Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Standing Out Is Hard When You Had To Blend In To Survive

I'm currently working on a cover letter for a job I'm applying for and I had a realization that really hit me hard. I've never been particularly good at writing cover letters since I don't like talking about myself in that context since it feels like bragging to me even though it's just being honest and talking up your good points instead, and I'm pretty sure I've just figured out why.

I've spent my entire life trying to blend in, so I don't know how to purposely make myself stick out anymore.

Think about it - I was bullied for most of my life (from kindergarten up through my senior year of high school). I formed a friendship where I felt initially accepted in college only to be rejected once that person found out that I wasn't a carbon copy of the person they were trying to use me to replace. I'm not even sure that I've been "real me" in public since maybe the first semester of my sophomore year of college. I don't even seem like I've changed much over the years to my real-life friends because they've only gotten to see "fake me." In actuality, I've changed a lot, but I've been putting the same happy-go-lucky front up for everyone outside of my family for a really long time now. Sometimes, my friends see cracks in that facade, but for the most part they've gotten a consistent "fake me" over the years that I've used to protect myself. "Real me" can really only be seen these days on the internet, where I'm less prone to judgment by people and am more acceptable since it's easier to find people like myself.

Writing a cover letter, therefore, is really hard for me because it forces me to do the very thing I've been trying not to do my entire life to protect myself - stand out. My fears of rejection flare up every time I send out a new job application because it means I have to be noticed and I could potentially be torn to shreds again, just like I've been my entire life. The only place I've never had this problem is with school - I applied to one college and one grad school and was accepted to both. Socially and career-wise, my entire life just feels like one giant rejection letter a lot of the time, and that fear came out today as I crafted yet another cover letter with my job coach. Standing out goes against all my survival instincts that I've developed over the years. I know I'm potentially the right person for each job I apply for, but trying to get myself noticed is something that genuinely scares me because of what's happened to me upon being noticed in the past. I felt at my safest when I was invisible and went about my life without anyone noticing me and saying something mean. (City life works well for me since in New York there are lots of strange people so it's easy for me to blend in going to and fro.)

I deserve to feel safe to stand out, but I've never felt that safety anywhere off the internet, and I really wish I could. If I wasn't an ostracized object of ridicule as a kid and teenager, it might have been different, but here we are. If only I felt safe to be myself in the real world.

Monday, March 28, 2016

If You Love Me, Wear Red On April 2nd!

April starts on Friday. April used to be a month I looked forward to since my birthday is April 25th and I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. Once I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome in 2009, however, it became a month where I was relentlessly barraged with hateful rhetoric telling people that I was something to be feared and hated. It's now a month where autism organizations claiming to "help" us promote our eradication instead.

On April 2nd, Autism Speaks, the worst of all of these organizations, does something called Light It Up Blue where they try to "cure" (aka eliminate us) by reminding people that we exist and that we're a horrendous burden on society. In response to this, autistic people have started wearing red on April 2nd, too. Initially, the movement was called Walk In Red, but as not everyone can walk the movement is also referred to as Red Instead. All you need to do on April 2nd to help us out is the following:
  1. Wear red instead of blue. Even if you don't wear red, it's fine as long as you don't wear blue since that's Autism Speaks's color.
  2. Amplify the voices of any autistic people you know. This month is about us, not organizations that claim they know us better than we know ourselves.
  3. If anyone you know is blindly supporting Autism Speaks, explain to them why this is a horrendous idea. I've got some resources to help you out with that right here. They're right at the top of the page.
  4. Instead of donating to Autism Speaks and other organizations that promote hate and fear, support organizations like the Autism Self-Advocacy Network, the Autism Women's Network, and other groups that allow us to speak for ourselves and give us the support that we need and deserve. These groups, especially the latter, also focus on intersectionality in our movement, which is important.
  5. Listen to us. This is supposed to be our month, but it's really easy to get the wrong idea about us since we can't afford expensive TV spots on major networks whilst Autism Speaks can. Our opinions and experiences are far more valuable to learn about than the stuff they're telling you, so listen to us over them!
Best of luck to all my non-NT friends in the upcoming month - we can weather this annual storm together, as we've done in years past. Let's shift the conversation and make sure there's nothing about us without us!

Update: I also hashed all of this out in a video for your viewing pleasure.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Thank You, Robert DeNiro, For Doing Right By Us

I really don't normally care much about what celebrities do if they're not baseball players or deceased comedians, but I'm feeling a strange sort of relief that I can still like Robert DeNiro today.

Everyone's probably heard about it already, but Andrew Wakefield (who I won't even call a doctor because he thankfully lost his medical license over his fraudulent study) directed and wrote a film about, well, vaccines and how he still somehow is convinced that they cause autism despite the fact that it's evident that autism is a genetic disorder given how it often runs in families. In fact, a genetic study was recently released making it clear that autism, like pretty much every other neurological disorder present at birth, is caused by - shocker - genetics. So guess what? It's as natural as not being heterosexual or not being cisgender, other things people have decided are something that somehow happens after birth. Considering the prejudice LGBT people face every day even now (look at the utterly asinine thing North Carolina did recently to transgender and non-gender conforming people), I highly doubt anyone would willingly choose to endure that sort of undeserved treatment. Autistic and other neurodivergent people are the same way - we're treated almost as second-class citizens and aren't even listened to when we try to explain things ourselves. Instead, organizations like a certain money-mongering one that we're all going to have to deal with in a few days for an entire month but I don't feel like naming decide to talk for us.

