Jesse Saperstein is a young man who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is part of the Autism Spectrum. Jesse is an Autism and Anti-Bullying advocate. He performs keynote and motivational speeches about living with Asperger’s Syndrome and other various topics across the country. Plus, he is a best-selling author of these well- known books: Atypical-Life With Asperger’s in 20 1/3 Chapters & Getting A Life With Asperger’s- Lessons Learned on the Bumpy Road to Adulthood. He is one of the panelists on Mrs. Jessica Leichtweisz’s webinar series, “Ask An Autistic”.
I am posting this photograph of the culmination of the Appalachian Trail to make a point about my life with Asperger’s syndrome. I do not know what I was thinking at the culmination of this journey that lasted for seven months for over two hundred thousand miles. Perhaps I was thinking about how wonderful it would be to not have to push myself through unforgiving terrain and unpredictable weather patterns just about every day. The journey was completely voluntary at that point only not. It was forced in the sense that I made myself continue or return home to a living nightmare. I was also probably thinking about the glory waiting for me back at the hotel with the indoor pool, alcoholic beverages, and access to television. Such amenities were hard to come by during that long journey and when they did show up at the hotel visits, they were always so short-lived. But most important, I was hopefully thinking about how wonderful it was to live with Asperger’s syndrome and finally feel proud of the characteristics that had been vilified for much of my life. The fact remains that if it were not for having Asperger’s syndrome, the Appalachian Trail hike would have fizzled in two weeks.
For as long as I can remember, letting go has been nearly impossible. Whether it was an unrequited attraction to a young woman in middle or losing a job fourteen years earlier…moving on has always been a pipe dream. I am able to “back off,” compromise, or put something on a backburner. But letting go seems to be absolutely impossible and has not shown a great deal of improvement over the past 38 years of my life. It is just more possible to conduct myself as an adult without getting into any sort of trouble for harassment. My favorite expression is, “You are an adult first and somebody with a disability second.”
During the pandemic, I continue to be haunted by a number of demons. For example, I think back to when I was a victim of Catfishing back in the year 1999 for six grueling months. I have not gotten over it and still harbor rage toward those who were responsible. In my home community, a number of people treated me as a social pariah and a stalker due to my awkwardness in making small talk while failing to understand the difference between an acquaintance a good friend. These situations made life unbearable and caused suffering that was not necessary. It has caused me to hold on for dear life to magic that cannot be touched by the free will of others. I still return to Wildwood Crest, NJ every single summer, which is a ritual that began nearly a decade ago. It provides some amount of comfort to spend at least three full days at a beautiful beach where at least one day will be guaranteed to be perfect in weather and nostalgia. Furthermore, I went trick-or-treating until the age of 31 years old when it finally stopped becoming practical.
On the Appalachian Trail I was not at the mercy of the free will of other people to succeed. As long as I kept hiking and chomping away at the mileage…victory was literally at least a few steps closer. The 2,174-mile AT could not engage in gaslighting or fair-weathered friendship or play mind games. Nothing could stop me from moving forward with the exception of a physical injury that made continuing absolutely impossible. My advice to other individuals on the autism spectrum is to not put themselves at the mercy of other people for their happiness unless it is in reasonable increments of time. But I know that goal is virtually impossible considering that it is something that I have not completely mastered on my own. If we choose to grovel toward people who do not always appreciate our characteristics, then perhaps we should do so in reasonable increment of time. The rest of the time should be spent polishing off the increments that are sustained and naturally influenced by our own autism-like tenacity!
Here is Jesse Saperstein’s website: https://www.jessesaperstein.com/