Feminist Aspie

Expectations, Expectations Everywhere!

Being autistic, like being human in general, comes with a lot of false and contradictory expectations to meet.

I often find myself caught between the belief ingrained in me for years that my autism means I’m Being Neurotypical Wrong, and the the more recently-developed feeling that I’m Being Autistic Wrong. In the past I rarely bothered asking for accommodations or disclosing disability beyond the standard equal opportunity tick-box in applications, worried that people would think it was fake, but now I’m also worried that not doing that makes people think it’s fake. I still can’t quite shake off the passing-for-neurotypical mask I put on automatically around other people, which makes me feel insincere and (again) fake, but at the same time I still stim and generally am sometimes more obviously autistic and people react badly to that too. Some people who only see me in certain contexts think I’m too quiet these days; others see me in certain contexts and think I’m too loud. And, of course, neurotypical people have that tendency to either only see an autistic person’s weaknesses but not their strengths or vice versa, creating a tightrope of constantly trying to prove “I’m not faking” and “I am capable of these things” to other people at the same time.

Like it or not, the expectations of others are powerful. We often look to what other people are saying and doing in order to work out what is required of us, what the ideal outcomes are, and what is and isn’t appropriate. Importantly, though, looking at what other people do shows me what is considered to be normal – in a world that’s also constantly telling me that “normal” should be my ultimate goal.

So by extension, I feel like I have to generally do what other people are doing. Blend in with other people. Wonder what other people think about me, to the point of fixation. As it turns out, there are lots of potential reasons for people to judge you – what you do with your free time, how you socialise and how often, how you look, what you eat and drink (or what you don’t), the extent to which you express emotions and how, how you carry yourself generally, how you react to certain events and experiences in your life, how vocal you are (or aren’t) about various topics and issues… and in case it wasn’t complicated enough, different people expect different and often contradictory things from you. I can’t please everyone even if I wanted to.

As I head into my final year at university, the future is becoming more real and more scary, and the bigger long-term expectations of other people are playing a significant part in that. The combination of what and where I’m studying means I’m currently in a world of “well obviously you’ll want this career and these are the steps you have to take and even though it’s not statistically possible that everybody does the same thing it’s all we’ll ever talk about ever“. In the graduate recruitment context, everything seems to have rough ages and degree stages attached to it too, and the fact that I’ve just done an Erasmus year abroad (which, of course, I spent constantly worried about whether or not people thought I was making the most of the experience!) makes me feel like I’ve fallen behind my graduated friends, and watching them all go on to do these great impressive things just adds to the pressure.

Having said that, over the past year I’ve learned that other people’s expectations are mostly rubbish and it’s not healthy to constantly compare your whole reality to other people’s Facebook statuses, funny anecdotes and general highlight reels. Slowly but surely, I’m starting to think “You know what? This stuff really doesn’t matter. I don’t need to fit exactly what everyone else expects of me, and it’s better for all parties for me to be honest, be myself and work towards goals I really do want to achieve.” Sounds good so far, right?

One small hitch: I’m so used to relying on what other people want me to be that if you take all that away, I’m not sure how to figure out what I want to be anymore.

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Sometimes, We Don’t Say Anything

Maybe I’m stating the obvious here, but most women don’t actually mention every single sexist thing that happens to them. Sometimes we confront it directly, sometimes we vent to a friend, sometimes we talk about it online, but a lot of the time… nothing.

There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, there’s the issue of everyday sexism being so normalised that it goes unnoticed in the first place. Secondly, we have lives and don’t particularly want to be here talking about sexism all day. Saying “this shitty thing happened to me today” isn’t always convenient – people aren’t always around, internet isn’t always available, you don’t always have the time or the energy to say something. Sometimes we mean to bring it up later; sometimes we forget.

Sometimes, we think to ourselves, it’s “not worth it”, which can mean a number of different things. Sometimes it’s just not worth the effort of starting the conversation or sending off a tweet; evidently, sometimes we just have to pick our battles, and when other people can’t fix the problem anyway it can seem a bit pointless to bring it up. Sometimes it’s not worth the energy spent on yet another same-old-same-old big argument about how we’re not being over-sensitive and hormones have absolutely nothing to do with it and this stuff does add up and is harmful and their intentions don’t erase the harm done and it shouldn’t matter what we’re wearing and other things we’ve already had to deal with a million and one times before. Sometimes it’s not worth being considered “a bitch” or “a killjoy” or “irrational” or whatever women who stand up for themselves are being called this week, especially as we’re called those things for bringing up even one feminist issue, let alone everything; and even when you don’t care what people think of you, there are still situations (such as in the workplace) where other people’s opinions of you matter and have knock-on consequences. Sometimes, especially for direct confrontation or in public forums, it’s not worth the harassment and the abuse we might get for speaking up.

