How Do You Grow When You’re Managing Mental Illness?

Standard

I think I’m going through a quarter life crisis. In the last year I’ve gotten married and bought a house, and suddenly I have this future looming in front of me, one where I’m committed and responsible and adult, one where I can’t have teenage dreams of dropping everything and running away or images of myself doing anything, trying anything.

Sure even as a teen it’s not like I was spontaneous or carefree, but it’s odd to feel like I’ll never have the kind of hope that you have when you’re young, the possibility of a whole life, the vastness of it yawning in front of you.

When you’re young, you have the expectation of novelty. You know that there will be experiences you’ve never encountered before, that you’ll grow and change and mature, that you haven’t reached your final form as it were. And sometimes that’s scary, but more often than not you face it with the kind of confidence that only youth has, especially a youth that hasn’t failed.

But here I am at 27, and while I realize that isn’t old I feel so old. I feel like I have failed and failed and hurt and boxed myself in to a tiny existence of what I’m capable of with my mental health. I have spent the better part of 10 years becoming intimately acquainted with my shortcomings, with the things that I can’t do, with the ways that I fall apart when my support system isn’t what it needs to be. I have starved myself and hurt myself and contemplated killing myself, and I’m highly aware that preventing those things again is always my number 1 priority.

No one spends their youth dreaming that their first goal will always be to not kill themself.

I feel so limited by my brain these days. It’s not that I’m doing poorly. I’m happier than I’ve been for a lot of my life, I know myself better than I ever have, I know how to manage my mental health. And that’s what scares me. I know that what may be the best course of action for me is not changing, is holding on to these same patterns and routines that feel safe.

But I hate this feeling that this is all I’ll ever be. I feel like I’ve stopped growing and the next 50, 60, 70 years will just be stasis.

I know that I have to keep growing. More than that, I know that I have to take on new responsibilities, because adulthood doesn’t stop just because your brain is fucked.

I’m buying a house. There are a lot of things that are challenging for me when it comes to behaving like an adult, and this is one of them. I know that my abilities aren’t quite the same as other adults like me. Sometimes just getting up the energy to sweep the floor is more than I can handle (which means that more often than not my house has piles of cat fur in the corners, or that the kitchen table is covered in dirty dishes, or that my room is a mess of clothes and junk). But I’m reaching a time when I’m outgrowing the apartment life. I want space to make my own, I want space for my cats, I have hobbies that require rooms and equipment, I want freedom.

So how the fuck am I supposed to take on adult responsibilities (which to be honest aren’t even the growth that I’d like) and care for my mental health without overloading myself? What happens when I make mistakes?

Mental illness can make you cautious, afraid of setting yourself up for failure. You try not to push into too many new situations and ensure that you’ve always got support when you do. IT can feel a little bit childish, like you need someone hovering over you all the time, but really it’s more like learning to walk again: you stay close to a wall or railing in case your legs give out. But you want to walk. You want to grow. You want to see new things and expand your world. HOW?

This is where I’m stuck: I feel like I’m walking this delicate tightrope of continuing the self care that has worked for me while also trying desperately to keep myself from boredom and self hatred, to sate that urge to accomplish that has gotten me in so much trouble in the past.

It feels completely impossible. One inch too far towards self care and I grow frustrated and self hating because I’m accomplishing nothing, I’ve wasted my potential, I’m so far behind, I’m bored, I’m stagnating. One inch too far towards accomplishment adn competition, and my body falls into exhaustion, my anxiety ramps up to ten, I’m always worried about when I’ll have the time, I forget to see my friends and I miss a thousand important connections with my husband.

I can tell that I’ve been making mistakes lately. I’ve been pushing too hard and I see it reflected in my anxiety and my fatigue. I started therapy to start coping with it better (again), and I’ve been explicit in telling my friends “make me say no more often”, as well as telling myself that I can’t join any new things. That’s something. But I’m still struggling to find the balance, because I spent threeish years not quite feeling like I was really growing, always looking out for what could be hurting me or pushing me too hard, and in some cases feeling like I was taking advantage of my diagnoses just to be lazy.

That feels awful.

I wonder if I’ll spend the rest of my life like this, tracking symptoms, falling asleep for 12 hours at a time for no apparent reason, pushing and pulling and starting and stopping, circling around balance and never reaching it.

Probably.

And I’ll probably never feel the freedom of thinking I could live thoughtlessly and easily again.

