Sunday, September 20, 2015

I Am Aspie, Hear Me ROAR!

This is a rant about Neurotypical Privilege. I’m not even going to try and sugar coat that. It’s a screaming declaration from behind the tiny bluetooth keyboard I’m using to write this, a fist-pounding exclamation of a desire to be taken seriously for being who I am, without having to hide any part of myself. For I am an Aspie; hear me roar!
Recently, I found myself voluntold to house sit for my parents while they were out of town, helping my sister get settled in for university. I woke up one morning and, my eyes groggy and clouded with sleep, proceeded to check my Facebook news feed as is my usual morning ritual. What I found there, however, incensed me to no end. One of the pages I follow on Facebook posted what can only be described as a fear-mongering piece of propaganda decrying the rising rates of autism as some sort of vaccine-induced epidemic.
I was livid.
See, normally when I come across this level of stupid, I dismiss it as being a symptom of the internet and leave it at that. I know all too well that it is often useless to try to engage in meaningful discussion and argument online, where people’s usual response to a well-structured and thoughtful forum post typically amounts to “Durr, u r gay! And Obama iz teh antichrist” (I am actually a big ally and supporter of the LGBTQ movement and I mean no disrespect at all...but this is typical interwebz stuff. Seriously, don’t ever read YouTube comments if you at all value your mental sanity.) This one was different however. I, as an Aspie, felt that the legitimacy of my very existence was being called into question, and I am nothing if not a fighter. I took a stand, wrote an angry, righteous comment on the thread then, satisfied that I had fought the good fight, proceeded downstairs for breakfast and gave it no second thought.
The responses I received to what I wrote were incredible! All day, comments and likes kept piling in, threatening to overwhelm my phone screen with so many Facebook notifications and red dots. Almost all of them were supportive and encouraging, and I can safely say I’ve made many new friends through this political action of mine. If anything though, it made me realize how prevalent Neurotypical Privilege is in our society. While I am eternally grateful for the supportive community I discovered entirely by accident online, it is telling that for every person who praised me, there were so many others who had already posted prior to my comment who were seemingly content to perpetuate fear and ignorance by treating ASD as a tragic disease destined to ruin humanity.
I hate that. I hate it so bloody much.
I want to pose a question to some of the more ignorant Neurotypical people out there. Now, I personally have nothing against anyone’s brain wiring or any other condition of their existence; we are all human after all, and we’ve all got our strengths that we want to brag about and our weaknesses that we would rather hide. Such is life. That being said, however, have any of you ever been afraid to reveal a certain side of yourself, whether at work or among friends and family for fear that you would suddenly be thought of as somehow less than human? I can guarantee that almost every member of the human race has experienced this in some form or another, but it happens among those of us who are neurodiverse far too often as well. I am an assistant manager at a medium-sized Canadian telecommunications company, and I can tell you straight up, that not a day goes by that I don’t fear someone among my superiors finding out that I’m anything but Neurotypical. The problem is, the mainstream media and society have built up an idea that anyone who is neurodiverse is either to be pitied and helped at best or feared at worst. I’ve always struggled with that, and as a child and teenager, I didn’t want to associate with the label of Aspergers for quite some time. What I didn’t realize then but do now is that this was born from wanting to be judged by my merits, not by my label. In short, I was the victim of privilege.
So I’m going to take the opportunity in this rant to spell out what I want, as someone who is Neurodiverse. I recognize that this isn’t comprehensive or reflective of everyone’s distinct experiences, but hopefully it will help shed some light as someone who actually lives with Aspergers:
  1. I want to be judged not by my neurology but by the content of my character.
  2. I want recognition that I have weaknesses yes, but so does every human. It doesn’t define them, so it shouldn’t define me.
  3. I want people to realize that along with those weaknesses come immeasurable strengths and talents. I am a writer, activist, creative person and all around geek, and there are many others with equally diverse talents and abilities.
  4. I want people to STOP TRYING TO CURE US! Seriously, I recognize that there are people on the spectrum who are severely hindered by their conditions, and they should absolutely receive assistance in maximizing their strengths and working on their weaknesses, but ASD is a spectrum for a reason. From low functioning to high functioning, the whole aim of the Neurodiversity movement is that we all deserve to have the same respect and dignity as everyone else for existing AS WE ARE. ASD is an integral part of who we are as can’t cure it without killing the patient in the process on a fundamental level. We need support and love, not smug superiority and a desire for neurological genocide. (Because wanting to wipe out a whole personality type just because its inconvenient and doesn’t comply with the norm? That’s what that is!)
  5. I want people to recognize that diversity is okay, and that having a variety of neurological variants of the human brain can only be a good thing for the human race.
  6. Finally, I want people to see us as HUMAN BEINGS. FULL, EQUAL HUMAN BEINGS! I don’t want to be pitied for having Aspergers, or to have to hide it from others and try to pass as neurotypical lest someone assume I am incompetent and stall any attempts at career or social advancement I make. We ALL have a right to have our common humanity recognized, loved and respected.
Privilege hurts us all, even those who benefit from it, because it divides us as a species and trains us to see the world in terms of “us and them.” No viewpoint could be more harmful, as it diminishes the fact that we are all in fact one species. Autism, Aspergers and any other condition considered to be neurodiverse are as natural in terms of human variation as skin colour, sexual orientation, gender, eye colour, hair colour, body size and any other characteristics which ensure that each human being is unique. None of these would exist had they not provided some evolutionary advantage to our species, and ASD is no different. Rather than attempt to change those we do not understand and force them to fit into a tiny neurotypical box, lets instead throw the box out all together, hold hands and help each other along. For we are all human first.
Yours in Diversity,