Sometimes, we decide it’s too insignificant to mention. Sometimes it didn’t have much of an impact on us personally and we don’t really care enough to go out of our way to mention it. Sometimes it seems so small that we don’t think anyone else will care to hear about it. Sometimes we think it’s unlikely that we’ll be taken seriously. Sometimes the significance of whatever happened, only becomes clear in the context of a larger inequality, from housework to harassment, which can be really difficult to communicate to others, particularly to those who seem to be actively trying not to listen. Sometimes there’s no way to articulate this pattern without at some point mentioning that the perpetrators are men, and when we say that, many people completely ignore our initial point in favour of a mass of “not all men are like that” as if we didn’t already know that, as if a generalisation (where it even exists) by a few people has anywhere near the same power as the stereotypes and roles forced on us by society itself, as if semantics matter more than the problem we were talking about in the first place.

So when someone does speak up, remember they did so despite the huge number of reasons not to, which demonstrates the impact the relevant event had. It might have been particularly severe or obvious. It might have been one of several “little things” to happen in one day. It might have been the final straw for someone who was already upset or angry or anxious because of something else entirely. Whatever the reason, when you do hear about everyday sexism, it probably means the woman in question has seriously had enough of putting up with this stuff day in, day out, and keeping quiet about it.

And before you respond with “why are you making such a fuss” or “stop being so sensitive” or “not all men”, you should probably take that into consideration.

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A Headcanon Named Autism: In defence of finding our own representation

Let’s start with a trip down memory lane. When I was in Sixth Form, I studied Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire for A-Level English; being one of few people in the classroom who didn’t really mind reading out a particularly large share of lines, I ended up reading Blanche DuBois every lesson. I’ll be honest, Blanche is basically the dictionary definition of “your fave is problematic”, and yet she became one of my favourite characters in the whole syllabus; I sort of identified with her in a way I couldn’t really put my finger on at the time. Before long, I was combing through the text over and over, reading far more articles and criticisms online than was really necessary for the coursework, and developed a theory that I eventually felt confident enough to share with friends, only to receive a perplexed look and a “…Really? Are you sure?” in response.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I’d accidentally reinvented the autistic headcanon.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “headcanons” are reader interpretations and theories that aren’t expressly stated within the media itself (i.e. it isn’t “canon”). So an autistic headcanon basically means “I interpret this character as autistic” and it’s also worth noting that the headcanon-er is usually, though not always, autistic themselves, because we’re the ones most invested in autistic representation. I’ve noticed a strange backlash against autistic headcanons, mostly from neurotypical people. “Stop glorifying/romanticising autism!” they say, just like they do whenever we talk about autism as anything other than the horrifying-tragic-burden portrayed by organisations like Autism Speaks. “Stop mocking autism!” they say, telling autistic people that they’re somehow mocking themselves whilst ignoring all the actual mockery of autism that neurotypical people do all the time. Self-insertion is another accusation thrown around (although somehow never at neurotypical people who insist a given character has to share their neurotype…) but that’s rarely the case; often, apart from being autistic, we aren’t actually all that like our autistic headcanons. It’s almost like autistic people aren’t all the same or something…

Which brings me to the current state of canon autistic representation which, like the representation of many other marginalised groups, is very poor. The main problem, of course, is that there isn’t enough of it. Then, when there is a canonically autistic character, it’s often the same-old-same-old “gifted at maths/science/technology but inept at every single human interaction” stereotype. I don’t doubt that some autistic people happen to fit that stereotype, but when that’s all the representation that’s available, many of us will continue to struggle to relate to even the few characters that are supposed to be like us. They’re often defined by the neurotypical point of view, with little or no mention of traits such as sensory processing issues. They’re also virtually always cis white men. Sometimes, characters are very heavily coded autistic (albeit in very stereotypical ways) to the point that it can’t be an accident, but it’s never expressly stated; this increases the stigma around the autism label (the idea that it’s too horrifying to speak of), allows the writers to be as inaccurate/stereotyping/offensive as they want with no consequences, and allows neurotypical people to continue to ignore autism and even try to take this very limited and very flawed representation away from us. Because yes, many of us cling to such characters anyway despite all these issues, because it’s all the representation we’ve got.

