“You didn’t speak until you were four years old, and after that, you never stopped talking” says my grandfather jokingly. For autistic people, it’s relatively common to start speaking much later (currently, there’s no scientific explanation as to why, but the pattern is strong. Certainly, it’s important to note that if a child starts speaking later, it doesn’t automatically mean they are autistic!). No one paid attention to the problem in my case at that time, and it was assumed that I simply had nothing important to say.

And now I have so much to say that the word “yapper” could be tattooed on my forehead.

If it were only about words… my need for expression bursts from every direction. As a child, I was theatrical and playful, vividly living out my fantasy world, bothering everyone with endless energy, climbing, jumping, drawing, singing. “Sit down for a moment” and “that’s enough for today!” were typical phrases, and increasingly there were “girls don’t behave like that,” “don’t bother others,” “sit nicely,” “you can’t wear those clothes,” and “you’re all dirty again!”. Constant restrictions and shame, restrictions and shame, until… I stopped doing those things. I put on my headphones and drew. All my energy and my very crazy inner world needed an outlet, but the world didn’t want to accept it. And I went silent. I didn’t talk anymore. I had a lot to say, but I had to live it all inwardly. Because all the messages I received ended up in the same pile:

“There’s too much of you.”

And I made myself smaller, more compact, more likable. This is the fate of many autistic and ADHD people, especially women. Because the goal is to be pleasing to others in order to survive in society. This is how people-pleasers are born, who will do anything to make sure the people around them always feel good, at the expense of their own well-being. In the end, no one is happy: the people-pleaser is unhappy because they can’t be themselves and fulfill their needs in the relationship, and the other person quickly loses interest because it becomes apparent that the first person is quite… fake.

And so we disappear into loneliness, making ourselves even smaller and smaller. Until we disappear completely. And that’s how I disappeared too. Because the biggest problem with this process is that everyone says to be yourself… but if you haven’t been able to find out who you are, because you’ve been put down and shamed from a young age, who is this “Me”? And starting this process in strong adulthood is quite a challenge!

But! If you take this challenge as a game, trying to remember what it felt like as a child to try and discover new things when there was no shame… then exciting things start to happen! Of course, letting go of all that shame, so you don’t die of your own “cringe” needs its own attention. Of course, there’s a fair amount of grief, wondering why I have to unlearn the unnecessary tools taught to me that shamed me, while others… just get to live?? I can comfort you by saying that everyone has their own mental obstacles they stumble upon throughout their lives. What makes it harder for us is that we have had special needs all our lives, and generally, our “people-pleaser era” ends when we are totally burned out… so there are too many damn balls to juggle at once!

The joy, the joy of self-discovery and the process is indeed worth the work. Because if at one end there’s losing yourself (first mentally and unfortunately in many cases eventually physically) and at the other end there’s finding out who you really are… from there comes self-love and cool hobbies and loving people and opportunities. Because autistic people and people with ADHD have so many cool traits and skills that are so unique to us. If autistic people have many more connections between neurons than allistic people, and ADHD people can grab inspiration from thin air… then why aren’t we celebrating these incredibly cool differences? What do you mean there’s too much of me… I’m an idea generator! A problem solver! An artistic soul! An emotional rainbow! Life is like a music video where I see sounds, understand colors, and get inspiration from the textures of life.

Although it is sometimes hard to admit that “too much” doesn’t exist, now it becomes clear that to feel and experience the world in such a wealth of colors is fantastic! Of course, it’s also exhausting, but by pressing myself into a box… you can throw me off the balcony in that box.