Still Waters – #Autistic December 5/31

Still Waters – #Autistic December 5/31

Still waters run deep

If I had a penny for every time I heard that phrase growing up…

My school reports are year after year of consistently high academic performance and hopes that I might participate more and develop socially. I was lucky to have a natural inclination and ability for learning: it compensated for and allowed me to “get away with” being socially awkward.

…consistently impressing with her quiet, conscientious approach and with the high standard of all her work.

Form Master, Midsummer Term 1989

A first-class report. […] She is very modest about her ability and must make sure she does not under-sell herself at interview next year.

Form Master, Midsummer Term 1990

Her consistent performances are exceptional. If she can develop her inter-personal skills more fully she will do very well indeed.

Headmaster, Midsummer Term 1991

You see, if I’d not been so capable academically my poor social skills would likely have been seen as more significant. As it was, doing well in my studies meant that my difficulties in other areas were overlooked or glossed over.

I said I was lucky, but the fact is that the highly-structured world of school masked the significant trouble I had navigating an environment like university that relied much more heavily on interactions with other people. My lack of a social network left me isolated and lacking the support I needed, and because I’d not been in any similar situations before I had no idea how to cope.

It left me with deep feelings of failure and shame: everyone had expected me to do well because that is what I had always done. I had tied my own measurement of my worth to that feedback, to those reports of how well I performed.

I let them all down.

I expected to face rejection: after all, I was valued for how well I did and I had just failed. It’s hard to explain how powerful the fear of rejection was, how ashamed I felt of failing.

How worthless I felt.

The echoes of that are still present, still affect me to this day. That was the point at which I shattered into the broken pieces that I work so hard to hold together.

I can mouth the empty words, say that I am worth something, but I don’t believe it. At heart I know I’m a failure: the proof’s there plain to see.

Those still waters, they really do run as deep as they say. And who knows what truly lies beneath that calm surface? For me it’s the wreck of the promise I once showed.

The End of the World – #Autistic December 3/31

The End of the World – #Autistic December 3/31

A child sat on a lawn holding a piece of a broken stick in each hand and crying

“It’s not the end of the world,” my mum used to say as I cried inconsolably over something that most people would regard as trivial. Perhaps someone else took the particular cookie I’d fixed my eyes on, or the books I’d carefully lined up had been dusted and moved.

The thing is, when you’re autistic and you’ve got an idea in your head about the way things will be, anything which disrupts that expectation does feel calamitous. The certainty we were relying on has fallen in ruins. It literally is as if the world shattered under our feet.

When people try to console us by “putting things into perspective” it can actually make it much worse because they are demonstrating a lack of empathy: they’re projecting their perspective onto us, and it doesn’t match our experience.

For many autistics, having a predictable environment is very important. We need our routines so we can feel at ease, and when we go outside our usual bounds we like to know what to expect in advance: to be prepared. When I go to new places I research beforehand so I know the layout and how it looks.

I’ve learned to manage my expectations up to a point but I don’t always succeed, and when something doesn’t turn out the way I thought it would the blow can be crushing. The feeling is so intense that I can’t see past it and be objective. It might as well be the end of the world.

Being Disabled – #Autistic December 1/31

Being Disabled – #Autistic December 1/31

A close-up of a UK disability Blue Badge showing the white on blue disabled symbol on its lower left corner

I never imagined when I used to see or hear about disabled people that one day it would include me. I don’t think anybody does: unless you are disabled yourself it’s always something that affects other people. Less fortunate people.

Be honest: that’s how you think of us, isn’t it? You feel glad–lucky–that you’re not disabled. Because that would be awful. Am I right?

That right there: that’s stigma. You feel sorry for us, pity us, hope you never become one of us. You see us as damaged people. You can’t believe it’d ever affect you, that you could ever become disabled yourself.

I know, because I used to feel that way. Disabled people were some other group, over there, not like me. There was a difference, a gulf that could never be crossed: that could never be me.

I had no instant of revelation, no light-bulb moment. The idea that I was disabled myself took time to sink in. I spoke the words long before I accepted the truth and believed them; I denied it to myself. I worked full-time, had my own home: how could I reconcile that with being disabled?

What I felt was internalised ableism: I had become accustomed to equating disability with failure. Really accepting that I was disabled meant confronting my own prejudice, admitting it existed, and then unlearning it.

That journey has been a hard one. It’s more than uncomfortable to admit that you don’t live up to your own moral standards, but faced with a choice between denial and change I realised I had to change if I was ever going to accept myself for who and what I am.

I am disabled: that means there are things I can’t do and situations I can’t handle. It doesn’t mean that I ought to be able to do those things, and it doesn’t mean I’m a failed human being: I’m not. And I accept that.

This is the first post in Autistic December, a daily series about the impact on my life of being autistic.

Rising Dark

Rising Dark

Day 29 of 30 Days of Poetry

A pencil and acrylic sketch on paper of a girl sat looking dejected, arms around her knees and head down, in front of a lit candle with a glowing halo around the flame. Around her is darkness out of which are rising black nightmare figures
Across the fields they fly,
Fleet shadow wraiths unseen
By stolid human eye.

Yet keener souls divine:
Dogs bark a herald cry
Then cower with a whine.

Foul spirits of the night
Round my lost soul entwine,
All summoned to my plight.

The candle flame burns lean,
Its feeble dying light
Faint hope to stand between.