This is a piece I have been meaning to do for quite some time now. Even though I am working with a small audience at the time this is posted, I still want people to hear my story.
As part of #autismacceptancemonth2018, I want to share my story ironically entitled "Puzzled: Confessions of a Socially Awkward Autistic Girl". Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Caitlin Meleski, I am 22 years of age, and I have high-functioning Aspergers Syndrome.
I was diagnosed at the age of four. For me, I was being normal. Just a happy little baby playing with her toys and watching Blue's Clues on repeat in the family room. However, my parents knew there was something different about me, whether it would later develop into a blessing or a curse. My autism diagnosis didn't affect me growing up. I was a happy girl with a solid group of friends to call my own. For a moment, life was a beautiful fantasy land and I didn't want to wake up.
When I started middle school, I needed to take special education classes and had to take standardized tests in a separate room. Reasons so is because my fragile mind can only take so much and once I'm over my limit, I break down and cry uncontrollably with no intention of stopping. These types of moments were embarrassing to me, especially when I do it in front of my classmates, who would then proceed to make me the butt of every single one of their jokes, behind my back I may add. I never really took notice of how people really think of me. I have always thought people would see me as a person, regardless of my disability....
....it wasn't until my first two years of high school when I finally woke up from my fantasy world and entered the harsh reality. My cell phone was stolen and my once loyal group of friends were snooping through my personal belongings and were secretly talking about me behind my back. Since then, I became that kid in high school who would either sit alone at a lunch table....or on the filthy floor of the handicapped bathroom stall. I spent my nights crying myself to sleep because both my loyalty and trust have been tested....and broken. My anxiety had slowly developed into depression and I had to figure out how to move forward on my own.
Then, during my junior year of high school, I finally found my rehab: my high school theater troupe. I have been meaning to join since I started high school but auditions haven't been all that great and I didn't live up to the standards of the more-experienced members. I have always been a fanatic of theatrics since I was kid and playing a character helped rebuild my confidence and relived my stress. During my time in the theater club, I had developed a crush on a senior member who was also on the spectrum. One random day, he came up to me and he straightforwardly asked me to prom. Of course I said yes in a heartbeat, but I was also shocked because I never imagined some guy asking me, out of all the other pretty girls trying to become life-sized Barbie dolls, to be his date to the prom. Everything was great until I told him I loved him....and he told me we should just be friends (#friendzoned). I was heartbroken.
After graduating high school, I decided not to go to college right away and attended SUN Area Technical Institute. It was at their Advertising Art and Design course where I learned hands-on how to use Illustrator and Photoshop. It wasn’t easy at first, to be honest. Being one of the two students in that class who have already graduated as the institute is intended for high school seniors was intimidating. I was upset at the fact that all my friends are starting their lives while I felt like I was stuck behind. Some of the students in my class REALLY hated me at first too! One student vandalized one of my drawings by writing mean autistic slang terms all over it while another made really harsh comments about my disability. My anxiety and depression have returned and I literally wanted to walk away from that building and never return because of that experience. But, as the year moves on, I was able to prove them wrong when my artwork started gaining praise and winning awards and scholarship money. I left SUN Tech with the second-highest GPA in the class!
During my time at SUN Tech and before I started college, I was dating another autistic boy. He was a longtime friend who I’ve kind of avoided during high school due to scheduling conflicts and I didn’t want to be near anyone since I broke up with my old group of friends. He was my first boyfriend and I had ZERO experience when it comes to dating since having a boyfriend was the last thing I never thought I have (I didn’t get my first kiss until I was 18!). We never did anything crazy but I remembered him telling me time and time again that he wanted us to be more than "just dating". I didn't know what he meant when he said that at the time, but I knew I was uncomfortable by what he wants from me; however, I remained loyal to him because I didn't want to be the one who ends the relationship. Then, after almost two years of dating, I begin to experience déjà vu when my loyalty and trust is once again slowly starts to deteriorate. My first boyfriend begins to isolate me from my social life, my family, and my schoolwork. I was literally at a fork in the road and there were two different paths where I am only allowed to follow one: either continue this dark path where I'm blindly being pulled by someone who claims he loves me to an unfortunate destination or follow the path where I know where I'm heading even if it means going there alone. In the end, I chose the second path when I found out he wanted me to give up on my budding graphic design career entirely.
So many thoughts have flooded my mind since the break-up. How many people's trust I must regain. The things that I lost I must find. What new way I can think of to convince myself to get out of bed each morning. Sometimes I wonder if I am even worthy of living in this world. Would it even make a difference? Would it change anything? Would anyone even care if I was gone? I ask myself these questions to the strange girl I see with beat red eyes and cheeks with a sea of tears shedding down her face every time I look at the mirror in my bedroom. I know that's not the case. All it would ever do is make things worse not only for me, but for every person I have came across who actually came to terms with who I am and define me as a regular human being, not some girl with a disability. Now every time I see this girl in the mirror, I tell her that it's not about how many times you fall that matters, it's how many times you are willing to get back up (I know that quote's a little cheesy but it's true).
Fast-forward to today, I enjoy being a graphic design major/theater minor at Susquehanna University. Yes, my professors do understand my autism diagnosis; but I know for a fact that they aren’t going to sugar-coat the truth from me. I continue to find some type of balance in my life, but I do have some type of goal as I want my artwork to go forward into the world and maybe do some poster designs on Broadway.
The drawing is entitled: "Please Stand By". As someone in the autism spectrum, we take some time to process what it going on in this world and too much information can overwhelm us, leaving us paralyzed and confused. This also however leaves us disconnected to what surrounds us. We are just as scared and bruised as the rest of the world, yet we have fingers pointed at us for being complicated and dramatic over everything.
Autism may have turned me into a malfunctioning automaton with zero control of my body and mind, but that doesn't define me as a person. Period.