To Be Left Alone: Living with Autism – 5

MOVING TO WALES

So I commenced what I hoped would be a peaceful life in the countryside, but it didn’t really turn out that way. The road outside the house turned out to be something of a race track despite the 30mph limit; and because the house had been empty for so long, it was assumed that my parking space on the forecourt was public property and chapel-goers parked there blocking me in.

My idyllic idea of life on unemployment benefit became very unpleasant when it became apparent that the women in the dole office were not going to stand for my laziness and obstinacy in refusing to apply for all the outrageously unsuitable jobs they thought I should be applying for. I did apply for a lot but, perhaps luckily for me, I am absolutely terrible at interviews and was fairly safe from actually getting one.

Even so, going to sign on every fortnight was a nightmare and filled me with dread. The women in the dole office were exactly the sort of people I was trying to avoid by not working, and I hated that they held so much power over me. 

I attended an interview for a part-time job in a mail-order bookshop which was only five minutes from my house and actually got the job, to my surprise. I think that this was the first and only time I had got a job from an interview. Later I discovered that only two people applied and the other one had not turned up. 

It all went very well at first; the part-time work allowed me time to recharge myself between shifts, but they soon demanded more hours from me when they realised what good value for money I gave.

Of course I could have said no, but I didn’t (and still don’t) believe that my wants or needs carried any weight. In fact I have come to find it easier to give in to what other people want me to do than have to have an argument and still end up doing what they want. 

I have recently read Franz Kafka’s The Trial and my experiences of having a job were frighteningly similar.

Any attempt to find out what I was accused of or to defend myself was only taken as proof of guilt and used as further ammunition against me.

I’ve been called stubborn, rude, uncooperative, inflexible, facetious, pedantic, difficult, awkward… in short, I had an attitude problem. At appraisal time I was always told that my work was really excellent but that my relations with others were unsatisfactory, so I always got a bad overall report.

I couldn’t understand why I was doing so badly when my work was of such a high standard, when I thought that that was what I was there for. I have been told that I sound melodramatic but I honestly felt that I was being tortured. I seem to have a constantly recurring theme of ‘We don’t see why you can’t be more normal when you don’t seem to have anything wrong with you’ which is a self-contradictory argument in itself – but it is a theme that I struggle with every day if I have to speak to people. 

Again autistic burnout threatened and, as my nerves became more fragile, I became a target for unpleasantness. Again I seemed to bring out the worst in someone who was not a bad person.

This culminated in a vile verbal torrent of hatred one day, full of really personal insults; this person must have been bottling up all these things for ages to have exploded in such a dramatic fashion. In a way reminiscent of the last time this happened, this woman also pursued me, this time to my house, where she walked up and down outside the windows for some time and repeatedly knocked on the door.

Later I went to the managers and reported what had happened and they agreed that what she had said was true and that she was perfectly justified in saying it!

Needless to say, I found my position there untenable and asked for six months’ unpaid leave to go away and think about things, but this was refused, so I had no option but to leave. 

As an interlude, it is worth mentioning that autistic people do not seem to inherently know the social rules that others do, and I tried to take my cues of how to behave towards other people from the ways in which they behaved towards me. Unfortunately this was disastrous because people treat me in a way that they wouldn’t dream of treating anyone else and I eventually learned not to do this.

To be continued next week…

Emma with Twosy

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

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