Feminist Aspie

The Almost Shutdown

I’m not going to be around this weekend, so I’d planned to just not write a blog post until next week. However, I have time to kill and experiences I’d like to try and make sense of, so here I am!

You know that horrible feeling where you really want to cry but for some reason just can’t make it happen? During intense and/or prolonged sensory overload, I get a very similar feeling, a feeling of “I wish I’d just go into meltdown already.” Both, at least to an extent, seem to me to be based on validation; we’re all constantly pressured to hide our feelings for as long as we can help it, so at least if we reach the point where we genuinely can’t, somebody might take notice and give you the support you need. For those of us who are neurodivergent, the insistence on hiding right up until breaking point is tenfold; we’re taught to lie that we’re okay to avoid inevitably being dismissed as over-reacting or even manipulative, and the tell-tale signs that escape anyway are often ignored or misinterpreted by those around us.

Having said that, both feelings are also based on the need for a release, and the frustration of being denied one by your own resilience.

Regular readers will roll their eyes at this sentence but just to make sure everyone’s up to speed, I don’t handle heatwaves well, which I’ve written about here and, well, generally all over the place on my blog and Twitter. Sorry about that. Anyway, with a lot of avoidance, distraction and then guilt about it later, I’ve so far evaded the threat of a meltdown or a full shutdown, but a couple of days ago I seem to have hit some sort of wall and I’ve been in what I can only describe as a constant state of “almost shutdown” ever since; so, I thought, seeing as I still seem to be thinking clearly enough to write a blog post, I might as well talk about it!

This is the weird part, for me; I feel like I’m in shutdown, but I can still motivate myself to write a blog post; in fact, having been fortunate enough to be invited to contribute to a compilation of tips for working with autistic children (EDIT: that piece has since been published on the AutismPlusLandE website and can be found here), this is realistically the second short blog post I’ve written in 24 hours. I’ve yet again developed an insatiable appetite for music as a distraction, but it seems I now can’t blog and listen to music at the same time because that’s too much input; yet I still can’t help but hear all ongoing conversations, which make me anxious because of the loud intertwining voices and chance of potential conflict. My unscripted verbal ability is very variable, sometimes minimal, but I could go to the shops with my parents this morning without incident, albeit quietly and unenthusiastically, and I even made actual conversation happen with Dad just now. I’ve started to find eating difficult but I know when I need to eat and can make myself do so. Sometimes I feel too alert, really oversensitive and overloaded and I can feel the beginnings of the vibrations of a meltdown or shutdown in my arms, but other times I just feel completely wiped out. I’ve been stimming a lot more overall – pacing around; repeating the same few lines of a song over and over again; agitated hand flapping, shushing to myself and covering my ears when I’m really overloading – but in contrast, other times I’m really lethargic. Frankly I’ve been sleeping much better than the neurotypical people around me in this heat because I’m so massively tired that once I manage to take my mind off it I’m just gone, and that makes me feel so guilty for still feeling as completely drained as I do. Talking is so much more difficult, but thinking – and writing – is almost as clear as usual.

In short, it’s a contradictory mess.

I’m thinking of this almost-shutdown as more of a “safe mode”; I don’t exactly feel brilliant, but if I stop using energy where it isn’t essential, passing for neurotypical and the like, and cut off particularly difficult tasks, I can cope relatively well until the actual problem – sometimes all but forgotten in all this – is resolved. The issue in this case is that there isn’t really a definite end point at which the constantly-overloading-thing will go away, which plays into a bit of a fear I have of being trapped too, plus the nerves and conflict-potential and reduced-ability-to-hide-away-on-my-own of a weekend away always makes me anxious beforehand anyway. At the moment, then, I’m so worried it’s going to ruin this weekend, whether it eventually escalates or not.

I’m not literally having a meltdown right now, clearly, but in terms of coping ability I’m running on empty. Something’s got to give, and if it has to be me then I just wish I’d get on with it, instead of being so so scared of it happening in the wrong place at the wrong time.

…Answers on a postcard please?

