Updated: May 15, 2020
I had to Google ‘grief” to understand what grief actually is. They say it is a response to a sudden loss of a connection. Every individual grieve in different manner. What is grief for an individual on the spectrum? What does grief mean for an autistic? It’s a very difficult question and I am trying to find an answer to it for a long time.
Autism is a neurological and developmental disorder. In simple words my brain is wired differently than the rest of the folks here so I feel, think, and see in ways that you may not know. Autistic people, also sometime referred as neurodiverse see themselves a tad bit different from the non-autistic (neurotypical) group of people.
The neurodiverse group is sometime charactersised with few common traits and having a very dear and close relationship with few people is one of them. This relationship is very peculiar. The relationship will be special for the people involved because they get a special treatment from the autistic person which they may not share or give to anyone else. This may look different to a neurotypical but you have to be personally involved to actually feel this special bond. Imagine someone who doesn’t even talk to anyone but share few words with that special someone.
Most of the autistic people have developed such relationship and the first such relationship is developed between the child and the parent. The parents are the first set of people who will hold the autistic child and they are the ones an autistic usually feel really close and comfortable with. It’s a very honest and true relationship, it doesn’t involve any hidden agendas or doesn’t come with any conditions.
So what happens when that bond is broken? All hell will break loose. Many autistic people are attached to various objects and few people. The loss of such object and people means a break in the routine, a change which is not easily accepted by a neurotypical. The loss is difficult to digest. The loss of inanimate objects maybe can be recovered by bringing in a replica but how do you replace a person.
The loss of someone close especially loss of parents has been well documented for many years. Everyone grieves in different manner. The theories presented by various scholars on grief would surely mean something to the neurotypical world but I couldn’t find much about grief in a neurodiverse individual.
Loss of a caregiver is an irreplaceable loss, it cannot be compensated, and neither can it be ignored. So how does a neurodiverse person grieve? I can only explain my end of the story, I can’t justify it for the rest of the community. Just like each and every autistic person is different, so are their experiences as well.
I have lost people in my life, people who meant a lot to me. Friends who distant themselves because I was too weird for them. Lovers, lost to my difficulty in understanding the neurotypical world. Grandparents, who mostly have unconditional love to shower you with, and my Father.
After so many years, I realised I have grieved differently for all of them. Mostly the grief involved a lot of anger, an anger emerging from the pit of despair. It included a state of confusion, always wondering why or where did I go wrong. It included difficulty in day to day activities, difficulty in focusing and trusting new people. Towards the end of the entire process of feelings, there were sudden burst of energy, sometimes new thoughts to start over again which included actual attempt to make a change. A sudden confidence which just appeared out of the blue. All this was consuming me without me being aware what was happening. I realized all this after I started therapy when I was on the verge of giving up.
It’s going to be two years of my diagnosis. Two years ago in this month I got to hear for the first time from my therapist that she believes that I am autistic. It was a relief but a relief short lived. Now that I am aware who I am and what I have a bigger task was in front of me, to make life easy so that I don’t snap or breakdown again. I was doing pretty ok when I had to live through a gruesome time of watching my father slowly lose everything to a major disease. The struggle was real, till one day he passed away in my arms. What I had known or read about grief suddenly became blurred to me. Nothing made sense, was it the end of the world or a new beginning? I couldn’t figure out.
Many autistic people including me suffer from anxiety, hence knowing the future and planning for it makes it easy, easy to adjust in the highly charged environment. I knew he will not survive but I also believed in a miracle. His death did something to me which I can’t describe. It’s a feeling and feels like you have just woken up on an alien planet, more alien than the one where I was earlier.
The feeling of grief includes difficulty in day to day tasks. There are days when I have to push myself off the bed, if given a choice I will not but I have to. It feels I have lost all motivation in life. Whether its work or love, I just lost everything. The grief doesn’t encourage me to end my life but at the same time it makes me feel like a ghost hovering around the city, fanned out by the cold winter wind, waiting, for something unexplainable.
I don’t know how or when it will go, how to recover or how to be at peace. It’s a constant struggle which I have to live with. Sometime I wonder what will give up first. My mind or my body.