Saturday, 1 April 2023

On Wanting To Be Normal

Recently I wrote a post on all the ways in which I’m different from the mainstream. It’s made me more aware than ever of the whole concept of ‘normal’.

I know that there are many, too many, autistics out there who don’t want to be autistic. Who just want to fit in and be ‘normal’. I don’t agree with their stance, but I can understand why.

If you’re a young person who’s spent their whole life having it drummed into you that autism is a wrongness that needs to be Fixed, Treated, Managed and Social-Skills-Classed the heck out of you, if you’ve drowned in ‘behaviour plans’, IEPs and ‘special needs’, then of course you would wish you weren’t autistic. There are young adult autistics who refuse to identify as such, or even talk about it or be in contact with other autistics, because they’re so sick of all of that.

And if you’re an older autistic who’s spent a lifetime being put down, criticised, reviled, rejected, side-lined and/or abused for simply being what you are, struggling with co-occurring conditions like Executive Dysfunction or Sensory Processing Disorder, whether you have a diagnosis or not; if you’re unemployed, friendless, maybe homeless, struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental issues or addictions, then you’re not going to see much value in being autistic, and will likely reject the autistic community, think it laughable even.

I also know there are even autistics, both young and old, who support ‘that’ kind of autism organisation and their research into eradicating autism. I feel for them, I truly do, and I understand why they would do this, even if I don’t think it’s a good path to take.

The biggest reason not to take this path is simply this – it can’t be done. It’s gene-deep, brain-deep, neurologically-deep. It’s in your very nerves, muscles and cells. You can’t eradicate it. The only way to ‘rid society of autism’ is for all autistics to die and no more to be born, ie you can only eradicate autistics, not autism. Which amounts to genocide. And even if you don’t think this is a step too far, and/or you’re thinking well at least this would mean nobody would suffer like you have, consider that there are autistics who don’t feel this, who want to be alive no matter how difficult it is, and/or whose parents, family and friends, especially other autistics, very much want them to be alive. And you don’t have the right to decide for them. And that the biggest problem in all the above is actually people’s ATTITUDES to autistics. If that changed…

So my feeling is that we might as well accept it, even embrace it, and maybe even try to make the world a little better for all of us not ‘normal’, or at the very least give a giant metaphorical raised finger to the world, with our being proud to simply be ourselves. Because why the heck not.

In light of all this, I look at my own life, and while it’s been difficult beyond words, and there were long spells when I did try hard to be ‘normal’, I didn’t ever really see that ‘normal’ as anything wonderful. The paradox is that the very traits that make me different from NTs are the very traits that led me to think what the heck is so superior about these people? And this was long, long before I had any idea that I was autistic. This is the other thing at the heart of rejecting wanting not to be autistic – why would I want to be something I didn’t regard as an ‘improved model’, even if they obviously did? So no, I don’t want to be NT.

What about the other characteristics that make me ‘different’? Being gay, for instance? I’m gay/lesbian because I don’t find men attractive. So why would I want to be someone who did? And non-binary – same. If I don’t identify with either binary, male or female, why would I want to be someone who did? Then there’s being an aromantic - if I don’t find romance exactly thrilling, why would I want to? Same with being introverted, why would I want to be one of those noisy extroverts who plague me? You get the picture, I’m sure. It’s all the same paradox, knowing that the alternative is more acceptable to society, but I simply can’t find it an attractive enough state to want to be it.

So in what ways do I wish I was ‘normal’? I think the biggest thing I’d rid myself of, if I could, is my physical disabilities. I’d love not to have CFS, or arthritis, or even an ankle that hasn’t been screwed up ever since I broke it. I’d love to have normal energy levels. To get up in the morning and go about my day, without needing hours to rev myself up to regular speed, because if I rush, I’ll get dizzy, nauseous, sweaty and probably end up back into bed. And that’s on a good day. Bad ones, I likely never get up at all, except to take the pills that help prop me up, eat the foods I need for same, or to go to the bathroom. Bad nights, I barely sleep at all. And the next day or even days, just plain suck.

It would be very nice to get at least somewhat closer to normal than this. But I know it’s not going to happen, that there’s not likely to be a cure for CFS in my lifetime. And also knowing that ageing and lack of fitness have taken away a great deal anyway. Having CFS sucks, but so does getting old.

Another way I’d like to be ‘normal’ is to not be poor. But that’s linked to being physically disabled for so long, and to some extent to who and what I am. I was never good at jobs, and was forced to drop out of university because of CFS – an illness caused at least in part by the stress of attending uni without the supports I had no idea I needed. There are, I suspect, many autistics with CFS or some other stress-related illness or disability, not surprising given the amount of daily trauma we suffer. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I think the biggest was forcing – pushing - myself to attempt ‘normality’, that it has harmed me on a very deep level.

