Too Much Star Wars to Fit In One Place

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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. The 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!

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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!

You Should See a Therapist: How To Suggest Help Without Being a Douche

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I think everyone in the world should visit a therapist at some point in their life. Therapists are fucking great. Whether you have a mental illness or not, you’ll experience some challenges in your life that require a bit of a mental health tune up, and a therapist can give you the tools to get through them.

So I spend a lot of time telling people they should try therapy.

There are a lot of really bad ways to do this. It’s easy to sound like you don’t want to deal with someone’s problems, to brush them off as “crazy”, to come across as uncomfortable with their behavior. Just saying “why don’t you see a therapist” can bring up a lot of negative reactions due to the stigma against therapy and mental illness, the fear of the unknown, and even just the common place desire to not change or be wrong.

There are significantly fewer very effective ways to recommend therapy to a friend, loved one, or family member. Since I’ve had a lot of practice, I thought I’d share some of my more effective methods.

Normalize Therapy

This is something that I try to do with everyone I know, because it helps fight the stigma against mental illness, and makes it easier for other people to talk about therapy. Also when you’ve been in as much therapy as I have, it’s hard to talk about your life and avoid it. I make a regular practice of mentioning therapy or my therapist around others. Where in the past I might have said “I have an appointment” I am intentional about saying “I’m seeing my therapist”. This makes it easier for you to approach someone in the future because a. they know you know what you’re talking about and b. therapy seems like a normal thing that other people do rather than a punishment, evidence of being sick, or shameful secret.

Change the Way You Talk About Therapy

Many of us who talk about therapy only seem to mention it when there’s a problem. This makes sense. We don’t really talk much about going to doctors when we’re not sick. But we also all know that we’re supposed to go to the doctor for check ups, vaccines, and routine care, even when we’re perfectly healthy. Therapy is the same way. Mental health isn’t something that just sorts itself out. We all need the preventative measures (skills, self understanding, etc.) that can help us stay healthy.

In fact, sometimes you need to see a therapist when there’s nothing wrong with you but life is particularly difficult. It’s important for those of us who talk about therapy to mention all of the different reasons and ways that someone might go to therapy, so that it’s not simply relegated to “mentally ill people do that.” Everyone can and should see a therapist when their coping skills aren’t up to par.

In fact, the extent to which we see therapy in a negative light even extends to how we talk about our therapists. How often do you hear someone say “I love my therapist”? How often do you hear someone talk about what a good relationship with a therapist actually feels? Almost never. I have news. It’s fucking amazing. I have never had a relationship like the one I had with my best therapist. It’s complete trust and vulnerability, knowing that they will validate, help, and challenge in equal measures. Knowing that there are no expectations and no requirements of you, that this is the one relationship where you are allowed to be entirely selfish.

Let’s talk about the good parts of therapy, the moments we have a breakthrough, the times we feel that wonderful rapport with the therapist. Let’s make good therapy moments a normal part of our conversation about mental health. It makes the whole process seem more worth it and less scary to those who might be interested in trying it for the first time.

Seeing a Therapist Doesn’t Say Anything About Your Character

A lot of people think that therapy is for sick or crazy people. I don’t really like describing mentally ill folks in those terms, but that’s how some people think of it. All of the above suggestions are ways to remind them that therapy is for everyone. But of course sometimes it’s helpful to just say it straight out: therapy doesn’t mean you’re a failure, that you’re broken, or that there’s something wrong with you. Asking for help is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. We don’t learn appropriate mental health skills growing up; we learn to eat our vegetables and exercise, how much water to drink, what it feels like to get a cold and how to get over one. We don’t learn these equivalent skills for our basic mental health upkeep, and therapy is a great way to learn and grow. It’s just someone who’s going to help you, nothing more.

You’re In Control

One of the common refrains that I hear from people who aren’t interested in therapy (and one of my biggest fears) is that therapy will change you, that the therapist will force you to do things, that it will make you into a different person. So after you say “hey, you seem like you’re struggling. Have you thought about therapy?” I almost always hear “I don’t want to change.”

It’s odd, but people seem to forget that they are in fact paying the therapist for a service and that as the client, they are the one who has all the power. A therapist can’t make you do anything.

Great reminders for someone who’s nervous: you can try it and then stop if you don’t like it. You can try it, stop, and try again. You can try it, decide you don’t like the therapist, then switch to a different therapist you like more. You have the power.

