Getting to the good parts

People have a look that they get when you tell them you’re autistic.  I was baffled by what this meant until I started reading the literature surrounding neurotypical narratives of autism.  There’s a word that’s ever-present in those narratives, whether or not it’s actually written.  Tragedy.  A person locked in a life of isolation, rigidity, and underachievement, unable to enjoy the neurotypical norms of concepts like intimacy and intuition.  Reality not matching the ideal of a child conceived.  Many people are eager, perhaps without even realizing they are doing so, to recode the autistic as a “person with autism,”  to avow “awareness” in the name of “intervention,” to erase the identity entirely and call it inclusion.

Individuals can be forgiven for thinking this is the sensitive belief to hold.  Read about autistic experience and you learn of loneliness and frustration that is poignantly real.  But it is pervasive narratives of tragedy that forefront these truths at the expense of other equally real aspects of autism, of which the vast majority of those who know something about neurodiversity still seem largely unaware.

Being autistic can be fun.  Sure, there’s probably a whole range of pleasures neurotypicals experience that most of us struggle with or just don’t like.  But if so, the corollary is true as well.  Just like I will probably never understand what the huge god damn deal about The Godfather is, but many of the people who consider that blasphemy will never share my appreciation of Dover Beach.

1)  One more time with feeling

To start with, boredom is different for me.  I get bored really quickly with nothing to do, but I don’t get bored with things the way most people seem to.  If I like a song, I quite happily listen to it a limitless number of times.  There are books I’ve read dozens of times, and movies I’ve seen hundreds of times, to the point where I can (and do, if I’m alone) speak along with the dialogue.  These things simply don’t stop giving me pleasure.

And with each repetition, if a scene or wording or melody elicited an emotional reaction, I get the same reaction again.  Instead of getting used up, those reactions compound, and the meaning I receive is more pleasurable because it’s exactly what I expect and look forward to.  Often, the first time I experience something, I don’t know yet whether or not I like it.  Ask me after twenty replays and I’ll have a very strong opinion.

It might sound dorky, but in a very real sense, the media I add to my “playlist” are my friends.  I get excited to see them again.  I know I can count on them for good company, and they’re always there when I need them.  I’m at ease with them because I’ve arrived at a soothing degree of familiarity.  Why wouldn’t I like having friends like that?

2)  Say it again, Sam

I’m the same way with jokes, and with reactions in general.  The same joke in response to the same stimulus just gets funnier to me.  Or, more accurately, it “builds up” an additional type of pleasure that I have trouble describing, and I honestly have no way of understanding how many other people share it.  That becomes the thing to say (or hear) in response to that situation.  It fits.  It’s somewhat like those “most satisfying” videos that made the rounds a while back.

I won’t say it’s like scratching an itch, because it isn’t a compulsion.  The motivation isn’t that it would feel so wrong to not say it, it’s that it feels so gloriously right when I do.  More simply, I don’t need to, I want to.  Even if no one else is there, I’ll still make the joke.  (Or say the phrase, or do the sound effect.  Yep, the whole world has sound effects in my head.)

Just one example:  Whenever I’m getting ready for a trip, I say, “Preparations, Bursar, preparations!”  It makes no difference whether anyone’s around to hear, because that’s a throwaway line from Educating Rita that you’d be extremely unlikely to recall unless you’ve watched the movie as many times as I have, and trust me, you haven’t.  But it still makes me really happy.

I can’t say with certainty that it’s a facet of autism per se, but anecdotal evidence has told me that NTs by and large really, really don’t appreciate the amount of repetition that I do, in either reception or behavior, while many autistics know exactly what I’m talking about.

I find it hard to imagine experiencing the world without that particular form of enjoyment.  It seems like it would feel like losing one of my senses.  A little emptier and sadder.

3)  Talk nerdy to me

One of the best things about autism is special interests.  On the whole, autistics are nearly always nerds.  We tend to have very particular topics about which we are intensely curious and passionate.  Sometimes only one, sometimes a few, and sometimes they change over time.  For me, astronomy and language are my long-standing fascinations.

We want to know absolutely everything about those topics.  There doesn’t seem to be a point at which we say, “okay, enough of that.”  Often, we can mentally retain huge troves of information about them to recite at will.  I have trouble remembering the simplest things about my day to day life, but ask me who’s currently on board the International Space Station or for a comprehensive history of Mars orbiters and landers and I’ll happily tell you all about it.

