I’ve been putting off making this blog post. How do I even start to take on the behemoth of this year?
As the title suggests, in 2021 I:
- Met my lovely girlfriend online, and after 2 months of lockdown video dating eventually met up in real life and got on Very Well
- Realised I needed to detransition, did so, became a man again (more or less – get the full scoop here if I haven’t privated the video yet)
- Moved in with my girlfriend down in the deep dark depths of rural Devon
- Gradually descended into worse and worse autistic burnout, to the point where I have been unable to speak or work for almost a month.
Oh, and there were also a few frenzied months of pre-omicron socialising in there, seizing the opportunity of detransition to jump back into gay spaces and get some long-needed dick after many dry years. Don’t worry, my girlfriend is cool with it, we’re poly. In fact, she’s very supportive of me chasing dick.
As someone with a particularly strong penchant for narrativising my life, this year has been the super messy reboot that retconned a lot of previously-important character arcs and divided the fanbase. Or something. I don’t know.
Like, how the hell do I talk about ANY of what’s happened? At the beginning of this year, I saw myself as a trans lesbian, ready to reignite my social life after years of hiding in the shadows. I convinced myself, very naïvely, that I was ‘over’ the trauma and depression of 2015-2016, the Most Very Bad University Times. Then I met my girlfriend, detransitioned, had a mini identity crisis, but came out the other end even surer that this was my return to form, my mojo grosso modo.
So I pushed myself, even though the sparks of burnout had already been crackling for a while. I went to London several times in a few months, socialised madly, got back in touch with old friends, fully embraced my kinky side. I was full of such joie de vivre, and I was starting to feel weighed down after moving to rural Devon. I was better than this! I had my power back, I could chase after old dreams…
So what better thing to do than to reapply for a PGCE in Spanish/French/German, and go and study in London September 2022? I’d get the neat government bursary for teaching languages, and because I already applied and backed out pre-coronavirus, my university of choice, Goldsmiths, even said I didn’t have to do the interview again.
I made the application after one of my trips of London, while thick, heavy tendrils of burnout wrapped around me, though I remained oblivious at the time. I started lining things up for next year: getting books from the reading list to study, arranging a school visit, getting interviews at the other two unis I applied to.
And yet I was starting to feel tired. Really tired. The kind of tired that made me think, ‘Oh crap, I’ve been pushing myself beyond my bounds for months on end, haven’t I?’
The day after I went to observe classes in a local school, I lost my speech. It’s not the first time it’s happened this year, but this is the longest period. As I’m writing this, it’s been almost 25 days. Since then, I’ve been completely nonspeaking, as well as suffering from varying amounts of catatonia, although thankfully not to debilitating levels.
But still, in just a matter of a few weeks, my whole life has been shattered. I have been forced to face the facts.
I thought I started unmasking years ago. I was wrong. I have masked to the point of self-annihilation, and I can’t go on anymore.
I was enamoured with my mask. Obsessed with maintaining it. I bent my hobbies to suit it – prioritising YouTube videos, podcasting, giving lectures and trainings at events – because I got validation for social performance when I did this. It’s intoxicating, whether you’re autistic or not.
And even though I always felt the consequences of masking afterwards, I fed myself a false narrative. I told myself I had conquered the awkward, mutish, teenage bedroom-dweller who spent all his time studying languages and sculpting new ones, who could spend hours listening to Disney songs dubbed into foreign tongues.
But now, in my time of lowest functioning, that is what I have returned to. I have studied languages for over 5 hours a day over the last few weeks. I’ve read and watched obscene amounts of French, and I’m currently learning British Sign Language, with dreams of perfecting my Japanese, getting back into Chinese and Czech, learning Icelandic… Not to mention the amount of conlanging videos I’ve binged. I haven’t quite got back into making them yet, but the ideas are teething and swarming.
I have had to cancel the interviews for my PGCE application and put my podcast on hiatus. I have barely socialised in the last month, and I haven’t left the confines of the small town we live in. Some days, just going to the shop or cooking is enough to completely exhaust me, as some little thing sets off extreme sensory pain. I’m essentially dependent on my girlfriend right now, both financially and for chores (although I’m doing as much as I can).
Listeners of my podcast, friends and family have been lovely and supportive. But the overwhelming message is ‘Get well soon!’.
Except there is no getting well. I recognise this for what it is: the chasm. Either I accept that this is the last and greatest burnout I will ever have, and that my life needs to radically change to accommodate my neurological needs, or I give in to the lies of the past and push myself to utter destruction.
Right now, I have no idea when I will be able to speak again, or if I ever will. Part of me almost doesn’t want to. I can’t go back to teaching. My body has made that abundantly clear. And this year, I’ve even struggled with doing my podcast. As much as I like writing the stories and performing them, I’m sick of performing at all. I’ve spent the last 15 years performing so well that I duped even myself.
Unmasking is a brutal, relentless process. I spent 5 years thinking I’d done it only to realise that I hadn’t even started. There are only so many times you can glue papier-mâché back together until you end up with useless pulp.
So this is my declaration, my New Year’s resolution: I will not be useful. I will not force myself to work until I am able and willing. I will not take up work which does not feed into my special interests. I will not smile, make eye contact, speak or enthuse my voice with emotion for the benefit of others. I will not feel like a burden. I will not blame myself for being censured by this cruel world.
In 2022, I’m going to fully embrace who I am. That means spending hours constructing languages, even if it’s a ‘useless’ hobby. That means learning Icelandic and Czech, even though I might not be able to speak. That means socialising on my own terms and making sure to rest adequately and abundantly.
I am aware of the extreme privilege I have to be able to do this while my girlfriend works and financially supports us. But I can’t keep apologising for that. I simply do not have any other choice. I’m not going to force myself to work out of some feudal debt to capitalist mores, nor out of some hero complex. I’m going to do what’s necessary for my survival.
Oh, and I’m returning to blogging. Fingers crossed it stays regular. I have a feeling it will, though, because I need a space to vent my thoughts and share my geekery, and if I don’t do it here, I’ll likely end up crawling back to Twitter, and that is not something I want to do.
So, Happy End-of-2021, and if anyone’s reading this, I hope your year has been slightly less earth-shattering than mine.