How often are we told, “Stop procrastinating; you’re just being lazy!” Odds are that for many of us, it was a lot. I don’t know how many times as a child and as an adult this was said to me in various ways. Always with the intent of instilling a thought process and way of working that did not work for me. As a young person, I was always different. To all outward appearances, I was a male child deemed to be intelligent and gifted. Therefore, I should have had no problems with school assignments, doing everything that was required of me, and handing things in on time in neat, perfect handwriting.
The fact that I’m on the autism spectrum was missed because I’m what is often referred to as “highly functional.” A wonderful moniker that is given to people who seem to pass in society. In the context of writing, the assumption by many is that we can all write for hours at a time and be productive in doing so. In the context of life, the assumption is that something as simple as dealing with a phone call cannot possible take all the energy I have for the day. People often cannot understand how one thing that messes up my day is going to throw me off. They presume I can and will bounce back quickly.
That is not my reality and never has been. I was always the sensitive kid. When things didn’t happen that were supposed to, it threw me. Whenever teachers asked me to do something that made no sense, I asked questions. When they told me to complete the work I already knew, I refused . . . because I already knew it! School was supposed to be a place for learning. Instead, I found it to be a place to force conformity and compliance on children. When I refused to do the work, or had other difficulties in getting it done, I was being difficult. I was told, “You’re just being lazy.”
This messaging has been internalized. I often consider myself lazy when I’m not able to work. This has become even more significant since fibromyalgia has taken a more prominent position in my daily life. I often feel like I’m not doing enough, I cannot do anything right, and I cannot succeed at what I’m doing.
Last weekend at Can-Con 2017, I had a moment where I realized that I’m doing a hell of a lot. I’m a type “A” personality with a type “F” executive function and sensory processing. I retreated to my room a number of times over the weekend because of sensory overload. My Can-Con schedule as a panelist looked like this, and these are only the panels I was on, not all that I attended:
11:00-11:50 — “Finding a Home for Your Queer Tales” (a last minute add to the panel)
16:00-16:50 — “Mental Health, Neurodiversity, and Creativity”
18:00-18:50 — “Benefits and Challenges to #ownvoices Writing”
21:00-22:00 — “Spooning with Spoonies”
14:00-14:50 — “Trapped in the Wrong Tropes: Representing Transgender Lives in Fiction”
It was when I introduced myself in the Trapped in the Wrong Tropes panel that I realized how much I’m actually doing. Especially with the challenges I have with health and neurodiversity mixing in weird and not so wonderful ways. I struggle because what I am doing has not been bringing in enough money to pay the bills, and the refrain of, “You’re just being lazy” goes on repeat in my head leading to a loop that leads to more self-recrimination.
On days when I’m struggling with self-image and energy and feeling lazy, I try to remind myself that I’m not. I am getting things done. I have some amazing people in my life who remind me that I am making a difference. I try to remember the feedback I have received from people when they tell me positive things.
And speaking of dispelling negative messages:
How many trans people does it take to change a lightbulb? You’re doing it wrong!
No, we’re doing it right.
How many disabled people does it take to change a lightbulb? Here, let me do it for you.
NO. We can manage, given resources and time. If we want help we’ll ask, or please ask us first. Ask us what type of help we need and then help facilitate getting that help.
I am not being lazy. I am doing what I’m able and trying not to let “you’re just being lazy” shut me down even further.
Talia Johnson is a multi-faceted woman who is transgender, autistic, Jewish, queer, and more than the sum of her parts. She lives in Toronto, Ontario. Her work centres on bridging faith and queer communities, facilitating workshops, educating, speaking, writing, and one-on-one coaching, counselling, and mentoring.
She is an academic, poet, and short story writer.