Becoming a teenager is a difficult for anyone. You have these confusing hormones and body changes to get used to as well as extra responsibilities with class work and possibly house chores (unless your parents got you doing them from a young age) and you’re breaking away from the family to spend your time mostly with friends. An autistic teenager has all this but also they’re left with unresolved confusions and questions about people and the world and so far their experience has been one of peer rejection, sibling bullying and being told that most things they do are wrong. Eventually this turns into misery and a rejection of their own – rejecting the whole entire world and becoming moody and apathetic to all things. At this time some might become more self-aware but some remain oblivious to the fact that they are so different which in my mind makes things much worse.
After I completed year 5 my mum decided it was best to take me out of public education and home school me. I wasn’t really sure why but in my later years I would look back upon my primary school years and realise what I poor student I was. It was a miracle they kept putting me through to the next year. I believe my issues were a mixture of a lack of interest, processing issues, selective mutism (anxiety) and sensory issues (although back then I was underwhelmed by my sensory environment rather than these days where every sound is like nails on a chalkboard).
I was excited to start home school even though back then I like a lot of things, I didn’t give it much thought/ didn’t know what to expect. My mum soon found out how hard I was to teach and once got so frustrated with me and I got so frustrated with myself I burst into tears. I remember truly not knowing this answer that seemed so simple to her.
Eventually though, I would start to understand my lessons (I think maybe my mum changed her teaching style) and I excelled in English, speed math, geography, science and art was something to do in my free time. I remember some kids saying that people that are home schooled are always smarter than public school students and I was becoming smart – me: the one my siblings still treated like a toddler – that every teacher I’ve had lost hope in? I actually got in trouble for repeating that line to someone who got defensive about public school education. Okay…so maybe some public school students are smart.
Then out of nowhere I said to my mum that I wanted to go to high school. I was about 12 and the consistency of the school lessons started to slip. There was a social day with other home schooled kids but I didn’t care much for it. I brought my skateboard along and just skated away from everyone. I did want to be at a school with other children though, so maybe that was my reason for going to school. I knew I was bad at socialising because my brother and sisters were all in bands and I thought ‘I don’t have very many friends to be in a band.’
High school was nothing like I expected…because naturally I didn’t have any expectations. I was 13 and placed into year 7 so I was a year older than most of the students. I saw my difference as maturity and a lot of other students thought I’d been to high school before and earlier that year I had become a pro at lying and I wasn’t ready to give up on it. There was just something about people believing something that I knew wasn’t true that was so…so…rewarding? I’ve always loved to know information people don’t. I’d make a good secret agent.
Early on I seemed to do ok with the work but then it got harder and I naturally reverted back into by fantasy world. Then when I got sick for four months I got really behind in my class work, which the teacher blamed me for – and it turned out I had pneumonia and chronic fatigue shortly after.
There have always been a few people who didn’t like me for just existing and there was a brother and sister who were like this. And there was this one boy who fancied me and I didn’t know what to do so he accused me of theft and damaging his locker. Lovely.
I did have some friends but they were in the next year up and in year 9 too. They were mostly church friends but one girl lived close to me so we became great friends, even if I did end up getting along with her younger brother. I was also a helper at a Sunday school class that he was in. All the church kids went to my school but were in the Primary School area and I’d walk down there at lunchtime and say ‘hey.’ That boy was only 9 years old when he had his own girlfriend…if I am remembering playground gossip right.
The pastor’s youngest son who I talked about in part 1, Sam, also went to the school (obviously, if all church kids did) and we probably hung out more at church. I was a wanderer and would talk to people if they stood in front of me to stop me walking further and actually tried to engage me in conversation. There was one day when we walked around the church talking (he did most of the talking) and it actually felt like I had a friend, and then he returned to his actual group of friends.
