Activation Energy

Trigger warning: this post discusses anxiety and depression, and has physics metaphors.

 

So, as you know, last week I missed my speech therapy appointment by way of a minor car accident that turned into a big event when it didn’t need to. I have bad enough anxiety about my speech classes anyway, ranging from ‘will my voice even work’ and ‘will the receptionist/other people in the waiting room talk to me/touch me and not leave me alone even though I sit in the same spot with my headphones and my word book and telegraph leave me alone as best I can’, all the way to ‘will I get there without being harassed’. In part because my ability to walk to and from the train station has been compromised by the surgery and/or my lack of recovery from it, and because the train was actually not running one week, I tend to drive now. The thing I’m avoiding most is the walk to and from the train.

It takes a lot of energy to not respond when men yell at me from their cars, or when they slow down and follow me, or when they pull over and offer me a ride and get offended because I’m not grateful and accepting of their magnanimity. That’s just on the way to the train. After that, I have to put up with people on the train. One lady decided her disability was more important than mine and sat on my bag, pushing me out of the seat, hurting my bad arm, and then saying “I’m sorry but I can’t stand!!!”, as if she couldn’t make it one more step to the empty seat in front, and the part where I couldn’t have anyone on my right side because it was a bad day and my shoulder was liable to slip out at any slight touch was not important. After that, I have to get through a maze of people who feel their need to stop me and touch me and tell me how pretty I am or how nice my clothes are outweighs the part where I don’t want to talk to strangers. Sometimes I sign back to them, and they stand there gawping and apologise. Sometimes they assume I’m Deaf, which is another can of worms, especially since I can actually hear how they talk about me like my choice not to spend spoons on engaging with them means that I must be at an intellectual level much lower than a third grader.

 

Each of these interactions takes spoons. Most people understand spoons. You use a spoon to do a thing and when you run out of spoons you have to rest or borrow. The thing, though, is that these spoons are not voluntary. They are taken from me. I have precious few spoons, and having to use them just to get to my appointment makes me anxious. It’s not always the acute attack kind of anxiety. Anxiety, over a long period of time, can’t work like that, because it’s not sustainable. Instead, in my case, it creeps into everything. Things don’t take more spoons. Instead, using those spoons requires more energy. I have to use a spoon to reach the spoon – to pull it close enough to be able to use it. Instead of a spoon converting potential energy to kinetic energy, using the spoon requires activation energy – a minimal input, if you will, that makes the task possible. There’s less available energy for the task itself, because half the battle is finding the energy to just start something, overcome an initial barrier. The most obvious barrier is anxiety from fear – what if someone comes up to me and grabs me to tell me they like my corset? I can’t handle that today. What if the receptionist decides to try to make me talk and I don’t get my half an hour in the waiting room to meditate and read my words and practice them in my head? Last time that happened, the teacher didn’t know what to do, and half the appointment went in suggestions about what to do. It wasn’t helpful.

There are other barriers – putting aside or overcoming pain, brain fog, exhaustion, tics, paranoia, and many other things which manifest sometimes, all the time, and can be expressed differently in different people.

 

When you have to budget your spoons, knowing some will be taken from you without you actually having anything to show for it other than “I walked down the street! Yay!”, is overwhelming. It’s not just that, though; knowing all this means that every appointment day, I do have one of those acute attacks. I’ve regressed to not sleeping the night before, because my brain is preparing itself for the assaults from various spoon stealers. It takes me three hours to get dressed instead of an hour and a half, because I have to be prepared for comments, and that means my brain won’t let me just get dressed – it all has to be perfect, and I have to have maximum flexibility in case I need to fight someone off, and I have to accommodate breathing exercises, and I have to cover the dark circles because otherwise everyone will know I’m on day infinity of a migraine, and it has to be black so the blood doesn’t show through, and a zillion other things. Organising all that in my head, even before starting, takes a spoon. Making myself do it, knowing that people don’t respect personal space, and that every interaction is harder for me, uses activation energy. It requires more brainpower to get up and do this basic thing most people take for granted.

