Above all, pity those who have given up on love as a means to achieve the freedom to live

Once again, I’ve been having some thoughts after the latest chapter of Shingeki no Kyojin. If you’re also following along with this manga, I hope you may find this interesting. If you’re not, that’s okay too. One of the great things about SnK in my opinion is how simply human it is, so I don’t think you as a human reading this need a lot of context to understand.

Sometimes, or maybe often times, we strive for what we think we want, not quite allowing ourselves to fight for what we truly want. The things we truly want are usually the most challenging to achieve, and we fail along the way more often than not. So these happy things tend to end up intertwined with a feeling of fear, doubt and excruciating vulnerability. Striving for what we truly want is the hard way to choose to live. It’s a life of pain and suffering. Also of passion, heart and that ecstatic feeling that even the smallest of victories and precious of moments can bring about.

But we can only take so much. At some point our will to fight for the things most important to us is challenged by the overwhelming amount of suffering that comes with it. We lose hope. And so we stop fighting for these things.

That said, humans (as all living beings do) need to fight. The instinct to strive forward, in whatever direction that may be, can only be extinguished by not existing anymore. With that in heart, we find new goals. Usually these goals are derived from what we truly want. We use the same words for them, just using these words in twisted ways.

In the case of Eren, the main character of SnK, this goal is freedom. The way I see it, at first, the word freedom stood for a freedom to dream and be what you want to be. What that means is for there to be a mental sort of space for you in the world to exist and not be put in a cage of whatever construct. Not to be caged by hatred, other beliefs, a social construct, a societal construct. Instead having the freedom to be in whatever way you may be. It means for you to be worthy enough of being allowed that space. To be cared about, loved enough to be worthy of living in this world.

Freedom essentially is space to exist, as a result of being worthy and therefore being loved.

Eren didn’t feel he had that freedom. So he strived forward to take it back (being alive means having been giving space to exist, so we are all born free). But things became complicated for Eren, and at some point doubt and the seeming impossibility of ever achieving the kind of freedom he strove for got the better of him. The world was never going to give him and the people he cared about the space to exist. He came to doubt his own worth, whether the people around him even really loved for who he was, or out of some form of duty (Mikasa, for anyone reading the manga). If even that love isn’t real, not being given to him for who he is and therefore not really making him feel worthy as he is, then how can you go on believing that it’s possible to achieve that kind of freedom? If no one, not even those you hoped loved you, could give you that worth, that space, that freedom?

It is only natural that Eren gave up on freedom through love, care and worth. I think, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we all doubt whether our inherent worth is going to help us achieve our goals. Life isn’t fair. Even though we’re all allowed to exist initially (we are all worthy of existing as we are), that isn’t to say that we are automatically given the freedom to be ourselves and achieve our dreams.

Maybe that’s what’s wrong with the world… but I won’t go too deep into this topic.

Eren has a very strong will to move forward. So, naturally, not giving up on freedom completely, he twisted the meaning of freedom in his brain to make it achievable. To give himself hope again. Freedom now means physical freedom. In other words: the destruction of the world, of the entire construct that’s putting him in this cage, not allowing him to exist.

He has forgotten about what existing truly means to him. That being allowed to exist means to be worthy of love. And that from that love we are given space to be ourselves. He has made existing about being alive, when really, being alive is empty when you are not being loved enough to be given space to live.

I get his anger. Sometimes I too feel capable of destroying the entire world that I feel has rejected me. It’s not right. I was born here too, I had space too, I was worthy too, I was supposed to be loved too. What did I do wrong? Just because I’m not ‘normal’, because I don’t fit into my family’s construct, society’s construct, does that mean I lose my worth? Does that mean I don’t get to be anymore? How’s that fair, to be given something and then for it to be taken from you for no apparent reason?

