It’s early morning April 30th as I’m starting to write this post, which is highly ironic, as I should be sleeping right now. Unfortunately, houses in St. John’s don’t seem to have soundproofing, and the housemate whose bedroom is next to mine is talking on the phone.
But aside from that, this topic is more than just a positive one, it’s a pertinent one for me this year. (And likely to be a long post, with many examples.)
Over the last year and a half, I’ve been moving towards independent living (with the aim of doing it successfully this time). Tied up in that has been learning to deal better with my limitations and my strengths. And the last two and a half years have been a learning curve of recognizing my needs and wants, and in learning ways to express those – and to help other people understand them. (No, I’ve never really been non-verbal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to express oneself.)
So, I think I’m going to cover the topics of Love, Acceptance, and Self-Care in general, and then I’m going to give some examples from my recent personal life for anyone who chooses to read on.
So, me being me, let’s start with definitions. 😉
Love: This is a hard one. What is love – and what kind of love are we talking about? Familial? Platonic – between friends? Romantic? Love and acceptance of oneself – self-esteem? Love for a subject? The New Oxford American Dictionary provides some definitions of love as being:
• an intense feeling of deep affection: babies fill parents with intense feelings of love | their love for their country.
• a deep romantic or sexual attachment to someone: it was love at first sight | they were both in love with her | we were slowly falling in love.
• (Love)a personified figure of love, often represented as Cupid.
• a great interest and pleasure in something: his love for football | we share a love of music.
When I talk about “love”, I generally use the term as meaning either the first or the fourth definitions from the dictionary, and familial, platonic, or love for a subject (the fourth definition).
Love is talked about all the time. Usually in the sense of romantic or sexual love (the second definition) – that or familial love is what people tend to think of first when they hear the word – but not always. And yet it’s really one of the hardest words in the English language to understand, because there are many different meanings (including the one having to do with having a score of zero in tennis, squash, and a few other sports). I just chose the four definitions from the first set because they’re what I’m referring to when I use the term. (Well, no, I’m not usually referring to a personification of the concept of love, but that was in the middle of the first set, so it got included.)
One thing that I think is very important, and that I hope is brought out in the rest of today’s posts for Autism Positivity, is that I think true, wholehearted love includes acceptance. Which leads us very neatly into the next term.
Acceptance: So necessary to live in the world, yet so hard for some of us to get. The definitions from the New Oxford American Dictionary are as follows:
1 the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered: charges involving the acceptance of bribes | [ as modifier ] : an acceptance speech | he had an acceptance from the magazine.
• a draft or bill that is accepted by being signed.
2 the action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a group: you must wait for acceptance into the club.
3 agreement with or belief in an idea, opinion, or explanation: acceptance of the teaching of the church.
• willingness to tolerate a difficult or unpleasant situation: a mood of resigned acceptance.
Looking at those definitions… I kind of wince. I think the closest definitions to what we (autistics) mean when we speak of “acceptance” would be… some melding of definiton #2 with the first definition of #3. We want to be accepted as who we are, recognized that being autistic does not mean that we are not human, that we are not worthy of care and concern; that’s for definition #2. And we want people to understand what being autistic means to us, that it defines us in a lot of ways because it’s not something that’s separate from who we are, but part of who we are; that’s the first definition of the #3 set. But still. The definitions of #1 and the second definition of #3? Not where we want people’s thoughts to go when we advocate for autism acceptance.
We want people to recognize that autism exists; that it is not necessarily a bad thing, even if it leads to difficulties for us, interacting with a world that is not built with an understanding of how autism affects us; and see us, recognize us, and love us (at least among friends and family) for who we are.
We also want people to accept that autism has shaped us, shaped our personalities, our way of thinking, our reactions to things; that you can’t “get rid” of autism without getting rid of the unique individual – the thoughts, feelings, and reactions that make up a personality – who the autistic is. Without killing us.
And… that kind of went down a route I didn’t want it to go, because this is supposed to be about the positives of autism. But then again, one also has to look at context; something which can sometimes be hard for us (we tend to see the trees, rather than the forest – the details, rather than the whole). Not always, but sometimes. And when talking about the positives of autism… we have to realize that the reason we need to do that is because so many people see only the negatives. See only the difficulties we have – some of which are co-morbid, and not “caused by the autism” at all – and never the intense delight and joy that comes from indulging in one’s passions, or the quiet joy of happy stimming, or the brilliance that can come from senses that are so open to the world.
