Content Warning: Suicide
“It isn’t going to roll.” said the brunette woman nonchalantly after the camerawoman frantically told her that the film will not roll. It was a far cry from her usual demeanor when occasions like this arise as recounted by the camerawoman. The lanky news reporter then proceeded with her broadcast “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts … and in living color. We bring you another first. An attempted suicide.” She lifted up her right hand, holding a .38 revolver then pointed it on her head and pulled the trigger.
Hours later, she succumbed to her injuries and her story soon made it to the national news. Her death was forgotten after years passed by but still managed to be relegated afterwards to the macabre annals of the internet.
The woman in question is Christine Chubbuck, a 70s news anchor reporting for the ABC affiliate station, WXLT-TV (now known as WWSB) in Sarasota, Florida. There are still many speculations up to this day on what made her do the deed ranging from being forced in following the sensationalist “blood and guts” trend that is prevailing the journalism of her time to her inability in finding a significant other. But I am sure of one thing that even those who follow her story infer, she has mental health issues. Mental issues that are more complex than a mere depression and possibly she has a brain that is not wired to communicate intuitively with neurotypicals (NTs).
I have had this epiphany of her being possibly neurodiverse when I was scouring across various forums, documentaries, interviews and after watching a biopic that was named after her. There are mentions of her marching to her own beat, a former classmate telling how she was socially awkward and emotionally volatile yet an other side of her that is warm and friendly interspersed between barrage of theories attributing her suicide to inceldom. Someone from the forums even outrightly told that she might be autistic.
This is not to invalidate the possibility of her having other mental conditions such as Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder. In fact, there’s a high possibility for autism to exist with other conditions and autistics are predisposed to commit suicide than their NT counterparts.
Her following attributes are just too coincidental to be ignored as it appears almost like a textbook case of how aspergers/autism manifests on females.
“She was hired because she was intelligent, smart, witty, a very good writer.” the late Craig Sager told the Telegraph. It must taken into account that journalism and broadcasting in 70s is a male dominated industry and it is still up to this day. Yet she managed to beat the odds and compete with men within the cutthroat industry. She later hosted a community affairs talk show “Suncoast Digest” and brought attention to locals who are in the fringes of the society.
It was mentioned by her brother Greg that everything to her is black or white, that things are either only good or bad. She has no compromise button and I believe that this worsened her social interactions. This might have contributed to her mental health issues.
History of visits to psychiatrists and possible misdiagnosis
Greg added that their parents spent literally a fortune in having her treated to psychiatrists since she was 10. She was never formally diagnosed with conditions other than depression and now, Greg alleges that she might be bipolar. It is not uncommon for women to be diagnosed with just depression and co-morbidities before receiving their autism diagnosis.
Socialization and friendship
Calling her relationship with her mother and brother as close is an understatement. In fact they are the only ones that she considers as her friends. Her mother even described her as being “a little out of gear with other people” and “couldn’t register with other people”. She has no close and real friends. This really hits close to home for me as I grew up having only few friends while having may acquaintances. Some friends even drifted apart after these past years. Like her, I also rely more on my family rather than my peer group when I want to confide or seek emotional support. It is somehow an universal experience for autistics to feel alienated. No matter how hard we try, there will be always a time that we couldn’t connect with our neurotypical peers. Her struggles with socialization looks too eerily familiar for autistics who are seemingly living in the “wrong planet”.
Masking and Physical Appearance
Her initial image was one of a self-confident, totally contained, together young woman and Jean Reed the camera woman describes Christine as an elegant dresser. However, fellow news anchor George Peter Ryan who happened to be her unrequited crush also noticed that “She was two different people.”. There are times that she carries herself well but sometimes she does no effort to look attractive. Compared to autistic men, their female counterparts will try very hard to fit in appearance-wise but sometimes will not due to different priorities.
Rebecca Hall, who portrayed Christine in her biopic film, describes an impression of Christine based on her 15 minute interview as someone who disguises performatively as normal but sometimes fails with it. Hall’s performance was later commended by the staff that worked with Chubbuck in the studio as how Hall uncannily caught the spirit of her.
This perfectly describes the pressure of closeted autistics face when being on their masks. The disguise to be NT as much as possible fails occasionally, cracks and reveal our true selves. Pretending something that we are not is taxing at the end of the day but we are left with no choice as we could not exercise our privileges if our true neurology is revealed. It is one of an autistic’s way to survive in a NT dominated world.
Insistence on routine
Jean Reed also added that Christine does not like the unexpected. Christine insisted on being well prepared at all times.
Difficulties with emotional regulation
Mike Simmons, her news director recalled that she “throws tantrums a lot”. In one occasion, she threw a bouquet of plastic flowers that was placed on her interview table in front of a state politician guest and screamed that she does not want those things “in her studio”. An old classmate of her compared her to Jekyll and Hyde and told that there are times that a person must simply stay away from her. I can relate to this to some extent as my emotions operate somehow like a flip switch, it’s either I don’t express anything at all or let it all out. The latter can be judged by others as being all over the top.