Now it is possible that therapy will result in you changing. Most people don’t go to therapy to keep feeling and acting the exact same way. But it’s self directed. A good therapist will help you achieve the goals that you want to achieve. You are the one who gets to choose if you’re going to follow through on their suggestions, who gets to ask for specific kinds of help, and who gets to decide the direction that the therapy takes. You can fire your therapist if you think they’re not good. It’s all up to you.

Which leads directly into my next point…

Yes Therapy is Hard

One thing that I strongly recommend when talking to someone about therapy is to be honest. Which means that I never tell anyone that therapy is great and I love it and always want to go.

In my experience, one of the biggest challenges for people to being open to therapy is that they don’t really know what happens. It’s a foreign experience. Especially for someone who might have anxiety, the unknown is nerve wracking. How am I supposed to act? What can I expect?

I think that it can be incredibly helpful to talk a bit about the actual nitty gritty of what a therapy session looks like. For me that means letting people know that each individual session is rarely pleasant. We’re often talking about difficult and painful things. Often we’re taking a hard look at what I dislike about myself, where I think I’ve screwed up, things that frustrate me, and situations that are causing me distress. Other times my therapist is asking me to look at things differently: instead of seeing myself as the odd one out in my family, I’m someone with slightly different needs (she described me as a hobbit in a family of dwarves: I can survive underground for a while, but I’m not meant to live there). That’s intellectual work.

And perhaps the hardest part is that many sessions involve your therapist asking you to do things differently. They suggest scripts for you to use with other people, ways to interrupt old thought patterns, new behavior to change relationships or manage stress or deal with things you don’t like in your life. That might mean that you have work to do in between therapy sessions. My favorite therapists have given homework, like “practice mindfulness 3 times this week” or “have this difficult conversation with a family member.” They give you the tools, but you have to be the one to put them into practice.

 

So at the end of the day, therapy is just being with a person who will help you achieve your goals. It’s another tool in your life toolbox, that comes with someone who’s always in your corner. Why wouldn’t you want that?

So if I were to sell therapy to someone here’s what I’d say.

“It sounds like you’re struggling. I’m so fucking sorry. Life is balls sometimes. For me, therapy was a really important part of learning how to manage. Society doesn’t prepare us for dealing with seriously hard emotional shit, and therapy is where I learned how to do that. I can tell you more, or recommend someone if you’d like?”

Empathy Based Ethics: A Theory of Mind Conundrum

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I am very excited about this post. This is the first post in my new digs in which I’m going to be discussing philosophy and ethics, and BOY HOWDY are those topics that I love.

I tend towards a fairly utilitarian ethic, but one of the trends in recent philosophy of ethics has been to suggest that morality should be grounded in empathy. Specifically care ethics tends to be focused on the motivation of an action rather than the consequences. If someone undertakes an action out of empathy, or because they care about another person, that action is moral.

Sounds like a good way to judge things, huh?

Well as per usual I need to bring disability into the picture, and the reasons for this are twofold. The first is the use of developmentally disabled people as a counter example, specifically because “people with autism can’t feel empathy”. Second, as an example of the myriad of ways that paternalistic attitudes about doing something for another person’s own good, or out of a place of caring but without an understanding of an individual’s wants, needs, and freedoms, can actually be quite harmful.

So let’s just address this first concern because it’s something that I hear a lot (and recently had to vomit about in relation to the book To Siri, With Love). Yes, human beings have varying levels of empathy. But the idea that there is something deficient about autistics and other neurodivergent folks is frankly offensive, and is often tossed around in philosophy circles without a second thought. What some people with autism do struggle with is theory of mind, which is the ability to recognize that other people’s experiences, preferences, needs, etc. are different from one’s own. Oddly enough, autistics do fine with theory of mind about other autistics, and allistics struggle with theory of mind when it comes to autistic minds. Huh. Weird.

But no matter what, theory of mind is not the same as empathy. You may struggle to understand others, but that is not the same as a lack of care and compassion. It’s possible that adequate theory of mind is necessary to act correctly on a desire to care for someone else. That actually gets at the deeper issue that I want to address: you can care deeply about someone without having an understanding of them or the way they work. And that’s a problem.

In a recent episode of Philosophy Bites, they discussed what it means to know a person, and how that knowing can be the basis for empathy. They suggested it required a level of mindreading, being able to understand what it’s like to be that person through firsthand experience. It’s an emotional/social knowledge rather than a factual knowledge. Of course they brought up autistics as being unable to know other people, and suggested that this means autistics don’t or can’t have empathy. What I’d argue is that different life experiences and neurotypes mean that every human will encounter other humans that they radically cannot know.

