Wednesday, 29 February 2012

On A Sense Of Dissonance

I know I haven’t written anything here for ages. I’ve been busy with an art project, but also I’ve been wrestling with something that I’ve become more and more conscious of lately, which is my sense of dissonance re the world. My Concise Oxford defines ‘dissonant’ as “not in harmony, harsh-toned, incongruous”, and that about sums it up. It’s the sense of ‘jarring’ or dislocation, of striking a bum note, whenever I bang up against the stark fact of my ‘difference’ from the rest of the world. From what other spectrumites have written and said, this is a given for pretty much all of us on a daily basis, even if the individual doesn’t have a word for the feeling, and it can have devastating effects.

It’s not just the sensory overloads, though that’s bad enough, but rather the attitudes behind the constant presence of the things that set off the sensory overload. It’s the constant bumping into a whole mass of assumptions, attitudes, expectations, demands, habits, beliefs and practises, etc, etc, that just feel alien to us. We confront this every time we read a book or newspaper or magazine, turn on the TV, look at advertising, walk out our front door, catch a bus or drive a car, go shopping, go to work or school, deal with government departments or the law, talk to others… in short, pretty much any and every interaction with the world.

I wish I could claim that we simply live in a parallel reality. But ‘parallel’ implies a ‘separate-but-equal’ status, something like the bars of railway lines – both bars are equally important and valid. But our reality is NOT seen as valid, or in any way equal to that of NTs. We’re told our feelings and thoughts are wrong or not good enough or simply ‘can’t be’ (“Nobody thinks like that!”), our opinions and viewpoints are ignored or denigrated or simply laughed at (“You are soooo weird…”), our sensory overloads are treated with impatience (“Stop making such a fuss about nothing!”), our needs seen as not real (“Why on earth should that matter?”), our stims suppressed (“For God’s sake, sit still!”), and we’re told that we must become ‘normal’, or at least present a fa├žade of it, in order to be considered even halfway acceptable (“Why do you have to be so DIFFICULT? Why can’t you just be like everybody else?”). We are bullied, abused, reviled, rejected, excluded, ignored, snubbed, scorned, laughed at, shouted at, fired, locked up, and even killed, because what we are is seen as worthless - ‘worth less’.

I believe it’s this sense of dissonance that is largely responsible for so much of the depression, anxiety, stress and misery we feel (as well as the specific sets of experiences that create it of course). It’s what causes us to withdraw from the world, to quit jobs or study programs, to give up on relationships and/or friendships, to hide in our rooms or our houses and become sad, bitter, resentful, angry and jaundiced with the world. Its values and practises so often seem crazy to us. Its rejections hurt us. Its assumptions make us feel invisible. Its demands and expectations stress us to breaking point. We feel the world has no place for us and doesn’t value or want us. It can lead to addictions of various kinds, and even in some cases to suicide.

And many days, the weight of this feeling of dissonance threatens to tear me apart. Except in this blog, I haven’t really ‘gone public’ with my autism. I’ve been waiting till I can (afford to) get a ‘formal’ diagnosis of my Aspergers, feeling like I needed an ‘official’ stamp of approval before daring to call myself an Aspie/autie. But I can no longer wait. There’s too much misinformation out there that needs correcting. There’s too much hostility, too much ignorance, too much of everything bad vibrating around the very word ‘autism’, too much harm being done. And it’s in line with my greater spiritual goal of bringing more Light and Truth into the world. But none of these are the core reason I’ve decided to risk being more ‘public’ with my autism.

It’s because otherwise I feel like I can’t breathe. Depression tightens its icy grip on my heart, and my mind threatens to fracture into a million tiny pieces, leaving me feeling like I’m nowhere and nothing, like I don’t exist, don’t have any right even to exist. I feel crushed under the weight of a world that doesn’t allow for my different way of being. I feel alienated, invalidated, weak, and powerless. Meditation, the support of others, and the exercise of my creativity goes some way towards alleviating these feelings and preventing a downward spiral, but ultimately if I want to take charge of my life, own my personal power, I’ve realised I have to be openly, powerfully, fully and freely autistic.

I’m not saying that I think simply changing my attitude means that the world will just roll over, say “oh, of course!” and accept our reality - not even if every aspie/autie in the world did the same. We will still have to do the hard yards - enlightening when we can, educating if we must, and insisting anyway, any chance we have, on the validity of our experiences and our viewpoints, our needs and our ways. The way I see it, I, and we, don’t have a choice. I/we have to insist. I/we have to be “authentically autistic”. I/we have to continue the struggle, because the present situation is untenable, and its cost has already been way, way, way too high. For all of us.