Bonus Time

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.

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4 thoughts on “Bonus Time

  1. I can relate to so much of this. Half my childhood was spent figuring out how I could off myself and the other half was spent chastising my mom for not aborting me when she had the chance.

    I, too, feel like I’m on bonus time. I’m very careful about who I hang out with, and there is an orange fuzzball that’s very glad I’m here. I don’t know where I’d be without her and the cool people in my life. Most likely dead, methinks.

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  2. As a mom of someone on the spectrum, this news hurts my heart. I’m glad you’re defying the odds. And I face the same issue of cutting people out of my life who hurt me… As you say, “but they’re family!”

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  3. Funny how it seems like the leading causes of mortality for autistics are things that can be caused by stress, such as heart attack and suicide.

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  4. I cut off contact with my mom and her side of the family six years ago. Best thing I’ve ever done. Most of the people I’ve confided in about it think I’m very selfish and unempathetic for not allowing my family access to me (and so I hardly ever talk about it anymore), but that’s still so much less stress than what a malicious family causes. My good friend’s dad was talking to someone who was doing the “but she’s selfish not to be around them”, and he said a wonderful thing that I’m very grateful for: “But it doesn’t sound like they *were* being her family.” I hold onto that, because I know in my heart that’s how life should work: People just don’t get to call themselves family if they don’t live up to the responsibility it entails. If a cop helps a robber break into someone’s house, they don’t get to be a cop anymore. Family can be fired for not being family, too.

    I also look at it this way: I cut my mom out of my life because she would have killed me in the long run. If it’s true that she loves me (which everyone, including people who don’t know either of us, tells me – boy is the ‘family always love each other’ myth a stubborn one), then if she knew and understood that fact, she would agree with my decision. She will never know and understand, so I can’t wait for that to happen (which she would also agree with if she knew and understood). If knowing and understanding that fact would still not make her agree with my decision, then she deserves any pain my absence causes her, because wanting people dead is not okay. Either way, my decision is the right one.

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