Whether you are autistic or not, there are experiences that you lack the theory of mind to understand. When you have a radical disconnect from someone else’s experience, no amount of empathy or putting yourself in their shoes will allow you to act in a kind way that does not hurt them. This is one of the ongoing challenges that people have identified in social justice. Instead of simple empathy, many people have pushed for informed compassion that relies on trusting someone else’s explanation of their experience, needs, and wants.

In fact, disabled people are a great example of this.

Throughout history able bodied and neurotypical people were convinced that our quality of life was shit. They believed we couldn’t or shouldn’t have children, that we should be changed to be more like them, that we wouldn’t be happy unless we were “normal”. ABA is a particularly good example. The Lovaas Institute (Lovaas is the creator of ABA) touts as a benefit of its services “They [clients] also appear indistinguishable from their peers in measures of social and emotional functioning.” Indistinguishability from peers is something that is often important to providers and families, but when you ask actually autistic people if it’s something they want, they say no.

In this case, people who are empathetic (neurotypicals) put themselves in the shoes of someone else (autistics) and think “If I were weird or struggled with social skills, I’d want to be normal.” This ignores what autistics actually want, which is for society to accept the skills they have and make accommodations.

We see this when men don’t believe women who say they want to stop being cat called and harassed online. We see this when white feminists prioritize their own needs without listening to women of color’s unique concerns.We see it in something as simple as an extrovert trying to improve the mood of an introvert by taking them to a party.

All of these actions come from someone who is empathetic. The problem is that they do not take into account consequences, harm, and personal preference.

Many people like to distinguish empathy from sympathy, saying that sympathy is feeling bad for someone while empathy is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Unfortunately we don’t have a word for taking yourself out of the equation entirely and trying to understand the other person’s experience of their own shoes. When you put yourself into another person’s shoes, you bring your own preferences, desires, and needs with you. Education, understanding, and trust of different experiences HAVE to inform empathy or empathy is empty.

So IF we want empathy to ground our ethics, there has to be some imperative that people will educate themselves about the experiences of others. I am also deeply concerned about removing any element of consequentialism and harm as a measure of morality. It’s easy to have the best intentions and do things that are hugely harmful. Why would we ignore that fact? There has to be some accounting for mistakes; these can’t just be entirely hand waved away by good intentions, especially if they’re repeated

Obviously utilitarianism has some problems for the disability community as well, specifically as evidenced by Peter Singer’s argument that you can weight our lives as less important because our quality of life isn’t as good. When we’re talking about disability ethics, having a conception of “rights’ seems to be an important element to protect our lives and freedoms. It’s becoming more and more clear to me that any singular ethics will miss the needs of a group, whether that’s animals, disabled humans, oppressed minorities, or someone else I can’t even conceive of. But empathy definitely misses the boat when it comes to vastly different experiences and I can’t get behind it as the underpinnings for a full ethical system.

How To Share A Space With Your Partner (when you both have accessibility needs)

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As we continue in the Series That Never Ends (parts 1, 2, and 3), I like to dream that this will be the final installment. But I thought that last week, and here we are. Who knows what exciting new topics will be birthed within this blog post?

In the meantime, there’s a subgenre of competing access needs that I have never seen addressed, but that seems VERY important to discuss, and I have many Thoughts about it. That subgenre is when you are married to or living with someone whose access needs in some ways compete with your own.

But Olivia, you might say, how often does that happen? Well surprisingly often. I personally know…well almost every couple I know has at least a few accommodations they’re working with and that means two people have to find out how to accommodate each other basically 24/7. I know one couple in which one has severe anxiety and the other has severe misophonia making requests for noise accommodations a challenge, one couple in which one person has PTSD that is triggered by criticism, and another who has anxiety triggered by mess, meaning conversations about who has to take care of the house or whether things are being kept up can turn into meltdowns.

What do you do? How do you provide for different needs and make space for different ways of reacting to emotions?

I do not have the answers. I have some suggestions.

