Spoken Word Performer
At school I was academically excellent. I was a spelling champion. I was also very, very good at art. But I had issues with subjects such as woodwork and metalwork. Here the teacher would tell the whole class how to do a practical task once, then leave us to it. I could never learn a practical task with that kind of instruction. This was a problem that repeated itself, later, in my work life.
And yes of course I had social problems. It was put down to shyness. I graduated high school and went on to study at La Trobe University.
When I was twenty, I graduated with an arts degree into the recession of 1992. The fact that I had, in the past, decided to focus on my studies before I picked up a job, did not help my search for work. I was knocked back again and again for not having worked before. It was not long before the Youth Training Wage of the time locked me out of job after job too.
When I did get work, though, I did not last long. I thought I was just impractical. It was, and still is, very hard for me to learn a practical task unless someone walks me through it one-on-one at least twice. Employers were not prepared to do that.
As an unemployed woman without enough to do during the day, I began to suffer severely from obsessive thoughts. These thoughts were tyrannical. As soon as I woke up in the morning they would leap into my head. They caused me great torment.
Over the years I had seen several references in books and magazines to something called obsessive compulsive disorder. They frightened me when I was a kid. But I faced the possibility, in the early 90s, that I had a “mental disorder”. I went to my gp and got referred to a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with OCD, depression and severe anxiety.
For the next twenty odd years I lived a mixed life of struggle, joy, and poverty. If you’re wondering what I wanted to be, the answer is simple: a novelist, and an actress/singer on the side. Obviously though, I had to also seek work that I could live on.
Yes I wrote novels, but my severe anxiety slowed this process. It was slowed even further by the time I was working three quarters of the week as a house cleaner. This was almost the only job I could do. I worked as an extra on t.v. That helped the finances a bit, but I couldn’t live off that!
After having to clean to survive for eleven years, my back and hip problems were so great I applied for the disability pension. I went to a psychiatrist for diagnosis of the reason why I couldn’t do work other than cleaning and performing. He said what I had begun to suspect over the years. My OCD, depression and severe anxiety are part of something greater. Autism. After three and a half stressful years trying to get the disability pension, I finally got it.
My niche in life is to be a writer and entertainer. People say, after I get down off the stage: “I wasn’t looking forward to Christmas. Now I will enjoy it, because I will be thinking of you.” Or, “You helped me to cope with motherhood. You showed me that everything can be turned into a poem. You taught me to take a creative attitude towards life. You have inspired me.” After reading my stories, they say things such as this: “Your writing gives me life,” and “You have salved my soul.”
My journey as a performer is an interesting part of my life. I have worked as one. Countless times on tv as an extra- with the odd bit part, too!- and with a variety group, and as an emcee. This work all helped mitigate the measly pay of cleaning over the years.
But at any rate, I have achieved a lot of goals. So many things were far-off dreams to me. In the years I had time on my hands because of chronic unemployment, I turned that into a blessing. I spent what little money I had on further education in things I wanted to do.
You must understand, there was a time when I was tone deaf in one ear. Needless to say, I sang very poorly. These are some of the goals I originally had:
To be a paid actress
To be a theatre reviewer
To be a paid singer
To reach top C when I sing
To be in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta “Iolanthe”
To do a show with the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Victoria
To have a lead role in a musical
I have achieved every one of those.
Later in life I entered the “spoken word” scene. It’s very easy to get up on “open mic” in these events and do five minutes. But the feature at a spoken word gig enjoys the prestige of being paid for their art. This caused me to have a new goal- to be a feature at a spoken word event. I have achieved it about eight times now.
I’ve been ticking other goals off my fingers. To publish a novel, for example. Yes! That finally happened last year!
I used to think I had to have a full time job and be “normal” in order to be successful. But now I see myself encouraging neurotypicals to express themselves. I inspire them to find the happiness they don’t have… which I do have. And that, in itself, I think is a blessing.
Do not cut older people out when it comes to giving autistics opportunities. There are plenty of us who have great ability, and who could make wonderful contributions to a workplace. But we were born before the funding and support that exists for young autistic people today. I speak from the perspective of one diagnosed at age 45.
Please don’t let whole generations of bright and beautiful autistics be swallowed up by unemployment and poverty. There need to be workplace integration schemes, arranged by the government, for older autistics. And to the websites with resources for autism: do not focus only on the young ones. We older autistics badly need the support we did not get when we were young. Otherwise, too many of us will get caught in a never ending cycle of chronic unemployment. We missed out because in our youth, society did not understand. It is not too late for us. There should not be ageism directed at the autistic community. To those dispensing the resources, wake up!