I have a lot of freedom, compared to many persons with Autism or mental health issues. I have a lot of freedom compared to many disabled persons. I had to fight for my freedoms but I am often left wondering, how much of this do I take for granted?
I eat when I want. In an institution this is not true. I do not take this for granted very often, but when I am ill I take this as a greater virtue. I always take my freedom to prepare my food in a safe environment as a blessing. I still have nightmares about being institutionalized and most center on the food or humiliating moments related to food that I experienced.
This is just an example of course. I have been looking into the way others with Autism who are adults live, partly because I am a late comer to the diagnosis. Most of what I am writing right now comes from inspiration that was caused by Kowalski. I consider Kowalski a friend despite the fact we have never met and likely will not meet in person, yet we have in depth discussions based on our mutual advocacy. I do not know if Kowalski identifies as an advocate yet her work has assisted me with my adaptation.
I know my talent for advocacy has given me a good deal of freedoms that people who literally cannot speak (and therefore often do not have a voice) do not have. I have my own home, I have my pets. I have the ability to choose who takes care of those pets when I cannot. My pets medical needs are met. I do not have to admit people to my home.
I have a very good caregiver, as I mentioned before, and that is another freedom. Every day that Jo comes over and I do not feel fear, or the fear I feel is not related to her presence and she is understanding that I cannot control these fears is a day that I am free. I had to self advocate when I was starved to the point that I could barely think, I couldn’t speak or bathe because my body was also over stimulated after fighting and clawing literally. I had to prove I needed to let go of what is considered more freeing, to hire and fire my own caregivers.
I was unaware of a freedom that could be in too much measure a trap. Letting someone else decide something. For the first time in my life someone else has a say without a court order. Having been institutionalized, in jail (assault charges, I was guilty and a minor), and imprisioned in my home by multiple abusers, I know the pleasures of freedom. I know how rare it is too. I was so terrified of letting an agency handle anything, that I trapped myself.
I feel safer with my caregiver because I can say No. I cannot say no if I am The Boss because then she could quit and I am left without a mediator to get through the weeks or even months until I hire someone. If there was any doubt of my need for caregiving, that was burned away by K and the neglect that I faced from myself after she was fired. The neglect was not conscious but was a result of having no agency and the lack of ability. I can want to do something all day but I cannot always perform.
The freedoms I miss due to disability are numerous. I miss being able to just get in a car and go somewhere. I miss going for walks. I miss working, because I miss to a degree human interaction. I do not miss the false facade I put on to survive in society but I do miss getting to study the behaviors of those around me so that i could try them on to see why and how things worked.
I miss the freedom to explore myself as well, as if you do not go out and do there is little that makes you grow. I am grateful for the internet as this adds opportunities to my personal growth but it is still a difficult path to walk on. All around me I see things that to me are obvious but others are blind to, and I miss watching someone find that oft missed moment.
I am grateful for my freedoms, but, I hunger for more. I secretly wish for the freedom of knowing about my disabilities before I was an adult. Most of them were diagnosed, just left untreated because I was not seen as a worthy candidate by my family. I understand, treating my disabilities is an expense. I just wish I had been worth one expense. Today i told Jo a bit about my childhood, it came up in the context of why I do not let my family visit very often. I left out the part that they rarely ask, because that is hurtful.
I did tell her about my sixteenth birthday, I told her things I rarely tell people but she needs to know. I was sent to several institutions growing up for just being different, and I know this saved me from being without a personal moral compass. I have borrowed moralities and tried them on to see what fits. This leads me to a strange belief system far from the beaten path but it is something I can use to guide me.
I remembered too, these institutions enforced medical care. I would be dead if my mother hadn’t decided I was just not happy enough. Yes, this lead to overdrugging me for most of my life. That lead to self harming behaviors such as not taking pain medications unless I am about to faint. I do take my pain medications regularly now but that is because I am always ready to faint. Still, a tumor in my intestine and gangrene, both caused by abuses at the hands of my parents and my significant medical disorders would have killed me. The institutions gave me the surgeries I needed to LIVE.