How The Good Place Does Mental Illness Representation Right

Standard

It’s rare that a mainstream sitcom has a character dealing with mental illness that doesn’t irritate the living hell out of me. It’s also rare that any media ever represents philosophy without irritating the living hell out of me, but The Good Place is magic and it does both of these things. Since I’m so often pointing out ways that media fails people with mental illnesses, I thought that for today’s post I’d focus on how The Good Place has done mental illness right and what other shows can learn from it.

Note: I will be spoiling up through Season 2, Episode 11.

The main person that I want to focus on in The Good Place is Chidi, however there are a few other individuals who can be read with a mental illness or neurodivergent lens and I’d like to address them at the end.

Chidi is not introduced as a mentally ill character. He is actually introduced as someone we could reasonably assume is supposed to be in The Good Place. He’s relatively in control, he’s quite intelligent, he’s a good person. We fall the fuck in love with him. He’s supposed to be our main character’s soulmate, and we view him as too good for her.

I highly appreciate this because when you first meet someone with mental illness you don’t know that they’re mentally ill. Typically we mask. We don’t disclose until we trust other people or until we have to. I love that just as in real life, we get to know Chidi just as a person, not as the token anxious person, but as a person like any other.

Only over time do we notice this anxiety that he’s holding in all the time, that he’s constantly worried and fearful, that he can’t make decisions. We start to become irritated with him, why does he behave this way, why is he so frustrating? Because we haven’t been told what it’s like inside for him, we judge (although of course Chidi is charming and kind, so we don’t judge too harshly).

But then we start to see the ways that anxiety can hurt people, the downsides of Chidi’s anxiety. We see the episode where he hurts his friend over a pair of boots, and how he can’t be counted on to be the best man at his friend’s wedding because the anxiety is overwhelming and the pressure gets to him. We see how his anxiety damages him and others, even as he’s trying so hard to be a good person.

This is one of the most realistic ways that I have ever seen anxiety portrayed. Your understanding of it and of the person who has it grows over time, and sometimes you see the positive elements and sometimes you see the negative elements. Sometimes you feel like you understand, or like they’re just like anyone else, and other times you wonder what the hell they’re doing.

But through it all, The Good Place also shows the way anxiety makes chidi thoughtful and exacting, the way he works so hard, and how he can be an amazing friend, mentor, and teacher when he learns to manage the anxiety.

And then after two season of SHOWING us Chidi, and letting us get to know him the way you would an actual human, only THEN does he open up and tell us with amazing vulnerability what it feels like for him. Because when we’re mentally ill we don’t just spill it everywhere to everyone, we wait until it’s impacted something and we feel like we need to explain and backtrack. And he does it so perfectly.

In Season 2, Episode 10, when Eleanor reveals her feelings about him, Chidi explains that his brain is the sound that a fork makes when it gets stuck in the food disposal. His brain is constantly hitting that grinding moment that is irritating and overwhelming and doesn’t go anywhere. Because we know Chidi and care about him, we’re open to hearing this explanation, and it snaps so many things into place.

I’m so glad that with the latest episode Chidi was judged on his anxiety again, and found wanting, because as an audience member I got so angry. I was on Chidi’s side because I knew who he was, and how he was still a good person despite the times anxiety got the better of him. I wanted the judge to understand him and be on his side the way I was. THAT feeling is how I know The Good Place got it right, because I love Chidi with his full history as someone who deals with anxiety. I want to hold him responsible for when it screws things up, but I get that it’s part of him and even a lovable part. I understand that when he cares too much it’s not always a bad thing. It feels so good to see someone like me on screen.

 

Coming Out Disabled Part 3

Standard

I promise that some day I will write something shorter than a 3 part series, but today is not that day. Instead, today I am going to finish out my series on coming out disabled, with some final bits and pieces you may want to consider when coming out.

The first of these is that when you come out you are in some ways taking on the task of educating people. Note that I don’t say you have the responsibility or you’re agreeing to. You shouldn’t HAVE to. BUt unfortunately if you want people to understand what you’re saying and respect your accommodations, it’s highly likely that you’ll end up doing a lot of education.

So one thing you want to consider when you’re going to bring your family and friends along into the world of disability with you is how much you trust them to educate themselves, how much energy you have to educate them, and what all they need to know. In some cases this can actually be a really cool process; if your loved one is interested, open, and curious, they’ll probably do some research themselves, but ask you about your experiences. Being able to talk openly about your disability can feel relieving and validating. Even though it does take spoons and time to explain stuff, it can also feel like growing closer.

On the other hand, if your loved one isn’t super invested in the process it can be total shit. It’s exhausting when you’re always the one who has to bring up your needs, and since we’re trained to feel like setting boundaries is asking for extra special treatment, you can feel needy or whiny. You’re not. It can feel like an impossible choice to decide whether you want to keep a diagnosis to yourself and try to navigate your needs alone, or disclose and spend time educating and convincing people that you deserve respect and validation. I hear you. It sucks.

