Hey guys, I want to talk about my story, growing up with Autism. I love North Carolina, but we’re leaving here in two days moving back to Texas. But I want to talk about growing up with Asperger’s and, I’m just now discovering all the traits I have of autism and Asperger’s. The more I read about it, the more it just makes sense of how my childhood was.
So, when I was eight years old, I guess I was overwhelmed and in our household you know my dad was strict and I just felt like maybe a nuisance. So I started to rock back and forth, and there was something soothing about it, I didn’t really understand why I did it, but I just started rocking back and forth.
My parents were fine with it. This was in the 70s so there weren’t really any tests and, you know, they didn’t really question it. So I just started rocking every day. The other thing is that school and homework was really a nightmare for me. I really did not like homework. I just wanted to come home and unwind because school in itself is very stressful, I mean it’s eight hours.
What kid can learn constantly for eight hours, especially if you have Asperger’s? So when I got home I just wanted to play, my favorite thing was just to ride my bicycle around. I had one friend. One good friend. I always only had one good friend at a time. I never hung out in groups, which is an Asperger’s trait to hang out with one person at a time.
I’d always have one favorite friend at a time. So, to come home and then eat dinner and then try to do schoolwork was just out of the question. So I started, I believe I almost got held back in sixth grade, I believe.
Now I was actually very creative, imaginative, I liked numbers. Even though I wasn’t great at math I liked creating my own numbers. I remember one time just bringing out a notebook in class, and just starting to write out the numbers, I just started writing 1234567 with commas separating the numbers, and I felt proud of it. It was almost like I was building something from scratch and kids started to look over my shoulder and I was getting some attention for it and I kind of liked it.
I remember, I wrote all the way up to maybe, I don’t know 100,000. You know it took like 10 pages or more, and it was repetitive and any other kid would have been like this is, super boring. I don’t want to do this, but I found it fascinating to just do something very repetitive like that.
So I didn’t really do homework, and my grades started to reflect that I was starting to get C’s and B’s in seventh and eighth eighth grade, and then I discovered Heavy Metal and hard rock music when I was 12, and my mom got me a drum set.
So I basically wanted to just come home after school, and drum, which is like stimming, it’s just another thing that I did besides rocking back and forth. I loved tapping on things and humming and whistling and I would listen to my sister’s music and my dad’s music. I loved music, which is Asperger’s.
But when I joined the marching band later, I couldn’t read sheet music so I remember having a music tutor. I also had a math tutor. Because I love numbers but, you know, algebra just did not make sense to me at all. My main passion was music.
Growing Up with Autism
So basically school was a nightmare for me. I didn’t have a lot of friends and people picked on me. I was very sensitive. So I just wanted to be left alone, and after school it just felt like I had survived another day of warfare, I just wanted to be left alone.
I was basically brought up on TV. I watched you know Different Strokes, Facts of Life. Scooby Doo, you know, and I thought pro wrestling was real. I really liked NWA, which was a Wrestling Federation back then. People like Ric Flair, the road, road warriors, Ron Garvin. You know all these pro wrestlers they really were realistic back then I remember debating with my PE teacher that pro wrestling was real. He laughed at me and it really insulted me and made me super mad.
There were many times I didn’t dress up for PE to the point where my nickname was nonsuit. EriK nonsuit Johnson, and they would announce it over the speaker in the gymnasium when we would be doing, you know scrimmages and stuff the PE teacher thought it was funny to announce me as Erik nonsuit Johnson.
So, school was not fun. It was basically a joke. I really didn’t care about memorizing facts and figures to pass tests. I just wanted to get a dirt bike and be left alone and play my music. So the thing with Asperger’s is that they like to do things alone. I mean you can do stuff in a group, but it has to be kind of like solo. Like, I read in an article that people with Asperger’s they like golf. They like doing stuff that’s kind of more solo, rather than a group effort.
Now I did play a lot of soccer. But I didn’t think about my teammates really, I just thought about, you know, getting the ball and getting a goal, making my own goal. Not really playing well with others.
Other than that, when I was 17. I just felt like it was me against the world. My dad was kind of teasing me, my friends at school were teasing me, and teachers were even physically abusing me, hitting me. I had one teacher punch me in the arm, and another one pulled me up by my hair because I wouldn’t let a kid sit next to me at the bleachers.
So I just felt like it was me against the world, but when I was 17, someone turned me on to some wine coolers – and I remember the first day that alcohol entered my bloodstream. And I swear to you. It felt like I had gone to heaven because at that point I was 17, or late 16 years old and it just felt like magic, like 17 years of suppression, abuse, physical and verbal abuse all just lifted off of me.
I felt immortal. I could laugh, and I didn’t think about myself so much, I wasn’t self conscious. It didn’t matter how I looked or talked and that gave me so much energy that I had like this manic time on alcohol to where I had unlimited energy, and I wanted to talk to everyone in the world, like it was my last day on earth and I had to talk to everyone before I died. That’s how it felt. I mean it was, it was total mania.
