(CONTENT NOTE: This post discusses an autistic shutdown and internalised ableism)
I won’t be around this Friday, so I’m being prepared for once and writing this on Tuesday night! I’ll publish now too, because apparently I’m more impatient than I thought. On the other hand, I’m afraid this is going to be one of those whining-about-my-life posts, because it’s safe to say the past few days have been a bit of a mess!
So: after I’d already had an intense couple of days, some (relatively new) friends from uni started planning to go to Women’s March and I decided to go with them too. This was a Very Obviously Bad Decision. I was overloaded and panicky the second the packed tube doors closed, ended up non-verbal and frozen stiff on the outskirts of the huge crowd, and ultimately found myself zoning in and out on a tube back home before any actual marching had even started. Everything had fallen apart.
Firstly, I know I’m not going to be the only one who’s had similar experiences, and even the fact that I could get there at all is a huge privilege in itself. There’s a lot to be said about inaccessibility in activism; about how some forms of activism are prioritised over others and seen as more “real”, to the detriment of the disabled people (and people in general) who carry out important activist work in other ways; about how instead of add-on tokenism so disabled people can feel included, we need to actually BE included and have our needs considered from the start of activist planning; the list goes on.
For now, though, I want to focus on the shutdown itself and the torrent of internalised ableism and self-loathing that followed. For the rest of the day all I could think about was how terrible and useless and silly I was – not because I couldn’t participate (like I said, inaccessiblity is a thing), but because I couldn’t participate and I tried anyway. If I’d stayed home in the first place I could have at least got on with uni work and perhaps been more vocal online, but instead I put myself through all that stress and ended up writing off the whole day (and, I think, reduced productivity for several days) only to ultimately contribute nothing. If anything, I’d contributed negatively, in that my friends (who were in this situation with me for the first time) were also held back while they tried to figure out what was going on and how to help.
Ultimately though, I think a lot of those feelings just boiled down to frustration. To put it bluntly: I came up against a huge barrier that would not have been there if I were neurotypical. Of course, in many ways you could argue that happens all the time, but, at least in my case, it’s rarely so blatant, so clear-cut, that the only thing standing between me and the goal was my brain. It makes me feel vulnerable; well, I guess it makes me aware of the vulnerability that’s always there.
The other reason I feel vulnerable is because I suddenly feel very visible; it didn’t help that I posted a lot about autism on my Facebook last week for reasons I can’t really go into here. As soon as I had the typing words, I was venting about what happened in practically every space I could think of, to the point that I was a little worried about this post in case parts are recognisably lifted from posts and comments under my own name. But immediately after doing so, I’d feel embarrassed, whiny, silly, looking for attention (why is that even a bad thing anyway?) and if I’m totally honest, I still feel a bit like this now as I write.
I got some really lovely messages on the day from the people I’d gone with, and they were all really nice about it when I saw them again in class, but it didn’t stop me feeling… weird. Weird: My go-to word for a feeling I haven’t quite identified yet. Self-conscious. Guilty. Ashamed. Yep, I felt ashamed that I’d shut down like that so obviously in front of them, even though I know on a logical level that I shouldn’t. Telling the whole story to others has also been…weird. Difficult. Misunderstood. I always forget until I have to talk about autism-related concepts like meltdowns and shutdowns that most people don’t really know what it means without you explaining it (which is something many people struggle with, including myself), and even then, they don’t necessarily get it. It’s not their fault at all, they just can’t relate, it’s not within the realm of experiences they have had. And it makes me feel so alien.
If today’s energy levels and executive function are anything to go by, I’m still not quite over it yet. (Okay, so I wrote a long blog post, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I actually had to do today!) I’m not sure if I have actually been more sensitive and less able to handle social situations over the past couple of days, but I’m definitely more consciously aware of other times when I might be visibly different, or other things I find difficult that “should” be easy, and it feels… y’know, weird. Again, frustration and vulnerability and shame and feeling bad for feeling bad, because I really know I shouldn’t.
Sometimes, the most useful contribution you can make is to take care of yourself, and that’s okay. Sometimes, you have to just accept yourself for who you are, and who you are is okay. I just wish I knew how to put that into practice.