I’ve been thinking about caterpillars lately. People often compare their spiritual, personal, and professional transformations to those of caterpillars metamorphosing into beautiful and magnificent butterflies, free to fly and live their lives.
But what about the caterpillars? Since they aren’t free to fly and live their lives, how do they do it?
One word: Camouflage.
I used to be a caterpillar. And I was really good at it. I had to be to survive in the world.
Just like other caterpillars, I would outgrow my skin and shed it for a new one. For me, that meant wearing different camouflages.
At times, I would have to do my best to be like everyone else.
Other times, I would hang in there, just trying to be part of the scenery.
There were times I really didn’t want to be bothered.
However I camouflaged, I was always exhausted and on alert. I was anxious and uncertain. I was also deeply unkind to myself because I couldn’t get it 100%. I was off in some crucial, unattainable way. I thought I was a failure.
You see, I thought everyone was a caterpillar in camouflage. It turns out the others actually were vibrant, lush leaves, commanding attention with their bright green display. Still others were beautifully curled brown leaves, the stories of their lives exposed in each furled edge. And yes, some people were simply excrement.
I, on the other hand, was a caterpillar. And I did what I had to so I could do what I wanted to, which was enjoy the sunlight, eat my favorite foods, and curl up really tight. If that meant wearing make-up, practicing facial expressions and scripts, and making small talk, I’d do it, even at the expense of pushing myself aside.
I realized I was a caterpillar about two years ago, when I stopped drinking alcohol (more camouflage) and began re-examining my life. That was when I realized I am autistic. I sought an evaluation from a specialist who told me I should continue camouflaging and even recommended classes to improve on my skills.
You should really learn how to be a twig.
Hey, nothing wrong with twigs. But I was not one. I was also not a leaf (green or brown). And I was definitely not a piece of shit, no matter what other people told me.
After that horrific experience with the specialist, I decided I had two choices. I could stay a caterpillar, doing what I had to so I could do what I wanted to. I could survive, draining my energy with camouflage, using all my resources just to enjoy precious few moments stretched in the sunlight or curled up really tight, both activities leaving me vulnerable and exposed.
Or, I could try to become a butterfly. Not because butterflies are more beautiful or magnificent. Caterpillars are those things, as well. But they have to hide behind their beauty and magnificence, their camouflage.
Butterflies sometimes use camouflage … but they can fly, as well. They have options. They are free to live their lives.
The thing is, caterpillars aren’t meant to be caterpillars forever.
I decided to try for butterfly. Anything had to be better than pretending to be something I’m not just for a few minutes peace to eat my favorite foods. What if I could eat my favorite foods all the time? The way I wanted to? Not by being a twig or leaf but by being me, the beautiful and magnificent Saraswati Chand?
Just as most other caterpillars do, I left my post and found a safe place to begin my transformation. I shed that camouflage-skin and became my chrysalis. It was soft at first, but as time went by and I also shed that anxiety and uncertainty, my chrysalis grew harder, more protective.
Inside, I was breaking myself down, figuring out who I was, who I wanted to be. I had lived forty plus years as a caterpillar. Was it too late for me to be a butterfly?
Since my last post here, I have emerged. My (continuing) metamorphosis includes:
1). An official autism diagnosis by a compassionate, warm, wonderful specialist.
3). The founding of a literature and arts magazine for neurodivergent artists, NeurodivergART.
Being a caterpillar saved my life. Being a caterpillar protected me in a harsh, unsafe world. Until I could discover who I am, I needed that camouflage.
It’s funny because some people think I look less like a butterfly than when I was in my caterpillar camouflage. Now, though, when I feel the sunshine on my face, eat my favorite food, and curl up really tight, I may be exposed but I am anything but vulnerable.
Now, when I flap my hands, I fly.
I am me, Saraswati Chand, once a caterpillar, now a butterfly, always beautiful and magnificent.