After almost three decades of fighting a never-ending battle with my brain, I found out that I was autistic earlier this year. All it took was a global pandemic and moving to a city where I knew no one in a national lockdown for me to notice that the cycles of anxiety, followed by depression, that I have experienced my whole life somehow do not exist when I am fully in control of my environment; when I’m not putting most of my energy into trying to perform “social convention” or compensate for my sensory sensitivities, there are apparently no bounds to how bold, fulfilled, and consistent I can be in my life and work. It has been a complicated journey of freedom, grief, and unlearning the ableist notions I held about autism, and disability in general, but it has given me a level of control over my own life that I could not have previously dreamt of.
When I started down the path of seeking a formal diagnosis earlier this year, I called my mom to ask her if there was anything different about me as a child. My mother’s response was that I was a very odd kid but because I was healthy and eating, she did not find it worth questioning. I don’t remember much of my childhood but from the mosaic of second-hand memories that I’ve managed to weave together from cherished family tales, I showed classic autistic characteristics as a child; I was easily overstimulated both by family and school interactions which led to some funny, explosive reactions or long periods of self-isolation. There was even a period of my childhood where I apparently stopped talking for almost two years. In hindsight, it is unlikely that if she had sought help, it would have made any difference. I grew up in a deeply traumatized and broken country in an equally traumatized family. Rwanda, and my family, immediately after the genocide against the Tutsi, had more pressing things to worry about than a potentially autistic child who was fine in all ways other than a few odd behaviours. The fact that I was alive and breathing was more than enough.