September 18, 2019

“Be you and embrace who you are”

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I’m Mackenzie, 21 years old and a Secondary Education student at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Most people know me as a girl who reads more than the average person does in a lifetime, has a strong connection to animals (especially dogs, cats, and opossums), owns an extensive vinyl record collection, and loves Rockabilly, Psychobilly, Punk, and Goth music groups such as The Stray Cats, Reverend Horton Heat, The Stranglers, Siouxie and The Banshees, Tones on Tail and Lene Lovich. I’m also a lifetime Girl Scout member.

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What people normally don’t know about me is that I have High Functioning Autism (Asperger’s Syndrome under the former DSM). Autism in women often gets diagnosed later as it manifests itself in different ways than in men and is sometimes not as apparent to physically see. This was my case, and I received a formal diagnosis from Pine Rest a month before my 20th birthday in 2018, after a stay in a mental health hospital where I had preliminary testing for autism done in 2017.

Several accounts of stigma that I remember is from when I was a teenager and sometimes drove people who were my friends, and romantic interests away as I was very rigid and literal in my thoughts and social interactions, and wouldn’t really know why one day things were going great with a person and the next day we’d be in an awful fight and they’d abandon me. For a long time I felt like something was really wrong with me, when all I needed was more direction in social interaction.

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I overcame this a lot by assuring myself that I was doing the best I could with my capabilities and that knowing that anyone who really is invested in me will take the time to learn about my needs as I learn about theirs. My formal diagnosis helped me put this into perspective a lot.

Lastly, my advice to others experiencing stigma is to not let stigma get to you. There will be folks who unfortunately don’t take the time to listen and understand, but there are also a heck of a lot of folks who will. Be strong, assertive, but most of all be you and embrace who you are.