Comments Part 2

More than a year ago, I wrote a post about how I had closed the comments on my blog. This is mostly due to 1) my Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria and 2) my problems with letting people be wrong.

I have decided though, to open up the comments.

Why? Because I am over it? NO! Oh my no! I am so not over it. But I am working with a counselor almost daily on my RSD. Honestly, we’re working more on the emotions that come up from my RSD, like, the fear of conflict, the hurt of rejection, the pain of judgement, et cetera, et cetera… So, if you suffer from a fear of the comments section, or maybe an obsession, pull up a chair. Welcome to my support group. I’ve got some tips to share with you…

The first thing my lovely counselor told me about with this issue was Cognitive Distortions. To put it simply, cognitive distortions are the way that our minds lie to us, distort the truth so to speak. Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria is just one big cognitive distortion. Just another way that your brain is lying to you. Unfortunately, those lies can become big emotions. I usually respond to bad comments with first anger, hurt, and then finally, humiliation.

This isn’t to say that all bad comments are just in my head, sometimes they are extremely insulting. Sometimes they are just so wrong that it feels insulting.

The problem comes when I act on those feelings. First I obsess. Taking important time out of my life to compulsively repeat the insult over and over and over. Then I compose a response. I read that response, rewrite it- maybe get rid of it- then obsess again- then write a response. Before you know it I have not only lost hours of my life to this stupid comment, I have created a mini trauma around it. And trauma compounds, people. Maybe that one comment won’t set me back in my progress, but constant attention to the opinions of others will paralyze me with fear and self doubt.

This is also true of the live version of comments. Or you know, people.

So what do I do?

  • First, I step back. Do I know this person? Is their opinion important to my life? Is reeducating them valuable to my life?
  • If any of the answers to that are yes, I do take the time to think about my response. If I know them, I think about what their intent was in writing something like that.
  • Then, I remove emotion from my response. No matter how much we think our feelings will matter to this person, in the end, their own feelings matter more to them. So calling foul will probably instigate a defensive stance and reduce the effectiveness of any argument I have. If I do use emotion, it’s only in attempting to understand where they were coming from.
  • I don’t spend more than five minutes on it. If they reply, I start the process over again.
  • Then, if it’s still bothering me, I talk to my counselor about it.

Let me make one thing especially clear. It can still hurt. When you get venomously corrected on a mistake you made, or called out for something you didn’t do… that kind of hate stings, and it stings for a long time. And not just for those that deal with RSD.

My secret soul sister, JVN.

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts tonight, Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness. Yes, the grooming guy from Queer Eye. The guest was the wonderful Jameela Jamil, yes the south asian girl from The Good Place. She is also smart, stunning, and the best giver-of-no-fucks. And they were talking about the fear that comes with speaking out- the woke bashing, the cancel culture, the rigid identity politics that keeps us all from listening to one another, and Jonathan said the best thing. (Now it came from another expert he had interviewed, and he keeps referencing this episode and I can’t find it, it’s killing me… anyway) he said that we are evolutionarily wired to want to reach out to one another, to have those connections. So when someone hits you with that negative rejection, it hurts. And because it hurts, your brain zeros in on it and focuses on it, because pain is a lesson. Your brain is telling you, “now that you’ve felt that, let’s never do that again.” And that’s why we look past all the positive comments and go straight to the negative flame wars. We are literally all fighting over not getting rejected, whether it’s by society, popular culture, or by your crazy racists uncle that just learned how to use facebook.

(Yeah, Jonathan Van Ness is an angel. I would go into a flame war for him. Just kidding… Not really kidding. I’d probably cut someone for him. Gay cheerleaders forever!)

Honestly, when I get advice in a support group though, part of me says, “That’s easy for you to say.” Well then, I’d like to show you the proof. Yesterday, I was doing some writing and research on Temple Grandin. For those of you that don’t know, Temple Grandin is probably the most famous autistic person alive today. Despite her differences, or in some cases, because of them, she has multiple higher degrees, teaches as a professor, and made revolutionary changes to the cattle industry.