What’s at least as enjoyable as devouring these endless amounts of information is sharing them.  We love to talk about our special interests.  Typical “small talk” is exhausting, but explaining far-infrared interferometry is a truly joyous occasion– perhaps even energizing.  I don’t think the reason for this is that we want to show off and appear smart.  We’re just so enthused about our learning and thinking that we love when we can let it bubble over freely, kind of like when someone falls in love with another person and can’t wait to tell the world.

Unfortunately, as with repetition, many NTs don’t appreciate hearing nearly as much about our special interests as we would like to share.  We tend not to excel at give-and-take conversation without conscious effort, and often find it difficult to know where to draw the line.  Unless we’re careful to curtail our enthusiasm, I think we can come across as tedious and rude.  This has often led me to feel embarrassed about acknowledging the peculiar extent of my passions, but in return, that makes it all the more exciting when someone shows a genuine interest and really listens.

4) Ten thousand hours

Akin to my love of repetitious media is my willingness to doggedly repeat trivial tasks until they become second nature.  When I was ten, I played Minesweeper for so much time every day that I was able to beat the most difficult level every single time in under 20 seconds.  These days, it’s sudoku instead.  In the past half decade or so I have done thousands of sudoku puzzles.  I’ve gotten to a point where, often, I don’t have to engage in the linear logic process to deduce what digits to fill in– I can just glance at the puzzle and know what to put where.

I’ve heard a theory expounded that becoming an expert at something requires putting in ten thousand hours of practice.  I haven’t the slightest idea whether that’s true in general, but I am certain that I have put more than ten thousand hours into multiple activities in my life.  Perhaps it’s unfortunate that they tend to be skills that have no serious value in the world.

But the process of a task progressing from baffling to intensely intuitive is deliciously satisfying.  It’s like cracking a code, or maybe a safe.  Maybe part of the pleasure stems from the fact that these skills are inherently crack-able, like learning the algorithm to solve a Rubik’s cube.  They are orderly, static, and ultimately entirely comprehensible regardless of the level of complexity.  That’s a comfortable space to occupy, in stark contrast to the chaotic and overwhelming processes at work in the world at large, especially those that factor in other humans.

Cue The Thing To Say:  “I’m not sure I’d know how to ‘dabble,'” quoth John Thornton in North and South.  (Goofy grin ensues.)

5)  Pain don’t hurt

In truth, I’m a total wimp when it comes to even moderate discomforts that go on for long, such as room temperature variations.  But in the case of acute pains, even pretty intense ones, they just don’t register as a big deal to me.  My understanding is that this is two-part:  On the one hand, the pain I experience just isn’t as severe as it is for most people.  And on the other, what acute pain I do feel just doesn’t faze me that much, for whatever reason.

I suppose I can’t really say that this characteristic is “fun,” since I’m not a masochist.  But what it is, is extremely useful, particularly insomuch as it grants me a degree of self-sufficiency that I cherish.  I’ve had no qualms about performing my own ear and facial piercings, which, just like cutting my own hair, has saved me hundreds of dollars versus having a professional do them, and also prevents me having a stranger’s hands on my head, which I loatheWarning: grisly examples follow; highlight at your own risk!  [I’ve stitched up my own wounds, lanced my own abscesses, and excised a small amount of necrotic tissue that I stupidly caused by suffocating a fresh piercing.Again, this means I’ve avoided several trips to the doctor that would have been distressing for me for sensory reasons.

By no means all autistics have low pain sensitivity/high pain tolerance, and it exists in NTs as well.  But it seems to be more common with us, which I venture to suppose makes sense given that it’s probably a neurological difference.  It feels to me like a pretty good consolation prize for crying if my feet are cold and feeling like I need a shower if a stranger gets touchy-feely.

 Conclusion:  I am not your crusade

Nothing I’ve written here is remotely intended as bragging.  Sometimes I joke that “autism is my superpower,” but being earnest, I don’t value these aspects of myself because I think they’re special or impressive.  I value them because they bring me joy.  I’m not a savant, a “supergenius,” or a person who’s ever likely to make a deep impact on the world.   Honestly, I was pretty far along in life before I understood that everyone didn’t have these same characteristics and preferences.

I’m extremely committed and proficient with regards to some things, and painfully incompetent at others.  Chances are, so are you, whether you’re autistic or not.  If we’re to talk about impressiveness, I’m far more in awe of people who can maintain full-time employment and have a number of close friendships.  It’s just that the world as it stands tends to applaud and compensate achievements characteristic of neurotypicality far more than autistic-associated ones.  That’s a dynamic of minority and privilege, not pathology, and it’s why our self-advocacy is pivotal.

