Today will be Different, Next Year will be Better…I Promise
By Melissa Lushington, "Don't Cut Corners...Unless It's Cake" - Blog Series Vol. 3, Slice #12
This year, I was hit hard with two unexpected personal events in my life. The first one happened on March 7, 2022, when my dad had a stroke that led him to be bedridden. The second one happened on November 17, 2022, when my dad had another stroke along with a urinary infection and is currently staying at a nursing home until January of next year. It’s been quite a challenge dealing with these two events along with the aftermath of those events, but one of the many things that have been helping me get through it is my unique way of looking at the world. That is the case with many people in the autism community, the way we perceive the world, process the world, and interact with it is not only uniquely different because of our neurology but for some of us, the way we look at the world can be a coping mechanism to help us deal with it. From the Production Company of Missing Link Cinema (Raven Lost Pictures), comes a short film made in 2009 that is directed by Screen player Charles Pham called Eleanor.
Eleanor tells the story of a young woman who copes with the cruelties of reality through the lens that she creates in her own mind. Although the film never openly addresses this, it is a head canon representation of an autism movie, due to its nature of telling a story about a young autistic woman navigating through everyday life and dealing with the complexities
that come with it. At the beginning of the film, Narrator Ellena Vasquez describes the main character Eleanor already as a peculiar woman who is not typically like everyone else. This is obviously related to autism because autistic people were always seen as peculiar and Promotional Photo for "Eleanor" Production Co. of Missing Link Cinema (Click on the photo to view the short film) different, and some autistic even see for themselves that they are not like everyone else because of the way their brain is wired differently. Another example is that at the beginning of the movie the narrator describes Eleanor’s nature of being different when she states, “Ever since she was a little girl, Eleanor had a different way of looking at the world. This unique perspective has helped her cope with the harshness of reality.” This is autism related because, when confronted with something that makes her uncomfortable, Eleanor uses her hands to make a pair of lenses to put over her eyes, so she can imagine something positive is happening that will help calm her down. This is a self-soothing mechanism that many people in the autism community use that’s called stimming when we either do something repetitively with our body or we use a specific tool/toy to help us self-soothe ourselves when we are confronted with something that makes us uncomfortable. In this case, I can relate to Eleanor in terms of her way of stimming because drifting off into imagination is one of my ways of stimming as well. It’s what I do to escape reality because the real world is often too complex to deal with right now. Whether it’s my dad’s dementia or dealing with the uncertainties of where I’m going to go after community college it’s hard sometimes living in that world of reality, so I would let myself drift off into imagination where I’m in New York City doing all types of fun activities and I make myself forget about my current problems for a while. So, I appreciate being able to see that Eleanor’s way of stimming is like one of my ways of stimming as well. Another example, is when the narrator describes Eleanor’s usual day when she states, “Tuesday through Saturday, Eleanor traverses the same eleven blocks from her house to the city library, where she works in the children’s book section, and a job she finds very rewarding and from twelve-fifteen to twelve-forty five Eleanor spends her lunches alone on a park bench, where she rarely makes eye contact with people who pass by, and from twelve-forty five to one-fifteen she lies in the grass staring at the clouds, occasionally glancing at her watch to make sure she’s not a minute late back to work. Every day on her way home from work, Eleanor always passes the same people.” This statement is very much autism related to autism because the main character has a daily routine that she thrives by consistently, and as many people know having a consistent routine that many autistic individuals thrive by because it helps them feel like they’re in control and it keeps them from feeling overwhelmed as if things are out of control. Another example is when the narrator explains another coping mechanism that Eleanor uses to deal with the harshness of life when she states, “…each day upon waking, Eleanor tells herself, ‘Today will be different, I promise.’”. This is autism related because self-talk is a form of stimming. The reason why is that there’s no right or wrong way for a person to stim, stimming is whatever helps you regulate your emotions, calm yourself down when you’re feeling overwhelmed, and cope with the unwanted struggles of life. This is another element that relates to me personally as well because I do often talk to myself. I do this mostly in my head because sometimes if I talk to myself out loud, a person will hear me and ask me what I’m talking about. This makes me feel embarrassed, and I would try to change the subject. The most important thing worth mentioning is towards the end of the film when Eleanor rushes home and kills herself with a gun because life can become too much for a person that not even stimming is enough anymore. This is important because as humans, everybody has their own limits on how much they can take. Sometimes, autistic people can have limits too that are more severely negative than neurotypical. Because autistic people process the world differently, their limit on how much they can handle life itself may be too overwhelmingly difficult that burnouts and shutdowns could lead to something more permanent, fatal, and tragic. That’s why it’s very important for neurodivergent people to have a healthy support system, because just like everyone else autistic people need to always remember that they’re not alone, and they don’t have to be alone either. I also think it’s worth mentioning that throughout the film, no one tries to interact with Eleanor to make sure that she’s all right. This causes Eleanor to process the cruelties of the world on her own, and her coping mechanisms only worked for so long that they got to the point where it wasn’t working for her anymore. Because she had no support system or animal for that matter, Eleanor had no one to go to talk to about her feelings, which caused her to, unfortunately, take her own life as her only solution. I understand that some people want to be alone sometimes, and some autistics prefer to be alone as well. However, being alone too much can be damaging to your mental health. Therefore, if you can be there for someone then does it. If they tell you that they want to be alone, kindly respect their wishes, but don’t stay out of it completely. Be consistent in checking on people because eventually they’ll see how interested you are in their well-being, and they’ll warm up to you and start confiding in you about how they really feel.
In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie in case you couldn’t tell. I was impressed to see how a 6-minute and 56 seconds movie was able to capture the realism of autism, without even trying. As an autistic woman, I appreciate being able to see myself in the character Eleanor, and I appreciate being introduced to this movie now when I’m going through some hard times right now. I appreciate the encouragement that this film gave me of how today will be different, and I want to give you the same encouragement as well. No matter what you’re going through right now, tell yourself that today/tomorrow will be different, and in this case, next year will be better because of how you choose to make of it, and because of the actions that you take to make the world a better place. Again, click here: to check out the short film "Eleanor."