#TakeTheMaskOff: authentic vulnerability

Cartoon drawing of Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person with chin-length red hair. She is clenching her left fist in order to make her bicep bulge. Tears are streaming down her face.

One of the things I’ve always hated about myself is how easily I burst into tears, and how often I cry.

That’s not to say I’m ashamed of it. It’s my natural reaction to surprise, bad news, overwhelm, discomfort, confusion, and a whole range of other scenarios, situations and feelings. It’s just how I am.

The reason I hate it is not that it shames me, but because it draws others’ attention to me at times when I’m feeling especially vulnerable. And my very dramatic outward displays of emotion make me vulnerable. I am left exposed, demarcated, spotlighted, in a way in which others are not.

I’ve been crying a lot over recent months. I’m cagey about talking too much about the reasons for this on this blog, because while I’m often very candid and open on here, many of those who read my words know me in person, including some people I work with.

Currently I’m contending with huge amounts of change. I’ve lurched from one period of uncertainty to another. This particular dark cloud, while it has evolved and morphed in shape and outline, has been hanging over me for well over eighteen months. Its form has been given greater definition in the past couple of months, but still that form has yet to settle into a state of finality.

I’ve had bad news delivered to me, and many people around me, in very exposing, “public” settings.

I’ve had reassuring structure and routine ripped out from under my feet. I see gaping nothingness in front of me, however much others around me try to reassure me that the unknowns will come to an end at some point.

I’m experiencing a form of bereavement – not over a lost loved one, but over the loss of a particular combination of relationships, things, environments, and a way of being that I’ve loved, and that has made me feel supported, contented and happy for a good few years, even while I’ve contended with many difficulties elsewhere in my life.

Throughout it all, I’ve been told to remain professional, and to “try to use my coping mechanisms” to manage my distress.

But I’ve been unable to prevent myself from crying.

I’ve been unable to prevent myself having meltdowns. At work. At home. In public places.

It’s all too much.

My sense of vulnerability raises my already-pretty-extreme levels of anxiety.

How do others perceive me?

Can I truly be regarded as competent? Professional? Capable? Able? Trustworthy?

***

The truth is, I can be all these things, and vulnerable. Such qualities are not mutually exclusive.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve always been open about my autism.

My reasoning is that I struggle to be quiet about aspects of truth about myself; and that I simply wouldn’t want to be around anyone who looked negatively upon me as a result of knowing that I’m autistic. It’s a part of me, and by rejecting my autism, anyone who does so rejects me.

But my emotional vulnerability is as much a part of my autism as my sensory sensitivities, my pattern-spotting abilities, my attention to detail, and the deep joy I experience when working on things that interest me.

I am not ashamed of that vulnerability, but I now feel I need to go further than such a state of neutrality; of not-negativity.

I have started to embrace it as a fundamental personal truth.

Sometimes, it means – as someone I know recently put it – that I’m “taking one for the team” in more readily displaying those feelings that others around me feel internally, but are unwilling or unable to convey to the outside world. I’m raising awareness.

My vulnerability is authentic.

My vulnerability is real.

My vulnerability is human.

And – perhaps perversely – my ability to allow myself to be vulnerable makes me strong.

Crying is cathartic. The pressure is released. This can sometimes take hours, but it does go. And when my tears have all been shed, and my wailing and sobbing has quietened, I’m exhausted, spent; but the tension is gone.

I know I’m alive, I’m here, and I can carry on.

Right now, I can’t keep up appearances. I can’t pretend I’m fine. I can’t currently wear the mask of acceptable social interaction very much of the time. I’m having to cope with too much.

And while crying can be useful, and I’ve done the Very Helpful Thing of making others aware of how serious things are, no-one should be repeatedly subjected to So Much Stuff that they dissolve in a puddle of tears on an almost daily basis. It’s tiring. It’s not a modus operandi I’m keen on.

Hence time off work, and limited time online. I’m trying to keep my life as quiet as possible at the moment. I need to rest, recover, and recuperate.

But I’m still here.

I’m authentic, I’m vulnerable, and I’m human.

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#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation doodles ‘n’ scribbles, no. 23: bonfire

A stylised full-colour drawing of a bonfire, drawn in fineliner and felt-tip pens, with many swirling flames against a midnight blue background.

This is another image doodled in pen in one of my little Moleskine journals back in the autumn (fall) of 2017. But regardless of it not being bonfire season at the moment, there really is something about fire and flames that makes this worth sharing now.

I don’t light fires for fun.