In summary then, there’s not many ways I’d want to be ‘normal’, and they are based on things I don’t feel are intrinsic to me, unlike being autistic, gay, introvert, etc. If I could change my financial or physical status, I definitely would. But as things stand, I can’t. So I’m kinda stuck with them.

Being autistic though? I wouldn’t change it for the world. Even when it makes my life very, very hard indeed. I am what I am, and I refuse to apologise for it. And nor should anyone else.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Floods, Weather and Global Warming

Some of you might have heard of the recent extreme weather events we’ve had in New Zealand, leading to huge damage, destruction and loss of life. I thought I’d give a bit of a background to this.

New Zealand is a ‘wet’ country, with a moderately high rainfall. We’ve also had a wet winter, wet spring, and wet summer, at least in the North Island. So the land was already at its limit. And then one day in January, Auckland got a downpour that was equivalent to an entire summer’s rainfall in a few hours. Mayhem ensued. The soil, and the city’s drainage systems, were simply unable to cope. Flooding, collapsed hillsides, roads wrecked, homes and backyards left uninhabitable. People died. Many still can’t return to their homes, and some will never be able to.

Then there was the more recent Cyclone Gabrielle which also wreaked havoc, especially along the North Island’s East Coast. Even more widespread damage, and the loss of more lives. Whole areas are destroyed. Hawkes Bay is normally prime horticultural land, producing many of NZ’s fruit and vegetables. The country around Gisborne, a bit further north, is also prime grape and corn growing land. Much of it is now metres deep in muddy silt. Crops are ruined, stock have died, houses wiped out. Big farmers cry on national TV when they look at what has happened to their land.

The most productive parts of the East Coast are the coastal river flats. And yes, there were stopbanks, but they either weren’t enough or they broke under pressure of the deluge. Roads and bridges in the area have also been destroyed, adding to the difficulty of clean up, repairs to viral services, and getting supplies in.

There’s also the problem of forestry ‘slash’. For those who don’t know the term, it’s the parts of trees that get trimmed off and left behind by the forestry companies. Because behind the river flats, much of the East Coast is steep hill country, and when the storms come, that slash gets washed down, destroying infrastructure, choking streams and riverbeds, piling up on farms and fouling normally beautiful beaches for tens of kilometres. This has been a problem for years, and the forestry companies are supposed to be cleaning up their act, but not much has changed it seems.

And then there’s that silt. What is it exactly? It’s the filtered loose soil, washed down from the hills by the rain, and left behind when the waters recede. Because what isn’t forestry up there is mainly sheep farms. And anyone who’s ever travelled through that country knows how bare and ‘bony’ the hills look. Barely a tree in sight, except for those forestry blocks. The once-dense native bush that used to clothe them and hold the soil in place has long been cleared. But the towns, orchards, farms and vineyards downstream are now paying the price. Long-term of course, this sediment raises stream and river levels, which will only lead to worse flooding..... And the wet weather isn’t done with us yet.

All of this has sparked talk about things like rebuilding roads to be more weatherproof or further inland or both, ‘managed retreat’ from coastal areas now under threat as sea levels rise and storms get worse and more frequent, building higher and better stopbanks, and replanting hillsides in native bush. The government has ordered an inquiry into the forestry industry. It’s also become obvious that improving/rebuilding city and town drainage systems is essential, especially in Auckland where much of the network is up to a hundred years old, and totally inadequate for modern times.

Now New Zealand is not a stranger to rebuilding after natural disasters, thanks to the Christchurch earthquake. Much of that city is still being rebuilt, and many people there are still traumatised. So we know something of how long it’s likely to take to rebuild not just a city but an entire region. The public and the government know it’s not going to be easy, and that the cost will be immense – and that’s without taking into account the effect on food prices, already skyrocketing post-Covid.

The human cost is likely to be high too. Stress and trauma take their toll, even for those not directly affected. I live in a part of my town that could possibly be flooded if the stopbanks give way in a storm. Every time it rains, I think ‘is this The One? Am I going to be flooded out? What should I pack, what should I take, where should I go, how can I get through this? What am I likely to lose?’ It’s always nerve-wracking. I used to think that a roof being blown off was the worst that a storm could do to me, but now…

Global warming affects us all. We are all vulnerable. Things have gotten very real, very fast. It’s been a wake-up call for us, but what happened here in New Zealand could happen anywhere. Even Australia, dry and often drought-stricken country that it is, has had its share of floods and destruction in recent years. No-one is safe. That’s the message to be taken away from this. No-one knows what’s going to happen. Always plan for the worst.

And know that global warming is going to affect you too, in some way and to some degree, sooner rather than later. It’s here folks, and it’s real.