Standing in front of a mirror dressed in a form-fitting black catsuit and dripped in gold-plated jewelry, rainbow crystal bobby pins adorned my hair as I winked at the camera. Fingers gripped tightly on my phone case, the glitter on my nails radiated from my purple nail polish. Baring my teeth underneath my glossy lips and flaunting a mischievous wink, this is a portrait of confidence. Behind the camera and the twinkly eyes is a timid girl hiding a big secret.
Diagnosed with Apserger’s Syndrome at the age of two, it’s a milder form of autism discovered by Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger. Autism Society defines it as a high functioning form of autism where an individual struggles to fit in with people due to their limited social skills and understanding of other people’s emotions. That also includes a lack of self-awareness. Additional superpowers include having a laser-sharp focus on an interest and a strong command of language.
As much as my fellow Aspie Greta Thunberg calls it a “superpower”, I never really felt that it made me feel extraordinary. Nor did I feel like a savant since I had to see tutors to help me with math and science. Even though I love to look at cats, smile at the birds or tickle a dog’s belly, I am no animal expert like Temple Grandin. On the contrary, I am everything people don’t expect about Aspies: extroverted, fashionable and social media-savvy.
Growing up, I struggled to fit in at school. Making friends wasn’t easy for me since most of them were not ardently interested in fashion or pop culture the way I am. But if I made friends, I changed friends faster than I changed clothes save for one best friend I still count on today. Being picked on by classmates for my flashy fashion sense didn’t help me to blend in. I guessed being painfully shy didn’t help. If I had to find a refuge, it would always be a copy of Seventeen, Rolling Stone, NYLON, Elle and Teen Vogue by my bedside or within the shelves at the library. If I needed to stimulate my brain, I’d get lost in pages of The A-List books or watch True Blood. If I was asked to use a laptop in class, I’d secretly sneak in Perez Hilton to catch up with the latest celebrity news, create outfits on Polyvore, whip up playlists for 8tracks or try my hand at blogging. Because I did not disclose that I had Asperger’s, putting up an introvert exterior helped me to feel good about myself. If anyone knew about my condition, the only people who knew were my teachers, counselors, therapists and parents. Every year from grades one to eleven, I had to have an hour long session with every type of therapist imaginable: speech, behavioural and craniosacral. While my social life was barren in high school, I looked forward to building a new future for myself.
When I went to uni in Los Angeles, being all alone in a new environment challenged me to build my metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly. Since I knew that uni was where I could build my career, I decided to start my career in writing by sharing my passion for fashion and pop culture. While most people would rather explore before zoning in on one interest, having Asperger’s has helped me make a decision to build my career earlier. By pouring out words on a keyboard, being behind a screen anchored me to build up the confidence to share my love for fashion and pop culture. From the student newspaper to Her Campus, seeing my name on bylines has made me feel confident to continue sharing my passion.
Although my bold persona was felt on screen, I needed to step up my social skills in person. Rather than being surrounded by a sea of laptops at the library or Starbucks, I swept myself in the hustle and bustle inside my uni’s radio station, where I had an online radio show. Though my studies were a priority, I would let myself get fascinated by the local musicians performing live inside the studio. Instead of twiddling my fingers on top of my laptop’s keyboard, I pushed myself to swap numbers and e-mails with them. If I couldn’t find any musicians, I would scout the campus for student actors or comb through Instagram to find young creatives that I heard of through word of mouth. Throughout the year of being on air, I learned that everyone whom I invited was also like me: self-starting creatives with a laser-sharp determination to start their careers ASAP. From there, it turned me into an extrovert that sought the presence of people as a source of nourishment for the soul.
While building my self-confidence with limited help from a therapist was daunting, having Asperger’s was not as bad as I initially hated. Because I was so comfortable with showing off my personality around myself online and offline, my condition was purely invisible underneath it all. Rather than hiding it in my closet forever, I’ve learned to accept that having Asperger’s is a part of my story that I am proud to own.