 

Somehow, nobody realises that, and when I’m exhausted, they insert themselves again, as if they haven’t done enough. The other week, I literally said “I need to sit and have quiet now,” and instead of letting me do that, the receptionist started running around, offering to turn the music down, turn off the lights, did I feel better, was I sure I wanted to be there? By the time I made it in, any chance of meaningful progress was shot.

Today, I will have to deal with explaining that I was in a car accident and I did my best to let them know I wouldn’t make it, I am fine, it’s none of your business, please just let me pay and sit down. I will have to deal with “I haven’t seen that corset before!”. I will have to deal with questions about the show because I didn’t get asked them last week. And then, I will have to drive home in rush hour traffic, and at that point I will have been awake for 26 hours, because my brain knew all this and wouldn’t let me sleep.

 

Naturally, if I had slept, it would be something else. That’s why it’s chronic.

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Standing Up For Myself

Trigger warning: this post discusses being misgendered, nonconsensual touching, hospital procedures,  anxiety, OCD.

 

It’s been four weeks since I was in hospital. Not in a hospital, because I’m there a lot, actually, but in hospital, with an armband and stuff being done to me. I’m still bleeding from the procedure, and no amount of urging from my psychiatrist can make me go back to ask someone why it won’t stop. Every time I feel a tiny bit more blood come out, I freeze up and begin to cry. The idea of having another person examine that is too much for me right now. “But you trusted her to operate on  you,” said my psychiatrist. “Can’t you go back to her?”

But I didn’t have a choice, not really. I was told this was the only way to make the pain stop. There are no medications that will make it go away, my referral to the pain clinic is languishing somewhere towards the bottom of an inbox somewhere, and “other options” wouldn’t be considered unless I had this particular surgery.

 

The time I spent in hospital was horrible. My comfort bear, whom nobody is allowed to touch, was taken away from me. A nurse decided to strip me. “Take off your shoes,” she said, and promptly ripped the dressing gown away, and then decided that because I hadn’t been able to get my shoes off while she was undressing me, with no warning and no permission, she tried to get those too. I backed away, the anaesthetist stepped in between me and her, and then she took my bear away. I had made it clear to the surgeon before hand that he was to stay with me. I froze, my mind shut down, he was shoved under my chin and someone put my hand over him, but the damage was done, and then I was unconscious.

After that, it took me three hours to be allowed to leave. First I was allowed to go, but then because I didn’t have anyone to physically come into the hospital and walk out with me, they rang the surgeon, told her I intended to walk the 15km home, and she told them to prevent me from leaving by any means necessary. This is the person I’m supposed to go back to because the bleeding hasn’t stopped, by the way. Then they decided my blood pressure was too low, but the anaesthetist told them that it was fine, given I’d just been through surgery, and since I seemed alert and well, I could go (again). Then they said I was too pale. This is laughable, because my natural skin colour is too white for most brands of cosmetics. By this time, though, I was starting to have more anxiety. Two or three nurses would come at a time and surround me. One was always touching me, on my arm or my knee, and if I pulled away it just made them come closer. And they kept saying they couldn’t let me leave. As soon as I said that I needed to go, they were making things worse, they said they’d put me in isolation and send a social worker to talk to me, and they would keep me overnight, because they couldn’t let me leave because of my mental condition.

 

Eventually, after a bit more arguing, which was basically me typing “I want to leave NOW” over and over and eventually snapping, I got out of seeing a social worker, and out of the hospital. This was mostly due to me pulling my two aces – one being an advance care directive stating that if I had any mental episodes, I was to be allowed home and given my usual care, wording carefully supplied by a public servant who had the task of explaining the new form to civilians. I was told that an ACD meant nothing, as they only looked at it “in end of life situations, when you’re dying”. I pulled my other ace – “I’m a lawyer.”

