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.