At the time when I came upon THE COMMENT, I was looking up a book by Temple’s mother on Amazon. Temple’s mother, Eustacia, is one of my personal heroes, who not only helped to raise one of the most influential and inspirational autistic women of the century, but also managed to escape an abusive husband who was trying to have her and Temple BOTH committed!

Anyway I look in the book reviews of this book written by Temple’s mother, and I find this:

It won’t tell you how Temple Grandin became a prodigy! DISAPPOINTING: I’m like you, I wanted to find out HOW WAS TEMPLE GRANDIN BROUGHT OUT OF SEVERE AUTISM. No such luck. Eustacia deals with that crucial topic in about three sentences, about hiring an unnamed woman with experience tutoring autistic children and this tutor used undescribed methods that worked wonders. The rest of the book is how Eustacia was in a dreary marriage (her husband died some years ago so we’ll never get his side of the story) that caused her to give up her dreams of being a ballerina or an artist. I couldn’t get interested in Eustacia’s problems, I wanted to know how to handle an autistic child.”

– “Autism Mom” on Amazon

So when I saw this comment, I’m sorry, “book review”, I got pissed. There is just no other way to put it. As an autistic person, I felt that this mother had gotten so, so many things wrong. Not only had she gotten autism wrong, she had assumed that the only reason anyone would want to hear Eustacia’s story was to find out the secret of how to “fix” their kid. It’s not like Eustacia had a life of her own or anything. It also gives absolutely NO CREDIT to one of the most amazing women I have ever been honored to meet, Temple Grandin herself.

So this did not get thrown out in the first step, needless to say. I felt that I needed to respond. Sure, it was an old review, that woman would probably never see my words. But someone might. Someone who is different. Or the parent of someone who is different. They will see that what this woman thought was wrong-headed, and they will act differently in their own lives. Hopefully. It’s not perfect, but this is what I said:

“There are A LOT of problems with what you are saying. Because this review was several years ago, and I’m sure you were only interested in helping the child in your life, I am not gonna get as offended as other autistic people might… First, you aren’t “brought out of severe autism.” Having listened to Temple Grandin speak publicly, she always attributed her ability to thrive in this society to her mother and her aunt’s determination that she stretch out of her comfort zone. She also mentions her science teacher. As someone who is autistic and the mother of a “severely” autistic son I can tell you that this is literally the only way to help someone survive a world that is constantly assaulting their nerves. Stretch! So if they can’t handle Walmart, take them to a smaller grocery store first. Work your way up to it. I hope that in the years since you left this review you have done more research and I hope the child in your life is doing well.” 

-Angry Holly on Amazon

Here’s a little more on that argument that I didn’t mention. No one is “severely” autistic. No one is “mildly” autistic. Even though it is a spectrum, it is not a matter of high or low. It is a matter of what parts of the spectrum your individual differences are strongest. The best visual example I’ve seen is like a sound board. “Your ability to perceive colors and sound is very high… but your social skills are very low” or in my case, “Your sense of compassion is very high… but your flexibility is low.” That kind of thing. (Technically both of those were me.)

What most people are referring to when they say “severely autistic” are either speech problems or intellectual disability. Those are co-morbid problems that have different solutions. And for some, they will never fully speak. And others will always have the mind of a child. They cannot be “fixed” with a parenting style or therapy. They can improve, though. Children with apraxia or echolalia, can improve with therapy and accommodation. People with intellectual disabilities can still learn, they just might have unconventional strengths. Either way, parents need to accept them as the people they are, and not as wrecks to be repaired. End of argument. No debate.

This is the spectrum, not a line from high to low. It’s music.
It’s maybe not your tune, but it’s still music.

So, yes. Sometimes it’s important to engage in the comments. And for others, don’t waste your precious time on something that will not improve your life or the life of others. And call your therapist.

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