“You;re just going through a phase.’ I’m sure every teenager has heard that from a parent or relative. It’s as if their experience is irrelevant or not worthy of acknowledgement. But we are all going through one phase or another during our lives. Life tends to be a series of phases. This article will look at the phases of my own life – a woman with Autism spectrum condition and atypical schizophrenia. Hopefully others will be able to relate and draw some understanding around their own – or their children’s lives.
1-12 years – problem child and nature kid
I was born in an era with Asperger syndrome and Autism were either not known of or were misunderstood. I went to school with no assistance whatsoever. I was a ‘difficult’ child. I wouldn’t let my father come near me as an infant. I was unhappy, angry, at times violent, and unaware of the kids of relationships an friendships that other children have. I loved nature and brought all sorts of creatures home as potential pets (much to my mothers’ annoyance concern), including stray dogs, birds, mice my cat had attacked, lizards and on one occasion, a fat green toad. I had a fierce and unusual intellect and was told by some educational functionary that I had an IQ in the Mensa range. I read every book I could find. I loved extreme sensory experiences like looking at the sun through closed eyes and spinning in endless circles. I had a few friends.
Teen years – communist, rebel with one or two causes
My teenage self experienced bullying and victimisation, I have no self-protection skills, was an obvious outcast, but was leader of the ‘nerds’ at school, a straight A student who never studied for exams. At age 14 I left the fundamentalist church my family attended and joined the International Socialist Organisation. I had no sense of boundaries or limits, I was angry and defensive, clinically depressed (but nobody picked up on this). I fell victim to a number of sexual predators due to my naiveté and trouble saying ‘no’. I left home at 17 and joined the adult world. Somehow I was independent but that came with issues. I was not the average teenager and had wisdom beyond my years in some respects and was completely confused about other things that people took for granted. My teen years were all about discovering and asserting my identity.
20-29 – Into the void and other the other side
At the age of 20 I found myself in prison due to some idiotic acts with my older, psychopathic boyfriend. I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 1994 and schizophrenia on 1995. Needless to say I ignored bother these ‘labels’. I sent five years in Hell – drugs, crime, homelessness, mental illness. I made a dramatic change when I was 25. I decided to be ‘ordinary’ – get an education and a job. I enrolled in uni and set about making a good life for myself. I was clever, contrite and tried to learn about life as a respectable member of the community. I had no money and was unable to work. I lived in public housing and longed to escape to a more middle class world. I have issues with m relationships with family. My twenties were all about learning the limits and building life skills.
Thirties – starting to be successful
When I was 30 I wrote my autobiography. My view of myself started to change. I got my Masters degree and started work as a graduate public servant. I became middle class quite quickly – both in my bank balance and attitudes, I started my work as an Autism advocate but not many people seemed to take much notice of the girl who wrote the Autism and prison book. I had an episode of severe mental illness when I was 35-38. This gave me a lot of resilience and appreciation for how good my life was. I got Mr Kitty – my best protective factor against mental illness and a good feline friend. I gave a TEDx talk. Suddenly people were noticing me and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. My thirties were about consolidating my character and understanding myself and my limitations.
Jeanette in her forties – the next chapter
I have been 40 for six months and so far I love it. The best thing I have learned so far is that I don’t really care what others think of me. I wish I’d known that when I was in my teens and twenties. I think 40’s is about building on everything I have learned and really getting my career – both my paid work and my advocacy – humming along nicely and building my friendships and relationships with others.
Little me – don;t think she knew what was in store for her