I wrote this poem in 2004 when I was 31 years old. I wrote this poem before I knew I was autistic, before I knew what I was, who I was, and why I was different. I wrote this poem before I knew that I was OK.
I wrote this poem when doctors accused me, my family blamed me, co-workers shunned me and strangers avoided me. I was always weird, yet never understood why. Now that I know I am Autistic, I know I am not alone. Now these words make so much more sense to me than they ever did before.
I struggled to communicate, that reality is a prominent theme throughout this poem. I described speaking with a “voice mute” and to a “deaf ear,” My attempts at communication often go unheard, especially in times when my behaviors signify to others ineptness. I am far from incapable however I must be viewed in my own element for others to see this.
My incredible sense of empathy often interferes with my ability to act on my own behalf or effectively on the behalf of others because I feel so deeply. I encourage others to see people not simply through traditional communication, but also with empathy. People often communicate through their actions, such as the movements of their hands, rather than relying on verbal communication alone. I have always “talked with my hands” Sadly it is not a language people understand and it often annoys people so I have tried to limit my movements in the past. Now I communicate with my whole body, unashamed.
I wish people would take the time to stop and think and use their minds to try to understand the experiences of others rather than simply react. The poem portrays the fear and frustration I feel in my inability to communicate effectively when impacted by autism. This is twice as difficult to explain because I am an excellent communicator when in my element.
People do not know that my mind is often a “clutter of noise” and a “stuttering annoyance” to those who lack patience. It sometimes feels as if I am two people. When I lose my ability to communicate my mind wishes people could see the “other” me. The savior, the helper, the incredible, competent me.
The line “I hold on by letting go” highlights the need to let go of preconceptions and fears in order to connect with others. The image of a ship without buoyancy in a “sea of chance” conveys a sense of being adrift and without direction. The fear of “sinking hysteria” and pulling others under, speaks to a sense of responsibility for the well-being of those around us. I wish others could see with my eyes and feel with my heart, to share the empathy I have for them. Maybe then they would be more accepting of me.
I have always desired to help others in whatever situations they find themselves in. I describe this as a childhood dream of being a lifeguard in a “silent sea.” My intense empathy causes me to feel the pain of others. I also have the wonderful experience of feeling their joy. I don’t need to understand or share the experience behind the emotion to feel it deeply. This usually confuses people. I see and feel the “waves of emotion” crashing over others, including those who are unable or unwilling to express themselves verbally, and I relate to that experience. I have tried to understand and support these individuals, even if it meant joining them where they were and swimming with them to shore. Or at least trying to.
The final stanza asks a poignant question about who will help the helper and save the savior. I have always struggled with the inability of others to see and feel my emotions without me having to explain them. Who is there to help me? We are often called upon to provide support and assistance to others, but often we feel unsupported ourselves.
Overall, this poem provides a powerful insight into the challenges faced by individuals, and now looking back through the autistic lens, individuals with autism, and the need for greater understanding and support. Now that I know I am autistic, seeing my life through the autistic lens gives me a greater sense of understanding and being. I hope others may find this as well in the sharing.
I talk with a voice mute.
I speak to a deaf ear.
See me with your eyes
the movements of my hand.
I reach out by reaching in.
I hold on by letting go.
See me with your mind.
Try to understand. I am so afraid.
I can not communicate.
Verbiage will not form upon my tongue,
nor a simple word articulate.
My mind, a clutter of noise.
A stuttering annoyance
to those lacking patience.
I am a ship without buoyancy
in a sea of chance. Sinking hysteria!
Stay away, I’ll pull you under!
I wanted to be a lifeguard in my youth,
to sail this silent sea,
to seek the flailing hands of those
that could not utter a scream.
I could see it in their eyes
the waves of emotion crashing over them,
their voices mute, reaching in.
I held on as they let go,
trying to understand,
swimming with them to shore.
Now who will help the helper?
Who will save the savior no more?