Hi all, I am the Autistic Artist behind these relaxing videos I create to help me reconnect with the real world.
“Mermaids can walk, but can’t talk” Yes I have feet, I am a real mermaid, and in real life, also find it difficult to speak.
I am Juliana Payson, and as Onnaloves I create these artistic videos of my cathartic swimming underwater to illustrate my usual routines of cleansing my mind.
In real-life, I have held down careers, I have done speaking competitions and pitches in front of international audiences. These are some of my successes in real life.
But the other side of me, requires a balance for my autistic mind, a reset method I engage with frequently like those of you who need sleep, I need underwater in my life. We take talking for granted, and looking at me, anyone can assume I can respond back to them with an answer, the reality is, speaking is too difficult sometimes, and it exhausts me.
I am going to explore the various feelings and flavors of difficulty I have around speech, using my artistic videos as a backdrop, to help you understand how I feel as an autistic person.
From the moment I wake up, it takes me some time to bring all my cognitive functions online. It’s like having an internal governor inside that takes a while to spin up to momentum. I gather most people can wake up in the morning and start the day as though they are fully refreshed, for me, this is not the case at all.
It’s like my body is preparing for space flight mode, and all the systems in my body are being checked, and speech is the last “system” to come on. If it ever makes it that far. I do not like the feeling of trying to wake up, I find it incredibly hard to think, I can’t get dressed straight away, I can’t remember how to get ready for the day, I have to take it really slow, I feel ravaged from my sleep.
Unlike most people waking up from their refreshing night, my brain has been working really hard through the night. It takes time for my brain to calm down from it’s night-job, and relax for the day. During the night, my brain gets extremely hot, I enjoy my sleep, but I dream extremely visual and immersive dreams, that challenge my feelings in order to process my emotions. In the moments after waking, I am often thinking about these dreams, how I felt in them, not what the dreams mean, but more so what my brain was telling me my emotions are.
You see, unlike most people, I cannot tell in any moment what I am feeling. The constellation of emotions is incomprehensible to me, and therefore I find it a struggle to react to anything. Emotions are abstract, and we need emotions to assist us with fast decision making as part of our executive function in our brains. Because I cannot tell how I am feeling, I am often left frozen unable to react to anything.
The result is that speech is one of the first executive functions AFTER people identify the emotion they are navigating, and since I cannot identify the feeling I’m having, I cannot engage in speech. For example, a simple instruction given to me might be in conflict with what I am feeling. I am not sure why I am feeling conflict. I don’t know that it’s conflict I’m feeling, it just sort of feels bad…
Even though someone has just instructed me to do something, I cannot even begin to react. There is a conflict inside I cannot understand or describe. I freeze. The reaction is stopped. I cannot carry out a simple task, because I sense a negative feeling which is blocking me. I cannot even answer with rhetoric with the command to explain why — “I can’t”. The negative impulse in me has blocked me even from speaking.
You know when your computer freezes? Your phone won’t load? Your mouse button click just sits there and spins? That’s what I’m feeling inside.
My own disability to filter and categorize my feelings and emotions, stops me from reacting, and even explaining let alone speaking my heart. Emotions are like the gear shift to speech. They allow me to speak, or block me up if I can’t lock into the right gear shift. I can only truly speak if I am happy and relaxed. But if there’s a lot of junk I have to process inside, my speech is the last “system” to come “online”.
I have often described speaking as my “Tetris”, in order to process speech, there are these concepts drifting down, and I have to react quickly to adjust the grammar and placement. When I strike a full line Tetris, I can spit my words out, and they come out as speech. But often, I am slow to react inside to the drifting concepts, and my Tetris is becoming jammed up with incoherent phonetics and shapes of words.
Before I can speak in the mornings, I am winding up my reaction times, and I am clearing my Tetris board of the junked-up emotions leftover from my dreamscapes that are blocking me up.
Speech is a complex process, and there are many impulse hurdles that have to be jumped to engage conversation in it’s full spectrum of immediate communication. Speech is an amazing communication tool, but because most people default to this method of communication, we take speech for granted.
Speech is an amazing talent of humans that most seem to be born with, yet we are not born with speech. We are born with the mechanics in our brains to enable those incredible pathways. Those incredible pathways that enable our speech to develop, are repurposed in other creatures, as well as Autistics.
I live with a constant reminder bombarding me through my repurposed senses, of how close we are to the animal kingdom, and it separates me from my allistic peers to always feel “unbelonging”. I cannot separate the big sensor that I wear in the world ( my body) from the environment I am immersed in so rich with stimulus, that my Allistic peers cannot see.
It pains me sometimes, that my Allistic peers are unable to share this world with me, or even acknowledge it and validate it, that it leaves me feeling like an alien in their world. Therefore, I indulge in MY WORLD, my beautiful world underwater full of somatic beauty, sensation, and delight, it cannot be recorded like a videotape. But this is the closest I can get.
