How a Death by a Thousand Cuts Destroys Us 

I’ve moved. I’ve had a kidney stone. I ran over a nail. Even after getting fixed, the tire keeps losing air. My headlight went out. Lola’s been sick. I’ve had a sinus infection. Bills have piled up. I’ve had anxiety about my future. Some things I hoped would happen didn’t. I’ve had at least one fight. 

It’s been a long five weeks in other words. Like to a point I’ve had to stop and think about what I’ve talked with my therapist about in advance of Tuesday’s appointment. It’s been a tremendous amount of stress and it’s started to break me. 

This is not however an article where I cry woe is me. Kind of the opposite. I want to discuss a hard truth. When we go through such an arduous time it often makes us kind of terrible. And that’s not ok. 

I’ve noticed in the last few days just how toxic I’ve been. I’ve snapped at a few of my friends in chat. I’ve been incredibly cynical. I’ve almost sought fights. About the only area I haven’t struggled is with my wife and daughter who do make me feel calmer, despite Lola being such a key stressor this month. (Babies get a free pass. They’re babies.)

None of this is ok. Not one bit. I can’t take my issues out on other people. They don’t deserve it. 

So why do we do it in this case? Well we can’t rage against what’s actually stressing us. Random bad streaks of luck are just that: random. So there’s no outlet for the stress we feel. We’re stuck festering in our stress. 

We also take periods where small things batter us continually harder than one massive hit. There’s a psychological reason. We have mechanisms that kick in after a massive hit even if they’re grief and depression. We don’t have those for minor stressors that come at us repeatedly. (Note that I would under no circumstances call the last month a period of minor stress. I’m amazed I haven’t had worse health issues.) 

What we’re really dealing with the hits. It’s the fear of what next. Thus we get on edge as a defense. We know something else is coming so we fight off everything. And that’s not ok at all. 

It’s just so very hard to shift down, especially when you’re not sure it’s over. And I’ve tried. I meditated. I read. I listened to music. I took a drive. (Ok that one only made things worse.) Shifting gears is hard. 

Ultimately all I can do is write an entry like this where I lay out my issues and hope for unearned patience. This won’t last forever. I just need to be better. 

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On mental illness and violence 

In the wake of Parkland, the link between mental illness and violence has become a hot topic of conversation. There’s a real focus on the need for increased mental health treatment in the US. Over and over again I keep hearing about how we need to change how things are done in this country and maybe if we treat mental illness we can stop the next Parkland. I have two words to say to this: stop talking! 

I am mentally ill and I’m not referring to autism which I consider a condition not an illness. I suffer from severe depression episodes and live with chronic anxiety. I know what it’s like to have a mental illness spiral to a point of severity. I’ve lived with it. It’s why I’m being treated for it. 

Mental illness, to be blunt, has nothing to do with what we see in these shootings. Oh it might show up in the shooter’s background but issues like mine also show up in the backgrounds of men like Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, both victims of gun violence. Yes, I share a condition with the Sandy Hook shooter. I also share a condition with Anthony Hopkins and Darryl Hannah. See how the correlation doesn’t really matter. 

On the other hand an association with violent hate groups does show up constantly. Domestic violence is almost always present. These are two ideas completely removed from mental illness. They’re far better harbingers though. 

And we know this. I see so many arguing that the latter two matter. But they’ll still argue for mental health. I suppose the assumption is it does no harm to bring it up since there is a need for reform. But it’s doing tremendous harm to us. 

Here’s the reality of mental health and violence. We are far more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators because we are vulnerable. If we do harm someone it’s ourselves. Self harm and suicide are absolutely connected to mental health. We’re no more prone to hate than anybody else, maybe less because we identify with the marginalized. (Intersectionality is a fight we’re into!) 

And yes, the system is broken. It’s hopelessly broken. I can only afford meds and a monthly doctor visit. My insurance doesn’t cover therapy until I hit my deductible. I need far more to cope with my issues than I can get. But because I can’t get more, I’m not a threat to society. I’m just likely to have insomnia. 

This correlation absolutely has to stop. Just because you can’t comprehend it doesn’t make it an issue of mental health. It means you don’t get it. Quit scapegoating innocent people. Meaning well doesn’t absolve you. 

What “Good” Autistic Representation Should Look Like

Representation matters. This is a fact we all know. Positive representation tells a person that in the public eye, they exist and matter. Negative representation tells a person they’re lesser and deserve scorn. It matters big time that Love, Simon is in theaters depicting a gay teenage love story that doesn’t end in tragedy and it matters that Black Panther is a monster hit.

