Why “Just Ignore It” is Bad Advice To Bullying Victims

Looking back over this blog, it hits me this has been almost as much an anti-bullying site as it has been an autism advocacy site. That’s fine with me. I’m openly a bullying victim and I don’t mind being open about the experience. My words are a tool to be used in service of fixing this toxic situation. I do all I can to fix it.

So it is that I find myself here. I’m certain I’ve covered this before. I know I’ve said it before. But I really, really need to go into this topic because of late I’ve been hearing these words a lot. And I’m not ok with it.

In the last few weeks, I’ve experienced an amount of harassment online. I won’t engage in hyperbole and say it’s a lot. After all I know people who get it way worse. I’m a cishet white man so there is a certain limit to what I face. I’ve vented about this to a number of people and I hear one phrase repeatedly: “Just ignore it.”

Just ignore it is of course the exact same advice I heard as a child. It was despicable advice then, when I was immature and lacked the defense mechanisms to deal with it. It put all the blame for my bullying on my 8-13 year old shoulders. It was an act of vicious victim blaming.

So 20 years later, I should be stronger. I should be able to stand up for myself, right? I mean obviously I am. Blogging is standing up. So when a person I disagree with and don’t know shares something I’ve written in a highly public forum and distributes it to strangers along with a vicious attack that leads to more, crowding out comments from my friends and making me feel bad in a space I use for socializing, I should just use the block button and move on, right?

OK I gave away the answer just by laying out the situation.

The hard truth is it’s almost impossible to just ignore harassment. Sure I can use the block button, and I do with great ease and zero trouble. I’m even on a blocklist service. But saying harassment should be ignores misses the point of what harassment is and why it bothers us.

See, harassment really isn’t about the words at all. It’s about the presence in a space we value. I love Twitter. I’ve met many of my best friends there. I built this blog there. So when I get unexpected negative comments in my feed, it bothers me. It has to. And to be clear, I’m not talking friends disagreeing with my opinions or even negative opinions from strangers about my take on a movie/book. That’s the fun of it.

What I’m describing are people who seek out opinions about serious matters they dislike and attack them. These people often use very angry, insulting language. What they hit me on could be politics (though I avoid the election), social issues (I’m unapologetic here), or even things like eating meat, which earned me an unexpectedly angry round today. (I have vegetarian followers. You cool.) It doesn’t matter. They jump down my throat and belittle me, often sharing my words with others.

What matters here is the action. They invade a space I hold special, indeed a “safe space.” When you get down to it, that’s exactly what happened to me as a child. I considered school somewhere I was supposed to be happy and it rarely was. During recess, I couldn’t enjoy my freedom because people came at me screaming. Honestly the only difference now is I’m actually being attacked for what I think and feel. And often I do have to delete my words because otherwise I get flooded with this. That’s the goal of people like this: to silence me.

So why can’t I ignore it? Because that violation hurts. It’s a sudden, very unpleasant experience. A reminder that even when I’m trying to be social, I can be attacked. And for what it’s worth, online harassment has started to have real consequences.People have had their entire lives ruined by it. That only makes it worse.

And at the core of this is a fact nobody wants to admit: telling someone to ignore it is a form of gaslighting. Gaslighting is telling someone what they think and feel is invalid. It is a form of evil. It puts all the blame on the victim. It tells them they need to change. It ignores that what’s being done is the far greater wrong.

I experienced this throughout my childhood. And I’m done taking it. No, it is NOT ok to tell someone how to think and feel. Maybe it doesn’t matter to you but it does to the person going through it. If you must speak up on this, try to find out why we think and feel what we do. I almost guarantee that by doing so, you’ll come to a much greater understanding of why this bothers us.

What I Wish Neurotypicals Would Quit Saying About Mental Illness

This will not be a long entry because it doesn’t need to be. This is however something I have to clarify because people in my community and related mental illness communities keep having the same problem. So let me say this as clearly as I can:

STOP TALKING ABOUT OUR CONDITIONS AS IF THEY ARE “JUST A PART” OF US THAT WE CAN “OVERCOME!”

This is something we hear over and over again from countless well meaning people. That our mental disability, whatever it may be, is just one of myriad elements about us. That we don’t need to live defined by it. The worst thing we hear is that we can “overcome it.” I’ve heard that one over and over again, especially as I’m able to act like a “normal” person.

Look, we know you all mean well when you say this. You’re trying to encourage us to succeed in a society that is profoundly, clinically judgmental. We also know that you’re trying to be sensitive to the unfortunate truth that our conditions are often a limitation in that world. Trying to encourage us to deal with them is a wonderful thing compared to judging us for them.

So in that light let me explain why this is a bad thing. It’s a poor choice of words because it’s impossible. Oh, many of these conditions are treatable, to be clear. I feel far stronger for my experiences in therapy. But no matter what, I will always be autistic. I will always be at war with depression. There’s never going to be a day where I’m completely clear of them. I’m not going to overcome this. I’m going to live with it.

But there’s a problem in what I just said there: It is not separate from me. I don’t really have autism. That implies my brain is somehow separate from the thing that is me. That’s ridiculous on the face of it. It’s more accurate to say I’m autistic and experience depression. It’s an accurate description of the condition of my brain’s functioning and to us they’re completely nonjudgmental.

