This blog is as much for me as anyone reading it. I am focusing on neurodivergent people, but it likely applies more widely to any group that is outside “normal” expectations.
A while ago I watched ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Okay‘ written and directed by Josh Thomas (an Autistic person), which covers the lives of coming of age of Autistic people (a simple reduction of what the show is about). The show gets a lot of things right, and a lot I would have liked to have improved but it’s still the most inclusive representation of Autistic people so far – which is awful.
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
There’s a scene in this show which devastated me, because I’ve felt like this too.
In the scene Matilda (Autistic actress Kayla Cromer) reveals to Nicholas (Josh Thomas) who has assumed the role of guardian that she has been crying in the bathroom for hours after the death of her father as well as something that is one of the most destructive yet endemic sentences among neurodivergent people in general.
“I am always a burden”
Matilda goes on to reveal that even though she is Autistic, that due to being higher functioning (labels of higher and lower functioning are ableist – and one of my gripes with this show) she would be fine, but she is not.
I want to unpack this thought and statement, and show you why it’s erroneous.
Capitalism is an ableist structure
I could critique capitalism forever, but one thing about it is that by design it wants to cast aside people who deviate from the norm. Unless you have productive and profit value, you are a problem of the system, and you are made to feel this way. People are more than their productive value – and it’s sickening that our thinking has been this corrupted.
We have enough resources to allow everyone to live with a reasonable quality of life, the problem is how we distribute these resources – and that’s where capitalism is failing us.
I am not going to go too heavily into fixing the structure so much as to show you how it wears neurodivergent people down, makes them lose trust in themselves, and then implicitly blames them for not being able to succeed.
The education system under capitalism
The role of education should be to foster learning and independence, but it has been warped to spoon feed people and make them learn a standardised set of information. The role of education in a capitalist system is to produce units of production for those with capital.
This is the first place for many neurodivergent people that the seed is sown that they are fundamentally wrong, and that they must change and supress their neurodivergent traits. The lack of understanding of how neurodivergent brains work leads to stigmatisation, isolation, feelings of failure compared to peers, and starts eroding the very core of many neurodivergent people.
Hiding our difference
Those of us who ‘adapt’ are forcing ourselves to not be ourselves – it’s an act that takes up a lot of cognitive resources for this alone, and also can lead to anxiety, depression, and a loss of identity. The more effectively Autistic people mask, the higher the risk of these developing, and it has a near exponential effect on suicide statistics.
Masking can best be thought of as a trauma response to a world that tells people that are different they should be cast out, and so in an act of survival, we supress who we really are to fit into the boxes expected of us.
An imperfect facade
Masking is not perfect and when we allow ourselves to be ourselves – we are usually punished. Masking is a constant exercise, informed by our previous mistakes, that slowly erodes us away – every time we let it slip and are punished – it reinforces the message that being ourselves is wrong, to do so is to become a burden for others.
The medical model
I’ve written before about my hatred of pathology in regards to mental health issues – I am a strong critic of pathology of thoughts. I have been down the road of thinking of myself as broken, sick, or ill simply for having a different way of experiencing the world. Depression and anxiety tests check to see if you are depressed or anxious, and instead of working out why – you are suddenly labelled as a depressed person, or an anxious person – regardless of whether you have completely valid and often traumatic reasons for feeling this way.
The medical model of mental health is best summarised as this: “You are the problem, take this to fix yourself”
Based on all my research – this approach is at best mediocre at helping people (most medications are not efficacious beyond a placebo effect – PLEASE NOTE: If medication works for you keep taking it). At worst actively contributes to the deterioration of mental health.
I have had medicines that have helped me manage my difficulties, and to help me start to stabilise – but in my case especially, this was as effective as putting a band-aid over a shotgun wound long term.
‘Fixing’ yourself costs money
Therapy is expensive, medications in a lot of countries are expensive, assistive help is expensive. The reason I know all this stuff is expensive is because when I do research I have to endure articles talking about “burdens” on the health system, the welfare system, the workplace.
If you do not have the money, cannot access appropriate and well delivered mental healthcare, you start to believe that your existence is the problem.
It’s reinforced everywhere in media. A system with a psychopathic focus on “the economy” – as evidenced by the vast majority of COVID-19 responses around the world.
An economy is it’s people – no value is created without people.
What if we accepted some people are just different (The neurodiversity model)
Here neurodivergent people are not sick, they do not need a cure, there is no need to find a cause, because the problem is not us – it’s how we are treated. Every piece of scientific research conducted with proper ethical consideration of what they are trying to achieve has said it’s not neurodivergent people who must change – it’s the society around us. We must be accepted, and not forced to be something else – this is the way to massively reduce negative effects and co-occurring issues.
I am not a burden
This thinking eroded me – a lack of acceptance of neurodivergent traits I have and a fundamental lack of understanding of how my brain works caused me to believe that I was ALWAYS the problem – all the messaging in society before connecting with advocates confirmed this to me.
It’s not true. Your value cannot be measured in dollars although the system constantly tries, and you are not to blame for the fact you haven’t been accepted.
I know these things are true because when I finally connected with other neurodivergent people, realised my full set of differences, and started to accept the things I cannot change – I began to thrive.
That’s not to say things are not difficult, or that I have a lot of work to do to untangle the Gordian knot of repeated trauma I have experienced from not being understood – but through proper understanding and acceptance, peer support, writing, talking, and Tweeting about my way of thinking, and what has happened to me – I have come to one main realisation.
I was setup to fail, and then blamed because I did.
I deserved better, as does any person reading this who has been made to feel like their existence is part of the problem. It’s not true.
You’ve done life on hard mode – and I am glad you are still here.
I am enough, as are you.