How Movember changed my attitude about my Asperger’s

Opening up about who I am helped me make a difference

This year, Austin decided to open up about who he is to support Movember.

When November rolls around, many people are left wondering what Movember is and why a bunch of guys are trying to grow mustaches (even though sometimes, they can’t).

Movember is an Australian charitable organization founded in 2003 with the mission of tackling prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health, and suicide prevention for the purpose of having “an everlasting impact on the face of men’s health.”

It’s one of the largest international non-governmental organizations, with offices and locations all over the world, including Canada. In fact, Canadians have consistently been one of the largest contributors of donations of any nation, and these funds have been vital in progressing men’s mental and physical health to what it is today. 

As a man who—though I try my darnedest—cannot grow any magnificent lip hair, I didn’t really care about Movember until this year. It wasn’t that I didn’t agree with the message, I just thought that it wasn’t my place to say anything or get involved. I also felt that my personal issues were nobody’s business. I honestly didn’t know why, but I felt that I could never make a difference and so it wasn’t worthwhile to try.

That changed this year, when I decided to open up about who I am in an effort to support the cause.

I was born in Toronto but raised in Victoria, B.C. My mom is a teacher and my dad is a banker. I have two brothers, and we grew up with a love for the arts and sports. But amongst all of this, I grew up with Asperger’s Syndrome, a type of autism.

But amongst all of this, I grew up with Asperger’s Syndrome, a type of autism.

Asperger’s Syndrome is a developmental disorder that makes social interaction and non-verbal communication difficult. It’s also characterized by restricted patterns of behaviour and interests. This is the general definition of the syndrome, but I’ll break down what it’s like living with this condition.

I couldn’t read until I was in grade four. I couldn’t speak well until I was five years old. I had meltdowns because of frustrations like these, and because noise severely affects my hearing.

Though I was big, I was constantly bullied because I was easy to tease and my reactions amused other kids. I didn’t understand sarcasm until high school. I was constantly being scammed out of food and money because I assumed people would give it back. I would run away from class because the sensory overload made my head feel like it would explode.

I was suspended numerous times—not because I was a bad kid, but because of my size, I terrified other children during my meltdowns.

While many people don’t have trouble understanding social interactions, people with Asperger’s usually just don’t have that skill. I grew up in a state of constant confusion: I didn’t understand—no matter how many times people told me—why people mistreated me.

This confusion fueled constant and inexplicable frustration, and though I saw counsellors, my autism felt like a weakness. I demanded perfection from myself with everything.

If I didn’t drive myself to perfection on a certain topic, I felt like I would never learn it and therefore would be considered “slow,” “retarded,” or “worthless.” I had this mindset for a very, very long time.

This perspective resulted in a lot of negative experiences here at Queen’s. I lost and damaged many relationships, largely because I had developed this ruthless and uncompromising way of thinking.

Deep down, this mindset doesn’t represent who I am or what I value as a person. After many trials, I realized I didn’t view myself as weak—I was mostly terrified of what others would think of me if I told them I was autistic. I didn’t want to get hurt again the way I had been hurt in the past.

But when Movember came around this year, I decided to be open about who I am. I made a Facebook post with a goal to raise $300 for Movember and men’s mental health. In the post, I spoke about my Asperger’s at length, not expecting to get a lot of money or make much of an impact.

Then, the donations started rolling in and didn’t stop.

People kept pouring more and more money into the cause to the point where I was shocked. I was happy, but I didn’t know how to react. I reached my goal of $300 within a week, and now, as I’m nearing $900—nearly triple of what I set my goal out to be—I‘m bursting with joy and hope.

I reached my goal of $300 within a week, and now, as I’m nearing $900—nearly triple of what I set my goal out to be—I‘m bursting with joy and hope.

I know that’s cheesy, but I don’t think I’ve felt so much hope in my whole life. I’m not just feeling joy, I’m living with it. I don’t only feel happy, I am happy. I say this because it’s become more than just a feeling. I finally have total faith in people for the first time since I was a little kid.

For the first time, I don’t view myself as weak, but as someone who’s making a difference, not just because of the financial donations, but because of who I am and what my story is.

That’s why I’m so thankful for Movember. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this if not for those who supported me and had faith in me. The emotion I feel writing this is staggering.

For those who have experienced similar pain or hopelessness, I hope my own situation can be an example of how supportive others can be when you show them who you really are.

Forgive others, and if you can’t, please forgive yourself.

A quote from Victor Hugo sums up my feelings better than I ever could:

“You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving […] Love is knowing that even when you are alone, you will never be lonely again, and great happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved. Loved for ourselves, and even loved in spite of ourselves.”

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