A lot of people look at me and think that I’ve got things relatively together. I have a job I love, a husband who’s basically the greatest thing on two legs, and I’m in the process of buying a house. This is a bald-faced lie of a facade.
I’m a mess. Please don’t argue. I am. Last week I left my Hitachi Magic Wand out in full view while my mother was over and didn’t realize until a full day later. I own three onesies, all of which receive regular wear (sometimes outside the house). I added a tracker to my planner for showering, because otherwise I forget. For some reason I haven’t yet thrown away that pair of pajamas pants with a hole in the ass so large I might as well be wearing nothing (and every now and then I answer the door for the pizza guy still wearing them). I literally cannot feed myself on a semi-regular basis, and my husband has to cook something and put it in front of me to convince me to eat.
I’m a mess.
Reframe: I’m surviving. I would not be alive if I weren’t a mess.
Here’s the deal: I’m autistic. I’ve got a real-deal diagnosis and everything. But I’m “functional” (whatever that means), so it’s easy for the world to lump me into the category of “normal person who should be able to tolerate the smell of fish without falling into a full-fledged meltdown”. Walking through society demands certain entry fees: the ability to make eye contact. Small talk. Personal boundaries. These are the little graces that we’ve decided are requisite for socializing, and often for respect.
Some people may waive those fees by flashing the card marked “disabled”, but since I can pass every now and then, I am expected to live up to the currency of neuro-typical society. I’m supposed to understand how to keep up the job and relationship and friendships. I’m supposed to want it all just as much as any other person trying to attain those impossible standards, even if I don’t understand why I should want kids or a white picket fence.
Because people don’t place me in the box labeled autistic, they judge all those thousands of graceless moments every day. They judge everything from the very literal physical gracelessness (the worst scar on my body came from the time I ran into a couch. That’s a fun story) to the “I don’t understand what’s socially appropriate” emotional gracelessness (the rest of those scars came at my own hand and yeah, I’ll show you and tell you about them).
The truth is that expectations of how we must and should behave to be polite, well mannered, and graceful are ableist. It ignores the thousands of people who not only don’t want to live up to these expectations, but who cannot. For most people, allowing yourself a moment of gracelessness is a choice. It’s a relief from stress or an intentional honesty with yourself and with others.
For me, gracelessness just is.
It lives in my neurology, it lives in my less than stellar motor skills, it lives in my excited jumping/flapping/squeaking and special interests. I have no choice. To deny gracelessness is to deny who I am, and I am not interested in masking or pretending. To attempt grace is to ensure failure.
Grace is a concept that was created to mold people. It enforces social norms by saying you should feel shame if you can’t follow arbitrary rules, and do it without showing that it takes work. I have tried to live a life of grace, imagining that I could be one of those people who floats through the world with ease. Remember when I mentioned those scars? Yeah, I don’t care to try it again.
Is that too vague? Let’s be explicit, because my brain demands honesty, vulnerability, and straight talking. I can pretend to be normal, for a little while. I can try to go to bars, or meet new people in the normal ways (what are the normal ways?). I can make small talk. I can still my bouncing legs and quiet my loud voice, wear clothes that aren’t quite as bright or bold, shorten the excited gushing that happens when I talk about octopuses or Harry Potter.
But every second of those interactions is spent with my brain chattering like a yappy chihuahua— “are you sure you said the right thing? Wow that was really awkward. Why are you so weird? I want to leave this conversation but I have no idea how. Wait, don’t say that, you’ve been talking too much.” By the time I am done, I am exhausted, drained, and self hating. The emotional drop that happens afterwards is immediate and intense. It feels like someone scooped out my insides and my skin might cave in.
Managing those emotions is nigh on impossible. My brain turns on itself, convinced that suicide is actually probably a good plan, definitely a good plan, do it now. Too real? Yup, I told you I’m not good at small talk.
That is why being graceless is survival.
The requirements of grace fight every single one of my instincts. Sometimes my instincts look quite honestly insane. But they keep me healthy and happy, safe and alive. In some ways my body functions like a child: my senses are too big and overwhelming, and my brain doesn’t process them well. Emotions happen intensely and I can’t trace where they come from. So yeah, sometimes I treat myself like a child, with soft and cozy clothes, or a chewable necklace. But if looking childish is the price I pay to build walls against the demons in my brain? I’ll pay it a thousand times over. I will pay it and never look back, because that onesie is my goddamn armor, and I’m ready to fight for the right to be graceless.