I’m Autistic!

(CN: descriptions of ableism, ableist language, abuse, addiction, grunge culture, and a lot of navel gazing)

Well, this post is a long time coming. Those few people (if any) who read this blog without following me on social media have probably noticed something strange in my last few posts: I started identifying as autistic all of the sudden. I’m not in one of those bipolar states where I start thinking I’m an ancient, reincarnated deity, a really great painter, or someone who could make a good living as a televangelist. I really am autistic.

This diagnosis was a long time in coming. I’m not sure if I would have been better or worse off if diagnosed earlier. All I know, is I’ve suffered a great deal because of my neurodiversity, in ways I’m only now beginning to realize. Before, I blamed myself for the raw treatment I received. Ableism is a horrible thing, especially when internalized.

I was born in 1977, which is old enough to put me in the other army of the ageism battle than a lot of you. Autism wasn’t even a diagnosis until like 1984 or something, and it was well into the ‘90s before I’d ever heard of it.

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time alone, nerding out on special interests: writing Lord of the Rings fanfic, cataloguing every species of plant that grew around my home, and trying to form telepathic bonds with my cats. I was so in my own head that I rarely had the “correct” reaction to social stimuli. I would often become overloaded in social situations and explode, or do strange things (like rubbing blankets on my face or licking someone’s silk shirt) to calm down. I didn’t care about wearing fashionable (or even presentable) clothing or brushing my hair. When my daily routine was interrupted, or if my environment were too noisy/frenetic, I’d have embarrassing meltdowns. I had very few friends, as you might imagine.

Anyway, if I’d been born in 2001, I would have been in all sorts of horrible programs and special ed classes. I dodged a bullet, I think (even though I was skipped a grade, which was a nasty idea because of my lack of mainstream social skills). Back when I was a kid, autistic people weren’t called autistic; they were “nerds” and “weirdos” (or worse, depending). We suffered horrid ableism—the same way we do now—but most of us were left more or less to our own devices. I didn’t have any formal brainwashing, but I was punished for my “bad behavior” and exiled for my social oddness. I hated myself for that behavior, but could never manage to control it.

I’ve spoken before about the physical/emotional/sexual abuse I suffered as a young teenager. Neurodiverse people are A LOT more likely to suffer abuse of all kinds, and I fell into that category. That was partly because of my lack of neurotypical social skills, and the scars ableism had put on me: I was a flashing target for abusers. I just wanted someone to pay attention to me, and figured I deserved whatever abuse I got, because I was such a disgusting, annoying loser who couldn’t act right.

I’ve discussed my other diagnoses ad nauseum, so I won’t go into it further here. At any rate, I was a psychological hot mess by the end of high school (not because I’m autistic or bipolar, but because of ABLEISM, to be clear). By the time I was in college, I was doing heroin to control the psychosis, depression, and anxiety.

I think a word about college here, because grandma Liz is in a sentimental mood.

I went to The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, during the height of the grunge era (so yeah, Nirvana, Beck, Built to Spill, Sleater-Kinney and I all hung out in the same damp coffee shops, wiping our snuffy noses on each other’s alpaca wool hats). A lot of people have just recently heard about Evergreen, because of the protests there. That sort of thing is nothing new at Evergreen.

Evergreen was (probably still is) a great college for certain types of neurodiverse people, comparatively. No tests. No grades (just evaluations). And back then, you didn’t even have to declare a major. Also, you could do independent study courses, where you would propose an area of research to a professor, and if they approved it you could go on your merry way, researching dogs’ emotional responses to music in New Orleans as opposed to Austin, or whatever, and write a report at the end of the semester for your sixteen credits.

I thought I’d fit in great at Evergreen. I considered myself something of an intellectual and an artist (I’m a musician, and I wrote back then as well, though not as much as I do now). Additionally, I’d come out as bisexual in high school, and I knew they had a thriving LGBTQ (or just “gay” as we called it back then) community at Evergreen.

