The March 2016 issue of The British Journal of Psychiatry contains a paper titled “Premature mortality in autism spectrum disorder.” While Matt Carey at Left Brain Right Brain has a much more in-depth analysis that I recommend reading, I’d like to highlight two things from the study that hit me hard:
- Life expectancy for autistic adults was calculated at 57 years. If you also have a learning disability, it’s 40 years.
- Autistic people are nine times more likely to die of suicide than non-autistic people, making it our number-one cause of death.
I have always assumed I would die of suicide. I never knew when, but I always took it for granted that I would take my own life. It was always the escape valve, always the one way I could solve all the problems that resulted from me continuing to take up space on the earth.
And by “always,” I mean I’ve known this since I was three years old.
I made my first plan at the age of seven. I first tried to carry it out at age fourteen. Twice at age 27, a suicide attempt put me in the hospital.
The reason this study hit me hard is because it told me, loud and clear, that I should be dead already. That it is statistically anomalous that I am not. That every minute of my life since September 12, 2009 is bonus time.
That changed my perspective in a lot of ways.
I’ve been struggling for a while with the question of how or even whether to continue having a relationship with my mom and her side of the family. Their approach to me and my autism is the source of my PTSD. But even though I could grasp intellectually that “exposing yourself to PTSD triggers is bad for your health,” I still found myself caught in that morass of “but they’re faaaaamily!” (Also “they’re not doing it intentionally,” which I find a murky area – maybe that’s a reason but it is not an excuse.)
Today, however, I realize I’m living on bonus time. I should be dead. Who I hang out with should be a moot point, a decision I am incapable of making. The people who matter most in my life today – my husband, my nieces, my AutPress family – should never have met me at all.
This round of the game is a gift, statistically speaking. Which means I can spend it with anyone I want – and avoid spending it with anyone I don’t. Most importantly, I can spend it with people who make it less likely that I will plan my own demise again, and avoid spending it with people who make it more likely that I will do so.