My point, rather, is that being autistic can be a frustrating experience, but it doesn’t have to be a miserable one.  We aren’t suffering from an illness, and you shouldn’t assume you need to pity us because some of what you hold dear is beyond our grasp.  I’ve felt a lot of hurt at the things I can’t do– largely because I’m aware that they are what’s expected, and that damages my self-esteem.  But if you gave me a big red button that said BECOME NEUROTYPICAL, I wouldn’t consider pressing it for even a fraction of a second.  You couldn’t pay me enough to touch it.  This is who and what I am.  I don’t want to be someone else.  I just want the same as anyone, to be valued, loved and supported, not in spite of my eccentricities and foibles, but because of them.

We are not broken versions of neurotypicals.  Perhaps you look at us and believe we are puzzles with missing pieces, like a house without any doors.  That’s not the case.  It’s just that while you were fussing about the door, we were busy looking out the window.

 

Ten things never to say to mentally ill people

One of the frustrating aspects of having a mental illness is dealing with stuff people say, even though they often mean well.  Here are just a few examples of things I suspect most mentally ill people are used to– and very tired of– hearing.

1) “But you seem so normal!”

Perhaps this is meant as a compliment, but honestly, it feels much more like an accusation– “you can’t really be sick.”  People with many forms of mental illness go through patterns of remission and relapse, so how you see us on any given day may be far from representative.  For example, I am currently euthymic (in a “normal” mood phase) but a month ago I was hearing voices from the heavens and believing I was a chosen conduit, and a week after that I was seeing rotting corpses hanging from my ceiling.  Not “normal”, right?  Also, many of us are great, sometimes to our own detriment, at putting on a happy, calm face around others, when we are being ripped apart inside.  And finally, sometimes this “normalcy” is the result of a treatment regimen that we have to work hard to settle on and stick to, which is not something “normal,” i.e. healthy-brained, people can really understand.  Don’t judge us by what you see; listen to what we have to say about our experience instead.

2) “Have you tried natural remedies?”

This is a tough one, because people who say this genuinely think they’re being helpful.  However, it’s important to remember that many psychiatric disorders are very difficult to medicate.  In the case of my illness, bipolar disorder, upwards of half of patients are classified as “treatment resistant.”  Many people spend years working with professionals to develop a successful treatment regimen of drugs and other therapies that are scientifically proven to work.  This can be a tenuous balancing act of avoiding side effects, toxicity and drug interactions.  In most cases, “natural” remedies are not only unproven but possibly unsafe, especially in combination with prescription drugs.  Keep in mind that whatever you have to suggest, we’ve probably heard of it before, and it can be deeply frustrating to be bombarded with well-meaning suggestions from people who are not experts in psychiatry.  Please, leave clinical treatment to the professionals.  If you want to be helpful, try instead asking what you can do to support the person.

3) “At least it’s not cancer!”

This is a deeply offensive and dismissive statement, even if it’s intended to make someone feel better.  Implying that psychiatric disorders are less serious or destructive than physical ones is not only unkind but flatly inaccurate.  Mental illness not only ruins but, all too frequently ends, people’s lives.  According to Stephen Fry’s outstanding documentary The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, only 20% of people with bipolar ever become fully functional, while 50% will attempt suicide and nearly half of those will succeed.  Those are abysmal numbers for any illness.  Furthermore, we deal with many of the same difficulties that physically ill people do:  drug side effects, exhaustion, and physical pain, just to name a few.  Dismissing the severity of our problems makes us feel worse, not better.

4) “My ______ had that and here’s how they got better.”

I remember a specific conversation I had years ago in which a woman I barely knew told me in detail about her father’s undiagnosed mania and how he was able to “talk himself down” from it, and that therefore drugs and therapy aren’t really necessary, but actually inhibitive of self-help.  Another told me how fish oil had cured her brother’s depression; these are just a couple examples of the same basic conversation I feel like I’ve had a million times.  It’s problematic because no two mentally ill people, even those with the same diagnosis, are alike.  Our treatment needs to be based on scientific evidence obtained through clinical trials, not anecdotal evidence you’ve gathered from your limited frame of reference.  Assuming that our illness takes the same course as that of someone else you know (who may or may not have even had or needed the same diagnosis) keeps you from understanding what our experience really is and what we actually need.

5) “Everyone seems to have that nowadays!”

