Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Aspergirls and Burning Bridges

Another excellent book I’ve just finished reading (courtesy of my local aspie group library) is ‘Aspergirls’, by Rudy Simone.[1] All the way through, I felt like she was talking about me and my life. One chapter in particular struck me though, and that was the one entitled ‘Burning Bridges’. Till I read this, I thought I was the only one who did this, but it seems it’s quite common, even more so with us females on the spectrum, she considers, than our male counterparts.

Basically, ‘burning bridges’ happens when something is not going right in our lives, and we simply don’t have the skills to do anything about it. So we do something drastic that severs that connection. It can be anything – ‘blowing up’ at a friend or suddenly dropping them, leaving a group or church or other association, having a serious meltdown at school, work or some public place that sees us expelled, fired, or banned from there; abruptly quitting a job or a relationship, moving house or even countries. The pressure has built up, we haven’t a clue how to fix things, so instead we self-sabotage, just ‘blow it up’ and walk away, our ‘bridges’ to that person or people or situation burning behind us. The trouble is, without help and support, we never do develop the skills we need to handle our problems (or not till quite late in life) and so we keep destroying our lives, over and over again.

This may seem a contradiction to the idea that autistics don’t like change, but there is one slight caveat to that. We don’t like change except when we initiate it. Abruptly destroying something, just throwing it away, can seem like the only control we can exert over a situation we don’t like. I know I have done most of the above over and over in my life, from childhood on, with the possible exception of public meltdowns (and there it would depend on how you define ‘public’ and ‘meltdown’), and moving country (which I definitely considered, but couldn’t do for practical reasons). I’ve destroyed or sabotaged or walked away from friendships, left relationships or destroyed chances I had of them, changed the places and people I socialised with or at, changed university majors several times, moved house many times, severed contact with people (often because I was too embarrassed by my behaviour to see them again), stopped going to shops or other places (again, because of embarrassment at my past behaviour), moved up and down the country, and generally started all over again, time and time again. It became intimately connected with my secret shame - I couldn't handle life well, and I knew it.

Sometimes, these changes weren’t under my control – a friend would move away, or a house I was renting would be sold. But mostly it was me and my own inner restlessness. I always thought the next place, the next person or group would solve all my problems, would be the one/s I’d fit in with at long last, would transform my life, or just transform me.

It never did of course. And eventually, like Rudy Simone, I was forced to stop running and face myself. And realise that I’ve undeniably hurt some people along the way, destroyed potential or actual friendships, and no doubt thoroughly got up many people’s noses. Looking back, I can see in some cases it was for the best that I did walk away from those people. But many another time, some help with learning how to recognise my feelings, express them in a constructive way, and to deal with conflict or unhelpful situations, would have changed my life considerably. This tendency to self-sabotage is a very real problem, and something we need help learning how NOT to do – and the younger we learn it, the better. This is where a mentor or advocate would be of huge help – they could teach us better ways to cope with the difficulties we have in life, whether they be sensory, emotional, social, academic, job-related, or indeed anything. Yes, I have more or less taught myself now, but it was hard. If someone had just taken me by the hand and said ‘there’s a better way’, how much easier my life would have been. How much less damage I would have done, to myself and others.

Perhaps things will be better for the next generation, perhaps they will get the support and guidance they need, whether it be from older auties, or non-autistic helpers and mentors. I certainly hope so.

[1] Simone, Rudy. (2010) Aspergirls – Empowering Females with Asperger Syndrome. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London and Philadelphia.


  1. Oh Penni, you are writing my life again. I have also read Aspergirls which is so brilliantly written by the beautiful Rudy Simone. It was a great comfort to see the realization that others burn bridges as much as I do - or did. I have learned the hard way to finally cope with many aspects of life. Now, because of that, I am doing exactly as you mention and working to become an advocate for people on the spectrum. It hadn't occurred to me to do that until a friend who has a son with Aspergers said she wished I could go to his school and teach his teachers how to teach him. I told her I would LOVE to do that.

  2. I am a senior male and this is an eye opener for me. I can count on one hand the people I kept contact information for. I just finished going through my FB and Phone Contacts and deleting all people I do not contact or hear from. Of course, these people have learned I prefer being alone and don't converse well on the phone. Interesting.

  3. Thanks for mentioning about "Rudy Simone". I will definitely get that book and read it. It's always inspiring to see how autism is fought.

  4. I know this is an old post, but it is so relevant.. I am a 22 year old girl, pretty sure I have Asperger's, and I have always done this. The most recent string of bridges burned have left me tormented in my own pain, asking questions like why? what is wrong with me?, thinking that I should just stay alone for the rest of my life for my own sake and the sake of anyone who might want to know me.. which then leads to wondering what the point of life is if I can't share it with other people. I don't know how to deal with this. I can't guarantee that I won't do it again, so I have simply not tried to be friends with anyone. Even if I want to. This also causes pain. I am seeking a psychologist for help soon.. Just focusing on myself for now.. Thank you for writing this.

    1. I have been in exactly your place, Alex! I know how painful it gets. I can only offer the following advice -
      1) Seek out other Aspergers/autistic people's company. We get along far better with each other than with NTs. ALL my friends are now aspies/auties, i have given up trying to be friends with NTs. It was just too hard. I don't hate them or anything, we're just not on the same wavelength, you know?
      2) Counselling is a good idea, but seek out someone who is experienced in dealing with those on the spectrum - even if your AS is not yet confirmed.
      3) Learn to recognise when you're close to burning a bridge - and get help. Ask someone you trust how to deal with things you find difficult, check your perceptions of situations with others - you may find there is a simple way out, or that what you think is happening, isn't, or someone isn't feeling what you think they are. If that makes sense! We tend to 'catastrophise', ie think things are worse than they actually are, and this leads us to panic, and then to bridge-burning.

      Hope this helps.

  5. I have been wanting to read Aspergirls for a while now and this post has just confirmed that I need to. I have lived my entire life like this and am currently fighting really hard to stop (I've just started university and I feel like it might be my last chance so I REALLY need to not mess this one up!) But yeah, severing ties, moving house, getting myself fired, etc, etc ad infinitum. So glad I found your blog, I'm just getting to grips with what all this means for me (still in the process of getting a diagnosis) but your blog makes me feel like I might not be quite the abnormal freakish fraud I have always felt like.