learning disabilities, or mutism, but no one that resembled my grandson at all. Then there was a change in the algorithm or just the right click, and I found women... who seemed to resemble... me. I felt a spark of excitement that maybe I wasn't such a failure. Maybe I could still be someone even if it wasn't who I had planned for. Maybe it was okay that sometimes I shake so badly I have to hold my arms to my body, and maybe my constant swaying was actually somehow beautiful communication or processing. And maybe I don't have to communicate strictly with words to be acceptable. Maybe that's why he's so much like me.
In the process of coping with my new reality and re-establishing my previous existence, I turned to art. For weeks I couldn't make my pencil move, though. I couldn't make anything happen. I felt like a failed everything. A failed person. A failed Mom. A failed wife. A failed woman. Just failed.
Maybe I can start with doodling something to get my pencil moving? I wanted to doodle an autism symbol, but when I turned to Google my search turned up nothing. No autistic woman symbol. No autistic adult symbol, no symbol for me. At least, nothing that "fit". Could that really be true? Yep. Puzzling, isn't it?
I doodled around this clipboard for days listening to every video on autism I could find on YouTube. Some of them were so crushing to listen to, and definitely not me with the "high function" label. I couldn't eat or shower or talk to my family 99% of the time. I can't keep a friend or a job or often even leave the house. If you think that is "high functioning" or that everybody's a little bit "that way", well - I disagree and find it to be a very dismissive label too often used. The fact that I made it to 41 with such damaging disguises for "normal" should alarm you.
The realization of my own autism at 41 left me stunned and feeling robbed of the full life that I wanted, that I planned. Feeling like my kids were robbed of the mom they deserved only to receive a boatload of trauma they didn't deserve. There was grief and resentment. It was brutal. Without adequate support, this became a huge depressive, dissociative period closing with my partner breaking up with me and moving into the family room with his half of our bed.
I know he was trying to be supportive or charitable, but being dumped and still living together - because obviously I cannot take care of myself or my kids - was a crushing blow to me, again. It was an urgent situation because this was causing my brain to maintain the ongoing equivalent of an all out nuclear assault on my self-worth and preventing me from being able to function at all; "mask" as I now know it to be called.
We've split up before, actually divorced. I cannot bear to tell that story yet, but I will eventually.
So I'm 41, mom and grandma, 6th grade dropout with no family, no support system who also happens to be autistic. I just spent two years diving HARD into my trauma going back to childhood and thanks to a lifetime of depression, executive functioning issues, and shitty genetics; I have a mouth full of tooth decay preventing me from smiling or allowing my teeth to show. (Smiling was a huge factor of my previous masking). Reviewing all of my options, retreating to a cave or finding an abandoned cabin by a river to live out my days with the birds and lizards was greatly preferred to attempting to interview for, and obtain a job. I couldn't fake normal anymore.
I believe in magic and I believe that for some reason the Universe has "looked out" for me for a long time. What if this symbol matters and someone else out there cries just as I do for not knowing how to, struggling sometimes, to just exist? What if this symbol could make something that matters and could help me become self sustaining without the inevitable life shattering, sudden inability to anymore? What if I'm not the only one who might feel a little more real simply by identifying with a symbol? I needed to get "her" out to the world. So I set up my print-on-demand shop and social media accounts to give it a go.
The symbol that evolved from the original doodle is imperfect. Like me, and very likely, you. She shows some of the dents and scrapes life has left on her, even internally. I am part of her if you look close enough. She holds an infinite rainbow, much like the spectrum of both autism and femininity, perhaps also because her arms shake.
I powered through the executive dysfunction obstacles, and Social Media Anxiety, and established myself online. I timidly tried to promote myself on Facebook and Instagram and while I did receive lots of support and encouragement, (someone even got her tattooed!!) it proved to be short-lived when one of my posts with really wonderful interactions was deleted from a facebook group for autistic women and it crushed me. I shut down again and stopped interacting, online and off.
My "roommate" approached me about a job at the company he was working at that was in line with my skills, paid well, and was part time from home so I'd definitely be able to cope with and even excel at it. It was glorious! It also consumed all of my time and energy, even working strictly from home, so the standstill persisted on Autistic Feminine.
Twenty-three weeks after I started that job, I quit that job. Out of those twenty-three weeks, at that time, they were 12 weeks in arrears on paying me. More than half of my efforts had not been compensated. Oh yes, my "roommate" moved back in and became my boyfriend again during the twenty-three weeks somewhere, quieting the nuclear assault on my psyche for being undeserving of support. So, I was privileged enough to be able to endure this lack of compensation without more than a minor struggle. I used the eventual payment to complete major dental work I had already started (I can smile again), to the purchase of this domain, and some A/V equipment.
I decided, from my garage (where I hide all the time), that I want to exist and that there must be more like me. I might not know her, but somewhere there is an autistic girl, living and coping in some of the same ways and unable to speak of it, feeling unsupported and worthless. I want to create a circle of compassionate women who care about her. Who care about autism, trauma, and empowering other women. I want to combine our efforts to support her dreams and provide her with what we all deserve.
I want to create an engine that gives the autistic feminine the power to not only survive, but to thrive.
I felt a lot of guilt for "abandoning" AF, but the truth is, the time that passed allowed an idea that helped me, grow into an idea that might be able to help others in a bigger way than I could have imagined last year. So, no regrets - the timing is perfect.
I know we might seem somewhat exclusionary of men, and that's okay with me. I only want to exclude the men that would think Autistic Feminine excludes them.
We're here to serve the under-represented and amplify the voices of those who identify with Autistic Feminine. Please continue reading if you want to learn more about us and our plans.
High functioning my ass, I'm #AutisticAF
My long-term vision for Autistic Feminine includes:
- Forums For discussion, advice, and support. I see this as a segmented forum, part public, part closed for discussion of more personal or sensitive nature. I will be working on the logistics of maintaining a secure and safe forum in the coming weeks. - Blog This is my personal blog where I will be sharing my stories and perspective in hopes that it helps you to get to know me better. I plan to expand the blog by recruiting additional perspectives of the Autistic Feminine in the coming weeks. I prefer a panel or board of autistic women with varied backgrounds and experiences over mine alone. Want to contribute your voice? Send me a message to discuss!
-Gallery This will be a gallery of my original work. As we grow I'd like to see other autistic women's work as well as featuring a monthly Autistic Feminine artist to promote collectively. As membership grows, perhaps the addition of other galleries will be required. I'll let the membership and interest determine the course going forward.
-Shop The shop features Autistic Feminine designs, Autistic Pride gear, and some of my original paintings digitized for print. One of my goals with the shop is to eventually feature other Autistic Feminine creators. As we establish a panel to be the voice of AF, we'll come to decisions on how to adequately support such hosting and promotion to the maximum benefit of the artist. AF will never receive any portion of contributing artist sales.
-Resources The resources page will contain emergency resources, such as crisis hotlines as well as a safe alternative to the A$ results that most newly diagnosed auties get the first time they ask google to fetch results on autism. A "Welcome to your autism diagnosis, lady" sort of guide for women not able to identify with the all-too-frequently "boys only" criteria. The resources will be regularly updated and maintained to ensure accuracy and reliability. Content will be managed and maintained by the AF panel once established.