Lack of self esteem
She was described as self-deprecating by her colleagues and she will brush off any attempts to compliment her. Also she has a penchant for self-deprecating humor. Her career orientedness and presenting herself as a confident woman can be seen as an effort to compensate for her lack of self esteem.
Getting pleasure from chosen work and special interests
On the other hand, her career choice can be attributed to her various special interests and amalgamating it together. She was able to strive for her community affairs program if not for her dedication in discussing affairs with local officials or Sarasota-Bradenton. She was so passionate that she even clashed with her news director as the latter wants to showcase more sensationalistic “blood and guts” stories rather than letting her proceed with her own programming. At the very end, she openly detested the director’s pleas.
This detail might be too insignificant to include but may serve as a further proof of her being on the spectrum. Her bedroom is decorated to look like of a teenager’s than a typical woman of her age.
It will be too exhaustive if I will include every autistic traits that I’ve sifted online. Sadly, most of these traits are looked upon as something inherently bad about her. She could be still alive now if only people are already knowledgeable in handling her idiosyncrasies well. Her tragedy is a combination of a unfortunate happenstance and poor mental healthcare of her time.
I hope that this writing of mine will not imply that I am sensationalizing her death but I look on her instead as someone who can I almost perfectly relate with. This is the least that I can do. I am simply doing this so that a part of her voice can be heard . Her means in achieving this may not be the best, but she deserves at least a recognition for all of what she have done as a good friend, a daughter and a productive member of the community. May she serve as a reminder to be more compassionate to people around us, strangers included. You may never know if that person is on the brink of death.
In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123.
In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.
In Philippines, the Hopeline is on (02) 804-HOPE (4673).
Christine Chubbuck: 29, Good-Looking, Educated, A Television Personality. Dead. Live and in Color. , Sally Quinn, Washington Post
“There is someone who worked at the station with her right up until the end, who completely accidentally has seen the film because they were involved in an aspect of the post-production. They got in touch with Antonio and said, ‘I just wanted to tell you it’s uncanny how much of the spirit of her you’ve caught.'” – Rebecca Hall on interview with wmagazine.com
Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Episode 6
Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month was recently concluded and it’s been a year since I wrote my last post because not only did I became more busy with my work but I also grew more cynical in my views compared to my mindset when I was introduced to the Autism community. I’m cynical in a way that it crept through me that my life will be better for me if I just can become a neurotypical and the notion of Autistics living as their happy selves in society is just plain unicorn sh*t. But I found it unfair when I arrived with the thought that although other disability communities are enjoying accessibility options to some extent such as braille books for blinds and wheelchairs and ramps for those with impaired mobility, Autistics are not provided with any options.
You may rebut my argument by saying that there are therapies available that enable Autistics to access and navigate their environment. But at the end of the day, it’s the Autistics who are working their asses off to adapt whereas it should be society that they are living in that must adapt. Testament to this is the incessant promotion of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) by parents and professionals alike.
ABA as we know is a kind of behavioral psychology and its aim was to extinguish “autistic behaviors” and make the patients of this therapy indistinguishable from their peers or in short, to turn them into Neurotypical. It looks good on paper and I cannot even deny it as there are numerous sources supporting it as an effective treatment for main autism traits. ABA even became the “go to” or in some cases the gold standard in autism treatment that it became synonymous with “therapy for autism”. Unfortunately most people did overlook the fact that ABA is not a cure for autism. It is just in fact an elaborate tool that teaches Autistics to survive the nuances of the neurotypical world.
What I mean with survive is that we are just barely hanging together. Yes, thanks to ABA, some of us are living the “normal” life now: enjoying the company of our superficial friendships, holding down a job with ill-intentioned coworkers talking on our backs while pretending something that we are not. But does this so called professionals and parents even bother to ask us once if we are really happy with this pretend game? I guess no. Instead, we are subtly taught the illusion of happiness.
Happiness where we will please other people in expense of our own welfare. Happiness where we are denied doing actions hardwired into our brains such as flapping when we are just simply happy, avoiding eye contact, discussing special interests, throwing a meltdown and the like. Ironically these people who imposes this happiness (unconsciously or not) also “calls” for the acceptance of those in spectrum. But they can’t see that there is a fine line between acceptance and survival.
Acceptance is providing us the accessibility to enable us to contribute in a society without the fear of being harassed just by being ourselves. Survival on the other hand is going through living hell by denying ourselves our needs and pretending that we don’t need them. Those who failed to survive are written off as “low functioning” and a lost cause. Subsequently, these individuals are treated as mere objects to pity on. Yet some people still think that they are doing us a favor for our acceptance when they do these countless ABAs and other compliance trainings that attempt to normalize us. This sends a harmful message to us that acceptance towards us is conditional, that we can be only accepted if we can be nearly neurotypical.