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Make Me Scream Your Screams: Why “auties can’t lie” couldn’t be further from the truth

For this week’s blog post title, I was massively torn between the entirety of the lyrics from two Muse songs; so, this is Showbiz, this is Citizen Erased, both really resonate with me for reasons I’ll discuss below, and both are really worth a listen. [SPECIAL INTEREST INTENSIFIES]

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I never really got the “autistic people can’t lie” stereotype because, I admit it, I think I’m quite a good liar. I mean, I’ve kept this blog hidden from almost everyone I know (I only know of two real-life friends, and one online friend from outside my FeministAspie stuff, who are aware of it, all by choice) for over a year and a half now. In my teens, I used to write song lyrics (in hindsight, pretty awful with a side dish of internalised misogyny) and also kept those hidden. For some reason, in the early stags of a special interest, I tend to keep that hidden too. Then there’s the usual “I’m fine” stuff. Sometimes, I think being autistic actually helps; I’m constantly fidgeting and I never make eye contact anyway, so all the traditional neurotypical-centred “tells” get lost in my usual mannerisms. Autistic Stereotype In “Not Always Absolutely True For Absolutely Everyone” Shocker.

But frankly, that’s all a little bit beside the point. This stereotype particularly bothers me because, for a group of people who are supposed to be unable to lie, we’re very rarely believed.

Autism is, and has always been, defined and discussed almost entirely from the point of view of a neurotypical outsider. We’re seen, not as autistics living in an autism-unfriendly world, but as defective neurotypicals. I’ve essentially always known my diagnosis, yet it wasn’t until I ventured into the autistic community on Tumblr, aged around 16, that I was told sensory issues are an actual real thing. Autism is seen as a social disorder, a behavioural disorder, with no thought for how we experience the world, why we behave the way we do. Hence why stimming is seen as a bad thing, meltdowns are seen as tantrums, and any attempts to avoid or minimise sensory overload are seen as manipulative.

A lot of things held up as almost universally fun, I find overwhelming. Summer. Parties. Summer. Crowds. Summer. People. Summer summer summer summer summer. I’m a giant bundle of sensory overload wrapped in panic wrapped in a very thin layer of “I’m fine, why wouldn’t I be?” because the alternative would be attempting to explain it and getting mocked and ridiculed and told I’m over-reacting. But when I’m overloading like that, I’m, well, not that good a liar; I’m too drained for that. From my point of view at least, my entire tone and body language is a giveaway; not really making much of an attempt to continue conversation, muttering to myself, fingers fluttering, that ubiquitous “sorry!” and an occasional “ugh” noise and a facial expression that’s probably very blank. Most other people, who are supposed to be amazing at picking up non-verbal communication signals, either don’t pick this up at all, or just pick up “she’s being Visibly Neurodivergent and this is A Bad Thing and she needs to stop that”. Most other people, who are supposed to be better than me at really thinking about a person’s motivations and feelings rather than taking their words at literal face value… just take my words, fabricated out of a learned desperation to not be Visibily Neurodivergent, at literal face value.

So I get desperate, I get frustrated, I get really moody and blunt and pushy. It’s not something I’m proud of, I feel awful once I feel safer and calmer, but I feel like I’ve run out of options. Everyone else seems to interpret this as “Well, as you all know, I hate fun, and I don’t have the social skills to be nice and polite and quiet about it, so I’m going to threaten a tantrum because I’m just that manipulative” when the reality is “This is really painful and horrible and I’ve managed to cope with it for this long but now I’m seriously worried I’m going to have a meltdown if I don’t get out to somewhere safe right this second”. For a long time, I even believed the former interpretation myself, and thought myself to be a pretty horrible person for acting in that way.

These problems are constructed, through viewing autism only from the outside, and then used to justify our elimination.
We’ve been taught to put “looking normal” before our own needs. To hide away.
To lie at all times, at all costs.

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My Writing Process: A Blog Tour

I was invited to take part in this blog tour by Kat from Ask an Aspergirl, a blog which mainly discusses autism and generalised anxiety. I’ve related to so many of her posts, and would thoroughly recommend giving the blog a read. Go on. I’ll wait.