We should consider ourselves lucky that, unlike Eren, I don’t possess the kind of power to actually act on these feelings. And we should be especially careful not to let people who struggle believing in love get their hands on anything of the sort. I don’t think Eren is a bad person, I don’t think I’m a bad person, I don’t think anyone is inherently a bad person. I don’t even think it takes a specific type of person to get to this point. Everyone and anyone is capable of whatever they are being driven to do. We all suffer, don’t get me wrong, but some suffering is capable of driving anyone, even the most loving people in the world, to give up on love as a means to achieve the freedom to live.

And let’s be real: isn’t living what we were born to do?

Artemis.

When I thought I’d given up, but really hadn’t

My body (or mind, or whoever’s turn it was this time) has been driving me a little very bonkers. For several nights now I keep waking up at 2 A.M. after exactly 4 ½ hours of sleep. Yeah, that’s right: 4 ½ hours to the minute. If I go to bed half an hour later than usual I wake up at 2.30 A.M.

What the f*ck.

You should know that I’ve been having a rough life thus far, and these past few years things have changed for both the worse and the better. I have help now, which is one of the best things I’ve ever let happen to me. On the other hand though my body and mind are pretty done.

I knew it was coming. I mean, I may be somewhat out of touch with myself sometimes, but I am not completely oblivious to my own suffering. I know hurt when I feel it. So, I got help: after all I am not stubborn enough to think that after trying to help myself for so many years, fixing things on my own was going to do any good. There was one tiny bump on the road though: we live in a world where things take time, which unfortunately my body did not have. Not my body’s fault, not mine either. But inevitably that lead to it giving up.

Or at least that’s what I thought.

Not getting enough sleep sucks, I will say that. But, I realized the other day that it may well be a blessing in disguise. Or well, it’s still horrible, don’t get me wrong: just looking at the pain from a different angle. Not denying that it’s pain and that pain is pain no matter the glasses you wear.

Anyways, where was I? O yeah: my body’s latest sleeping schedule. I go to bed around 9.30 – 10.00 P.M. (I’m a grandma, what else is new). Funny thing is that I usually have very little trouble falling asleep initially. That comes later. I fall asleep and end up dreaming. My dreams have a different structure to them depending on how deep I’m sleeping. If I’m having a good night of undisturbed rest (yes, that actually happens once every century), I either dream very imaginative dreams that have little to do with my reality, or I don’t dream at all. Sometimes I have more lucid-like dreams, in which I can tell myself to stay or go in and out of certain situations. Those are usually dreams in which there’s a lot of repetition (cause my autistic ass likes to overanalyze events).

Lately though, my dreams have been making a little too much sense for comfort. They are more realistic, and I can clearly identify the events in my life they’ve originated from. Usually it’s an accumulation of stress, like watching a movie of events that lead to me becoming overstimulated. When that stress climaxes, I wake up. What distinguishes these dreams from reality is that, unlike in real life, it’s really easy to see what it is that’s causing these events to be stressful for me. In real life I am usually too overwhelmed to see clearly when it comes to my own feelings, emotions and thought-patterns, but deep down it seems I do know quite well what’s bothering me.

Or at least: I think my body knows and is trying to tell me. I’m not a fan of its methods, but I have to admit that it’s pleasant thought that my body hasn’t given up on trying to teach me how to live with myself and what is keeping me from finding a sense of peace in this world.

To me that means several things. For one: I am more resilient than I thought possible. Secondly: even when I give up, I don’t really give up. And somehow I find it very comforting to know that it’s okay to give in to your misery sometimes and die a little,

because even then there’s a way back to life.

Artemis.

Why it’s healthy for you to care about something to an unhealthy extent

If there’s one thing my autistic brain has taught me, it is to care. To care so irrevocably, unconditionally, deeply and intensely, that you lose yourself completely in your own belief and experience of whatever it may be that you care about. Many might suggest that to invest yourself in something that way would be unhealthy. And to be fair, I am inclined to agree.

