On Friday 2nd April it is Autism Awareness Day as part of Autism Awareness Week. I’ll be doing a 12 hour charity stream on my Twitch channel to raise money for Autistica. The UK’s leading autism research charity. There will be games, photos and of course cats.
Over the past year I’ve been making seascape photographs where people appear tiny in the frame. This weeks photos are a small selection from the series. It is a discussion about isolation, lockdown, space, being out in nature, and mental health.
The year of…
I can’t think of a title. The year of? Hell? A reference to an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. Was 2020/21 a year of hell? A year of self discovery? A year lost or a new perspective gained? What was that year?
This year has been challenging for me. I have lost 80% of my income. 80%. I have been lucky to have had some work come my way thanks to my fantastic clients. I got to see and photograph art, architecture and meet new people. All safely. I was lucky that I could get by with 20% of my normal income.
With so much free time I have had more than enough to think, over think, ludicrously over think and curl up into a ball. I’ve come close to a breakdown. I’ve had meltdowns and shutdowns. But I’ve also had freedom even liberation. I haven’t had to worry about what I’m wearing. I could wear whatever and not think “Do I look fat in this?” or “What if it’s warm and I get sweaty?”
Most days I wear a wonderfully warm jumper my wife knitted for me. It’s made with Icelandic wool and perfect for winter. Never too hot and never too cold. Breathable and never smelly. I love it. I wear that and I wear leggings. My running leggings that in the before times I would wear shorts over because society makes me believe that no-one wants to see my male curvy bits. They’re black leggings but it is like I’m wearing nothing at all. Nothing at all! I even ventured out the house in them to take photos. I figured that with a purple beard and rainbow nail polish on people would be so confused to which part of me to have an issue with that their brains would melt. “That man is ok with himself! ffffzzzzzzzz“
Over the year of not being anxious about every day life I discovered just anxiety I have from being in the world. I started to have days where I felt energised. Imagine if you had been carrying a large heavy box around every day and having to always deal with it only to one day put it down. Suddenly your hands are free and your mind isn’t encumbered by the issue. You are free to think and do new things.
I realised that there’s a lot out there in the world that stops me being myself. I realised that when I’m ok with being myself I am happy. When I’m happy I am creative. When I’m creative I can make money being a photographer or a writer or a Twitch streamer or who knows? If I’m trapped in a state of anxiety I only react with muscle memory. I can take photos and they’re good but I’m not free to really think.
Think of it like this. Being autistic I’ve spent a life learning to hide, to mask and to avoid being myself. I spent my life being Clark Kent. Clark Kent is the mask Superman wears to fit in. When he removes that mask he can do amazing things. Not everyone is ok with him but he is and he can fly. Zack Snyder’s Superman film ‘Man of Steel’ has a number of issues. If you perhaps watch it up to the point before Zod and Superman fight for 15 years then what you see is a film about someone struggling with identity and finding that when they stop worrying they can be truly special.
I have found hobbies over the past year that I can do. It’s surreal to find something empowering during a pandemic. But I’ve had moments where I’ve felt good and I need to keep doing those things. I need to keep feeling good. For example. My Twitch stream. I don’t enjoy sitting in a loud bar shouting at someone and pretending to hear what they said. I never enjoyed networking events. Socialising and networking does not come naturally to me. I like portrait photography because its a little bit more intimate and I have more control. If I wasn’t autistic I would class myself as an introvert. Strangely Twitch turns me into an extrovert and I love it. I love to chat with people and meet new people via Twitch. People talk to me via text. I can take my time to read that, process and respond. I don’t have to do eye contact or say “WHAT?!” I have fun on my stream talking and being myself. There’s no fear of being myself on Twitch but there is if I go outside.
If the past year has taught me anything it is that I can be happy. That sounds surreal given everything that has happened. I mean no disrespect. The free time I’ve had to explore who I am without my normal triggers has allowed me to find things that make me happy and from that comes my creative self. I have to take that forward somehow. This energetic creative happy fun silly version of me is the version of me that is super. It’s the me that can do things. I enjoy wearing the skin tight suit and ok I look like Superman has let himself go a bit but I can fly.
Now I just have to somehow make money again…
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- Photos: How Covid Changed New York’s Economy – The New York Times
- “I hope to break down some of those barriers”: Devyn Galindo on their inclusive and powerful photography practice
- Gaming Didn’t Get Me Through It
- Female street photographers on their art: ‘It’s about being in the present’ | Photography | The Guardian
- First ‘Animal Crossing,’ now ‘Pokémon Snap’ fits the moment – Los Angeles Times
- People Like Me (2019) on Vimeo
- Latest coronavirus advice from the National Autistic Society (UK)