(Warning: This video contains strong language.)
Comedian Hannah Gadsby begins her new show, Douglas, by telling her audience what to expect. “This way I can meet your expectations–or alter them,” she says with a smile. Gadsby goes on to say that partway through the show, “The lights will come in, I’ll sit on this stool here, and there’ll be a ‘big reveal’.” The big reveal is that she has autism.
I sat there, gobsmacked. For most of her life, Gadsby didn’t know she was on the spectrum. Wow. And despite having autism–or perhaps because of it–she has become very successful.
Slowly over the next two days, I began to connect the dots. Like others I know who have autism, I can be intensely focused on a special interest and instantly upset when plans get changed unexpectedly. I can be blunt and unaware of other people’s feelings.
When I expressed my suspicions to a couple of friends, they listened compassionately without questioning me. I was onto something.
Two online tests I completed indicated that I may have borderline high-functioning autism. In those tests, I saw more evidence of autism: I tend to notice and get disturbed by small sounds that others may not notice or care about. I have difficulty putting myself in another person’s shoes. It takes effort to be a good diplomat. I somehow get into tricky or complicated situations. It takes me longer than others to get a joke.
As a longtime ally to a loved one with autism, I know that people on the spectrum can learn to compensate for these tendencies, and I have. But it takes effort. I need more time and calmness to get there.
When I talked about my revelation with my spiritual director, I cried through most of the session. She asked me about my tears.
“I’m relieved to understand why some things are so hard for me and what contributed to hurtful events,” I said, then teared up again. “And I feel such compassion from God. I’m not selfish, as I have believed for so long. I’m just wired differently.”
I went on to say that I can see how being wired this way has been a gift. “Being on the spectrum has helped me write my blog vulnerably without being held back by how my words might affect others.”
Living with integrity means I need to be an ally and lovingly present to myself now as I see myself and the world through new eyes. I sense such tenderness from God who calls all created things good.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
–Psalm 139:13-14a (NIV)
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“Kei Miller’s poem ‘Book of Genesis’ asks us to imagine a God who makes things spring into life specifically for us,” writes Pádraig Ó Tuama in Poetry Unbound. “Just as the poet of Genesis proclaims, ‘Let there be,’ Miller wonders what freedom and flourishing we’d find in imagining a ‘Let’ pronounced not for the person others say we should be, but for the person we are.” Click here to listen to Ó Tuama read and comment on this “Poem for Letting Yourself Be.” Miller, who was born and raised in Jamaica, is a professor of English and creative writing at the University of Exeter. His books of poetry include The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, winner of the Forward poetry prize, There Is an Anger That Moves, and A Light Song of Light. His novels include The Last Warner Woman and most recently, Augustown.