Unfortunately, I fit in even worse there than I had in my rural high school. I just couldn’t get social situations right, and boy were social situations complicated in college. That time, much like now, was one of radical exploration of culture and bias, and I always somehow ended up on the wrong side of those debates. Once, when looking for an apartment, I asked a friend who had a room for rent at her house. She told me I had to be a lesbian in order to rent there; bisexual wasn’t “gay enough”. When I pointed out she herself was currently dating a dude, though (which is what we called cishet males back in the days when we wore onions on our belts), she said she was a lesbian currently dating a dude, and she got mad at me for not understanding the difference.

I felt incredibly left behind by the entire social justice movement at the time, in fact. I was looked down upon for my abused woman syndrome; if I had any self-respect, I was told, I’d be able to rise above my abuse more than I had. Some guy friends of mine let me play in one of their bands once for a show; the women told them it was about time they had a woman in their band, but after they saw me play said I was too timid to be interesting. I probably made those girls think I hated them or something, because I couldn’t make eye contact or small talk, but still.

There were more social narratives in that environment than I’d had to deal with in high school, and I wasn’t good at social narratives to begin with. It was horrifying.

So I retreated. I completed my education by independent contract (living with Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and staring an organic farm business back home). I fell into my heroin addiction, and into another abusive relationship. I ended up in prison for the heroin eventually. I’ve gone on and on about those stories elsewhere in my blog.

I didn’t think of myself as neurodiverse. I just thought of myself as a failure, and too weak to do life correctly. Even when, a long time later, I began to recognize my neurodiversity, I continued to run on internalized ableism. I can’t help but think this is at least partially because I’d been alienated from the message of empowerment in college. The social justice movement is taking a long time to embrace neurodiversity.

I wanted to point this out only because this dynamic has not changed much in the SJW arena: there is SO MUCH ableism. People accept mental illness and neurodiversity (and the signs of abuse) as long as they follow the accepted narrative and fit into the box people are comfortable with. The whole thing about neurodiverse people is we don’t fit into that narrative the way neurotypical people expect, though.

We need to do better. I don’t want more young people to be driven away the way I was. If I had been embraced for what I was back then, my life might have gone very differently. We need to renounce ableism—even internalized ableism—and be a safe place for neurodiverse people of all kinds. We especially need to avoid ableism during call-outs (if you believe in call-out culture at all, as it currently exists). Pointing out homomisia etc. doesn’t mean much if you’re being incredibly ableist while doing it.

At any rate, it was a long, long time before I was able to love myself for who I am.

I won’t go into the long process of accepting my bipolar and PTSD, which came first; I’ve written about that elsewhere on my blog. But my acceptance of those parts of myself led me to the neurodiverse community.  There, I finally found others who believed as I was coming to believe: that having a brain that worked differently was something to be proud of, rather than ashamed.

Of course, most people in the neurodiverse community don’t really believe psychosis or bipolar are things to be proud of, and things that don’t need curing. They aren’t…but that’s another subject I’ve gone on and on about in other posts.

Finding the neurodiverse community taught me a lot about autism, something I was researching anyway at the time, since I was having real marriage difficulties. My last husband was undiagnosed autistic—I’m sure of this now. I used to think it was his autism that was causing our marital difficulties, but as I learned more about it, I realized that autism wasn’t the problem at all. It was his abusive, toxic masculinity that was causing our marital difficulties.

As I learned and interacted more with people in the autistic community, though, I found myself identifying with them a lot. People talked about needing to fidget and stim, their social difficulties, their emotional overloads… that was me in spades. Eventually, I took an online diagnostic test, which was pretty definitively in the “most likely autistic” category. So, I took another, with the same result.

It’s taking me a while to get used to the new label, but not as long as I thought it would, since it fits me so well. I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll get formal testing. It could open up new counseling opportunities, but I’m not sure how effective those would be anyway. The only real reason I’d get formal testing is to avoid the reactions of doctors and neurotypical people when I tell them I’m self-diagnosed. I’m so used to ableism at this point, unfortunately, that this consideration doesn’t hold much water with me, though.