Representation issues are often dismissed as “just fiction” but this does matter; this does have real-world consequences. If, growing up, you are never or rarely shown people like you, it reinforces the idea that you’re abnormal, that you’re somehow wrong. If people like you are only shown to be one narrow type of person, you assume that that’s all people like you can be, and you start to feel that not only are you a failure for not being neurotypical, you’re also failing at being autistic. It also shapes how other people think about people like you; if they are only shown this one stereotype of people like you, they will believe that that’s how all people like you are, and that’s how they will expect you to be. We do get expressly compared to autistic or heavily-coded-autistic characters all the time – if I had a pound for every time my name was put in the same sentence as Sheldon Cooper or Christopher Boone or Sherlock Holmes, I could buy a plane flying a banner which reads “SERIOUSLY I WANT MORE FEMALE AUTISTIC CHARACTERS” – which only goes to show that these characters do send out a clear message about autism, good or bad, right or wrong, to neurotypical people. Personally, I’m frustrated by the fact that so many canonically autistic characters have a ~special talent~ that somehow redeems them; when I was younger I genuinely thought that was true of all people like me (it isn’t; see this post by Unstrange Mind), so as a straight-A student who didn’t (and doesn’t) have any glaringly obvious ~special talent~, I assumed mine had to be school and therefore I would be doomed shortly after I turned 18. And I’m speaking as a white cishet woman who has no other disabilities besides autism; autistic people in one or more other marginalised groups are often rendered completely invisible.

So, is it any wonder we resort to finding our own representation? Sometimes we aren’t even looking for it, it just happens, but sometimes some of us do just randomly decide a character is autistic because-why-not, and that’s okay too – because, well, why not? Why is neurotypical the default unless expressly stated otherwise? Believe me, there are headcanons out there a lot more far-fetched than “I see a lot of my own autistic traits in this character” that don’t get anywhere near the same level of scrutiny and people desperately trying to prove them wrong. I suppose if you’ve always been told your neurotype is the default to which everything else is “other”, you’d react negatively to being told you’re not. Autistic headcanons aren’t hurting anyone – unlike the currently poor canon representation, and of course the real-world ableism routinely ignored or perpetuated by the same people who are so against autistic headcanons – so why else would there be such a backlash from neurotypical people?

Representation matters, and I want to see a world where books and TV shows and films depict autistic people of colour, LGBTQIA+ autistic people, autistic women, autistic people with other disabilities, autistic people who can pass for neurotypical and who can’t, autistic people who are verbal, non-verbal, partially verbal, autistic people with all kinds of special interests, autistic people who use special interests in their work and those who don’t, autistic people who are hypersensitive and hyposensitive and sensory-seeking, autistic people of all ages and all occupations, autistic heroes, autistic villains, autistic geeks and autistic sports captains and everything in between, with good qualities and flaws that are related to autism and those that aren’t related to autism at all – realistic, multi-dimensional autistic characters that don’t feel hollow or like the butt of a joke.

I suppose, unlike Blanche, I do want realism. And until that’s achieved, autistic media consumers everywhere will keep working our headcanon magic.

(Also, I’m interested to hear your autistic headcanons, or favourite canon autistic characters – let me know in the comments!)

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The Illusion of “Neutral”

A huge part of privilege is that we are able to totally ignore the fact that we have it. If you don’t have to deal with any given oppression – sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia etc – day in day out, if it doesn’t affect you, you might not notice microaggressions (or even larger structural issues), or you might notice but look the other way, or you might notice and think to yourself “that’s a bit iffy” then forget about it and get on with your day – bear in mind this is a privilege not afforded to the marginalised group in question. Until, of course, the people directly affected point out the problem and ask for change – then, because you can’t ignore it anymore, you might think they are the problem for “creating divisions”“starting arguments” or “making it political”. Honestly, I’ve been there; I think we probably all have at some point.

This demonstrates two things. Firstly, we should listen to marginalised groups we’re not a part of, because they know their own oppression better than we do. Secondly, those arguments are necessary. Because here, “neutral” or “apolitical” means “don’t rock the boat”. It means just passively keeping things the same. And that means continued oppression.