Get Yourself a Safe Space

More than anything else in the world, and perhaps this is simply because I am anxious introvert, I must recommend that every person has at least one room that is exclusively theirs or that feels 100% safe. It’s hard to articulate the way that having place to go where you don’t feel environmental stress or discomfort can bring your base level of functioning up. It allows a small amount of respite. When you’re living with someone who has differing needs from your own and the rest of the house may be a space of negotiation and compromise, having one area that is 100% you can make the difference between “home is exhausting” and “I have a place to recharge.”

That place to recharge allows you to disengage if a solution isn’t happening immediately, or if the shared spaces simply become too much for you. It helps to limit the amount of resentment you might feel when your needs don’t get met, helps keep you from hitting a meltdown point, and that space to breathe allows you to brainstorm solutions when your emotions are lowered.

So #1 piece is to make sure that you have one place where your needs are met, that belongs to you. But the rest of your house still exists, and you might want to eat meals with your housemate or occasionally interact with them. What do you do?

Talking About It

Because accommodations can be a fraught topic, I personally recommend setting aside a specific time to discuss them when no one’s emotions are high, but additionally setting up ongoing check ins so that it’s normal to discuss accommodations, and you don’t get that Serious Conversation vibe that can freak anyone out. Check in with your partner and see if the accommodations you’ve put in place are working for them. Let them know if they forget about yours. Make it normal, make it easy, and make it common to talk about whatever you need to be comfortable in your home.

When, Where, and How to Accommodate

Next, I think it’s not only important to discuss the types of behaviors that are difficult for each other (e.g. your constant need for reassurance sets off my anxiety) but also to discuss different spaces in the house, and how each one can be used most effectively. This might mean each of you makes a list of what you’d ideally like, and then you decide what’s easy (you institute it immediately), what you can do sometimes (maybe you have a specific room for it) and what will be challenging (we’ll get to this soon). In my home, the computer room is our quiet space. We talk there sometimes, but if one of us is on our computer with headphones on, it’s not time to bring up anything serious.

Do you want to set aside certain safe spaces? Do you want to say that “in space x I ask that you don’t eat, or don’t use this fidget”? It can help to give certain behaviors an expected time and place rather than out of the blue. This also gives someone who might need to fidget, bring up their anxieties, use an accommodation device, or accommodate their own needs in some other way a place they can go to do it. There also might be certain spaces that are particularly challenging to one of you. For a long time our computer room was set up such that I was facing away from the door, and my husband could come up and touch me on the shoulder without me noticing him at all. This was Not Pleasant so we rearranged.

 

When you hit the hard lines (e.g. one person can’t control their facial muscles and the other has misophonia) you may have to set specific rooms where things can or cannot happen, or decide that one person’s particular set of needs has to trump. It’s important to discuss these and have a way to bring it up.

Integrating Accommodations Into Your Life

Finally, it’s good to create a language for moving forward. Circumstances will change over time. Maybe you were fine with saying your partner gets to eat in the computer room with you, but you’re having a shit day and you need more space. You need to have a way to communicate that, and an understanding that the “rules” will change in the moment. It’s also good to have a way to remind your partner if they’re doing something they’d said they won’t (e.g. my partner knows I prefer there be music or noise on if he’s eating next to me). It can feel like nagging, but sometimes it does take time to develop the habit. If your partner feels like it you might brainstorm ways to build the habit together, e.g. a small visual reminder like a post it.

Essentially, there are a few ways you can manage competing access needs in a home: you can say that certain people get their accommodations at a specific time or place. You can say that one person’s need trumps another. Or you can try to find ways to make the needs mesh. A mix of both will probably be the best for everyone, but you have to talk about it to find what works for you.

 

Competing Access Needs

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My last couple posts have been about misophonia, and I’m sure you all are starting to get bored but I have one more post in me related to the topic so too bad for you. BUT I am not going to be focusing exclusively on misophonia here. Instead, I’m going to use a common occurrence for folks with misophonia to talk about a larger issue: competing access needs.

What Are Competing Access Needs?

Scene: you have misophonia. You’re chilling with one of your friends, who you happen to know is autistic, and they pull out a fidget cube. They’re going to town on it, clearly having some happy stimmy time, and it’s making this noise. This awful clicking noise. This triggering, infuriating, misophonia causing noise.

What do you do?

This is an example of competing access needs. One person needs the fidget to accommodate their needs, the other person needs the fidget to stop in order to accommodate their needs. How do both people access the space? How do they spend time together without being total assholes and making the other one miserable?

