Feeling a lot of guilt today. I have younger sister with an autism diagnosis and, in a large family, she grew up being bullied a lot, both at school and at home. I never picked on her, except for the few times where I just lost my patience and said something quick and rude that had everyone laughing at her expense. Though I was always quick to make sure that she was eventually laughing too, I remember these times because they stick with me and hurt me. I don’t think it hurts because I hurt her but because I don’t want to be someone who behaves that way.
One thing I never fully grasped was how the things that bother you about other people are actually the things that bother you about yourself. As a depressed person with what I am pretty sure is undiagnosed adhd, my fuse can be a little short in the car. It’s short everywhere but only behind the wheel with no ability to remove myself from the situation do I get so worked up that I resort to shouting and name-calling out of pure vitriolic rage. These other drivers make me so mad I call them idiots and tell them they’re stupid. I tell them they shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house because they are so dumb. It wasn’t until my sister told me how she’d confronted her partner’s fatphobia while they were behind the wheel calling everyone a fat-head or a fat-ass or something that it clicked for me how, at the height of anger where emotions are highest and reasoning is the lowest, the insults we hurl say more about us and our values system than it does about the object of our wrath. Like, in my messed up view of the world from best to worst, I’ve internalized stupidity as the objective worst. But it’s not objective.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my autistic sister and why I couldn’t have been better to her. I’ve been thinking a lot about how her behaviors make complete sense to me and whether that means that we have some lines of thinking in common or if I have just been around her enough and am perceptive enough to have gotten to know her a bit. My own sister. But I don’t honestly know. In truth, the answer is never within these narrow binaries I’m mining but that doesn’t seem to stop me from going down that route.
I used the insults in traffic just as an analogy to illustrate how the qualities in others that bother us are usually qualities we don’t like about ourselves. I was thinking that I have had this aversion to my sister because there are similarities and, while this is true, and while there are also similarities between myself and all of my siblings, one of the reasons my sister was diagnosed and I wasn’t is because she is intellectually disabled. I guess it makes sense that, if I think the worst thing in the world is to be stupid and if I am terrified that I am stupid, I would certainly resent any similarity between myself and my sister, whom I perceive to be stupid. But these aren’t my values. These are the same values that told me I was gifted and I could take care of myself and I didn’t need anything that tell my sister she is insufficient, she’s different, she can’t participate, she can’t take care of herself. I used to hear the way she spoke to people, the things she would say, and just cringe because it always sounded like she was reenacting a bad sitcom, complete with the over-dramatization. But if I think about it, isn’t that also how I learned?
So many of the lessons I learned growing up are flawed. Everything I learned about racism, about capitalism, about religion… even things I learned about science, about language… I don’t know why I thought my understanding of intelligence itself would be left unscathed but I think it’s more malleable than I thought. And I think there are different kinds of intelligence. We all have inherent value. That’s the thing I wish I had been taught and internalized. We all have inherent value.