Yeah, I know. Conflict is always unpleasant, and it’s sad and frustrating that these conflicts keep cropping up. But the solution isn’t to simply suppress the conflict; the solution is to tackle the oppression that’s causing the conflict. To reiterate: the oppression causes the conflict. People seem to have this idea that marginalised groups just love arguments and get angry all by themselves. Unless you just happen to be a white, straight, cis, abled, financially comfortable man who also has whichever other privileges I’ve forgotten to list, you’ll know that’s not true in terms of your own marginalisation(s) – so why do we have such difficulty in transferring that knowledge to situations where our group is the oppressor?

To be told that your words or your actions are harmful is uncomfortable, but it’s nowhere near as uncomfortable as actually being on the receiving end of that harm time and time again, every day, everywhere, even in supposedly “safe” spaces because many people think that “safe” means “neutral” and argument-free. Safe spaces should be safe for all the people they aim to support, including those who are marginalised within that group. This means that structural oppression has to be addressed, and that can mean conflict. It might seem theoretical and pointless to you, but for others, it’s the first steps towards making a space safe and positive again.

In short, privilege matters. This is also why, in these situations, “compromise” is not a solution (that’s basically saying “we’ll be slightly less harmful/less obviously harmful and you’d better be grateful for it”) and why the privileged group in these arguments using “this makes me feel unsafe” as some sort of checkmate phrase just doesn’t work – usually they’re referring to the discomfort of having the problem (which they are complicit in and/or benefit from) pointed out to them, whereas the oppressed group are talking about, well, literal safety.

Basically, “safe” does not always mean “safe from criticism”. And “neutral” does not always mean “equal”.

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Invincible: On special interests and secret weapons

Just to warn you, what you’re about to read is sort of a far-too-soppy post about love. I don’t mean romantic love, though. I don’t even mean platonic love, although I could just as easily describe how the love and care and support and patience of family and friends is absolutely invaluable when things get tough. But today I want to talk about something else entirely; the unique, concentrated, powerful, hard-to-articulate feeling of an autistic special interest.

The giddy joy of the initial phase of research-research-research-consume-consume-consume, the flappy stimmy delight of engaging with it again or in a new way, the happy relief of wondering whether you have special-interest-feelings for the thing anymore only for them to come rushing back at the first sign of new material, the excitement of talking about it to someone who’ll actually listen, the occasional realisation that I love this so so much that I don’t know how to begin conveying it to others, all that makes special interests valuable in and of themselves. Every so often I encounter neurotypical people who talk about special interests as if their only value is that they could be made into a career, usually followed by neurotypical parents of autistic children bemoaning the fact that not all special interests can be “made productive” in this way – something that I think is also true of my own even as an adult. But so what? Neurotypical children (and adults) are allowed to play and relax and have fun without having everything they like turned into either a job or therapy, so why can’t we? Even if that’s all a special interest does, it is still so, so valuable.

For me though, even as an adult whose special interests have absolutely no relation to my career choices, I find that they are productive in other ways. One of them in particular has worked wonders with my university social life and my general ability to strike up a conversation, for example. But again, it’s not all about meeting the requirements of a neurotypical world. Sometimes, it’s about getting through the impossible and surviving that world without falling apart. And for that, that feeling is a not-so-secret weapon.

This isn’t the case for everyone on the spectrum, but my special interests are quite consistent. I know they’re there, always, if I need them, and no matter what the rest of the world is doing to me at any given moment, I know that I have something to cling to. Something safe, but more than that, something that will make me incredibly and undeniably happy despite everything else. Yeah, it’s a crutch, but so is alcohol and dominant society gives people flak for not partaking in that one!

Past experience has shown me time and time again that I can get through pretty much anything armed with my earphones and special interest material. This feels a bit like a superpower. Not only can they get me through pretty much anything but they can also sometimes be the reason I’m trying to overcome something huge in the first place – my other big special interest goes against all my sensory issues, and yet I go through with it because I’m like a moth to its flame, and I cope because the cause of the problem itself is also like super-effective stimming. It’s a confidence thing too; in theory this shouldn’t work, but in practice it always Just Does, and the obstacle in front of me is downgraded from “basically a meltdown on a plate, literally impossible” to “really really difficult and at times it seems impossible but you’ve got this, your own obsessions have got your back”.

My brain last week was weirdly like the setting of one of those old legends; the most terrifying beast of all had returned far stronger than ever before and brought the whole city to its knees, but the beast was slain (er, for another year…) by a force that was, against all the odds, even more powerful still.