Well there’s a possibility that they can’t. It’s a lovely idea that every space should be accessible to every person. But in reality even that ideal can exclude some people. As an example, let’s say there’s a gay couple who in order to feel safe would like to be able to hold hands, or openly acknowledge each other as partners. On the other hand, perhaps there’s someone who is deeply offended by gay romance and finds a space unacceptable if there are openly gay people there. These two people cannot be welcomed into the same space without one of them feeling unsafe or unwelcome.

Most often competing access needs gets brought up in regards to safe spaces, and the kinds of beliefs and discussions that people want out of particular groups or organizations. But when we’re talking disability, I think things get a lot more practical and a lot more in your face. Let’s say I’m an autistic who has a deep desire for visual stimulation and you’re an autistic who has seizures when you’re visually overstimulated. Can we safely exist in the same space?

I’ve experienced this a LOT recently as someone with misophonia in a room with many people who are physically disabled, and who don’t have the greatest control over their facial muscles. Often this results in some very intense mouth noises, especially when food is involved.

Solutions

Ok, so this is a problem in a lot of places. But what do we actually DO about it? Is it a problem we can solve? Is it a problem we want to solve?

From what I can see there are two main approaches to dealing with diverse needs. One is to try to make every space universally inclusive. The other is to create many specialized spaces that cater to particular needs. In my mind, neither of these is a perfect solution, but if we are going to meet the most needs of the most people, we should be aiming to do some of each.

Universal Design

There are certain spaces that require as universal a design as possible. This includes public spaces like schools, libraries, government buildings, etc. I think we should be explicit about this, and that the people designing and organizing in those spaces should talk to community members to determine the biggest things they can do for accessibility (including but not limited to ramps/elevators for mobility accessibility, non flourescent lights, noise dampening materials to deter echo, using microphones, translators, and closed captioning, etc.)

Safe Spaces

In contrast, there are other spaces that are set up to cater to certain people and certain people’s needs. A GLBT group is there to cater to the needs of GLBT individuals. These spaces are typically explicit, but the problem comes when people within that group have different needs and folks are not explicit about which need they will cater to. One example of this came from Unit of Caring, who was one of the first to talk about competing access needs. They say that as a gay person it was very helpful and important to them to actively engage with the idea that being gay is inherently negative to humanity. There was a part of their brain that believed this, and they needed to parse through the arguments to come out feeling validated.

In contrast, most gay people I know find the very suggest offensive. There’s nothing inherently wrong about these different needs, but what is wrong is throwing all these people together under the guise of “queer support” and getting mad when someone gets hurt. It seems reasonable to me to have a process if someone wants to have a conversation that may distress others in a group setting, so that those who want to participate can and those who don’t can find support in their own fashion. To me, that would mean being explicit in the guidelines and introductions of any given group that people may have different needs, asking people to think before bringing up potentially painful and damaging topics, and having a way for someone to suggest a smaller group to deal with things like that.

Guidelines

There will of course be times, both in smaller groups and in more universal settings, where one need must be prioritized over another. In an ideal universe this would never have to happen, but in real life, it seems to me that there are some guidelines we can follow to decide whose need gets our immediate priority until we can accommodate everyone.

First, I would prioritize health concerns the highest. Your need for a strobe light stim does not trump my strobe induced epilepsy. If one person’s need to stim or access or talk will physically injure another person, the injury takes precedence. An interesting example of this to me has to do with the intersection of eating disorders and animal rights. I have had vegans come at me about eating meat, but cutting meat out of my diet is a recipe for me to fall into my eating disordered patterns and seriously injure if not kill myself. My need to remain healthy is more important than the discomfort that animal rights activists feel about meat.

Second, I would look at immediacy. Does the need or desire have to be fulfilled right now, or can a person manage for a little bit? For example if I am on the verge of a major meltdown and need a stim toy, but the sound of my fidget sets off your misophonia, I would prioritize the person about to meltdown in that moment.

Third, I’d look at the importance of the need: does it make you feel more comfortable, or will you simply be unable to access the space without it? I could access most spaces without accommodations it would just be really unpleasant and drain me quite quickly. Someone else who needs a ramp or ASL interpretation to be able to use the space at all would take priority in my mind.

And finally we’d also have to look at cost. Some things simply can’t be done without resources, and if those resources aren’t available it can be difficult if not impossible to make a space accessible.

