I remember just standing there asking why it had to be me. Joanna was the only person outside of my home I had ever really been friends with, and now I would not be able to be in her class or see Jessica at recess.
I can still see her face even now, with her blue eyes and dark hair in a ponytail, and two wheeler bike she let me use as I clumsily taught myself to ride. I was so young, I don’t even know how to spell her name.
‘It has to be you,’ my mom said, ‘She can’t handle it and you can. You will make new friends. You can’t stay in afternoon kindergarten. Jessica needs to stay.”
I felt the real me slide into an inner shell I am most safe in even further, so I could adapt again. The internal turmoil….I did not make new friends. Very soon, I would be staring out the back window of the family van moving for the third time in six years, sliding further and further into a safe place. A place that was quiet and safe, where the world around me just turned off and allowed me to feel at home.
There is so very much I want to tell you as you are driving off to Florida right now. I know you are only six. The moving doesn’t stop here.
By the time you are 30, you will have moved residences more than 25 times. You will have been homeless twice. You will be laid off from jobs, live in poverty, become physically disabled, live through trauma and abuse on multiple fronts, grapple with mental illness that is misdiagnosed for more than a decade, be held responsible for so many things that are just not your fault and much, much more. Life is going to hurl so much at you, and at the age of six, it already has. You already know and have seen so much more than your experience with Joanna shows – so much more that you and I both know made indelible marks on who we are going to become.
I know this life seems more and more like a state of functional catatonia (I know you are six, so functional catatonia is like an alive zombie who doesn’t eat brains). It’s almost like you aren’t there, but you are. You do what you are told and then are in trouble for doing it, or not doing it, or doing it wrong. Then people tell you you are to blame simply for being you.
People will continue to do this to you. No matter where you go my love. Yes. I love you. The reason is simple. People don’t know what to make of you or they must keep you down because they lack the ability to balance their own lives. They don’t know what it means to care about others without bounds. You do, even if you do not know how to show it in your emotions the way other people want you to.
That’s right. They will blame you because you are awesome. You make mistakes too, but everyone does. You are still awesome.
You are really brilliant. You don’t realize it, because people tell you not to say so, or they tell you that everyone can do things you are able to do…but they can’t. You have an amazing memory. I am writing a letter to you, my six year old self, based on vivid memories 26 years later. In reality, I could have written to my three year old self, but I chose you because you can actually read. You do some other crazy smart things…you hold copyrights and write books, but why ruin the surprise for you? 😉 (oh, computers are super big now, that’s me winking at you, turn your head to the side so you can see it)
You have courage. You learn to stand up for yourself and others when no one else will. You will fight and beat cancer. You will fight against people who abuse you and others. You will take chances on yourself and be willing to look deeper with others. When you make mistakes, you will not hide. One time, you actually told a boss that if they thought you did awful work that they should fire you (they did not fire you, but you also are brutally honest sometimes…), because you believe in quality versus appearances.
You have heart. I can’t stress this enough. You just don’t give up. In many ways this will hurt you to the depths of your soul. In other ways, it will enrich your life beyond measure. Those who understand it will show you solidarity, those who don’t may find you foolish- don’t change who you are for either group of people.
You are not cold. People will call you this. A lot. They will call you this because you have learned to be a Chameleon. Your exterior color changes. Your facial expressions do not, because you don’t know how to change them. When people say to you, “You are just like you used to be,” or, “That person screwed you over, why are you still acting the same???” it is because any changes made are internal. One day you will learn that you do not have to be a chameleon. You can be who you are inside AND out without fear of repercussion. We are 32 and not there yet, but maybe when we are 60, we will write to you and let you know.
You are autistic. You knew you were different from the beginning and didn’t know why. The world will catch up to you, and you will be diagnosed when you are 31. It will all make sense.
A couple of final notes that you should know:
You do get married to a very handsome man-he is your world and is not who you expect. He is your King and you are his Queen.
You are still freaked out by hugs but are trying. Your husband is the only person who you hug without any issue. The same goes with kissing, which you still avoid aside from your husband.
You do not become a doctor. Hospitals smell too much.
You stay very good at singing and you still like to dance without abandon when no one is around.
Nana still talks about Bagels a lot more than one person should.
Celery/wool/bad smells/Barbies/NKOTB dolls/aggressive dogs are still avoided, detested, hated or mocked.
With so much love,
Jocelyn Eastman was born October 21st 1983 with twin sister Jessica. Jessica was diagnosed as autistic at a young age, whereas Jocelyn was not diagnosed until 2015. She is currently known for authoring There Will Always Be Love, a children’s book about a sister who asks a lot of questions about autism and for being in the documentary The Sandwich Kids. She is also a contributing author to Easy to Love But Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories, Autism World Magazine, and former radio show host for Innersight Freedom Foundation and ANCA. She has traveled around the country with her family speaking about autism and will be in the upcoming documentary Normal People Scare Me Too .
Jocelyn has a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics and a Master’s Degree in Education from Fairleigh Dickinson University and has worked with students of all ages. Jocelyn is a jack of all trades. She enjoys sports, traveling and spending time with her family and friends. In her spare time, she enjoys tutoring, providing free respite care when she is physically able and spending time with her husband, Andrew.
The Art of Autism is accepting Dear Me letters from autistic people and their parents for an ongoing Dear Me Project. Email theartofautism @ gmail.com
As someone else who was diagnosed outrageously late (at age 31) in my case, I salute you.
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