Saturday, 19 September 2015

Thoughts on Autistic Hair-Dryers and Neurotypical Toasters.

I've said this before:  I thought that coming to terms with being autistic would be simple but the reality has been that it's possibly the most difficult thing I've ever done.  Yes, this is another one of those "Learning to be Autistic" posts.

As time goes by I begin to realise some of the reasons why it's so hard.

Last night I was writing to someone and used a metaphor for my life - that I'd tried for decades to be a washing machine but it turned out I was a bicycle.

This morning I mentioned this to someone else, who said "Great metaphor ... it's like this ..."  And she showed me a blog post, "A hair-dryer kid in a toaster-brained world."  And that's a much better metaphor so for this little post I'm stealing it.  I hope she doesn't mind me borrowing her rather fabulous metaphor.  If you're not stopping right now to read that post, I can recommend that you do so.

The metaphor explains some of the reasons why I, along with many undiagnosed adult autistics, had a difficult life and why being diagnosed throws up so many more difficulties rather than it just being a pretty rubber stamp on a piece of paper.

The author of the blog explains some things - as to how the autistic brain is quite simply different to the NT (neurotypical) brain and how autistic people thus have different skills to NT people and can have great problems in a world that simply isn't geared to autistic people's needs.  So if you grow up knowing you're autistic you can grow up knowing that you are different - but never less - and learn to be the best version of you that you could be.

But if you are autistic and grow up not knowing that then things become harder.

If you don't know you're autistic then you grow up ignorant of your hair-dryer self and are taught to emulate the toaster people.  You spend your life trying to make toast.  And you keep trying.  And keep trying.  And you fail so many times.  And even when you spend an age working very hard to make toast it ends up looking like very strange toast.  You spend your life wondering how everyone seems able to make toast so easily.  You look at the way the toast just pops up in their lives, how they have heat settings, a defrost button, a neat tray to catch all the crumbs.  And you do everything in your power to toast bread, muffins, crumpets just as they do and to toast in different ways.  Life becomes a frustration of failing to toast bread and you know you're failing and a failure because you think that you're created to be a toaster.  You're a bit useless because your toast making capabilities have obviously been destroyed.  But you keep trying each day to fit in as a good, functioning toaster.

So life can become very difficult and then you can be given all kinds of diagnoses as to why you're a rubbish toaster.  You're a toaster with borderline personality disorder.  You're a toaster with schizotypal personality disorder.  You're schizoid.  You're schizophrenic.  You're narcissistic.  You're depressed and that can only be solved by drugs and then therapy to become a working toaster.  I've received all those diagnoses and all those experts who diagnosed me completely missed the truth that I'm autistic and transgender.

In short you're a complete mess.  Because you can't make a decent slice of toast.

But then, eventually, you learn the joyful truth:  You're not a toaster after all.  You're a hair dryer.  Bliss.  Wonderment.  Excitement of excitements.  You were never meant to make toast at all.  You're not a failure, you just can't do something that you weren't made to do.  Then you read and study and learn that as a hair-dryer there are lots of things you can do.  And you think that's the end of it.  I'm autistic.  Hallelujah! That explains it all.  Let's move on with the rest of my life as an autistic hair-dryer.

It doesn't work out that way.

What I've learned is that learning you are autistic changes everything.  Everything.  Your entire life has to be seen and understood in a brand new, unfamiliar way.  And that process can become more difficult than you could possibly have imagined.

Today I've been thinking hard about just one aspect of this process: the coping mechanisms and all the things I learned over decades to get through life.  And today I come to a stark conclusion:  All those things were learned in order to get through life as some kind of toaster.  I sought so hard to be what I'd now call neurotypical, rather than seeking to be gloriously autistic and proud of who I really am.

That means I've now got to set myself to examine everything I ever found to get through life.  Because I am not a toaster and no longer want to be a toaster.  I don't want to try to make toast and be a terrible version of something that I never was in the first place.  I want to be me and learn to become the very best version of myself that can exist in this world, to become free, to become fully human, fully myself, fully at one with autism and and with every other aspect of myself.

I need to look at every coping strategy.  Every bit of therapy.  Every self-help technique.  Every little tip I've got in order to get through the day while trying to make toast.  And I've got to ask myself serious questions about them:

Will this strategy help me to become free as myself, or will it hinder that process due to being wholly centred around toast making?
If the strategy is a toast-centric strategy, can it teach me anything about how to be a hair-dryer?
What strategies are equally applicable for a toaster and a hair-dryer?  And I know that there are many things that are good tools for everyone to use.  Because we're all human and whether autistic or NT we share our humanity and share so many traits as individual human beings.
If a toast strategy does turn out to be of use, does that actually make it something I want to continue with, or are there other strategies that would more effectively help me learn to be myself?
What strategies are stopping me shine, stopping me live - even though I might have spent many years using them in order to try to shine and live?
And what new strategies could I learn to replace the old?  Strategies that will help me be who I was always meant to be.

