You may or may not know that I run a Facebook page, also called Cat on a Trampoline, where I share our daily journey with Melon, and other musings related to Autism and family life. Running the page is a learning journey that runs alongside our journey with Autism, and I often have cause to stop and reflect on what I am reading. I know of a couple of Facebook page admins who have recently been criticised by commentors for posting about difficulties they were having, challenges they were facing, for sharing with honesty how bad they were feeling at that time.
I find that really sad, because it takes a lot of courage to open up to the world your private doubts and misgivings, the things you feel you’ve messed up, your financial struggles and the impact on your family. To tell the whole truth can be a daunting step, and those admins who do so are sharing their “negative” posts for several reasons:
Firstly, they do it because they are aware that there may well be other people out there feeling pretty much the same way, people who might take comfort in the fact that they are not alone in their difficult time. I’ve had quite a few occasions where I’ve read something and thought “Thank God, this isn’t just me! My problem hasn’t gone away but at least it’s not just me”
Secondly, they do it because they want to paint an honest picture of life with Autism, whether they be autistic themselves, or an autism parent, or both. This journey isn’t all rainbows and starlight, there are thunderstorms too. Part of raising awareness about Autism is that we are honest about the challenges it can present, as well as sharing the humour and high-fiving the daily triumphs. If we only write about the positives, you can guarantee that even though there will be scores of people who are uplifted by them, those people who are facing difficult times will feel that bit more isolated because they think “this is really is just me, no-one else is struggling with this, so why am I?”. It also does a disservice to those Autistic people who have tremendous struggles and work really hard to survive and achieve in the NeuroTypical world. If we downplay the challenges, skirt around the battles, then the victories and the triumphs become devalued.
Thirdly, and I think this can sometimes get a little lost, the people who run blogs and pages are just that. People. They are Mothers, Fathers, siblings, Autistic people. There are some pages and blogs run by professionals in their professional capacity, but most of us are just people sharing our own personal stories. Running a page or blog is a way of getting support and building a support community for yourself, as well as a way of sending it out to others. Believe me, I have found so much comfort and strength in the hands that reach back to me through my page, just as I feel joy that others find my ramblings interesting and useful. The personable stories and anecdotes that draw you into following a page or blog are so attractive because they are personal, real, because we identify with them. If people only share the positives, then they begin to lose some of the honesty, the believability. And sometimes, we just need to let it out. Sometimes we are having a tough time and it’s hard to write a witty, whimsical account of your day if your child has had a huge meltdown, or if they got bullied at school, or if you seriously don’t know where the money to pay that next bill is coming from.
I tend to write a lot of positive stories on my Facebook page. That’s not an attempt to sugar-coat, that’s just the way things are for us right now. If I’d been blogging and running my page last April, you’d have found me in a very different place mentally, the positive days were few and far between. But now, we are on an upward trajectory, free of the fear and misunderstanding that was weighing us down for so many months last year, empowered by diagnosis, learning to understand our daughter and in doing so developing a better relationship with her. We are pretty well supported by services, we are managing financially, we have a good family network, and people in our area who also live with autism in the family. Life is good.
But it won’t always be that way. The will be pits, troughs and tears, and times where we are frightened, struggling, sad and angry. And when those times come, you can be damn sure that I’ll write about them with the same honesty that I use to write about these good times. It might even help someone, it might mean one less person thinking “this is just me, I’m alone”.
You aren’t, you will never be.