by Nicola Rathbone
These have been written at various points of my life before I knew I was autistic. Reading them again, I question why it never occurred to me that being autistic was a possibility.
This poem speaks to my difficulty of being able to say the ‘right thing’ especially when someone is struggling and how the platitudes you are supposed to say are basically pointless nothings. I have since learnt this is a very common perspective for autistics who will share their own stories to show empathy – a shared experience of feeling.
Cheer Squad I’m always at a loss for words When someone’s feeling down ‘Cheer up’ is trite And makes light Of the others situation. ‘I know what you’re going through’ Is a lie. How can I? I’m not you. I feel my feelings You feel yours I can only recognise your pain. But it’s not the same. ‘It will get better’ is another one. Really? When? Can you give a date? Have you visions? A crystal ball? Not at all. It is just empty wishes. What I really want to say instead is ‘Life is shit sometimes. It just is.’ But you are not alone You have a crowd Of people cheering you on, Even if you can’t hear us yet. And we love you in whatever mood you’re in Wanting rainbows and sunshine and flowers for you But still knowing It can piss down And an umbrella is nowhere to be found.
This poem was written after being bullied by work colleagues and once again finding myself unable to fit in. I was understandably a little bitter, not to mention angry, at finding myself, once again, in this situation.
Belonging When you sit there and snigger at my non-conformity Does it not occur I pity your fear-bound uniformity I pity your rule-bound integration I pity at your pusillanimous segregation. Can you not see the world you have lost Shutting out change? I sing with the multi-coloured universe I dance with the rainbow of possibilities I explode with the opportunity of infinity. So huddle together in your world of grey and greige Scorning us all Who do not fit your tiny standards Who are too fat, too thin, too loud, too smart, too dumb Too free. And watch us soar.
This poem was written after I had just left an abusive marriage. One of the things that came up in counselling was that I camouflaged – pretended to be whatever I thought the other person wanted in order to keep them happy. It is part of autistic masking, something I didn’t know at the time, and is also a trauma response – fawning, designed to protect us and keep us safe. Again, a common autistic response from growing up in a world where we are attacked for being different.
I was in burnout and too tired to pretend any more. And counselling showed me that I not only shouldn’t have to, doing so was very harmful to my long-term mental health.
Be My Valentine! As I sit here at the table Eyes swivel, watch me curiously Why’s she waiting? Will he make it? Or has he dumped me publicly? I am feeling light amusement Watching them stare, just wondering Reading their questions in their eyes Knowing the truth will never dawn. They cannot see, I wait for no-one I’m the Valentine for me! I chose to play his games no more Partnership not worth my life. All the years I showed false faces My thoughts, opinions, even looks To please, to soothe, to satisfy To keep him happy, keep him near. After time I lost the real me Inside a perfect crafted fake Who could love this shattered image Him, who had never seen what’s real? And as I drowned inside his hate I realised I’d lost my way And saw my soul at its true worth At once I valued what was gone. This year I choose to sit alone To pledge one thing to my true love Never again to cheat myself To catch a man to share my life. To all you Valentine’s out there May all you ever wish come true Remember though whatever comes Your truest love must always start with you.
This last serious poem was written for a friend. She was grieving. I was recovering from burnout. At that time, I did not have a name for my experience – only the experience. For a long while she had been unable to paint anything but grey. Then one day, a shoot of green crept into her canvas and showed her, and me, hope again.
Shoot Winter wraps around, Smothers in cold Numbed, defeated Cannot think, cannot move, cannot... be White spreads forever, unending, unchanging, unyielding And yet... One shoot One kiss of green One blink, one promise of more A whisper of burgeoning spring now approaching. Just one shoot, A glimmer of nothing, Yet opening on to so much more, Life is unfurling, and in its unfurling, shows infinite shadows of what lies in store. A world full of colours, a riot of living, a pulsating, beating, hammering roar. Not yet, Not now, But soon. I ... breathe...
And finally, a couple for light relief:
Executive dysfunction anyone?
Housework sucks! Housework is a funny chore Do it once and it’s there once more Hoover and dust and clean and then Another day and do it over again. Pick up and polish and launder and shine Another day older and it’s back to the grime. So I say why bother, life is too short To be chasing around doing what ‘they’ think I ought Clean enough to be healthy is my basic creed, To be happy and cosy is all that we need, Then spend time I have saved doing what I like best What I see as important and bugger the rest!
And finally, Nellie – because she is still my favourite 🙂
Nellie Her name was Nellie Knickerless She worked along the docks She made herself a fortune Handling men's ...socks She'd treat them any way you'd like Sometimes gentle, sometimes rough And if you asked her nicely She'd nearly pull them off. But this story has a moral That'll make you want to cry Poor Nellie had to quit her job She'd developed RSI! So I hope you ALL will learn from this Not just prostitutes and pimps Too much handling finished Nellie It made her wrist go limp So moderate your workload Don't enjoy your job too much Or you could end up like Nellie And completely lose your touch!