A force that I think of as love.

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On Condition

Content note: This post discusses rape culture.

There’s a tendency, particularly amongst the “I’m a feminist/ally but” types, to respect women if, and only if, said women appear to be invulnerable, perfect machines.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she dedicates all her time and energy to her work and/or to other people. Self-care is viewed as selfish.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she does not show emotion under any circumstances, because emotion is considered feminine and feminine is considered bad, so she’ll get every stereotype in the book thrown in her face.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she “respects herself”, a phrase that usually seems to have nothing to do with actually respecting herself and everything to do with following all the old tired nonsense rules about how to Not Get Raped, which doesn’t sound a lot like respecting her to me.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she is “strong enough”; that she “can take it”. Nobody stops to question exactly what she has to take and why she should have to take it.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she does not make requests, whether that’s accommodations for childcare, for disability, or anything that even as much as puts her on a level playing field with others. She has to just take it, otherwise she’s considered weak.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she doesn’t “let herself be a victim”, which is apparently still a phrase that exists and is used on a regular basis. Victim-blaming in its purest form. In order to not “let herself be a victim” (again, what???) she has to just take it, not make a big deal out of it (read: keep quiet). Any trauma she has experienced must not manifest itself, for example in the form of PTSD, because (even though she obviously doesn’t have a choice about that) then she’s “letting herself be a victim”. And woe betide her if she asks for trigger warnings.

I use “a woman” because, if she goes against any of the above, she’s suddenly considered to be representing all women – in many cases, she’s told she’s “letting her gender down” or “making women look weak”. The aim of this is to turn other women, sadly including feminists a lot of the time, against her in order to protect themselves (because women are already deemed to be weak too much as it is), leading to a situation where we’re all competing for scraps of respect and validation because we have no other choice.

Meanwhile, at least in terms of his gender (other axes of oppression may of course apply), a man is deemed worthy of respect… full stop.

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Scary Thoughts I Had In A Group For Autistic Women

(TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses ableism, misogyny, harassment, relationship abuse, and sexual assault)

If you grow up surrounded by social norms you find confusing, unnecessary or uncomfortable and are told you just have to learn to accept it, then patriarchy and gender roles might not seem any different.

If you’re constantly mocked and teased by people who assert that it’s “just a joke” (and therefore your fault for not finding it funny), then you might also blame yourself for reacting wrongly when men insist that catcalling and harassment is “just a compliment”.

If your facial expressions are always perceived as wrong and as a problem to be fixed, then “smile, love!” might seem like helpful advice.

If your requests for people to meet you halfway or even 10% of the way in an ableist world and make minor accommodations for disabilities have always been deemed uncompromising, selfish, manipulative or controlling, then you might not notice a problem when requests for a partner to do even part of their fair share of the housework are met with a similar response. Or you might have learned not to make requests at all.

If you’ve been taught to move, speak and act exactly how other people want you to, you might not recognise this sort of control as wrong, or as anything less than normal.

If you’re always told your autism isn’t enough to count, you might assume your abuse isn’t enough to count either.

If you’re taught that standing up for yourselves isn’t worth it, you might not stand up for yourself anymore, and then everything must be fine because you’re not arguing over it, right? Why don’t you just confront him?

If you’re told that things you find painful don’t really hurt at all, that your feelings and perceptions are incorrect, that nothing is as important as passing for neurotypical which usually means compliance, if you were never given the tools to say no, then… you do the maths.

In “Quiet Hands”, Julia Bascom uses the phrase “And when you’re autistic, it’s not abuse. It’s therapy.”, something that I think could be extended to other disabilities too. This pervasive ableism leaves all disabled people vulnerable to further abuse. Throw in the prevalence of gendered abuse and violence against women (as well as other intersecting oppressions) and the way we treat disability becomes all the more chilling.

Because if you’re constantly told you’re a burden, you’re always to blame, you should be grateful when people don’t outright dismiss you and laugh at you, then you might start to believe it.

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Aestivation

Honestly, I’m not sure I really want to publish this post now that it’s written; so fair warning, it may well end up being part of my fairly small group of previously-published hidden posts soon. But at the same time, I think I needed to vent like this, and I haven’t blogged for a while because of exams and kinda feel like I should explain why I didn’t rush back to the blog as planned once I’d finished. I promise I’ll be back writing proper posts that aren’t just pathetic-whining-about-my-life really soon, though – there’s an outline sitting in my drafts already!

