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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

Should This Autistic Get Rid of Her Books?

My books are like old friends. That says a lot, because I don’t have many friends. I’ve never had many friends.

I spent the majority of my life not knowing I am autistic. I struggled socially to fit and belong. I even struggled within my own family to be understood and accepted. I grew up in an extremely strict and religious environment. Given we lived at a religious camp, everyone around us was the same. I didn’t have a lot of people giving me helpful guidance (emphasis on helpful… for they certainly did try to instruct me on how to be Christian).

As I grew into adulthood and tried to make my way in the world, I was very confused about who I was and how to be in the world. The combination of my religious upbringing and undiagnosed autism made me feel like an alien in the world.

I sought refuge in books. Every book was another chance to feel understood or happy. A chance to learn something that could possibly help me.

Many times, I found a book at just the right time. They weren’t especially spectacular books that I would recommend to someone else, but they were what I needed at that moment.

Autistic art therapist Jackie Schuld shares an illustration where an owl reads to a cat while they are in a tree.
"Reading" Watercolor illustration by Jackie Schuld

For me, reading was an interactive experience. I’d underline and write comments in the sides. The next morning I’d sit with those passages and journal about what they meant to me.

I’ve kept most of those books. There are more than 100. As I review them now, I smile at the comments on the side. I am also amazed at the thoughts that once felt new to me, but are now integrated into who I am. I truly learned and grew through these books.

Many I will never need to reference again. The lessons have been learned. The experience has been lived. They are like old friends that are gone from my life now. But does that mean I want to discard or donate them?

I’m doing the arduous work now of deciding. As I do that, I am trying to write essays about what they mean to me. For the books that I didn’t really underline or write side notes on that much, I can easily process and synthesize what they meant to me. I then donate them.

Then there are the books that contain so much I loved from them that I can’t quite capture it all into an essay. Those are the books I’m choosing to keep.

Some might argue I should just keep all 100+ of them. But you see, I’ve learned some lessons from my books. Life is not about clinging to our physical items or carting our stuff around. It’s about being present to what is around us. So I’m trying to walk the middle ground of honoring what was, letting go of what no longer serves, and keeping that which might still impact.


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