To Be Left Alone: Living with Autism – 2
By EMMA WISHART
MY TEENAGE YEARS
When I was 14 I reached crisis point and made a very genuine attempt to kill myself. I was utterly devastated to wake up and find that it hadn’t worked. I couldn’t even do that right!
Of course the hospital ticked its boxes by referring me to a child psychologist, but clearly he too didn’t know what to make of me; I only saw him a couple of times and he never made any further appointments.
The school put it down to attention-seeking behaviour, and I was on the receiving end of some severe lectures from teachers about how naughty and selfish I had been, particularly as I could have exacerbated my mother’s illness (heart condition).
I was made to feel, if possible, even more insignificant and, importantly, now I was aware that there was no escape.
I sought escape in other ways, becoming obsessed with music and collecting records. I had three paper rounds and a weekend job and must have spent hundreds of pounds and amassed an enormous collection of records (or vinyl, as it is now known!).
I joined an evangelical church, which horrified my parents, but I left after the whole group, including the leaders, laughed long and hard at me for sharing what I thought was an interesting piece of information.
So then I turned to cannabis which in truth didn’t really seem to affect me at all but made me seem to fit in. This involvement resulted in my parents getting so angry with me that they forgot for once that they were not supposed to hit me in the face.
Sporting my bruises at school culminated in my being removed from my parents’ house and placed with a family of a much older girl at the school whose family habitually took in foreign students. I do not believe that social services were involved as, to my knowledge, I never spoke to a social worker. I believe it was done ‘on the quiet’ so as not to damage the reputation of the school.
Looking back on my school years, I find it inconceivable that people chose to believe I was wilfully being different, rebellious, purposely choosing not to fit in and making myself miserable in order to make some kind of point; however, even my relatives who know about my diagnosis of autism do not understand what it means and choose to believe I was doing it on purpose.
I have learned that people can only think about other people’s traits in the light of their own personal experience and assign motives to others based on their own psychology; so if people are not autistic and do not understand autism, then of course they will not understand me.
So at 16, after my O-levels were finished, I was on my own. I got a temping job in an office and rented a room in a shared house, student-style.
I moved four times that year due to falling out with the people I shared the kitchen and bathroom with, and the same thing kept happening until I was 19 and found a self-contained flat I could afford to rent.
At last, after eight moves in a couple of years… my own space! It was bliss and I stayed there for two-and-a-half years.
All this time I had been doing temporary office jobs, with two brief periods of having been employed by places where I had temped because they had liked how well I worked. But once we got to know each other, it all went wrong and I left to go back to temping. I was starting to notice that I seemed to bring out the worst in otherwise quite nice people, a theme that would only get much worse as I got older.
To be continued next week…
Emma was born in Brighton at the start of the 1970s. She spent most of her childhood in a tree, watching the trains pass on the London-Brighton railway line. School was a trial that she managed to escape at 16, embarking on a series of short-term, menial jobs in order to fund her insatiable music habit. She spent most of her teens and twenties following bands around the UK on an aged and unreliable motorcycle (now deceased). She was diagnosed as autistic at the age of 45. She now lives in Pembrokeshire, working hard to raise awareness, understanding and acceptance of autism.