I lose myself in caring more than the average Homo Sapiens (or so I’m assuming). I simply can’t do casual interest: either I care to an unhealthy extent, or I don’t give a damn at all (okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you get my point). I think I know what you’re thinking: ‘that’s how autistic brains work right? Obsessive, compulsive.’ Well… not really.

The struggle of an autistic brain is in the way it processes information, filters it, the way the information travels through the brain, chaotically, frantically, to then be stored in unusual places and amounts. The autistic brain gets messy and any person living there inevitably feels overwhelmed, making it extremely difficult to make sense of his/herself, let alone of the world around him/her. And the biggest problem: there is no out. You can’t escape your brain. In fact, survival of your person is heavily reliant on you working with that nervy mess up there.

Well sh*t.

The only way for an autistic person to engage in a healthy relationship with his/her brain, and use this brain to help him/her survive, is to care about something to an obsessive extent. To focus on the light on the horizon. Caring is finding a silver lining through the mess that is you, your brain, your body, being alive even. Without it, we get lost inside our own selves. Over the course of my none too long life, my brain has shaped and reshaped itself to survive inside its own mess. So if we’re talking cause and effect, obsessiveness is not in the origins of my autism: it’s an inevitable result. Most other autistic brains I know of adopt this strategy of survival inside itself as well.

That is not to say that this works only for those on the autistic spectrum: we all need something important in our lives to stay sane. Something to stand for, something for which we overcome the challenges we are inevitably faced with in life. That said, usually what matters to us doesn’t make sense in that way. I don’t care about weight lifting because it challenges me to overcome my physical limits. Quite the opposite: I overcome my physical limits because I am so invested in weight lifting that I unknowingly end up more resilient in my day to day life.

The key to life is to care. To be as obsessed with something as you can be, to the point where it takes you places you never even knew you were capable of going.

In defending, exploring, experiencing, chasing what and who we care about, we find ourselves facing the things inside ourselves that keep us from doing so. Thoughts, ideas, beliefs, emotions, physical obstacles, mental obstacles are inevitably challenged in our hunt for what truly matters. The things we obsess over show us our limits, teach us about ourselves, and help us venture beyond our familiar spaces.

Under the safe umbrella of what feels like home, we grow through the perils of a world that, sadly, hurts, and will undoubtedly continue to for a long, long time.

But yes, I am inclined to agree that losing yourself in something that way is unhealthy. My obsessions have also brought me to the edge of life and death far more times than I am proud of. But, to be honest, I feel lucky more than anything. Because, to the very least, it tells me that I have cared about something.

And how could you be more lucky than to have found a home somewhere in a crazy world such as this one?

Artemis.

The freedom to want what you want

Inspired by the manga I’ve been reading for these past few years (Shingeki no Kyojin), I’ve spent some time thinking about free will. Personally I’ve grown up in an environment where there was a surprising lack of space for free will. That is if you define free will as being free to want what you want (to have your ‘wants’/will be your own and therefore of your own choosing), and having space for free will as 1.being allowed to want what you want and 2. being allowed and being given support to act on what you want. I grew up very little of either of these privileges, which may sound strange to you since I did grow up in what is considered a free country.

But if I define free will as I do, I honestly can’t say I had much of such liberty. My mother was quick to decide what she wanted for/from me and the ‘wants’ I chose for myself were usually considered weird and stupid. I was even considered stupid for thinking that I wanted certain things, which my mom decided were not what I wanted at all. I didn’t know me, and so I couldn’t possibly choose for myself what I wanted. ‘No that’s not what you really want. Here, this fits you, this is what you want. You want this, don’t you? I know you do, I can see it in your eyes. You’re just like me, don’t you see? I know what you want.’ No, there truly was not a lot of room for my free will to develop, or for me to learn how to act properly according to this free will.

Having not been allowed to decide what I wanted, I also wasn’t able to act upon what I wanted. And so most of my actions required guidance from others. From my parents, friends, school, society in general. I would do as I was told was right for me. Which isn’t at all as simple as it sounds. As you probably know, humans are fickle, vague and from one person to another views on what is right can directly oppose each other. No one in their right mind would consciously choose to try and follow this guidance. I did though, which is in part because my autistic brain needed to in order to fit in, but also because I didn’t have another choice.

