To Be Left Alone: Living with Autism – 4
By EMMA WISHART
BEING A GROWN UP
When I was 22 I decided I wanted to buy a house, so I accepted the permanent job that my current temporary placement was offering me and bought a three-bedroom terraced house.
Now I was, of course, trapped in a way that I hadn’t been when I was renting but I was determined to be a proper grown-up and meet my responsibilities. Luckily I was employed at an institution that had many different departments and its practice was to move all the employees around periodically, so every time my manager and I fell out irretrievably they were able to pass me on to someone else.
I managed to remain employed there for almost seven years – my record!
When I was 29 things between me and my manager started to seriously deteriorate. I felt she picked on me constantly and mercilessly, and I was hauled in for disciplinary meetings on an almost weekly basis. One day there were several extremely stressful factors at work which were pushing me to breaking point, but on top of this my manager decided that this was the day she was going to ride me ragged about having forgotten to wear my name badge. Despite my explaining that I had left it at home, she kept insisting that I put it on, relentlessly and endlessly, even pursuing me outdoors when I went to get some air and try to cool down.
I completely lost it and left, never to return (although I didn’t know that at the time, of course). I was signed off sick by the doctor with ‘nervous exhaustion and depression’ but now I know that this was autistic burnout.
I was signed off monthly and for the first couple of months I had assumed that the doctor would stop certifying me at some point and I would have to go back. But, and I consider this to be a pivotal moment in my life, for one appointment my doctor was not there and I saw a different doctor in the practice.
I was fully expecting to have to go back to work, but I walked in and, before I even said anything, she was full of empathy and sympathy with how awful and scared I was feeling and signed me off for another month. This changed my way of thinking and I started to try to think of a way to escape.
I knew I had to do something radical to ensure that I was never trapped in such a situation again. Step one was to ensure that I did not need lots of money in order to live and to attempt to live on benefits.
I had visited a friend in west Wales and had noticed that property was much cheaper than in the south of England. Thanks to the disproportionate increase in property prices, I had a bit of equity in my house and I decided to find a house in Wales that I could afford to buy without needing a mortgage.
This was much harder to do then than in today’s Rightmove age; hardly anyone had a website, the internet was not easily available and contained only a fraction of the information that it does today. Looking for a house in west Wales entailed physically going there with a tent and visiting as many estate agents in as many towns as possible.
I lasted four days, but in that time I had found only three houses I could afford that were not squashed up in town centres with other houses. One wasn’t finished (and I had neither the money or the know-how to fit a kitchen or bathroom), and one had a tenant with lots of dogs (who made me feel very guilty about potentially making her move out and have to find another rental property that would take her dogs). In retrospect this would have been the more suitable property for me, but being a people-pleaser would not allow me to evict this woman.
I bought the remaining property, an 18th-century cottage desperately in need of renovation but habitable, just. It was semi-detached but the other cottage was completely derelict, so I thought I would be safe from neighbours…
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.
Please note that since posting this series from Emma Wishart she has been published in an anthology from Editor and writer Mair Elliot, From Hurt To Hope- Stories of Mental Health, Mental Illness and Being Autistic. @Jessica Kingsley Publisher 2021