This guest post is by Dr. Lamar Hardwick, a husband, father, and pastor of a church located in Lagrange, GA. After decades of struggling with social anxiety, sensory processing issues, and other social disorder symptoms, Lamar finally received answers to his lifelong struggle when he was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder at age 36. Today he reaches thousands through his blogs and messages about being a husband, father, and community leader while living on the autism spectrum. This post is part of our Ties That Bind blog series that highlights the shared experiences that people in our autism community have had. Have a story you want to share? Email us your blog submission at AutismSpeaksBlog@gmail.com!
I don’t know if there has ever been a day that I haven't heard one phrase like this at least once. Sometimes I hear it multiple times a day. What’s the phrase you ask? “You look tired.” I admit I hear it all the time, and it used to offend me. But now I just respond with one simple answer, “I am tired.”
You see, I don’t just look tired. I am tired. I am tired almost every time you see me. My face looks exhausted and my eyes are often red because honestly I am tired, but that’s not such a terrible thing. Let me explain why.
Living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder means that I live life completely unfiltered. How I experience the world is completely different, and because of that it requires me to pour an incredible amount of energy into surviving each day.
My life is lived in HD 1080p, all day every day. You may be 480p, and that is being generous. Comparatively, my sensory processing issues means that I see, hear, feel, and sometimes smell the world in ways that you don’t. Your brain probably filters out most of the noise and visual distractions and odd smells and odors because it’s just not important enough for you to have to worry about. In a lot of ways, your brain manages all that for you, so you don’t have to be overwhelmed by it all.
My brain…not so much.
Every day when I wake up, I step onto the stage of the greatest production of all time. Every day, it’s lights, camera, and action as soon as my feet hit the floor when I get out of bed. My life is the greatest unscripted show you have ever experienced. It’s bigger, better and brighter than Broadway, although even that is probably an understatement.
Being autistic means that my sound crew, lighting crew, stagehands, make-up crew and camera crew are all pretty much underqualified and unskilled at doing their jobs. Every day I step onto the stage, the sound and lighting are so bad that it is borderline obnoxious and at times just painful to listen to and look at. The lights are often too bright or too dim. The spotlight is never in the right place, the house lighting is terrible and all of that impacts my depth perception and facial recognition. Sometimes that’s why I have trouble recognizing people I’ve already met.
This means that I visually experience things quite differently than you do. It’s actually a lot of work, and sometimes it’s overwhelming. So I don’t just look tired, I am tired.
My make-up team is usually missing in action. My face looks tired and worn out because I am unable to hide behind the masks and make-up that so many other performers use to hide their true feelings. My face is naked, no make-up, no masks. It says exactly what it is feeling. It looks tired because it is tired.
I have no stagehands. My brain doesn’t come equipped with people to help me understand cues. I don’t always know where to stand, when to enter the stage, when or where to exit the stage, or even when to say my lines. I repeat myself a lot, but I didn’t get my script, so usually my one act play turns into a unique combination of improv comedy, reality TV, and stand up comedy that feels more like a variety show than a Broadway musical. All of this takes a ton of energy. So I don’t just look tired, I am tired.
My camera crew is not a crew at all. I have one camera, which means that I have only one angle, one shot and one view. I don’t get to see the world through multiple perspectives, and more often than not, you don’t get to see my performance from a different perspective either, so it’s hard for you to see me in a different light. You see someone who isn’t excited and doesn’t want to be here, but you only have one angle, one shot of my performance. There aren’t other cameras to capture the other sides of me. Yes it’s confusing for you, but it’s exhausting for me. So I don’t just look tired, I am actually tired.
So, when you see my face just know that I don’t look tired, I am tired. But that’s a good thing. I’m tired because I have fought with the passion and the tenacity that it takes to step out on that stage full of sensory overload and social anxiety and put on the performance of a lifetime.
I don’t look tired, I am tired. But that’s good because I’m doing the heavy lifting. I’m tired because I choose to engage rather than retreat. I’m tired because I know that I have something to offer the world and in order to bless the world with my gifts, I have to give it everything that I have. I don’t just look tired, I am tired, but that’s because I have found the courage to be more concerned about my assignment than I am about my appearance.
I am autistic, and I have an assignment to show the world, to show autism parents, children, and other autistic adults that we have a variety of gifts to give to the world. I show up in the work place and the market place, ready to perform no matter how exhausting it is, and no matter how unable I am to hide my fatigue. I show up every day, ready to perform because the world needs my voice. The world needs autistic voices. When our voice is absent, a void is present.
So yes, I look tired, and yes I am tired, but I’m okay with that because it means that I’m leaving it all on the stage. I may look tired, and I may actually be tired, but I am tired because I have also triumphed. I have made it through another performance, and I’m excited about doing it all over again tomorrow.
So kudos to all of my fellow autistic friends, parents, colleagues and companions. Keep going. Keeping pushing. Keep performing. The world needs it.
Break a leg,