The last one, was in a ranch setting and was also one of the places I learned I wasn’t crazy. I have a rare talent with animals, and there I was given the respect of a crusty old cowboy, because I could tame a “wild and raging” animal. There I was also given a specific freedom that I will forever miss. My medical issues made me late for manditory horse care, and I was so afraid of the horses. They are big, I am small. We were not allowed to opt out of riding unless our feet were gangrenous and freshly operated on, and the infection had yet to come to light. I grabbed my saddle, the bridle, and the helmet and was told “Grab a horse and catch up.”
I missed the part of the class where we were told to leave the specific horse I chose alone. I remember his coat, a rich reddish brown color, his scars left black stripes. He was abused too. He had no eyes, which scared most of the others but I just felt sad because I could see the scars there too. Someone had torn out his eyes. This horse was dangerous, even the horse master, a man who had tamed many horses and specialized in rehabilitation of horses did not think he could be ridden.
I was often ignored because I didn’t cause much trouble around the horses. They scared me after all. So i walked over to him, this horse named Gator because “he is as mean as an alligator.” I talked to him while I was saddling him. I didn’t know what to say I just didn’t want to scare him, and so I introduced myself. “Hi Horse, my name is Kat. I don’t really want to ride you but I have to. I just want us to work together, because I think you want to get to run, and maybe it won’t be so bad if we get along.”
I had the horse saddled and was ready to mount up before the staff saw my horse. This was the first time anyone had touched Gator that he wasn’t kicking or biting at them. They had determined he was too dangerous to keep around the ranch but I could ride him. I refused to ride another horse, and because he was calm this was allowed. Gator was my horse. Out of all of the residents male and female, the staff, and the horse professionals that visited only I could ride him.
I was told I am a horse whisperer, but, I can do this with dogs, cats, and other animals. Not birds, because my fear of them is too great. I just tell them what I want them to do and we work together. That was the first time I did it, however. I remember how scared I was. Horses are tall. Obvious I know, but I am extremely afraid of heights. Gator didn’t move at all as I got on him, which confused everyone who knew the horse. He was a gentle ride and I had fun.
We went slow for most of the trail, the group let me set the pace which was probably the equivalent of a ten mile an hour car in a sixty mile per hour zone. We climbed a big hill, I mostly just clung to the horse and talked to him to distract myself. I swear, sometimes it seemed like he laughed at my jokes. No one complained about my babbling for once, no one seemed to care or notice. Then, we reached the top of the hill.
There was a field there, and there were these little yellow flowers in bloom. I let Gator run. The blind horse and the nearly blind girl who had no business on that horse. He was fast. It was magnificent. I let go of the fears, I let them melt away. We raced around the meadow, he trusted his hooves and I trusted him. It was a three hour ride. I didn’t feel the pains in my body until we made it back to the stables and I dismounted. After taking care of Gator and putting up the tack I was told he was mine as long as I stayed. He would have to find a new home when I left the facility but, until then I had my very own horse.
I took care of him every day for a year. I was being released from the program, I had learned how to blend in. I had learned how to heal the emotional wounds I had enough, I even made friends. People friends. I learned how to dress, how to walk, and how to talk like a Nuerotypical person. I faced disability for the first time, but missed diagnosis considerably. This was also the time when I had some malpractice issues with a dentist that made my mouth always ache. Yet it never mattered when I was with my horse. I think I was more his person.
Gator killed someone, my last week there. A staff member. He injured six others. You see, this woman saw me ride the horse and said out loud (obviously this is paraphrased because this is nearly ten years ago. I now feel way old) “If that girl can ride him, I can.” He threw her off because she kicked him. I never once kicked Gator, or did anything in anger near him. Everyone agreed she was too rough with him, and she had waited until she was the only adult around. He dragged her for a bit and trampled people, because they tried to catch him. Gator never found a home, and I never got to say good bye. I think the administrators feared I would relapse back to the dangerous behaviors of bludgeoning people over food.
I admit I do not mourn the human that caused his death. She was warned repeatedly that he was dangerous and chose to believe she was better than a child, and then she was violent with him. This does not mean I believe she deserved death but she did not behave in a safe manner. Horses are dangerous. All horses are. The children and adults that were harmed trying to save her? Those people I mourn. Pain and fear were introduced to both them and my Gator.