This is me, communicating my way, in the absence of speech. What the iPhone picks up is a remnant of what I experience, a 2-dimensional recording in my 5-dimensional world. I choose ambient music to accompany my recordings and convey the art of feeling that goes on inside me, unseen to everyone else.
People that watch my videos often call me a true mermaid, for I appear so peaceful and natural in the water, my home, my equivalent for sleep. It is no wonder, that other Autistics connected with me through these videos, as they also know the experience first hand and are seeing it portrayed closest to their own experience.
My videos are in place of my “speech”, they are my method of communicating and recording and conveying. In a language my Allistic peers can relate to, by visually showing them my world. I want to validate my autistic peers, by showing them why they feel like an alien in this world, when in actual fact we are more connected to the natural world by what we can feel.
Our Allistic peers in great irony are the ones that have become more alien to the natural world and no longer experience much connection to it. Our human evolution has specialized into speech thinking brains, by repurposing the cognitive energy of emotion, into complex verbal-audio communication.
Here is where Autistics have retained evolutionary adaptive capabilities: Instead of developing a complex cognitive understanding of emotion and using this as a gear shift for human executive function — (Including speech)…
My body, like the huge and complex sensor that it is, uses it’s energy differently. It feels A-LOT. And that energy is instead expressed more physically than cognitively.
I prefer to express that energy physically and elsewhere throughout my body, rather than concentrating it to process in one Boca’s speech area of the brain. For some of us Autistics, this is not even a choice. We may understand what you are communicating, but the pathway to focus that speech processing is too biologically and energetically diffuse.
This will give the Autistic person the feeling that there is no amount of energy enough to find the words let alone speak. Like an immeasurably heavy door that cannot be opened. Because the truth is, there is not enough synaptic energy to focus along one path of speech.
Our Allistic peers have developed a huge specialization to speak, but sacrificed not only the connection to the world in doing so;
Our Allistic peers have almost “over-developed” their sense of emotional gear shift, fine-tuned to express subtle differences in emotional shift, that enable the abstract art of speech.
It is the complex map of emotions that we build over time, that gives us the decision making patterns to engage in fast processing of complex interactivity and language. The classical Allistic human being has over-invested in their sense of “Self” with a danger of creating an over-inflated ego where objective weight of emotions is not counter-balanced with empathy.
Empathy is actually the counter-balance to an over inflated ego. Empathy is the pro-social reward center of the brain, that keeps our selfish emotions in check. People who are led by their emotions without a sense of governance with the “others” they share their world with, are in danger of being blind to the suffering they cause around them.
The societal narcissism is clearly visible to me as an Autistic, as something that is quite alien to the Animal Kingdom we share the world with. There is no such creature in the world that exists, that invests so much energy into developing the complex gate that opens the door to instantaneous grammatical speech.
Not only is this an impressive abstraction of the constellation of emotional logic gates, but in the natural order of the world, this consumes a huge amount of synaptic energy to make a very little direct physical impact on the natural world.
It is through the evolution and complexity of accepting speech as the number 1 form of communication, that we have specialized our phylogenetic paths to diverge from away natural evolution. Humans have evolved beyond what nature intended, at risk of not being able to protect ourselves when the world is no longer in balance. And we are blind to it, because of our selfish emotions.
As an Autistic, I have no choice but to feel the environment around me. Much like the fish in a tank when you see them react in unison to some unseen force.
Or our pets, who widen their eyes and adopt a startled-stance, at some unseen vibration coming from the ground. I, like the animals around me, feel all of these things and there is no relief until I go underwater. We no longer question whether animals have feelings, that is undisputed. I feel a lot of things too. But I cannot attach these sensations in my body to a library of emotions that we have empty at the beginning of our lives.
It may be that my library was not invested in early-on in life, or that my library was inefficient to access, bookshelves of emotional constellations needed an extra step ladder to climb to in my brain. Whatever the bottleneck is to my understanding of my own emotions, this is the chokehold over my speech. As it is the chokehold to any creature wanting to speak.
There are other creatures that use complex inference in vocalized sounds, and we know all these creatures to exhibit high emotional understanding. Whalesong, Elephant trumpeting, Bird chirps, all have a complex poetry where we rise to the top of poetic license over everything.
Speech is a fast and abstract artform, based on a foundation of complex emotional logic gates. This does not mean even the quietest of creatures do not understand emotion. Take the quietest of all creatures, the rabbit, a social creature who lives in a community of silence. Rabbits do make some vocal noises, but mostly communicate through their dark warren and out in the open via sound and body language.
We do not expect our pet animals to talk, yet we know what they are feeling, as do they amongst themselves also understand what they are feeling. Perhaps their emotional context is not as abstractly complex as ours, and perhaps it doesn’t need to be, they have evolved to communicate as efficiently as nature intended to stay alive as a group.
