Being an autistic adult is pretty cool. As a kid, being autistic can be a terrific pain. Even before my diagnosis at the age of eleven, other kids knew I was somehow “off” and I was bullied mercilessly. But as an adult, our expertises and eccentricities, are, as Lisa Simpson might say “an asset not a liability.” My inside-out knowledge of the Thunderbirds is much cooler now than it was then.
By the time I was 21, I had been in university for two years and had an awesome circle of friends. I was recovering from a serious bout of depression, when my friends had been the bestest, supporting me with love, hot chocolate and emergency sleep-overs.
I took all this into consideration when I decided to become housemates with Jamie in third year. He’d been really good to me during my Long Dark Term Time of The Soul, and he continued to be really sweet and friendly when we were setting up home.
We planned it carefully: We would take in some other people so that things never got too tense between us; he had a list of crisis teams to ring if he ever thought I was slipping; and if he ever felt weirded out by anything I did, he could ask me and I would give as frank and reassuring a response as I could. Above all, I didn’t want either my autism or my depression to be a big deal. After all, I’m 98% just like everyone else.
Into our rented four-bedroomed house, we also took Tom, a nice enough guy who we basically never saw. That left one room. We interviewed a few people before we met Kelly. Ironically, it was me who convinced Jamie to take her. She was totally unremarkable: studied languages, worked at the Co-Op, had a boyfriend. That was what I liked about her -- just a nice, normal girl, I thought, there will be no nasty surprises there.
Kelly moved in, and right away, things seemed wrong in the house. She and Jamie formed a bond instantly, and I saw a side of Jamie I had never seen. They were always laughing or singing raucously.
Around the same time, I suddenly started to feel extremely paranoid. I would hear my name being spoken somewhere in the house, and when I went to see if they’d called me, they’d say no.
“Did someone say my name?”
“No, we were just having a laugh.”
I felt weird, but I couldn’t tell if it was them or me.
I tried to join in, but couldn’t – just like an autistic kid at school, I was guarded, could never tell if anger was joking or serious, or if the joke was on me or not. I learned just to smile and not engage.
Things went on like this for a few months. Mostly I was in my room writing, and they were often laughing and pranking each other. I felt left out, but that was no major problem since I had friends elsewhere. I was in my first long term relationship, going to a million different campus societies and a lot of days I only went to my house to sleep.
There was this one time, over the Christmas holidays, when only Kelly and I were home. “I get really down here,” I said to her. “Me and Jamie used to be good friends, now he never speaks to me and it makes me feel kinda s**t. I sometimes think maybe I should’ve lived on my own.”
She looked understanding. “The lads get me down sometimes too,” she said. “We should go for a girls’ night out some time.” That cheered me up, and we didn’t mention it again for weeks.
One day I was on my way out of the door when I stopped by Jamie and Kelly as they were having a conversation.
“Where you off to?”
“Running my society for autistic students.”
“Why do you run a group for autistic people?” said Kelly. I still remember the half-laughing, half-frowning bafflement on her face. I thought nothing of it at the time.
“Because I am autistic,” I said. I yawned, put on my shoes, and went out.
Two days later, I was on campus working when I got a message from Kelly.
“Do u still wanna move out becos I’ve got a friend looking to swap as her house is too quiet.”
I replied “I dunno, I’d have to see the house before I could promise anything.”
“Well you have to make up ur mind becos I don’t wanna live with someone who says we make her feel like s**t when we’ve done nothing wrong.”
I felt like I’d been hit with a brick. When I last saw her we were chilling out, laughing. If we weren’t great friends, we were at least being adults about it. Now -- were we having a fight? Did she want me to move out? I was gobsmacked. I called her. She didn’t answer.
I rang Jamie to ask if he knew anything. He said he didn’t know what had upset Kelly, but admitted that he thought I was the odd one out in the house and shouldn’t be surprised if people got defensive around me. I cried. Partly I cried because of the shock of her aggression, and partly for the ruins of Jamie and my friendship.
Jamie said he wasn’t going to take sides. But at this point there were not really any sides to take: We weren’t having a difference of opinion, she had just sent me a rude Facebook message. Shaken and confused, I went home and, finding Kelly wasn’t in, went to my room.
The next morning I left the house early for a therapy appointment. While I was in the therapist's waiting room, the texts began. There were a lot of them in quick succession.
“don’t u ever dare tell anyone i victimised u again… i cn’t snd u… piss off… u bettr stay out of my way or else”
She responded to my “Kelly, please leave me alone” with “No bugger off I’m not having u dictating to me what I can and can’t do, u think you can get away with how u treat people.”
The body of her message was that I didn’t have any mental health conditions, I just liked faking them for attention, that I was a stuck up bitch who thought I was better than her and that I had better watch my back.
By the time my therapist came, I was shaking and crying uncontrollably. I felt frightened, knowing that a seismic change in my life was coming up, sad that Jamie was not on my side and that I had to return to a house where I’d been threatened with violence. I also felt kind of ashamed that at the age of 21, this Mean Girls crap was still going on in my life.
Most of all, I was just shocked. To this day, I can’t believe it all happened so fast, or really figure out why. It is striking that the last thing I said to her before all this went down was “I am autistic.” Her gripe with me seemed to center around the idea that I thought I was "special." It’s weird to think that her train of thought was “She thinks she’s so fancy with her diagnosis, there’s nothing really wrong with her, she just likes the attention even though she never mentioned it until months after we met” -- but, it happens.
On the advice of my therapist, I went straight to my university welfare officer, who said to phone the police, and gave me an emergency campus room to move into that same day. Just like that, I was out. The police said I could try to press charges for harassment and even hate crimes against my disability, but I decided not to. They’d already caused me way too much hassle.
Next time I spoke to Jamie, he told me cheerfully that Kelly was ready to admit that she “maybe went too far” and was “willing to apologize for the sake of a quiet life.” Nah. I wasn’t about to live somewhere where someone could threaten and verbally abuse me, then condescend to apologize as if I were a sulking child.
If you ask me, partly to blame is the social narrative that we have around mental health abnormalities. Perhaps I was different, but Kelly didn’t begin openly hating me until she knew the word to signify my difference. In her mind, being autistic made me game for being blamed, ostracized and forced out of the house.
On the flip side, I think Jamie thought he wanted to spend time talking to me about feelings and amateur psychology and being a knight in shining armour, but really he wanted was to hang out with Kelly having farting contests. I think at some level he was disappointed in himself and having me around just reminded him of that.
Ultimately, the life lesson they taught themselves was that if someone is different, you don’t have to accept them, you can just behave aggressively until the problem packs up its boxes and moves away.
Having autism and depression made me feel like I had to be grateful that people would put up with me -- heck, the last time I saw him, Jamie seriously asked me why, knowing that I had these issues, I had moved into a house (because I should live in a kennel or something? Idk.) But that just isn’t true, and I hope everyone with awesometism who reads this never think that it is.
A few weeks later, I moved into a house where 3/4 of the people had some kind of diagnostic label and they were everything that Jamie wasn’t: inclusive, supportive, talkative, fun… and my supposed paranoia has never come back, probably because people are not always talking about me behind my back here.
Some mutual friends have said how sorry they are and that they had misgivings about me moving in with Jamie from the start. Others have been squarely in the camp of “It must be your fault, you’re crazy and they’re normal.”
One of my friends who had never even met Jamie said that it was probably tiring living with “someone like you, and you can’t blame Jamie if he’s getting tired.”
I’m over anyone who wants to see me as a burden, anyone whose kindness comes from pity. From now on, I will only be living with people who appreciate my Thunderbirds knowledge.