Suddenly the paperwork for discharge was on its way, and that nurse disappeared – probably she mentioned to someone that I had asked not to deal with her any more, or they realised that I wasn’t just someone with a brain that didn’t work the same way as theirs, or they decided that the risk of keeping me there against my will was greater than the one of letting me go. I had to scratch out a waiver, which I know I can get out of if anything happens, because at that point the only reason I didn’t pick up my stuff and walk out was because I was afraid of being physically restrained if I tried, and I could not handle being touched one more time.

 

I’ve been meaning to complain, but it’s felt too big. What do I say? Where do I start? With the nurse that yelled at me the week before, when they rang my partner because they hadn’t received their admission forms, less than 24 hours after I received them, and then decided it was too hard to do them over the phone? When I spent an entire day in tears because I found a small footnote saying that if I didn’t pay in advance I couldn’t have the surgery?

Or do I start at when they put the armband on and it said ‘female’? I wondered why they had the surgeon’s information on my armband. Was there some secret code thing so they knew which patient went with which doctor? It was only at the waystation, when they read the armband to verify that I was the right patient, that I realised they meant me. I couldn’t breathe. I had worked very hard to make the paperwork clear, and when they gave the printout to me to check I did my best to correct it, scratching out ‘female’ and pointing it out to the person at the desk.

Do I start with when the nurse told me that the surgery was cancelled, because nobody had told me that I had to bring my own implant, and then walked out on me while I was typing to her?

Do I start with the nurse who stripped me and took my bear away?

Or do I just say that I was kept in the day room against my will?

 

It took me three weeks to even find the right person to write to. The website only said if you have any complaints, to deal with the people at the time. Clearly, that didn’t work, otherwise I wouldn’t have been kept there so long, let out only to deal with rush hour traffic and a journey home that took three times as long as necessary. I’m supposed to receive a survey, but that never turned up, as if they don’t want to know that I was sent home with medication I’m allergic to and yet had to pay $20 for. When I found a copy of the survey form, buried in a site map, I cried.

It’s been a thing for the last week, with wording and structure popping up in my head at random times. Do I split it into issues, or just put it all in order as best I can and let them figure out how bad it was? How do I say which nurse was which, when in some cases I didn’t even get to know their names? Is it worth pointing out that they didn’t have any food for vegans, and kept trying to push a cheese salad sandwich on me “to show that [I] can eat”? Or that when I started saying I wanted to leave, I was denied further pain medication? How does this big thing get broken down into words and paragraphs?

 

Cue thinking about it another way. Complaining isn’t about saying what was wrong, and not about what could have been done better. Complaining is the same as what I did in there, saying “I want to leave NOW.” “You are not listening to me, I want to speak with someone else.” and “I am a lawyer. I know that that statement is incorrect. You need to let me go.” It is a continuation of standing up for myself. I am saying “the way you treated me was bad, and I am not going to let you do it to me again, any more, or anyone else.” Perhaps, it’s reclaiming my power, in some fancy kind of way where mentally taking control of the situation and doing something to show that I was mistreated will magically make me feel safe around those people again (it won’t, just so you know, but some people will say it will). I know, from all the times I have complained about things before, that nothing will be done. (For example, I wrote to the store from last week, and I have heard nothing back, obviously.) But saying “you made me feel unhappy about myself, you made me feel unsafe, you created an environment in which I suffered,” is doing something about it. It’s telling them, again, that they hurt me. Even though it’s after the fact, it’s advocating for myself. Even though I have decided that I am definitely never returning to that hospital as a patient, I still have to have a relationship with them, and by saying that they treated me unfairly, I am making that be on my terms.

