This is the topic that delivered the swift kick to my backside that urged me set up this blog when I did. This is the topic that I have been waiting to write about, the one that has been niggling away and composing itself in the back of my mind for the last few weeks.
To put it bluntly, April Fools Day can go f*** itself.
Now, lets backtrack for a second to more innocent times, and the first time the concept of April Fools Day pierced my life – it was a joyous, wonderful moment, in which my little brother and I squealed with delight at the prospect of being allowed to be utterly silly for a whole day. This joy was, however, short-lived, and I quickly discovered that this interminable day was not about running around like a silly ball of silliness.
I find it incredibly difficult to judge intentions on the best of days, so on this particular day the urge to lock the door and bury myself under a protective force field of blankets is almost overwhelming. I am aware that people lie in every day life. I am aware that they are dishonest, fake and potentially have an ulterior motive. But this awareness does not means I am any good at perceiving it; I have to extra vigilant in every second of my life, to make sure that I do fall into potentially or abusive dangerous situations. This vigilance is borne from painful experience, and it is exhausting on a daily basis. So imagine a day where you are not just vigilant that some people may not be being truthful, but hyper-aware that everyone is making a point of trying to trick you.
It sends my brain into a tail spin.
I can’t even count the number of times I have been drawn in by a ridiculous story on this most hateful of days. The amount of shame and ridicule when people laughingly pointed and mocked my anger at believing that a car company would be releasing a pink or blue model depending on the sex of the latest royal baby (let’s be honest, does this sound too far-fetched for the ridiculous world we live in?). Because people who are pulled in by these pranks are ‘gullible’, have ‘no common sense’ and deserve to be laughed at. Right?
Or, maybe, it’s a little bit more complicated than that.
I hate being laughed at. I have grown up expecting to be laughed at for not understanding social cues and rules (and not having the word ‘autistic’ in my vocabulary to know and understand myself better, I could not find it in me to be proud of these ‘differences’), and can feel my defenses rise whenever a chuckle pierces the air around me. If people laugh in public, I automatically presume that I have done something that should be laughed at. I bristle. My blood starts pumping. It’s a flight or fight response that I can barely control.
I can laugh at myself, if I am with people I trust, if the situation is silly enough, or if everything is clear cut and, hey, I did something super silly that deserves a raucous respond. I do a lot of silly things that are funny. And sometimes I’m even funny when I actually try to be funny (but usually I think of the funny response approximately six months later and have a quiet chuckle to myself at how absolutely bloody hilarious and witty I am)
But being laughed at for falling for a prank is different. It tells me that, no matter how hard I have tried to calcify myself and arm myself and be vigilant, I have failed. It tells me that I am ridiculous, and gullible, and I am someone that people guffaw about on the internet for not ‘getting it’. It tells me that no matter how hard I have worked to get it right, I am still getting it wrong, and that is hilarious to some people.
Imagine spending weeks putting together a piece of work. Imagine working hard, awake at all hours, slogging through to come up with the best that you could possible imagine yourself creating. Now imagine me snatching it from your hand, scanning it with a scathing eye, declaring it unsatisfactory and tearing it to pieces in front of you.
Now you can laugh.
I take people at face value. I am trusting. And, in this way, I am vulnerable. I didn’t understand that when they asked me to play ‘make believe’ when I was ten, they were actually waiting for me to say yes so they could mock me for my immaturity. I believed that my high school friends would not run away and leave me whilst I used the toilet as they had done before, because they promised that they wouldn’t. And these are just instances linked to bullying as a child, and not the myriad of dangerous paths that this level of vulnerability can lead us down. I have been in some incredibly abusive and damaging friendships because I took them as they came, rather than questioning what was underneath.
This is something that exists a very real and prescient danger to autistic people, particularly autistic women. No matter how hard we try and learn and decipher what people truly mean, it’s like a different language with a dialect that changes just as we think we finally understand it.
April Fools Day is a day of high anxiety for me, simply because I am hovering in flight or fight mode for the whole day. I holding on by a thread, just waiting for someone to nudge me ever so slightly into the abyss. It brings back a million memories of bullying and cruel laughter and feeling so damned useless and stupid and gullible.
But, most importantly, I don’t understand it. I don’t understand why it’s funny. I don’t understand why people would do these things. I just do not get it. And that frightens me more than anything.
Running around making nonsense noises and generally spending the whole day being a little bit silly? Now that I could understand (and I may start a petition lobbying the Government to change the rules of April Fools Day and enforce this much more sensible approach).
Be kind to your non-neurotypical friends and family on this accursed day. Stand up for them when people point and laugh because they can’t believe anyone could fall for ‘the obviously fake thing’. Be ready to reassure them that, actually, a lot of these things are dick moves done by people trying to feel superior to others. Don’t post anything important, like a pregnancy, engagement, break up, or illness, because, in the moment, we will forget what day it is and take you absolutely seriously (often to the detriment of our own mental well-being). Tag your posts if you can, so that we don’t believe a completely made-up story about something dreadful and start legitimately fearing for our lives.
Be nice. Be understanding. Be decent.
And please, for the love of every deity that could possibly exist, DO NOT POST SCREAMERS.
Because, if I die from the shock and terror, I will make it a point to come back and haunt you by hitting you with teaspoons for the rest of your hopefully long and painful life…
…Ha! Joke! April Fools!*
*author is definitely not joking and this will definitely happen so please just don’t post any damned screamers for goodness sake don’t be a dick