Things I can do

Things I can do

This week I had a few photos featured in an exhibition at a top UK photography gallery. The project looks at the joy and community of these swimmers in the strange industrial landscape of the River Mersey. My photos were chosen by Sony World Photography Judge, Lindsay Taylor. What? I entered hoping to win something because why else would you enter a competition, but I didn’t expect that to happen.

A complex, stressful week has left me running completely on empty. The slightest thing breaks me. I had to make a choice of beer or water, and I couldn’t. It felt like too much responsibility, too much pressure. There are no spoons. I’m broke. Yet, my photos are in an exhibition. What does that mean?

It’s a fascinating look at my disability, as life as an autistic person. Sometimes, unexpectedly, I can be overwhelmed by the world and its noisy chaos. I cannot understand how everyone is seemingly fine with noisy restaurants or the chaos of a city centre at night with music spilling out of every building and LED lights begging for your attention. Hasn’t the pandemic made the case for a quieter world? I wish it had. Occasionally, I can be overwhelmed because I chose to go out wearing a skirt and makeup in a world that bans drag artists for doing genuinely nice performances. I’m not doing drag. The people who would happily attack a drag artist in front of children to protect them from hearing a family fun story are probably not going to wait around for me to explain my identity. My brain is constantly running in flight not fight mode and I have to push back against it every day. I’m exhausted, and yet my photos are in an exhibition.

Standing nipple deep in cold water while taking photos on a non-waterproof camera, I made some work that is now exhibited. I’m absolutely fine with working that way. How? How?! Practice maybe? A few years of learning about the river and better understanding what I can do? Could be. But haven’t I been doing the same as an average human for 44 years now? Haven’t I practiced being in the world long enough to be OK with it?

I’ve written about this before and I find it fascinating. I can swim around in January in my tiny swimming briefs with a purple beard, and lipstick on, feeling confident. If anyone tried to say anything about my appearance, I know that they would not have the confidence to be me. Somehow, I’m good at this. It empowers me. People I spoke to at the exhibition launch last night thought I was bananas for doing cold water swims. Yet, I do, and I can, when I notice my alarm. How am I, Mixter Autistic over here, doing that with confidence but nothing else in my life? Is it a sign that other aspects of my life are actually not for me? Should I become a cold water portrait photographer?

It’s so strange. I can do things others can’t but today while shopping I just wanted to burst into flames, burn everything and then burst into tears partly to put the flames out but also because arg ahhh I don’t know! Stress? Autistic overload? I know I should be kinder to myself about having less mental energy than others, about what I can and cannot do. If I could just figure out how to take the confidence of one thing and apply it to others, maybe I could do more?

Should I seriously think hard about finding another path in life? Move to Scotland, learn to knit and photograph the whisky, knitting and swimming of Scotland?

I have aspirations of swimming the River Mersey. Perhaps I will one day. I feel as though I could. It’s the same feeling I had about running and went from 5 km to a marathon. There is definitely a side of me that when I lean into it, I am able to do things others can’t. It’s frustrating that the world is so chaotic and noisy, I cannot hear my brain when it’s trying to tell me what I should be leaning into.

The photography exhibition, LCR Photo Awards 2023, is on at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool. A diverse and inclusive series of photography.

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