 

For the record, my comfort bear had a bath and has new clothes now, but he’s not being very good at the comforting thing. I keep seeing him being ripped away from me, lying on the bed, small and green and not in my arms. Usually, when someone touches something of mine, it’s dirty and I can’t have it again because I will get germs and then I will die. I have to fight that every day to have my bear – he’s had a lot of baths, because I have to wash him every time that image gets in my head. He’s not replaceable – he’s only comforting because he’s my bear, and has been everywhere with me for sixteen years. Thanks, hospital. I really did not need to deal with that on top of a failed surgery, intense dysphoria, and being held against my will.

 

My psychiatrist tried to make me feel better. “I’ve found that with people like you, hospitals are the worst places, because you have to deal with everything at once and there are always people coming at you and you can’t have a break.” Apparently, not being there any more is supposed to help. It hasn’t.

 

Meanwhile I’m still bleeding, still in pain, and I have no idea what to do, because between having to sign the waiver and being treated so badly, even the thought of my follow up appointment in two weeks is paralysing. And, even though I’ve told my brain that complaining is a positive thing, then I have to deal with them defending themselves. It won’t end.

When Strength Isn’t Enough

Trigger warning: this post contains some discussion of suicidal ideation, prevention, and issues relating to ableism and depression.

I’m currently berating myself.

On Sunday morning, at 12:50am, when I managed to get my car inside and stumbled in, I swore to myself that I was done with live music. I had left home at 9am the previous morning, and spent 12 hours curled up on the floor because there were no seats, and I wasn’t able to hold myself up. I wasn’t able to leave, either – there were far too many people between me and the door for me to stumble out, my bad leg twisting under me if I put weight on it in just the wrong way (being, most every way).

I don’t mind the extra stuff I have to go through to make concerts safe for me – I don’t enjoy waiting outside for hours in line, just to ensure that I’m near enough to the front to be able to get a seat or a spot by a wall I can lean on. By the time I get in I’m already sore, and already tired. I have to spend most of the day dressing myself and I have to make sure I have extra medication, that I can reach everything in my bag in the dark – these things get jeopardised by overzealous bag checking, where everything gets crushed and reorganised and I have to wipe my bag down with antiseptic wet wipes and check my autoinjector for damage just to remind my brain that it’s not dirty, it’s not broken, it’s okay. (Bag checks are not legally enforceable requirements. Touching bags during bag checks is battery. Good luck complaining about that.) I like supporting my friends, who aren’t terrible, and honestly? It’s the only time I can justify leaving my house that doesn’t involve purchasing medication or a doctors appointment.

 

Live music is nearly intolerable when I’m curled up on the floor, my head exploding with new pain every time the strobe lights flash in my eyes, my legs numb because despite the padded jacket I brought to sit on the hard floor is still pressing on my nerves, my spine crawling with synesthesic agony every time someone whistles or an overdriven guitar tone slides up on a high minor chord. The thing that pushes it over the line from a discomfort I’m willing to endure for my own personal gratification (in enjoying music) and in supporting my friends and all the other musicians and people who take time out of their own lives to put on shows, is when that isn’t good enough.

See, despite everyone else managing to ignore the person at the back, not getting in anyone’s way, not making a fuss, one person was offended. That person had a microphone. By the time he was on stage, I was exhausted, and it was all I could do to not cry. It wasn’t good enough for him that I was there, that I had paid for entry and waited outside for an hour and a half in the cold, that I put up with the pain and the anxiety and the smell and that I was doing my best.

I assume that he didn’t know how insensitive he was being when he directly addressed me, calling me out for not standing close to the barrier with my arms above my head, hands formed into horns because when Ronnie Dio wanted something special he didn’t realise he would start a trend of conformity that would buck the entire idea of “something for us, the people who don’t fit in”. I assume that he didn’t know how it would make me feel, to be singled out and stared at because I wasn’t participating in the same way as everyone else, in a way that pleased him. I assume that he didn’t know that what he was asking was physically impossible for me, or that at that point I was only able to understand that he was talking to me because the music had stopped, and I could guess his words from the way people reacted, from how he was pointing to me, from how he singled out another person, just after.

