Editor’s note: This is day 4 of #NoDejahVu, a campaign for Suicide Prevention Week as a partnership between BlackLivesMatter 757 and NeuroClastic. Click here to find out more.
In the last conversation we had, my best friend (we will call him Isaac) did what suicidal people do: he told me how great I was and how much I meant to him.
I told him that I felt guilty for getting out of my toxic, abusive marriage while he was still stuck. He told me not to worry about him.
Shortly after, I was diagnosed as autistic. Very shortly after.
This article is going to be extremely candid about suicide. It’s okay if you can’t read it.
Bereaved and Autistic
I’d begun doing this thing where I’d unpacked every single memory in my brain– and my memory is so detailed that I can quote Sims conversations from 2002, verbatim— and re-evaluated them as they related to being autistic.
Imagine realizing that you missed the social cue that your similarly-dark, like-you-in-most-ways best friend was saying a final goodbye to you.
A Casual Affair
I mean, the way that we met was digging each other when we interjected ourselves into a conversation with mutual friends where we discussed our plans for the future.
Both of us had the same plan: to kill ourselves. We were being honest, and we thought it was hilarious. No one else did, though. Actually, I’m laughing a little right now, and awkward-crying at the same time.
He was going to drive into a bridge abutment, but he was going to do it with style. He really loved muscle cars (another thing we had in common), and he was going to sell everything he had, restore this specific car to its full former glory, then drive it into a concrete bridge abutment.
I’d been planning to kill myself since kindergarten… maybe earlier. So had he.
He never did his triumphant grand gesture, and that is unfortunate. Instead of his magnum opus exit in a muscle car, he used a gun. That part really bothers me, because why he did it was lost in the conversation of, “He was silently struggling with mental illness.”
No, he wasn’t.
I can almost hear him now, rating the experience. He’d have done it like he was Gordon Ramsay on Hell’s Kitchen, screaming at himself in a convincing British accent about the lack of creativity and finesse.
So, I was unpacking being autistic and also how to grieve the loss of my best friend. I totally had survivor’s guilt. More, though, I had diagnosis guilt.
I think he was probably already diagnosed. I remember some times where we were so sure that we were some other kind of species from the rest of the world, and he seemed like he wanted to tell me something.
He said, “It has a name.“
Then, when I pressed, he’d say something hilarious, then build that into this long monologue of melodramatic stand-up comedy, and I’d be laughing too hard to keep digging. He was like Robin Williams in that way.
One day, in one of his impromptu manic comedy blitzes, he said the word Asperger’s. He said it like a joke, but I heard it like an echo.
He had a hard life. So did I. What really made it so hard was something most people couldn’t ever understand.
We also were reading this book together about synchronicity and quantum entanglement. We thought there had to be some scientific reason we were so similar to each other and so different from everyone else– in ways that no one else understood.
It has a name.
I was unglued when I found out about it a few days after the funeral. I was angry at the name on the headstone (he HATED that name and never would even speak it). I was pissed about the stupid picture in the obituary that must have been the only time he dressed up in the last decade.
The look on his face was one of an awkward smile over his existential nihilism. It read, Somebody kill me now in a language nobody else understood. If they could’ve read that facial expression, they would have been too ashamed to put the picture on display.
The comments in the obituary were a reflection that no one else really knew him. They were boilerplate platitudes about how nice and helpful he was. They even talked about his faith, which was bullshit. Their religious oppression was traumatic for him.
It was so disrespectful.
The Metamorphosis of Survivor’s Guilt
My guilt was pretty short-lived. It wasn’t my fault he did what he did. It was my fault he didn’t do it sooner. He told me that knowing that I existed made him happy, and that’s how I felt about him.
I was constantly trying to understand my feelings for him. Was I in love? Was it just extreme gratitude that I was no longer the only alien in a skin suit?
Sometimes, I felt like my feelings were best characterized by thinking of him as my real family, but not in a found-family kind of way. I mean, literally… like I was not a human, and neither was he, and we had different parts of one brain.
Things Got Weird
I know that after everything I’ve typed, which I’ll surely regret, it’s probably a little shocking to hear “things got weird” at this point. I know they are already weird.
But, after the diagnosis and the suicide, in this violent restructuring of all my recorded knowledge, things became more weird.
I started making all my decisions based on Isaac’s death. Like, all of them. Big, life decisions, and small ones, like which color straw to use. They weren’t for him. They weren’t in memory of him.
It’s hard to explain. Really, really hard.
