clement space in the city


I spent the last few nights and days in this sofa, positioned right next to the loo. For safety, because I nearly fell down the winding stairs connecting to the loft bed. And for convenience, in case I had to throw up. A good thing I am short, but still, I have not laid down properly in a bed, stretched out, for this entire time.

The city is a violently inclement environment for those with hyper acute senses, whether autistic or not. I speak from my small little autistic hyper sensory perspective, of course, but I have heard similar responses from many others I know. Every city dweller copes with the ecology in their own way, some flourish in it, others stay afloat, while yet others flail and sink, bob up again after swallowing some of its polluted waters, gasping for relief, only to repeat the dreadful cycle all over again. And again. And on it goes. A sort of endless da capo until that fateful number is called.

Clement Space is desperately needed. And everyone must learn to create their own as best as they can. These little pockets of intimate goodness, sensory nurture and reassurance, where one may place a stolid fermata above the vicious recapitulation of noisome assault, indecent stripping, and wearying insult to the fragile and complex sensory system.

I type this in the darkness, with Mozart’s Piano Sonatas playing in the background, softly, because my head is still pounding and also because I am intrinsically wired to consider the (unlikely but one may never know for certain) sensitivities of others around me. Still coughing violently, the frightening and painful spasms have slowly developed a slightly more merciful rhythm, from every 30 seconds to every minute or two. Yes, I notice these things, the smallest tiniest changes inside my body, and I am finally vindicated after all these years of being accused of an over active imagination, being unnecessarily dramatic, and whatever else the neurotypical creativity can muster to throw at me, to deny the reality of my existence. Science has vindicated me. But not soon enough. I bear the scars of warfare, fierce and fiery, a lifelong battle with neurotypical structures social and physical.

Three nights ago, I singlehandedly wrecked a fabulous, glamorous (and maybe for some amorous?) party. It’s only crime? It happened right next to my small allocated space of abode, which I had hoped would be a physical clement space for me. The fight was intense. I fought valiantly my own inner daemons of internal ableism, not wanting to be party spoiler, the, you know, “spoil-sport” of the day (which I have to admit I ended up being anyway). I had no idea this was an ‘important’ social event, and even less prior knowledge that it was to be right at my doorstep. I was merely told that a party would be happening from 6-9pm in the premises, please feel free to join if you wish to. That was about it.

I had already been unwell since Wednesday, but was very happy to be making a goodly recovery by Friday. Settling down to do some work at the end of a fruitful day (spent procuring additional material for my upcoming installation), the horror pumped in through the walls before I could even take a sip of my hot milo. Boom, boom, bang, crash,  boom boom boom bobba bobba boom boom shwooosh ! The walls and floor began to shake, and vibrations attacked my body, travelling right into the core, stabbing and beating and prodding until, in half an hour, I lay in a crumpled, shaking heap, in a meltdown state. Just half an hour was all it took. But first, as a prelude, someone had opened my studio door and taken the liberty to look inside – at me, half dressed / undressed (whichever way you may choose to look at it) trying to cook myself some soup – a sort of self-prescribed placebo for the noise that had started up. The shock of it was not immediately palpable, I had already placed myself in ‘auto-drive’ mode, resigned to the prospect of torture for the next few hours.

I did not manage to drink the soup. Nothing could have prepared me for the excruciating experience. There will be no lurid florid description of my theatrical Artaudian agony. I was, within the first hour, already rendered incoherent, clutching my laptop for comfort, curled up in foetal position, cowering, shaking, shivering, babbling in my blankets in bed. I made a few posts on Facebook – some kind of cry for help, perhaps, in that bleak silent landscape of faraway peace – and lovely neurodivergent and neurotypical friends offered commiserations and even practical help to come to me, which I did not take because I just had no strength for anything.

Boom boom boom bobba bobba boom boom boom, on it went. The vibrations smashed my nerves into a pulp, while the shrieks of laughter, the roaring cacophony of human voices competing with the awful music, repeatedly stabbed at my auditory nerves.

Finally, a little past 9pm, I sent a text to the person who had informed me about the event that morning, someone in the organisation that had the ability to save me from this fire of hell. Why did I even wait? Well, I really did not think of it throughout the first 3 hours. And by the time I did, I was hesitant because I didn’t wish to be seen as a party-wrecker.

