Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer. Thanks for coming back, it’s always good to have you here.
Sometimes, I just can’t help myself – I have to be silly. So before I talk about The Walls of Jericho and autism, let me share a couple of silly things I got up to on social media this week. Firstly, a suitably silly response to a tongue-in-cheek post from my son:
Okay, not everyone has my sense of humour, but sometimes I amuse myself, if no one else. And then there was this meme I made:
I was inspired to create this meme when looking at websites like Spectrum News. I’ve also been disappointed by the prevalence of person-first language used by The Open University/OpenLearn; an institution I otherwise have a lot of time for. Anyway, moving on.
The Walls of Jericho! Anyone really familiar with me will know that I’m an atheist. I’m not doing an atheist blog post today, I’m just mentioning it about myself. I consider myself an informed atheist, certainly where Christianity is concerned, as I have actually read the Bible cover-to-cover, and studied some bits of it quite intensely (although it was a long time ago, when I was a holy-rolling believer). I actually enjoyed some parts of the Bible, in terms of it being a bit like an epic fantasy adventure in Genesis and Exodus, and a few other bits of the old testament. And the book of Revelation was fascinating. But I digress. One of my favourite stories from the Bible is the felling of the walls of Jericho, in the book of Joshua. The Israelites are going about kicking ass, and decide to take the walled city of Jericho, but it turns into a drawn-out siege until, with a bit of help from God and a magic trumpet, the walls come tumbling down, and the triumphant Israelites kill all the inhabitants except for some friendly prostitutes. Something like that. The thing with the prostitutes is odd. The story is that they helped the Israelites, but I can’t help seeing some subtle metaphor about resistance (walls) and sexual submission (prostitutes) that is somewhat disturbing. Particularly as in those bad old savage days, any conquering of a city would have led to more than a little raping and pillaging of the less willing, less submissive citizens. Also from my childhood, I remember the old Clark Gable movie, It Happened One Night, in which a Walls of Jericho metaphor makes a significantly sexual appearance, with the fall of the walls representing the act of consummation between Gable’s character and his wilful, sometimes resistant, love interest played by Claudette Colbert. Yes, I am digressing even further but hopefully, this will all come together.
Sexual metaphors aside, the Walls of Jericho have entered the public consciousness, commonly representing a sudden, often catastrophic, collapse of resistance. This might be why the phrase, the walls came falling down, occurred to me in a very pleasant exchange of tweets with a fellow actually autistic person, Jess, this week. Let me show you the tweets:
Since embracing my autism, after a diagnosis that came well into my middle age, I’ve come across many accounts from people who found out they were autistic in adulthood, who say they seemed to become, or feel, more autistic after the diagnosis / self-diagnosis / realisation. Why would that be?
I remember having a conversation with a boss in the workplace, while I was on the waiting list for my autism assessment. I talked about how the waiting and the uncertainty were affecting me, and how I worried about what an autism diagnosis might mean. I knew almost nothing about autism at this time, and my fears were vague. But the boss I was talking to said something that was simultaneously true and yet completely missing the point: He said, “Well, if you have got autism,” (don’t start me off), “you’ll have had it all your life, so it won’t change anything.” Yes, yes, of course, autism had been with me all my life, and a diagnosis would just confirm it, so no actual change there. And yet, the point he missed was this: Everything would change. Everything did change.
Immediately after my diagnosis, I tried to tell myself, Finally! I now have an answer! This was bullshit, of course. I didn’t have an answer; I had a label. I then proceeded to go into a mental shell for a while. I hadn’t really accepted or come to terms with being autistic. When my life didn’t suddenly get better after the diagnosis and in fact, some things started to turn to shit, I decided I really ought to learn about autism. (Support had been offered by the specialist who gave me my diagnosis, but I had turned it all down with my usual, I’ll be fine, I’m strong, fiction.) I started to read what autistic people were saying online, and had a series of WTF moments, as I realised many of the things I’d struggled with in life were not weird things unique to me; they were things autistic people all over were dealing with. Holy shit! I really was autistic! At this point, I was in shock. The walls were shaking. I looked for some serious reading matter; something that could really educate me about autism. I came across a book many autistic people will be familiar with, Neurotribes, by Steve Silberman, and I downloaded it as an audiobook. I have a very clear memory of listening to this through my headphones while walking through Graves Park in Sheffield, one sunny afternoon. I’d got to the part detailing various abuses inflicted on autistic children in Nazi Germany, and in the US after the war. I broke down in tears. The walls fell.
But when I say the walls fell when I finally accepted being autistic, what do I actually mean? Well, two things happened. I felt a sudden, very deep, connection to the autistic community. And from that moment on, I started being a bit easier on myself; recognising my triggers and accepting my discomfort in the neurotypical world, rather than pretending it wasn’t happening. It felt like my sound sensitivity increased tenfold. My frustration and despair at the world that didn’t fit me morphed into understanding, and I stopped blaming myself for all those negative feelings. I stopped blaming myself for being me. How could it be that I suddenly started feeling more autistic, though? How could my autistic experience of the world suddenly get turned up to eleven, on the back of just accepting I was autistic? Well, it’s to do with masking and burnout. I’m not going to go into huge detail about those two subjects right now, because I’ve covered them before. But let me give you the quick summary:
Masking when you don’t even know that you are autistic works like this: You know, at some level, that something isn’t right. You don’t fit in this world. Sometimes your behaviours drive people away, or upset them, and you haven’t got a clue why. You have meltdowns. You have anxieties, and other people might say, Yeah, everyone feels a bit like that sometimes, but you gradually understand that they aren’t really feeling what you’re feeling. In many important ways, you don’t relate or fully function in this world. But… you have to fit in! So you mask. You might not know you’re masking. You might not have even heard the term masking. But you do it. You exhaust yourself trying to pretend to be normal, whatever that is. You copy behaviours, laugh in the right places (hopefully), mimic your favourite funny TV characters so everyone thinks you’re a wit. You pretend the things that hurt you don’t really hurt you. You find unhealthy coping mechanisms; booze, drugs, violence, risky sex, self-harming, whatever. And you might even convince yourself this is all natural. But it will, over time, exhaust you, grind you down, hollow you out, and you will, mark my words; you will, burn out.
When the walls come down, you have that sudden, catastrophic collapse of resistance. You understand who you really are (or, at least, begin to understand). You throw away the masks. The resistance has gone. And now you experience your autism in its full, agonising glory.
What comes after? That will depend on the individual. For me, I have gradually come to be fiercely proud of being autistic. I feel privileged to be part of the autistic community. I have also, as have many people in my situation, sometimes been plagued with imposter syndrome when things are going well, and I feel more content. Imposter syndrome is a subject for another blog, but for now, all I will say is that episodes of imposter syndrome do not last very long. The neurotypical world is quick to remind me of its ill-fittingness for the autistic person.
That’s all for this week, lovely people. Until next time, take care of yourselves. Stay safe, stay true.
Why Do I Write This Blog?
When I first found out I was autistic, I was a middle-aged adult and I knew nothing about autism. I quickly learned that there was a serious shortage of information and resources for adults in my situation. With this blog, I aim to inform about autism and autism-related issues as I learn, hopefully helping people who are on a similar journey of discovery. Like anyone who writes a blog, I want to reach as many readers as possible; if you like what I’m doing, please share it with your friends and followers. I will never hide this blog behind a paywall, but running the website does incur costs. If you would like to support, feel free to make a small contribution at BuyMeACoffee.Com.
You might also be interested in David Scothern’s blog, Mortgage Advisor on FIRE, which covers a range of topics including mental health issues and financial independence.