I don’t want to talk about the Weather

It seems like all neurotypical people ever seem to want to do, is talk about the weather. After a training I did on autism at work, it was pointed out to me that I’m wrong about that. Here is some info for all you autistics out there: NT people don’t want to talk about the weather either.

I know, shocking. Considering just how much they go on about it. However, I have it on good authority that its some special social rule they know about, and there isn’t this voice “NGgggging” at the very thought of it, because they’re conditioned to use the topic as a conversational tool.

Obviously I’m being a little dramatic. Many autistic people understand this social norm and go along with it, and along with others for that matter, but it’s exhausting. If neither NT people or autistic people actually want to go through the ritual, why then does it seem more exhausting for autistics?

Lets increase our social nicety knowledge for a minute.

So there’s the weather. Good. We can both see there is weather, it’s glaringly obvious, its a social nicety. Got it. Okay, whats next… “Hey how are you?

A disarming question. My alexithymia prevents me from reading myself that quickly, but I’ll get back to you in abou… WRONG!

The answer was: “Fine, thanks, and you?

Okay… but that seems a little disingenuous right? Why ask a question so personal as a conversation starter? The answer is a lie right? The answer is always “Fine” right?

I find it upsetting that it’s socially appropriate to ask someone something as personal as how they are feeling, asking about their general well being and expecting them to say “Fine“. Whether they are or not. The truth isn’t important here. Knowing more about each other? Irrelevant. If you know each other a little better, it seems “tired” is also acceptable. This seems to be the polite way of saying “Actually my life is crumbling around me, but you don’t want to hear that…so, tired – yes tired.

But there’s more! “Hows the kids?“, “What have you been getting up to?“, “What are your plans for the weekend?” Why do we ask each other these things? I realise it could be argued that people actually care about each other but, let me ask this – In everyday life when people ask these questions (by all means think of yourself asking them, being asked them, or watching them being asked of other people, it doesn’t really matter), how often do you hear answers like:

My plans for the weekend? Well I was thinking of trying not to cry as much as I can about the absurdity of existing to please others. I’m hoping if I get drunk enough on Friday night I can sleep away much of Saturday, do it again, then wash enough pairs of knickers on Sunday to get me through the following week. What about you?

No, never. Because either your talking to me, in which case this is the kind of answer you may get, or you’re talking to someone who is more… socially aware. Someone who knows this isn’t the appropriate answer. Usually an NT person, or an autistic that knows how to mask.

Again I’m being dramatic. Even I know that one. With people I don’t know, the answer when feeling as above is “Acht, not much probably, and you?” Just as any person would answer.

It’s the same on Facebook, an absolute fear from the general public of sharing anything negative or real. Everything is sugar coated. All the bad things are polished or hidden or if something really bad happens, it’s used to highlight just how strong people are, and how they’ve developed their adversity into something positive!

I’m not buying it.

Another one that springs to mind: Why is it a social nicety to compliment people incessantly? All I hear is “Oh I love that top!” or “I love your haircut!“. Again, it could be argued that’s the truth right? That’s what they truly think?

I’m not buying it.

If they like my haircut so much why didn’t they copy it? Why don’t they have a black shoulder length cut with a block fringe? Okay – maybe it doesn’t suit them personally – whatever, but for all of these casual compliments I’ve received in my time, or watched others receive, it’s been an incredibly rare occurrence that I met the person later and learned they were so sincere in their words, they acted on them; bought the top, or the watch, or got a similar haircut. As far as I’m aware, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So if people really mean these things why isn’t there more imitation?
It doesn’t happen.

So whats my point? Sincerity is my point. These social niceties seem to disregard sincerity, and as someone who takes things at face value, I do not appreciate insincerity. I find these rules not only arbitrary, but offensive. They are not just a silly dance and we all must dance our part. No. There’s that – which is annoying, as it probably is for all people – but then there’s the offence I take at the insincerity.

I understand that NT people are in the majority, and I understand that there are rules, but here’s an idea (and this is an idea that’s really old within the autistic community but for the sake of education I will explain it here):

Perhaps the rules aren’t right, and NT people are as unreasonable and ridiculous as they often make autistic people out to be.

Perhaps the rules are ludicrous, but the majority plays along. As long as the majority believes it’s right it’s right -right?

But, just because a lot of people subscribe to a behaviour doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make it normal. It makes it the majority view.

Perhaps autistic rules appear ludicrous to NT folks, but I think, if we lived in a world where autistic people were in the majority, all these social niceties would look a lot different. Perhaps in that world NT people would feel alienated, as I do in this one. Maybe they would be the ones who were offended. Perhaps they would be too scared to question the status quo, even though they knew in their hearts that their own perception of the rules was valid too. That their offence was real, and not other, or abnormal.

What I’m getting at is, we have different brains. There are many more NTs than there are autistics. It is not that NTs are normal/right/best and that autistics are abnormal/wrong/deficient. We are not lesser. Autistic people have skills NT people don’t. It works both ways. From each of our perspectives the other is the alien.

There are more of us recognising ourselves and being recognised everyday. I know from my perspective, I just want to behave in a way that feels natural for me. If I want to stim I want that to be okay. If I want to avoid eye contact or not engage in societal niceties designed by NT folks, I want that to be acceptable. I’ve been masking so long, I don’t even think I know how to behave in a natural way anymore and that hurts.

As I mentioned in my last post, the majority view being the right view is such an ingrained concept in our society, that I believe it. I’ll spend a long time post-diagnosis trying to unravel the societal expectations I’ve placed on myself. Perhaps if society takes the time to learn a bit about it, it can lighten the load for those in my position.