Or so I had been taught to believe.

I thought I didn’t have a free will. And in those courageous moments when I did, I thought it had to be unreliable. It wouldn’t be good for my health, my happiness, my physical and mental survival. I’d die. I didn’t know how, but I would.

I had to sink really deep to realize that the opposite was true. I had lived my whole life feeling the way others told me to feel, treating myself the way others believed I should treat me, and running a marathon every day just to keep up (but fail to). I was burned out and terribly unhappy. How on earth could listening to my free will be worse?

I’m working on trusting myself more as we speak, and let me tell you: it’s not easy to believe in something your brain has been carefully programmed to see as the enemy, but it’s better. It’s so much better.

Why though? Why is it better?

Let me ask you a question: where does free will come from? Who or what decides what you want to want?

I think, and this is just a theory that you are welcome to prove false, that our will somehow sprouts from genetics. Or maybe from the laws of nature would be a more accurate way to say it. Either way, I think the things we want, we want because our nature needs us to want them, because we need a desire to strive for the things that will help us survive. I want sweet, dense foods, because my body composition is very light and needs something soft and dense to sustain. I like wide clothes, not just because I like the way it looks, but also because my sensitive body thrives when it feels free to move as it needs to.

Which begs the question: is free will even really free? If it is not really you (your mind/consciousness) who decides, then isn’t our free will really something else’s?

Aren’t we all just slaves to something?

Artemis.

Absolutely not unique and entirely unoriginal

I’m pretty sure drawing was the first thing I did when I learned to hold a pencil. Which I suppose most kids do, so that’s not special. It seemed that way at the time though, since there was no way to compare me to anyone else. There were no smartphones, there was no Instagram, or well… anything like that at all. My drawing obsessed self was an anomaly in my space. For various reasons, many of which had nothing to do with drawing, but that’s another story.

Point is, I drew things. Horses (yes, my autistic self went through a phase…maybe more than a phase), horses, and you won’t believe it, but even more horses. As I became aware of the fact that there were other humans around me (the horror), my focus shifted to drawing faces. More specifically: eyes. In hindsight that was an odd unfolding of events, since I hardly looked at people’s faces, let alone the mirrors to the soul. And yet I found myself obsessing over them, as you do when you’re autistic. My old notebooks were filled with eyes of all shapes and sizes, no whiteboard was safe. In my free time I would look up high resolution pictures of eyes on Google (we were blessed by the gods for the new god of search engines rose from the blood of fallen.. I don’t know where I’m going with this) that I would safe on my computer to stare at whenever I got the chance. It was madness,

and I was having the time of my life.

Again, point is, I drew eyes and I framed them by drawing faces. Around this time the internet became a place where, amongst other things, artists and commonfolk shared their work. For me it was the first ever confrontation with how very much not special what I did was. There are millions of portraits to be found online, some of which way more detailed than mine, some less detailed but more creative, some looking exactly the way mine did years ago. Some artists are capable of coming up and executing some amazing concepts, far more original than copying a picture with graphite pencil. I wasn’t an anomaly amongst all that,

not sure if I was even unique. 

But not even that: what my drawing meant to me wasn’t that unique either. Many spoke of being calmed and soothed by their work, many discussed the drive they felt to improve, and so on. At first I felt defeated in the face of all this. I’m not sure why, because uniqueness and originality were not things I ever cared about before. I was overwhelmed I think, looking for some rock to stick out above the wave of information and artwork that came through my computer screen.

Turns out there was no rock, it was all the same with nothing unique to stick out above the crowd at all. It was futile to search for the comfort of specialness in a world with so much variety, that variety in itself appeared to make all things the same.