Short answer:  No.  They don’t.  You probably have that impression because of the way clinical diagnostic terms are bandied about inappropriately, for example, saying of someone emotional and moody “She’s so bipolar” or “borderline,” or of someone shy and awkward “He’s so Aspie.”  (Although autism is not actually a mental illness, this pertains.)  There are also many people who self-diagnose, to varying degrees of accuracy, often without understanding the reality of living with a severe disability.  While many disorders are more common than you might expect– in the case of bipolar, it affects about 1% of the population, so that if you have several hundred facebook friends, at least a few probably have it– they are not catch-all terms for every difficulty and behavior problem you perceive.

6) “Have you prayed/meditated/sought spiritual help about it?”

As an adamant, skeptical atheist, I particularly resent this one, but I would still resent it were I religious.  Frankly, my spiritual life, unless I choose to share it with you, is none of your damn business.  Carl Jung’s waxing on about the need for religion notwithstanding, there is absolutely no scientific evidence that prayer, meditation and other such practices can either treat or cure mental illness.  Some people may find comfort in spirituality, and that’s great, but it doesn’t take the place of medication and professional therapy, nor is it a necessary component of treatment.  My illness should never be a pretext for you to proselytize or cast moral judgment on me.

7) “Think about people worse off than you.  Lots of people would kill to be where you are.”

Again, this is deeply dismissive and hurtful.  It gives the impression that you clearly do not understand the depths of our pain and difficulty.  You are judging us by external factors like first-world citizenship, economic stability, and family support, which are all wonderful things but do not do away with or even necessarily diminish the anguish and dysfunction with which we live every day.  If you think my life is so great, I invite you to switch brains with me any day and see how you like it.  Hint:  You won’t.

8) “That’s a form of genius!”

Movies like The Aviator, about OCD sufferer Howard Hughes, and A Beautiful Mind, about schizophrenic John Nash, have contributed to this perception.  It’s true that people with many mental illnesses, such as bipolar and schizophrenia, can be highly creative, thinking in ways that a healthy brain rarely does.  However, such illnesses– and often the drugs that treat them– are equally likely to hold back mental function.  Some people with mental illness are very intelligent and creative.  So are some people with healthy brains.  And some are not.  Mental illness is, well, illness, nothing else.

9) “You’re really just an addict.”

Many, many people with mental illness, myself included, struggle with substance abuse as a form of self-medication.  And in many cases this does make matters worse.  However, it’s crucial to recognize that the substance abuse is a result, not a cause, of the underlying mental problem– a damaging coping mechanism to which we turn in absence of other effective treatment.  For more on this scientifically supported model of addiction, I highly recommend the book The Sober Truth, by Lance Dodes, and particularly chapter five, titled “So, What Does Work to Treat Addiction?”

10) “This famous person had/has that and was a great success, so you can be too!”

Recall again the numbers I stated above on the outcomes for people with bipolar disorder.  I am no expert on the numbers for any other disorder, but I do know that a few outstanding cases– again, like Howard Hughes and John Nash, and also like Stephen Fry, Richard Dreyfus and others– are far from representative.  There are a multitude of external and internal factors that determine whether someone with mental illness can create a fulfilling, successful life, and for many they are not advantageous.  Asserting this is no different from saying that because some people who drop out of school become rich and famous, anyone who drops out can be.  In some cases, such limitations prove not to be an obstacle to success, but in most, they do.  By positing illness as part and parcel of success rather than as a disability, you dismiss the pain and frustration most of us experience when we fail, so frequently, to measure up to the expectations of both society and ourselves.

In conclusion

It’s understandably hard not to feel like you’re walking on eggshells when talking to and about disabled people.  Everyone makes mistakes when trying sincerely to be helpful; that doesn’t make you a bad friend or human being.  However, a few simple things to keep in mind can reduce the chances of you saying insensitive, hurtful things like the ones I’ve listed.

Listen to us.  Don’t speak for us, and don’t assume.  You are not an expert on our experience, and your active listening and informed support is far more valuable than anything you could say.  Don’t dismiss us.  You don’t need to try to make us feel better about our situation; this feels patronizing, and furthermore, downplaying our suffering is insulting, not supportive.  And lastly, be ready to be corrected, and to apologize.  Don’t take umbrage if we say “that’s not accurate” or “that’s not helpful.”  We have the right to stick up for ourselves and to educate you about what you don’t understand.  In general, just let us guide the discussion.  Ask questions, pay attention to the answers, and don’t be full of yourself.  If you can do that, we will get along just fine.