So if you’re a group or a convention or a public space that’s looking to find ways to be careful about allocating your resources for accessibility, that’s what I’d look at if you can’t be accessible to everyone. I think it’s also important to be explicit. If you need to use a microphone and loudspeakers to make an event accessible to hard of hearing people, then also say or write that you recognize it can be a sensory difficulty for some people and offer a quiet space in addition. Having a policy that is written and available that allows people to make requests about accessibility, and lays out what you’ve chosen to prioritize and why goes a long way towards starting the dialogue and for more formal spaces that seems like the best way forward to me.

Private Spaces

But all of this started because of a question that had nothing to do with conferences or support groups. It had to do with someone who has misophonia and wants to be able to hang out with their friends who fidget. Who gets to say “please stop” or “no I really need this”?

Again I think talking is the first step here. Sometimes there’s an easy solution, like a different fidget that doesn’t make noise, and all you need to do is mention it. I’d recommend checking out part two of this series for how to bring up your misophonia, but if you feel comfortable with the person who’s competing for access with you, this is a great time to start a conversation. Everyone has the right to express their needs and wants in this situation, but I encourage people to weigh how their own accommodations affect others.

I think the same ideas that can guide larger spaces can hold to some extent here. But I also think the discussions don’t need to be as explicit. You can talk to your friends and navigate each individual situation based on who has more spoons at any given point, whether one person feels like they can handle things without accommodations, or whether someone really does need some help.

I’m not going to get into tons of specifics here because there are so many permutations of types of accommodations, but if you have specific troubleshooting you’d like to brainstorm, drop it in the comments.

This post is already getting too long, but I am going to make it into a two parter because I’d like to get into one very specific area of accommodations and competing access needs and that is living space. What if two people live together and both have accessibility needs? How do you manage? We’ll get into that next week along with some other exciting topics.

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Misophonia, Now With Sharing!

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Last week we spent some time talking about what misophonia was and some ways for managing it. Unfortunately we’re still low on research, so it was a lot of preliminary and experimental ideas.

But misophonia is not something that happens in isolation. More often than not, misophonia triggers are sounds that other people make: breathing, sneezing, eating, drinking. What’s a person to do when they have to manage social rules in addition to the intense emotions and anxiety of misophonia? Today’s post will focus on how to talk to other people, ask for help, and let others know that they might be triggering your misophonia.

I am a shameless thief. If there are a bunch of techniques for coping that fall under the header of a diagnosis I don’t have, I give 0 fucks and steal the hell out of them. In this case, because misophonia is such a new term and diagnosis, I’m going to be borrowing a lot from advice about anxiety and managing anxiety triggers with other people.

Note: If you are concerned that someone in your life might respond poorly to a disclosure, use your own judgment. Some people are truly assholes, and if they learn that something upsets you they will intentionally do it. Protect yourself! But if you trust someone, honestly and openness are typically my favorite ways forward.

So how the &@#$@#$& do I tell my friends/spouse/coworkers that they set off my misophonia?

One of the particular difficulties of misophonia is that it’s often anxiety centered on other people, which means that you have to manage social rules while in a heightened state. Ew. It also means navigating the challenging place of having to tell someone, likely someone close to you, that something they do not only irritates you, but makes you so angry you want to die.

No matter what, it’s possible that talking about your misophonia with someone will end poorly. They may think you’re overreacting, they may feel offended that they’re a trigger, or they simply might forget to stop doing the trigger. But there are some things you can do to make the conversation more likely to end well.

First, if you are in the midst of an episode, it’s not the best time to have an extended conversation about misophonia and coping skills. Try to remove yourself from the situation, or ask for a quick accommodation (hey could you turn on some music/stop rubbing your socks together/etc) so that you can calm down before you get into the weeds about what you really need, what triggers you, and what misophonia is.

Second, when you do want to talk to someone about a behavior they do that triggers your misophonia, prepare ahead of time. Start by knowing the background of misophonia and the science that shows it’s real. If you come to someone from the perspective that you have a problem and you’re asking them for help, they’re far more likely to make adjustments. Having a “diagnosis” can make it more legitimate and easier for people to understand. It’s nice to start by laying out the situation, for example:
1. I have misophonia. Misophonia is ___
2. Behavior x sets off my misophonia, and when I hear that noise I feel ___

That way you can lead into how they can help by asking them to adjust the behavior.
3. Could you not do behavior x, or only do behavior x in a different room, or have other noise on when you do behavior x?

