A couple of weeks ago I fainted at work. Well… I’m not really sure if the correct term is fainted or fell over or blacked out, but that’s tangential. The point is I hadn’t done anything like that for months. It was two years since my breakdown, and until I hit the floor I’d been feeling irrationally proud of the fact that I could almost pass for normal. I’m still not entirely sure what normal is, or why I feel it’s so important for me to “pass” for it. I just know I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care what people think.
I have dyspraxia on top of my Asperger’s Syndrome, meaning my fine and gross motor skills are very poor and I struggle to balance or stand still for long. For those of you who don’t know what motor skills are, they enable us to move around and perform simple actions. Fine motor skills are what we use when doing something like threading a needle, while gross motor skills are what we use when doing something like jumping up and down, or throwing a ball into a hoop. ‘Poor fine and gross motor skills’ is basically the scientific way of saying someone is extremely clumsy, so clumsy that the NHS recognises them as disabled.
So there I was… tired, stressed and acting extremely clumsy while I was at work. I could feel myself going dizzy, and had to keep moving about or clinging on to tables and chairs. I knew what was going to happen, and cursed myself for it under my breath. Why did I have to be so pathetic? Why couldn’t I just stand up? They’d never keep me on as staff if they saw me faint. They must think I’m such a fucking loser. The extra (and completely unnecessary) strain these bad thoughts were putting on me only made my dizziness worse, increasing my anxiety and sending me into a state of sensory overload. I felt my legs go out from under me and for a split second I couldn’t see anything.
Then my sight came back, I heard someone yelling and a concerned colleague reached forward to stroke my hair. This is the kind of gesture I would normally find soothing. But at that moment at was not appropriate. My sense of touch was heightened by the anxiety, but the faint had left my vision blurry so that I couldn’t see whose hands were digging into my hair. I honestly felt like someone was trying to kill me, and staggered away as best I could. Later I would explain to the colleague why her actions had made me feel worse. But I wasn’t angry and didn’t want her to feel bad. She was only trying to comfort me.
I was bundled into a chair and given a glass of water to sip. I could feel everyone staring at me, and the bad thoughts were triggering each other like dominoes. I was a loser. I was weak and pathetic. Why couldn’t I just be normal? I’m not proud of this, but when my boss came over I burst into tears, hiding my face with my hands and muttering ‘sorry sorry sorry’ from between the gaps in my fingers. My boss was very sympathetic towards me and I was sent home.
When this issue was bought up later, someone commented that I always seem to be apologising for things that are beyond my control. I have thought a great deal about this statement, and decided it’s correct. I always seem to be apologising for things that are beyond my control. And I’m done with saying sorry. Just think how much easier the fainting situation would have been if, instead of berating myself I had simply told the other staff I was ill, found a quiet corner and sat down until I felt better. I would have still been dizzy, but I could’ve avoided the anxiety and the sensory overload altogether. Plus, I’m pretty sure my boss would have had a higher opinion of my ability to cope with stress if I’d just asked to go home instead of apologising to her through tears.
I’ve decided to stop being too hard on myself, and let go of the things that are beyond my control. There’s just no need to say sorry. You wouldn’t expect an amputee to apologise for having no legs. Having no legs is unfortunate, but it’s nobody’s fault and the cost of care should be shared by the public. Just like the costs involved in my autism should be shared by the public. Yet I’m constantly told to keep quiet about my disability benefits because I’m not visibly handicapped in the same way as an amputee. With issues like autism, dyspraxia and mental illness most people don’t realise what is and isn’t beyond your control.
Nobody should ever have to say sorry because they are ill or disabled. Nobody should ever have to say sorry for something that is beyond their control, regardless of how well educated the public is. So now that I’ve decided I’m done with saying sorry (and with punishing myself), what’s the next step? How can I avoid being in a situation where I feel this compulsive urge to apologise for being different?
The first step is educating others. I intend to continue writing articles on autism awareness, and hope this will have a positive effect on someone, somewhere who is in a similar situation to me. I’m also going to partake in autism training sessions during the New Year. I understand the temptation to bypass the individual with autism and go straight to their parent or social worker when you have questions. But it’s so important to hear about these kind of issues from the horse’s mouth.
The second step in preventing this feeling that I need to apologise isn’t such a nice one. Basically… I intend to continue avoiding arseholes. This wasn’t so easy when I was still in the closet about my Asperger’s. People would seem normal when I seemed normal. Then as soon as I had a panic attack or an episode of sensory overload they’d say things like ‘you shouldn’t have this problem at your age’ or ‘this behaviour is unacceptable and unfair on us.’ People might have been more tolerant if they’d known I was disabled. Then again, they might not have been. By being honest about my autism from the start I can at least give people who aren’t tolerant of disability or difference the chance to avoid me before I need to start avoiding them.
The third step is the hardest, and the most important. I’m going to stop being so hard on myself. I’m going to stop trying to be perfect and allow myself to have rough days, sick days, and days when my autism is very obvious. I’m also going to let go of this idea that “normal” is a compliment, or something I should be striving towards. What is “normal”? I don’t know. Nobody knows. I just know I’m not it, and that’s perfectly fine.