Last Tuesday was my mother's 70th Birthday. I have, at times, in the past said it would be great if she lived to be 90, as much as she doesn't want to, and here's why I say that. Her mother lived to be 69 (she didn't want to be 70, and had I been older when she died (I was six) I would have said, had she turned 70, "You're not 70, you're 21 with an undisclosed number of years experience) and so did my mother's maternal grandfather. My mother's maternal grandmother was 73, and her mother 75. My maternal grandmother's paternal grandmother was 83 and her mother 84. My mother's maternal grandmother's sister lived to be 89, so she would be the longest living woman since her forebears came to Australia.
One thing I can say about family life is, anyone who tells you that they have a perfect life with their family and they NEVER fight, is either a liar or tyrant who accepts no opposition. My mother talked of some dreams, even though she is wheelchair-bound with MS, and I said that I wanted to keep living where we are. My sister-in-law asked if I had an attachment to the house, and I said, "Yes, and also, I hate change." I had said, and fortunately my father understands, that Benny (my brother's cat) is buried in the backyard and so is Alex the cockatiel, and a house is also memories. I did say, if the time came that they parted with it, I'd rather they sold it to the Autism Foundation on condition that I could stay there, albeit with another autistic or two and a carer. My mother had to spoil my mood by saying, "But we didn't know where you were for six months." Granted, that was 11 years ago, and things have changed since then, but I was in a bad place and I wanted to get my story out.
I suppose I'd better start at the beginning. Some who've read my story, Two Days, Two Signs, will have read this, but this was the beginning. In my first year of high school, I had frequent bouts of asthma and caught frequent colds. My first was in March and I had a second in April. My mother told me I had to go to the doctor. At the time, the medical centre where we went had three doctors, one of whom I liked, one of whom I thought was okay, and one I didn't like. My mother said, "You won't be going during school time." To deconstruct, I later said, "Okay, the last semester of Year Twelve, you should avoid missing school if possible. The first semester of Year Eight, well, that doesn't matter so much." So, we had an appointment with the doctor I liked, and she was delayed a little, so the receptionist asked if we'd like to see the doctor I didn't like, and my mother said yes. Well, I had a non-violent meltdown and my trust in her was scarred. The perfect world situation would have been if the doctor had asked the receptionist to remain and my mother to leave the room and said, "Okay, there's no right or wrong answer, and I won't be offended, but would you feel better if I let you go back out to the waiting room to wait for my colleague?" And when I'd answered Yes, asked my mother to return and said, "Look, the Hippocratic Oath says I must treat anybody and everybody, but if someone would prefer somebody else, I respect that." That didn't happen, and what made matters worse was he pointed out that I had acne. The way to handle acne is to wait until the patient asks you, and, especially if they are a teenager, go for the psychological and say, "Do the kids at school pick on you about it?" And if they say Yes, you say, "Okay, I have something that I think might help." I might add, this was 32 years ago, and mental health understanding was very limited at that time.
Fast forward 18 years, and after numerous recurring nightmares of abuse at school (from a kid trying to close me in a compacter file, to being assaulted, to having someone lower my pants (that is sexual harassment not skylarking) and heaps more), I called a counselling service and from there, my GP and I had so much to deal with. The counsellor told me that it was my sub-conscious telling me that I had to deal with it. After a few months, my GP put me on anti-depressants.
So why, after a few years, did I lose contact with my parents for a few months? Well, one day, I had to take my car to the mechanic, and then go to my parents place for lunch. I was a bit late arriving and my mother asked me why the hell I went a certain way. I told her she wouldn't understand and my father said, "He doesn't like going the other way, as he passes his old high school." I told my mother I had flashbacks to the abuse and she told me not to tell anybody else or they'd laugh at me. Also, she didn't want me to take anti-depressants, so I couldn't tell her I was.
At this point, my parents were still seeing the doctor I didn't like, so I feared that if I was too close in their sphere, I'd be forced to deal with them. Okay, I was really struggling with unaffordable accommodation, which affected my health, too. I had made a bad choice and found a housemate who was trouble. I feared that my mother would find the anti-depressants and tell me I shouldn't be taking them. As it was, eight years earlier, with my ankylosing spondylitis, she was going to ask the doctor I didn't like what he thought of my rheumatologist!
So, why did I dislike this doctor so much? Several reasons. Firstly, he was quite abrupt and I felt uncomfortable, and the next best analogy I can give was Redmond and trying to climb a steep mountain in fifth gear while towing a caravan. I remembered the initial event and how we were ahead of him, and thought diesel engines were weaker, yet it wasn't the engine, it was the way he drove his 4WD that was the problem. I'd seen this doctor for a stomach upset and I couldn't explain that the way he was conducting the exam hurt, I didn't have a pain in the stomach. Was this doctor one of our neuro-tribe? I doubt it, he was just an old school type who thought doctors knew what there was to know and patients shouldn't assume they know and shouldn't question doctors. Fortunately, that breed of doctor is dying out, and those still in practice only deal with a few older patients.
So, you can imagine the predicament I was in. Not living with them for a few years helped, and my father was willing to learn more about autism and mental health concerns. Ironically, the doctor I'd thought was okay had put him on the same medication for something else.
My mother is the one who is slower to understand what it means and also refuses to accept that many of us autistics don't want to be cured. As I think of this, I say, "Well, imagine if you were in your 70s now, and you'd come out to your parents when you were younger and were subjected to ECT and aversion therapy because you were gay?" You'd be scared. Imagine if you were transgender and your parents punished you, or a doctor told you that thinking you were the opposite gender had to stop and you had to keep doing things you hated. Your view of the medical profession would not be positive. So now, we, as autistics, do not want to be cured. My father understands this, and so does my sister-in-law. My brother sort of does, but doesn't talk about it. Now, for my mother to make turning 70 a watershed year for understanding autism.