What I will say is that in one of those situations you’re not ever likely to get support. In the other, it’s possible people will learn and grow along the way. If you’re uncertain about how family or friends will react, I strongly recommend talking it out with a therapist or someone else you trust, particularly someone who has experience with the people you’re not sure about.

It’s also possible that you have just received a diagnosis, and you’re learning along with your family. In my opinion, it’s great to be upfront when that’s the case, and ask for help in finding resources and services. Sometimes it can be easier to learn about the diagnosis together with your support system, if only because other people prefer to be helpful rather than be educated.

The final concern that I want to bring up here is the possibility that someone else might out you. That sucks. Never talk about someone else’s disability unless you’re certain they are open. But sometimes it happens. I once had an executive director mention that I was autistic to our entire leadership team without asking me. What do you do?

This only becomes a problem if you find out about it, but when you do you have a few options. You can decide to be open and out, answer questions, and live that outness. That’s what I decided to do, because I had no problem being out at work it just hadn’t seemed like the right time yet.

If that’s not an option, you can set a hard boundary: “Yes, I am autistic, but I would prefer not to talk about it. I’d also appreciate it if you don’t treat me any differently because of it.” This won’t necessarily stop people from wondering, or changing the way they act around you, but it might help. You may also want to mention to the person who outs you that you’d prefer they let you decide when to disclose. Honestly if it were me, I might even say that immediately after they out me, because I would prefer for those in hearing distance to understand that it was inappropriate, and it’s not something to be shared further.

Do you have any further questions about coming out about your disability? What was the hardest part for you? What did you learn?

Coming Out Disabled Part 2

Standard

Welcome to part 2 of the Coming Out Disabled series! In part 1 we talked about who you might want to come out to, the pros and cons of coming out, and why you’d decide to do it. Here in part 2 we’re going to get practical: what should you actually say to someone when you come out as disabled? What are some scripts? And how do you manage when it doesn’t go the way you planned?

Formal Disclosures

Let’s start with the relatively simple; formally disclosing. This is disclosing at work, school, or another environment where you are legally protected and want to ask for accommodations.

“Employers are compelled under the ADA to make reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities. An accommodation is a modification or adjustment that allows the individual to participate in the interviewing process or to perform the essential functions of his or her job. Examples of reasonable accommodations include providing written instructions, allowing the use of headphones to block office noise, a modified training program, flexible scheduling, etc.”-from Workplace Disclosure

In these circumstances it’s best to stay short and to the point. As we mentioned in the last post you may want to preemptively disclose if you feel that the environment is right. In that case you might say something like “I have autism. In particular I struggle with executive function, verbal instructions, and task prioritization. I don’t need accommodations right now, but I may in the future and would like it on record.”

More common however, is that you need an accommodation and you’re asking for something specific. In those cases it can be very beneficial to plan your actions ahead of time. Brainstorm (alone, with a therapist, with a trusted friend or family member) what accommodation may help you the most. Take the time to decide who you will disclose to: do you have an HR department? Do you feel comfortable disclosing to your direct supervisor? Is your direct supervisor the one who is causing problems, so you need to go to their supervisor?

Choose the person who is a. most effective at getting you the accommodation and b. that you feel comfortable speaking with. You can disclose in person or through email, whatever feels the most comfortable to you. Eventually you will probably want to get any formal accommodations in writing.

The script will probably go something like this “I have autism and because of that I have some difficulty with sensory processing. That means that the noise in the office is incredibly distracting and sometimes painful to me. I’d like to bring noise cancelling headphones as an accommodation.” You may want to provide some kind of brief information about the concern you’re bringing up to help educate your supervisor/teacher/etc.

Remember that accommodations have to be reasonable, so there is the possibility that you may not receive every accommodation you ask for, or your employer/school may suggest an alternative. However if you feel they’re ignoring the ADA you do have options, which we’ll address in part 3.

Personal Disclosures

There is no single script for disclosing to family, friends, and other close people. That’s because when you come out to your family and friends, you’re not just telling them one piece of information. You’re educating them about your entire diagnosis.

Coming out to your family is likely to be a much longer process of education and renegotiation about what you’re capable of and what supports you need. This is where the metaphor of “coming out” is particularly apt: within the queer community, people talk about the fact that you’re never done coming out. You have to keep deciding with each new person how much information to share.