I don’t know what he was thinking he’d achieve, but I got home and I swore I wouldn’t go to another show. I was done. In effect, he’d driven me away, because what he said, no matter what his words were, was ‘you’re not welcome here’.

 

Then I remembered I already had tickets for another show, and the other reason I go, that I book my tickets in advance and pin them up in chronological order on the board where I see them every day, is to have something to look forward to. There are days when the only reason I hold on is because I have that something. There are times when I literally repeat, over and over in my mind, ‘I can’t kill myself today. I can’t give in. I have to keep going. I can kill myself after *insert event here*’.

By saying I’m not welcome, not only did he basically ensure that he lost a potential fan, and definitely ensured that he would not be getting merchandise sales from me, but he also told me that because I can’t participate in the correct way, I shouldn’t be going to shows. The very thing that keeps me alive, the tiny light that is meant to be a wedge in the depression that comes with having debilitating physical and mental illnesses, my only form of social interaction, is a thing I’m only meant to have if I can participate in a certain way, being the way he approves of and the exact same way as everyone else in the room. (I imagine Dio raging, along with every other rock and metal musician who claims to value individuality. When did we become sheep?)

 

So today, I forced myself to stay awake, and I hovered over the ‘get tickets’ button, and I closed down my computer, and I didn’t buy tickets, because I didn’t feel like I should take away a ticket from someone who could go, who could talk in the meet and greet, who could stand and do all the things.

And then, I came back. I didn’t sleep, so I was even more tired, and I bought tickets, and I organised a plane and a hotel, and now suddenly I’m one of those people who flies across the country to see a band. And because of that one man with a microphone, my brain then started telling me that I’m stupid, that I’m crazy, that I shouldn’t be doing this because I can’t cope, because I don’t deserve it, because I’m not like everyone else.

 

And, in a few days, or weeks, I will hit a new low point, and the thing that will stop me will be ‘I have to keep going, because I am going to Sydney, and I am going to this show’. And then, the dark part of my mind will go ‘but you can’t talk, and they’ll think you’re weird, and you will have to sit on the floor because it’s GA and there will be no seats, and people will point you out because you’re not the same as then, and you’ll feel like this again.’

 

I guess I’ll have to deal with that, somehow, when it happens. But if someone had decided that maybe calling out every single person who wasn’t pressed up against the barrier and trapped in a crush of moving, sweaty strangers and telling them off in an effort to badger them to join in, that part of my mind wouldn’t have anything to say. I wouldn’t have doubted myself when I first went to buy my ticket. I wouldn’t be making this post and I wouldn’t have to explain, over and over, why I didn’t enjoy the show. And, I would still be supporting local bands. As it is, well, the best thing I can do for me is if they’re on the bill, I don’t go. If I don’t know who the local support will be, I don’t go. If it’s going to be an unusually significant effort or commitment from me, I don’t go. My priority has to be to minimise harm to myself, because otherwise there’s not even a chance of getting better, however mythical that concept may be.

 

However, that is at the expense of not just that one singer, or his band, but the entire industry, because if I can’t get priority entry, if I can’t get a safe place to sit, if I can’t get through without a demeaning experience (and not just bag checks, but waiting in line for merch/drinks and being ignored for half an hour because of not being able to talk, being hit on and unable to tell people to go away, my disability being mansplained…), then I am not welcome, and I will not go. Not because I agree that it’s not the place for me, but because I have to look after myself, and that includes the only way of protecting myself from being pointed out from the stage because of my disability – not being in the situation in the first place. It’s not me that’s missing out, though, even though people would say that they don’t want people like me there anyway while claiming not to be ableist – it’s everyone who relies on ticket sales and merchandise and word of mouth for their business. If someone asks me how I enjoyed the show, I will say I didn’t. I will say why. In the bubble that isn’t the internet, where it may make a difference, I will name names.

 

And, if I don’t kill myself first, I will find something else to look forward to, to set milestones for in a last-ditch effort to survive long enough for medicine to catch up and help me pass as a sheep. A very metal, individual, sheep.