Right, now that’s out of the way on to the blog questions:

1) What am I working on?

I blog once a week (although admittedly it’s been fairly erratic) on a blog not-so-imaginatively-titled FeministAspie in which, as the name suggests, I discuss feminism and autism. (Sarcasm: I bet nobody saw that coming). I try and alternate between the two topics each week, but to be honest it often doesn’t quite work like that, and there’s occasionally overlap, such as this post on autism and consent issues. In terms of upcoming posts, next week I’ll probably be discussing the stereotype that autistic people can’t lie and how, thanks to a world which tries at all costs to force us into a neurotypical mould, it often couldn’t be further from the truth; I’d also really like to tackle the sexist imbalance of domestic labour in the near future. Oh, and if this counts for anything, I’m also working on an extended essay for uni at the moment (about feminism – yay!).

2) How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I guess most feminism blogs don’t talk about autism quite so much, and vice versa. Most blogs seem to be much better at posting more often and more consistently, too, so there’s that! I’ve also noticed that I seem to do lists a lot, with almost every sentence being in the same format; I think this habit started when I first wrote about neurotypical privilege back in February 2013 but can also be seen hereherehere and here.

Aside from that, my special interests always seem to end up worming their way into my posts one way or another! Doctor Who is one recurring theme, having been given a post all to itself on several occasions, whilst I occasionally weave song titles or lyrics from special-interest-bands into my post titles (last week’s “The Small Print“? That’s a Muse song…) too. Oh, and I apologise a lot…

3) Why do I write what I do?

I set up this blog at the very end of 2012, having finished my first term at university; on coming home for the Christmas holidays and leaving the uni “bubble” for the first time since arriving in the first place, I grew frustrated with seeing misogyny, amongst other forms of oppression, everywhere but not feeling able to call it out there and then to the relevant people because of all the nerves and being a bit rubbish with words in real life. I started blogging so I could speak out in my own way; if I couldn’t get the message across to whoever I wanted to, at least I could get it to somebody. I later realised the same could apply to ableism and just generally venting about autistic stuff. These days, I’m a little bit better at IRL saying-things, particularly at uni, but I still find this safer space invaluable.

4) How does my writing process work?

If I’m lucky, I’ll have a short “queue” of ideas in my head. For example, three weeks ago I’d been planning all week to blog about the new Pantene advert on apologising, but it was really warm and my head tends to just fixate on that so I ended up writing about that instead, pushing the Pantene post back to the following week. In that time, a spate of high-profile rape and sexual assault cases brought the problem of victim-blaming back to the forefront, and I was invited to take part in this blog tour, so I ended up having my posts planned out three weeks in advance which, if I’m honest, probably hasn’t happened before ever. It’s usually a case of thinking about something at some point during the week, and thinking “hey, I could blog about that at the weekend”.

Once I’ve got a topic, I tend to type out a rough plan. Most of the time, this is just a list of topics on which to spend a paragraph, maybe with a few little sentences or phrases I’ve already thought of. In the “list” style posts, I tend to just bullet point small points to make and then re-order them in a way that flows better. Then it’s just a case of fleshing it out.

Titles often don’t get finalised until I’ve finished the post, or sometimes halfway through – and as I’ve said above, if I can think of a Muse/Bastille reference, I will use it, although as a general rule they tend to be reserved for the less serious, more personal posts.

Next week’s blogger

Next Monday, this blog tour will head over to Heidi at Geeky Scribbles, another autistic woman currently studying Creative Writing at university. There, you’ll find posts on autism, writing, feminism and university life, so please go and pay her a visit! 🙂

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The Small Print

(Content note: Rape, sexual violence, victim-blaming)

This society purports to be against sexual violence; you’d be very hard-pressed to find somebody who doesn’t, at least outwardly and on the surface, consider sexual violence to be morally reprehensible.

