I wrote this in July last year. It’s an emotional one, and it’s taken me a while to share.
Content warning – climate change, the state of the world, swears
I always find July a super emotional month these days; we have our wedding anniversary, my birthday, and then my son’s birthday. I realised I have aspergers on my birthday 2 years ago, so that’s another anniversary too. It all makes me contemplate how very lucky I am, how very different my life currently is to the life I imagined for myself.
This July I’ve found even more emotional and wonderful. It’s our first July with our wonderful little E with us. Also this July I have completed my peer support training and a year going to Acacia, a local charity which supports women with pre and postnatal mental illness.
This is hard to talk about but I grew up knowing a lot about climate change, particularly as my dad works in sustainable development. It was when I was 12 that I was first told that he thought the earth would not make it. It was earth shattering. To think of living to see the end of the world.
Throughout my teens my world was full of fear and being prepared for the apocalypse. I felt utterly trapped and alone and suicidal, and I decided not to have children because what would they come here for? I was bullied at school for a long time and I didn’t have anything to fight it with because what was the point, I had nothing to fight for.
I started to have mental health treatment when I was 21. About the same time, I had two what might be called spiritual experiences. The first had me see myself giving birth, and then walking with a little boy. The second led me to believe that climate change is – I very much hesitate to use the word plan, I don’t believe that suffering is a plan, but I always jump to the word plan for want of a better one. Perhaps a better phrase is “something bigger”. Part of a something bigger that I cannot understand – and that all I am asked to do is what is asked of me, what appears before me in the moment, and it will work in some way towards a whole that I cannot presently grasp.
Those experiences absolutely changed my life, they brought hope for the first time. Because of those experiences I was able to focus on my mental health, on healing, on Pete, on my infertility, on IVF and building a family. Climate change was in a little box marked Do Not Touch. I tried to be Green always, as far as possible, and that was that.
When my first child was a year old, my world came crashing down. I started to have what they call intrusive thoughts; intrusive memories. Ebola and ISIS were on the rise that summer and my little boy seemed so vulnerable, the realities of everything I knew about how fragile our safety and our future are came flooding back. My husband started to work in Birmingham then, and Sam and I were still in Loughborough, Pete was exhausted commuting and we barely saw him. I felt so alone, totally suicidal, and I regretted making that choice to have a child. Eleanor was like a terrible weight around my throat because she was already conceived, she was already with us, frozen at the fertility clinic, but I felt so despairingly guilty about the baby I already had that I couldn’t see how I could bring another into our family. I loved my Sam too much to trust to this world.
To start with, after the despair resurfaced, I felt I had failed God by no longer being able to live in that vision of hope. And that made me feel even more confused and awful. But as time went on, I came to see it differently, I started to feel trusted that it was coming up now, that the divine in my life saw me as strong enough to tackle this now. That – through meeting my person who trusted and supported me (Pete), and through the arrival of Sam – God had strengthened me and strengthened my faith just enough to be able to do this.
It was a year into this – when Sam was about to turn 2 – that I realised I could be described as having aspergers and I was like ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME LORD.
Is this for real.
Not only am I imagining the world ending what feels like every minute of every day, not only am I battling internal voices telling me I’m evil for having my son, and constant intrusive violent images, but now I have ASPERGERS?!?!
It was especially hard because then I could see that if the medical model of autism is right – if I am inherently fundamentally flawed and less able than other people – the model I have believed my whole life without question including while working with autistic young people – then what I had been through and built my life upon, the faith that had freed me and brought me hope, that had brought my children into the world, might actually be a product of my illness, of my disability.
That thinking, working that through, while I struggled with the suicidal climate change stuff, I thought it might kill me. And sometime in that time I came across a quote by a Catholic contemplative called Richard Rohr, I can’t find it now, I’m afraid, but he said something like, when faced with the impossible pain in the world, you can do one of three things, you can avoid it, you can become an activist, or you can become crucified by it so that it changes you. And I figured, only that last one is going to work for me, that’s what I need.
So I thought about these things that scare me, I really thought about them. I got involved in climate change activism and read about climate change, I didn’t shy away as I had done previously, and it is truly terrifying. But I started to feel better, every time I would meet with others and talk I’d feel better. And then it would all creep back, but then I’d have another time meeting with people who were also thinking about it and I would get slightly stronger again. Life was very up and down, it was a roller-coaster for a long time, it felt never-ending.
The other thing I did was I tested my faith. I mean I really tested it. I thought about all the ins and outs of what I really believe. I thought about what it would mean if God doesn’t exist. It took about a year, the year or so after my baptism.
And then I told the Lord that I put all my trust in him.
I know he might be a figment of my imagination. But would that be the worst thing in the world? If believing makes me a better, stronger, (alive) person?
Stuff happened along the way, during that year, that made me think actually, this is real, what I believed to start with could have been true. And I also came to accept that I can never understand the whole picture, and to let go my need to. But it’s also entirely possible that I am completely mistaken and as long as my life is better for it, as long as I give more to the world than I would otherwise, as long as I love better for it, I really don’t care.
