(Sidenote: This is in response to a conversation that’s taking place amongst people I know IRL, and if I can somehow figure out a way to communicate this message to the people that really need to hear it, I may remove this post from the blog for anonymity reasons)
You don’t know what it’s like to have to choose between spending time with friends, or in a community which purports to include you, and not putting yourself through huge levels of anxiety at best and a meltdown at worst.
You don’t know what it’s like to look forward to it anyway, because it’s all you’ve got, and sometimes it hasn’t been too bad; you don’t know what it’s like for “I probably won’t freak out too much, and if I do there might be a way around it” to be the very definition of “looking forward to it”.
You don’t know what it’s like to put on your favourite clothes and your favourite music and everyone else’s favourite neurotypical-passing brave face and persuade yourself that you will have fun tonight, only for it to go as badly as, deep down, you knew it would all along.
You don’t know what it’s like to feel out of sorts for days and to blame yourself for it because you knew you couldn’t handle it and you should have stayed at home. Again.
You don’t know what it’s like to have had a recent meltdown on a loud, crowded, chaotic, drunken night out, to remember how that felt, and to not want to just relax and try again next time.
You don’t know what it’s like to feel isolated and lonely even when you’re literally living amongst the biggest social circle you’ve ever had, and more than likely the biggest social circle you will ever have, in a city with seemingly infinite opportunities, because all they ever want to do is that one kind of socialising mentioned above.
You don’t know what it’s like to suddenly do a U-turn and start blaming yourself not only for going, but also for not going.
You don’t know what it’s like for people who care about you to think “Please don’t feel pressured, it’s okay if you don’t want to come” is enough; it doesn’t occur to them to find alternatives that don’t need to come with a warning. You don’t know what it’s like for them to think “You don’t have to drink” is enough; it doesn’t occur to them that if everyone else’s night is revolving around the idea of getting drunk, you’re maybe going to feel a little bit left out. You don’t know what it’s like for people to think not literally forcing you to do things you don’t want to means that they deserve an ally cookie.
You don’t know what it’s like to feel selfish for even thinking about this issue, for not just going with the majority and accepting you can’t always have your own way and compromising, even just in your own head, when all your life all you’ve ever done is fucking compromise.
You don’t know what it’s like to be feel like you’re judgmental and anti-fun, because you’ve heard people talk badly about others who stay quiet on the sidelines and don’t drink and don’t get involved much, and maybe they’re tolerating it from you because they know you’re autistic, but even so, that’s all that you are. Tolerated.
You don’t know what it’s like for people to assume you just don’t want social interaction, because you’re autistic.
You don’t know what it’s like for people to assume you’re just bad at social interaction, even though you’ve lost count of the number of times you’ve left an overloading event only to sit and talk for hours with your best friend back in halls, and the number of times you’ve arranged lunch or coffee or cinema or so many other things with individuals or smaller groups.
You don’t know what it’s like to have the problem framed as just a fact of autistic life, a sad tragedy that cannot be resolved, because nobody stops to wonder if they’re part of the problem, however small. You don’t know what it’s like to be told, in whatever way, “you can’t just change society” by countless people who, themselves, constitute “society” – to paraphrase a friend, we are disabled by you.
You don’t know what it’s like to be told how complicated you’re told it is to do one thing, yet how easy it apparently is to sort out pre-drinks, a bar, a club, have a few back-up clubs in mind in case you don’t get into the first one, and the nightbus route home, all with increasing alcohol levels as they progress through the night – impressive if you ask me, especially given the rate at which other suggestions are dismissed because nobody can be bothered to organise them.
You don’t know what it’s like to be told to just arrange it all yourself and to actually do so, only for it all to fall apart later that day in favour of Drinks In Someone’s Room, Part Infinity, when you know that’s going to involve more people in one small space than you can manage, and to have people reassure you that it’s all going to be totally okay because you can just bring Diet Coke. You don’t know what it’s like when the Diet Coke doesn’t miraculously level out your sensory input, or how frustrating it is when, inevitably, it ends badly.
You don’t know what it’s like to, after all that, resign yourself to taking the path of least resistance and play along with the “autistic person can’t control their emotions and doesn’t have empathy and threw a tantrum and now they’re really sorry” trope, and try in future try to be more calm and tactful when raising the issue, which of course usually means “don’t raise it at all”.
You don’t know what it’s like for people to refuse to hear this unless you have positive solutions, when this exclusionary system of socialising has become so unquestioned, so normal, that nobody can conceive of anything else.
You don’t know what it’s like to be the inconvenience.
You don’t know what it’s like to be the afterthought.
You don’t know what it’s like.
So don’t fucking tell me that I have to accept it.