That is also true with disabilities, but there’s an added layer for disabilities: for each new difficulty, need, and support you have to decide how much you want to share. For example you might tell your parents that you’re autistic, and explain that this is why you have struggled with friendships, with an intense fascination for rules, with falling too deeply into certain interests. They accept it.

A couple months later you realize that one of your struggles is with plans that change unexpectedly. Do you tell your parents and ask them to give you advance notice when things might change? What about a couple months later when you realize talking on the phone gives you anxiety and you’d prefer they text?

We’re told that having these kinds of preferences is picky and demanding, so it can become harder and harder to be open and honest the more accommodations you have to ask for. Part of coming out is the self care and self awareness to remind yourself that even if other people don’t accept your requests, they are still valid. You can set boundaries, and you deserve to have those boundaries respected.

My friend Jillian summed it up nicely:

“People are often afraid to disclose cause people might judge them, but I try to remember that the people that would judge me for disclosing are going to be the same ones that will judge me if I don’t disclose and happen to be autistic in a situation. Those aren’t the people I want in my life, or the places I want to be.”

Ok But Really What Do I Say?

Alright, fine, I’ll give you some scripts. To start out with, it can be nice to disclose to someone close to you when you’re not asking for anything. You might say something like:

“Hey mom/dad/friend/partner: I wanted to let you know something pretty important. I recently received an autism diagnosis/am autistic. There’s a whole lot of information about autism out there, but I want to give you an idea of what it means for me.

My biggest concerns are (fill in: sensory issues, executive dysfunction, eye contact etc. with a brief explanation of any technical terms and one or two concrete examples). If you’re interested, I can definitely tell you more about it, or give you some examples of how it affects my relationship with you. It might mean that I’ll ask to do things a little bit differently in the future and it would mean a lot if you can be supportive.”

They may have questions. Feel free to share as much or as little as you feel comfortable, and where you don’t feel comfortable just say “That’s a little personal. I might share it later, but right now let’s talk about (fill in other subject they seem curious about)”. They may disbelieve you or question the diagnosis. You don’t have to prove the validity of your diagnosis. Just stick to the story. “I am autistic. I don’t care if you believe it or not but I need you to respect that identity and respect my needs.”

Once you’ve established the diagnosis you may want to ask for specific accommodations. That can be pretty similar to a formal disclosure: “Hey mom: talking on the phone makes me incredibly anxious because of my autism. Can you text instead?” If you’re running in to pushback on these types of things, there are some amazing resources on setting boundaries out there. You deserve to have your diagnosis taken seriously and respected, and that should be a boundary that you set with those closest to you. You also deserve to have your accommodations respected, and you get to set the boundary that if those accommodations aren’t met (or at least if folks aren’t attempting to meet them) you will no longer be around them.

This is where disclosure gets hard. Because you may have to repeat yourself. A lot of times. Your family and friends may think they “get” it, but still forget, or still not fully believe it, or still question it somewhere in their brain. Disclosure is repetition. “No, I still cannot cook because the executive function of it makes me anxious. Yes, I know it’s been 5 years since I’ve had an eating disorder, this isn’t about that.”

Disclosure is also specificity. It’s about helping the person you love to understand presume competence, believe disclosure. What does that mean? It means explaining that while I can’t cook that meal, I’m perfectly capable of baking a cake from scratch because those are totally different. It’s explaining splinter skills: yes, I can do advanced calculus but no I can’t balance my budget. It’s constantly reiterating which places you need help and what that help looks like, while reminding that you’re not fragile, weak, or incompetent.

At its heart, disclosing to family and friends is agreeing to educate them, and educate them thoroughly on what your disability is and means to you. And that is your peek into the next installment in this series, which is other considerations when it comes to disclosing.

Coming Out Disabled Part 1

Standard

Content note: in this post I am going to refer to the process of telling someone about your disability as “coming out”. I recognize that this language refers to the LGBT community and here I am using it metaphorically to point at a similar experience to increase understanding. I also recognize that there are problems with referring to all experiences of opening up about your identity as “coming out”, however the common understanding of the language means it’s a very useful move. I’m 100% open to criticisms and would love to hear your thoughts.

This will be a multi part post due to the many factors and ways of “coming out”.

A couple of years ago, I sent my mother an email. We weren’t at a great place at the time, so it was short and sweet: “I wanted to let you know that I’ve been diagnosed with autism. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I thought it was important for you to know. If you have any questions I’m happy to answer them.”

This is not how you should tell your family important information about yourself.

When you receive a diagnosis like autism, or another disability it’s hard to know when to tell people, how much to tell them, what words you should use. Do they even need to know at all? This is your comprehensive guide to coming out disabled.