Self-diagnosis is valid; a lot of us would bang our heads on the wall trying to get a diagnosis otherwise. It would have been cool if a doctor had spotted I was autistic earlier, so that I could have perhaps gotten more appropriate psychological care. But doctors don’t know much about autism. They say things like, “You’re just smart/shy/introverted/anxious,” or, “You’re not autistic! An autistic person wouldn’t be able to sit here talking with me like this! An autistic person wouldn’t have a job!” Or, “Sure, you might be autistic, but we’re all ‘on the spectrum’.”

Ableism abounds. Neurodiverse people are scalp-deep in it all the time, so we kind of have to get on with things despite it. Diagnosing ourselves is just one aspect of that.

If you’re interested in taking the test yourself, here’s one…I’m not finding the first one I took, for some reason. That one was cool because it had a graph of where in the “spectrum” you were with regard to your social life, romantic life, and intellectual life. If someone has the link to one like that, I’d appreciate it.

If you’re interested, I got a 37 on the Psych Central test that I linked to above 😊

Living in a Tiny House: Part 3

I’m going to give myself a little break this lovely Sunday morning and do another blog post about living in my tiny house, and how I’m working toward my goal of subsistence farming, and independent living as a neurodivergent person.

It’s been closing in on a year since I last posted about this. Yikes! Time gets away from me when I’m so busy.

A lot has happened since my last tiny-house post. My mom had a triple bypass in February, for one. It’s really brought home the fact that all of the hardship that led me back to the family farm in the first place was well worth it, because this is where I belong. I was able to help my mom out and be there for her during her recovery, and it’s brought us closer together as a family.

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Winter on the farm

 

 

It was a beautiful fall, and an early (and pretty hard) winter. The first hard frost came early in October, and since our last one had been on June 15 (! – really, super late for this

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Tomatoes, peppers, and basil from last fall’s harvest.

area), we didn’t get enough tomatoes to can or freeze. I fried up quite a few green ones, though. Just thinking about the fried green tomato po boys and bahn mi (on homemade rolls) I ate is making me hungry right now. So good with veggie bacon and sprouts; or tofu, thin-sliced cabbage, Korean-style turnip pickles, and sriracha mayo.

 

I tried ripening some of the green tomatoes indoors, but without much success. I’ll hopefully get more ripe ones this year, but there are always some green ones left over when it freezes. I may sauce some of them this year, because green tomato puree/sauce is a great addition to soups, enchilada sauces, salsas, etc.

I did string a lot of peppers, can a lot of peaches, make jam galore, and Kid and I had

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Chestnuts and apples – gleaning leftover produce from others’ farms supplements my harvest.

plenty of dried plums, pears, and cherries to gorge ourselves on during the cold winter months and fight off ye olde scurvy. I also gleaned many pounds of chestnuts from a neighboring orchard (gleaning happens after harvest, so is not stealing. It’s produce that otherwise would have been left to rot.) I wrapped those up in tinfoil and roasted them in my potbelly woodstove, quickly learning that you have to score them beforehand or they’ll explode, sometimes right in your face, the shrapnel burning your eyeballs and curling your eyebrows. For those uninitiated, chestnuts are a little difficult to peel sometimes, but they’re SO good—really meaty and savory. I like roasting them in the oven with potatoes and root vegetables, and as a yummy addition to mashed potatoes and gravy. I’m going to experiment more next winter with grinding them into a paste to use in crusts, breads, and desserts. (Making a cookbook of all our recipes is something Kid and I are working on, but we have so much else going on, that it may take a while.)

 

IMG_2840This year is off to a great start. I’ve been working on expanding the farm business. We opened a little nursery (selling vegetable, herb, and flower starts we grew in our greenhouses). We were able to make costs (pay for the seeds and soil) plus a few hundred dollars on top of that, and we still had ample plants left over to fill our own gardens. I call that a success.

We’ll also be selling fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs—I’m already selling snap peas, turnips, basil, and cilantro. I have plans to start a worm farm soon, to save money on soil next year and increase our profit margin, while increasing the quantity of plants we grow.

I also hope to have enough extra eggs to sell soon, and maybe fresh chicken. The “fresh chicken” thing probably needs explanation…I used to be a vegetarian, but since my financial situation changed and I moved back to the farm, I’ve had to take a more practical approach.

