My mother, most of the time, can’t remember my real name.
It doesn’t matter how many times I correct her. She isn’t good at remembering things. The birth name, legal name, dead name, the name that I never speak or use myself, slides from her lips, and she never sees me wince. If I do protest, if I correct her, if I show exasperation or annoyance, she gets angry. I know her reasoning: she has a bad memory. It isn’t fair that I expect her to remember a name that isn’t the name she chose for me, isn’t the name she gave me at birth, isn’t the name ingrained in her understanding of the person I am. It’s too hard, too much, to ask her to think something that isn’t there in her own head.
Sometimes I feel strangled, as an autistic person who knows with painful understanding what it means to forget names. I should be more understanding, shouldn’t I?
But it’s my name. It isn’t even as though I’ve changed it to something wildly different: I’ve just hacked off six letters. Why is that so hard to remember?
Her anger works. It holds me rigid and silent. There’s no point in correcting if she’ll only yell at me for being an ungrateful arsehole who isn’t considerate of her memory struggles. She’s patient with me, isn’t she? So why can’t I be with her?
Here I am, strangled again.
This is a long multi-part essay on the experience of being autistic, the process of gaining the label, and the nightmare (especially the last two years, especially especially the last nine months) it’s been being an undiagnosed autistic person being treated for depression, anxiety and chronic pain in the Australian healthcare system.
So, of course, I’m going to start with my ongoing love affair with metal music.
Before I begin, a tangent.
Last time I got wordy, you may remember, I wrote about geek feminism. Or feminist geekism. Either way.
Three weeks after writing that post, I went to the Sunday pre-release event for Battle for Zendikar (the latest Magic the Gathering release). As I was early, as the shop was quiet, and as I’d almost finished my current creation on the way up, I got out my girly-decorated game box, my play mat … and a sewing box, a Barbie and a Barbie-size skirt I’d made out of an old bandanna that needed a hook fastener to finish. If I can sew on the train and on the platform, heedless of what people think about my stashing half-nude Barbies in my bag, I can sew in a game shop, right?
The first thing I was asked by an arriving player, one who knew I was there to pre-release (it’s a verb): Did you bring any decks with you?
Before I ramble, I’d like to say that I know there are comments awaiting replies. You see, right now, despite the fact my rational brain knows that most people care about me, the thought of looking at comments and facing the possibility that someone might have said something that my brain tells me I can’t cope with is panic-inspiring. (There’s a reason why the words ‘social anxiety’ have been adopted by various professionals working with me … which is kind of absurd, since I get paid to fucking talk to and at people, and have just finished a course that involves, in essence, facilitating people talking to each other, largely by means of talking. But that negative evaluation thing in relation to anything I do online? Man.) Since that panic means I don’t write at all, I’ve made a deal with myself. Right now, I get to write posts, and I get to work my way back to writing posts on a regular basis, and when I’m comfortable with that as a process I can start poking at the next terrifying thing (comments, commenting on other people’s posts). So, yes, I’m deeply sorry that I’m ignoring you, and you’d better believe I feel like shit about it, and I’m grateful for your love, concern, empathy, time, effort and thoughtfulness, but … well, online social interaction is more frightening for me than talking to strangers in a classroom or at a con. I’ve actually done really well to get back to a point where my phone is mostly on and I can mostly reply to text messages!
(As a prologue, this post goes out to the people of my ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – group, for their encouragement when I spoke about my blog and the fears that have kept me from writing. Also to Julia Kyle, who just doesn’t give up on me. Thank you for making me feel as though I can, maybe, re-become my warrior-writer self.)
I wish I didn’t have to begin with this literal title.
I wish it with all my heart.
At first … at first I thought it would be okay, moving back to my parents’ place. It would only be for six months or so; I’ve got a room at a mate’s place, back in my beloved Melbourne, as soon as his sister moves out. It would give me time to recover from how severe my anxiety and depression have gotten, living in a space where I have to worry less about the basic struggles of just looking after myself. It would give me time to worry less about money, at least in theory, and work on finding a second job so I can support myself with fewer stresses. It would only be for six months. Endurable, right?
Oh, the lies we tell ourselves when we have no other option!
Of late I’ve been trying to figure out how to manage more shifts at work, a new story idea that is essentially about queers with mental illness trying to solve crime while living the stigma and erasure their diagnoses and treatments bring, the ongoing mountain that is trying to clean my house, and survival. Survival isn’t so easy when everything from TV to the wreckage littering my bed reminds me of my failure to just be a functional person.
Needless to say, depression dogs my footsteps, a snarling, smothering shadow of barely-dammed despair. Right now the only place I can escape it – where I feel capable, functional and successful at anything – is while writing fiction or handling stock/talking to customers at work, but even that comes at a cost, given the emotional exhaustion that follows shunting aside my feelings for a shift or two. Yet I can’t survive without that escape from my own head, such that the things that help me survive are making it harder for me to function in general.
I can write, and while I am lost in the words I feel almost alive, but if I write all the time I can’t do anything else: I’m addicted to that brief flash of not-depression I feel such that getting up and attempting laundry or the dishes brings on an even greater awareness of my world as it is, and there’s nothing about that awareness that is easily endurable.
Trigger warning: in-depth, personal discussions of depression, chronic pain and suicide/suicidal ideation/self-harm.
I’m writing this because yesterday I spent about twenty minutes crying to my psychologist that people don’t talk about this, and because right now the only way I feel even remotely alive is through the act of using my words to do something about that. Most of the ropes I’m holding onto are fraying. This is the only one that’s even remotely sturdy, the fierce motivation I have to make the worlds unspoken real, so once again I’ll commit the crime (not a crime) of honesty if it’s the thing that keeps me breathing. (I’m a hero-rescuer type; I’m sure you noticed.) This motivation is strong and fierce, even in depression, enough that it’s so very easy to look at me and think I am not – well, my psychologist is using lovely words like ‘crisis’ – drowning in a pit brought on by chronic self-hatred and a lack of serotonin and other useful neurotransmitters that make the difference between stability and collapse.