I have been changed by my experiences, I have been changed by embracing my darkest fears, I can’t really put into words how but it has changed me completely. Things started to get better in summer 2016 I think, about three months before my daughter was born. I had counselling. I started to go regularly to church again, a new (to us) church. I talked with a lady called Dido Dunlop, who lives in New Zealand and wrote a book about climate change and mental health. Sam started preschool. I started going to Acacia. By the time Trump got voted in, that didn’t really shake me, and that was huge, because previous similar events – the EU referendum, the 2015 general election, the Paris attacks, and so on – these things had left me suicidal and battling dark voices, because of their potential to destabilise the world.
I also learnt to talk to the voices of fear, that was thanks to my yoga teacher, when I was deep in the middle of awful things, I think it was about the time of the Paris attacks. We were in guided meditation and she said, being human is like being a guest house, we wake up each day and we don’t know who we will entertain, will it be joy or will it be pain, welcome them for all they can teach us. And I started to do that, when I would hear voices in my head that would tell me they were coming to get me, I would tell them, you are welcome here. Fear, you are welcome.
I started to realise that, my fear was not bigger than me; it was within me, so it couldn’t be bigger. It couldn’t kill me without my consent.
In the Spring, 2017, I decided I wanted to be present in my own life more. I had used fertility and aspergers support groups for a long time, but I left them to show up more day to day and enjoy what I have. I love the support groups and that’s in no way a criticism of support groups (which empowered me and changed my life) but they were no longer serving a purpose for me. My daughter wasn’t sleeping at the time and that was the push really.
It probably sounds trite and clichéd but I really want to love people, I want to love myself, I want to love my husband, my kids, my parents and siblings, I want to love the people given to me, and I want to love the earth, but I also want to cut the bullshit and not spend time where it’s not needed. I want to speak up about things I care about, I want to act where I feel called, but I also want to listen to those I see differently to. I have little control over the wider picture, but I have a lot of control over the smaller picture, I have a lot of control over my internal picture.
There’s no really dramatic ending to my story, I have just been gradually feeling better and better. My Grandad dying in April 2017 made me think a lot about what I want my life to be. About living life fully and in the moment. I enjoy my kids more all the time at the mo. I know that that could change tomorrow, maybe I will get depressed again, maybe I will have more pain to work through – well, that’s a given – and I am not convinced that I will not choose to give up living at some point, but I know that for now I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
I wish I could end this with, and climate change turned out to be not that big of a deal. Well, truth is, these days it looks to me like the physical manifestation of 7+ billion people shopping out their physical, emotional and spiritual pain. It looks like how I deal with pain, it looks like all my worst coping mechanisms, rolled into a looming potential apocalypse.
The amazing thing is though that climate change is out of it’s box now, I understand that it’s happening, and that we need to stop the things we are doing that are contributing to it and robbing ourselves and our children of a future, and we need to stop those things now. And as far as I am able, I do stop those things, and beyond that I trust and allow myself rest.
I don’t live there any more, in the future of climate change. It’s happening but I will enjoy my time with the ones I love and I trust God with the rest – whatever form it takes – because he’s taken me through a lot so far. I used to feel like I had to choose, happiness or climate change, but now I realise that happiness is somewhere in the middle, somewhere where I hold the messiness and uncertainty of life in my hand and joy comes out of that, deeper joy than I have ever known.
I don’t believe that my life has been hard primarily because I’m autistic. I believe my life has been hard because I’ve had trauma. I would have still been autistic me, if I’d not had the trauma – but I doubt I would ever have known about my autism, because seeking to understand my pain is the thing that led me to autism. I say this because I also know people who identify as autistic who have not struggled more than the average person (whoever that is) and I am conscious of not wanting to add to the autism = inevitable terrible suffering story, which is one I don’t believe. It’s not the autism that has made me suffer. My autism has freed me, as I have learnt to use my brain in the way it was intended – instead of against it, as I was taught.
When I think about my diagnosis these days, I see it as inexorably linked to climate change. We live in a society in which ever increasing numbers of children are given autism diagnoses; in which the boundaries of autism continually widen, in response to human need.
Why is that? Is it because we are dysfunctional, so many of us?
Or is it because we live in a way that is making more and more people – the most sensitive people – visibly struggle, as the planet we rely on visibly struggles, too?
It’s not a question I have the answer to, but I do know that when I look back over my life, learning to function more productively has involved gradually removing myself from some of the trappings of consumerism – as I’ve felt led – and I only foresee those lifestyle changes gently continuing, bringing with them increasing freedom to be myself.
When I first realised I’m autistic, it felt hugely meaningful, but I wondered, what is the purpose of this, when I am feeling so stirred up against climate change? I felt torn in two directions. And yet as I have come to look deeper into both, I have begun to see that the two are very much aligned, and I’m excited to see where that goes. A world that is more sympathetic to autistic people would, I believe, be a world that is more sympathetic to the needs of all creation.