This all started when (fucking asshole) neighbor dogs came in and killed a bunch of our chickens last winter. I’m so poor, that it just didn’t make good economic and moral sense to throw away good protein, so I butchered the poor things. It wasn’t too bad, though it was definitely an olfactory experience, and one that brought me into touch with my place in the food chain; as I labored at cutting out all the bad meaty/organy bits while leaving the good ones, I imagined hundreds of generations before me, working so hard just to feed themselves and their families, at peace with the fact that we are able to live

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Home-hatched chick. Name: Penguin

because other organisms die. There’s a sort of meditation to it.

 

So, anyway, still on the subject of chicken death, last year we had about thirteen chicks hatched on the farm by our own broody hens. Nine of those (eek) were roosters. They were wreaking havoc: fighting each other, brutally gang raping the hens, and traumatizing my parents’ border collie, who is autistic (this isn’t some ableist joke, nor am I comparing my dog to people to be clear—I’m serious, and I’m autistic so I have insight). She’s very noise-sensitive. Whenever the roosters would get into a kerfuffle, she’d pace and whine and be really upset. When a certain rooster crowed, it really set her off: she’d spin circles and snap at that rooster. I really felt for her, because she couldn’t walk away from the situation and it was really triggering for her.

So, before I moved back, my dad would give the roosters away to a guy down at the feed store who would slaughter them himself. I figured, if we know they’re going to be killed anyway, we should just own that fact and butcher them ourselves. My family reluctantly agreed, so we had a good old-fashioned butchering day in the spring. We rounded those cocks all up, my dad killed them and I processed them. I thought it was going to be horrible, but it wasn’t so bad because it was just family work, for a good purpose. We talked with each other so the togetherness could decrease the sting of mortality, and I just thought about those poor, gang-raped hens (it was really awful) and the poor dog, and it was a lot easier.

(Incidentally, if you’re a vegan who wants to harass me about this, I am quite literally doing what I need to survive. I’m neurodiverse, and disabled, and farming is the way I’ve come up with to make a life for myself and Kid. I’m happy to discuss the ethics of all this with you, but please don’t police my choices.)

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Home-hatched chick. Name: Nu Egg

 

I increased our chicken flock by twelve this spring by buying chicks (ten americaunas, and two silkies because I couldn’t help myself), and so far we’ve had seven chicks born on the farm. As I said, we lost some of our flock to (stupid fucking) neighbor dogs, so we’re currently standing at about 30-ish birds altogether. We eat all the eggs now ourselves, but hopefully I’ll have some extra to sell by fall.

 

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Bees!

We also got two hives of bees!! This is really exciting. I love watching them. The hives are already big enough that we had to add the second brood boxes, and hopefully we’ll be able to put on the honey supers by the end of summer. If all goes well, we’ll have honey next summer.

 

I increased my vegetable garden by 300%, tilling up a bunch more bottom land by my cabin. I’m growing lots of different stuff, including popcorn (I eat SO MUCH popcorn) and soybeans. I’ll sell some of it, but I’m digging a root cellar to store more of my vegetables and squash

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More garden!

. It got down below zero last winter, and was in the teens a lot, plus we had several feet of snow that stayed all winter, so the veggies didn’t keep in the ground at all. I was left having to go to the food bank and purchase food. I’m doing pretty well digging the hole. I’m hindered somewhat by the desire of my dog, my cat, and myself to lie in the cool dirt (which is unproductive in the traditional sense), but more by some physical problems: I’m getting a deep ache under the shoulder blade,

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Root cellar—hole in progress

and numb/tingling fingers, with an inability to grasp or lift things with that hand. It makes it hard to dig/hoe, and I have to sometimes rest for days on end (from strenuous arm-using physical labor, anyway) and drink my herbal painkilling tea. If ONLY I had a strong, sexy BOY who loved digging holes and eating fresh vegetables, and who could help me out…but I guess some people are just buttholes and don’t want to move up here, and I guess I’m not helping my cause by talking about how decrepit I am. I’ll get my hole dug by myself anyway. I don’t