________________________________________________________________________________

Nope. First comes the initial panic. Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope. But funnily enough, repeating “nope” and other stronger words to the screen does nothing to change it. The internal panic button has already been pressed. Fine then. It will come, and it will pass, and everything will be okay. If I know it’s coming, I can prepare.

So that’s me for a few days; knowing it’s coming, knowing I have to do all in my power to avoid it, and knowing that avoiding it isn’t possible – but at least I can plan ahead. The days stop having names and start having numbers, and everything’s leading up to a peak. I prepare for the event, cramming all adulting tasks into the space before it arrives, making sure the clothes with materials I’ll tolerate are clean and I’ve got in enough food I’ll be able to make myself eat. I joke to myself that I feels a bit like a hedgehog preparing for hibernation, except with absolutely awful timing (hence the post title – a word I never seem to think of at the time). In the early stages, I push through the anxiety and the sensory overload as much as I can so that when it really begins, I’m ready. Part of me knows that I’ll never be ready enough, though; it just inherently makes me panic and it already has, and the fact that I’m already not handling it terrifies me.

…And usually, that’s it. The End. Everything is okay. The only thing that brings me down at all is my own silly irrational terrified brain, which I spend the next little while beating myself up over because how can I still be this pathetic. The reality doesn’t match up to the Absolute Worst that was in my head.

Except, of course, for when it does – and I think I’d forgotten how that really feels.

I woke up at 6am yesterday morning, and time had slowed to a crawl as the world around me warmed up at an alarming rate. There was one last bit of admin which I couldn’t get under control in time, but I was with a friend, we were going early and we didn’t have to go far so I was feeling positive. I psyched myself up for The Outside World with music and selfies. It went really well. Within an hour of that, all the air around me seemed to disappear and sensory overload was setting in and I felt sick. The cool-shower-and-a-nap plan maybe sort of made everything okay for about half an hour. I spent the next five or six snail-pace hours hovering over full-scale-meltdown point, wanting desperately to be unconscious but not being able to sleep, or eat, or think straight, being fully aware that I was lucky to have just finished exams beforehand and to be able to hide away and not have to be a fully functioning adult and feeling absolutely pathetic because clearly other people have more to deal with and yet are dealing with it so much better than me, taking an hour to type out a simple gift message because I kept freaking out and moving away from the laptop and rocking and clawing at my neck and shoulders because icantbreatheandeverythingsburningandnothingidoismakingitstop, and when it began to slowly ease off, that turned into slightly more articulate-able panic about whether the storm would come or whether I’d be stuck in this mess for a day, an hour, a second longer. Then there was a really loud downpour, and then everything was okay. Today, I’m a bit post-meltdown-drained but those feelings are starting to fade now, and everything is okay.

Well, except for the reminder of why I’m so ridiculously afraid of a little screen full of big numbers in the first place.

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What Self-Care Means To Me #AutismPositivity2015

This post is part of the Autism Positivity Day Flash Blog; this year’s theme is “Acceptance, Love and Self-Care”.

This post has been a frustrating one to start, because at the moment self-care is something I have a lot of feelings about, but it takes so many different forms that I don’t know what to focus on. Self-care varies, because people vary, but here are some ways in which I (at least try to!) practice self-care:

Disregarding “normal”. This might sound obvious, but it’s easier said than done when the neurotypical standards aren’t just present in your own minds, but in the minds of others and in the very fabric of a society not designed to accommodate people like us. This year I’ve had to try and unpack every single “I’m not X enough” standard I have – I mean literally typing out every single one I could think of – and counter them, one by one. I am learning to compare myself to me, six months ago, a year ago, three years ago, but not to my peers, because they’re not me, they’re all their own person, and most of them are neurotypical. This year, I have grown – my experience wasn’t necessarily what I expected, or what was expected of me, or what my friends have experienced, but I have grown.

Special interests. (No, I don’t like the term either, but nobody’s thought of anything better yet…) Escaping the rest of the world, engaging, pacing and spinning around the room and *gasp* not feeling guilty or childish for it. If they can have their big night out, I get to have this.

Accepting online interaction as real, valid interaction. Because it is.

