In Ocean – an autistic perspective: I am a sea creature forced to live upon land. Although the earth has many marvels, I still long for the water, where I am home.
The ocean matches my thoughts – deep, shimmering and shifting, made of colour and light like an abstract painting. Mysterious, magnificent and needing no words but hinting at unexplored fathoms beneath. A world below, then worlds within worlds filled with strangeness and wonder.
On land, thoughts need words and labels and boundaries. They hit against social constructs and fall apart or smash into each other. Sharing thoughts that crash or trickle or drip or rush on land is so often seen as wrong – not steady, sensible, ordered or ordinary enough. Water allows my thoughts to move and twist and turn and ebb and flow so fluidly.
In the ocean, I am suspended in another dimension and captivated by the timeless soul-whisper of great poets, artists and philosophers who have also been touched by the vastness of the sea. Just me and the universe, surrounded by the space for thoughts to expand, for splendid plans and fractal dreams to flourish.
The ocean matches my weightlessness. If I don’t feel my body on land, it’s a problem – bumping into things, so sorry, oops! The land is full of spikes and walls and things that itch. It demands that you wear foot coverings yet doesn’t care if you can’t walk because one shoelace is tied tighter than the other, cannot hear the screaming in your head because the seam of your sock isn’t in the right place, and ignores you when you’re immobilised by a single grain of sand in your shoe.
Water is soft and smooth and glides like everything and nothing against my skin. On land, I don’t know where the edges of me finish and space begins, but in the water, it doesn’t matter – I don’t have to start or finish, I can just be liquid – graceful and rippling instead of stumbling. I can dance effortlessly, unbroken and free, tossing aside the laws of physics and no longer a slave to gravity, no longer plodding and always watching my step to keep from falling.
The sea demands no layers of clothing or makeup. A minimal covering of fabric will suffice if propriety demands it. No need for shoes, accessories, tidy hair or professionalism. Appearance fades into the background and wave-wise current-connection takes centre-stage in the swell.
The ocean matches my feelings. On land, my emotions are too loud, too soft, too fierce or too hidden – never quite correct. In the water, I don’t have to divide them into boxes and label them. I can swim in grief and joy at the same time, let them flow out of me and mingle with the waves to pound ferociously or float namelessly.
Here, in this aqueous world I can let go, sink beneath the surface, tears suddenly indistinguishable from water and fear abandoned. For a moment, there is a womb-like safety to remember and forget, to be everything and nothing – absolved, disappearing and becoming just another drop in the ocean.
The ocean matches my movement – surging breakers and rolling surf mirror my restless inner landscape and I am heard. Here, I can flick my fingers, tap my toes or fidget without constraint and the water accepts it all without judgement. Here I can frolic, dive, leap, wiggle, slam, laugh or shout and there is enough sky to absorb my sound, enough space to welcome my dimensions and enough sea to allow my eccentricity.
And here, I can also be still and let the water rock me and move for me so I can just breathe and be.
The ocean waterbed allows me to relax and be held. On land, there is nowhere that provides relief – the softest mattress and fluffiest pillows only cradle me for a short time, until the hard edges of life come poking through again and my bones and spirit ache.
The ocean matches my senses. Surrounded by the beauty of shifting sand on the ocean floor, the caress of the sun sparkling through aqua-marine water and over delicate white foam I am consumed by delight. There is so much to soothe and enchant – endless patterns of colour, vibrant shadows and lines to watch, an infinite mixture of repetition and change in a personal theatre show just for me. So much stimulation – intense but natural, unlike the assaulting sounds, stabbing lights and crowds of the land.
I can sink under the water into dimness and muffled sound or watch the light-glitter flit over undulations. On land, it’s strange to want to look at shiny things again and again, or to turn your head this way and that to see the light change. It’s weird to block your ears from too much sound or to be transfixed by the movement of leaves. On land, I am always in contact with some surface or other but in the ocean, I can choose to float and be texture-free or let sand flurry through my fingers.
In the ocean, I can escape humanity for a while. Even with others sharing the space, it’s not hard to go a little further out or to the side and claim my own piece of sea. I can duck under and ignore everyone on the surface. I need those moments of denial because on the land, rooms and walls and aisles and roads define so much space and imprison me with too many people and not enough doors. And every day that I walk again into the man-made construct of exclusive dog-eat-dog towers and societal scaffolding that will not support everybody to thrive, my essence is burnt a little more.
The land breaks time into impossibly small chunks and expects them to provide sustenance. It expects rules to be followed and small talk to be made. It expects each piece of the day to be cut up and shared in an effort to prove my value. It asks more and more of me, demanding layer after layer of paper-mache protection be built until I am glued shut and left begging for slivers of recognition.
There is no small talk in the ocean because everything is small and nothing is small and the rules are few and universal. In the water there is nothing to prove – all swimming styles are valid and no topics are taboo. I am free to imagine a world where everyone is wanted and cared for, and free to wonder what would happen if one day, I just left the land behind and let the tide carry me out to the horizon. Then I remember that the land has blue wrens and sunflowers, rare moonlit conversations, music and mangoes and I wonder if there is a way to have land and sea meet.
At a surface level, I am sea creature because I love the water. In a world draped around me like sandpaper, it feels so cool and so gloriously delicious. And diving down further, as Anais Nin said, “I must be a mermaid, for I have no fear of depth and a great fear of shallow living.”
I was not well-made for this world, yet here I am, a daughter of the sea, a selkie living on land.
Scraped raw by the hard edges of reality, bruised by fallen ideals, and worn thin by the struggle to survive. But still here. Still seeking truth and still finding relief in ocean.
First published by Holly Bridges.
“This was written by my dear friend Saani, who wrote this for me to help me illuminate the beauty that comes with autism. May we find better ways to nurture and support our loved ones as we progress and evolve. Wishing you a beautiful, joyous and inclusive 2023. Holly Bridges”.