Sadly it also matters that The Good Doctor exists. It matters that Atypical exists. It matters that Autism Uncensored exists. It matters that To Siri With Love exists. It matters that counterexamples aside from the imperfect Abed Nadir (who is an atrocious representation of the highly underrepresented Palestinians) don’t exist. It ABSOLUTELY MATTERS that Sheldon Cooper exists. Autistic people are extremely poorly represented in mass media with little signs of change.

So what would be good representation? I was challenged on twitter today by Alex Haagaard to answer this question. This is my best attempt at answering that question. What would a portrayal of autistic people that would recognize and respond to look like?

For starters, autistic people would be the point of view character of the material. This seems so simple but it’s really not as common as it should be. Most works about autistic people are told through the perspective of the parents or their cohorts. This bedevils even the best works such as the fantastic manga With The Light. For good representation, we need to be the ones telling the story. Colin Fischer does this quite well actually.

We need to have an inner life. Again, this seems so obvious but it’s not to makers of this material. Autistic people are shown as at once closed off yet all of our issues are right on the surface. We don’t seem to think. We’re all process. No! Give us personalities no different from anybody else.

We’re emotional. Yeah you won’t see that in any media about us. But we’re actually highly emotional people even if we don’t express it that well. Good representation would depict us having moods, just a bit off.

Give us a sense of humor. I love Spock but we’re not actually like that. I love comedy no different from anybody else. My sense of humor isn’t that weird either. Honestly most of us laugh at pretty ordinary stuff. Weird Al is our saint too after all!

Show us as frustrated by the neurotypical world. We’re always commented on but never get to comment on others. And we do. We absolutely have thoughts. Let us vent! It’ll help make us real when we can snap back.

We should have our interests but surprise us! Give us unique interests. They don’t have to be cliched ones like criminology or medicine. Give us a thoroughly useless interest and let us laugh at it. Our interests don’t have to be only good because they have value in mainstream society. Tell us it’s fine just to be us.

Speaking of society, it would be great if we were shown as social. We’re always asocial. Untrue. Sure, many of us are but a lot of NTs are. Show us being social! And don’t just show us tragically wanting to have friends. We have friends in real life and it would be nice to see that in the media.

That correlates to relationships. I’m married with a daughter. I’ve never seen that in the media. Show that! But while I’m at it, show us as gay/lesbian/trans/asexual. I know people who are all of those things and autistic too! I realize intersectionality is a nightmare for media producers but please try.

Give us flaws too. Give us real flaws like anybody else would have. Make us rude not because we’re autistic but because we’re assholes. Mae us greedy. Make us selfish. Make us vain. We can be broken. Autism doesn’t make us pure. We hurt people because we’re people.

But here’s the big one: vary us. I’m so sick of seeing autistic people falling into the exact same trope. We’re cold. People confuse us. We’re sad. We’re superhuman. Almost always STEM geniuses (I’m sooo not.) Give me an autistic screwup alcoholic. Give me a highly social wisecracker. Give me more than Sherlock Holmes!

Will we get this? I think so. We’re creating more. We’re getting heard. We’re enraging publishers. It’ll take time but I have hopes in time we will eventually see ourselves in a way we like.

Moving While Autistic

Moving is hell for everybody.

How can it not be? You have to transport everything that comprises your life from one location to another in a short amount of time with no margin of error. You have an intense amount of physical labor combined with a violent amount of money being spent. Moving exhausts you in every way. And when it’s done you have to reestablish your life.

However, I think moving might be a special brand of hell for the autistic community. Moving is an experience that gets at everything that we hate in a condensed form. Over the last week, I’ve moved from one house to another and it’s gutted me physically and emotionally. So I have more than a few thoughts on the topic.

Between 2013 and 2018, I’ve moved four separate times. That is, as you might notice, not a small volume of moves. The first time was to move in with Amanda. The second time was because our neighbors were horrid. The third time was because our house was overpriced. Now, on our fourth move, we moved because we added a third person and there was a hole in our floor. It had to happen.

The last 30 days have ranked among the longest in my life. Amanda and I have slammed our way through the experience of finding a house, cleaning it out, and getting over to a new house. All while maintaining my normal routine of work, therapy, and the most strenuous of all: being daddy.

The physical act of moving is the part most people hate but honestly while I hate it, I probably prefer it to the other parts. Physical labor is hard yet not all that mentally taxing. It simply must be done. Get from one place to another. That’s pure and I don’t feel stress over it. I should note however that I did very little of the heavy lifting. Not my skill set.

No, what I find stressful is the cleaning and not just because I struggle with the fine motor tasks of cleaning. Moving inevitably means turning up strata of your past. This was especially clear on Friday when I produced a mountain of trash from the shed. As I did so I took out pieces from my past. Unfortunately, many of my old comics were water damaged. It hurt to trash them. But even if I hadn’t had to let go of those, I’d still find memories over and over. We always do. There’s lots hidden that we dig up just by going through the move. It’s impossible not to be slammed with nostalgia when we do.

