Colourful, vibrant, exhilarating. Exhausting, draining, overwhelming. These words all describe the emotional experience of being autistic for me. In fact, there are lots more words because being autistic can really feel like - well - a lot, pretty much all of the time.
The first thing that sprang to mind for this year’s Autism Acceptance Week theme of ‘colour’ is that life - for me at least - is always in technicolour; there is no grey. My emotional tapestry is stitched from multiple threads of super intense shades of joy, anger, sadness, fear and love.
Over my 4 decades, this has led to me being labelled a ‘drama queen’, ‘attention seeker’ and ‘mental’ many times. None of which I am: I long for a quiet, steady life. Yet I accept that’s probably very unlikely with all that goes on in my head. At least, the neurotypical idea of a ‘quiet life’ is pretty unrealistic for me but I am building my own neurodivergent, actualised life for me and my kid that has some quieter moments (we definitely need our rest).
Because I am not ‘normal’ nor will I ever be (and neither do I want to be). I have truly accepted that what others might view as my ‘over-reactions’ are simply a combination of hyper-sensitivity and processing differences, which means I get the privilege to really feel absolutely everything.
And you know what? For all the times I’ve felt such terror, loss or pain I thought it would overwhelm me, it never really has. Plus I have a direct line into absolute delight and freedom when I’m in the right environment that I would never want to lose. I have never been able to be anything other than what I am or feel what I feel (no matter how many times anybody told me to ‘chill out’). I have - of course - subconsciously masked for most of my life but that’s been more of a toning down than a total disguise.
It’s taken a long time and a lot of work - talking therapy, journalling, yoga, meditation, somatic therapy and multiple other things - to reach a place where I truly accept myself. A great deal of that work was spent unpicking the threads of judgement, shame and rejection weaved into the fabric of my being from everyone else’s reactions to me. If I’m honest, I’m still working on a few of those threads - unmasking for me is a complicated, slow disentanglement.
It doesn’t feel safe to do it any more quickly because the world is not an entirely safe place to be autistic. There is still a lot of judgement and fear of being autistic, mostly grounded in ableist notions and neurotypical standards. It’s a constant challenge to engage with a world that isn’t designed for us, which we are expected to conform to. We would love for you to accept us as we are and make accommodations for us so we can co-exist more easily together, without having to dim our brightness because we are ‘too much’ for you.
True acceptance isn’t an overnight process, it’s a slow, gradual labour. It’s a labour I believe to be fundamentally vital for autistic humans but also for everyone; the more we accept each of us in our true colours - in our most vibrant shades - the more human we all get to be, exactly as we are.
About Holly Sutcliffe & the Speakers Collective
Holly is a neurodivergent advocate who works with neurodivergent families using yoga, spirituality, embodiment and somatic therapy for liberation. Do contact us if you would like to speak or run a workshop for your future events at email@example.com.
The Speakers Collective is a Social Enterprise. We work together with a shared commitment to challenge stigma, facilitate important conversations and promote learning on a variety of social issues. Please do contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 8123 8250 with any enquires.