Montreal·First Person

As a teenage girl with Asperger's syndrome, I'm tired of trying to be someone I'm not

I've realized that my problem was never with my diagnosis — it was with the impossible-to-achieve norms I had set for myself, trying so hard to be normal in a social setting and just ending up even more lost than I was before.

I'm going to keep learning, but I want to do it on my own terms

High school was a time for Mathilde to learn to embrace herself as she is, rather than spend time and energy trying to live up to someone else's standards. (Submitted by Mathilde Brunet-Mercier)

This First Person article is the experience of Mathilde Brunet-Mercier, a teenager in Montreal who graduated from high school this year. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

When I was eight or nine years old, I remember sitting outside my home in a little camping chair, observing the trees around me as the birds flew by. Meanwhile, the rest of my family held a little gathering with some friends inside.

While everyone was enjoying dinner, their conversations and exclamations mixed in with the sounds of clinking glasses, I sat and pondered why I was out there and not inside.

I thought, Is there something wrong with me? Why do I feel compelled to stay outside while everyone else is inside?

I had no answer. So, I sat there, disoriented and muddled.

This was probably the earliest moment that I remember, in which I knew there was something abnormal in me.

When she was around eight years old, Mathilde started to notice differences between her and others. (Mathilde Brunet-Mercier)

When I started high school, I was just completely dumbfounded by some of the things that I observed, which no one else seemed to have a reaction to. For instance, I didn't understand why someone would laugh at a joke even if it wasn't funny, why someone changed their personality when they were around certain people or whether someone was being sarcastic or not.

These weren't just misunderstandings. Even if someone explained it in detail, it just did not make sense to me. I just couldn't figure out how it worked.

On a cool December afternoon in 2017, my parents took me to a psychologist's office to get evaluated for Asperger's syndrome. Before that point, my relationship with the syndrome was purely an observational one. Many of my male family members had already been diagnosed. My twin brother is the one impacted the most.

He had required more attention from my parents from a young age. I suppose that was my cue to do my own thing, and not be too much of a bother.

Honestly, I didn't think much of it. But for most of my life, I had always felt apart from others. There was something different and atypical about me, but it wasn't something I was particularly eager to admit.

But then, I got the official confirmation: I am autistic. At first, I didn't want anything to do with it, not by disgust but more by disinterest. I related to the experiences of some girls with Asperger's, but it just never clicked in my mind.

I knew it wasn't horrible news, and it certainly wasn't anything new in my life.

But when I was around 15 years old, it struck me. Hard. All those things that made me different weren't simply part of my personality; they were caused by this thing in my brain.

It was quite hard from then on to have a good relationship with my diagnosis. Sometimes I'd remember that there wasn't anything fundamentally wrong with me, it was just that my brain worked differently than others. But other times, I realized how disadvantaged I had been, because I was spending most of my time making up for the things I lacked, and then trying to catch up while never getting anywhere.

More recently, I realized that my problem was never with my diagnosis — it was with the impossible-to-achieve norms I had set for myself, trying so hard to be normal in a social setting and just ending up even more lost than I was before.

Mathilde says that after high school she knows she'll keep up her pursuit of acquiring knowledge. (Submitted by Mathilde Brunet-Mercier)

If you try to be normal when you're not, it will simply not work. It's like a fish trying to walk on dry land. It's literally impossible.

But I have been obsessed, my entire life, with being normal. I didn't want to stand out and get any unwanted trouble or attention that I would not know how to deal with.

But how is that any way to live my life?

I'm learning now that restricting and defining myself based on the actions of others around me just leaves me unsatisfied and unhappy. The space in myself I used to fill with others' personalities and quirks is now empty. I yearn to fill that gaping hole, but I do not know how.

But I am sure of some things.

I have values that have stuck with me because of my upbringing: honesty, compassion for others, empathy (sometimes too much), growth, love, creativity, equality and justice.

And I don't think I could go a day without acquiring knowledge, it is too crucial for me. What I want is a space in which I have complete control to pursue whatever I desire.

I'm not sure what's next, but I know I will keep learning.

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Mathilde graduated from high school in Montreal this year, and she is eager to share her experience as a young girl with Asperger's. She hopes that speaking about her experience will encourage others to recognize that they don't need fixing, and that most of all, they are not alone.


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