But I find the intricate shapes and patterns caused by rising flames to be mesmerising and soothing. During the autumns and winters of my childhood, I remember so often sitting in front of the open fire, losing myself in its warmth, the gentle crackle, and the captivating, fluid orange glow. A powerful stim if ever there was one.


[Image: A stylised full-colour drawing of a bonfire, drawn in fineliner and felt-tip pens, with many swirling flames against a midnight blue background.]

#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation Doodles ‘n’ scribbles, no. 20: Sycamore leaves

Coloured fine liner pen drawing in landscape orientation of sycamore leaves in autumnal shades, close up, with many leaves overlapping others

It’s April and I live in the UK which means it’s spring, so obviously I didn’t draw this one recently. But it’s a nice reminder of the colours that I love, from a season which mixes beauty and vibrancy with loss, decay, and darkness.

I love autumn leaves – there’s so much to look at and appreciate about them.


[Image description: full-colour fine liner pen drawing in landscape orientation of sycamore leaves coloured in somewhat stylised autumnal shades, close up, with many leaves overlapping others].

#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation doodles ‘n’ scribbles, no. 16: Ooohhh! Deeeetails!

Cartoon Mama Pineapple, full colour. A white female-presenting person with brown midlength hair clipped to one side. She is wearing a pink top, and has her hands clapped together an a lovestruck, dreamlike expression on her face. The words “Oohhh! Deeeetails!” Are written above her, and coloured love hearts radiate outwards from the image.

Autistics like me see, hear, and feel the details. Everywhere. We can’t stop our brains from detecting everything. When we’re vulnerable, tired, stressed, or anxious, or already overloaded, it’s hard to cope.

But sometimes, details can be delicious. When I’m relaxed, I revel in them. And sometimes, drawing my focus towards one particular detail or cluster of details keeps the rest of the clutter out of view.


[Image description: Cartoon Mama Pineapple, full colour, drawn in felt tip. A white female-presenting person with brown midlength hair clipped to one side. She is wearing a pink top, and has her hands clapped together an a lovestruck, dreamlike expression on her face. The words “Ooohhh! Deeeetails!” Are written above her, and coloured love hearts radiate outwards from the image.]

#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation Doodles ‘n’ Scribbles, no. 13: Being an Autistic Parent (PART 1)

A comic strip of four panels, laid out in portrait orientation, and drawn digitally in black and white. PANEL 1: IMAGE: A headshot of Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person with mid-length hair, sweating, shaking, and looking exasperated, with a tear running down her left cheek. TEXT: “Being an autistic parent can be really hard sometimes.” PANEL 2: IMAGE: Mama Pineapple with her hands over her ears, surrounded and overwhelmed by a whole range of loud noises including children’s voices, loud sudden sound effects, and the Danger Mouse TV series theme. TEXT: “The noise can be overwhelming...” PANEL 3: IMAGE: A messy floor covered in Duplo bricks, soft toys, books, drawings and half eaten biscuits. A child’s foot is just disappearing out of view to the right of the panel. A teddy bear is being flung into the scene. The bottom of a switched on TV screen is just in shot at the top right hand corner. TEXT: “...as can the visuals.” PANEL 4: IMAGE: Mama Pineapple looking unsure/worried, flicking the fingers of her right hand by the side of her face. TEXT: “Am I grown-up enough? I struggle to keep myself organised, let alone my small children.”

First attempt at a (sort of) comic. Part 2 (which takes a happier, more positive slant!) coming up tomorrow.


Text description:

A comic strip of four panels, laid out in portrait orientation, and drawn digitally in black and white.

PANEL 1:
IMAGE: A headshot of Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person with mid-length hair, sweating, shaking, and looking exasperated, with a tear running down her left cheek.
TEXT: “Being an autistic parent can be really hard sometimes.”

PANEL 2:
IMAGE: Mama Pineapple with her hands over her ears, surrounded and overwhelmed by a whole range of loud noises including children’s voices, loud sudden sound effects, and the Danger Mouse TV series theme.
TEXT: “The noise can be overwhelming…”

PANEL 3:
IMAGE: A messy floor covered in Duplo bricks, soft toys, books, drawings and half eaten biscuits. A child’s foot is just disappearing out of view to the right of the panel. A teddy bear is being flung into the scene. The bottom of a switched on TV screen is just in shot at the top right hand corner.
TEXT: “…as can the visuals.”

PANEL 4:
IMAGE: Mama Pineapple looking unsure/worried, flicking the fingers of her right hand by the side of her face.
TEXT: “Am I enough of a grown-up? I struggle to keep myself organised, let alone my small children.”