But I was anyway. It is my role too often. Merely because I exist inside a parallel embodiment, and my idea of enjoyment is vastly different from the neurotypical majority, so remote that they call it ‘loneliness’ when in actual fact, I am never lonely at all. I am surrounded by so much richness I cannot even begin to savour enough of it in the comfort of isolation before I am dragged away by the duties of living in a neurotypical dominated world not designed by me.

The person I contacted was a hero. Hey, there are neurotypical heroes too. Truly there are. She made it stop within minutes. She even got into a taxi to see me, but I had no idea she was in the building while she was communicating with me via text, so I told her I did not wish to see anyone because I was incoherent anyway (which was true). She left thereafter, but I have this sneaky eerie feeling that I have somehow socially offended her. What normal person would make such a dramatic cry for help, get you to shut down a massive boom boom party, and then not wish to see you at all? What kind of normal person would not want to be looked in on and comforted or even maybe hugged?

By that count, I am not normal. Yet, for me, this is my normality.

My normality exists in a different realm. I know it is very hard to understand it. I know, because I have tried very diligently, to the point of self immolation, to understand the neurotypical world, and although I can say I have grasped some fundamental principles at last after more than half a decade of arduous observation, I still cannot fully empathise with it. How would I expect the neurotypical person to empathise one iota with my normality? They spend so much of their time bobbing and screaming in social noisomeness.

So, I was ‘saved’ – yet, why don’t neurotypicals ever play by their own rules even? They said the party was to be from 6-9pm. 9pm came and went, and there were no signs of it ending. I had to end it. Weirdo, bizarre autistic antisocial me.

The aftermath? I suffered a complete relapse and worse, as a result. Science is only now beginning to acknowledge the serious effects of stress upon our physical health. Science is not all-knowing, or rather, the humans who deliver science to the rest of us aren’t. Not enough people (especially neurotypical people calling the shots on social conformity) take proper notice of such kinds of studies anyway, and they tend to dribble down into the gutters of smalltalk, collected in little paper buckets by pseudoscience cure-it-all folk who make it all even less credible, and nobody gives a damn about invisible triggers anyway. To the wider social world, I guess, if it isn’t on TV or a fashion magazine, it cannot be real.

Well, I developed raging fever, and have been coughing and throwing up and coughing and throwing up (nothing but bitter bile, because I could not eat) for three days thereafter. Thankfully, my wonderful friend Rick came by with medicines and sensible, practical cheer the morning after. I could barely stumbled across the studio floor. And Rick came again today to check on me – it was good to be able to walk a few hundred metres to the shop for more provisions. It was good to be able to walk at all. And eat a little food at last. I can barely croak, but it was lovely to be able to laugh too.

I wonder how the party-goers fared, no doubt after cursing me for abruptly ending their fun. How did they spend their weekend? Maybe some may even have thrown up from too much alcohol (does anyone ever vomit from shrieking and talking too much?), but I am not sure anyone from that crowd would’ve spent their weekend the way I spent mine. Did anyone even think about it, that while they were partaking of their enjoyment, someone nearby was suffering this much as a direct result? Probably not. To them, I am just another grumpy ‘party pooper’.

Precious time lost too. I have to work. I am here to work. I love my work. I want to work. But I have been rendered null and void. A convulsing mass of ridiculous flesh and bone.

Two worlds collide. And the stronger one always wins. This particular battle is over. But I am still picking up the smashed, fragmented, ravaged and dehumanised remains. And the pain, oh the pain. Inflamed throat, raw with ulcers everywhere. Do people even realise that those with hyper senses suffer a lot more, compounded and amplified, when unwell? My head is still foggy, and that coughing… when will it ever go away? Soon, I hope. Until the next encounter. The next fight. How does one build autistic resilience? I do not really know. Am I resilient? Autistics keep being told we are weak, fragile, incapable and incompetent.  It sounds really illogical to me. Anyone that can survive over and over again a lifetime of this kind of repeated horror must be extremely brave, strong and innovative, no?

I have to rebuild my Clement Space. It is hard. Very difficult to create clement space in the city. Mozart String Quartets always help. And Bach too. No need to explain the science behind that. I am too exhausted. This was quite a long post. Thank you and congratulations for reading this far. Good night, world! Please, let tomorrow bring more clemency.

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