The thing outsiders don’t get is those of us with mental illness aren’t ashamed of it, at least not how they expect. Sure, life would be easier without it in a world not prepared to deal with it. But most of us are pretty matter of fact about it and we absolutely do not see it as separate from us because we know how the mind works. We’ve had to study it after all.

Does that mean I want them to be the first things people bring up. No, because they don’t really tell you anything about me. Autism is marked by extreme individuality after all. But if you’re describing my condition, saying I have autism is clumsy and really not accurate. I’m autistic, no big deal. Same for the rest.

I stress, I know most of you mean well. If you didn’t, you would’ve clicked away long ago. What we really want in all things is to be heard. This is a place to start.

State of the Blog Year Two

So it is that I come to the second anniversary of A Flickering Life. Two years is a nice length to keep a blog going. Many don’t make it here in fact. With that in mind, some thoughts on Year two.

Undeniably it was a quieter year. The narrative entries ended in favor of the book which consumed most of the year. It’s on sale and I’m happy with it. It’s not intended to be nor is it a work of scholarly research. It’s a personal narrative. I can’t explain all the ins and outs of the disorder but I can tell you how it felt. You can find it here for just $3.

It’s been a very turbulent year for me. I experienced a very vicious battle with anxiety and depression that I’m still fighting. I am finally in therapy for the first time. It’s been a hard year confronting my cellar level self esteem. I’ve also started to come to terms with the fact that I do feel quite lonely some times. Most of my friends are long gone from this area or from my life and that hurts. These are things I’m not ok with.

But, there’s hope. Lola Faye awaits in a month. She is the beacon that changes everything. I have no idea how things will be different. I only know everything I know will change. I’ll know then.

I know this: this journey is not over. As I become an autistic father, I’ll embark on a new odyssey I will be discussing here. I just hope you all stick around for the ride. I’ve got several topics I’m still trying to get strong entries on. I hope you’ll enjoy them as they come.

For now, Onward and Upward

The Problem with the Parent Narative

I need to begin this piece with a disclaimer. I’m writing about an extremely sensitive subject that affects a number of my readers, that of the narrative of the parent of an autistic child. I’m going to get very critical of the media as I write this, which could easily be misinterpreted as criticism of the parents. I am not in any way trying to do that. In fact I strongly encourage such parents to share their stories and to be as loud as they can be. I’m also not in anyway attacking support groups for parents to be clear. Those are a must. My issue is with the media, not you.

There’s a hard truth in blogging. Just because you cover a topic once doesn’t mean you’ve said all you have to say. In truth you sometimes have to reexamine an issue and get more specific. Such is the case with this entry. I wrote on the topic of how autistic narratives are filtered through other perspectives last year in a solid entry. I stand by everything I said in this but I’ve come to realize I just missed the mark in saying what I needed to say. 

For while there might occasionally be a depiction of us as a potential love interest (though never successful so far save for rare exceptions) or a friend, we usually appear in the story of a parent who discovers their child is autistic and must deal with it. This narrative appears in film, TV, books, and even manga. This is our narrative that we get trapped in, much as the gay community gets the coming out narrative or Christians get conversion stories as the most common trope. 

The narrative is common for a perfectly good reason. It’s the one that’s the most relatable for Neurotypicals and it’s hardly untrue. My own mother could’ve written a version that would be well worth reading. If this was one of many tropes in the media depiction of autism I wouldn’t be bothered. 

Here’s the issue: it’s not. What we’re getting, especially from Autism Speaks and groups like them, is this single story. Occasionally we get it from a parent a few years into dealing with the matter but almost without fail this is what we get when we get a story about autism. It’s the only one anybody seems interested in. 

This is a problem because this story isn’t really a story about autism. It’s about parenting. It’s about how a parent deals with a child who seems to be a blank slate they can’t understand. Over time they learn to reach this distant alien they spawned. The child, and make no mistake adult autism is invisible, is a prop with no power in their story. Their thoughts and feelings are irrelevant next to the parent’s. 

This is a very serious problem for us because this trope influences how others see us. When we don’t play an active role in our own stories, then the notion that we don’t have an inner life is reinforced. After all, nobody ever hears about our thoughts and feelings. They just know our parents are affected and ultimately learn from this ordeal. 

Saying that fiction, though this trope shows up a lot in sappy memoirs, influences thought might be a leap but it’s really not. We are influenced by what we see. Shows like Will and Grace and Modern Family, stereotypical as they are, normalized homosexuality for many. We don’t have that outlet. Our closest representative is Sheldon Cooper, who is both undiagnosed and a disgusting cartoon of autism who suggests to the viewer that we really might not function in society. Seriously we are not well represented.

And that has to change. I think it has to start by moving past the parent narrative. It’s a trope that has helped but I think it’s time to start focusing on the autistic community itself. We have bold, vibrant voices ready to speak. We would love to tell our stories. We just need the chance.

So I encourage future writers to realize that if you’re looking to tell a story about autism, don’t take the easy route. Go inside our heads. Try to put us at the center. We don’t live to teach others a lesson. We live the same lives you do.