Saturday, 30 March 2013

The times, they are a'changing

I'm the first person in my family to be diagnosed with Aspergers.  Largely, this is because I'm the first generation to be young in a world where Aspergers is a known condition, especially given one side of my family is from fairly isolated parts of the bush and the other from a country shaken badly by war.  But I also live in a world that is harder to navigate for an Aspie than the world my forebears lived in.  Sometimes I look back through the old letters, diaries and photo albums and they seem to have had their shit together so much more than I do, to have been so much more - for want of a better word - functional.  But then I realise, if they had to live in the world I do, they'd probably struggle just like I do.

For many, many generations, my people have been farmers and labourers.  We did hard, simple work and we did it well.  Many of us were outside the bell curve.  Family legend has it my great-something-grandmother was nonverbal at times, and would run and hide in her room with her books on the rare occasion company called.  That probably raised eyebrows, but nobody burned her to death.

That way of life is gone now.

Webb family having an outdoor tea party, Stafford, Brisbane, ca. 1918
This isn't my family.  We weren't fancy enough for a brick fireplace.  Also, half of us wouldn't be making eye contact.
Photo from the State Library of Queensland
Today's farmers are expected to be active on social media, go to conferences, participate in marketing and branding, and to engage their consumers.  You can't even get away from social media in space.  We've gone from a society where we could toil in simple silence, eyes to the earth, to one that values loudness, brightness, chutzpah and show.

Even if we'd known about Aspergers since the year dot, I still think my forebears would have appeared 'less Aspie' than I am.  The society I live in today shines a bright and piercing spotlight on my weaknesses in a way that theirs didn't.

As a kid, when I was under pressure, when I was being pushed to engage socially beyond my ability, when I was in sensory overload, when I was put in situations I just wasn't ready for, those were the times when I'd exhibit every Aspie behaviour in the book.  I'd shut down and mentally withdraw.  I'd giggle inappropriately.  I'd stim, I'd cry, I'd act out.  I'd have tummy aches and headaches.

All those things can be symptoms of Aspergers.

But maybe they're also symptoms of the way our society's changed.