The Trauma of Being an Empathic Autistic Advocate

When you scratch the surface of all autistic advocates, an indelible layer of trauma exists from our early lives, whether we were professionally identified in childhood, adolescence or not until adulthood. Whether the trauma is caused by inadvertent behavioural conditioning from our parents & teachers, abuse in its many varieties (physical, verbal, psychological, etc.), failed friendships, awkward encounters and everything in between, we all have our baggage. I have taken a significant step back from advocacy because I have felt triggered through the actions of autistic activists and from some within the online autistic community.  It’s very hard to keep pushing through when I feel like I’ve been hit right on the nerve that causes me so much upset, heartache and internal “ickiness” that will never go away. I feel the need to state that whilst I hate how certain groups on the political Right have taken the word “triggered” and use it in a derogatory way towards those who they perceive as “special snowflakes”, I cannot think of another word more appropriate word to use.  I hope it’s interpreted in its intended form. I draw a line of differentiation between advocates and activists; both groups aim to have autism and neurodiversity accepted in society (awareness is never enough), but I find that activists can be a bit more “warrior-like” and outwardly angry by actively pointing out what’s wrong with how autistics are treated in a multitude of settings, and advocates tend to take more of a softer approach, sharing personal stories in the hopes of others identifying with their words and helping others speak their truths. Don’t get me wrong – both activists and advocates are essential to changing the world; the problem arises when infighting occurs and one group tells the other what they’re doing is wrong or ineffective. To be transparent, I started writing this post seven months ago – I’ve felt that exhausted by what was happening in the community that I couldn’t bring myself to login to my WordPress account to write anything new, let alone finish this post. Given that I started writing this in April, which is Autism Awareness(/Acceptance) Month, it’s not surprising that I needed to step back.  April turns into a perpetual fight against the blue puzzle piece assault by the Auti$m Organisation That Must Not Be Named, which brings up difficult conversations with friends and strangers alike. You don’t speak for my child – you’re much higher functioning! You don’t know what it’s like – you’re not an Autism Parent! These kinds of conversations never end well and unfortunately perpetuate the divide between the autistic community, parents of autistic children & young adults, and everyone else. Whilst I may not have practised as a social worker since 2013, there is an undying part of me that persists and perseveres for understanding and acceptance – I just don’t have the energy to get as angry as some activists do, and rather do what I can with the energy reserves I have.  I am thankful for those who can get angry about things and continue to function; I just wish that their anger would be directed more appropriately towards those who need to change their attitudes, behaviours and treatment towards the autistic community, not fighting among the ranks of those trying to make a difference for future generations.

Facebook Toxicity

This will not be a political post, but I will be making reference to the current political climate online, especially on Facebook.

I joined Facebook in November 2004 – one day after I turned 20.  I am now 32, which means that I’ve spent just over 1/3 of my life on Facebook.  This fact in and of itself depresses me to a certain degree.  Of that time, 2/3 of it has been me living in the UK; I use this as an excuse for keeping it going, as it “keeps me connected” with friends in the US, as well as my cousins & aunt.  However, I am finding myself feeling increasingly upset/frustrated by scrolling through my news feed.

The state of the world at present terrifies me.  Being Aspie, I’m resistant to change at the best of times (even the supermarket rearranging their shelves and it taking me an extra minute to find what I’m looking for is enough to send me into a mini-tizzy) but the swing from the 44th to the 45th President of the United States is as polarised of a swing that we’ve experienced in a generation.  Even though I’m living 3,500+ miles away from America, their level of power in the world arena is undeniable.  I am deeply worried about the future of the world – its citizens and the environment.

Facebook in 2004 was very different from today.  It was exclusively university students (needed a .edu email address to sign up!) and consisted primarily of frat party photos in varying degrees of fancy dress and “poking” wars with a crush.  Today, it’s full of baby photos (first, second or even third babies now), wedding reception photos, and long diatribe rants about the latest political news.  I am interested in others’ points of view and in learning more about what I may not understand, but the tone of people’s comments has been becoming increasingly vitriolic, especially from people that I “used to know” (i.e. went to high school together but haven’t communicated since before we graduated).

I don’t think anyone would deny that Aspies are highly sensitive individuals.  We take on the emotions from those around us and can feel really drained when energy is running high.  Because so many on my news feed are friends from America, I’ve been kept apprised of the political goings-on, especially during the bloodbath that was the 2016 election.  Many of my friends shared articles from trusted journalistic outlets, but then I’d see there were over 20 comments on the post, most paragraphs-long, decrying “liberal bias”, “skewed facts”, and other scathing remarks.  I opt not to jump in with the comment brigade for fear of being slammed down and hurled a plethora of insults – not because I’m a “special snowflake”, but because I don’t seek out recreational abuse from the trolling types.  It’s bad enough seeing exchanges like this on friends’ posts – I can’t bear anymore to look at the thousands of comments on posts by public pages, where the real internet trolls feed and thrive.

It has been recommended to me to contact the counselling-by-telephone service Let’s Talk… I’ve used it several years ago, but I do not feel that their services would help me at present.  I find that since becoming self-aware of my Aspie-ness and understanding how my mind works a bit better than before, I am able to unpick things myself and talk things through with likeminded friends (especially my fellow Aspergirl sisters – you know who you are 😘).  I recognise that I’m burnt out at present – likely from being too strong for too long – and I need to retreat into my protective bubble to recuperate and regroup.  Part of this will be actively self-limiting my use of Facebook, unfollowing those whose posts will likely cause me undue anguish, and outright unfriending those with whom I have no active connection anymore.  I have seen articles over time talking about how people can become depressed by using Facebook, as we tend to self-censor (i.e. putting our best selves forward for others to see) and if we do it ourselves, of course others on our newsfeeds will be doing this, so we base our own lives on the filtered versions of others… no wonder we end up feeling inadequate and down.  It takes a strong person to recognise this and pull themselves out of it.

I know I am a strong person so with my level of determination, I will be able to do it.  I just cannot rush it.  My lack of patience for waiting will interfere, but having several voices of reason around me will help keep me in check.  This is going to sound cheesy and cliche, but seriously, since joining the International Aspergirl Society and becoming actively involved with members, finding the sisterhood has been so amazing.  While we are all individuals with unique life experiences, there is a common thread that we all share which helps us (or at least this is true for me) feel less alone and isolated.  I am so grateful and do not take it for granted whatsoever.  This has helped keep me going over the last several weeks where I was feeling quite sad and alone.  Now I feel like I can face what life throws at me because I am supported and loved. 🌸