I’m frustrated and disheartened lately, because no matter how much I’ve owned up to past mistakes I’ve made, learned from them, changed my life to prevent myself from being in toxic/stressful situations, and moved on… there’s people out there who refuse to let me move on. And they express their derision with harsh words, fully intended to harm me and my livelihood.
Five to seven years ago, I had hit rock bottom. I was severely depressed, in an abusive marriage, reeling from my Father’s suicide, caught up in unhealthy family dynamics that resulted from it, and struggling to run a business that I had grown too big, too fast. I wasn’t eating, and my weight was down to 112 pounds and wearing a size 0 (I am 5’7″). I wasn’t sleeping, and my Doctor prescribed me strong medications to knock me out each night. I felt hopeless, and that I had nothing to live for, and nothing to lose. Every day I fought with suicidal ideation, or wanting to pack my Son and our belongings into the car, and drive as far away as we could possibly drive.
As a result of everything going on in my life, I made some mistakes while running my business. One customer/blogger, in particular, I completely lost it on after she left me a negative review even though I had personally assisted her and gone out of my way to help her. This was five years ago. I reacted impulsively, when I should have closed the laptop and done something proactive instead. I was very rude to her, and acted out of character and out of line. Afterwards, I felt deeply ashamed- because I knew in my heart that my anger was misdirected. The person I was most angry at was myself. For a long list of reasons, I was angry, and I felt trapped and unable to change the situation I was in.
I wanted to apologize to her, but I felt that it wouldn’t matter. The damage was already done. A close friend assured me that I could apologize, and that I should apologize. So I did. I sincerely apologized, with no excuses. She accepted my apology, and I felt much relieved. Five years (yes, five years!) have passed since that very dark time in my life, and I find it hard to believe that people are still rubbing my face in what happened with that customer, and using it to try to harm my reputation in my work- a reputation that I have worked extremely hard at repairing over the last five years. Over half a million people have viewed the blog post she wrote, in which I was very rude to her in the comments. The aftermath of my mistakes, and how I wrongly treated her have deeply impacted me, and I have learned from the mistakes I made that night a million times over. So why are people still using this against me?
At what point can we let people move on? It’s one thing if people are exhibiting the same behavior, making the same mistakes, and not doing anything to try to better their situation- people like this are not getting it. They aren’t learning from their mishaps. They aren’t owning up to the fact that they need to change. In contrast, I DID own up to my mistakes. I apologized, and took a long step back from social media. I filed for divorce, closed my business, and withdrew from any and all contact with the online community. I looked inward, long and hard at myself and the environment I was in, the situations that surrounded me, the feelings and emotions that triggered my anxiety, my depression, my despair, and my sensory issues. I faithfully attended therapy, worked hard at the exercises my therapist gave me each week, and read as much as I could of the books she recommended. I was voracious for knowledge, change and improvement. I lived an extremely quiet life for many years after that. And I still do live an extremely quiet life. Five years have passed since then, and I want nothing more than a quiet, peaceful life.
During that quiet time of deep introspection, I received my autism spectrum diagnosis. (“Oh, there she goes dropping the “A” word again, it must be some sort of excuse!” Please don’t go there, just don’t. It’s clearly not an excuse.) This allowed me to even more carefully look at my life and make the best possible decisions for me to not only learn from past situations, but to take preventative measures to change my life to be better suited to my neurology. I’ve never been a person to rest on her laurels- I am always pushing myself to improve whatever I can about my life, work, situation, environment- in any way I can. Autism is not an excuse, it is a reason. It is a reason for doing things a certain way- a way that is respectful and considerate of my neurological differences. It is a reason for looking back to the past so that I can learn from my mistakes and become a better person. Before my Autism diagnosis, I just thought I was a broken, hopeless person who couldn’t handle anything and who always had trouble with each and every day. I didn’t understand how or why things affected me, and I kept putting myself right back into the same disastrous situations. Out of the frying pan and into the fire I went, over and over again.
But not anymore.
In the past five years, I’ve turned my life upside down and shaken it so hard that just about everything fell out of it. I then picked up the broken pieces of my life and put them back together- carefully, methodically and with great thought- and always with an eye towards improvement and betterment. I’m not perfect, and there are times when I still buckle under the pressure due to uncontrollable outside forces, and life happening to fast, too loud and too sharply. There are times when I might write a store announcement that’s too wordy, or repetitive- but it’s just that- a wordy store announcement. It’s not a character flaw. I’m not hurting anyone, I’m not being rude, or disrespectful, or anything negative. (yet honestly- people will use my occasional wordy announcement as a reason to badmouth me, and make fun of my Autism, I kid you not!) Life constantly throws curveballs, and sometimes I have a bit of help in catching them, while other times I am completely on my own. But at least I now understand why these things affect me so deeply. At least I now understand that to a certain extent, I can control the environment I am in. I can make sure I properly care for myself, so that in the face of stress, I am well-rested, well-nourished, and well aware of the dynamics that could trigger a stress response or autistic meltdown.
Although I still deal with anxiety on a daily basis, I am no longer depressed. Depression is something I have fought with on and off since my early teens. It’s been this constant spectre, shadowing me as I moved through life. It may or may not be a coincidence, but my depression lifted within two years of my Autism diagnosis, and the subsequent chain even of monumental life changes that I began making shortly thereafter. Depression is insidious, because you don’t realize how much it is affecting you, and your thought processes. You don’t realize how much it has changed you from your core. You only realize this when you’ve been lifted out of the depressive state, and you’re left hoping that it never happens again. I am most grateful for being depression-free right now, because it has given me the clarity and the insight to truly be able to learn from my past mistakes, regardless of the circumstances under which they occurred. It has thankfully, allowed me to see the past tumultuous decade of my life through a different lens… because I am determined to not repeat my past circumstances.
There are people out there who think I use Autism as an excuse. Specifically, that I use Autism as an excuse to not do better in my life or business. That I don’t push myself to be a better person or run a better business because Autism is some sort of “get out of jail free card” and to this stance I call complete and utter bullshit. Those of you writing this gossip-laden trash about me on the internet don’t know me in person. You don’t know who I am, or what the last five years of life have been like. People can change, and they do change. Obviously you haven’t changed, as five long years have passed and you’re still writing rude and belittling things about someone you’ve never even met in person. Here’s what I’d like to tell you… People are capable of incredible feats of introspective growth, and I refuse to sit back and not speak up for myself here on my own blog space. I’ve done nothing but work towards becoming a better person, a better Mother, a better teacher, a better business owner, a better… well, a better everything. And I still have a long way to go, because that’s just how I roll. I am constantly and persistently trying to think of ways to improve. This blog is a testament to that. This blog is about my journey. And if after reading this you still think I’m using Autism as an excuse, then you’re not looking closely enough, because it’s all right there in black, green and white.
No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Some people fall, some people crash and burn. It’s not about the fall, crash or burn. It’s about how people handle it when they stand back up, dust themselves off, and move on… it’s about learning, growing, and perpetually reaching for more. That’s what life is about to me.