Disability and Emergencies

Imagine being stuck on the side of the road, unable to talk, in tears, and a man comes up behind you and leans over, aiming to grab your tyre iron.

That’s what happened to me today. Several times, in fact. Not all the same way, of course. But over, and over, and over again. You might not be worried – you’re a man, stronger than they are, or you are someone who can talk, and you can tell them they’re not needed and they need to leave. Today, I was neither of those. I have a relatively rare brain disorder that makes it so I can’t talk. I was presenting somewhat female, if that’s what you call a minidress and stockings. I’m tiny, small enough that off-the-rack clothes are hard to find, even in our society where thinness is a celebrated attribute.

I pulled in to a carpark, hit the edge of the driveway awkwardly and my front tyre blew out. Initially, it wasn’t a problem. Despite being sick, I can change a tyre. I have to take breaks after putting my entire body weight into loosening each nut, a break after jacking the car up, a break after lifting the tyre off, and so on. Afterwards, I’m exhausted. It takes about three days to recover, longer if in that three days I do something other than lie flat on my back and stare at the ceiling, wishing for spoons. I can do it, though, so I wasn’t worried. I’ll just change it, and I’ll still make it to speech therapy.

It was twenty minutes before I managed to loosen the nuts. I had forgotten that I had to account for wearing a corset, the only thing between being able to stand and having to drag myself along on whatever wall or rail is near enough to hold on to. In that time, not a single person offered to help, though many walked past and I had an audience made up of store staff staring out their window and the customers that came in and out. I also had people sending me messages, and as soon as I said I wasn’t available to them at the moment, I had to deal with them wanting to take over and “help”.

I was jacking the car up again, squatting on the ground, my bad knee protesting against the position by sending searing pain up my leg, when someone started talking behind me. When I didn’t answer, between being busy jacking up my car, clearly being capable of doing so, and not being able to clearly understand what was being said because this person was behind me, he came closer. Suddenly his shadow was over me, and I was cold, bereft of sun, and he was insisting on helping. I moved closer to the car, away from him, and eventually he left. I sat down in the passenger seat of my car, and burst into tears. Who expects someone to have a conversation with a stranger they can’t see? I was clearly working on the issue on my own. I’d done the hardest part on my own. By that time, he had been watching me for half an hour.

He came back out a few minutes later, when I’d pulled myself together and managed to pull the tyre halfway off. He cornered me against my car. “Are you sure you don’t need help?” he said. I signed to him. Leave me alone. “Are you deaf?” he said. Then he moved closer, so close that he didn’t even have to extend his arm if he wanted to touch me. He pointed to his mouth. “Are you sure you don’t want help? Is it a flat tyre?” I signed again, I shook my head, I tried to back away but there was nowhere else to go. He reached for my phone. “Why don’t you text me?”

Then he pointed to the tyre, and, slowly, he said “Is it broken?”.

Broken. A simple word, because he thought I wasn’t understanding him; because he wasn’t understanding me. I had prayed that someone would come out, earlier, when i was flashing my bloodstained underwear at rush hour traffic in an effort to loosen the nuts. But that was done. Clearly I was capable. Except he, being a man, older than me, bigger than me, had decided I wasn’t.

He left, and I collapsed again, barely even moving. Then he came back with someone else, a woman, my height, but leaning on his arm. “Can we call someone for you?” she said, in between his explanation to her, talking about me in the third person like I wasn’t there. “She has the tyre out, she’s taken the nuts off, she’s jacked it up.” He outlined all the steps I had taken to solve my own problem, and told her what he wanted to tell me. “You have to jack it higher. Tell her she has to jack it higher.” “I don’t know sign language,” they kept saying, every time I asked them to leave them alone, when I backed away. Eventually she leaned in. “Let me do it for you,” she said, and she was reaching for the tyre iron. In a miracle, I screamed. I kept screaming until they left, and then it cut out, my brain collapsing back into its post-stressed state where the energy it takes just to function gets funneled through the part that’s supposed to be helping me make words. I’m used to functioning in high stress, which is why my brain is how it is. They made me feel so bad my brain thought it was back to normal; this undid months of work retraining it to function at a normal, stress-free level, to where my disorder is under control.

