By Kerry Martin Millan
“You’re so confident and funny – you should be a comedian or a writer,” they would say. So, I took their advice and became one part of a comedy duo. I started stand-up because of feeling awkward and alienated in the first place. I was bullied at school and people said I was boyish. I wasn’t into makeup and didn’t relate to the other girls very well. And yet, I always hated the penetrative feeling on stage as if being on an operating table about to undergo surgery. The bright lights threw me. Being gawked at under a spotlight made me forget where I was and made my jokes come out awkwardly. The audience wasn’t laughing at my comedy, they were cajoling me.
Then there was the inability to perform under pressure; word usage lapses; the inability to condense information before me; the deep-seated anxiety; the severe depression; the social interaction that overwhelmed me.
If only the crowd knew the sensory and emotional assault I faced each time I performed. My biggest fear of all? Criticism. It is failure spoken out loud – and I am the target.
The relationship with my comedy partner soured when she tried to get me to write all the jokes, then told me I was weird and quit.
It was time to recalibrate. I was going to atone for my failed stand-up stint. I wrote for the university newspaper, I hustled for jobs, but to no avail. Then I found myself in a call centre on minimum wage. One day I stared down in shock at the TV guide. My comedic nemesis’ face was plastered on the inside cover. She had become rich and famous – the injustice! A little of me died inside that day.
I knew I had a gift, but at this moment I couldn’t see it. It was wrapped in cotton wool. No, I’d say bubble wrap, straw and extra plastic.
At this moment I was terrified. I didn’t even attempt to undo the packaging. I chose the safety of underachievement instead – boring jobs, boring social life, boring bank account.
I stayed in terrible, toxic, low skilled jobs where I was bullied non-stop. Why was I so gullible? Why was I so bad at reading social cues? Meanwhile my comedic nemesis’ face could be seen stuck up around the workspaces I patrolled as a lowly office security guard.
So when my husband and I relocated to the country for his job, and I found myself now facing my fears in isolation, I frantically picked up a pen and pad and wrote until the ink nearly ran out. As I sent articles out for publication, the rejection sensitive dysphoria was deafening.
“You aren’t a journalist – you’re getting rejected non-stop. You call this a job?”
But I kept going and going until the voices eventually quieted. I got one thing published that I really had to push for. I got angry, I got rejected some more, I got another thing published. Now I simply continue writing outside of the distractions. If only somebody had told me earlier, what makes Autistic people thrive in their career is not quite fitting in!
Since then, my life has become a fantastic journey to which I owe failure.
I have unwrapped the gift slowly, exploring its pros and cons; applying my “weird” and vastly lateral perspectives to all things journalistic.
The bullies were right, I didn’t deserve the jobs I got. The comedian? She eventually became largely sidelined. What scares me now is how close I came to danger. As a famous twenty-something comedian, I might have become addicted to drugs, never knowing who my real friends were, creatively pressured until I burnt out. If you don’t handle that gift with respect, you can end up permanently damaging it.
So how has my weirdness informed my journey? Neurodivergence is vast and varied. I could be Autistic and have ADHD, I might be borderline, mildly psychotic, or all of it. But where would I be now if I hadn’t gone through all this? I’d be at one of a row of desks working for a newspaper chain. My hair would be in a neat bob, I’d be professionally dressed and everything would be in white, like my clinical, clean, sanitised world. There’d be photos, a pager, the latest laptop and an ergonomic chair.
My love of animals would be curbed, conveyed as stoical, suppressed love for the sake of social sensibility. I’d be writing conservatively; every word measured; the gift never unwrapped at all.
Kerry is a freelance writer from regional Australia. She writes about health and wellness, often from an intersectional stance. Her work has been published in Australia and America.
The Reframing Autism team would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we have the privilege to learn, work, and grow. Whilst we gather on many different parts of this Country, the RA team walk on the land of the Birpai, Awabakal, Wattamattagal, Whadjak, Amangu, Bunurong and Kaurna Yarta peoples.
We are committed to honouring the rich culture of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of this Country, and the diversity and learning opportunities with which they provide us. We extend our gratitude and respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to all Elders past, present, and emerging, for their wisdom, their resilience, and for helping this Country to heal.