Almost exactly ten years ago I was a very recently published first-time author. Being an author was the pivotal point in my life from which I went from poor and alienated, dependent and filled with disgust and embarrassment about my past to the person I am now, who is a lot happier and more independent. When my first book was accepted for publication I think I may have told everyone I knew in the world. It was so amazing. The book was almost less meaningful than what it represented. As an author I took on a wonderful socially valued role. Positive social roles are hard to come by when one is a former criminal and drug addict, a person with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and Asperger’s a public housing tenant and a person who had been on the disability pension for twelve straight years with precious little work to supplement my meagre income.
Even before it was released, I was fairly certain that my new book would mean a new life. Ten years later I know that to be true. I am no longer somebody who doesn’t dare enter expensive restaurants and shops for fear that I would be chased away by disgusted wealthy people or staff. In fact I have a personal income which is above average. I don’t live in a public housing flat but own my own flat which is a little temple of all things Jeanette, complete with absurd amounts of art, Tiffany lamps and gold plated teaspoons,among other things. This citadel of Jeanette – known to its friends as ‘Whimsy Manor’ – is completed by a sleek black cat known as Mr Kitty. He hops into handbags when friends visit and uses my pink Nepalese rug as a very large cat toy. The other thing that I have now which I could only have dreamed of ten years is a huge network of friends, colleagues, coauthors, confidantes, mentors and mentees. Had you told me ten years ago that this would be me I would probably have laughed.
I don’t think about my life journey too often but today I was reminded of it. A newly diagnosed Autistic woman who is a little older than me asked if I could catch up with her and talk about Autism-type things and share some of my own experiences and thoughts. We met at a cafe near my work. As always happens at these sorts of meetings when I went to pay she gently closed my wallet. Funnily enough I don’t think I’ve paid for a meal out for a while! As we sat down I fished out my latest book which only just arrived this week .(I have to admit that I had been showing it off at work all morning). I said ‘That’s my latest offering’ My lunch companion was impressed.
At that moment I was taken back to ten years ago. I had been asked to give an interview about my brand new autobiography with a radio show in the UK called Woman’s Hour. Apparently this was A Big Thing. I was collected from my dingy flat by a polite chauffeur in a shiny car. I was pretty certain he had never been on our estate before! I got to the ABC studios in South Melbourne. I had never been in this building. I was clutching my book just in case anyone questioned my right to be there. A forty-something woman was in front of me. I recognised her vaguely as some kind of journalist on a news program. She swept past the security desk, clutching a book and said ‘my latest offering…’ to the guard. I was filled with envy and intimidation and wished I was that confident woman swishing around in designer clothes with expensive perfume and an expensive hairstyle. ‘I’ll never be like her!’ I thought to myself,
So life changes. The woman I spoke with at lunch said to me at one point ‘You’ve had a diagnosis for 21 years. I’ve had mine for weeks.’ I understood what she meant as I used to think that about children gaining a diagnosis when I didn’t get mine until I was a very angry and screwed up twenty-something human disaster. I do enjoy talking to people about Autism and feelings and things. I think I probably should have studied psychology rather than Fien Art but I guess I get to talk to lots of people now anyway. It was funny talking to someone at the start of their diagnosis journey when I am a fair way along the road. The woman told me I was very positive which people do tell me. Of course positivity and motivation and determination are the three reasons I am not sitting in my tiny, damp and horrible public housing flat with alcoholic neighbours and a stalker for company. As my lunch partner and I parted I said ‘if you want to catch up again, just give me a call.’ People are often surprised at how available I am to the community but talking to people about Autism is my work, be it a roomful of people or an individual.
So I suppose today was about journeys – my own and others’. We never know where a journey may take us or where it might end. I try to keep an open mind, not write people off but stick up for myself if I need to and take happiness and joy where I can find it. My life is certainly not perfect and I have a level of responsibility which I find a bit overwhelming at times but I am surrounded b good people, a lovely house and a naughty black cat. That’s enough I suppose.