As I start writing this, I feel that I’m probably going to write and re-write several drafts of this article till I get it right. Mostly because I think I’d only be happy until I know that I’ve struck the right chord in terms of what I want this article to be about, and also because I generally find it difficult to write about myself and don’t like to do so either. Doing something like this by means of me talking may be a completely different matter for me altogether, but I still overall prefer to live by the paraphrased words of the later former British MP Tony Benn in this regard, with these being: ‘It’s all about the issues, not about the personalities’. Ever since I’ve started writing for this site I’ve always stuck to focussing mainly on political commentary, current affairs, and the news, so I guess this is going to be a first. But hey, there’s a first time for everything I guess.
To start off with, I had been meaning to sit down and write this piece for quite a while. Now, if you’ve started to wonder what this is going to be about, this isn’t going to be some massive hit piece containing revelations that have the potential to bring down the government, nor a hyperbolic and dramatic article that would probably leave a stationary owner looking with awe at a pile of newspapers which gets smaller and smaller as his day goes by.
Rather, I’m going to try and describe an experience which I’ve been going through for at least a year or 2 now, and which is one which I’ve been very glad to have undergone. This being the case as it touched upon what I believe in politically, and who I am as a person. In terms of politics, I used to be a quintessential centre-right/right-wing conservative down to a tee. Be it my political views on individual issues, the recommended videos which would characterise my YouTube feed, and my outlook on the Maltese political landscape as well, these factors were grounded in a conservative perspective to things which I would give when conversing with my family and friends. I don’t refer to this particular political belief in a derogatory way, quite the contrary.
No one ought to be ashamed about what their political affiliation is, nor should their views be seen as bad, and by default mean that they are bad people. Just as much as no one ought to be ashamed about their political beliefs, I’m not ashamed of what I used to believe in either. Much like how British political commentator Peter Hitchens describes his political conversion, I say this so as to be descriptive and to always be conscious of where I left off from, where I am now, and how far I’ve come.
Unlike Peter Hitchens however, I didn’t move from the left to the right, but rather the opposite. As I began to expand upon and diversify the socio-political material which I read and watched as a result of my studies, together with listening to the experiences of my closest friends related to what they think, why they think what they think, and what events have formed them to be who they are today. Henceforth, I couldn’t help but feel that what I used to believe in was irreconcilable with how I was changing my mind and opinion on many things. With this having started in late 2019, the events of 2020 acted as a key conduit in solidifying my political beliefs. These naturally ranged from the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the eruption of Black Lives Matter protests, the debacle surrounding the US presidential election, and so many more. What hit closer to home though, was when I had tested positive for COVID-19 towards the end of 2020 and was completely asymptomatic.
If having to be careful with everything you do and touch because you’re infected with a deadly virus wasn’t bad enough, it’s having to quarantine and isolate yourself in a room alone for 2 weeks. Despite all this, this period gave me plenty of time to reflect on who I am and who I want to be, with this also being the case with the entire pandemic as a whole.
On the other hand, the second most impactful thing which I was experiencing around this time wasn’t something that comes and goes as is the case with being infected with COVID-19. This was something which I live with, but don’t suffer from, and which isn’t a disease or illness either. It was me growing to be more accepting of the neurological developmental lifelong disability which I was diagnosed with at a young age, this being Asperger’s Syndrome, which therefore places me on the autism spectrum. I’ve grown to see it as something which I live with, as opposed to being something that I suffer from. That’s not to say that living with autism, or any other disability for that matter, doesn’t lead to its fair share of difficulties, nor does it mean that it doesn’t deprive a person of immeasurable strengths and talents.
Put quite simply, a quote which I came across online explains my outlook towards this pretty well ‘Autism means I miss what others catch and I catch what others miss’. With regards to this, in particular, it’s something which I’ve started to become more open and aware about since around 2018, as I become more active within the disability sector in Malta. This isn’t to say that it’s not something that I always knew about, but it’s something which I’ve grown to accept, together with believing that society should show the same amount of acceptance towards persons with disabilities as well.
With regards to this particular component, I sometimes feel that I can honestly describe it as feeling like a coming-out process, and it did certainly have that aspect to it. I understood and learnt more about what determines my behaviour and personality, whilst being determined to overcome any obstacles which I may come across along the way. I understood that it makes me different to other people just as everyone else is different and that people on the autism spectrum don’t have anything less than any other human being, because they are just that. Human beings before anything else. Just as autistic people are human beings like anyone else, the whole experience made me become cognisant of the raging debate concerning what truly defines a disability, and whether it’s nothing more than just a label conjured up by society, or an accurate description used to refer to persons with disabilities. However, the dissemination of this debate warrants an entire article for itself to do it any justice, and it’s one which I hope to sit down to write in the near future.
All in all, my activism in this sector also taught me a great deal about the importance of equality, equity, social justice, social mobility and fairness, with these being values that I’ve grown to believe in strongly. Overall, this has felt like quite a journey, one which wouldn’t have been possible without the never-ending support and love coming from my friends and family. Even more so, as they’ve helped me in telling my story, one which I’ve been encouraged to air out for a while now. In terms of summarising this story, having to stay at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic made me reflect more than I usually do and made me be more appreciative of the people who I have in my life and whom I love, and whom I’m very grateful to have in my life as well. Being more involved in youth activism gave me opportunities which in turn gave me more visibility on an invisible disability that I live with, and which I realised that I’d been hiding for too long.
Ultimately, these and other experiences saw me start with having a conservative and traditional outlook on things, and have seen me describe myself more as a social democrat and a progressive (together with me adopting some socialist and liberal tendencies sometimes as well, but anyway). As all this has felt like quite the journey, I remind myself how far I’ve come and how long I have left to go. Naturally, one would ask, what’s yet to come? Who knows, but what’s for sure, I never say never to anything.
Written by: Jacob Callus
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