In this first post, we’re going to talk about who and when to tell, and talk about some of the pros and cons of coming out.

Who Should I Tell and When Should I Tell Them?

For the most part this is going to be a guide to disclosing an invisible disability because when you are visibly disabled you don’t get to choose when to have these conversations. However you can use these same kinds of guidelines to decide how much to disclose and when to have conversations about accommodations.

There are a few different types of people you may want to disclose to: friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances, teachers, landlords, and romantic partners (who could fit into some of these other categories but if you’re dating you might want to consider some specific things).

The one group of people I suggest you disclose to immediately are your medical professionals because they need to know what’s up with you.

Your Goals

When it comes to everyone else here’s what I would consider: what do you hope to get by disclosing? If you’re looking at a work, housing, or school setting, disclosure typically happens when you’re looking for accommodations. If you’re really struggling and need help, I would push more strongly to disclose. For family, friends, and acquaintances, one motivation to disclose is often to ask for additional help and support, but sometimes it’s also simply because you want validation and understanding, or because you want others to understand why you behave the way you do.

You may also want to “come out” for reasons similar to LGBT folks: it’s an important part of your identity and you don’t want to feel like you’re hiding or unable to talk about the things that affect your life and those around you.

Finally, it is possible that you want to increase awareness by disclosing. This is a pretty different goal from the others, and if that’s your goal, then it seems that there are fewer barriers to you disclosing as you’re willing to put in the time and effort to educate and fight stigma. We’ll get into that a bit in the next post.

Reaching Goals

Once you have identified what you hope to get by disclosing it’s important to consider whether you think disclosing will actually allow you to reach those goals.

Let’s start with work, housing, and school. Has the institution demonstrated that they’re willing to make accommodations? Is there a policy in place? Do you often hear supervisors or professors making ableist comments, or do they show some understanding of disability? These are the kinds of questions to ask yourself. The less that an institution has demonstrated that they’re willing to make accommodations, the more likely you will have to put in a lot of time and energy to reach the goals you had in disclosing. You may still wish to disclose, but you’ll want to plan ahead for a potential fight and gather resources first (ADA citations, potentially even a lawyer).

On the other hand, if you’ve got an institution that is vocal and open about providing accommodations, you may want to disclose your diagnosis preemptively. Especially in the workplace it can be good to let HR know ahead of time that you have a diagnosis so that if and when you ask for accommodations it’s already on file.

While disclosing at work and school can be challenging, it seems to be a fairly simple calculus to me: will I receive the accommodations I want from this? Even if the accommodations aren’t formal, it may be giving your boss a heads up so that they understand your needs as an employee.

Where things get a lot more complicated is with family, friends, romantic partners, and acquaintances. In many cases, you aren’t thinking in the same “I want to achieve this goal” way, but you wouldn’t be disclosing if you didn’t think it would improve things in some way. So think a bit about what reaction you would like from the person you’re disclosing to. Do you simply want them to know more about you? Do you want them to be a support person, and if so do you have ideas or examples of how they could help? Would you like them to be someone you can vent to? Or do you want them to be more understanding of behavior that is motivated or caused by your disability?

You can then evaluate how likely it is that you’ll be able to reach each of those goals. In some cases you might know that a friend is unlikely to be sympathetic. They may have a pattern of dismissing disabilities, or maybe they’ve been very unsympathetic when you’ve asked them to change behavior in your past. You can use these kinds of questions to determine if disclosing is likely to improve your relationship with someone or hurt it. I tend to think that if you’re close enough to someone that your disability is going to affect your relationship with them, it’s good manners to let them know about it. If you feel comfortable before that, or if you have a good gut feeling about someone, go for it! Some people think there’s such a thing as disclosing too early but I’m not one of them.

On that note, let’s talk about dating.

Romantic Relationships

Most people agree that if you want to date someone in a serious fashion there is a point at which you should disclose if you’re disabled. We’ll get into the how next week, but for now let’s talk when. Honestly there is no formula. I disclosed to all potential partners before we even went on a date, but it’s true that this might scare some people away (I personally think if they can’t handle me word vomiting about my depression I don’t want to date them). However most people think somewhere between date 3 and getting exclusive/serious. Your mileage may vary.

I would suggest that if you’re at a point where you’re calling each other “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” or a similar word, and they don’t know about something that affects most parts of your life, you may have waited too long. What’s good is that this is something you can always fix! You can disclose any time! Even if it means having a conversation about why you didn’t come out earlier, it’s better than keeping it hidden forever.

Why Wouldn’t I Want to Disclose?

