Polly's pages (aka 'Donna Williams')

Ever the arty Autie

Was Michael Jackson autistic or one of the most famous people with Exposure Anxiety?


Circus Tightrope by Donna Williams  Michael Jackson was a fascinating human.  But as much as the autistic community wants to claim him as an icon, he was likely only as autistic or not as most members of the human race.  But whether he had Exposure Anxiety, a condition easily confused with (and which commonly co-occurs with autism) is another question, and perhaps he had more of that than most.

As a performer he was fearless, wildly creative, innovative, in his own world and a league of his own.  As a person, he was somewhere between painfully shy and extremely vigilant.  In his interviews he’d fluctuate between almost autistic in his avoidance of direct touch, eye contact and his voice could retreat to a timid whisper.  Then, in the blink of an eye, he could confront before, just as quick, he’d be gone again. His gaze, when not performing, was fleeting, his body speaking the typical fight-flight postures of Exposure Anxiety.  And like those with Exposure Anxiety who find freedom in doing not ‘as oneself’, ‘by oneself’ or ‘for oneself’, he could reach amazing heights of expression when in the role of performer or philanthropist.

Akin to those with Exposure Anxiety, he found it easier to be around animals and in relative solitude and was fascinated with a man who spent most of his life hiding; The Elephant Man.  Michael Jackson could sing with the passion of the gods, but in public conversation seemed afraid of the sound of his own voice.  He could perform and pose with the confidence of a super model, but spent large parts of his adulthood, removing himself from the exposure of his own face.  He spent his life connecting with other people but put a glove between them and the exposed contact of a handshake.

Watching him some years ago when I first wrote of Exposure Anxiety, I felt an urge to write to him about Exposure Anxiety, but didn’t.  Ironically, I felt it was too exposing to do something so personal, especially in the direction of someone already so public, so exposed.  Two weeks ago I listed him on my blog in an article on Exposure Anxiety in which I listed famous people who may have had Exposure Anxiety and I wondered how any of those on that list might feel being associated with the condition.  Now, I feel Michael Jackson will not have to feel the excruciating nature of exposure or walk the tightrope in which Exposure Anxiety allows performers to live a life by proxy which it would never allow them in their personal world.

Donna Williams, Dip Ed, BA Hons.
Author, artist, singer-songwriter, screenwriter.
Autism consultant and public speaker.

Ever the arty Autie.