In the midst of the mass horror and fear that ensued after the election last week, my brain decided that the fear and anger and hopelessness of the election wasn’t enough to deal with and added an extra heaping of mental turmoil. This round of mental anguish was brought about by sensory overload but my brain quickly started supplying reasons that I should be upset. This breakdown’s topic was my social failings and, relatedly, my failings as a human being.
As I crumbled into myself, my husband tried to help me feel better, though, since I wasn’t able to communicate what was wrong, he struggled to make me feel better. After some time had passed and I began to regain some of my verbal communication skills, I was able to start explaining to him the whirling mess within my mind.
I was stuck on the idea that because of my social difficulties, all of my friendships are doomed to end because I am inherently a bad friend. This in turn led to feeling like a worthless and terrible person. If I couldn’t even maintain a friendship, something considered so basic most neurotypicals manage it easily, then what was my worth? Everything in our society tells us that in order to be successful, one must master “networking”, or, as I like to call it, uncomfortable social interaction for selfish purposes. If I can barely manage friendships, how will I ever manage to succeed at socializing to move up the corporate ladder? If I don’t have friends and I’m doomed to fail in the workplace, then what good am I? The thoughts continued to swirl deeper and deeper into the dark abyss of my worst fears and self-loathing.
Once I managed to explain some of this to my husband, he was able to start helping me work through things. He asked me a lot of questions, and, understanding how my brain works, kept the questions to yes/no or either/or questions. He used these questions to help me build up my sense of self again, something that fluctuates wildly with my mood. As we talked, I began to calm, starting to find steady ground upon which to stand within the storm of my mind.
Since that episode of mental turmoil, I have been reflecting on who I am. While I try to be really positive about my disabilities, deep inside I still feel like because of my differences I am lesser. I feel like I will never be enough. Not enough of something in particular, but just enough in a more vague, ethereal sense. Despite my front of positivity, I’m often afraid to be myself in public. I’m afraid I will end up utterly alone due to my miserable social skills. I’m afraid that my life will never get better because of my disabilities.
Too often, I get stuck in all the things I can’t do, all the things I struggle with. When my mood swings, finding the positive seems about as feasible as climbing Mount Everest with my broken body. This especially comes to finding positives about myself. When I’m in a good place mentally, I have pretty good self-worth, but when my mental state destabilizes, my self-worth seems to vanish to be replaced by self-loathing.
But now I am asking why. Why do I disparage myself for having a brain that works differently? Why do I hate myself for struggling with friendship? Why do I despise myself in my dark moments? The answer that has come to me is multifaceted. First, I am autistic and while I was not diagnosed as a child, that did not stop the other kids from mocking me for my autistic traits. The movements of my body were alienated. My differences in social interactions were fodder for merciless bullying. Years of bullies and ostracization worked as well as an ABA program to make me ashamed of my natural ways of being as well as leading to me hiding, and losing, myself. Many years may have passed since the days of school yard bullies, but the pain and fear still lingers, even if the clarity of memory has faded.
Another facet, though related to the first, is the ableism that I’ve internalized over the years. I feel I am never productive enough. Never social enough. Never worth enough. I’ve internalized the idea that my disabilities make me lesser, make me a burden on those around me. I base my worth upon what I can accomplish, what I can do. Yet, when I look at others, I am able to see the inherent worth that we all have as human being. I truly believe that it matters not what you can produce for a capitalistic society, that human worth is not contingent on our ability to make money. I deeply believe that disabled people are not burdens or tragedies or lesser. I look at my husband who is unable to work and see him as one of the most important people I have ever met, disabilities and all. I love him for who he is, for all of him, mental illness and physical disability as a part of that. Yet, when it comes to myself, I struggle to apply these ideals.
I am committing to applying the same compassion and understanding I have for others towards myself. I know that it will not be an instant change. I will not magically wake up loving myself all the time. I will still struggle with my self-worth from time to time. But I am going to try and try hard. I will find the positives about myself. I will build my identity starting now.
I am loving
I am caring
I am compassionate
I am artistic
I am a writer
I am an activist
I am a survivor
I am a leader
I am intelligent
I find creative solutions because I see the world differently
I express myself in beautifully different ways
I am highly passionate about the things and people I care about
I find imaginative solutions to the challenges I face due to disability
I feel things deeply and intensely
I am autistic
I am disabled
I am enough