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Man commonly known as Boy, here looking self-satisfied with the ocean breeze fluttering his beard

need any strong, sexy boys. *flounces*

 

As an aside, the weird thing is, if I were getting paid to dig someone else’s hole (not a euphemism), I would have quit and gotten worker’s comp for the injury, and would be in physical therapy and maybe having surgery. That would undoubtedly be the healthy thing to do, but I like digging holes if they’re my holes; I have to do it because no one else will do it for me; and I’m afraid of getting treatment because they’ll say, “stop digging darned holes, dammit” which is advice I will not heed in any event, at least not in the summer. So, I’ll soldier on and see what happens with my arm; if I need to get it looked at, I’ll do it this winter when I’m idler (as long as I get my wood all cut beforehand…and as long as Trump’s Deathcare bill hasn’t been put into effect yet CALL YOUR REPS, U.S.-IANS!)

All this farm work takes at a minimum three hours a day, often a lot more. It’s obviously not paying the bills yet (which, thankfully, are minor, because I own my car, have no debt, use barely any electricity (and we’re going solar!), have well water, etc. My only bills are my phone and my car insurance). I supplement this income with freelance editing, freelance writing, and a startup called Authordock that I’ve become involved in. It’s a website that helps writers with their publishing goals: I critique pitches, queries and first pages; give advice; direct clients to opportunities like pitch competitions; and provide resources by composing advice articles and making how-to videos…it’s a really cool project. The result of this is that, now that I’m, as people say, “lazy and unemployed”, I’m actually working 90-hour weeks, and yet making half a pittance. This is another way that disabled people end up making super-subminimum wage: the work we’re able to do isn’t something society values very much, so is underpaid.

I also have, you know, some books published (I’ve had several come out this year, and I have a short story in the next edition of a bestselling anthology, which comes out in a few days). That does bring in a little money, but I have very little time left for marketing, so not much at all. So, I’ll do that thing where I tell you I’m super poor and disabled (not that you should pity me—I love what I’m doing, I just make very little money at it). I don’t have a tip jar, so if you like hearing about my tiny-home and farming adventures, you should consider buying one of my books. People say they’re really good! And they’re ownvoices books, with neurodiverse and queer characters. They’re my way of trying to share my strange world with others. If you buy them, consider giving me a review, and/or recommending them to others who are into that sort of books.

Think of buying ownvoices books like donating to a charity, except you’re not paying forIMG_2873 marketing and executive salaries: you’re making a contribution toward someone’s independent, sustainable living and/or affirmation as an important member of society. In my case, you’re not only affirming my worth, you’re keeping me off the streets or out of an institution, making sure Kid has a stable and happy mom (and new socks when she needs them, which is too often), PLUS you get great books. This is such a win/win/win, y’all!

I’m trying to get an agent to help with the book marketing thing. My publisher is great, but their marketing apparatus isn’t really the best for my kind of books. If I had an agent directing and supporting me in my marketing efforts, I think I’d do a lot better. I have a handful of fulls out with agents right now, of my thirteenth novel—an ownvoices YA contemporary romance/magical realism about a young woman with bipolar psychosis trying to navigate high school, first love, the foster system and the mental health system. Wish me luck!

I have lots of other plans for my life—selling hand-woven baskets, and other crafts made with natural and upcycled materials, for instance, as well as the cookbook and some other things. Plus, I have a short story on contract for another anthology coming out in September, and I’m working hard on writing my seventeenth full-length novel. Another tiny house is also in the works, to give us more kitchen space and Kid her own bedroom. But I think I’ve rambled enough for this post, so I’ll talk about all that later.

Thank you for reading!

Don’t Assume You Understand Neurodiversity. You Don’t.

I’m going to write another bitchy blog post, because I’m organizing my thoughts. I invite all people to read, and comment if you want, but this is really a conversation that needs to happen within the neurodiverse community, without paying a lot of attention outside input.

I love the term neurodiversity (or neurodivergence*). When I first heard it,  a light came on in my mind. I finally had a word for something I’d felt my whole life: that “mentally ill” isn’t the right word for who I am, because I’m not ill. This is just my personality, and you can’t (nor should you want to) cure me of it. (Yes, I want/need some symptoms treated, but that’s a different discussion.)