But I think it’s about time that we should divert ourselves from this wasteful mindset and strive for a community that will accommodate us, work towards our advantage and genuinely accept us. Gone are the days of “Survival of the Fittest” where the only ones who can thrive in the environment are the one who can adapt. Society evolved so much to the point that it can contour its environments for each members’ liking and I believe Autistics are no exception.
A must read for anyone that who thinks that a person can “beat” his/her autism. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but no thing such as “cure” really exists.
I have had a lot of reaction in the past few days to that New York Times Magazine article concerning “The Kids Who Beat Autism.” Here’s about all I have left.
The parents, the teachers, the therapists and researchers without a clue who are celebrating “recovery” because they have, in their heads, defined autism as a fixed set of permanent inabilities—
-Are not the people doing the work of passing, and are not going to be the ones to find out first-hand just how long it isn’t actually sustainable.
-Are not the people who get told we’re too articulate to be autistic but have to ration our hours of speech per day.
-Are not the developmentally disabled women who suffer a sexual abuse rate of over 90%, no thanks to the compliance training that teaches that allowing others to control our bodies is desirable behavior.
-Are not the…
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First of all, sorry for my bad English as I grew up in a country where it is only a secondary language. In addition, kindly inform me if I made any errors as this is my first blog post. By the way, let’s begin.
Umm? What is it anyway? Is it the act of moving toward or something?
Regarding the last question asked, it is a yes but in this article its context will just be a little different.
As defined in sociology, passing is the ability of a person to be regarded as a member of social groups other than his or her own. More commonly passing is used in racial groups. Take an Asian man with western features for example as he passes as a Caucasian in order for himself to be assimilated in a white dominated society. This can also be applied to those who belong in disability groups especially disabilities that are not immediately apparent. Autism happens to belong in this group.
In the autism community, social groups can be divided between neurotypical and autistics. Neurotypical, an amalgamation of the word neurologically and typical are the ones who are not simply in the autism spectrum. Commonly, neurotypical and autistic traits have differences that somewhat make it difficult for them to communicate, understand and as well cooperate with each other as their traits are somewhat antithesis to each other.
Nevertheless, it is not totally impossible for the two groups to coexist but just being in the 1 percent of the world population, autistics are obviously outnumbered by neurotypicals. Obviously, neurotypicals virtually rule us and obviously we are living in a neurotypicalesque society. Everyone are just expected to follow neurotypical rules, autistic or not. Noncompliance means privilege denied. That’s why passing for some individuals (including me) comes into play.
To make it easier on my part, I would want this to explain through an analogy between operating systems and neurology. This may sound vague and technically naïve to tech savvies but imagine this. Our neurology are represented as an operating system and neurotypicals are the Windows while the autistics are the Linuxes.
While the operating systems share something in common such as managing hardware and software resources, there are fundamental differences in the way how they accept parameters and process things. For example, each operating system can only run its own executable (or program in a layman’s term) and not vice versa. Since Windows operating systems far outnumber Linux, it seemingly became a standard operating systems for the end-users. This somewhat implies that those using Linux are left in the dark if they don’t follow the “de-facto standard”.
In order for the users to deem their Linux operating system useful, they should at least install an emulator or compatibility layer to run this “For Windows only” programs. This would do, at least for some time.
That Linux may run that Windows program but at the end of day it may just crash. Because it boils down to the mere fact that it’s a Linux running a program not designed for itself. It may put up a good show at first but deep within its processes, it was suffering as it needs to wrestle with overheads, incompatibilities, and processes meant for the original operating system. Eventually errors will mount one unto another, that the Linux installed with an emulator will come to a breaking point.
This explains how autistics feel when they are passing as neurotypicals. Our brains are wired differently that it is why we eventually deteriorate when we are forced to conform to neurotypical’s action. Making eye contact, engaging in small talks, resisting the urge to self-stimulate and to polite laugh even if the joke doesn’t make any sense doesn’t mean that we overcame already our challenges. In fact, we are not only challenged but we are also damaging ourselves in the process by doing these actions that are the opposite of those hardcode into our brains. We may put up a neurotypical façade but not for long. Back at our homes, we revert back to our true autistic selves and ponder how we can muster the energy to put the neurotypical mask properly for the very next day.
I personally want to break away from this deception but it is easier said than done when people around me will regard me as inferior or an inspiration porn. I will also not come out with my diagnosis where a community treats anyone with disabilities as a charity case.
To conclude this, I’d rather hold myself for now and box myself in an uncomfortable persona and keep my neurotypical privileges (even if I’m not) than risk myself being treated as a lesser human.
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