But not if the survivor was too scared to say no. Or was repeatedly pressured and coerced until they felt like they had no option but to submit. Or if they’ve had a lifetime of being told not to say no directly, to let people down gently, to be nice and polite and compliant. Or if they said no but didn’t say it enough. Or if they didn’t physically fight back, even though doing so is often dangerous and freezing up is the most common response. Or if they didn’t scream and shout and make a fuss and run away afterwards, even though we’re socialised to be as non-confrontational as humanly possible.

Or if they’re unhurt, because then clearly it wasn’t “real” rape. Any signs of getting on with everyday life are proof that it wasn’t “real” rape.

And certainly not if they’ve been drinking, because then they must not remember what happened properly (you know how hysterical women can be) or they’re just regretting sex the next morning. Or if they drink at all, because that’s just irresponsible. Or if the perpetrator was drinking, because surely they can’t be held responsible for their actions.

Or if it happened at night – what was the victim doing, walking alone at that time? I mean, it’s not like she has a life to live or a job to go to (or come home from), is it?

Or if she was was wearing clothing considered revealing or attractive, because wearing that is “asking for it”; it certainly wouldn’t be something silly like staying cool on a hot day, because women dress only for the male gaze. Same goes for make-up, even though women are often pressured and shamed into wearing it.

Or if the survivor would be considered conventionally attractive, because what do they expect? They deserve all the “unwanted attention” they receive.

Or if they’re deemed unattractive; after all, they should be grateful, and anyway, who’d want to touch them?

Or if they’re sexually active and promiscuous, because consent to sex with one person is of course consent to sex with everyone all the time.

Or if they’ve kissed the perpetrator at any point, or even as much as touched them, because consent to that equates to consent to sex with that person all the time. Or if they’ve even talked; that’s just leading them on, even though women are socialised to be tactful and accommodating and just accept that he only wants a nice chat, why are you being such a bitch about it?

Or if they’re in a relationship with the perpetrator, or ever were, because consenting to a relationship is the same as consenting to sex, and consenting to sex once is the same as consenting to sex forever.

Or if they were at work and risked losing their job or reputation if they tried to stop it or report it, because they’re just being selfish for putting their career first.

Or if they’re a sex worker, because it’s their job, right?

Or if they’re a celebrity, because then they’re just making these allegations to further their career, for publicity and attention. Or if the perpetrator is a celebrity, because that also means the survivor just wants publicity and attention – even if they’re anonymous. And accusing famous people of sexual violence is just a witch-hunt, right?

Or if the violence happens so regularly without consequence that it’s just accepted – because women get groped in clubs all the time, and this somehow makes it okay.

Or if the survivor goes through the completely normal process of taking time to realise and accept that what happened to them was a form of sexual violence – if, just after it happened, they told the perpetrator who probably still terrifies them that it wasn’t rape, then they can’t just change their mind.

Or if it happened in the past, because the world was just like that then. Back then we just called it “wandering hands” – we accepted it then, so you have to shut up and accept it now.

Or if it happened recently, because that stuff doesn’t happen anymore.

Or if survivors speak out, because they must be lying, especially given all of the above. False allegations are no higher than for any other crime, but everyone knows people lie about sexual violence, women are liars and the shockingly low conviction rate is just some feminist conspiracy, certainly not a result of any systemic failure of the justice system.

Or if they don’t speak out immediately, because why not? Suddenly we live in a world where survivors are believed, taken seriously, and not made to suffer further abuse, so there’s no reason at all to keep quiet. Unless you’re lying for publicity and attention, of course.

Or if the perpetrator is yet to be convicted in court, because everyone is innocent until proven guilty and that means survivors are liars until proven otherwise. Even though there couldn’t be a conviction without reporting in the first place.

Or if the perpetrator is already convicted, because then the survivor is just jumping on the bandwagon, and they’re selfish for not speaking out sooner. They’re just as bad because they could have prevented future violence. We’d have believed them. Honest.

This society purports to be against sexual violence, until you read the small print. The phrases – sexual violence, assault,  rape – are seen as morally reprehensible, but their definitions are restricted so narrowly that they’re almost impossible to satisfy. Being accused of sexual violence seems to warrant more sympathy than actually suffering it.

This society isn’t against sexual violence at all.

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