I like what D.J. Savarese said about Autistic people living in a supportive community, with interdependence as a model, and not the too-oft lauded “independence”. In this article in Psychology Today, D.J. is quoted saying:

Interdependence is my model. Make sure all members of the community feel needed. We all need to feel loved and included—not just nonspeaking kids. Ask yourself why sad selves can’t get free from anxiety. Learning is not hard, but it requires a sense of commitment. It’s not always easy, but we all love being a necessary part of something bigger than ourselves, and when we are, the community—and each of us—is better for it.

I’ve always ‘felt’ words, a kind of sensory connectivity with words, rather than mere abstract meanings, and the word “independence” felt like a desperate flight away from danger and pain. I associate that word inside my Being with the time of my life where I constantly felt an overpowering white searing fear, inner loathing of my shackled feet, together with the screaming desperation for flight. A bird shackled inside a golden cage. For that bird, “independence” was paramount – even if it meant a terrible lonely and frightening escape from the grandeur of a luxurious prison.

I was that bird. I finally did manage to break free, when at last I was willing and ready to wager my very life, the life that I had always known that offered ‘safety’ in exchange for autonomy and dignity, upon that bid for “independence.” But I realised afterwards that that state of independence accorded no safety net, no stability, no support – I had escaped seething writhing hell only to land myself in tumultuous troubled waters. Still, drowning would’ve been better than a life of nothingness inside that padded cell.

And then I found interdependence. This friend saved me. I call him YS. Through the darkest moments, he was there. Just Being. No judgments. Three years of adjustment, fresh from hell, at the beginning of the beginning of everything, I needed to learn how to Be again. It was not easy. There was so much to work through and work out. My friend and I would meet every weekend, it was the one light in a dark tunnel, we would spend time prattling and indulging in foodie adventures. I owe him my survival. From these three years emerged Scheherazade’s Sea, 2010, my MPhil in music composition thesis and performance work. YS has been a bulwark of strength and provision of grace to me since then, and even now, in his quiet, unassuming and humble way. I am indebted to him, a debt greater than I can ever repay.

The same clemency played out when I embarked on my PhD scholarship in Sydney. I found my friend Rick. We kept meeting downstairs each and every time (which was often) our neighbour on the fourth floor set off the fire alarm. Lucy again was my channel to the ‘outside world’. Lucy showed partiality towards Rick and we struck up conversation. After awhile, we established a weekend routine of foodie adventures and he listen most patiently to my waffling. I was not bereft, not alone. The PhD years were the very best, because Lucy walked into my life, and it was her who saved me more than once from plunging into the dark night of despair and death.

My human friends were not overwhelming, they did not tell me what to do and how to do it, they held no colonial authority over me, and I was no longer a subaltern. They even helped me out with housework on days where my executive functionality completely failed, and I was on the verge of physical and mental breakdown. There was no golden cage, and I had to learn some difficult lessons, but I am glad for all of it.

I completed my PhD after much tumultuous heaving and churning, and what an incredibly amazing adventure. The PhD research and practice process itself was a joy, the best thing that had thus far happened in my life, and to date. Throughout my research journey, this grand sojourn towards Being, the turbulence was never from the work at hand, but rather from just having to survive intact. Without my two special friends and the rather unconventional interdependence we established, I would not have made it through the warfare of just existing.

Now, amidst a kind of upheaval that has the entire world in its grasp, this COVID19 pandemic, I am once again reminded of the need for interdependence. We need each other, not to constrict or bind, but to co-function in an accepting, embracing and uplifting ecology of empathy and grace. I am loving the semi-isolation (I live with my 85 year old mother) and I wish there were more hours in a day for this quietude, but I also know many of my friends are not comfortable with so much aloneness. Reaching out online seems the only way we can all congregate while safely isolating or because of geographical divides – and this is what we are doing now. It’s a different kind of interdependency, no less empathic, nor less dynamic, but just functioning within a different system of delivery and reception.

Interdependence is still the key to survival, and surviving as well as we possibly can.

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