At this point, I gave in and texted my mum. It’s her birthday. I didn’t want to interrupt her, because I should be capable of this, but I needed to let it out, the same way I managed to make a sound.

 

While I was sitting in my car, shaking and crying, only then did people keep coming up to me. I was sitting in the car, leaning to the side of the seat, my legs dangling out the side, and the door open. Inevitably they would come up beside me, trapping me because they stood between the door and the car, in my space. “Do you need help?” they kept saying. They ignored the fact that I had started repairs, and ignored the fact that I was on my phone. They wanted my attention, and when I didn’t talk back, there were several reactions. Two of them waved their hand in front of my face. It took a lot of mental energy to not respond. It didn’t even occur to me to grab their wrists and twist their arms, forcing them out of my space. I was in the middle of a conversation with my mother – “the tyre is stuck, i don’t need you to call the raa i just need these people to go away, i remembered that i have food, i don’t need to worry about my blood sugar now, i’ll be okay, can you just check with dad and make sure i did everything right” – and I did not want to be interrupted by another person who failed to respect my autonomy, failed to respect my personal space, and expected that I would be grateful for their intervention.

Inevitably, when I didn’t talk, they would walk away. Nobody actually waited long enough for my phone to load a blank word document that I could type in to tell them to leave me alone. Nobody realised that by bringing their friend over to stand next to them (because two big strong men is better more threatening than one) that they were making themselves more threatening.

The last man who asked started yelling at me when I didn’t answer him the first time. He waved his hand in front of my face.

Then, he said “fuck you, stupid fucking ungrateful bitch”.

 

That was exactly why I didn’t want anyone to help me. Entrenched in our society are a few ideas about people who present female, people with disabilities, and people with both. Included in those ideas are that we should be grateful for big men who help us when we aren’t supposed to do things for ourselves, because their insertion of themselves into our lives is an act of kindness, never mind that they assume we both need and are grateful for them. Not one of these men, not the one who came up behind me while I was bent on the ground, probably showing off my purple underwear, not the one who trapped me in my car, not the one who called me a bitch, thought that I would view them as a threat. I didn’t know any of them. I don’t like strangers touching my things. I don’t know what a big strange man would do with a tyre iron.

But it should have been clear, both by virtue of the fact that I was partway through the simple procedure of changing a tyre, and had access to a mobile device, that they were not needed. Perhaps they thought they were truly being altruistic, offering an act of charity, but the fact still remained that there was a social cue for them, being that as someone with long hair and wearing a dress, I shouldn’t have been able to perform the task myself, and it was their job to help. Perhaps it never occurred to them that by trapping me in a space where I couldn’t back away, they were acting in a manner that made them a threat. It certainly never occurred to them that they were treating me as a less than capable human being.

However, it did occur to me that any one of them may have expected something in exchange. I had my mother on the other end of the phone, and if I typed to her that something was wrong, she would have called the police and yelled at them until they sent someone, but in that amount of time I still could have been beaten, raped, and/or killed. After all, I have no way to say no. I’m dreadfully lucky that I was even able to scream.