I learned, and so this translates to my current view on life as well. As a species we tend to look for ‘something special’. We look for that special love, that special place, that special thing about ourselves that’s going to make us worth the world’s while. The concept of specialness is what we hold onto when we feel overwhelmed by the chaos that is our quest for survival. This is not just true for the digital world we live in now, where you have to stick out above a crowd of hundreds of people to get a job, or where you have to come up with a unique and original concept to beat the algorithms and be seen. In today’s day and age in general, the quest for specialness goes hand in hand with trying to survive. Whether physically (earning money to buy food), or emotionally (being unique enough to be someone’s one and only).

Is it wrong to try to be special? I don’t know. Maybe. Probably. I guess it’s another case of looking for something that’s not there, and most likely will never be there. When rocks turn out to just be dust and slip through your fingers just when you need them most…to me that’s the worst feeling. It’s a feeling of betrayal, of being lied to, in this case by yourself.

And you know what I hate about it most? It’s not necessary.

Because, believe me or not, there are far more reliable rocks out there than being unique and original. For me, with my pencil in hand, I am home.

And home is a safe place to be.

Artemis.

The meaning of inner strength

I once heard somewhere that the meaning of inner strength is the ability to create one’s own hope. What’s interesting to me is that I wouldn’t say I have a lot of hope in my heart and honestly never really have. Don’t get me wrong, I have sure had (and still do have) aspirations and dreams in life, but I’ve hardly ever been very hopeful about actually achieving them. I learned very early on that hope can only let you down. Really, the only times in my life I’ve ever felt desperate, and the pain of that could have stopped me from trying to live, were when I had hope. Not suggesting that I didn’t get hurt so long as I didn’t have hope (if only), just that it seems to me hope causes me pain on a deeper level than the plain and simple pains of being alive. It doesn’t matter what the source of it is. Whether hope you get from something beyond yourself, or the kind of hope you generate on your own: the more hope, the more hopelessness. So little me didn’t, and to this day does not want or need to rely on hope to keep moving forward. Therefore I don’t create my own hope, though that is not to say would qualify myself as internally weak. Far from actually: I think I am pretty damn tough.

You see, I know pain. Being autistic, no day goes by without at least some suffering: I suffer when I put on clothes in the morning (especially during the colder months, when you have to go lengthy) because my skin acts like death is upon it, I suffer when I wake up with a headache but can’t take any pain killer because that’ll only make me more sick, I suffer when I get pressured to be functional in a world that overwhelms me almost 24/7. I honestly can’t remember a day in my life where I have not been stressed. This of course has to do with the fact that I was only discovered to be autistic when I was 23, and I had to spend 23 years in an environment that wasn’t at all autism friendly, but it’s the tea of the matter. To be sure, we all suffer in some way. It’d be a lie to suggest that my pain is somehow worse or more important than anyone else’s. And I hate lying, so there’s that. Also, since when is suffering a competition? The more suffering, the more respect you get? Pff, god no. Suffering ain’t pretty, but a fact of life. It’s not just us autistics who need something to get through this pain game of existing.

There are many who suggest hope is the antidote, that hope makes the pain bearable until we reach our goal and we shed ourselves of our pain. Supposedly. Hope keeps you going… so long as the goal exists. If you reach your goal, it’s gone, and so is the hope and so is your drive to move forward. But, sadly enough, the pain will still be there. So now what? Your antidote is gone, your drive to get through it is gone, how then? That’s not even mentioning how what we want, and therefore our goals, change as we do. If your dream is to buy a car, and your hope of earning enough money to do so keeps you going to work every day, but then you learn about global warming and you are not so sure you want a car anymore, what’s going to happen to your ability to suffer through that horrible job of yours day in day out?

To speak of hope as something very powerful is not entirely wrong, but powerful doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for us. If inner strength means being able to conjure up hope, then inner strength means being able to lie to oneself continuously. From one hope into another, either getting there and being left with nothing, to having to conjure it up again, or to stubbornly hold onto hope for something you don’t even really want anymore.