In this case, however, we were listened to, and it feels amazing. Autistic people, scientists, doctors, and some of our other allies spoke out, and yesterday DeNiro posted this on the Tribeca Facebook page:
“My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family. But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for. The Festival doesn’t seek to avoid or shy away from controversy. However, we have concerns with certain things in this film that we feel prevent us from presenting it in the Festival program. We have decided to remove it from our schedule.”
It's honestly such a relief to know that DeNiro, who has an autistic son himself, realized the film would do far more harm than good and pulled it from the Tribeca schedule. And it's in no small part due to autistic self-activists, as the author of the article linked to above, Tara Haelle, points out:
But DeNiro listened. He listened to the many autistic individuals disappointed about the film’s initial inclusion, he listened to the thousands of doctors who care for children, and he listened to the scientific community. It appears that he viewed the film himself and decided that flaws in its information and/or execution did not meet the high standards that Tribeca demands.
But he’s definitely been correct about one thing along: we do need a conversation about autism in this country. We need an honest conversation about what autistic individuals experience in their everyday lives and about the support their families need and often are not getting. We need a conversation about the stigmatization, discrimination, poor employment opportunities and poorer health outcomes facing autistic individuals.
This is exactly it. As an autistic adult, I spend a lot of my time every day explaining what I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. I struggle to find the perfect job and go through long periods of unemployment. Making friends is often difficult for me. I've never been on a date and I'm turning 27 in a month. I still live at home with my parents (like many people my age, neurotypical or not), but haven't been able to find a job that pays for my student loans yet. Every day, I worry that people judge me based on my disability, and every day, I face anti-autism rhetoric on television, on the internet, and even in person (heard as I'm walking down the street or in advertisements I see whilst driving or on the subway). These are the sorts of things that adults on the spectrum would love to see addressed - we deserve better - and yet we're frequently denied a platform for our voices. It's time that our voices are amplified and we get a chance to speak about the issues that really affect us instead of a debunked fraudulent vaccine study from 1998 that's already hurt us enough.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Feeling My Friends' Problems As Intensely As If They Were My Own

I have an alarming tendency to absorb my friends' problems and make them my own somehow. I suspect it has something to do with the specific sort of empathy autistic people are reported to have - that we feel things more intensely than neurotypical people - but it's been happening as long as I can remember getting involved and trying to help friends out.

As of now, a few of my friends are going through really, really rough periods in their lives, and I've been doing my best to listen to them and help out and give advice when I can. I put a lot of time and effort into being a good friend to the people I'm close to because I remember not having friends and I'm extremely defensive of the friends I have. I really, really don't like it when someone thinks it's okay to hurt a friend of mine. It sometimes takes everything in me to not give people a piece of my mind when I'm not involved in a situation at all.

The downside to caring so much is obvious - because of my emotional investment and how intensely I feel everything, I spend a lot of time being anxious. I go about my days constantly worrying about how my friends are doing, getting angry to the point I can feel the adrenaline in my body on behalf of them, and not sleeping very well. I'm fairly sure this is part of what led to the situation that caused my mental breakdown in 2009, in fact, because I felt a sort of responsibility for my then-future roommate's safety since I was the only one who knew that she was severely struggling with depression in the wake of her mother's death. Because I felt responsible for her, I plummeted downwards into a horrible state of anxiety of my own, and the seeds for the OCD to thrive had been planted.

I'm sure I can't be the only autistic person with this problem due to the way we feel things so intensely, so I doubt I'm alone in feeling this way. It's a bit of a difficult concept to put into words, but I'm trying my best here.

At any rate, I also have a bad habit of prioritizing my friends' problems over my own that I'm trying to break, which is a story for another time. I just felt that this feeling was something I ought to try to vocalize.

Friday, March 11, 2016

CareerQuest Continues...

I had my first job coaching session on Wednesday. As this was my first full session, a large part of it consisted of my coach getting to know me and my situation better, and so I recounted my backstory and explained why I chose the field I went into in the first place. The problem for me, as usual, is that archiving is a highly specialized field - it's very specific work, and as such there are less available jobs than there are candidates, which is really frustrating, especially when you don't really have the budget to relocate for your career yet.

Of course, there's the second problem of being autistic and as such having issues with networking at events. I enjoy going to archival talks and taking notes. I learn a lot about the industry just by listening and absorbing information since I'm very observant. That will only get me so far, though, because like any other field I have to know people. My social anxiety kicks in when the events reach the networking portion, however, and I often find myself leaving early or hovering around the few people at the event in my age group (who likely don't have many contacts themselves). My career coach suggested that I try one-on-one networking, where I can contact people privately and ask if I can meet with them to get advice about breaking into the archival field, and this idea really resonated with me. I do get scared about meeting new people in general, but if it's one-on-one, there's less sensory overload, and since it won't be a job interview it'll be a lot less stressful since I tend to put way too much pressure on myself during job interviews.

I think this is definitely something I can manage, too, since I'm trained in conducting oral history interviews. If I treat it like an oral history interview, I can ask questions that allow the other person to elaborate in depth about things as I listen and take notes. You can learn a ton about people and history if you know how to ask questions that give them a chance to really explain things and tell stories, and although I haven't done an oral history in a few years I definitely still remember how to do it. I think I can adjust those skills and use them in an informational interview setting.

In the meantime, I'm officially doing some work at a film repository packaging films to be sent off to AMPAS and their archives in the city (it's paid training, too!), so I'm staying sharp and actually archiving things. I should be starting next week barring an NJ Transit strike, so hopefully they reach a deal and I can get started right away. (Side note: as someone who's used NJT for many, many years, I don't blame them for threatening to strike.) It feels really nice to be helping preserve things again - not only is it absolutely what I want to devote my life to, but it's also helping indie filmmakers and making sure their work endures!

Also, I got to go inside a nitrate vault, and if you know what else I blog about in my spare time you'll know why I was so excited about that.