Autism has left me in ruins sometimes emotionally — many times socially, and yet as the artist, I have soared to the highest ground it has shown me I feel. The risk-taker, the expanded vision, the imagination journey as visuals are my chosen language. The ability to see something so very complexly and decipher it and understanding its meaning. And then have the most difficult time with the simplest of concepts.
Collaboration with other artists has produced works by me but not me solely. Objets d’art I would not have been able to accomplish alone. I am a gifted painter in my own right, have shown in a number of galleries in the past and I say that without any false modesty. Autism has made me quite visual in my learning and expression of myself. I have an extraordinary talent for the creative process. Writing came late and was difficult. I am arrogant most times about art, and belligerent to those I do not like and will suffer anything it seems for the underdog. Something I carry from my past, I think, something leftover from that bullying. I was not liked by the priests that taught me in school, who saw me as a bastard, without a father, born a sinner, and asking far too many complex questions of them.
Autism is a life lesson in contrast and soaked in satire. It is the cosmic joke of me and an act of God. Every day is an event, an incident or occasion for a myriad of reasons — a complication of life and circumstance. At times, life has been horrible, weeks or a month spent in purgatory waiting for the end of it, stuck on something, getting through a tough period emotionally with another, or consistently alone, chosen hermit without daily contact with humans, by myself. Which has become the path of least resistance, what I prefer ultimately now?
When I was young I locked myself behind my own world, my imagination helped to create a space for me to escape when life became meaningless and grey enthrallment. Life situations are rehearsed in my mind so I might not become surprised or overtaken by the extremes of emotion. I practice for coming events. I would, when I was a younger man — upon gaining employment — practice going to work a day or two before. I would practice how to speak to my new employer and go out of my way for them. I would arrive by a city bus, in these low end and poorly paid occupations, at the right time and speak the words I thought I should. The ever-presence of fear, and sometimes the constant loathing. The sickening fear deep in my gut. The always self-doubt. Running vagally most times, and even when I thought I was saying the right thing, It was wrong. The autistic mind many times in a day can sometimes see the world in an absurd way, abstracted somehow, distorted always looking through different lenses. That was, I presumed what others were seeing.
I would use up a place, a job and people, friends I thought I had, they would start avoiding me and pseudo-friends would abandon me. I would move on to the next, and the next. Life taught me to not be permanent. Not to hold tightly to anything. I walked away from lives a number of times. Abandoning everything, including possessions. In a kind of constant state of death and rebirth. An old persona lost for a more adapted one. Masks, always changing masks. Always the survivor. And after having lived a life of that, I am exhausted from it and alone and reclusive of the world which has changed in that life of non-existence and become something of a bad dream many times. Since my beginning long ago in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the social climate has changed in the world; being old and as a member of the white race, heterosexual I have become the enemy, privileged and male and white. I find all this ridiculous and as autistic, I find it difficult to change yet again. And besides being white and male is not wrong.
The internet has shrunk the world and no longer is it as large as I dreamed it once was as a child. The sun does not shine as bright as it use to, and food has become a bit of pain rather than a pleasure, a chore I must be attentive, reading ingredients and avoiding what is detrimental to my nature. The toxins and food enhancers, and weird preservatives. I try to eat purely, mainly vegetarian, avoiding the things that I react to.
The world is made for the neuro-typical, it is overstimulated and greedy I feel. Noisy and artificially lit. The playing field is set by those rules. Pretentious and full of the odours of rot and death now, a class war struggles against the propagandized idea of right and money has become god, of which I have always had a rough time with… A rat race for the experienced, and a terrible school for those who wear their hearts on their sleeves and need honesty and innocence. Integrity and fair play. Psychopaths and sociopaths rise to the top and find ways to corrupt it all…they seem to be control here.
The world is, beautiful beyond anything I may say in a poem or these words. Anything I may paint or draw. I have had day and hours — seconds and minutes that were so clear and drenched in the truth that it was, breathe taking. Days of epiphany and spiritual union with the vastness of this beautiful universe. But I am a weird one.
I am coming finally to terms with myself, I still sometimes consider myself a retard and damaged on my worst days. I speak roughly and thinking roughly of myself. But that is only in passing, and old words from an old archetype of me and a fading world so long ago. I know who I am not and can easily forgive myself, and not punish so hard.
Broken it seems beyond any semblance of repair, stubbornly stuck in an old-world idea about manhood, I neglect myself and stop eating sometimes and swear this winter I will take the final walk on some terribly and bitterly cold January night. But a winter follows that, and I find myself again here, the beginning of February writing these words. I have been ashamed to write them and compelled to write them, putting them up on this website and pulling them back down, shrinking back into solitude. even this morning I awoke very early and considered pulling down the whole website. But the feeling passed, and I was patient in the decision.
And then grace shines on me again and the love of those around me raises me up and I am renewed again. The masks fall away, and I don’t care what others think of me, the child the survivor, the one that got me to this point comes forward in my mind, in my versions of me and wants to play. And I am released. And my real father’s light falls on me and I feel his pride and love in me. I am a son of light, I am never beaten even when I am down. I have always found a way forward. Fear has lost its potency and I am discovering a new me, someone I like.
I am alive. I am autistic, I am an Aspergian.
It was a strange day, forever branded into my mind now, that day, that particular day, that I took a long time to come to terms with, the memory of it, it changed so many times. I brainstormed for so many years trying to understand it. To find the truth in it. It became the myth of me, and I was taken by the writing of Joseph Campbell among other writers like him and sought the hero with a thousand faces. I read the mystics and pondered Buddhism. The ancient Bonpo gained my interest and Vajrayāna, the visual way. Only when I came close to understanding autism did it start to make complete sense to me. That is when much of the fragmented picture of what I am, became clearer. The more I researched, the clearer the picture became, I had doubts and fell back. But the evidence was mounting.