Actually genuinely really being honest. This is a very very VERY recent thing for me, and it’s been brought about for two main reasons. Firstly, to cut a long story short, there is a space where friends are dropping our socially-acceptable masks and talking about our worries and fears and realising we’re actually not alone in them. Secondly, out of necessity, because I haven’t exactly been feeling 100% this week and I needed to have somebody here who understands and can help me out where necessary. I have definitely internalised the idea that if I am still capable of asking for help then I obviously don’t need it and nobody will believe me; I also often fall into the trap of assuming an allistic person probably doesn’t really understand whatever my problem is. Neither of these things are true. Showing vulnerability is hard for me, and this is going to be a slow process, but you’d be surprised by the level of support and empathy that’s there, given the chance – and who knows, you might encourage others to do the same.

Writing notes to myself. This is something I’ve done on-and-off for a couple of years, mostly just on my phone and laptop. I look back over them when I’m feeling useless and pathetic, and they remind me that I’m not.

Lists. For when there’s so many thoughts competing for my attention that I have no idea how to proceed with my day.

Acknowledging invisible strength. That is to say, feeling proud of having done something that scares or overwhelms you even when that’s not noticed because to the neurotypical majority, it’s just normal and everyday. Sometimes, for many of us, that stuff is everyday – and even if I do say so myself, that is really, really brave. Recognising that helps me to recognise when I need to step back and recharge, why I’m feeling crappy and how to fix it (where possible), and how best to prioritise when spoons are low.

Taking things one day at a time. The next couple of months have very scary elements, next year seems impossible, and the future is a dark and terrifying void. But today? I can do today. The chances are I can even do tomorrow.

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Yes, You Do Mean Me

People I know will talk at length about how ridiculous and over-sensitive and overly angry they think feminists are, or social justice activists more generally, and often expressly refer to specific views I share or groups I’m a part of, but, well, obviously we don’t mean you.” They don’t mean me because I’m not confrontational, I’m not argumentative, I stay quiet and let everything slide because direct confrontation is something I really struggle with. They don’t mean me, even though if I spoke my mind more often, they’d know they do mean me.

They don’t mean you, yet, they just want to check you’ll laugh along and keep the part of you they clearly do mean out of their sight.

They don’t mean you as a disabled person either. Certainly, when misogynist and/or ableist trolls came after the NUS Women’s Conference for using BSL applause to accommodate various disabilities“well, obviously none of them meant you” although, being autistic and hypersensitive to sound, I’m amongst the people who would benefit, and my friends often end up making very similar accommodations for me, albeit on a smaller scale. People, even those who campaign for social justice and claim to strive for intersectionality, make sweeping catch-all criticisms of people who don’t follow a healthy enough or ethical enough diet, who spend a lot of time online, who didn’t vote* or go to a protest or something else which involves being able to leave home and get to another place that may be inaccessible in any number of ways, and when someone points out the inherent ableism in that and how it affects them personally… “Well, obviously we don’t mean you.” Sometimes that’s also accompanied by a thorough assessment of whether the individual in question tried this, tried that, tried hard enough, or whether they actually really genuinely have a good enough excuse.

They don’t mean you, so long as your disability and your experience has their approval. They don’t mean you, but all these other disabled people need to just try harder, or also come forward as individuals and hope they’ll be believed. They don’t mean you, as long as you’re in a position to willingly disclose your disability in demand. They don’t mean youunless your invisible disability hasn’t been spotted or diagnosed yet, because everyone’s abled by default, right? They don’t mean you, they approve of your excuse so they don’t have a choice about it, it’s not your fault you’ll never be as good as your abled peers in their view.

Believe me, “well, obviously we don’t mean you doesn’t make a jot of difference to those of us who have to put up with this stuff from all angles, day in day out, always the afterthought they didn’t really mean. Unintentional harm does happen, and in a society where oppression and exclusion is so widespread it goes unnoticed, I’d go so far as to say it’s inevitable that we all cause unintentional harm at some point, but that doesn’t make it any less harmful. We need to learn from our mistakes, take care not to repeat them in future, and apologise where necessary; getting defensive and claiming we never meant you doesn’t solve anything.

Because when faced with the reality that their ideologies are hurting actual real people, they never mean you. They just mean everyone else like you, and they expect you to be okay with that.


*Just so we’re clear, I managed to arrange a postal vote on time, used it, and felt it was important for me to do so, but that doesn’t mean I’m a fan of blaming non-voters, even where it was by choice – it’s not something I want to get into here though, so I’d recommend reading Stavvers on the subject instead.

7 Comments »

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