My formative years can best be described as tumultuous, marked by odd behavior and incessant clashing with family, peers, and medical professionals. These seemingly endless conflicts prompted my parents to take me to a doctor, who not only informed them that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, but that I would never know any kind of friendship or success. My parents were devastated. Even today, my mom recalls seeing my dad slumped against his car in the parking lot, his head buried in his hands and his shoulders shaking with sobs. My mom’s reaction quickly turned from one of defeat to one of determination. From the moment I was diagnosed to the moment I left home for college, my “training” to become a functioning member of society never stopped. My parents never let my diagnosis become an excuse or a hindrance, and they urged me to expect the same level of greatness from myself as they did.
For a long time, though, it seemed like I was destined to stagnate for the rest of my life. I craved a better life more than anything else, but it just didn’t seem to be in the cards for me. I failed to connect with anyone, except for a few neighbors I would occasionally play outside with as a youngster. But those relationships were founded on convenience rather than actual care, and I knew this. The void in my soul grew, just as my anger and frustration did. Why couldn’t I establish lasting friendships at school? Why couldn’t I enjoy academic and social success like my peers seemed to be? Why did heads turn away from me when I entered the room, as if I was too repulsive to look at?
This frustration festered and became self-hatred. I attributed all of my agony to my Asperger’s, and retreated into a state of pity and rage that threatened to destroy me. I closed my mind and my heart to anyone and everyone, setting up impenetrable barriers that made it impossible for my life to go anywhere. My grades plummeted, and my drive disappeared, turning me into an agent of sloth instead of an agent of success.
This vicious cycle continued until I entered my junior year in high school. Friendships formed between me and the kids at my new school, teachers frequently sang my praises, and everyone seemed to know my name. What is this sorcery? Is this really all it takes? Those questions and dozens of others lined up in my brain, eagerly waiting to be answered like a line full of excited girls waiting to meet Justin Bieber. Then it hit me with the force of a speeding train. All I had to do was make a decision, a split second decision that forever changed my life. I believe that our lives can be altered in a single, definitive moment, a moment that can come at any time and that forever changes our course.
For the first time in my life, people paid attention to me. I turned heads not away from me, but towards me. I eventually became an award-winning, internationally recognized journalist and an accomplished entrepreneur, proving that life can be a wonderful, empowering experience. But you have to demand that experience. Demand excellence from yourself and from others, and don’t let anything stop you from taking the reins and steering your life in the direction you want it to go.