How to interact with disabled people

I asked some old acquaintances, from an autism forum I used to frequent, to tell me their worst experiences in communicating with NTs/non-disabled people.  All of those I’m quoting also have psychiatric conditions like mood, anxiety and attention disorders.  I think there’s a common thread here:

Jenny, 23, is a science major at a state university.  The lab environment is often overstimulating to her, so she has numerous accommodations from the school, but her stimming and executive dysfunction have drawn the attention of her peers.  One day while walking out of class, she overheard two students whispering about her rocking and the fact that she sometimes wears noise-reducing headphones.  “I think she has some kind of disorder,” said one of them.

Nate, 31, an actuary, plucked up the courage to ask out a woman he met at a work function.  He tried to use the skills he had learned about eye contact and small talk, but her response was to laugh a little and say, “Sorry, you’re not my type, I like more… normal guys.”

Danielle, 27, was purchasing a book while wearing an autism awareness button.  The cashier held onto her book while asking prying questions about how she took care of herself, whether she could have children, and whether she wanted to be “cured.”  She then invited Danielle to her church.

And my own recent story:  An acquaintance and his girlfriend were at my apartment playing video games, and I was explaining the controls for a certain racing game.  Apparently I started going on too long about it in ways they didn’t understand; they were silent so I looked up to see if they were paying attention, just in time to see them roll their eyes at each other.

There’s a very simple lesson to be learned here:  Don’t be a dick.  Don’t be a dick to disabled people, and don’t be a dick to anyone else.  Don’t ridicule people, overstep boundaries, make judgments and assumptions, or talk about people behind their backs.  Be a decent human being.  That’s how to interact with us.

We are accomplished

Shame is one of the most crippling aspects of any non-visible disability.

There is a constant struggle to figure out how society’s expectations can be molded to fit within individual limitations– or, more usually, vice versa.  Often, we expect being disabled to translate into simply working harder, so that we can have a “normal” life.  When we do this, pushing ourselves to succeed in school, work and other sanctioned accomplishments, we’re often lauded as “brave” for “overcoming” something.

So when we’re not able to make up in determination what we lack in functionality, the default message is that we are less brave, less heroic, less worthy of acknowledgment.  We’re either a source of disgust– benefit scroungers, mooching of the state or dragging our families down– or we are simply ignored.

This bifurcated judgment is in many ways the worst slight that can be perpetuated against people with disabilities.  We are basically being encouraged to aspire to “normalcy” no matter the cost, cultivating an ethic of overwork and obsession that would be recognized as unhealthy in more able individuals.  While they are being encouraged to seek a work-life balance and reflect on what they love to do, we are being implicitly told the opposite: that the only way we can contribute to society and be worthy of admiration is by throwing ourselves forcefully at any obstacles to our path of integration.

The downside is that rather than crushing those obstacles, we’re just as likely to bash our heads in.  Those are the stories you won’t hear.

We have goals, like anyone.  We grow up, in the last couple of decades, being told like our peers that we can do anything if we try hard enough, and we want it to be true.  There are disabled people who are hard workers, diligent, talented; who aspire to leadership, power, knowledge, and all the other virtues considered worthy by our culture.  And yet this guarantees nothing.  Insurmountability is very real and very scary, and as bad as it is to think about it– as paralyzing as it can be– it’s just as life-shattering to suddenly realize that your faith in persistence and discipline has left you short of the mark.  All the more so when you’ve never been told that this can happen to you, or that there is any other explanation than personal failure.

There is a lot we can teach each other, and so much support we can offer, when we simply take the time to be authentic and truthful, perhaps brutally so, about our difficulties.  The benefits of non-pharmaceutical therapy are lauded in most circles, yet rarely is it acknowledged that changing your lifestyle can mean much more than doing yoga, walking, meditating, eating kale and quitting smoking.  Many of these treatments are geared at reducing stress, yet for a person with disabilities, they may well never be enough.  Sometimes, life itself– as defined by ableist culture– simply offers more stress than your mind and body can tolerate, regardless of what other measures you use to combat it.

This might be because a chronic physical illness leaves you feeling exhausted and ill, and in no condition to cope with high-pressure situations, which often make the problem worse.  Or it may be because activities most people don’t even think about can be overwhelming due to mental illnesses.  The fatigue and lack of focus that comes with depression and the sensory and social issues inherent in autism are two excellent examples of the latter.  And again, placing oneself in stressful situations– as defined by the stress tolerance of the individual– with the expectation of attenuating or adjusting to them often creates a feedback loop in which stress exacerbates symptoms, causing mood swings, meltdowns, and hospitalization, which in turn cause more obstruction and stress.