I remember walking home one night, and I saw a bicycle in a yard. It was a really nice bike and I literally just walked up and sat on it and started right away. I was gonna take it. Then I looked to the left of me, or the right, or whatever and there was another bike, that was a smaller bike and I really liked that one too. I’m gonna take that and so I literally put the small BMX bike over my shoulder and rode away – so I stole two bikes in one night, and I didn’t even think about the consequences. I had no empathy, I had no compassion, I couldn’t feel what other people felt, I didn’t even think about other people, it was just about me, and I was basically in fight or flight.
You know, either you’re going to destroy me or I’m going to destroy you first, or I am going to withhold love, and I’m not going to talk to you. From 16 to 18, I gave my dad the silent treatment, that was my only weapon against him was withholding love. It got to the point where my mom came up to me, came to my room, and was like, talk to your dad. He’s, you’re driving him, he’s going crazy he’s crying, you know, talk to him. I was just like, no.
When I was 18, my dad was like you’re out of here. You know, he wasn’t gonna kick me out one day earlier, he was gonna do it legally the day I turned 18 he was like you’re gone.
So I basically dropped out, I was out of high school and I was 17, they couldn’t keep me in school, my thing was music, but eventually the alcohol took over. So I stopped playing drums, my dreams of being a rock and roll drummer were basically over and I was eventually flipping burgers for a living and getting drunk every night.
I still had a lot of dreams though I always, I was a planner, I’ve always been a planner. I always had to have some type of dream to shoot towards because life without some goal or plan to me or other Asperger’s people is probably very, it’s scary it’s detrimental it’s suicidal.
So I had always had some plan, you know, even if it was just reading college manuals. I had this vicarious feeling that I was attending college if I read a college catalog. I would always have a big dream like yes I’m going to go to this fancy Ivy League college, and I almost felt like I was going to that college if I just looked at the catalog long enough and wrote down the classes that I wanted to attend. That to me fulfilled the college dream, just by reading the catalog, finding stuff.
I knew I was smart. I knew I was very sensitive though, and I knew that school did not matter, what mattered to me was the arts. Then I started hanging out with friends that weren’t exactly virtuous friends, they romanticized destructive figures, like alcoholic writers and rock stars that were very destructive.
So, I got with the wrong crowd and they were bullies. You know they were kind of mean to me and I was kind of used to it because my dad was kind of like that to me. I was just around people that teased me and I put up with it, because I didn’t know any better.
We basically started to romanticize the drunk poets, like Charles Bukowski, and the novelist Jack Kerouac, you know the Beat Generation, and they believed in just travelling, hitchhiking and drinking wine under the stars. So, I started to really romanticize alcohol.
And as a kind of a poet myself, I thought that I would have to literally go insane somehow to create really beautiful art, because I was also into abnormal psychology, and I had seen a lot of schizophrenic artists, creating some tremendously beautiful sketches and paintings.
So when I was 18, I literally told a friend one time that I wanted to go insane. I think what I meant was, I wanted to alter my reality to the point where my parents cannot distinguish me as their son, I wanted to get away from them. In fact, when I got a little bit older I changed my last name, which didn’t stick with the court system, but I literally was trying to get away from my parents as much as possible. I thought I was adopted.
And I started to experiment with heavy drugs. So I’m writing poetry and I’m experimenting with drugs and I wanted to go insane because I wanted to be completely different.
And over the years, what’s funny is that after that peak of rebellion slowly over the next 20 years, I almost killed myself with alcohol and destroyed a lot of relationships and jobs with alcohol. But now being 48. I’m actually, to the point where I do want to fit in. And I do want to be normal. I do want to connect with a community.
Whereas before, I rocked, up to 14 hours a day, I was rocking back and forth just listening to music and daydreaming and could stare at a wall for literally hours at a time, and just go through my thoughts. I was perfectly fine with just my thoughts and a dark room and rocking, especially when I was full time drunk.
Now, 12 years of sobriety – and this is my 27th day of no rocking back and forth, I’m really realizing that life is short. I’m almost 50, and I really do love people, even though they terrify me, especially groups, and we’re moving back to Texas in two days. We’re going to be with Misha’s family, and we’re going to be living with her family so this is going to be absolutely crazy and scary, because we’ve been living here for three years, I haven’t seen anyone since I’ve lived here for three years.
So, I’m making a dive back into society. And thank you for listening to my testimony. Leave your story below as well leave, leave a little short snippet of your life in the comments section. And maybe we can connect. Because life is a trip. I’m still alive, you’re still alive. We’ve been through some crazy stuff. But life is too short to isolate and to have regrets.
You know, I think we’re still young enough to turn it around. I mean I’ve had a couple friends die. Recently, and makes me go wow you know life is short, you know we’re not even 50 yet and a couple of them have died. So I want to really give back now and stop being so self centered and stop being in fight or flight. So, welcome to the journey. Thanks for watching and we’ll talk to you soon.
Here’s more Resources for Asperger’s and Addiction
Erik C Johnson