‘I know I’m different, and I can feel it burning on my skin as I scream and cry and hit and kick. I am ashamed of myself.’: Autistic teen pens open letter, urges ‘don’t put more shame on me’

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“Dear Neighbor,

My name is June, and I am a whole 17 years old. I am like many other teenagers in that my phone is glued to my hands and I sleep too much or too little to be functional. But what you and many others may not know about me is that I am autistic. And having been born with autism, my life has brought much light to my challenges. When I tell you it hasn’t been easy, please trust me.

When I was a little baby, I did not sleep well often—this is true for many autistic babies. I would get ‘colic-y’ as my mom would say every day at the same time. Evening would come, and boom—I would melt down. I was a healthy baby, nothing was wrong besides my frequent stomach upset. However, I was easily overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed by sounds, by touches, by people being in my face, by constant interaction. My mom kept me stimulated, but she didn’t know that this was too much for me to handle—not her fault, of course, it was the 2000s and primetime for the production of baby activities.

young child in a toy car
Courtesy of Juniper Gudukoglu

I am not here to tell you about my autistic baby self or give you the rundown of my ‘autism story,’ rather I am here to share with you the way in which my brain works and reacts to the world we all live in.

My daily meltdowns continued as I aged. My sensitivity to stimuli worsened, my anxiety deepened. I was your average undiagnosed autistic little girl. Not all of my characteristics screamed for an ASD diagnosis back in the early-mid 2000s, because the way in which autism presents itself in girls can be vastly different than how it presents in boys. But I experienced the one thing almost every other autistic child experienced: meltdowns. Doctors didn’t get to see this side of me, screaming and crying because something stressed me out, so I went years undiagnosed.

Strangers didn’t get to see this side of me often either, because I was fairly good at masking up and keeping myself normal and regulated for my public audience. This was an issue because the second I stepped away from the public eye, I would have a meltdown. I was ‘safe’ enough to fall apart because I didn’t have anyone judging me or any energy left to pretend I was a neurotypical child. My mom had me and my meltdowns to deal with all on her own, with no validation for the fact that I was autistic and struggled to regulate myself.

two teens outside by a fence
Courtesy of Juniper Gudukoglu

When quarantine started in March of 2020, I was home full-time. I did my school online, interacted with my friends through my phone, and confined myself to my room. I was no longer following my routine: school, marching band, home, eat, shower, sleep. I no longer did not have the time to let myself unwind. Being home meant I didn’t have to pretend anymore. I didn’t have to carry my good girl mask around. I didn’t have to blend into anyone because it was just me. And so I would get overwhelmed the second something was too loud, too bright, too messy, too much. There was no one there to laugh at me for becoming upset over something so small. I wasn’t worried about trying to ignore the clothes on my body that made me uncomfortable, because I was no longer dressing for anyone else. My food intake became stricter (minus the eating disorder), and I was eating the same things every day because I finally had one second to vouch for what I wanted without being rushed off somewhere. I got so deep into my new, maskless routine that I forgot how to put the mask back on. It became harder to control my feelings, to control my reactions. And I could no longer handle what others would see as tiny pressures.

My meltdowns grew the way I grew taller as I grew up. Over the course of quarantine, I’d begun hiding under my desk and screaming and crying when I was overwhelmed. And soon I would just fall flat on the ground and cry. I would not tolerate anyone touching me or trying to console me. And my mom began to catch on and let me cry it out. I would sit there and cry and scream, and then my mom would suggest I watch a show in my bed or on the couch, and I would get up gingerly and go.

young teen sitting on the stairs with headphones and dogs
Courtesy of Juniper Gudukoglu

Eventually, you’d see me curl up and rock while I cried, hitting my fist at my head steadily. My family would try to hold my hands and I’d get angry and my melt would become meltier, I’d fight against the restraint; I was like a little child, a mess on the ground in the Target toy aisle.

I don’t think I can describe the feeling that I have during a meltdown in any other word besides an explosion. My feelings and emotions explode and my brain explodes and my eyeballs explode. It feels like losing myself in myself, losing control, falling apart like a melting iceberg.

I am the Wicked Witch of the West, and the feeling of the ground is my rain. The sounds of my brother whistling and my dog chewing on a toy and the heat kicking on are my rain. The sticky feeling on my sweating palms and my stomach ache and ringing ears are my rain. Two more thoughts that come into the 20 already racing in my head are my rain. I am the Wicked Witch of the West melting in the rain.

And I’m completely aware that I react to things differently than others. I am aware that I think and feel and talk and act differently than others. I know I’m different, and I can feel it burning on my skin as I scream and cry and hit and kick. Because I can’t stop myself, and I know no one else would be on the floor if their plans weren’t followed exactly and checked off a mental list. I know that I am the only one feeling like my world will collapse if the thing I think will happen happens or doesn’t happen.

I know I’m different, and there isn’t a day that the thought of being normal doesn’t cross my mind. Sometimes I’m embarrassed, ashamed, disgusted. And I’ve let myself sink so deep into my own self-hatred, just for not being able to manage the simple task of being normal.

I am ashamed for the noise, the trouble, the disturbance. I am ashamed of myself, so please don’t speak down to me and try to put more shame on my already weakened shoulders.

young teen crying
Courtesy of Juniper Gudukoglu

I promise you I am just as tired after I’ve screamed for an hour. I am just as upset, just as angry. I just need you to know I have lived with this my whole life, and I will be living with it for the rest of my life, or until I can find it in me to loosen up a little.

I have been your neighbor for two months. And I will only be your neighbor for another year or two. I promise that you and I will not be neighbors forever, and you’ll get more sleep than I do because I spend a lot of my nights awake and ashamed of myself for not being the normal neighbor you need me to be.”

teen in a restaurant
Courtesy of Juniper Gudukoglu

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Juniper Gudukoglu from Chicago, IL. You can follow their journey on Instagram and TikTok. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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