I don't know the answers to any of those questions yet.  It's going to be an interesting ride finding the answers.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Mental Health Hell and the Positivity of My Life

My mental health has been pretty damn naff recently.  There have been horrible days and even worse hours.  Mental health has stopped me doing many of the things I wanted to do.  It's paralysed me at times.  It means that instead of going to Sussex for 11 days I have had to stay in Newcastle.  I've cried lots, broken down very publicly in the city centre, hurt my head through banging it, had a constant headache from sensory overload, and really struggled to keep going at times.

Yes.  I could look at the last month and choose to say that it's been a terrible time.  I could focus in on the bad things.  I could focus on the painful meltdown on Tuesday and the way I stopped being able to function when sorting things for refugees and the way I had to walk out of my mindfulness session and cry in the corridor.  Or I could focus on the good.

I could focus in yesterday on how awful I felt in the morning, how I didn't even have the spoons to get back on the metro and come home from town.  Or I could focus on how good the day got when it became a surprise.

I have a choice.  To focus on the bad and the pain.  Or to focus on all the good things, accept the bad, and move on from there.  Because the bad is bad.  And the pain is pain.  I can't deny it.  I can't pretend that all the rubbish isn't there.  But I can choose to focus elsewhere and see that, even with all the rubbish, life is a wonderful thing.

Because there is so much good and so much hope and so many good people.  Taking - as examples - my Saturdays:

Four weeks ago I danced with a new and very valued friend, barefoot in a thunder storm at Autscape, a conference/gathering run by and for autistic people.  Four weeks on I know that Autscape was very important to me and there are things that happened there and things it taught me about myself that I haven't even begun to process.  In some way Autscape will affect the rest of my life.  That weekend I met awesome people.

Three weeks ago I went to a barbecue from which arose decisions that are majorly affecting my life.  Majorly.  Three weeks ago I found somewhere that has almost become my second home.  Somewhere that I hope will become a big part of my life.  That barbecue was just a barbecue and the person who invited me was really just inviting me to a barbecue.  Neither of us knew that it would lead to so much in such a short space of time.  That weekend I met awesome people and because I met them I went on to meet more awesome people.

Two weeks ago was a day I could say was rubbish.  Because the first half of it was pretty bad in terms of mental health difficulties.  I wouldn't wish those difficulties on anyone.  But then there was a wonderful message from an awesome friend, a message that really helped me face the day.  And then on what had been that rubbish day I had a surprise meeting with another awesome friend.  We pretended to have an appointment at the optician in order to help ourselves to hot chocolate (my awesome friend does things like that!) and then we sat in the street drinking and laughing with each other.

On the worst days there is good.  On the day I broke down so much in town my friends came to the rescue - especially three wonderful people from Autscape who stayed with me as much as they could through constant text messages until I was recovered enough to get myself safe.  I count myself as massively fortunate in the people who have come my way recently, some of whom I've met in surprising ways.  It's like I suddenly have this brand new extended family of people who I love, who love me and with whom there are all kinds of unexpected connections.

A week ago I belatedly got involved in the work going on in solidarity with refugees.  It took seeing people and donations in my new second home before I finally decided that I couldn't stay away from giving something to the cause.  It's entirely possible that the future will see me continue to be involved in that in bigger ways.  And I've met awesome people.  It takes a lot for me to stand up and do something positive.  But I think right now I am standing and I don't want to sit down again.  The work is there and will continue to be there and, if I allow it and choose it, there is space for me to be useful.

And tomorrow I go to a meditation group for the first time.  The start of what will be a weekend I am really looking forward to - though a very different weekend to the one I would be having had I not had all the mental health issues I've had recently.  There will be awesome people there too and awesome people throughout the weekend.

So.  My life has been a mental health hell.  And I could choose to see it that way.  But it has also been a time of massive and unexpected blessings and of meeting the awesome people - many of whom I would never have met had I not experienced the mental health hell.  For the future I can only see more blessings and more awesome people even if the hell continues.

I had an hour this morning when my head was not hurting from sensory overload.  The first hour in a few weeks.  It was bliss to not hurt.  And sometimes it hurts so much and that pain inside my head falls down and across my body too.  But in this life, painful life, I rejoice and in the last weeks have become more and more thankful and more and more able to see the light that comes from without and the light that I have been becoming from within.

My painful life is one of positivity.  And overall, I love the way it is becoming.