To me true strength lies in honesty. It lies in the ability to not need to lie to oneself in order to get through our pain. I think there is nothing more powerful than to look your suffering in the eye and say ‘Fuck you, I ain’t going to let you stop me. I am going to keep going, all by myself. Bye, asshole.’

The ability to do so comes from my belief in honesty for the sake of honesty. I have no end goal honesty can take me to. Being honest does not give me hope, not in the slightest. In fact, it destroys my hopes and dreams. My hope to one day wake up and not be uncomfortable in my clothing? Gone. With the hope gone, there is no barrier between me and the excruciating discomfort of my pants.

I hate it, but I believe in honesty more than I hate wearing pants. 

From the way I see it, inner strength is the ability to believe in something so unconditionally that we are willing to let go of all our hopes and dreams, and be in pain, for the sake of what we believe in. What that is, I think, is entirely up to you. But I can assure you that when figure that out for yourself, you’ll feel stronger than you’ve ever felt.

And in pain of course, as usual.

Artemis.

The relief of my autism diagnosis

Despite my strong belief that labeling oneself for life means setting oneself up for failure, I was very relieved when I received my autism diagnosis (at least, I’m assuming that’s what that feeling was). When I was younger I was convinced that I was adopted, and even in my early teens I had this voice in the back of my mind telling me it was okay for me to feel like I didn’t belong, since being adopted meant I wasn’t supposed to feel like I did. It gave me a lot of comfort to keep that thought in the back of my mind throughout my tough tidings at what supposedly was my home. It wasn’t really, not to me. But unfortunately, as such things go, you can’t keep running from reality. And so I had to come to terms with the truth of the matter: the day my parents were going to sit me down and tell me I was adopted was not coming, ever.

It sucked, it sucked big time.

Another belief I strongly hold onto is that everything can be explained. Not to say that everything has a reason to it, that I believe is another lie. More so I think that there’s some sense to it all. We can’t explain why, but we can explain how. And where there’s a how, there is also a source, a beginning of the unfolding of the how. I can explain how apples fall from trees: their speed, their weight, etc. And I can explain that the source of that speed and as such the event of falling from a tree: gravity. I don’t know why gravity exists, I don’t why apples feel the need to listen to gravity when it calls, but I don’t think I need to anyway: it would only cause unnecessary distress to look for a reason where there is none.

Trust me, I’ve tried satisfying my need to have a reason for feeling so out of place. I’ve asked myself why on earth I had to feel this way, o lord why. I’ve even gone so far as to come up with hardly sufficient explanations such as: to make you stronger, so you can learn, so you can be a better person. You know, the sort of inspirational stuff people get tattooed on their arms. Eventually my homemade why’s always turned out futile in making me feel better. Telling yourself your life sucks because it makes you strong doesn’t make it suck any less.

Trust me.

Neither does it help you carry your pain with any more grace. In a universe without reason, making up reason is a lie. And nothing hurts quite like being lied to, especially when you lie to yourself. This a violation on an existential level.

By far my greatest value is honesty. Both experience and careful consideration taught me that there is nothing more detrimental for us than to deny, lie, make shame of what is, what is real and exists. This includes ourselves and our mental space. That said, rather than searching for truth beyond lies, I find myself far more occupied by trying to find the truth within them. It may have been a lie I told myself in hopes of comfort, to tell myself I was probably adopted or to tell myself that there had to be a reason why I felt so out of place, but that feeling was most certainly very real. At least to me.

And so I started to research the how of that feeling, which isn’t easy for ‘neurotypical’ people, let alone for those on the autistic spectrum. Thankfully reality is real, and won’t slip through your fingers like the labels we sometimes place on ourselves to bring us comfort in the moment. Over the long term what brings us comfort in the moment inevitably fails us. My feelings didn’t fail me though. I found that they could be explained: they were how’s, with a very clear source.

Autism.

And well, uncomfortable it may be, but at least it’s true. And so you can hold onto it for all your life if you need to.

Artemis.