The problem is, the term “neurodiverse” is a catch-all term for A LOT of different sorts of people. This is one of those “duh” statements, but I think we need to meditate on it. I hear a lot of people say “I’m neurodiverse, too,” (or, worse yet, “my aunt is neurodiverse”) as a precursor to statements indicating they think they understand what life is like for ALL neurodiverse people.

Ugh. Amirite?

I don’t want to stop using the term “neruodiverse”. I lurves it, and don’t want to complicate the language by having more and more terms, or just labeling ourselves with our diagnoses. “Neurodiverse” expresses an idea about all of us, that we’re not ill and are okay the way we are, and thus is a good catch-all term.

But we all need to check ourselves when we start thinking we understand what it’s like for all people under the neurodiverse umbrella. There’s a huge spectrum not only of different diagnoses under that umbrella, but also of levels of marginalization. Some of us struggle daily with the problems our neurodiversity causes us. It’s affects everything we do, and every conversation we have with others. Other people’s neurodiversity has only a minor effect on their lives.

If you have minor clinical depression, for instance, you’re neurodiverse in my opinion (unless you choose to not identify that way, of course). Depression is something I experience, and is super shitty. It can make you miss work, sabotage relationships, hurt yourself. But, in the case of minor depression, most people won’t know you have it unless you tell them.

mentalOn the other end of the spectrum is my partner, Phoenix. He has schizophrenia and can’t even walk silently into a room without people reacting to his neurodiversity: his strangeness radiates from him like a glow—a beautiful glow, in my opinion, but not in the opinions of most others. He’s one of the very best, coolest, smartest, kindest people I’ve ever met, but most folks will never know that because their reactions to him are almost uniformly negative. They avoid him, or have a (misguided) “protective” anger reaction (for instance, they call the cops on him for yelling and pacing in his yard. They beat the shit out of him for talking to himself, because they think he’s “talking shit” about them). At best, they pity him and don’t take anything he says seriously.

You can imagine the effect this sort of marginalization could have on a person. Phoenix is positive and confident, but he’s told me on various occasions that before I came along, he thought he’d be alone for his whole life.

I, for the sake of you knowing my viewpoint, fall somewhere in between that. I struggle daily with my bipolar and PTSD on an internal level, and it’s been a defining force of my entire life path. It’s destroyed more than one relationship, and caused me to seek out abusive and toxic ones. It’s landed me in prison. It’s made it extremely hard for me to maintain employment for more than a few years at a time, and has cost me many promotions because of latent bias (and no, I’m not being paranoid. I have direct evidence). The list goes on. But in my daily interactions, at least at times I’m not in crisis, people generally just think I’m a little bit eccentric or “off”. It certainly colors their reactions toward me, but they might not even guess at first blush that I’m neurodiverse. Plus, I have the advantage of not being one of those people that comes off as creepy. At least it doesn’t seem like it, usually, based on how I’m treated (I mean, I’m not creepy, right? Tell me if I am). So my neurodiversity doesn’t isolate me in that way (though it will cause me to self-isolate at times).

So, what I’m saying is, someone with minor depression can’t know what it’s like for people like me, or people like Phoenix. And I can’t know what it’s like for someone with Autism, or schizoaffective disorder, etc. But I can probably identify with what other neurodiverse people go through better than most neurotypical people can, and I will endeavor to listen and be accepting—to be a “safe space” for other neurodiverse people to express their feelings and experiences. I will never say neurodiverse people are “doing it for attention” or any of those other horrible, marginalizing things neurotypical (or self-hating neurodiverse) people say.

The reason we label ourselves as neurodiverse is to try to seek out people who understand what it’s like for us, and will listen and accept us for who we are. Thus, it’s very, very important to be careful of behaviors in the community that can cause us to marginalize and isolate our peers even more. We need to be there for one another. Let us remember to listen and be good allies, as well as good peers.

* I don’t like that this term as much, for the silly reason that I don’t like the novel Divergent. We all have our quirks.