A common trait among autistics is pattern recognition. But there’s a pattern I see time and again that I wish I didn’t recognise. Read more
So we have conservative pundit George Will in Newsweek calling Trump “Socially Autistic” to describe his total lack of empathy or compassion. No. Just no. Read more
I thought I was free. I thought I could cope with limited contact, dealing with my ex occasionally. Trying to be amicable, even helpful. I was wrong. Read more
A Facebook post earlier got me thinking about the effort we expend in passing as non-autistic. The lengths we go to to conform. And what that costs us. Read more
I’d thought about leaving so many times. Going back through some old posts last night, even back to when I first started blogging, it was abundantly clear to me that I had been feeling depressed, lonely and trapped for years.
It was something I discussed occasionally with people I trusted. Not that I had many of those. But I was always more scared by the uncertainty of the unknown than I was of remaining somewhere that didn’t feel like a home. My fears always drove me back.
I tried. But it’s hard when the love you once had has been replaced by fear. Too many angry outbursts, too many times when my needs were dismissed, too many times when my anxiety reached overload. I tried to explain but when I never knew how what I said would be received it was impossible to be completely open and candid.
Even when I did manage to speak up, the import of what I was saying became lost in translation. These weren’t shared feelings or experiences; I might as well have been speaking a foreign language. Situations where my daughter or neurodivergent friends would grasp it immediately, not need it to be spelled out in detail.
In the end it had become obvious that living in that place with that person was harming me. Day by day my mental health was declining with anxiety and depression making it difficult to function. I was struggling with work, I was struggling with self care. Well, not just struggling: I was failing.
I knew the signs. I’d been through similar times before although every time it happened it brought me further down, hurt me more, killed another piece of my soul. So this time I asked for help. I went to my doctor, I referred myself for counselling. And I talked at length with my daughter.
At my second counselling session I all but broke down in tears as I described how I felt, how a steady drip, drip, drip of teasing, controlling behaviour, threats (even when later retracted) and aggressive actions had built up to the point where I didn’t feel safe. It doesn’t matter what the motivation was, whether harm was intended: it was emotional abuse and it did cause harm.
I explained how I was afraid of losing my job because my mind was in too much turmoil to focus. I explained how every time I tried to think of what I needed to do to get away I quickly became overwhelmed with the magnitude of it all.
My counsellor was brilliant. She helped me organise my thoughts so that right in the middle was my goal, “To Get Out” and around it were the factors that I needed to address.
I came out of there feeling enabled, that this was something I could achieve. I phoned my boss at work and explained everything (and I mean everything) to him. Because I was that anxious about it I came straight out and asked him if I still had a job to get back to: he reassured me. I felt so much better after that.
In conjunction with my doctor I worked out a schedule that would get me back to working regularly, and my boss was very supportive, saying that I should do what I had to do, take as much time as I needed, and asking if there was anything I needed from him or the company.
So, knowing my job was secure I went to my bank to see about taking out a loan for setting up a new home, which went through without a hitch giving me the funds I needed to cover fees and buying furniture.
My daughter helped me look for a new place, and we made a shortlist. I prepared myself and managed to phone up and make appointments with the letting agents to view two of them, the first on the very next day which was a Saturday. To cut a long story short we both loved the first place we looked at and I started the process of securing the lease.
Just two weeks after that viewing I got the keys and moved in to the place I’m sitting in now, a month later. My home. And it really does feel like home. It’s a lovely flat in a beautiful location, but more than that it is a nurturing environment where I feel comfortable and safe.
To borrow the most apt of phrases, it is as if I have come through an unseen metaphorical door. As if I escaped from a cage to live in freedom. My counsellor was in shock at the speed of the change in me: she had never before seen somebody go from tears and hopelessness in one session to joy and optimism in the next.
I’m not the kind of person who worries that it might all be a dream and on waking I’d be back to the harmful existence I had before. I know this is real, that this is my new life. It feels like a rebirth, even more so than my gender transition. I’ve broken the shell that confined me, emerged from the egg and I’m stretching my wings.
