First, before anyone gets into a tizzy because of the use of the word “privilege,” let me excerpt from the introduction to the Checklist of Neurotypical Privilege Sarah Langston refers to in her piece:
… For those who find themselves feeling defensive upon reading, you are not alone. For most of us, this is a necessary part of the process of acknowledging and understanding privilege. Here are a few basic things to remember about privilege:
Privilege is not your fault. It is an artifact of systems that favor some people over others, systems that have evolved naturally to meet the needs of the majority, but have failed to provide adequate accommodations for those outside it. For more information on understanding and confronting privilege, please see this link.
Privilege is not, in itself, a terrible thing. Having any form of privilege does not make you a bad person. Just about everyone has some form of privilege. No, that doesn’t mean it all somehow “balances out.” A person can have, for example, white privilege, male privilege, class privilege, and heterosexual privilege, while still lacking neurotypical privilege. Likewise, not all autistic people have had the same experiences; other forms of privilege can act as a cushion against many of the harsher realities endured by those who belong to multiple disenfranchised groups.The statement that privilege exists is not an accusation or attempt to blame. It is an invitation to see your experiences and the experiences of others in a new light. It is not an admonition to change the world, but a simple tool with which to begin considering if, possibly, some changes might be worth working toward.
That said, Langston writes at the Scavenger:
Dotted around the internet are privilege checklists covering an array of characteristics. Race, class, ethnicity, religion, sex and/or gender – almost every conceivable arena of identity is covered. These lists are designed as a discussion portal for folk who inhabit spheres of power in our society. Most of us could straddle more than one. I, for instance, possess white class privilege in spades.
Rather than listing forms of discrimination, these lists cleverly invert rhetoric so you instead read how the world favours you because of the way you are. From access to healthcare, to education, to the behaviour of others and more, privilege checklists force us to engage with the specifics of how the world is more accessible and liveable for us and not others.
Today I stumbled across a checklist for neurotypical privilege. Published on the autism blog Square 8, the list works through fifty ways in which life is easier if your brain is wired in a way that physicians would consider “normal”. That is, if you exist without any kind of neural distinction such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, aspergers syndrome, depression, attention deficit disorder and so on.
As I read through the Square 8 list, I felt myself getting choked up. Included were points like item #30 – “ No one speculates about whether I am competent to raise children based solely on my neurology”, and item #17 – “I can reveal my neurology to my boss and co-workers without fear of losing my job.” Here for the first time was an expression of what it has been like to stand on my tiptoes, peering through the looking glass at a life less vexed.
Living a non-neurotypical life
At the age of 19, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was born this way – I like to to think of myself as ‘neurologically distinct’. At the time I didn’t quite understand that this thing I ‘had’ was permanent, and wielded the power to destabilise every facet of my existence and even end it. I will soon turn 27, meaning I have been treatment compliant for eight years. I am still what would be termed ‘ill’ by many physicians and probably always will be to some degree.
Two weeks ago I made concrete plans to end my life, very narrowly averted by a parent. In the midst of a severe depressive episode, triggered by the emotional stress of a divorce, I grew frustrated and found myself exhausted. But by what?
For those of us with a ‘mental illness’ or a set of behaviours that are classed as atypical, navigating everyday life is tiring. In my case, the combination of orientation and treatment makes my life an often treacherous and arduous task to execute.
This is because I cycle frequently between a state known as hypomania and acute depressions, with co-morbid anxiety disorder. Sometimes these depressions hum at a moderate level but last for months, or they can be fast, hard and life-threatening. It is rare that I get a substantial plateau between the two.
Hypomania for me is characterised by periods of extreme exuberance, mental confusion, heightened senses, indiscriminate hyper-sexuality and inappropriate behaviour, ill advised spending, racing and intrusive thoughts, insomnia, rapid talking, body pains and shakes, muscular tension and spasms, grandiose plans, rash decision making and abuse of substances (particularly alcohol).
My depressive episodes are characterised by mental confusion, inability to cope with stress, “brain fog”, clumsiness, weepiness, acute feelings of insoluble distress and despair, self injury, inability to focus, a radically increased need for sleep, bone-deep fatigue, slowed physical movements, substance abuse, a non-existent libido and suicidal plans and attempts.
Anxiety disorder looks as it sounds – when it peaks, I find it incredibly difficult to leave the house, answer the phone, fill out forms, or function in social settings. I have panic attacks that pin me to the bed, paralysed, like a heart attack thundering through me.
Read more here.