Nominated at 12 to attend a School for the Gifted – Autism

Body

The human experience is one that has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. I had a difficult childhood which only Neurodivergent folk would be able to relate to. Confused, anxious, high-strung, always alert, always watching, always analyzing. I was a skinny kid with low muscle tone. My appetite was just enough to keep my mental resources running and I burnt up so much energy that I think my body did not have a chance to develop properly in my preteen years.

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I remember when puberty hit and all the hormonal changes flooded my system. There was a Nurse from the Government that visited our school and all the boys had to undress and queue only in their underwear in the school hall. She would sit on a chair with a file and a pen and call each student to stand in front of her, one at a time. This experience was a strange one for me, I have never really understood boundaries with regards to nudity and why we wear clothing and who may see you naked and what your ‘private parts’ were. I was still figuring it out. I did know that I should let someone other than my mother see me naked. So, when it was my turn and I had to stand in front of this Woman, I was not sure what to do and waited for her to give me instructions. She asked me to pull down my underwear and expose my bits. She inspected it and I remember thinking that something must be wrong because I could not read her expression. I was also wondering if I was allowed to this because she is a stranger. I also looked down as she was looking at my genitalia and I felt a strange sensation in my nether region. Blood was flowing towards a body part which, up to this point was mainly used to try and hit flowers or leaves or bugs when I urinated outside in the garden. I played outside a lot so it was the most efficient solution to relieve myself I figured at the time 🙂

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Anyway, back to that moment. So here I am, skinny kid, in my undies, exposing myself to this lady who had an unreadable expression on her face, and my private member decided to ‘rise to the occasion’. I was alarmed and amazed at the same time! So was she! She made eye contact with me, I blushed and giggled, and she said: ‘It’s okay young man, at least we know everything is working fine.’ and she gave me a slight smile and motioned to me that I can pull up my pants and go put on the rest of my school uniform. I passed the examination, and I felt a sense of pride. I still don’t know why she was there to look at so many penises and I probably never will. I do however remember being fascinated by the changes I experienced during puberty but also the changes I witnessed in the fairer of the species, the females. But that is a whole different story. The pure magic of our physical world has been capturing my imagination ever since.

Mind

The one area where I felt kind of ahead of the developmental curve however, was mentally. I remember being able to ‘see’ an answer while the teacher was still explaining the concept. This caused a lot of ‘answering out of turn disrupting the class’ – situations. I had to bite my lip because it was the ‘polite thing to do’ to give the other students a chance to answer the questions.

In my final year in Primary School we wrote our National IQ tests. I was 12 years old. It was a fantastic experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I experienced a sense of delight for being able to answer almost all the questions.

After a couple of weeks a different lady from the government visited our school again and we each had a session with her where she explained what we might want to be when we grow up. My session went like this:

  • Well done on your IQ Test
  • The results are great
  • You have talents in various fields
  • You can actually become anything you want when you grow up.

That’s it, no additional guidance or pointers so I left it at that.

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A week or two later the Principle at our school summoned me and explained that I have been earmarked as one of only two kids in our entire province who were invited to attend a School for Gifted Scholars at the University of Pretoria that coming winter. He will arrange everything with my mother and he was honored that they chose a pupil from his school to attend.

My mother made the arrangements, we drove three hours to the University that winter, I checked into the dormitory, and waited for the program to start the next day.

I woke up the next morning, got dressed and went to the first class on the roster they gave me. I took a seat in the front and the Teacher started talking about mathematics and the definition of a square. Whilst she was asking pupils to list what qualities were needed one would say 4 equal sides, or four equal corners, she kept on asking as if the answers weren’t entirely correct. I shouted out: “All of the qualities need be present!”. She looked at me and chased me out of the class because I did not raise my hand.

I took my books and left the classroom, embarrassed and confused because I did give the correct answer. I did not know where to go, so I phoned my mom and asked her to come and fetch me…

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Looking back now I wish the teacher knew I was on the spectrum and handled the situation better. I wish I knew I was on the spectrum too. This might have put me on a different trajectory in life perhaps ending up designing rockets to go to Mars like my fellow South African, Elon Musk!

Alas, I was thrust onto the difficult journey that would bring me to where I am today. Do I have regrets? Only one, and that is that I have regrets…

Day 10 post failed suicide attempt – Choose day

5:00am

Nurse takes blood pressure.

Breakfast.

Shower.

Wait for Psychiatrist. It is Tuesday today…

Tuesday: Old English Tīwesdæg ‘day of Tīw’, a Germanic god of war and the sky.

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I never could understand why ‘days’ felt different to people. Some hated Monday, some loved Wednesday, most wait for Friday and Saturday. Religious folk (most of them) practice rituals on Sunday. To me, all days are the same…

You see, when you go to bed at night and fall asleep, you have zero guarantee that you will wake up. I am always surprised to wake up! The same me, the same mind, the same memories, the same likes and dislikes, the same body, the same spirit or soul or presence. It fascinates me.

So no difference for me in the different days, I literally take it one day at a time.

The Psychiatrist arrives and we make ourselves comfortable in the consultation room.

“How are you feeling today?” he asks.

