Although I am not religious now, I am grateful for my ELCA Lutheran upbringing. My father was the pastor of our church when I was a child, and being a Pastor’s Kid (PK) means that I was exposed to a lot of different people all the time. We lived in a parsonage connected directly to the church and we often hung out in the common spaces of the church at one event or another.
I was able to interact with people from many backgrounds and ages, most of whom were eager to talk to the toddler and adolescent me. I attribute a good deal of my early socialization to this. It was a safe space where I felt loved.
Another way church helped was the pattern and routine of it all. The services were very structured; I knew the general outline of it at any given point. And the music! I was able to thrive through structure and music at church. And hearing and learning the familiar stories told time and time again was also comforting. In this, I found a pattern and normalcy.
I also think that I learned to be a more kind, compassionate, and caring person being in church so often. I think it was very therapeutic in many senses. The community of it all, the music, the structure, the loving messages from the pulpit…. It was again a safe and caring space, and one that made me think and grow.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been in therapy since the age of about thirteen. After a traumatic experience, I fell into a deep depression accompanied by extreme anxiety. I was lucky enough to start seeing a therapist several times a week, then once a week, then every other week, and so on. Since then, therapy has been an invaluable tool in my life.
Each time I’ve moved for school or for a job, I’ve found a new therapist and usually see them once a week, once a month, or every other month. Sometimes I’ve been able to go a year or two without a session. But I like to check in with someone occasionally to refresh my mental health and make sure I’m still on the right path.
No matter the frequency, therapy has truly been invaluable to me. Not only have my counselors helped me find techniques to work through and lessen depression and anxiety, my first therapist in particular taught me to thrive. She laid the basic foundations for coping mechanisms that I would need in order to make it through rough times in my life.
I think that being in therapy from such a young age and for so long has gifted me with a unique level of introspection, emotional intelligence, and grasp of coping skills. I wouldn’t be the person I am today and wouldn’t have been able to face challenges and do as well as I have so far without the hard work in these sessions.
Teachers & Professors
Middle school was a very difficult time for me. Sadly, I didn’t often have the support of teachers in a very overpacked school where they always seemed overworked.
But in high school, I was lucky. The band director and choir director were literally the difference between me graduating with honors and me dropping out. At least, that’s how I see it. They were always there if I needed someone to talk to. They were kind, caring, patient, supportive, and more.
Through their music programs, I found structure and discipline. And any time I needed a quiet place to relax, their offices were always open to me. I really can’t thank them enough for all they did for me in those four years.
Similarly, many of my professors in college supported me, encouraged me, and gave me places of refuge to rest when I was overwhelmed. Several of them took me under their wings and encouraged me as I created and completed independent studies, developed my own major, studied abroad, and succeeded in graduating.
I have also been incredibly lucky in my friendships. Although I went through a period of toxic friendships at one point, I ultimately ended up finding some of the most incredible, patient, funny, compassionate friends I could ask for. They have been a constant support in my life even as I continually moved abroad and out of state, struggled with mental health issues and social phobia, was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and generally was a pain in the butt. I truly could not ask for more dedicated and loyal friends in my life.
My parents have always been my strength. Through both mental and physical health struggles, they’ve never given up on me. They created a safe, sensory-friendly home where I could thrive and grow. They surrounded me with books, music, love, and opportunities. They encouraged learning, curiosity, imagination, and scholarship. From them, I learned compassion and empathy. They have encouraged my self-exploration, independence and independent thought, but they’ve made it clear that they are there if I need them. I’m truly grateful that they are my parents.
I met my husband at a time when I was fairly certain I might be on the Spectrum and I was seeing a therapist to begin evaluating me. Even before we were dating, I felt safe enough with him to confide in him the truth. At this point, very few people in my life knew anything was going on with me, but I somehow knew that I could trust him with this part of me.
I was so lucky (I know I keep saying that, but it’s true!) to meet this person who is infinitely understanding, kind, patient, compassionate, and loving. He encourages my self-exploration and search for my authentic self. He’s patient when I’m having sensory difficulties and he’s held me through more than one meltdown. He accepts my Autism and loves me for me. He’s the only person who knows my soul. He’s such a positive light and I can no longer imagine my life without him.
I owe so much of who I am and what I’ve accomplished so far to the people around me. I’ve been so loved and supported, and in some ways I think that’s one reason I wasn’t diagnosed until 27. Through the efforts of the people in my support system, I’ve been able to succeed rather than flounder. Through their love and support, I feel like I can do anything.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
[image description: A sunlit Japanese maple tree in early fall. The leave are shining golden and orange in the sunlight.]