Trigger warning: references to suicide and police violence
Yesterday in Sydney, a young woman was shot dead by police. She was on the Autism spectrum and she was at imminent risk of self-harm or suicide. Presumably the police went to ‘help’ her and ended up ending her life considerably more quickly and effectively than she probably would have. A response which was supposed to protect someone vulnerable ended up with them being dead. I read about three of the comments posted about the news item on social media and came to the conclusion that there are a lot of very uncaring people out there. One comment which stuck in my head read ‘if you don’t want to be shot, obey the law.’ While it beggars belief that anyone would think – let alone write – such a thing, I am not writing this post to talk about idiot trolls on social media. Well not so much at least.
The tragic – and I suspect largely avoidable – incident yesterday really had an impact on me. Not just because I’m an Autism advocate, or a person with Autism or a caring human being who would hope that if someone is suicidal they get help rather than death. No, what really affected me was that some years ago, I was – essentially – quite similar to that young woman. From 1994-1999 my younger self was a criminal, a drug addict and a very unwell person. I spent years wanting to die and did a whole load of very dangerous and stupid things which may well have resulted in my death. Of course they didn’t, but I understand how close I cam to not being here.
I want you to imagine 20-something me – or someone very like her. Picture being on a suburban train and this skinny young girl with bright purple hair hops on the train. She’s talking to herself. She’s jumpy and fidgeting and playing with her hair. She’s wearing a T-shirt and you can see what you’re pretty certain are scars from self-harm. She catches you looking and stares back defiantly. She really doesn’t seem to care what you think. In fact you wonder if she’s actually quite proud of her scars. You think about your own daughter and hope she never ends up like this woman. The girl stinks of cigarettes…no, wait…marijuana. She pulls out a small bottle of tequila and takes a few swigs. You probably want to get as far away from this crazy lady as you possibly can. A couple of bored-looking ticket inspectors get on the train. The purple-haired girl looks anxious for a second, then angry. Apparently she doesn’t have a ticket. It figures, you think. She doesn’t even argue with the inspectors but when they write the fine she screws it up and throws it at their feet. They escort her off amid swearing and struggling. You’re just glad she’s gone.
You probably wouldn’t expect the purple-haired young Jeanette to do anything worthwhile with her life. If she died, maybe it wouldn’t be such a loss.
However, twenty-something, dope-smoking, alcoholic, self-destructive, authority-hating, unemployable ‘loser’ Jeanette became me. I work full-time and earn more than most. I have a good education. I own property. I even go to church (although not a scary conservative one). I have every outward trapping of conservative, middle-class existence. I also volunteer around 30-40 hours each week of my time to advocate for Autism and write blogs like this. So while I should have dies all those times in the past, and most people who knew me back then may have thought ‘well, she den’t have much of a future’, in fact, in my case they would have been completely wrong. I’m actually a happy and accomplished human being.
So this isn’t really a nice story about how I overcame adversity. I don’t need to write that – it’s already in my autobiography. This story is me trying to come to terms with those haters on the news sites who victimise the victim and see only negativity. Any death – and particularly any suicide or shooting of someone who needed help rather than death – is a complete tragedy and I believe, is avoidable. We do not know the potential of anyone. Even if someone is miserable and drug-addicted and desperate and may seek death, in fact their life can improve. I am devastated at the death of any young person in this way and especially one of my Autistic sisters or brothers. My heart goes out to her family and friends and our amazing community that has to deal with death and tragedy perhaps more often than could be the case. And those internet haters…I have no words for them but I suppose they must be in their own kind of negative hell.
You don’t know who she will be. She is precious whatever her path