 

The whole thing took an hour and a half longer than it needed to. Part of that was because of the way these people treated me – as ‘less than’, because of how I look and because I couldn’t tell them to get lost, because I broke down and had a panic attack and became more vulnerable – and part of that was that these incidences continued until roadside assistance arrived. If I hadn’t been interrupted in the first place, if I hadn’t been threatened and trapped and ended up going hypoglycaemic, I wouldn’t have needed to even call them. They took over an hour to arrive. In that time, the entire staff of the store whose carpark I was borrowing had taken turns watching me out the window, reporting my condition to the others. I prayed that they wouldn’t bother me when they left, and they didn’t, although two further incidents with customers and passers by had occurred. When the van finally arrived, it took two minutes for him to use a larger jack and switch the tyre, because I’d already done the hard work. He insisted on putting the old tyre in the back for me, and then he kept handing me my things. The jack, still half opened up. The tyre iron, because it was on the bonnet. I hate taking things from people. I bit my lip until it bled, because in my experience, asking him to leave me alone would be fruitless, and this was the fastest way for him to go.

 

At that point, I checked my phone again. I’d texted my mother only a few minutes before, to say that the van was finally on its way. She had a message for me – “Dad says he’s proud of you.” I don’t know why. Was he proud of me for not accepting the help of strangers whose motives I didn’t know, who approached me in ways that were actively making me uncomfortable, and who treated me like I was ‘less than’ because I didn’t act the correct way? Was he proud of me for trying first and, in realising that I had been forced into a condition where I could use help, asking for it from someone who was safe, whose entire job was to sail in, help, and leave again, without intruding on personal space, and who had a boss I could complain to if he acted in a way that was threatening? Was he proud that I’d done what my psychiatrist has been training me to do, in that I recognised I was reaching a point of extreme stress and instead of pushing it down, emphasising the way my weird brain works just to get back to functional, and instead expressed it a safe way?

Or was he proud that in trying to change the tyre, and when it got so that it wasn’t safe for me to keep trying, I called roadside assistance myself (because, wonder of wonders, they have a special line for people with speech and hearing issues), and effectively, needed none of the help these men tried to force me to accept?

 

Apart from the one who’d come out with the first man, no woman asked if I needed help. A female-presenting person walked past, talking on her phone. She did what I do, when I see someone who may be in trouble. She slowed down, made eye contact, saw I had my phone, and kept going.

 

I never made it to my appointment, though. The entire process took nearly three hours. I first thought, maybe, if I hadn’t tried to do it myself and just called first thing, that I could have gotten there, but then it occurred to me – all of these incidents occurred after I had stopped exerting visible physical effort. I would still have had to wait at least that long for someone to come, and all of those incidents would have occurred, but I wouldn’t have had the time after to eat half a muffin (supposed to be a present, oops), and I wouldn’t have stopped crying by the time roadside assistance arrived.

I kept my facebook friends updated, in part because that’s one of the ways I’m supposed to express my stress, and in part because some of them have disabilities too, and would understand. In one of the posts, I said this: “this is literally the most terrifying thing since i was raped at knifepoint”. Apart from the physical aspect of that crime against me, everything else was the same. Multiple men attempted to enforce their will over me, sure I would be grateful, sure that they were entitled, sure that it would show they were more powerful than me. That’s what it felt like, each time.

 

The point of this was to emphasise that being in a position where other people assume that you need them, where society tells you you’re not expected to be independent and you should rely on what others deem kindness, can really suck. None of these people approached me in a manner that wasn’t threatening – they invaded my personal space, they made sexual gestures, they swore at me and called me names for not responding correctly, they treated me like I wasn’t there, they talked to me like I was a child. None of this was necessary. It was scary. I’m emotionally exhausted now, for typing this out is like going through it all again. But I had to tell people – it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl, if you’re sick or small, if you’re deaf or anything that isn’t a big strong man, and even if you are a big strong man: if someone makes you feel unsafe, you don’t have to accept their help. Nobody should assume you’re incapable, or pressure you into accepting what they think of as help. That first man? He should have left me alone when I shook my head. He should have left me alone when I told him to leave me alone, and when it became clear there was nothing he could do. He shouldn’t have brought someone else back out. They shouldn’t have tried to take my tools from me. None of the other men should have waved their hands in my face, they shouldn’t have trapped me in my car, and not needing the help of a man does not make me, you, or anyone a “fucking ungrateful bitch”.