From societal recluse to international speaker.
My name is Russell Lehmann, and I am a motivational speaker and poet who happens to have autism along with some mental health diagnoses.
I don’t relate to the autism community’s “group think” mentality. I don’t have “autistic pride”, but rather human pride. I am not sensitive to the word “disability” and do not placate myself by stating that I’m “differently-abled” in order to cover up an insecurity. I am proud to say that I have many disabilities, because it validates how much I have to overcome every day just to function.
Some reach out to me calling themselves a “fellow autistic” and I honestly don’t know what the hell that means. How you identify yourself means nothing to me compared to your character and how you conduct yourself, in real life AND online.
I do not relate to many people, perhaps 2 in my entire existence. I am indeed the last of a dying breed.
I have lived a very unusual life. I dropped out of public school in the 5th grade due to horrible treatment by my teachers. I was that kid in the corner of the room, sucking his thumb, with his hood on and never making eye contact. Exiting school and staying home to do my work lead to prevalent isolation and solitude that continues to this day (aside from my speaking engagements). I have been inpatient 3 times in my life, each stay leaving worse off than when I had entered due to lack of understanding and compassion by the hospital staff.
I never lived out my teenage years or had a college experience. I say that life has taken from me everything I have ever wanted, but in turn has given me everything I ever needed. I can excel at the extraordinary (keynoting conferences with 1,000+ attendees, traveling the world by myself, etc.) but struggle with the simple (getting out of bed in the morning, running simple errands, forming relationships, “fitting in” [whatever the hell that means], etc.) I am very inexperienced socially, yet have amassed an enormous amount of experience existentially. Every day I fight off my OCD, depression, panic attacks, body dysmorphia, an anorexia relapse, and thoughts telling me an easier life will always be just out of reach. However I am bigger than what my thoughts say I am, and so are you.
I am very much a tortured soul who has a lot of experience with suffering. They say that those who know how to suffer, suffer less. Lately, however, with each dark day I am beginning to see more light. I am coming to terms with my true intrinsic nature, and am very excited for not just the future, but for the now.
We oftentimes put off what we can do today in hopes of achieving it tomorrow. Yet as tomorrow never arrives, we trap ourselves into the state of mind that tells us “Some day, when this or that happens, I will be happy”. We live with this perspective for our entire lives, until one day we realize we won’t be here much longer, and all we have ever had was this moment right now.
Be kind to yourself, cherish the “normal” days (for how much you will want them back during the dark days!) and remember that you are always in control of your life. We at times cannot control our circumstances, but we can always control how we live through them. Cut ties with everything that is holding you back, for when you prioritize yourself, you can give more to those you love.
It’s easy to get caught up in our modern day rat race , but in the end, there are only 2 things that matter in life: the connections we make and the experiences we have. Love a little stronger, listen a little better and always follow your heart, for the biggest regret anyone can have is not staying true to themselves.