Matter over mind: living conditions and autistic mental health

Since I’m running a consulting service that is trying to give users “tools you can use at home alone”, without having to buy fancy stuff, go to expensive classes, take far-away workshops, or pay through years of special therapies (if you can’t), it would be convenient if I could say, with what we call in Poland “American” optimism (i.e. exaggerated and fake positivity – I hope this joke passes without offence) that you, alone, are the master of your destiny, and can overcome absolutely any obstacle, massive MH issues included, on your own, through sheer will and determination, if you only try hard enough.

But I think that’s bullshit.

In reality, community integration and social support matter far more than not just any meditation technique you can learn or any superfood you can eat, and the number of times you can analyse your problems out loud, but (I dare say this, personal opinion) often also than any pill you can take.

The problem is, while it should be available freely to any human born to this earth – in modern times it’s often near absent, especially for autistic folk. The second problem is, even if you happen to get your hands on money, you can’t (directly) buy (genuine) community. You have to either find a sound, functioning, accepting piece of it and manage to integrate into it, or, if you’re especially unlucky, build it in tiny bubbles from the ground up over frustratingly long time spans.

I’m not writing this to sell you my service (an hour a month with a virtual stranger is not what I mean by social support and community integration), but just as a disappointing fact I learnt the hard way; on the other hand, it’s also an important fact that should be acknowledged and ideally used as a driving force to change priorities and situations.

How? I’ve been thinking about that for a while; let me know if you have the solution.

What I have also experienced in life though is that opportunities to join and build community do come your way even when you’re autistic (and uprooted, alienated from your family because of being trans, and a virtual hermit …). Not necessarily a golden shower of them, but a drop here and there. Some are extremely valuable.

What I have found in my life is that being enveloped by my MH demons made it not only harder to notice that, but especially to take advantage of it skilfully. When it’s crucial to tune into every crack in the wall of isolation before you, being consumed by a noisy brawl of inner conflicts and psycho-physiological deregulation is so unhelpful that even tuning it down by say 5% makes a difference. You might then catch the one or two opportunities that bring it down by another 10%, and start a virtuous cycle.

I guess that’s why I still say that working on yourself and your lifestyle is worth it even if that fixes 15% of the problem, and skilful community support and integration would fix 70–80% (I hope it’s OK to make these numbers up; they are based on a comparison of my MH issues before I had a relatively safe haven vs. afterwards). The 15% might still help you see, seize, and keep the opportunities that come along (for example by not destroying relationships through old habits; not running away from improving situations because of random panic; and … by staying alive and alert long enough).

I realise I promised a post about “material conditions”. Such as housing, money and environment. These provide a huge level of safety (or its lack); but reflecting on it, I realised what seems to have an even greater effect on calming an imbalanced physiology and allowing space for breathing and stability to emerge in the mind is tangible social safety – knowing that there are people nearby whom you can trust, who do not expect you to do things you can’t do (without excruciating pain), who will not hurt you, but who will help you. It is hard to think that many of us have never experienced this (especially the part on respecting limits).

Personal opinion: if you are autistic and have MH problems, my advice is

  1. get the above
  2. get material security and sensory comfort (housing, environment, money)
  3. if you can’t, maintain or improve your capacity to snatch pieces of it when they flicker by by working on yourself within that 15% space of difference

Published by Sash Supertramp

Genderqueer neuro-philosopher turned multicultural nomad then inner-space traveler. Blogs about neuro & gender diversity, complex trauma recovery, and other existential themes of the human condition.

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