So by all means ask me how I am. I’ll accept the behaviour of the majority and even engage in it. I don’t mind accepting difference even if I don’t personally relate. Even if I feel the way about it I’ve described above. Just consider accepting our differences as well, and don’t be surprised if some of us don’t answer “How are you?” the way you’d expect.

Living with Mistakes

Today I created this blog.

For me it’s a constant searching for a fresh slate. Something new that I can work at and make perfect in my constant and desperate pursuit of validation. Having read The Autistic Advocate’s recent post on validation, I felt I could do it. I felt inspired. I felt I could use blogging as a tool to validation. Perhaps I could find a way to relate to others like me, or let others who are not like me see something more real. Not the pretence I uphold as much as I can, at the expense of my mental health.

So today I made this “Building the Forth Wall”, a clever little play on the idea of breaking the forth wall. Something we’re not allowed to do. I’m thinking about masking here. Autistic people are constantly pressured into pretending, into assimilating characters to fit in to society. What’s worse is I hold myself to the same expectations. I realise I am also judging myself by society’s standards. If I fail at masking my autistic self I judge myself from an NT perspective. I chastise myself for it. I invalidate myself. I want to explore that, maybe I can find a way to see it differently so I won’t feel so hopeless, depressed and worthless when I don’t live up to these expectations, expectations I’ve created for myself and that the world has created for me.

I made the site on WordPress, immediately signed up to the paid plan I could afford. I’m a little impulsive with these things. It’s always all or nothing. It has to work and it will work. And then I made sure everything was working correctly, all the header images looked the same on each page, the title was the right size, the domain was working. All that was left to do was write my first blog post. I was putting it off. I’ve been putting it off for weeks and months, ever since my diagnosis.

I have this voice in the back of my head that I barely hear: “You’re going to fuck this up.”, “Who wants to hear what you have to say?”, “The other autistic people who read it will hate something, your language wont be PC enough, something you say will be wrong.”, “The NT people who read it won’t be interested, you’re not going to be able to communicate with them.”, “Maybe you’ll learn something about yourself you don’t want too see?” I could continue writing these thoughts. I can hear them more clearly now, now that I’ve realised my mistake…

Buildingtheforthwall.com. What’s wrong with that? Buildingtheforthwall.com. Buildingtheforthwall.com. I had typed it into a new browser window. I had begun typing it and it auto filled and took me to somewhere on the internet, but not my new blog. My husband began to explain, he’d typed it in earlier to see it live, as I’d initially been creating it all from my mobile. He’d typed it in and realised the mistake before me. Then I cried. Then I turned to my husband and demanded: “How could you let me do this?” “How could you let this happen?” That moment of realisation and the voice became louder in my head and was laughing at me. “I told you you couldn’t do it!”, “It’s only been three hours and you’ve fucked it up already!” If there was a written version of the voice it leaves comments like this: “Haha omfg you are such an idiot :’):’)) omfg lol”

The meltdown ensues. I say the things I always say in such situations. “What’s the fucking point!”, “I’m not standing for this”, “I want a way to punish everyone for how I feel right now!”, “I want to die, I mean it!” There is more verbal diarrhoea but I can’t recall it all now. It doesn’t make sense. I want to tear the house down. There’s a raw violence. I watch my husband try desperately to help me. He understands but he doesn’t. It’s worth mentioning now hes the closest thing I have to someone that understands me. It means everything to me. He’s the only person that sees this side of me. Unfortunately he has to see it too often. To make up for all the times I hide it, which is almost all of the rest of the time.

As it happens I work in care. I support adults with learning disabilities. Some of those adults have autism and I’m thinking of someone now. He asks often: “N – O – T – Y Naughty?” It was a mistake he made a long time ago. He spelled it in a test: Noty. It’s a mistake he can’t let go. When he thinks of the mistake I think he feels like I do now. If he feels like I do now, he thinks of the mistake. The mistake can’t be forgotten. It’s a loaded reminder of failing in general. Failing wholly. Being a failure. The cycle is maintained.

My husband is NT and he plays Fifa. He inputted his name into the game as the manager, missed out one of the l’s on his last name. He sees it every time he plays the game and it annoys him, but it doesn’t make him feel like a failure. He is reminded he made a mistake.

He argues his aunt has made a similar mistake: She’s been using an email with a misspelled name for years. When asked about it she explains she still gets her mail. It functions. It’s a little annoying but she can live with the constant reminder of her mistake, because for her and for my husband it does not equate to failure. It does not represent failing generally and stir up the kind of hatred and worthlessness that it conjures in me.

After a period of crying and chain smoking and having some more coffee, I look back to the laptop. I find a way to resolve the issue. I spend another $22 to register another domain. Buildingthefourthwall.com. I do all the admin and the mistake has been rectified. The other domain – it’s still registered too. I can’t erase it without cancelling the entire plan. It will be a stain on this new project. I can’t give up though now. Giving up would mean going to bed or getting drunk and spending weeks of mental energy looking for another new project. Then spending weeks after that having a silent yet pervasive dialogue with myself about value and validation and connection and worthlessness and ego and a million other concepts I’m not sure I can put to words in their entirety.

Living with this mistake is all I can do. The only other option would be not living, but I’m not going there so… I have to live with it, and find a way to accept mistakes in my life. Hopefully continuing despite it will be enough for now. I’m not sure about a resolution to it really. Then my husband suggested my first post should be about, well, what it’s about and here we are. If indeed you are still reading.

I wonder if this is something that other late diagnosed autistic people can relate to. I have a feeling it might be, but of course I can’t be sure. I wish this post could end in some realisation where I know what to do next with what I’ve written. I have a feeling posts here aren’t going to end like that.