This is our first story from a sibling of someone with Autism. I know the thought goes through my head frequently, wondering how my daughter views having a twin brother with Autism, and an older sister with Asperger’s…and then she’ll ”complain” to me that she wishes she had Autism too so she could go play at IBI. Go figure! I think so far, she’s envious. :) Thank you so much to Caroline for sharing your story!
Have you ever had a moment in which you suddenly realize that you’ve spent a lifetime believing a lie? If so, you know that the feeling is a strange combination of regret and relief. There’s regret for the time you’ve lost, but it’s superceded by relief for the clarity that you now possess.
I found myself feeling this way when I went on a yoga retreat day last year. In the final minutes of the retreat, we were invited to create our own series of poses while “Let It Be” played. I felt happy, flowing from one pose to another. Thanks to regular yoga classes, my practice had grown, and I was able to do more advanced sequences than most of the other participants.
But then this voice started up from within. It said: “Who are you to be showing off like this? Who are you to be doing these pretty poses? You’re being disruptive and selfish. Everyone will resent you, and it will be all your fault.”
I managed to push the voice aside and keep doing yoga. It felt great, and I knew my body needed it.
But as I lay down, things started coming up. I was on my back, tears running down my cheeks and into my ears. (Literally. It was a strange sensation.) The act of ignoring that voice — the one telling me to hem myself in– did it.
Suddenly, I was thinking about my younger brother, Willie, who has autism. And in that moment, I understood something about how I’d lived my life up until that point.
Every time I have wanted to let myself ‘shine’ in a new way, I’ve faced this haunting fear. That fear speaks to me in (barely-audible) words: “If you do [x, y or z], you’ll put even more distance between who you are and who your brother is. You’ll be abandoning him. You won’t be able to connect. And if you do manage to take a leap, I’ll make every step fraught with guilt, so deep-down you can’t identify it or shake it. Because your brother is who he is, you don’t deserve to be who you are.”
This was not a message I’d received from my family or friends, or from my brother himself. This did not come from anyone who loved me. I know that my brother’s autism doesn’t make him ‘less than’ me. I know I have my own disabilities as surely as he has his. Even so, I faced this fear.
Yet as “Let it Be” was playing, I was able to hear truth. And love, not reasoning, was what broke through my fear.
Truth sounded like this: “Let it be. Let your brother be who he is. I created him. He is not a mistake. He is a miracle. And let yourself be who you are. I created you. You are not a mistake. You are a miracle. You are my children.
Just as you are so proud of Willie when he plays piano, he is so proud of you when you shine. He may not ever find the words to say it in this life, but because he loves you, he is proud of you. Just as you want him to be free of his anger and behavioral struggles, he wants you to be free of your fear.”
Ever since that moment, I have felt as though some small yet weighty stone has been taken from my stomach. After a lifetime of believing lies, the truth has finally set me free.
Caroline McGraw is a would-be childhood paleontologist-turned-storyteller who digs for treasure in people with autism and intellectual disabilities, and empowers caregivers to do the same.
She writes about finding meaning in your most challenging relationships at A Wish Come Clear, where she invites fellow siblings, parents, and caregivers to visit and receive a complimentary copy of her book, “Your Creed of Care: How To Dig For Treasure In People (Without Getting Buried Alive)”.