Adam Michael

Sunday, September 6, 2015

"OH MY GOD WHAT IF...???" A Few Reflections on Generalized Anxiety Disorder

By Adam Mardero

Truthfully, this is a post that I’ve wanted to write for some time now. It’s been a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately, and has prompted me to reflect deeply on how my own life has been impacted by anxiety. The truth is, Aspergers itself often comes with elements of anxiety baked in like one of so many ingredients in a neurosis pie. I’ve always felt the sting of social anxiety, and I firmly believe that it comes as a result of social mores not always being easy to least for me. Anxiety can be a debilitating condition to any who have even a twinge of it in their lives...a fact I can attest to.

Even so, this blog post is not about me...not strictly anyway.

This entry of Differently Wired is, if anything, a love letter to all those in my life who struggle with anxiety in any of its many forms. It is a shout out to friends, family, loved ones and anyone else I hold near and dear to my heart. Anxiety is something which has always affected me, whether directly or otherwise, and I know many people for whom it is a constant struggle. This is even a love letter to those I don’t know well or at all; to the faceless masses of humanity, any number of whom struggle with anxiety, depression or countless other mental health conditions. The overarching message I want to convey to all of these people is a simple one, although it is one which is remarkably easy to lose sight of.

You are not alone.

I know, it seems silly to say. The thing is though, to many people struggling with anxiety, it can feel incredibly isolating. Speaking from personal experience, it can often feel as though I am the crazy person for being irrationally nervous about some trivial thing or another. It’s important to remember that you are not. Anxiety may be a condition, but there is nothing wrong with who you are and how you are. You also don’t have to fight alone. I recognize that often times, there really isn’t much of anything that any one of us outside of a panic attack can do to help, and that too is a difficult lesson to learn. Even so, I can say with certainty that even knowing someone you care about is there can help, no matter how helpless they may feel. Having a support circle of people who love you and understand what you are going through (or want to and are willing to learn) can be a lifesaver.

So if you are someone who doesn’t have anxiety, or has it to a lesser or different degree from someone you know, what can you do to help? Based on my own personal experiences, and my own desires from other people, there are a few things:

1)     Be patient. It sounds like a given, but I can’t stress this enough. There will be times where neurosis will kick in. Where I, or example, may stress about the stupidest little thing (whether I remembered to fill the printer at work before leaving my shift, for example). I grant you, it can be frustrating to constantly reassure someone with anxiety, but believe me it is appreciated.

2)     Learn. Educate yourself about anxiety. This has to be one of the most important things that any loved one of someone with anxiety should do. As those kitschy 80’s G.I. Joe ads always proclaimed, “Knowledge is power!”  

3) Look after yourself too. I know it's going to sound selfish, but its totally true. I long ago realized that I tend to act as a conduit for the emotional energies of others, which would then drain and drag me down. Remember, its noble and admirable to want to help someone you care about, but not at the expense of losing your own mental sanity in the process. Balance is key!

At the end of the day, like with every other condition under the sun, having an anxiety disorder does not define someone as a person. As with everyone else, there are moments of laughter and moments of tears, days when the sunrise fills you with hope and joy, and others where you don't want to crawl out of bed. In other words, we are all human beings first, and we all have our challenges to face. Hopefully, this entry has helped some of you out there who have been impacted by anxiety, depression or any other condition.

Remember, there is only one unchangeable thing which should define us, and that is our common humanity.

Yours in Diversity,

Adam Michael