My biggest bullies at my school were teachers. I wouldn’t respect the dress code and couldn’t even put fraking stickers on my uniform. I couldn’t even untuck my shirt or loosen my tie if I went to town after school. I suppose I should mention it was a Christian Baptist school (Nowra Christian Community High School), and for a very short time I sympathised with Brian Warner (Marylin Manson) who went through his own ordeal from going to a strict Christian school.
I turned apathetic towards everything. My mum and my sister were very close because they both did church things. My whole school was Christian and almost everybody I saw was a Christian – I had to go to church as well. There were a select few boys at my school who didn’t want anything to do with it and naturally they were my friends (well, I hung out with them at school at least – I’d be surprised when they actually came over in the Summer to hang out at my home and I turned them away) and I dated a few.
I couldn’t understand dating. It was expected of me for being the oldest person in my class so it made sense that I dated the only other 13 year old in my class. He was a character, had no off button and just said whatever came to his mind. He built rockets and at the time I didn’t find it nerdy. Even now I wouldn’t find it nerdy. But I didn’t love him, he was just a friend. We didn’t even talk about our interests. The only time we talked was in our group of friends. Again, not the kind of friends I would go to their house to hangover, though some of them thought that of me.
Eventually, the slipping grades and the bullying of my teachers was too much and hiding in school toilets during class time wasn’t enough of an escape (or going to sickbay during PE – I was forcibly removed from it by my PE teacher when I actually was sick) and the school prefects always found me. My teacher said I needed to make more of an effort, so I made more of an effort to leave.
So I went back to home school. I can’t even remember how my mum reacted when I told her I didn’t want to go back. These days it would take a meltdown just to get my point across. By these days I mean 3 months ago ‘these days’ – now I could tell her because I’m no longer under her care.
Home school the second time round fizzled out even quicker than before. I actually felt like I had no future. I’d take my skateboard and skate around for 4 hours on an empty stomach. Don’t ask me why. When I get depressed I don’t eat. I met kids around my street who talked to me and I barely talked back. I started to integrate my own town into my fantasy world. Now I could go on my own adventures to fight for survival or rescue some trapped animal and sometimes I got lost but always found my way home.
This year was the most miserable for me and what got me out of it was that I became a Christian. Things finally started to turn around for me. My mum was so proud of me. My pastor who had never talked to me said ‘congratulations.’ I remember the night was April 17, 1999 and a guest speaker, a Prophet Ashley was asking people to come forward to receive Jesus into their life.
I don’t want to get into too much detail because I’ve met a lot of atheists these past 10 years. All I know is I’ve been close to God since I was 5 and have always felt that he was my only friend in the world. Even through the misery of being a 13 year old I talked to him. When I was 14 I finally advertised it but as much as I loved my church and my new friends there was always a part of me that wanted to know more. And I found out just how much I wanted to know through the Afghanistan war and this new word called anarchism.
From researching anarchism online I found out it was actually called libertarian communism so I started to research communism. I would read about it for hours each day. My favourite line my sister had ever said to me was: ‘you can’t be a communist’ and then she told my elder sister who was an anarchist, who praised me and tried to get me into anarchism but still corresponded with me about political matters. I think she was living in Sydney at this time (she now lives in Portland, OR). I really valued this time talking with my big sis because my mum and my sister were so into the church and I just felt left out. After I became a Christian this changed a little but I always had my questions and I always felt like there were too many barriers put in place around the Church, just like the high steel fences that surround the church grounds.
It was my new special interest in Humanities at TAFE (as well as being a bit of a teacher’s pet) that got me into communism and since then it’s been a constant battle between my religion and my ideals. I eventually learnt that I couldn’t be both – and this started up my ‘on/off’ Christian phase that is still going today.
I started going to TAFE (a type of a community college) when I was 15 at the urging of my mum. I didn’t want to but I’m beginning to think I was a person that needed a push to do anything – read my blog about Pathological Avoidance syndrome and you’ll understand why.
My first course was an adult education course (learning how to learn – that was a great joke amongst the students – but was an actual learning module), which involved a first aide course, one lesson of OH&S (Occupational Health and Safety), then I did a few IT courses; build your own PC and graphic design and finally my year 10/11/12 equivalent.
