Today is a day filled with deep emotions. Today is a day filled with a profound awe. This day, above all others, is a day that I don't fully understand. What is today? Today is my birthday and I am now 28 years old.
I said today is filled with emotions and it is. That hasn't always been the case as when I was a child there was nothing I looked forward to more than my birthday. I won't bore you with the memories I have of birthdays before 2004 as I believe there is a connection between that year and every one since then.
In December 2003 I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and my life slowly started to unravel. I started to question who I was and it seemed all that I wanted to be would never happen. The relationship I had with Emily vanished shortly thereafter and my birthday in 2004 was my first birthday realizing that I was on the autism spectrum. That day was bad enough, but I also ended up in the hospital. I managed to knock myself out by falling off the end of the bowling alley. It was my 21st birthday, but alcohol was not involved. While in the ER, the doctor's stethoscope fell out of his pocket and landed across my eye swelling it shut. It wasn't a good day.
Each year after 2004 my birthday became a more depressing day. With each passing year I didn't see who I was but rather I saw who I was not. It seemed to be that my birthday became the day of all days that I realized I was on the autism spectrum.
I began to see each year as a year wasted. I would ask myself, "Why can't I just go out and be normal? Why can't I go out and not shut down when more than one person is around? Why is today not like it was in the past? Why can't I just be happy?" These questions would just swirl around my mind on my birthday, and in fact the whole month leading up to my birthday. By the time my birthday rolled around I was a sobbing mess of a person just waiting for February 5th to come to give me relief from these crushing thoughts.
As bad as my birthday was I had a hard time putting it into words and I don't think I could put into words why my birthday hurt so badly.
Once again, today is my birthday but as I woke up something was missing that had been there the past seven February 4ths; I was not a sobbing mess. The memories of birthdays of old weren't a crushing weight on my mind and the relationships long gone aren't haunting me to the level that they used to.
Why is today so different? I fully believe the difference is that I know my calling now. I am able to see past the "who I am not" to see "who I am". Even last year I was a mess on my birthday and I gave my first small presentation with TouchPoint. I was just part time at this point of the year last year, and I had just been giving presentations to police officers, but I still was not happy with who I was. Even though I was working on my third book I still was just stating my observations of who I was and while I was somewhat hopeful there was not the sense of happiness I have now.
It had to be the 100 or so presentations I have done and all the readers I have world wide on this blog that helped turn the tide. Even as I started this blog I was not fully content with who I was, but now I feel confident in my shortcomings, and even more confident in my strengths. Year after year I just focused on what wasn't when I didn't realize what was. Spectrum or not, life would be a depressing event if one only focused on the what isn't. I know now it is things we struggle with that make us who we are. For years after my diagnosis I was not happy with who I was. My birthday was the ultimate reminder to me of who I wasn't and I was a mess on those days, but I now see that it was those days, as I reflect now, that challenged me. It has taken a long time, but I am now happy about all the tears I have shed on my birthday because it helped shape who I am now and has let me, perhaps, change the world and allowed people a new understanding of the autism spectrum. For once it is my birthday and I am not seeing the "who I am not" part of my life, instead I am looking at "who I will become".