It was like I had so many Big Mood feelings that I couldn’t understand or process– when my go-to for dealing with those feelings is to DOSOMETHINGRIGHTNOW.
But, what could I do?
I started a grief garden, which has since become a very large and ironic botanical display of how many dark-humored dead friends I have.
But that wasn’t enough. And I was a mother, now, in my late 30s. So, I didn’t have any time or freedom to go get into some major activist crusade. What I did do was project my pain and discomfort and BIG MOOD onto all my decisions.
And, hot damn, was that an awkward time. At least, from it, this site was born.
My weird decisions centered on Isaac were all some kind of metaphorical or understandable-only-to-me gestures of trying to symbolically fight for his autonomy and for him to be Seen.
When I figured out what I was doing, I realized that I had unwittingly unpacked what we both had always needed.
The Tyranny of Sameness
We needed to be supported to be free, to make decisions without the whole weight of the status quo bearing down on us.
We were wired to be forever outside of the status quo, maybe even to resist it. The status quo didn’t have room for us. It was a life sentence we were born into, and fighting it was all that kept us alive.
Because the status quo is the enemy of justice and equality, and it is the enemy of progress and freedom of expression. It is the invisible weight of oppressive social norms that others are wired to maintain, and it was unbearable.
I got into a marriage with another autistic person who was irreverent and had no deference to the status quo, and so our home together made a safe world for me where my rebellions were not just given space, but they were the glue that held us together.
I didn’t need therapy. I didn’t need emotional support. I needed someone to pour some gasoline on the anarchy in my heart and be warmed in its fire. I needed someone who understood why I needed to break things sometimes, even myself.
I just needed to live outside the Tyranny of Sameness.
My needs and Isaac’s needs aren’t everyone’s needs.
Some people need talk therapy and to be folded into the safety of fitting in. Some people, though, need to be empowered to stand in the torrid winds of being outside the status quo.
They need a partner in solidarity. They need a witness to their righteous insights. They need someone who doesn’t turn away at their suggestions for shaking things up and breaking social rules, or laugh like it’s a joke.
They need someone to ask them why it’s important. Even if you don’t join in with the rebellion, they need to know you respect the courage.
They need someone to do work with them. They need others to tell them that they are fair, right, logical, sane, and brave for challenging the status quo. They need someone to celebrate their depth, not their disability.
They need freedom to be different. They do NOT want or need to feel normal. They need to be seen and understood and appreciated as being different, fundamentally, and what that means. They need someone to love the fight in them.
They need the bullies to be named– not just the ones with sticks and stones– but the ones conducting job interviews, the hell-fire-and-brimstone pastors, the ones with squad cars, the party hosts, the sneering parents on the playground, the teachers, the judges.
They need their darkness to be validated, with humor, even. They need you to understand the weight of overthinking. They need you to appreciate that their pattern recognition makes them see the whole butterfly effect from your snide, judgemental comment to how that mentality of superiority costs lives.
Then, they need you to change yourself.
Because when the different ones, the iconoclasts (NeuroClasts), are robbed of their access to choices, they feel like they have only one option left.
Respectability politics and the status quo, deference, blind respect for authority, gender norms, racism, ableism, reverence for the negative peace of accepting things “how they’ve always been” or “back in my day” or “because that’s not normal“– those things are killers.
Tear them down.
An Ode to Breaking Things
From Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf (paragraph breaks added for accessibility):
There is much to be said for contentment and painlessness, for these bearable and submissive days, on which neither pain nor pleasure is audible, but pass by whispering and on tip-toe.
But the worst of it is that it is just this contentment that I cannot endure.
After a short time it fills me with irrepressible hatred and nausea. In desperation I have to escape and throw myself on the road to pleasure, or, if that cannot be, on the road to pain.
When I have neither pleasure nor pain and have been breathing for a while the lukewarm insipid air of these so-called good and tolerable days, I feel so bad in my childish soul that I smash my moldering lyre of thanksgiving in the face of the slumbering god of contentment and would rather feel the very devil burn in me than this warmth of a well-heated room. A wild longing for strong emotions and sensations seethes in me, a rage against this toneless, flat, normal and sterile life.
I have a mad impulse to smash something, a warehouse, perhaps, or a cathedral, or myself, to commit outrages, to pull off the wigs of a few revered idols, to provide a few rebellious schoolboys with the longed-for ticket to Hamburg, or to stand one or two representatives of the established order on their heads.
For what I always hated and detested and cursed above all things was this contentment, this healthiness and comfort, this carefully preserved optimism of the middle classes, this fat and prosperous brood of mediocrity.
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