You may even want to practice this ahead of time depending upon the person and the situation. It’s best if you can come in with a particular accommodation that you would like them to do, but sometimes you don’t have an idea and that’s ok. You may also have to spend some time explaining misophonia, have some links on hand with research, or give a person time to get used to the idea. I try to focus less on what they’re doing, and more on the fact that my brain processes something differently and I need help to manage it. People love to help. People hate to change.

What Are Some Examples of Accommodations?

I know a number of people who have talked to a partner or family member, and everyone is in to the idea of accommodating the misophonia, but that’s where they get stuck.

Many people will be willing to stop a behavior once they realize it’s frustrating or upsetting to you, but in some cases they may forget, or it may be a behavior they simply can’t stop (like eating) or something they do mindlessly (picking at fingernails). Those might require some work together to figure out the best way to move forward. I have found that the best way to make this effective is to approach it as “we are problem solving together” rather than “you need to fix something that annoys me about you.”

Some examples of accommodations include:
-having a “safe word” so they know if they’re triggering you
-can you start habitually having extra noise during meal times, e.g. TV or music?
-If they forget often, can you add a visual somewhere in their space like a post it note that will remind them?
-is there a specific place that they can eat/clip their nails/etc. to give you some space?
-is it easier for you if there is advance warning? Can your partner/friend alert you in advance when they’re about to do one of your triggers?

It’s important to remember that you’re likely working to change someone’s habits, and that’s challenging. It can easily devolve into nagging. It’s probably a good idea to discuss how the other person prefers you to bring it up if they forget or make a mistake. Maybe you institute check ins so that you can let them know if there have been problems or if there’s anything new you want to discuss. It might seem difficult, touchy, or potentially fight-inducing, but COMMUNICATION is so important.

“Anxious thoughts are supremely personal, but let your partner in on them. It’s an important part of intimacy. You will often be thinking about what you need to do to feel safe, what feels bad for you and what could go wrong. You will also have an enormous capacity to think of other people – anxious people do – but make sure that you let you partner in on the thoughts that arrest you. Keeping things too much to yourself has a way of widening the distance between two people.” From Hey Sigmund.

I think the same thing goes for misophonia. Letting them know “hey, I”m getting anxious and upset” can be enough to start a conversation that heads off a nasty interaction or building resentment.

Speaking of which, the WORST way forward is to do nothing, to communicate once and then hope for the best, or to otherwise foster resentment. It’s SO easy to feel resentful when someone unknowingly and blithely goes about their life making you miserable, but we have to remember that they simply don’t know and don’t experience it the way we do. We have to train our friends/partners/families to understand what our experience is like and to be empathetic to that response. How do we do that? Boundaries!

How Do You Set and Reinforce Boundaries?

First and foremost, the thing that I want to reiterate about boundaries (and this is advice for myself as well as others) is that setting a boundary is not a one time experience. You don’t tell someone your boundary and then it’s done and everything is good. It’s a process over time.

I like to state boundaries in terms of my needs rather than someone else’s behaviors. “I feel shitty when I hear this noise.” That’s a fact and no one can debate that fact. It also doesn’t put the other person on the defensive immediately. You can follow the script I laid out above. But there’s one final step to setting a boundary, and that’s introducing a consequence. It might mean that you will leave the room whenever they do the behavior, you may stop talking to them, or you may leave the house. It depends on what makes the most sense.

Over time, if the other person continues to do the behavior that you asked them not to do, you may have to remind them. “Hey, I asked you not to chew with your mouth open. Could you stop please? If you don’t, I’m going to go upstairs.” If they continue to ignore the boundary, enact the consequence. Captain Awkward has some great resources about setting boundaries, although they are not misophonia specific. BUT they can be applied, because in many ways navigating misophonia together is like navigating any other anxiety inducing trigger.

So What Are The Steps Again?

Ok, I talked a lot so here’s a tl;dr.

  1. If you feel comfortable disclosing, the first step is to tell the person who triggers you what misophonia is and what they’re doing that sets you off.
  2. The second step is to work together to create a plan of accommodations. This might be the other person ceasing the behavior, or adding in other noises to offset.
  3. Reinforce the boundary! The other person may forget, decide it’s not worth it, or just get careless. If that happens, it’s useful to remind them, and regularly revisit the plan to see if it’s working for everyone.

There you go, solved all your misophonia problems. JK, we have more to talk about. My next post will cover competing access needs, which is a much larger topic than misophonia, but we’re going to dive in through the lens of misophonia. Woohoo!