To Be Left Alone: Living With Autism – 7
LIVING IN THE WOODS
So began 12 years of living in the woods. This was exactly what I needed and it was an extremely healing experience. I was almost entirely left alone with a few exceptions; it was a small plot in a much larger area of woodland so there were other owners who would occasionally drop by when they were visiting their plot; and one other person lived in theirs full time too, but he was about as far away as you could get and he quickly got the message that I did not appreciate him dropping in at all hours and had not moved to a wood in order to find companionship!
I had to arrange for ways to become more self-sufficient and rigged up a rainwater collection system. I bought a solar panel to charge my phone.
It quickly became apparent that winters were going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to cope with, so I fell back on my usual plan – go to New Zealand for the winters where of course they are having summer.
During this time people kept telling me how brave I was and how much they admired my intrepid spirit – which I did not understand because the reason I had ended up in a wood was due to running away from situations that I didn’t know how to handle.
I think that bravery is not just doing something that someone else finds scary, it is being scared of doing something and still doing it. I did explain this but nobody understood or believed me, and I have since learned that because people mean so very little of what they say, they attribute the same to me and assume that I don’t mean what I say – disappointingly, as when I say something I have usually thought about it very seriously and weighed it up and come to a serious decision. The exceptions to this rule would be if I am extremely nervous and am trying to fill an embarrassing and uncomfortable silence, and often blurt out any nonsense, or if I am feeling that I have to say what is expected of me by somebody in order to appear normal.
During this time I had started to notice that I always fell out with people and seemed able to bring out the very worst in otherwise quite nice people. I started to wonder if it could be me, or something about me, particularly as at my last job I had asked why I had to obey a different set of rules to everyone else and they had said: “We don’t know, but you do. It’s just you, we don’t know what it is, but it is something.”
I researched the possibility of personality disorders, mental illness, and everything else I could find that might explain it. I certainly fitted a lot of criteria for many conditions but none of them was exactly right until I discovered autism (or Asperger’s as it was called then).
I knew immediately that this was me and set about trying to get a formal diagnosis. This was 2006 and it turned out that there were no facilities for adult diagnosis and my doctor knew absolutely nothing about autism, what it was or what to do about it. Nonetheless I now had a name for what was different about me.
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.