Max's shop of horrors

Warning: imagination testing site. Enter at own risk

Month: May, 2016

Making it “Us vs Them” helps nobody

In the past I’ve been criticized for avoiding confrontation at any cost, and which to be fair isn’t far from the truth, as I take to confrontation like a snowman to a blast furnace. Today’s topic is something that has concerned me for quite some time, and one I’ve put off repeatedly for fear it might open a can of worms. Then again, maybe it’s not even remotely controversial and I’ve built it up in my head too much. I tend to do that. So here goes.

As a writer and an advocate on the autism spectrum, I follow a lot of pages and forums made for people on the spectrum. And something I see an awful lot is comments along the lines of “oh I hate NTs (Neurotypicals, a term for people who are not on the spectrum) they’re so ignorant/stupid” or “NTs hate us autistics because they know that we are better/smarter than they are”.

First of all, I know that the people saying these kind of things are a minority among those of us on the spectrum. I know that many of these posts are simply venting. Still, as someone on the spectrum myself, it makes me sad to see these kind of comments.

Life on the spectrum can be difficult, I get that. It can be frustrating to interact with people whose experience of the world is so different than your own. It can be lonely to feel like the odd one out. And yes, being bullied sucks. But if you adopt an “Us vs Them” mentality, the person you’re ultimately hurting is yourself.

If you convince yourself you’re outnumbered a hundred to one by a malignant Other that is determined to screw you over and make your life hell, then right off the bat you’re setting yourself for a whole lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety.

But worse, you’re sowing the seeds of resentment. Sooner or later, you’ll have to interact with people who aren’t autistic, and if you go into these interactions with a hostile mindset, you’re not only creating more the same negative situations that may have fuelled your hostility in the first place, but you are robbing yourself of all the positive interactions you might otherwise have had.

The end result is a feedback loop of anger that will continue to amplify itself until it dominates your life and makes you a deeply unhappy person.

By viewing the world as a war of “Autistics vs NTs”, you’re placing a terrible burden on yourself. You’re shackling yourself to a mass of negativity that will weigh you down day after day. Don’t do that to yourself.

A warning for the lactose intolerant, I’m about to get seriously cheesy; we’re all on this planet together, and we have to learn to coexist. Divisive statements hurt everyone and help no one.

The fear of not failing

People often talk about the intoxicating rush of success. But what about Success’s twin sister, Failure? I think people underestimate the latter’s addictive nature.

I know that might sound counter-intuitive, so let me give you an example. Back in late 2013, after finishing University, I was searching for a job, and I was having about as much luck as a tree frog in the Sahara. In spite of my efforts, I was still unemployed 6 months after graduating.

In a moment of self-reflection, however, I realized something; deep down, a significant part of me wanted to fail. Because if I succeeded, then I would have to go through all the stress of job interviews, getting up early, working long hours, etc. On the other hand, if I failed, I could continue to wallow in self-pity, (itself an intensely addictive emotion) I’d have the masochistic satisfaction of being proven right in my pessimistic outlook, and I wouldn’t have to deal with the discomfort of change. Failure had become a comfortable refuge for me. An easy way out.

In the wake of this revelation, I realized that this same logic applied to many other areas of my life as well. By and large, it wasn’t failure I was scared of; it was success. To fail is easy. To succeed is hard. And I was limiting myself by settling for less than I was capable of.

Mind you, this is not to say that failure has no value. On the contrary, it can be a vital ingredient of the mortar with which we build success. Failure teaches us what works and what doesn’t. But even good and useful things can be misused. Morphine can be immensely helpful if you’re injured and in pain, but you wouldn’t want to get too comfortable with it.

Failure should be an adviser, not a master. It’s okay to fail. Just be careful you don’t grow too fond of its soft shackles, as I did.

Delayed Dating

At a recent presentation on autism I took part in, someone asked me about the challenges people on the spectrum face when it comes to dating and love. And this is indeed an issue for many people I know. I mean, dating can be like playing Operation with the circuitry of a nuclear warhead even for those who aren’t on the spectrum, so additional challenges in reading social cues can make it even more difficult and scary.

And while some may see being chronically dateless as no big deal, I’ve met others for whom the resulting loneliness and feelings of being inadequate take a significant toll on their self-esteem. Looking back at my past self, for example, I thought there was something terribly wrong with me when I turned 22 without ever having been on a date.

My usual go-to response when asked about this issue is the standard “don’t worry about it so much, work on yourself first” line. I mean, let’s face it, if we’re constantly down on ourselves and miserable, chances are that’s not going to come across as very attractive. Plus, I personally don’t think it’s a great idea to define ourselves primarily by whether we’re single or not, or to get into a relationship just for the sake of being in one.

But another important factor to keep in mind that, for many of us on the spectrum, our development runs on a different timescale to other people. Dating in particular is often something we get around to much later than our peers. I started dating at 23. One of my colleagues started at 26.  (Some people also simply don’t feel the need to date at all, and that’s fine too)

When I was 16-22, I was convinced I’d be Forever Alone. Turns out I just needed to give myself a little more time.

So if you feel like you’re the only one in your peer group who hasn’t started dating yet, don’t panic, and don’t feel pressured to keep pace with other people’s developmental timeline. Getting to your 20s without ever having a relationship doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It’s not a race. Different people reach different milestones at different times, and that goes for people who aren’t on the spectrum as well. There’s no shame in being a late bloomer.

Fearstorm

It begins with a spark. The tangled undergrowth of nerves quickly ignites. As the flames spread and intensify, deeply rooted fears begin to combust. The winds of uncertainty carry the fire from neuron to neuron, incinerating reason and clouding judgement in a smoky haze. A chemical reaction out of control, self-perpetuating and all-consuming.

But then a gentle voice blows the flames back on themselves. Soothing words fall like curtains of rain. The firestorm’s advance is halted, its ferocious power stifled. It exhausts its fuel supply and diminishes, until all that remains is a lingering smog.

Within this grey miasma, the world is quiet and numb. The ashes throb with lingering heat. But the cool rain keeps these smouldering vestiges in check, and an encouraging breeze lifts the shroud of smoke. It will take time for things to return to the way they were before the firestorm, but this is a natural cycle, repeated since time immemorial.  There will be future firestorms, and in the throes of each it will feel like the end of the world. But each will eventually subside, and the Earth will spin on.

The Presumption of Subtext

You know what’s really hard? To say something without conveying unintended subtext. I swear, it’s like trying to do open heart rocket surgery while wearing boxing gloves.

I see a lot of talk about how difficult it can be for those of us on the spectrum to detect and interpret the implied subtexts in what others say, but personally, I find it just as challenging to communicate with others without them reading too much into what I say.

You know those assignments in High School where you’d be studying a book, and you’d get a homework question like this:

Page 113: ‘The Sky was a deep blue’. What does Darles Chickens mean by this?

  • He was filled with optimism for the future.
  • Forgiving Richard had restored meaning to his life.
  • He was still in love with Hilda.”

Well, when it comes to the way I talk, the answer is usually: (D) The bloody sky is bloody blue.

About 95% of what I say is intended as straightforward and literal, the other 5% of the time consisting of awful jokes and puns. I almost never make subtle implications, it’s just too much hassle. I say what I mean, and I mean what I say. If I want to ask you something, I will ask it. I won’t use subliminal signals where good old fashioned words would work far more efficiently. Similarly, if you want to know something from me, just ask. I promise I don’t bite.

Trying to read implied subtext into everything I say is a bit like listening for Morse code in the sound of rain of a tin roof. It’s an exercise in futility, and a bigger waste of time than making a belt out of wristwatches.