A recent story stated that 66 percent of newly diagnosed adults with Asperger’s syndrome contemplate suicide.
Let’s think about that for a moment.
Amidst all of the concerns about the numbers, I found an article that has really good ideas about why we contemplate suicide. But the point of view of an NT (neurotypical — someone without autism) kind of makes me feel invalidated. A molehill is a mountain to an aspie? Come on. I’m not small enough to think a molehill is a mountain; a mountain is a mountain, and just because you have tools to climb it and I don’t, that doesn’t mean that my tools are something to look down on. But I digress …
I officially received my autism diagnosis at 25. I’d be considered a newly diagnosed adult. But for me, the suicidal thoughts come because I feel like a burden. And I’ve always felt that way. My first suicidal thought was when I was 13.
It’s easy to think, I’m the problem. I can think of so many people in my past who made me feel like I wasn’t worth their time. I can think of situations in the present that I’m not prepared for mentally. Sometimes, those make me think I want to take some kind of action like that. I understand this to be a chemical imbalance, but a lot of people don’t.
I’ve acted in ways during meltdowns that’ve made suicide seem like a viable option in my mind. I’ve had short thoughts like, Just drink the whole thing, do it, quick, and long thoughts: Does life insurance pay out if it’s obvious you killed yourself?
I learned early, though, that suicide is never the answer. I saw the effects that taking your own life has on loved ones on TV, and I reasoned that if so many shows posed the experience as, “How could so-and-so be so selfish?” then that must be how suicide is viewed — as a selfish act. I decided to never put my family through that. While I know now that suicidal ideation is a symptom of a larger problem, I’m glad I learned this lesson early.
Every single time the thought has crossed my mind, I’ve conquered it — to the point where it’s just a “helpful” reminder that I’m still alive and thriving in some ways. Particularly in the way of surviving myself. I refuse to allow myself to self-sabotage. Basically, I just think about everything twice before I do it, then I think of the most probable outcome. This has led me to be successful for someone of my disabilities.
NTs think with their subconscious, which means their conscious minds don’t have the focus to recognize input, such as eye contact, body language, facial movements, etc. Their conscious mind only has to process what’s being said, making their brains much faster at socializing than ours.
Our brains and subconscious work differently than theirs, and our thought process involves word processing in lieu of subtle cues. The conversational problems involved with this type of thinking can lead to semantical disagreements and misunderstandings.
We desire connection, probably more so than the NT, and the anxiety of confusion often causes us to be misconstrued as maybe aggressive, annoying, or intentionally confusing. (Side note: Sometimes we can be interpreted as funny.)
This can lead to an NT being afraid, angry, confused, or curious by our behavior or lack of reciprocation. Most times, they’re trying to talk in the feelings language, and subtle cues quicken the pace of conversation. We tend to feel sensitive at these types of exchanges. In our minds, we’re thinking, Don’t you see how hard I’m trying?
More than once, this breakdown has led me to feel like I’m an idiot and then pissed me off. I’m a fiery soul, but not all of us are. Some of us are gentler and more susceptible to the rants of someone who seems to know what’s happening. Alexithymia strikes again.
Because we’re trying to figure out if we’re being annoying, understood, communicating effectively, etc., using our ears instead of our eyes, we often miss or confuse visual cues by the NT person, which leads to more misunderstandings. People fear what they don’t understand, and hate what they fear. It often leaves us wondering: Do neurotypicals hate us?
They don’t hate us, though. They just don’t understand us, because it’s difficult for us to explain our emotions. That gap needs to be bridged. We can’t be walking around thinking they hate us and they can’t be walking around not understanding. It’s just not an acceptable predicament.
As a person with autism, I searched and searched for something I could do to help bridge this gap. All I found was that I needed to accept myself and my spouse needed to understand my needs. Self-acceptance is a steady and unconditional love of self and was something I haven’t always had. And yet, there’s no other way to coexist, and that’s very real.
Self-esteem is based off of what you think of yourself. If you derive your self-worth by what others think of you, it will be forever dependent on your behavior. This means that when other people judge you negatively for having a meltdown, you’ll feel bad about yourself. You’ll feel terrible about yourself for something you can’t control. What sense does that make?
By accepting yourself, you’re letting go of the illusion that you can psychologically control a neurological problem.
It’s important for the welfare of the person with autism to have self-esteem. Self-esteem influences everything we do — including hurting and killing ourselves.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, help is out there. Reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
A version of this article originally appeared on Arianne’s Work.
Arianne Garcia wants to live in a world where we all get along. She’s a writer, artist, and autism advocate. She also blogs about living with her autism. Visit her website.