Nostalgia is hard for us to deal with. We mourn for what was and can never be again no matter how hard we try. I know this for a fact as I moved into my freshman dorm room during my senior year and couldn’t hit the flint again. Moving reminds us that time passes and things change. The memories hurt.

But what really hurts is the upheaval. Moving your things isn’t as simple as transporting rooms in their exact forms. Everything you have is boxed up and hidden. Already I’ve had several panic episodes just trying to find things. I will continue to panic in this manner for at least a month. This is disastrous for all but I really think we get it the hardest. 

It’s not just your things either. I moved a minimal 10 minutes away but my routine has been violently disrupted. I don’t have my convenience stores. I’m figuring out how long it takes to go to work. I’m figuring out the closest stores. Everything I know and count on to the minute? Gone.

You might be thinking that it’s silly to whine about that when I’m so close to everything I knew but in a weird way that’s harder. It’s frustrating that I can’t just snap back. It’s all visible to me. 

But ultimately none of this matters. Moving is part of life. Do we hate it? Yes. But it can’t be avoided. 

What matters is what we come home to. My wife is at this house as is my daughter. I can build a new routine. But I can’t replace them. They are my home. 

On The Ricky Gervais Show, Karl Pilkington and the autistic experience

There are few pieces of media I love more than The Ricky Gervais Show. The XFM years? Love em. The podcasts? Love em. The guides? Love em. An Idiot Abroad? Love it. I have sat around with this material on a loop many times and 9 years after finding it have yet to tire of it.

This go around however has been different. For the uninitiated, the show consists of Gervais, his (now former) writing partner Stephen Merchant, and their former producer Karl Pilkington simply sitting around and talking with the goal of getting Karl to say something “stupid.” Given that Karl is prone to absurd ideas, it’s easy to see this as a fairly mean and even ableist show. So much of the humor is at his expense.

But I’ve always felt a profound kinship to Karl as I listened. Initially, yes I laughed at him but the longer that I listened the more I started to laugh because what he said was funny in its own right. An Idiot Abroad particularly helped me see how dry witted he was. Thus as I listened this time, I was hit with a startling revelation: Listening to The Ricky Gervais Show and putting yourself in Karl’s shoes is a perfect example of the common autistic experience.

After all, to listen to 30 minutes of the show is to experience an awkward social situation. It’s obvious there’s affection between these three men but there’s tension. Gervais is legendary for his ego and Merchant doesn’t seem a lot less sure of himself here. Karl is the unassuming everyman in the midst of these two characters, not unlike all of us at a party. I’ve been in rooms where I desperately wanted to escape.

So much of the show follows an all too familiar series of patterns for us. Karl finds himself expressing his views, either with regular features or with random topics and he speaks up. Inevitably he’s ridiculed for them. Honestly much of the humor is just this.

The thing is, almost everything he’s saying either comes from a logical place or one where you can see his reasoning even if it’s odd. That’s what I find so distinctly autistic about the show. Karl is terrible at expressing himself. His words get lost in his filter. But he’s not wrong. How often have I been in his shoes? I’ve spoken up with an opinion that came out wrong but my idea wasn’t. This show captures that in a rare way.

Karl is also somewhat naive. He seemingly believes a lot of strange things and is locked into patterns of thought. These are things I’ve seen in us though the naivete tends to fade. But we’re open. I definitely am. I especially get his view of order when there isn’t any. It’s just an easier way to view life.

But perhaps what I relate to the most is his bluntness. Karl doesn’t hold back. He says what he thinks. He’s not exactly the most adept at faking social niceties. The stories he tells are ones of social blindness. Suffice it to say I believe we can all relate to this.

Seriously, for a more perfect display of our traits in audio, you’d have to find something made by one of us. And yes, the argument has been made convincingly that Karl might be one of us. But that’s irresponsible and not our place to judge. What I can say is I relate.

I realize that suggesting a series where someone gets bullied might not sound entertaining but I want to go back to my point of listening to it from Karl’s POV. Listened to from his perspective, it’s a show about a thoroughly decent, very funny person who has to endure two outsized egos. Karl is all of us dealing with society. And as it goes on he puts up with less and less. Once An Idiot Abroad starts, he’s cursing them out. Karl finds his strength.

Karl’s victory is that he never changes. He’s resolutely himself. And by the end, you’re with him.

The Catch-22 of the Mask

“If u can “disguise” your Autism then imo u cannot possibly have autism. “

One willfully ignorant tweet can set me off. That’s literally all it takes to get me blogging here. Seeing an attitude so absurd it makes me have to write. That’s what that comment did.