At first, I thought as an Irish catholic in the middle of Belfast in the early sixties, autistic and surrounded by the superstitious and warring religious parties that I had a religious experience, the event was very physical and there were sounds and smell and vision was a big part of it. I was truly convinced, I could remember the thing physically and it left physical things within me.
I was an Irish boy who was not fed right, torn by the politics of a religious war that was waiting for the right match to be struck so it might engulf an ancient city into flames and death. The sixties in Belfast were marching towards a terrible civil war, I was neglected, and spent much time on the street. My mother had left when I was two and I was being raised by an old grandmother who was worn out after raising so many of her own children, and she was quite cold emotionally, jaded and tainted by her past and worn out from the circumstance of our lives. She was catholic and bullied by the priests, as all of us were. She physically abused me, terribly, and I was malnourished, I accepted it as normal.
I was feed by the church at my noon meal every day at catholic school, it was an important meal, and was used by the priests at that time as a motivator. I would receive a ticket and go to the community hall with other poor catholic boys and eat the noon meal after the father gave the blessing. They were cruel bastards those priests that played at torment, and earlier that day, that particular day at school we were told we would be involved in a vaccination program in the afternoon. We were to be vaccinated. The school was let out early and the boys marched a single file to the hall behind the school next to St Matthew’s church and school in Belfast where every day we eat out noon meal. The hall was different this time, the tables cleared to the sides and the formal setting of desks and medical equipment and nurses at the front of the building close to the front doors used for exiting.
We entered from the back door, lined up behind other boys waiting, as the priests moved along the line, slapping boys upside the head and herding them back into line. Shushing them and slapping heads when boys spoke when told to be quiet. One at time the boys move forward, the criers were chastised by the priests as weak.
I felt something deep, I knew something was wrong, I did not know what it was, but I did know, that I did not want to do this, it was wrong I felt, and I tried to get away but was brought back into line. I remember being helped to roll my sleeve up and my arm being secured by the nurse seated at a desk with another nurse beside her dealing with paperwork and the actual vaccine device. Asking of your name and address, and particulars and grade.
The needle was like a punch of several vaccines, my memory wants to say 5 or six on a kind of drum. My arm was taken and rubbed with alcohol I presume, and then the punch. I left the line and was quickly taken back to class where we sat for the remainder of the class to return. A couple hours later my arm started to hurt, to ache. I can’t remember if I told my grandmother. But when I came home I was a bit flushed, and my arm ached terribly. Later on that evening I was put to bed as usual and my grandmother left for the evening and locked us in, my sister and I, which was unusual for her to do — she was meeting someone for a drink, an old friend I think. She rarely dressed up, but today she was and so she left us, alone locked in…
It was dark, I was alone in my bed, my sister Pauline slept with my grandmother and was in her bed asleep, she was two years younger than I. It was a droning sound that I heard it first, hypnotic, quite, machine-like, a strong smell of ozone, like an electric plug, had blown the breaker and shorted out. I could smell the electricity and the droning sound got larger and more repetitive, I swore something was coming very close to face, suffocating like an entity some kind of shadow being. Images started in my mind eyes to flicker past that inner vision and it began to speed up, I was taken by it and the images sped by at an enormous speed, it was nauseating how fast those images flicker in my head, my mind, and I felt my stomach turn because of it, started to scream out uncontrollably as the images flickered by my inner vision faster and faster, I was afraid and became terrified and kept screaming out into the darkness around me. The droning sound became deafening, I could not bear it and thought that something was possessing me, my religious teaching by Irish priests overtook me and I had thought of both god and the devil in that room with me. I was crying, screaming and my arm was aching I was in a raging fever, I was hot and so dizzy, my stomach ached. This went on for what felt like an eternity, and then, sometime later I fell asleep, I can’t remember doing that, I can’t remember how long it took, and I cannot remember my life before this incident.
I believe it was a vaccine fever now and the flushing of my skin and the ache and images were my young brain being altered physically by the mercury in the vaccine. By the multiple vaccines. I had an enormous dose of multiple vaccines, I think it was the normal procedure for those days, and believe I was damaged and made autistic.
Our house was heated like houses with a hard shiny coal called anthracite that was purchased from a man with wagon and horse covered in coal dust. Coal is famous for the lead, arsenic and mercury in it. We had a coal fireplace that heated the house and heated a small water tank behind the fireplace, it was inside the house and coal that burned was stored in a great heap beside the washroom outside. I was constantly being told to bring coal and slack in for the fire. It was the way back then, and I lived in red brick row housing and everyone I knew burned coal in the fireplace.
I had a weakened immunity, I was neglected and the filth and in poverty, malnourished and being warmed in winters by coal fires, and the vaccination that top all that and caused autism that changed my life that day so long ago.
Vaccination is wrong, it is not what it is purported to be, it changes everyone that is given it, some more than others, but all are affected. Every single one of us has changed, the autism spectrum I find is wide and very deep. Some are so lightly touched and some end up drooling, hand flapping babies sucking on baby bottles as diapered young men’s bodies forever, some like me, hidden, not understood, but arrested in their development for life. Not able to succeed fully, caught in cycles of creation and destruction of themselves. Above-average intelligence, savant sometimes, genius other times, obsession and compulsive, eccentric and confrontational. Higher executive functions impaired for life. Yes, vaccine is wrong.
All images and writing are the copyright of Michael Burns.