I am not comparing domestic animals to wild animals. As domestication is something we seek to anthropomorphize from a creature who can exhibit social traits. Wherever creatures herd together, or seek to be a part of a community, humans use this as a domestication trait. But the social aspect of some creatures is the indicator of interactive communication enabling them to survive as a group.
The fact that so much fauna can group together and seek to be social in order to survive is a testament that many creatures do communicate amongst themselves. We do not dispute this, we know that animals communicate as effectively as they need to, in order to survive in the world. But this communication is something that we Autistics can easily pick up on.
Unfortunately the naked human is like a giant sound sensor, our brains are connected to every part of our skin, and therefore, I feel everything, even the subtle communications of other creatures around me. It is human chatter that is more Alien to me. It’s poetic inconsistency. It’s artistic license to deceive intent. I am constantly amazed and at a loss at the same time how humans have adopted speech as the number one communication.
Speech should come with a cancer warning, that to engage in this activity can result in great harm. The poison pen of politics, is within the tool of speech. Speech and its Machiavelli manipulation of emotions is the consort of creating fear. Many Autistics, as do I are constantly studying the disconnect between what people say, and what their bodies are telling us — from the inside out. The body cannot lie.
While you were sending me your words of unfathomable, deceptive, chess game of intent, I was feeling out your soul with my mirror…
I could smell the cancer in your body, I could see that concentration of anger in your neck. Yet your words, are somehow, pretending. No, I am not looking in your eyes while you speak, even though I have been domesticated like other animals to look you in the eye, I’m actually paying attention to your body more than your words.
I cannot tell if the poetry you are trying to woo me with like the songbirds of territory and tasking me with your intent is coming from a place of integrity, because your body tells me otherwise. Integrity comes from a place of transparency, but when I sense there is something off about the body, my mind drifts to what this person’s words are really disguising from me.
A person cannot hide the concentration of stress that I feel emanating from them, and that place of distress is a disquieting person to engage in communication with. The disjunct is enough to render me speechless.
I can sense the stress-energy of the person infront of me, even though the one corner of their mouth is turned up in a constipated smile. I do not feel safe when someone is talking to me with the mask of domestication on. I know this person is in deep denial of how disconnected they are with stressors in life, and looking to dump this on me.
No matter what language you are speaking to me in, it is all Alien to me, as the art that you have chosen to speak is like twisting the elastic connection between us. I am afraid of that tension, for when it snaps will it snap back at me? I can sense the expectation and your desires, but this is not congruent with your words. Something is twisted.
I feel your stress, and I know it comes from an inaccurate sense of purpose, but I do not want to become the recipient of that stress, so my reaction is negative.
Unfortunately, I cannot quantify in emotional speak what that gut feeling is, but it is negative, and that negative energy is enough to impede my communication. They have labeled this symptom of vanishing speech as “selective mutism” which I find amusing, as my gut feelings have identified the stressors coming from this person are enough of a situation to cause me to shut down.
The shut down isn’t the choice, to fight the shut down is the choice, and if I choose to do the hard work to override the hurdles in my brain that require me to speak…
It can cause me much neurological pain, resentment, from the unfairness of having to overcome speech effort without validation, and anger. It is not selective mutism that I have, it is situational mutism, and responsive elocution. My elocution becomes unresponsive when confronted, rather than engaged with.
I often feel like these “labels” that are given to define autistic behavior is misleading and diagnosed from the armchair of the inexperienced expert. Because it is our Allistic peers who are in the majority, who get to decide what these labels are to describe us amongst themselves. Which is ironic to me because it is like the blind leading the blind — in a world where people can see as well.
Autistics in the indigenous worlds would most likely become the shamans, healers, seers, oracles, and translators for the unseen world. It is our construct into civilized society that has forced us to put on the domesticated mask, and watch everyone else play games with their constipated smiles of deceit.
I am smart enough to know, not to tell people they are full of shit, and drop the domesticated mask. Because the snap-back of their twisted elastic words of connection, would put me in the most danger, and hurt me the most. I am simply afraid of enduring more pain than I already have to, to fight through my unrewarded elocution to appease my blind indigenous captor.
If I could even the equation out, with communication between autistics and allistics, I would simply ask — would you dance with me?
For the body cannot hide what it can’t do, or what pains it, but it can reveal where it is struggling so hard to keep up the pace, and that action and effort is commendable.
However, we cannot expect our counterparts to stop and dance their meaning to us, merely to be open to the concept. And this is what opens their eyes from blind enough to learn, That we Autistics, need to communicate through time. That is all. If we can adopt the time for patience, we will have crossed the bridge between us that stumbles and steps on the toes of elocutionary dance.