Plagued by that devil voice

Also: I’ve spent a lot of my life in classrooms and the hallways of academia. I know the people on campus, and our contexts, intimately. I know, in general, what people are going to do or say in most situations. There’s an appealing predictability. Interacting with the folks at Blackford County Arts – a graphic designer, a nurse, a retired state senator, an attorney at law, and an administrator focused on fundraising – was a crapshoot. I would have to work out who they were, how they interacted with one another, what they thought about the world, what they thought about me, all from scratch.

This is simply too much for many of us on the spectrum. We do not have the neurotypical’s relational intuition to guide us. Instead we use intellect to hypothesize and test our ideas about people. We often listen for a very long time before speaking (this makes Midwesterners uncomfortable). We try to figure out what people want and sometimes imitate the general tone of things to fit in or “mask.” These emotional and mental efforts are exhausting and produce wild spikes of anxiety.

Top that off with the facts of renovation: someone’s running a power sander three feet away while another is thwacking at a wall with a pneumatic nail gun and a dump truck’s back-up beeper blasts in from the alleyway and the sweat from your brow drips into your eyes as you wipe at it with filthy hands…and you have arrived at the Autistic Crossroads – a sensory dilemma screwing with your good-faith efforts at building community.

Cue the guilt and shame that says, You aren’t made for this world. There’s no place for you here, and you are less-than for not being able to make this work. It’s your fault.

And if you view, as I do, making culture in your community as an act of your Christian faith; if you see the development of a safe, inspiring environment where all are welcome to cultivate the fruits of the spirit as expressed in the arts as an act of spiritual discipleship…well then the voice becomes more ominous: If you were a better Christian, you would do it. Take up your cross. You’re selfish. Lazy. Worthless. You’re not contributing. You’re not serving. Do you even love your neighbor?

Much of my life has been plagued by that devil voice, the declarations of internalized ableism – conflating standard neurotypical social behavior with Christian service. And feeling self-hatred because I often wasn’t up to it. 

From  “On the Spectrum: Autism, Faith, and the Gifts of Neurodiversity” by Daniel Bowman Jr.

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