My last article detailed some of the horrors of being autistic but how people usually respond is less than ideal. They believe that the best recourse is punitive. However, punishment and revenge are not only inner-demons I’d rather stay dormant but have no therapeutic effect on me. My greatest issues after are not a desire for payback but a less shattered brain with an amygdala that isn’t constantly sending epinephrine to my prefrontal cortex. And there are many internet self-help people who will say un-scientifically that revenge is therapeutic. Every psychological study into the matter has demonstrably proven forgiveness is better for one’s mental health. To claim otherwise would be as anti-science as being anti-vaccine or a global warming denier.
Hatred would gain me nothing and kill my soul in the process. What I did need was help through the trauma and that never came. Let’s talk about what the causes of the trauma are, specifically. They are not just people being mean to me, they are, mostly a matter of power dynamics. In fact the worst trauma was when my bullies were in a position to counter-tattle because that renders me with no power and them with almost absolute power over me. They can do what they want to and I can’t resist. That is the greatest source of terror. In an era before zero-tolerance and “broken-window” policies when kids were less regulated, ironically, my PTSD would have been less. Also, gossip, because it also was a source of powerlessness because I lose control of my reputation and name.
Yes, being autistic made me prone to minor social mistakes which gave my bullies two forms of ammunition. Bad press and tattling. Being urinated on and having rocks thrown at me was bad but, really, I could have gotten over that much more easily. The fact that I was powerless to resist was what turned the medium psychological scars into deep ones. To handle the PTSD one needs to have security that one is not in danger and that one possesses agency over one’s life. Unlike someone returning from a war-zone, though, the dangers don’t go away. The threat of authority and gossip remain and anyone can use them. My PTSD was something I could never escape, in part, because I was always in the war-zone. Being socially awkward means everyone has a metaphorical gun, the authorities and gossip, and I cannot escape.
The College of Charleston which I was enrolled in as a freshman during some of the worst bullying which did not end when I graduated high school punished me for panic and anxiety attacks (much more than Wando did) and therefore made them worse. While at the college, I was urinated on, sexually assaulted (groped), and received hundreds of death threats over a misunderstood Facebook post. My bullies did the acts to me but the vice principals, the SROs, and the Dean of Students were the force of the state which made the worst bullying possible. It is easier for me to forgive my bullies than the metaphorical and literal guns that backed them up. I think it is important to single out the college owing to its virtue signaling.
It’s only progressive compared to the rest of South Carolina. Their “If these walls could talk” campaign about them remembering their slaveholding past whilst forgetting their janitors are all black and make minimum wage, many of whom are homeless, food insecure, or malnourished. Adjusted for inflation and barter-exchange-rate, the average domestic slave was probably not materially much worse than the housekeeping staff of the institution. When malnourished, homeless, black people literally clean the messes of rich, white, kids, it is a level of degradation which should make decent people cringe. When a place is divided so strikingly between cocaine people and people sleeping in a car, between bottomless hedonism and desperate poverty, it is depravity of the most putrid kind. The lack of affordable housing and quality food is also a major impediment to reducing stress and PTSD and was for me. While it gets little ink this piece, it deserves much more.
That is a tangent but a germane one. The manner in which PTSD must be reduced would require far more creativity and investment than simply having anti-bullying policies or things like that. That’s a primitive solution. There are so many ways to handle mental health crises but before any of them can be enacted there must first be the political will to do so. It’s cheaper to pay lip service and to do nothing. In the end, all off these institutions have to address the subcultural prejudices and power dynamics of their systems. Depriving the absolute power of the state and caring for people’s Maslow’s Needs of housing and food are the first steps in reducing PTSD from social situations. The PTSD isn’t something a psychiatrist can heal unless there is food security, housing security, nonzero tolerance policies, and a less prejudiced culture. Then and only then, once the Maslow’s Pyramid is fully built and there are breaks preventing the abuse of the system can the psychologists begin to heal the wounds.