I start my soliloquy: Well, I started dreaming again. I haven’t dreamt since I was 16 years old. I feel rested and calm. I feel focused. I feel as if I am new. I feel one with myself. I am starting to appreciate the unique situation I am in. If I was successful with my suicide no-one would ever have known that I was on the spectrum and suffered from autistic burnout and that it caused my attempt on my own life by myself. I wouldn’t have known! Not my children, my family, my friends or my colleagues. So, I feel like I have a lot to be thankful for. I feel light. I am nervously excited about what lies ahead. I need to review my past, my present and my future.

“Great, it’s refreshing to hear you have the insight to process this information so quickly. Just be mindful of the fact that this euphoric feeling might not last forever and we must be careful to not let a relapse spoil your newfound joy.” he said.

“I know, I know, but it’s just so new and unreal yet known and familiar…”, I add.

“Medication seems to work well for you. Let’s keep it as it is right now. How is the pain in your wrist?” He questions, with concern in his eyes.

“It’s okay, thanks, I am doing okay.” I tell him.

He continues: “I want to start testing your complex, unique situation with you, just to make sure I am correct in what I see and you agree that it feels right.”

We continue to unpack Autism symptoms and experiences which I had growing up and could now place into context for myself. We unpack ADHD and the difficulties and gifts that comes with it. We discuss OCD and OCPD and its drawbacks and benefits. After delving into Depression and its dangers we close off our conversation and he hands me my next assignment: Go and think about your family and extended family and try to see if you can identify any possible signs that some of them might be on the spectrum.

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Lunch

Psychiatrist visits me in the afternoon and we discuss the various ego states and how to bring them closer to the center. We settle on which ego state should be the executive one and how to look at going back to the world without having alcohol as a vice.

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Dinner

Shower

Medication

I slide into bed and have a crystal clear thought. I am new. I am me for the first time. I have my whole new life ahead of me.

I did not want to die. I am not a suicide risk, I choose to live! Today is the day I choose to accept my new reality. Today is Choose Day!

This scar on my wrist is not a suicide scar, its a cesarean scar!

And I drift off into the black void…

High functioning Autistic Savant Syndrome – surprised to try and commit suicide

‘Has anyone ever spoken to you about autism?’ my Psychiatrist asked after only 5 minutes of conversation in our first consultation session at the psychiatric ward post my failed suicide attempt.

I tried to commit suicide 12 hours earlier on a Saturday evening. I drove out into the mountains, to be close to nature. I was fascinated by the ferocious beauty of nature, the calmness and the efficiency. The diversity and the plainness. The smells and the sounds. It fascinated me, and that’s where I decided to go for my final farewell. I picked a beautiful spot where I would end my life.

Just some context, I didn’t want to die.

I did not want to die; I loved the adventure of Life!

But…

I was tired. I was drained. I was empty. I was depleted. I was spent.

I also had this feeling while I was driving there that I was ‘outside my body’ like a spectator. I saw what was happening, but I could not stop myself. Almost like being on autopilot on my way to my end. I was aware of every move I made, driving the vehicle, following the path to my final destination with a six-pack of beer and a switchblade in my pocket. I spoke to myself in my head and was repeating the same statement: I am tired…

I reached the spot which I deemed fit for departure from this earth. Had six 500ml cans of beer, swallowed 20 painkillers and slit my wrist…

I thanked mother nature for the full life I lived. I said goodbye to my 2 daughters in my mind and drifted into darkness for the last time…at peace…

…until I woke up!

What?! What the hell happened? Why is there blood everywhere, wait, what?!

It was midnight and the temperature outside was below zero. I realised I might freeze to death, so I tried to fall asleep again. To no avail…

I drifted in and out of consciousness until sunrise.

I had a clear thought: I need to get to a hospital!

I started the car and slowly started driving back along the same path I came the night before. I lost blood and I was weak, but something inside me kept me awake for 2 hours until I reached the Emergency Room at the hospital.

The nurse asked: ‘Sir, did someone attack you? Who did this to you?’.

I replied: ‘I did’.

I will never forget the panic in her eyes…

She immediately called the Doctor and they started asking a lot of questions while cleaning up the gash on my wrist. They stitched me up and booked me into the Psychiatric ward.

In the ward the nurse asked me: ‘Do you know why you tried to kill yourself, Sir?’ and I replied: ‘I have no idea, I am extremely confused and surprised to be here right now.’

She showed me where the consultation room was and told me that the Psychiatrist was waiting for me. I entered the room and the gentleman stood up, asked me to sit down, he sat down and asked: ‘So, please tell me what happened.’

I started talking at a very fast pace about how I saw myself driving up into the mountains with a clear plan to kill myself. I did not want to die, but it was as if I had no control over my actions. I told him about why I chose that spot, I told him about my daughters. I told him about my life. I told him about how great it was to have lived a difficult but adventurous life for 42 years. I told him about my childhood, my parents, my family, my career, my interests, my achievements, humans, physics, mathematics, stars, planets and the history of Homo Sapiens…blah blah blah…all in 5 mins!

He interrupted me by slowly raising his hand in a gesture which meant: slow down, and then he asked: ‘Has anyone ever spoken to you about autism?