Another difficult morning. Waking up to overwhelming pain – physical and mental. My heart beating so fast it felt as if wanting to escape the confines of ribcage and skin. Dizziness and nausea. Lucy was there, her eyes told me she knew, and that was enough for me. She is not demonstrative in the way many other dogs are. Which is why I treasure her so dearly. She will not jump on me and lick my face to ‘comfort’ me. Instead, my Lucy Angel just lays there, touching but not intruding, gazing with a knowingness that seems to emanate from a different universe. Were it not for her, I would not get out of bed in that situation. And who have I to call for help? How many times can you call a friend to come to your aid? What constitutes a real emergency? Pain is so much woven into the tapestry of my daily life that I would need to be admitted into 24 hour care, finger on the buzzer or ear to the phone, summoning help from near and afar, if I approached my own suffering in the same way as some ‘normal’ people I know. I am grateful to have Lucy. No fuss, no effusive emotionality, no nagging, no unwanted ‘advice’, no expectation for social reciprocity – just a silent witness who needs me to get up and get going.
I was listening with great empathic amusement the other evening, to my friend recounting his misadventures with a man he was dating. One of these was a farcical trip to the doctor’s, thinking that his date was in a dire condition, and in need of physical support. My friend only had $10 in his pocket, it was all he had to feed on, and the train journey cost him $8. It turned out that the date was not really as sick as he made out to be, and merely wanted some social interactional attention. The human need for companionship is not wrong in itself, but his lack of consideration for my friend’s situation revealed the empathic failure, and inequality in that relationship. It was all about him. Poor man, he feels unwell, he feels like shit, and he wants some company – we’ve all had those moments (though for me they are few and far between, I tend to want practical help more than company, like someone to come and wash my dishes and vacuum the floor). However, he persevered with his demands on my friend, knowing full well that my friend could ill afford the expense. He did not offer to pay for the train ride. In fact, after the doctor’s clinic, he insisted that my friend went with him to see the Vivid Sydney lights in the city! At the end of the grand expedition, the man took my friend home, and tossed a few unwanted items of clothing at my friend as an after thought. My friend does not need those clothes. He needs money. And more than anything, he deserves love, respect and consideration. Needless to say, my friend has disconnected from this liaison. Benign, but just not worth the lack of empathic reciprocity.
And don’t get me started here, about someone i used to live with, who would whine for help in a really pathetic quivering voice rich with orchestral tones of pain and suffering, then, when I race upstairs to the bedroom, my own anxiety levels on the edge of bursting, I find that all she wanted was someone to draw the blanket over her! (!!!!! WTF!!! But yeah, I served this person for half my life as (un)Paid Companion.)
Obviously, the concept of ‘suffering’ varies very widely from person to person, does it not?
I have been researching, pondering and writing on the contentious subject of Empathy. It is a charged environment, this Empathy Conundrum.
I do suspect, more and more, that autistic persons see so much detail in the world around us, in the people, in the elements, and inside ourselves, that we suffer disconnection from the overload. Not every autistic person, but many that I know of and am personally acquainted with. (This is not a scientific blog, it is about my personal journey and musings, so I will not be proving citations.)
As a result, sadly, the neurotypical commentators in the hallowed hallways of authoritative information, have pronounced us lacking in empathy.
There are studies suggesting that autistics have explicit empathy but not implicit empathy. Again, this perspective depends on where one stands inside the complex web of human understanding. What is explicit and what is implicit? How are these to be measured?
Often, I find myself buried under a tsunami of acute instinctive observation – the anguish piercing through the soul is excruciating. I see so much detail, and then my brain shifts into global perceptivity and the big picture buries me in its wreckage. Autistic persons not only possess detail focused cognition, our central coherence is alive and well too. It is when the two come together that I am devastated. And left in a dreadful state of over-connectedness, long after the persons I have empathized and sympathized with has moved on and shed the flakes of their own trauma, I am still wearing it, and suffering the effects of indigestion from having imbibed it all without protective filters.
Yes, I am disabled. I have no problem recognizing this. Ability and disability are juxtapositional entities. The measurements may shift according to position and situation. But the human suffering changes little, regardless.
Surfeit of empathy will break your soul. Any thoughtful person knows this. Regardless of neurological constitution. That humans ‘snap’ under immense stress is a well known fact. What many in the neurotypical dominated scientific world have yet to recognize, is that autistic disconnect may yet be a result of over connection. It may yet be that autistics live in a state of constant ‘snap’ – I know I do. I owe a debt to my loyal friends and small handful of family who truly care (what is left) – being close to a person who is disabled in complex ways is not easy and certainly I do not view myself as much fun to be with at all. These people have made my journey less arduous and helped to alleviate much of the horror and pain. And I am deeply grateful to Lucy – because she is not human, she just exists, and copes with what her embodiment serves to her. She is my canine companion, a body and soul from outside of the human domain, and the life source that propels me out of bed, out of the mire of my own humanity, into the light of day.