So why am I writing this post if all these rules are so clear (ha)? Well because there are many things that can influence people NOT to come out. If you feel an impulse not to disclose because you feel uncomfortable, that is entirely valid, and no one has a responsibility to come out. However it can be helpful to consider what is actually motivating that discomfort and whether it’s reasonable or not.

Here are a few reasons that people choose not to disclose:

You are concerned that the person you disclose to will judge you, treat you differently, or misunderstand the diagnosis. This feels really awful, especially if they invalidate it, say it’s fake or you don’t have it, or belittle you in any other way. It is possible that this can happen and if you suspect someone might do this to you if you disclose PROTECT YOURSELF. No one deserves that shit.

However it’s also possible that you’re concerned that disclosure will be a long and difficult process. This is honestly true more often than not. When you come out, it’s not enough to just say “I’m autistic”. More often than not it means educating someone about what the diagnosis is, what it means for you, how they can help, and opening a channel for communication going forward. It’s something you keep doing over time, and can end up being a lot of work. It’s 100% valid if you don’t feel you have the spoons to educate someone at any given time, however I will say that some work on the upfront can save spoons in the future, so if you have a hunch that someone just needs to learn in order to be more helpful/understanding/supportive, it might be a good idea to brainstorm when you’ll have the energy to disclose and talk to them.

It’s surprising how often people are more willing to be understanding when they understand why you’re doing something.

Finally, some people are just private. That’s ok. You don’t have to share personal information about yourself unless you want to. However I would encourage you to remember that sharing the information can be very helpful and also decrease stigma.

Why Would I Want to Disclose?

With all that it seems like there might not be reasons to disclose. We have discussed some already, like gaining accommodations and support, but there are two that I want to focus on here.

First, every time you come out, you make it easier for the next person. Every time you educate, you increase the likelihood that another person with your diagnosis will be met with empathy and understanding rather than judgment. You aren’t required to take on this work, but it’s good, fulfilling, important work if you choose to do it.

Additionally, it can be incredibly important to disclose because it makes your life easier. Sometimes it’s not right away, and sometimes it’s not even about getting more support. Sometimes it’s as simple as being able to say out loud “I’m autistic” with ease and comfort. It’s about being yourself and cutting down on the amount of time that you have to mask and hide. Forcing yourself to act in unnatural ways takes a major toll on anyone. Being open about what you’re going through and who you are, behaving in the ways that are natural to you, and feeling comfortable to let down your guard does wonders for mood and ability to take on bigger challenges.

Coming out gives you space to relax. When people are supportive of your coming out, it’s incredibly validating. The gay community has talked before about how damaging it is to someone’s identity to live in the closet. Hiding your identity hurts no matter what kind of identity it is, and all of us deserve to be seen and recognized for ourselves.

Finally, and in my opinion best, is the fact that coming out can help you find other people who are like you. By talking about my diagnosis I have made some of the best friends in my life, people who understand and who are also autistic. It takes vulnerability, but claiming the label helps you find your people.

Look forward to some scripts and ideas for how to actually come out in part 2!

Too Much Star Wars to Fit In One Place

Standard

So it turns out that I have too much Star Wars love to be able to fit it in one post, which is why this post exists. Once again, spoilers ahoy!

So without further ado, let’s pick up where we left off and continue talking about the things I absolutely love about this movie.

Trololololollling

Perhaps my favorite ongoing trope in the Star Wars universe is that the older a Jedi gets, the older and more trollish he becomes.Yoda is the biggest troll of all time (do you remember the scene where he keeps stealing things from Luke’s camp and whacking R2D2 with a stick?). Now Luke has taken up this mantle, and it’s truly glorious.

Be weird. Why use force when you can confuse the hell out of people and let them ruin their own plans? This is the way of the Jedi.

From messing with Rey and quaffing the nastiest, greatest, weirdest milk in the galaxy, to playing the ultimate prank on Kylo by refusing to actually engage with him (that “see ya around kid” before he disappears is so quality), Luke is taking nothing seriously. HE CALLS A LIGHTSABER A LASER SWORD. He wants to poop on everything you love.

The best part of this is that a. he is the one who ends up saving everyone, and becomes a part of the force, something that only Obi Wan and Yoda have done before, placing him among the wisest and most venerated of the Jedi, and b. that the whole movie is just as much of a troll to fanboys or really anyone’s expectations.

Take for example this delightfully titled article, A List of Some of the Times The Last Jedi told the older Star Wars movies to Eat Shit.┬áThe places where The Last Jedi echoes the original trilogy are so intentional because they are so delightfully subversive. Who are Rey’s parents? We find out in a big reveal from someone from the dark side who is trying to win her over (just like we learn Luke’s parentage). The difference? Rey’s a nobody.

