As we learned from Donna Williams’s first memoir, Nobody Nowhere, there is no typical person with autism; yet, like many people on the spectrum, Donna Williams was distant from the world. That was her world. Donna, a gifted writer, sought to reconcile her world with the...
As we learned from Donna Williams’s first memoir, Nobody Nowhere, there is no typical person with autism; yet, like many people on the spectrum, Donna Williams was distant from the world. That was her world. Donna, a gifted writer, sought to reconcile her world with the world around her. In her first book, Donna felt compelled to “Run and hide, to the corners of your mind, alone/Like a nobody, nowhere.” In looking back, Donna said:
On the edge I ask myself, what will I lose,
To have lived in the depths of “well below zero,”
I grasped the tools to climb out,
And scream loudly to the world.
That with all I was, it wasn’t fair enough
That I stayed there: a nobody nowhere.
Now, Donna found herself in a position to “pick up the pieces… to build a somewhere out of a nowhere and a somebody out of a nobody.” She may be building castles in the air, but she has come to a point in her life to make them real,” of building bridges between the dream to fly and the being able to do so. It is the story of somebody somewhere.”
For Donna, starting her second book was the hardest part; she had just revealed her personal details in Nobody Nowhere, of which the edited but not yet published manuscript lay in envelope in her den. Donna spoke of “her world”; was she yet ready to enter “the world”? Much has been said about labels. For Donna, the label of “autism” was the way in which she could understand herself; with that knowledge, she had to embark on the perilous journey of understanding others and the world around her. Yet, while Donna accepted this label and what it meant, she refused to let it define her.
For the first 40 or so pages, Donna revisited various episodes of her childhood and adolescence in a manner resembling somebody flipping through the many channels on a TV. Upon discussing her relationship with her therapist, Dr. Marek, she was able to relate how he helped her “understand more and more bits puzzle,” though many things came to her mind, especially as she related them in her first book. Then began the tumultuous relationship with her father and his girlfriend. For much of her early life, Donna tried to define what her “successes” were as a “high-functioning” person with autism, “but on automatic pilot in a state of self-denial and a step away from consciousness and awareness, “I” was sometimes so normal it was chillingly abnormal.” And this denial was for a long time the best compromise for Donna, but one that carried too high a price, as it was no longer a worthy exchange for “to live.” It was time for her to return to her native Australia; fortunately, she had a job and an apartment lined up, as well as her therapist, Dr. Marek. It is through her correspondence she was able to relate her progress in finding her way to being somebody somewhere.
For Donna, an important step was understanding emotions, both her own and those of others around her. Of these, the most perplexing and most difficult to comprehend was anger. Again, Donna had to understand the meaning of anger in others, as well as her own anger. For Donna, this was a learning process, and a challenging one, at that. From her landlord, Donna had to learn other emotions, including a definition of closeness very different from her little world inside. That meant that Donna also had to learn to understand what other people were feeling and thinking. At least there was Dr. Marek to help her understand these new concepts. And another part of Donna’s journey came through by confronting all she had confided in Nobody Nowhere through public interviews and press conferences. Her book tour took her around the world; in the UK and elsewhere, Donna had the opportunity to meet other people with autism, culminating with a relationship with a man named Ian. Both had come so far. “Autism is not me.”