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autism: family, trauma, advocacy

June 20, 2015

There’s so much I don’t understand about other people, and never have. The people I grew up with and around, my family of origin, are, in some ways, more mysterious to me than complete strangers.

When I was kid, I was often miserable. I didn’t have the social power to change conditions around me, but adults did — but they wouldn’t. I thought the problem what that I wasn’t communicating effectively: if only I was better at conveying what was at stake, then things could be changed, and my life would improve. Win-win!

{Aunt Carol was a big help as a mediator between me and my mother, but somehow the overall tenor of my life with my parents, my siblings, at school, didn’t change; only specific incidents got… less terrible.}

At age 10, I felt like I was 100 years old, and all of those years had been soul-crunching. Thirteen was a different flavor of awful; 16, yet another.

No matter how I said it, no matter what I said, nobody understood how deep the wrong went, how much I needed things to change.

And then… 1985 happened. But first, 1984: I graduated from high school, knowing all the way down to my bones that I shouldn’t go to college, but my parents forced me to go anyway. I took 16 hours of classes the first semester, not knowing any better, thinking college was going to be as easy as high school academics had been. It wasn’t. I floundered almost immediately. I skipped classes (spent in the college library). Sometimes I just drove around, for hours.

When my mother found out at mid-term that I was flunking Calculus, just like she’d done with typing class when I was 16, she made me go talk to the teacher for extra help every day after class. It didn’t help. I was in so far over my head, I don’t think anything a teacher said could have helped.

The problem as I saw it was that… I shouldn’t be there at all. I didn’t want to be there. I was sick of school, of “studying”, of being forced to do things other people insisted were necessary.


Senior year, I’d hatched a plan for a “gap year” (before that was the worldwide phenomenon it is now), where I’d get a job… doing something, I didn’t know what. I’d try a bunch of things out — I’d experiment with anything that intrigued me. I’d find out what I really liked to do. And then, I’d go to college.

I got so far as having a “conversation” with my father. In it, he informed me that he and my mother had decided I had 3 choices: (1) go to college; (2) join the Army (or other armed services); (3) work at Burger King.

As I took in what he was saying, and realized he was serious(!), it suddenly dawned on me that he might not have ever noticed that I’d been a pacifist all my life. Therefore, #2 was utterly impossible. And while of course I planned to work, it wasn’t going to be at a fast-food place! (My sister had worked at McDonald’s. She lasted a week. I didn’t expect I’d do better.)

I “chose” college, only because it wasn’t completely crazy. Not because, in any way, I wanted to go.


What if my “career counselor” at Benet in that era hadn’t been totally worthless? (I don’t recall ever talking to anyone about careers, jobs, or college.) What if I’d been warned to take no more than 10–12 credit hours, at least for the first semester? What if I hadn’t taken Calculus right away?

If I had actually succeeded at college… I would have never escaped the life my parents thought I should have Because Reasons.

I would’ve never discovered the life I should have, the life I wanted.


I finished my first semester by flunking out.

I didn’t quite know what to expect of my parents, but I assumed they would let me follow my plan, and get a job. That’s not what happened.

My mother put me under house arrest. Not even kidding. I wasn’t allowed to leave the house unless my parents knew where I was going, and they approved of it. I could no longer be trusted with driving anywhere, unless it was an errand on their behalf — I’d better get back when they thought I should! No dawdling! My high school friends were away at college, so there was no one around who might be sympathetic. My mother told me to stay away from my siblings, as I was “clearly, a bad influence. We don’t want them to think they should behave like you!”, said in the tones one might use speaking of a hardened criminal. My mother would leave for work in the morning, after giving me a list of chores that would take me the entire 8+ hours to complete, to “keep you out of trouble!” When she got home, they’d better have been done, up to her standards (which I’d never been able to manage before).

Apparently, living like this was going to… continue for the rest of my life, now that “you’ve shown that you can’t be trusted!”

Aunt Carol to the rescue! (Thank all the gods.)

At Thanksgiving that year, she suggested to my mother that I come live with her family, and go to college out there.

{There was no option of not going to college. Clearly unthinkable to everyone else.}

I agreed to go.


I’ve written about 1985 in OKC (on this blog, and elsewhere) more than any other period of my life. I’m not going to rehash it here.

It was bad.

I’d developed layers of defenses against my parents’ toxicity; I never completely trusted them, or anyone. I (mostly) knew who I was, and who other people were, and those people did not overlap. Therefore, I could defend myself against them.

With John, I didn’t know where I ended, and he began. I had no boundaries with him. I was emotionally immature for my age. And I had no common sense.

And I was depressed, and feeling utterly alone and friendless.

Yeah, it was really really bad.


So, afterwards, when I returned to Illinois (which I would never again consider ‘home’), I eventually realized… this, 1985, might be how I can get people to understand how wrong my life has been, and that I want it to be different going forward.

Surely everyone can agree that emotional terrorism; and repeated assaults, including threats with deadly weapons; and rape are bad things?

If we start there, then I don’t have to ever say that my parents were terrible parents long before 1984 — we can leave all that in the past, and just go forward from here!

Yeah, about that.

No one wanted to talk to me about 1985, but lots of people wanted to talk at me about it. How I’d been given a Last Chance — totally undeserved! — and I’d blown it. Who did I think I was? Why shouldn’t my parents just throw me out into the street, where I belonged? Well, what would the neighbors think? Also, I guess… Christian charity is sort of important. Oh yeah, you’re our kid {but we’ve never liked you}.

If it wasn’t that, it was what a great person John was, and how proud of him his parents were. And “why can’t you be more like John?” My mother talked about John, constantly. Every chance she got.

I kept my head down, said very little to anyone about anything. I got a job. I tried to start healing as quickly as possible. I determined to become a different enough person that I could never be treated so terribly ever again.

5 years later, I talked to my parents about 1985, under duress.

I gingerly branched out to talking to other family members about 1985. By the time anyone would listen, at all, about 1985, they uniformly insisted that I “should be over it already!”

Someone said that to me, in so many words, just this week.

She apparently had no opinion about hearing details of how her brother terrorized me. Or her part in inadvertently encouraging him to threaten to kill me.

No apology, naturally.

No, all she wanted to talk about was “I’m sorry you haven’t gotten over your pain yet”. “Maybe if you ‘tried to be more positive’ it would help you!”

Talking to therapists is helpful, but if every time I talk to people who know both me and John, they insist on treating me like a broken flower, and it’s so sad, but has nothing to do with us decent people, over here… Meanwhile, John’s doing great!

{Why does everyone think it’s so important to tell me that John is doing great? Does anyone tell John that I’m doing well?)


I have been a tireless advocate for my own well-being over the years. I have had to be.

One Comment leave one →
  1. jazmyne manzo permalink
    June 20, 2015 12:50

    Reblogged this on jazmyne manzo.

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