I try to avoid remembering that part of my time with Gator however. I will never ride a horse again. Before I broke my back I was saving for a week at a retreat with horses, because I missed the feeling of moving with an animal. I never felt the saddle, I never felt the ground. Gator and I flew. Of all the places we rode together, that meadow was the most wonderful place. My favorite memory of freedom is that meadow riding full tilt with my horse, at sunset. It was a cloudless day, the light was perfect, and I had only one thought. Faster.
I know a lot of rational people refuse to have dieties or an afterlife. I am not completely rational. My IQ implies I should be but my personal experiences prevent that. I talk to animals, they reply in their own ways and I understand. Gator trusted me because I promised him I would never hurt him if he never hurt me. We made a pact through a universal language.
My truest freedom is something I would not have without that horse. Trust. The horse master? I trusted him AFTER I met the horse. I had no one else to trust before then. My trust is more rare than a diamond. It comes on a spectrum as does all life. Sanity, thought, gender, sexual preferences, humanity? We are on a rainbow spectrum. My best friend M, who is the only man I trust implicity and is the only person I have ever loved unconditionally? I would never have been able to trust him without Gator.
I owe that horse so much. I cry when I think of that betrayal. I can still feel the coffee cup in my hands, I was eating when we found out. I had just gotten back from the doctor and was given my diagnosis of endometriosis and polycystic ovarian disease, disproving cancer. It was good news and I was reading up on both disorders. I remember the entire room pausing, everyone in the dorm that I stayed in coming in. They already knew. That same weight I felt before when I lost something came, because their faces told me.
I don’t remember those words, I just remember feeling the dark feelings that I always was told were bad, and knowing my mother was wrong. I wanted to die for a few moments, because if i was dead I could be with my horse. I remember something else however, as spectacular as that meadow. The girls, the new girl replacing me on the bed count even, they all gathered around me. No one touched me because I hate touch, and they knew that. Each one just waited for me to respond. I said something but it was lost to me. They said things. We talked. For the first time during an emotional crisis I had someone there.
A lot of someones. I didn’t have to deal with it alone. I have had to deal with most everything alone in life. From leaving that facility on through meeting M, I was very alone. Without Gator I would never have known I didn’t have to be. That was the final lesson of many he taught me. Gator did not accept just anyone, he was sent to the facility for care but was never supposed to meet with any people. They were assessing him to see if he merited saving. I gave him another year of life.
His life was brutal. He was six years old when they put him down. A part of me always felt he needed a trial, after all it was self defense. Still, as an adult I understand that he hurt a lot of people, and the only reason he lived was dumb luck. If I had been five minutes earlier? He would never have met me. I wish I could have seen his eyes, I wish he could have seen mine. I dislike eye contact, it makes me want to vomit on my good days but you learn a lot from eyes.
I wonder if he ever meant to hurt anyone. I wonder if he knew he hurt the man who hurt him. See, Gator was considered dangerous because he stomped his abuser half to death. I found that out after I was already on his back for the first time, and I remember thinking, “I wish you could do that to my dad horsie.” Sometimes, in my dreams I ride off on Gator to escape the villains. Every dream has villains again. I only had a few months where there was time for tea with Batman. I don’t have a batmobile, I don’t have a jet plane. I have a horse.
This is what I think of when I think of lost freedom. It isn’t needing a caregiver, it isn’t the use of my legs or being able to walk to the toilet without pain and concentration. It isn’t being hungry. Those are all things that have always been there. The lost freedoms were his not mine. Gator gave me his freedom.
I am sure it could be a story in a movie somewhere, a little girl and her horse. Gator was the first time I felt grown up. I was trusted with his life, and he trusted me before the humans. He wasn’t the only horse I rode there, I was attatched to another who also died in my time there, but Gator is the one that taught me how to run.
Freedom isn’t running away from the things that hurt you. Freedom isn’t being able to do whatever you want. Freedom is having a moment to be truly alive. You do not have to be with people, you do not have to be alone. You just have to be. Every day that I am alive and I am not in an abusive situation, I am free.