That’s what we want people to accept. What we want our friends and families to love.
Which, in turn, brings me to the topic of self-care, the last but not the least of this year’s topics.
Self-Care: Okay, so the NOAD doesn’t have a specific entry for self-care. But it does (of course) have one for “care”, and self-care is applying that to oneself. So, here’s the definition for “care”:
1 the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something: the care of the elderly | the child is safe in the care of her grandparents | health care.
2 serious attention or consideration applied to doing something correctly or to avoid damage or risk: he planned his departure with great care.
• an object of concern or attention: the cares of family life.
• a feeling of or occasion for anxiety: she was driving along without a care in the world.
Of this definition, I would say that both definition #1 and the first of definition #2 both apply to the matter of self-care. It is very definitely “the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection” of oneself; but I think that it is also a matter of “serious attention or consideration applied to doing something correctly or to avoid damage or risk“.
What does self-care look like? I suspect there are as many different types of self-care as there are people in the world. Everyone needs something slightly different from everyone else. Everyone is unique, after all. Even identical twins are different.
What self-care looks like for me…. Well, that involves a number of things. My cat, for one. I have never not had cats around me; my family had cats from at least two years before I was born, and I grew up with cats being some of my best friends. They provide companionship – occasionally demanding love and attention and petting and food, but even that can be good – and love. (And yes, we’re back in a full circle here!) And love is so necessary for people.
It involves having support; family and friends who understand me, and who are willing to listen to my needs and do what they can to provide for them. Including love, deep pressure hugs, companionship… and space and time alone when I need that.
It involves knowing myself; knowing my strengths and weaknesses, knowing what I can do myself, and what I need help with. Knowing what I need to work on, and accepting that there are some things that I will not be able to do; and some things that I can do better than most. (And see? Not just love, but acceptance as well.)
It involves knowing when I’ve had enough social contact and have to retreat into myself for a while; or, knowing that if I continue, I will likewise have to retreat into myself for a correspondingly longer time. (That’s what happened to me after Christmas; but I don’t regret it. I enjoyed going to the family’s social events over Christmas, and seeing my relatives. The fact that it took me spending the most part of January alone… that was a price I was prepared to pay. And was able to explain to my mother, for once. It was definitely worth it.)
It involves recognizing when I’m heading for a sensory overload or a meltdown, or a panic attack, and doing my best to short circuit that however I can. It’s not always possible; but I’ve become a lot better at recognizing when I’m heading that way now, and it shows. My psychologist has mentioned the last few times I’ve seen her that I seem a lot more stable, and content in myself, than I was when I first began seeing her.
And I also think it involves continuing to learn about myself and my needs, and doing my best to meet them. The more I learn about myself, and about autism in general, the more I’m able to understand myself and why I do the things I do, which helps me change what needs to be changed, and work with what parts I like.
And one other thing it involves, for me?
I first really started reading the blogs of other autistic adults in about December 2012/January 2013. And they helped so much. And then I found more blogs. And blogs by parents of autistic children who were learning from the blogs of autistic adults.
I want to help people. Even if just through encouraging their sense of wonder and imagination through the stories I want to tell. And here was a way – a whole new world – where I could help others the way I was helped. By posting to my blog.
I don’t tend to get the firestorm reactions that some other autistic adults do – maybe because I don’t post on Facebook? So I’ve never had to face that situation myself, and I don’t know if I’ll end up with burnout for a while if I ever do. But definitely, for as long as I can, for as many topics as I can think of, this blog will continue, paying forward what others have helped me with.
At any rate. Back to the main thrust of today’s topic: Love, Acceptance, Self-Care. I hope that you’ve noticed, reading through here, how interconnected and intertwined these topics are. They’re like a circle, each of them affecting and seeping into both the others. And they are so, so important for any human being. Everyone needs love, acceptance, and self-care. What can happen to those without even one of those three can be horrible.
And you know what? Many of us have so much of that love and acceptance and care to give back. Even if we can’t necessarily express it in the way most of the world’s population is wired to understand, it’s still there. Waiting for you to accept it.
Thank you for reading.