The best part of this is that the literal themes that the film is grappling with are about various people learning from past mistakes, whether that’s Kylo, Luke, or Leia. The movie in its set ups tells us “don’t rely on the past. This time is going to be different” even as it informs its characters the same thing within the narrative.

My favorite take on this is James Croft over at Temple of the Future, and his point that in destroying the past, many of the characters (and in fact the movie itself) are “Killing the Buddha” or showing respect by changing, growing,, and learning.

But perhaps the best part of this is that set against the scenes of Rey convincing Luke that things are different and we can change are scenes of Poe messing up because he does not know the past in the way Leia and Holdo do. There aren’t simple answers in this movie. Instead there are a variety of characters interacting with a theme: what is our relationship to the past. One character may find that the answer is “the past doesn’t constrain us.” Another finds that “when we learn from the past, we do better.”

Fate? Fuck That.

The original trilogy was pretty into the idea of destiny. The prequels even introduced a fucking prophecy. The Last Jedi does not seem to give a fuck about fate or predestination. It has characters that are intentional. In the original trilogy, half of the places that the characters go are by accident. The Last Jedi has nothing happen on accident.

These are people who are looking at the world around them and choosing what they can do to improve it. I find that highly refreshing, especially as it’s also showing us why they want things to be better. As I mentioned in the prior post, it shows us more of the common people, the complexities of living under this regime, each character learning about those situations, and deciding to make a change.

Other Highlights

Holdo’s hair is perfection.

The female friendships are my everything, especially Leia and Holdo.

The light speed attack is possibly the most visually and cinematically beautiful thing I have ever seen in a movie.

Every character touches on the same themes at some point in this movie, and each of them reacts in a different way. It’s so interesting and refreshing to see a wide cast of characters from different backgrounds grapple with important human questions and come away with different answers.

I love that the rebellion truly appears to be in dire straits this time.This is the first time I’ve actually felt concerned that they wouldn’t make it, that the form and goals of the rebellion might have to change.

I love the “he said he said” nature of the crucial scene in Kylo Ren’s turn to the dark side. Did Luke intend to kill Ben? Who knows. What we know is that reacting with violence will turn others away, and that no matter your intentions, mistakes have consequences.

If you haven’t yet, you need to go check out Emo Kylo Ren on Twitter.

 

Watch Out It’s an Obligatory Star Wars Post!

Standard

Here there be spoilers. Ahoy! Also I’m so sorry for how long this is, but I love this movie.

I have never been a major Star Wars fan. I’ve always liked the movies, and they were a part of my childhood, and I enjoy the extended universe. But after The Last Jedi? I AM A STAR WARS FAN.

Now I in no way think that The Last Jedi is a perfect movie. It makes some serious missteps that have been deconstructed in a lot of places (I so wish the Canto Bight scenes were done well because I have an immediate love for Rose and I adore the idea of actually paying attention to normal people in the Star Wars universe). But what The Last Jedi did for the Star Wars universe is immensely important to me: it took a story that resonated with people, that had built a world that drew people in, and added complexity, thematic resonance, and deep characterization. I think it’s a great movie.

The themes, use of character foils, callbacks to and subversions of the original trilogy, and use of imagery in this movie made it into something bigger than any of the previous movies could have hoped to be.

This piece will probably not explore anything that hasn’t already been said, because this movie has inspired a million think pieces. But I’m in love with Star Wars: The Last Jedi and I want to tell you why.

The Boys Learn Nothing and the Girls Take Over

Ok this is an oversimplification, but in my mind The Last Jedi is told in two parallel stories; there’s Rey and Kylo, and their interactions with their “masters”. In both of these instances, the young take control of the narrative. They see the problems with the past, and they make their own changes. They learn from the problems that their masters faced, and they do things differently.

In contrast, Poe spends most of the movie in conflict with Leia and Holdo, repeatedly failing to learn from their wisdom and age.

There are a few things I love about this.

One, it shows women doing a shit load of emotional labor and how much work it is. Poe commits serious fucking treason not once, but TWICE in this movie, and Leia and Holdo don’t fucking execute him (in contrast to Kylo and Snoke murdering everyone everywhere), instead they teach him. Luke is an old man who hasn’t processed his mistakes and trauma, instead running away from his emotions. Kylo is a young man who is doing the same thing (although he’s trying to murder his emotions). Rey spends the whole movie emotionally tending to these men, and when they don’t give her what she wants in return she says fuck it and peaces out. It shows both what happens when someone responds to emotional labor, and what you should do when they don’t.