We need to be unafraid to tell each other this.  “I can’t work” is not a dirty phrase.  It’s often a true one, and one that needs to be uttered; to be admitted, first of all to oneself.  Or whatever limitations are true for any given person.  “I can’t handle a large group of friends.”  “I can’t work overtime to secure a promotion.”  “I can’t keep up the grades for an honors degree.”  None of these should feel more shameful than admitting that you can’t work the assembly line because your arm is broken.  We should not be reluctant to refuse expectations that are not only unrealistic but harmful to our health.  In doing so, we could be setting ourselves back years, decades, on the path to the lifestyle that keeps us well and lets us be our best.

After more than ten years of scrambling to attain a bachelor’s degree, I am finally being forced to admit that I may not be capable of pursuing my long and resilient ambition to being highly educated and work in academia.  And I am deeply ashamed of the sense of release I feel at that admission, because two words run themselves on a ticker through my brain:  Giving up.  Giving up.  Giving up.  Society hates few things worse than a quitter, and that’s officially what I am becoming.

Yet if I wasn’t pushed into that shame, if I hadn’t forced myself down the same rocky path for so long, I might very well be healthier and happier than I am.  By dedicating the bulk of my energy to a suitably “brave” and “determined” goal, I deprived the rest of my life of much-needed care.  Without single-minded aspiration, I could never have gotten as far as I have.  But along the way, how much did I lose?  How many panic attacks and bouts of substance abuse did I push myself into with impending deadlines and ridiculous self-expectations?  How many six-month pitch black depressions did I trigger?  How much work on my parenting ability, my self-care, my home life did I brush off and throw away because I had “braver” things to worry about?

I’ve noticed a pattern lately.  Every day that I spend mindfully bonding with my son, cooking beautiful meals with him, doing crafts, talking about science and history and Scooby Doo, I feel like a little bit of some giant, gaping wound inside me heals up.  I feel stronger: less depressed, less anxious, less on edge; more confident, more ethical, more whole.  When my son’s not around, getting up early, exercising, washing the dishes, and sending a long email feels like a good morning.  Deep down, underneath the angst and shame this supposed time-wasting causes, I feel like a good person, and I feel genuine happiness, a feeling which until recently I’d kind of forgotten.  And I know that if, in the back of my mind, worries about achieving something more are present, I feel like nothing.  I am less successful at the things that keep me well, and still unsuccessful at the ones that were just never designed for someone like me.

So surely, to pursue something of questionable attainability at the cost of my health, my happiness, and my contribution to my family, is not nearly so much brave as foolish and irresponsible.

By this, I mean no disrespect to motivated people with disabilities who doggedly pursue whatever ambitions they possess.  They have a right to that lifestyle choice and I respect their perspective and achievements.  And some people are able to manage their disabilities in such a way that their balanced lifestyle can include paid work or full-time study; I bear them only good will.  All I want is to know that, likewise, my choice to drastically simplify my life and focus on the day-to-day is one that is respected and valued by others, disabled and not.  I want to be able to say to someone, “Today I took my son to practice soccer at the park, made dinner for the family, and wrote a blog post before going to bed,” with the same satisfaction with which I’d say my semester went well or I got a raise.

All in all, we should not ascribe traits like bravery based on the limited slice we see of others’ lives.  To deviate from the norm and succeed within the bounds of what your body and mind need is just as brave as to work your ass off for conventional achievements.

When all you know is what you see, you have no idea what someone goes through to get where they are.  You see a clean-cut version of me conscientiously studying Old Norse on my bus ride home, and you think, “There’s smart girl, a good student.”  You don’t know that I am at that moment trying to ignore heart palpitations and an encroaching migraine, and that when I get home I will pass by the convenience store and buy a bottle of vodka, which I will finish just in time to get three hours of sleep before my exam the next morning.  Conversely, you see me curled up on the couch for a Star Trek break in the middle of the day, and maybe you think, “She’s getting lazy.  This is just escapism.”  You don’t know that I am taking an hour to do something that makes me smile because my hands had been shaking, and that after relaxing and feeling better, I got up and spent another hour making flying paper dragons with my kid, and later that night I will enjoy a cozy meal with my partner and go to bed content.  Do I not have a right to that?  Is it right– is it good for anyone– that I should be pushed to bash my head against barriers instead of finding the beauty in where I am and making it the best it can be?

I am not prone to bragging, but I will say this:  I am accomplished.  You just don’t know at what.