I got an ask on Tumblr asking me to talk about things I wish I’d known sooner. As is often the case for me, I rambled on longer than intended and this got long enough that I figured it deserved to be a real blog post. So, without further ado, here are somethings I wish I’d known sooner:

You won’t find your worth in a man

I spent so many years desperate to find a boyfriend. I wanted to feel wanted. I hated myself and desperately believed that if I could find someone who loved me I would feel better. When I was set up with J, I threw myself into the relationship. I ignored warning signs and red flags in order to keep up the illusion. I became entirely dependent on what my boyfriend thought.

When I finally ended things with J after three years, I quickly grew desperate to find someone else. A few months later, I was dating C. Once again, I lost myself in a relationship and depended on his approval to feel ok about myself. I was with C for two years that I can’t remember. From what I know, it was very emotionally and verbally abusive. He also raped me at least two times that I know of for certain.

I think that if I had learned to value myself outside of a relationship, I may have been able to get out of these relationships sooner. To this day, I struggle to value myself separate from my relationship with Sean. Though he has done nothing but encourage me to find value in myself, I still struggle. If he is upset with me in any way, or if I even think he may be, I am destroyed. I know this isn’t healthy and I’m working on this, but it’s very difficult to process through so many years of self-hatred and feeling worthless.

One day, you will have people who love you and accept you as you are

My childhood was often lonely. I struggled to make or keep friends and spent long stretches of time without anyone to count as a friend. I was bullied mercilessly throughout grade school, and, by the time I was 11, I was already clinically depressed.

If, at some point between the ages of 9 and 15, I had been told that I would one day have wonderful friends who accept me as I am, I wouldn’t have believed it. When I did have friends, I learned to censor myself. I was the weird kid and I learned to hide my weirdness at a young age. Friend after friend left me. I was too much to deal with. As one lovely ex put it when he broke up with me “I have enough of my own shit to deal with, I can’t deal with you too”

By the time I went off to college, I had basically no self-esteem nor self-confidence. But, the very first weekend of school, I met Sean. We became friends quickly. Soon, I had more friends than I ever had before. Not only that, but these friends accepted me, mental illness, “weirdness”, and all.

Having friends who accept me as I am has allowed me to explore myself more fully and express myself more naturally. Though I still struggle with the abandonment issues I developed throughout childhood, I’m starting to actually believe that there are people who care about me who aren’t going to leave me.

The way you have been taught to see the world isn’t the only way (nor the “right” way)

I was raised in The Church. From as far back as I can remember, my family was very involved in The Church. It was labelled as a Methodist church, but, as I’ve since learned, the teachings and beliefs espoused in this church better align with the Evangelical movement.

I was raised to not only believe in their god, but to seek to convert others. I was raised as a solider of the faith. I was taught that the best thing I could do in life was to lead others to a relationship with god. I was fed a false narrative of persecution- taught that the world would do everything it could to lead us away from the path and that we would be persecuted for our faith. I read and heard about the tales of modern day martyrs, those who had died rather than renounce their faith.

I was taught to “hate the sin, love the sinner.” Except, the “love” I was taught to show was conditional. It was ok to love those who lied occasionally, but that gay people were “leading a life of sin” and by choosing to continuously sin, they were driving themselves away from god. I was taught to shame these people for their love. I was taught to see them only as people to be saved, not people to be valued as they are.

I was taught that the rapture was coming in my lifetime, told that we would be the last generation. We were to be excited for the deaths of all those who do not believe.

Thankfully, I broke away from this mindset as I grew older. I started questioning what I had been taught when I was 14-15. For years, I had prayed to the god I still believed in, asking, pleading for just one day of happiness. After years of being denied this simple wish, I started to doubt my beliefs. How could an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, loving god deny a child, a faithful, well-behaved child, the simple wish to not hurt for one day? How could I devote myself to a being who would not ease my suffering no matter what I did?