But the other thing that I fuuuucking love about this is that we have quite a few instances of people responding to trauma, pain, and general life. We have Han, who pretended to stay exactly the same (in Force Awakens). We have Luke, who ran the fuck away. We have Snoke, who is essentially trying to recreate the past. And then we have Leia and Holdo. The reason that their storyline is about listening to authority is because these two have earned their authority and wisdom.

There’s this delicious tension between Rey and Kylo’s insistence on letting the past die, moving forward, finding a new way (which is generally seen as positive), and Poe’s repeated fuck ups in the face of older authorities (which are portrayed as self aggrandizing and pointless). What are you trying to say movie? Should we listen to the oldsters or find our own way?

But it all comes together when you recognize that each of the older characters is unique, and they each represent a different relationship with failure. We MUST learn from our failures, and if the past generation hasn’t done that, then the new generation needs to learn how on their own. But the best thing the elders can teach us is what they’ve learned from hard experience, over and over again.

I know it’s a little thing, but the fact that it’s women who teach us these lessons is important. It’s not just important because of representation. It’s important because these are emotional lessons. These are stories about how the only way to win a revolution is by processing trauma, and if that’s not a fucking relevant lesson I don’t know what is. It’s the most realistic that women are the ones teaching the lessons, because women have a fucking monopoly on emotional labor right now (please, take some from us). It is so meaningful to me that it is portrayed as important, transformative, and work.

The boys on the other hand, learn nothing on their own. The girls have to take the lead. I know it’s simplistic, but I love it.

Big thanks to Kayti Burk at Den of Geeks for articulating a lot of this.

Reylo is My Everything

This sexual chemistry. Ho. Lee. Shit.

So this whole subplot was basically written to get me going, because “emo boy whose parent figure is abusive and wants to be understood” plus “girl who thinks she sees something special and will save him” is basically all of my high school…and college…and every relationship I’ve been in except my husband. So yes, I am primed and ready to love the shit out of this.

But it’s done so well. Kylo comes across as a child throughout this whole movie, and while that’s part of what is so absolutely annoying about him, it also awakens a part of me that just wants to hug him and tell him it’s going to be ok. The parallels in how Kylo and Rey are both searching desperately for their role make them fit together so nicely, and giving them a secret world through the Force just heightens the “it’s us against everyone” feeling of it. And BOY HOWDY does it up the stakes of physical contact between the two of them. I think I’ve orgasmed from less sexual tension than the moment they touch hands.

All the tiny touches that push them together are wonderful. The way Rey starts calling him Ben once she hears his side of the story. The way Snoke effortlessly tells Kylo that he’ll never be good enough, leaving both of them feeling like nobodies. The way Rey’s experience in the dark place on Ahch-To looks like it’s not tempting her…but in a way it is, because it’s driving her closer to Ben by making her feel more alone. The way each of them has such a complicated relationship with family and wants to build their own.

Really it only would have been better if during the “join me” scene Kylo had taken his shirt off and been like “seriously, you know you want it.”

Of course I also love how the moment he starts to neg her, she dumps his fucking ass. I’ll spend forever wanting them to be together and knowing they shouldn’t be, and thanks Star Wars for giving me those feelings.

Rose Tico, Successful Themes, Poor Execution

Some people may not be into this, but I am so down for the idea of Star Wars being about all the people who get fucked over by the politicians. We’ve spent seven movies fighting a regime and we have no idea how most people live under that regime.

That’s why Rose is necessary.

I want to like Rose. I want to so much. I don’t think Rose was handled very well. Rose was meant to show us what we were fighting for rather than what we were fighting against. Unfortunately, she was written to actually literally say this out loud, give rather boring exposition about her backstory kind of randomly, and was given a side quest that didn’t end up having any impact whatsoever on the film (except for the part where Poe borks everything up).

In a movie that’s about creating your own place in the galaxy, about big, important roles becoming available to anyone and everyone (from rando Rey to mechanic Rose), she could have been a perfect way for the audience to see themselves in the film. She does some amazing things, like tazing her hero approximately 30 seconds after being so gaga she can barely talk because she knows her duty. She doesn’t hesitate a second when offered the chance to go on a suicide mission to save the fleet. She’s smart enough to figure out how to dismantle the tracking. She started off strong as someone who has been impacted by the fight through her loss of her sister, but that gets lost quickly as she turns into an abstract point.

I wish she had been written better. She could have been great.

With that I’m going to split this into two parts because it’s become apparent that I have a horrible problem and could literally write a novel about the themes in this movie. Second half should be up soon!