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Autism: Shattered

10 Apr

In a moment, everything can change. This is true of life, as it is true of my mental health. One comment, one moment of awkwardness, one memory, and I can be plunged into despair.

It has been nearly twenty years. I would consider the summer of 1997 to be the hardest one of my life – though the summer of 2008 would come in a close second. Both contain memories that nearly destroy me every time they come, and they overcome me often.

That summer, my cousin got sick. She had been doing well, when suddenly she caught Pneumonia. With her Cystic Fibrosis, that was especially dangerous. The Pneumonia set off a virus that had lain dormant in her system for many years, and in six weeks, she was dead. She was 21. I was 20. She died on Canada day.

Most of my life all of us cousins had known that she and her older brother didn’t have a long life expectancy. It worried me, but that was always sometime in the future. Suddenly the present and the future collided, for the first time in my life, and it shattered me.

During the time my cousin was struggling in the hospital, our grandfather had a heart attack. When she died, he was in the hospital having a triple bypass. He survived the surgery, but had cancer, and died of complications just before Christmas that year.

My grandfather, my cousin… these were my family, and I loved them more than life. I don’t deal with any pain or loss well. That summer was impossible for me to well survive.

In the summer of 1997, my son was just over a year old. I was at home (on welfare, having never been able to even get an interview let alone a job, and being far too intensely anxious to live with my family,) so my aunt asked me to babysit her infant son while she went back to work. I had always loved children, and I had always been good with them.

Babysitting that summer, though, was a huge mistake. My functioning was extremely low that summer. I couldn’t think well. I didn’t respond well. I was so exhausted that I was literally crawling, unable to stand, much of the time I was watching the children. I didn’t know I was Autistic. No one did. I thought if I tried hard enough… but I failed, and in twenty years, I have never been able to overcome the failure of that summer.

That summer my son’s birth dad and I had split up. He hadn’t wanted us around, so I moved to an apartment across the street to give him space. Because I ‘left him’ he broke up with me.

And then there was my childhood dog. My parents were divorced. My dog went with my mom until I left home and she moved into an apartment where she couldn’t keep her. My dad took her to the townhouse where he and my older brother lived, until he moved to an apartment where he wasn’t allowed to have her. He gave her to a friend, who (without a word) dropped her off at the SPCA.

My dog (for good reason, though this had always been true of her) had bad separation anxiety, and couldn’t be left alone. She would howl, and tear things apart, and… My dad ‘rescued’ her from the SPCA, and my mom (being at home most of the time) took her despite the complaints she got when she went out.

Then my cousin died. And my mom decided (mostly because my dog had a lump that the vet said might be cancer) that she would be ‘put to sleep.’ Murdered. My mom asked me to come along – though I don’t remember the wording in that. It is the only bad thing I can ever remember my mom asking me to do – and I guess I went for my dog. I guess I went because I couldn’t think that summer. I guess I went and accepted it because that entire summer was surrounded in death and loss. I don’t really know why I went, but I did.

We walked her into the vets office a day after I had watched my cousin die. She was wagging her tail, full of trust for us as we went into the office. The memory is so traumatic that at least a dozen times a year for the past twenty years I have spent hours, often days at a time, crying for my dog. I never overcame it.

I was shattered that summer, and twenty years of striving, and counselling, and faith, and new relationships… twenty years and still the pieces won’t go back together.

Last night, after a decent day, I walked into the bathroom to get ready for bed when suddenly I was hit with this memory as if I had walked into a brick wall. I cried myself to sleep, with deep sobs of overwhelming pain, and woke up feeling much the same. My dogs and cat came to soothe my tears away, and I thought, “I don’t deserve you.”

Twenty years of being shattered, and everyone I have touched in twenty years has been hurt by the summer I have yet to overcome. Every failure. Every loss. Every struggle. All of it tied to the summer of 1997.

Twenty years. I should have lived it in isolation. I should have lived it alone. I do not deserve the love or the friends I have had, for always it ends in pain. I have tried. I have strived. I have worked so hard to heal. Yet twenty years later, I am still the same broken person that summer brought out of me.

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