I recently joined a WhatsApp group for high-functioning people on the autism spectrum. The conversation today turned towards autism vs. neurotypicality (the condition of not having autism or any other neurological issues), with several people describing autism as a “superpower” and one person asserting that autistic people are superior to neurotypical people in terms of both cognitive abilities and morality (the example of The X-Men was used as an analogy). I found the latter view rather insulting to neurotypicals. As for autistic superpowers… well, good for you if that’s how you perceive your traits, but in my life they have only manifested as disabilities (still not being diagnosed officially doesn’t help).
I posted a comment saying I would rather be neurotypical as most of my problems (employment, socialising, dating, not fitting into religious community) seem to be rooted in my autism. Someone responded with a whole series of long comments saying that I need to be more positive and if I try hard enough with socialising, dating (etc.) eventually my hard work should pay off. It was also asserted that I should see other autistic people as “my tribe” and not worry any more about having to find people who understand me.
I don’t want to play the easily offended snowflake, but I found this whole conversation massively insulting and off-putting, from the suggestion that all neurotypicals are back-stabbing, greedy liars (some of my best friends are neurotypical…) to the idea that if I just tried harder in life, I would succeed. I’ve been struggling for over thirty years (since I started school) with social interactions, for twenty years or so with depression. This person does not know me at all, yet she assumes I can easily fix things by changing my attitude. It’s actually my attitude that is the product of years of unsuccessful struggling to fit in to societies and cultures/sub-cultures that are not good fits for me. I try so hard to persevere, and I don’t get anywhere. (This could be an example of where what autistic people perceive as “radical honesty” is actually just tactlessness.)
And just because other people see the autistic community as their “tribe” doesn’t mean I automatically will. I have other attributes, particularly religion, that mark me off from many people on the spectrum. I don’t think I will ever fit easily in any one group. I think I will always be flitting between different groups and the best I can hope for is limited acceptance in each one.
I know people say I should be more open with people in my religious community about the way my depression and social anxiety get in the way of things like shul (synagogue) attendance and Torah study, but this type of interaction is the kind of thing that scares me off being more open. If people who share some of my issues don’t get it, what chance people who don’t have any of them?
I’ve just been a mess of depression, anxiety and repressed anger all day. I’m not sure where the anger came from. I think it was set off by the WhatsApp exchange above, but mutated into general feelings that I can never fit in, which I guess is still connected to the feelings above, as well as to thoughts of not fitting in politically and culturally, feeling that I will never be accepted in secular Western culture. I’m not sure how I got onto that train of thought, but it’s where I was all afternoon. (I’m not sure if reading things like this is a cause or an effect of this.) Then when I was out shopping I saw a bunch of frum (religious Jewish) mothers with children and the mothers all looked a lot younger than me. I also got an email about an educational event over the festival of Sukkot in a few weeks that made me feel that my religious values don’t completely correspond with my community’s. So I feel I don’t fit in to secular Western culture, but I don’t fit in to the frum counter-culture either (saying “frum counter-culture“ seems weird, but it is essentially a counter-culture even if it is conservative).
I just feel emotionally overwhelmed today, which is probably unsurprising when you consider that I’ve been up for eight hours and have spent most of them feeling depressed, anxious, agitated, angry and attacked. I don’t know how much is me being over-sensitive and how much is genuinely worth being upset about (if anything is “worth” being upset about). I hate that things like this happen to me when my depression is bad, that I have this vulnerability to… I’m not even sure what I’m vulnerable to. Criticism, other people’s anger, feeling abandoned?
I just wrote the following comment on the Mental Health at Home blog and it seems relevant here:
<i>”The author explores the idea of needing someone who is “strong enough” to love her, and touches on concerns about having kids with a serious illness and medications that would need to be stopped. She also writes about how difficult it is when fellow Christians equate her illness with a lack of faith”</I>
I can share all these concerns. The latter is part of the reason I don’t really talk about my issues with anyone in my community. In the Jewish community it would be phrased differently, as abstract faith is less a part of Judaism than Christianity. In Judaism it would be, “You should <i>daven</i> [pray] harder” or “If you feel depressed, go and learn <i>Torah</i>” but it’s a similar thing.
The funny thing is, I’m not sure if anyone ever said anything like that to me in real life. Maybe once or twice, but not often, because I haven’t told many people. I think I’ve heard about stigma other people have experienced online and in books and articles and was so scared that I don’t ever dare to stick my neck out.
It’s Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in four days and I feel completely unprepared. I’m not as unprepared as last year (when I seriously considered praying for God not to give me another year of life, in a reversal of the usual Rosh Hashanah prayers), but I still feel somewhat unready. I suspect that my lapse into depression this week is a result of the coming month of Jewish festivals and my feeling of unpreparedness. Paradoxically, I think the depression as per usual is setting me up to fail, making me too depressed and anxious to get to shul (synagogue) on time or at all, so that others notice my absence and judge me (or I feel that they’re judging me) or so I miss mitzvot (commandments) like hearing the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet blasts). Then that will feed more depression and social anxiety for the later Yom Tovim (festivals) particularly Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah), the latter of which I will almost certainly skip because it’s just too difficult for me to cope with.
I just feel I’ve lost another day to my out of control emotions. Another day out of so many months and years, even decades, lost to my emotions and mental illnesses. Then the fact that I’ve lost so much time feeds the depression even more.
Deep breath. I’m going to post this now rather than later in the evening as per usual. I’m going to forget about the emails I was supposed to write today and the charity appeals I wanted to donate to as well as the job adverts E. suggested I look at (sorry E. Maybe later this week). Tell myself I did make some scary phone calls and sent some emails (including one about volunteering at a museum). Daven Ma’ariv (say the Evening Prayers – sorry, no midweek shul attendance this week), eat dinner, watch TV for a bit, try to feel a bit better and work on my novel for a while and do a little bit of Torah study before bed.
Thanks for reading.