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.

Paying the Price

Paying the Price

Day 7 of 30 Days of Poetry

A pair of wide eyes stare straight back at you
Autistic lives mean pounds and pence,
Abused for profit, hurt en masse:
Trained compliance, no defence
Against their need to make us "pass".

If we're to be good girls and boys
We learn to do as we are told
Or else they'll take away our toys
And leave us lonely in the cold.

Behaviour is our battleground
With eye contact and quiet hands,
Sit still, don't rock, nor make a sound,
Just do whatever he commands.

Obedience might suit you well
But know it's gained by force and threat
Resist the ABA hard sell:
A human child is not a pet.

Instead of mourning something lost
Accept your whole autistic kid
Or you might live to count the cost
While nailing down their coffin lid.

The trauma of coercive "cures"
To make us look like all the rest,
A ticking time-bomb that endures:
Too many of us can attest.

The damage lingers deep inside
Until in later life we find
The cracks it caused have opened wide
And left us with a broken mind.
My Broken Mind

My Broken Mind

I suffer from depression. From time to time my mood drops and I find it almost impossible to motivate myself to do anything. These spells can last anything from a few hours to several months.

I’ve taken medication for it in the past. It doesn’t cure it, it just alters my brain chemistry to even out the peaks and troughs in my emotional state.

You see, a mental illness like depression is rather like a physical illness such as arthritis. Medication can alleviate symptoms, and it can flare up or go into remission for a while. Things you do and your environment can affect it.

But there’s one important difference between a physical illness and a mental one: too many people see mental illness as something unwholesome, a taint on the person affected. This stigma causes prejudice and abuse.

It’s used as an excuse for firing people from their jobs, for isolating them socially. All these things inflict further harm.

Then there’s the ableist responses, common to any invisible disability (yes, a mental illness is a disability: it affects your ability to function in a variety of different ways). I’ve been told to “get over it”, to “make an effort”, to be thankful “there’s nothing really wrong wth me”.

In a way there is nothing “wrong” with me. There’s nothing shameful in suffering from a mental illness: it’s not a judgement on my character. I just have depression. My mind is not completely healthy.

It’s long past time that mental illness was seen in the same terms as physical illness: as something requiring support, not judgement.

So instead of avoiding someone who is mentally ill, instead of fearing, abusing and harming them, be a friend to them. Support them and help them with some of the day-to-day things that they’re not able to cope with. Let them know they’re not on their own.

Mental illness can be isolating. It’s hard to ask for help, to approach people, and when we do the last thing we need is to be ignored or turned away. So don’t. Be there. Be a friend. Support those with mental illness.

Thank you.