One of the final straws for me was being taught that depression is caused by a person’s sins or because their relationship with god was suffering. By this time, I had been researching mental illnesses extensively. I knew that much of what I was dealing with was caused by brain chemicals not working as they should. I knew that my depression was not caused by my sins. How dare they tell me that the faulty chemicals in my brain were my fault? How dare they tell me that my suffering was a sign that I wasn’t faithful enough?

Between the ages of 15 and 17, my last few years of high school, I questioned what I had been taught. I started to dive into the secular world. Before this, I had only ever listened to Christian music. I had primarily read Christian books and watched Christian movies. I started listening to all the music that had been forbidden. I read books about various religions.

I met people who changed my view of the world. One of my closest friends during that time was a lesbian. Despite the disgusting views on same-sex relationships I held at that time, she forged a friendship with me. When we first met, I tried to “save” her. I told her she was going to hell. I told her that she was living a life of sin. I said horrible things. But, over time, I saw that I was wrong. Through being her friend, I saw that there was nothing sinful about her love. By the time I went off to college, I would be starting the realization that I was not as straight as I once thought.

It’s been over a decade since I stopped identifying myself as a Christian, but I still have to fight back against the brainwashing of my childhood. I still have days I come home to an unexpectedly empty house and am filled with terror that the rapture has happened and I’ve been left behind to suffer terribly (the Left Behind books had a big impact on me as a kid). I still find myself thinking terrible things sometimes that can be traced back to what I was taught as a child. But, I’m learning and growing. Each day, I work to be more loving and accepting than the day before.

That’s the thing. I was raised on ideas of love. I was taught to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Yet, these were empty words. The same people who taught me to love everyone also spewed vile hate about gay people. The lessons of love were surrounded by teachings that espoused men’s dominance over women. Though I heard many lessons about love, what I saw around me told another story.

I wish I had known sooner that so much of what I had been taught was simply bigotry disguised as religion. I wish I had learned about the world sooner. Maybe I wouldn’t have hurt so many people. Maybe I would have accepted myself sooner.

You are autistic and that is nothing to be ashamed of

From a very young age, I knew I was different. Throughout elementary school, these differences were made abundantly clear in the way I was treated by my classmates. I was the weird kid, the quiet kid, the loner. I spent most of elementary school bullied and friendless.

By fourth grade, I was so desperate to escape the torment that I would make myself throw up to get out of school. I didn’t understand why the other kids seemed to hate me. I didn’t understand why no one would be my friend. I didn’t understand why I hurt so much all the time.

High school was a fresh start. I went from a school where my grade had 64 kids (only 17 of whom were girls…and they all hated me) to a school of over 4,000 students. Over the summer, I got contacts and got my braces off, so, physically transformed, I started at my new school. The size of the school was wonderful. There were so many opportunities to meet new people and make friends. When things went wrong with one friends group, I was able to find new friends.

Yet, I still knew I was different. I studied various mental illnesses to try to find my answers. My mental health was rapidly deteriorating and no one knew what was wrong with me. I was diagnosed with depression then mood disorder nos then mood disorder nos with psychosis then bipolar. It wouldn’t be until I was 21 that I would finally get a diagnosis that fit, and, even then, it still didn’t answer all my questions.

I wouldn’t learn that I am autistic until I was 25. If I had known earlier, would I still have tried to kill myself when I was 14? Would my body still be covered in the scars left behind from a battle waged within my mind? Would I still have been hospitalized?

What would my life have been like if I had learned how my brain works earlier? What would I have been able to achieve if I had known how to care for myself?

Finding my answers, learning that I am autistic, has made a world of difference for me. I have learned to embrace the ways my body needs to move to regulate my senses and emotions. I have learned to accept the difficulties that I have and to find ways to accommodate myself. I have learned that there isn’t anything “wrong” with me, but, rather, I have a mind that works differently, trying to survive in a world that was never made for me.