I’ve said before that I never managed to live independently. I’m not independent now. Oh, I can feed and wash and clothe myself, and I can do the things that need doing around my home. But I also have a network of friends who I can turn to if I need support. I live by myself but I am not alone.
My friends on Facebook and the people I work with could see how happy I was when I got out of the situation I was living in: a relationship that was ultimately toxic and slowly killing me. I got my drive back, my motivation. I started to enjoy working again. I got up in the mornings feeling ready for the day.
And then, a week ago today, I was sitting here. Well, actually sitting and feeling restless, then getting up and pacing, then trying to sit again. My thoughts going round and round: should I? Should I not? A dilemma: do I tell someone how I feel? Is that fair to them if they don’t feel the same way? Might I ruin a friendship? Could it even work?
I talked to my daughter. I talked to a dear friend. I knew what I wanted to do, but I needed to work up the courage to take that chance. The emotions were so powerful that I was overwhelmed. But in the end I sent my message.
And then I waited. Minutes have never passed so slowly, a lifetime between each tick of the clock. They responded! This person I have fallen so much in love with loves me too!!! And so I am flying, lifted high by the joy of love.
Two people who felt some spark between them, who are both starting to grow and learn who they can be at a point in their lives when that had no longer seemed possible. It’s a wonderful experience to be sure, but how much better it is, how much more meaningful and joyful when there is somebody with whom to share the journey.
Imagine you couldn’t speak, couldn’t sign to communicate with other people. How could you let them know when you were feeling discomfort or pain? Whether you wanted to go some place, or simply be left alone where you are?
How would you feel when doctors decided you were not competent to make your own decisions about your life? When they took you away from the places and people you were used to? When they denied you access to the tools you use to communicate?
How would you like to be medicated against your will when your distress is interpreted as non-compliance and “bad behavior”? To be punished–hurt and abused–when you are simply acting in a way that is natural for you? To be incarcerated, institutionalized and denied your freedom because somebody believes that not speaking means not thinking?
This has happened to many, many people who are autistic or have other neurological conditions affecting their ability to communicate in conventional ways. It is still happening today. Places like the Judge Rotenberg Center in Massachusetts inflict pain and fear in an attempt to force compliant behavior; instead they cause long-term harm including PTSD.
Sharisa Kochmeister was denied the right of access to her communication devices, deemed not competent and made a ward of Jefferson County, Colorado. She has been removed from her home and family, and they have been prevented from contacting each other except for a very few highly-constrained supervised visits.
What will it take for all of us to live secure in the knowledge that we will not face such arbitrary denial of our rights? That we will not be detained against our will? That we will be presumed competent regardless of our means of communication?
Somebody that my wife, Anne, has known all her life phoned her the other day. She hadn’t spoken to this person for a couple of months and had thought it strange that they had not been in touch for so long.
It turned out that this person had been on the receiving end of some transphobic teasing in public because of his association with me through my wife. Rather than standing up for Anne and me, he found the experience humiliating and took this out on my wife.
I’ll not go into all the details, but she was subjected to a torrent of insults and abuse shouted down the phone by this so-called close friend and ended up very upset and distressed. Being called some of the things — perverted, disgusting, embarrassing, mental — was bad enough, but there was worse which I will not repeat here. I’ll just say that it was a massive slur on her character and definitely slanderous.
All because she continues to love me as a trans woman. So these people think I am an embarrassment because I am making the journey to become my real self? Anne and I are two people who love each other and we can’t see how that affects the lives of these others.
We have a message for the people who don’t like how we are: we don’t want anything to do with you and your intolerance. You are an embarrassment, and your ignorant prejudice has no place in our lives. We choose to associate with people who value and practice tolerance, acceptance, understanding and love. Not those who close their minds and treat anything outside their narrow view of the world with fear, contempt, disgust and hatred.