Autistic people live with one of the worst catch-22s in society. We are forced to put on a mask every day if we hope to function in society. If we don’t, we’re not able to survive in it. We’re ostracized and criticized to the point of emotional distress. We can’t expect to find work or peers.

Thus we learn to develop a mask. Many of us get pretty decent at it. We’re intuitive and pick up what we need to do to get by. It’s not hard to realize curbing your echolalia and flapping will help you get a job. We learn to act right.

And what do we get for it? We’re erased. The assumption becomes that since we can turn it off for a bit, we must be able to turn it off permanently. And I’m not just expanding on that tweet. I’ve heard people in my real life assume that because I can fake it for a bit, I must be exaggerating my autism.

This is something that has frustrated me my entire life. I can’t allow my mental health issues out into the open because they’re frowned upon socially but when I’m surviving it’s assumed they’re not there. I’ve had to give variations on this very topic repeatedly over the years to friends and family and I’m not sure society gets it.

So let me put it in a way that’s clear:

First off, we’re always autistic. It’s a condition that’s cradle to grave. It’s treatable but not curable. There are certain mental patterns that aren’t going away. We are who we are and you need to accept that.

Second, we’re able to fake it but faking it is exhausting. Imagine trying to play a role permanently but behind closed doors immediately reverting to yourself. It is utterly tiring to constantly put on a part. Not just physically but definitely emotionally. You feel frustrated because you can’t just collapse and be yourself. You hurt because you know you’re rejected.

Third, and most importantly, nobody knows what goes on in the minds of another. We’re often shocked when highly successful people take their own lives but the painful truth is we don’t know what they feel. It’s no different for any other condition. Just because you think we’re playing the part well doesn’t mean we’re seeking attention when we meltdown. Let me stress that nobody on Earth wants THAT attention. We want attention for good things we do. We are the best experts on autism, not someone who’s read a mommy blog!

Sadly I don’t expect this ever to change. But we solider on through the uncanny valley nonetheless fighting.

How reading Ultimate Spider-Man: Clone Saga freed me from a superstition

Image result for ultimate spider-man clone saga

I bought the book at a Borders in Memphis, Tennessee in June 2007. It wasn’t cheap, a 29.99 hardcover of Ultimate Spider-Man: Clone Saga. The book was bought in celebration of my new job. It was a nice, slick volume and I couldn’t wait to read it after I finished a Flash GN and a Star Wars novel. I read the Flash volume and was in the midst of the Star Wars book when I lost that new job in under 36 hours.

The following things happened between then and today. 13 months of job interviews. 9.5 years of a job. I bought a car. I dated a girl for a few weeks. I dated a girl for a few years. Married her. Moved three times with her. We struggled with fertility. We stopped struggling with fertility. Lola was born. Lola had her 1, 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18 month appointments. The book never left the shelf. I would not read it.

Why? Why wouldn’t I simply read a comic? Bafflingly I actually read all of the other books in the series. But I couldn’t open this volume. Why? Because as silly as it was, I knew that if I ever cracked it, something seriously bad would happen. I was bound by a supersition.

How do we explain superstition? In theory, we should know better than to give into it. It’s an irrational belief that can easily be disproved. Reading a graphic novel exists in isolation for me and me alone. There’s no butterfly effect if I do. But we all still have them.

The very simple explanation is evolutionary. Superstitions were built into us as a matter of survival and many of our best known ones have their roots in some actual reason that got lost. They’re also cultural, such as never saying the name of “The Scottish Tragedy.” They unite us. But our personal ones have neither. They’re based on our experiences.

A superstition is a mistranslation of feelings I find. When I walk through a bookstore in a certain order, I’m not trying to make something good be there. I’m delaying being let down. I

In the case of this book I nay have claimed I wouldn’t read it out of fear of something bad happening, but the truth was simple. If I read it, I was letting go of the West Memphis saga once and for all. There wouldn’t be anything left to do. I could truly move on. And no matter how many times I write about that, I wasn’t letting go. This had become the last step and I wasn’t ready to accept it.

But it was time. You know after a certain point you have to step on the crack to know nothing bad will happen. You have to get that closure to move on. I’m writing a lot about the art of 2008 this year in no small part to close that part of my life once and for all. This was part of it.

So I sat down with Lola and read the book. It didn’t take long. Roughly 40 minutes. It was nothing shocking, after all I’d figured out what happened. It was first rate though with amazing work from the Bendis/Bagley team. So yeah, I had a great time. And in under an hour, it was done.

And then that was it. It stopped being a mythic totem on my shelf and went back to being just another book. There’s no magic energy to it. I took its power.

And I’m free now.