It was all going so smoothly until TPC (tertiary preparation certificate – year 11/12) where I struggled so much I actually had to formally ask for more time with my assignments, I scored low on the maths exams and my science teacher and classmates turned against me.
One science lesson was simple and involved team work where you had to go around and ask other students on the campus survey questions. I tagged along not feeling much like a leader or investigator and my friends spent the whole time talking with their friends, who I didn’t like very much. It turns out that during idle chit chat they got them to fill out the survey questions and blamed me for my lack of team work, and my science teacher gave me a hard time for not doing my class work. You just try to teach someone who can’t even understand what they read and who struggles to learn anything they hardly have an interest in. These days I of course love science and would have wiped the floor with them and would probably become the teacher’s pet.
Even with all this happening no teacher suggested I see doctor for learning issues or even social issues. This was 2002 – Asperger’s or ADHD were on the medical books.
I managed to scrape by a year 12 certificate by just scraping a pass with maths. I remember when I had to drop math which may have been in year 10 which my mum went ballistic about, then said, or rather yelled something about ‘we all got to work sh** jobs and do things we don’t like…” I rather enjoy remembering all the criticisms I received in life prior to my diagnoses. At the time it made me miserable but now it’s just evidence because I really did have learning issues which was more than not doing the work because it didn’t interest me.
I remember being 16 or 17 and telling my mum I was going to look for work at the start of one year but she said not to worry about that yet, so I didn’t. Eventually though, I was doing so many TAFE course over the years that I got so sick of it that I just wanted to work.
I still didn’t have much of a social life. One TAFE student asked me one day to lunch and I got to meet her friends. They let me sit even though I was usually silent and I know when you’re like that people can say whatever about you and you just remain silent (one thing I hated about not speaking much – selective mutism look it up!) and they usually made some joke about me talking too much. It was how the youth at church treated me too.
At the time I wanted to get into PC repair because I liked learning about the individual components of the hard drive and how a computer actually worked from start-up to programs working in the background. I kind of fell behind in my work but once I handed it in and did my exams I passed. I would have got a distinction if I did my homework and handed it in on time, instead of forgetting to and asking for an extension.
I was still reading about communism, now Marxism, and got into the Socialist Alliance – not joined, just interested in them. They had a Marxist 2003 forum and I signed up. I think the first one was in a small university building down some stairs. I felt like I was in an underground movement. My sister Jyoti went with me and I thought she had complained to my mum that I didn’t say much but really it was because I didn’t eat much. At this time when I went to Sydney I couldn’t eat – it was very hard to break out of too. I didn’t speak up during discussion though and when I went to Marxism 2004 the next year, alone, I had to navigate through the much larger UTS building. My dad drove me and had to keep driving me because I just couldn’t work out how to get back to his place – though now it’s so so easy – basically, it’s walking from the UTS to Pitt St. When one member recognised me from last year’s forum he invited me to lunch, which I said yes to but then I walked in the other direction, all the time hating myself. I couldn’t even talk to other socialists which I not only shared a common interest with but a passion, a goal, a fraking lifestyle!
After Marxism 2004 I decided not to go back next year. I had missed out on seeing Sparta live and I didn’t like that. I made it my mission to go to the next gig I really wanted to go to (at this time I had NEVER seen a live band on my own and that wasn’t international – unless you count R.A.M.B.O which I wouldn’t) even if that meant missing my sister’s 21st birthday party or going to a concert with people I thought were my friends but really weren’t, and with a point and shoot film camera my dad gave to me and my tightest jeans I went with some old school chums to see Alexisonfire and about eight Australian bands. The Hot Lies were there and they were good fun but one hardcore band and one crazy ass guitarist, who jumped into the crowd with his guitar, made me fall in love with the rock/punk music scene and made me want to experience more of it, and becoming a band photographer was a great excuse for being allowed to go to as many gigs as possible and put searching for work on hold for the next couple of years.