“Just Blind”: My Experience With Passing and the Resulting Burn-Out

Last May, I wrote my first post in the 30 Days of Autism Acceptance. I never followed through with the rest of the challenge, but today, I’m inspired to write on the day 2 topic, which is passing and autistic burn-out.

There is a lot of societal pressure to look and act as “normal” as possible. Passing is the situation where people who don’t belong to the “normal” majority appear as though they do. This may refer to disabled people appearing non-disabled, but it also refers to people of racial minorities being perceived as white or to queer people being perceived as straight.

I never fully passed for non-disabled, because I’m blind, but I did try to pass for a long time. People however often could tell that I had some kind of disability even if they couldn’t tell what it was. Interestingly, besides not passing for sighted, I don’t believe I could ever fully pass for neurotypical, except to those who believe an autistic appearance is normal for blind people.

In addition to appearing normal, disabled people are also pushed to achieve those things that are deemed “normal” in society. That is, except when you look so obviously disiabled that people judge you to be too “low-functioning” for that, in which case they usually greatly underestimate your abilities. I may write about that at some other point. There is a lot of pressure even from within the disabled community to perform as well as non-disabled people do. I see this particularly in the blind community, except, once again, when a person is seen as severely disabled enough not to need to achieve.

Until I was twenty, I was almost universally perceived as “just blind”. Oh and presumably extremely intelligent. As such, I had to perform according to my intelliigence, so I had to go to a mainstream, high-level secondary school. All my problems there were chalked up to either my blindness or my high intelligence.

At age twenty, I resided in an independent living training home for the disabled, which had originally been set up specifically for the blind, so most staff had some expertise on blindness. It was there that it first became apparent that I’m not “just blind”. I was referred for a diagnosis and diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in March of 2007. Eight months later, while living independently, I completely fell apart. I experienced autistic burn-out. Yet many people still see my diagnosis, my burn-out and my subsequent voluntary admission to a psychiatric hospital, as an elaborate way for me to manipulate people into giving me care.

I never fully recovered from my burn-out, in the sense that I went back to living a “normal” life for a person who is “just blind”. I was in college in 2007. Now, even though I’m out of the institution, I have no plans of going back to full-time education or finding a paid job. Though I may want to attend some part-time education or do volunteer work in the future, I’m now happy to be at a day center doing sensory activities. I am also glad that I was finally approved for home support yesterday.

In this sense, I did in fact recover from my burn-out. I mean, I did not return to the life that essentially caused me to burn out, but I do think my life is meaningful. In fact, I am happier now than I was when I still passed for “just blind”.

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