So last time I did say that I’d write again following my psychological assessment that I undertook after suffering from an extended, deep and pretty unpleasant spate of depression this year. Because this post exists, I’ve heard back and I’m reflecting on what I have learned.
The key fact is that I do have Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a form of autism and it both changes nothing and everything.
My diagnosis changes nothing because this doesn’t stop me being me. I’m not “diseased”. I don’t even like to call Asperger’s a “mental illness” as I’m not actually broken; rather, I am different. And that’s OK. I don’t feel like I live in a sense of a pre-diagnosis and post-diagnosis world – it’s always been a part of me and it’s important to not denigrate the importance of finally getting confirmation of something I’ve always kind of been aware of – I’ve always known, deep down, I “wasn’t wired the same” as, say others or my contemporaries – because it’s an important development.
But it’s important to initially realise it’s also not the beginning and end of what makes me, well, me. I don’t intend to use my Asperger’s (which still feels somewhat odd to put, but the more I do so, the more comfortable I’ll get with it) as a white flag. I feel it would be remiss to just dismiss my social problems “on the Asperger’s” as that does what I feel is most harmful – I shunt responsibility for my actions onto the condition and I don’t think that helps.
What’s more important and productive, I feel, is to use this knowledge rather than as a shield, and to carry on making these mistakes and not learning from them, but to identify my strengths and work on those. It’s far too easy to let one’s weaknesses – perceived and tangible – dominate. That’s part of what I feel made me vulnerable to depression. I want to use this knowledge to be much more positive in my outlook and on furthering personal goals.
While the diagnosis that I have Asperger’s Syndrome is a confirmation that a part of me functions differently to the considered norm is just that – a part – I also do feel it’s a profound learning experience. I can look back at my history and contextualise a lot better my actions, inactions, mistakes and think “ahh, yeah…”. But I can also use this knowledge looking forward – maybe it helps me to identify troublesome aspects of social interaction that I can forsee struggling at. I’m going to see mishaps and awkward situations in the future and be better able to think “ah, yeah, it didn’t help…” and then learn from that.
I’ve already been re-evaluating some of the things I have done in the past that have been not so good and re-approaching them through this new lens. Things in the past are done, though I hope that I can now understand them better and also, through being open about it, others can at least be mindful of the areas of socialising and interaction with other people I might see differently or struggle with.
While I don’t want to really use my diagnosis as an “excuse”; rather I want it to be something that spurs me to better work to my strengths… I do feel that a few people who have seriously misunderstood me, especially recently, should at least take this information on board. I don’t expect it to totally do away with their potentially-narrow-minded viewpoint (and that’s sad, more than anything) but it’s a perspective at the very least.
For now, I am still pretty much processing the diagnosis. I’m weighing up the outlook I want to take in the next year – again, weighing up that Asperger’s is just a part of me and how Asperger’s has a profound and wide-ranging impact on my daily life. I still don’t really know a great deal about Asperger’s Syndrome, and autism in general (I recall facing a lot of self-imposed stigmas, largely derived from ignorance, about my struggles with mental health) so my focus is to learn more. I’ve decided, as a first step, to book a follow-up with my psychologist (who has been extremely supportive) where it can be laid out what the condition means, and what it means in terms of me.
But most importantly: I’m happy with who I am. I don’t feel like Richard the victim who’s had this awful news; I feel like Richard the empowered who is just beginning to learn, really and deeply, who he is and how he works best. Again, a part of me wishes this had all been done sooner but better late than never, eh?
In terms of the depression? Yeah, it’s still there. It still affects me. But it’s something I am aware of and it’s a construct within my mind that has been manageable. I feel that this diagnosis is another weapon against the depression as it’s allowing me to be frank about myself. It’s a crap time of year for me – a lot of the “catalysts” that I spoke about initially are hitting unhappy milestones. But I am trying counter that sense a lot by just thinking: this year I got to grips with a serious subject – myself.
I intend to keep writing about this as I progress. In terms of tangible steps, I’ve got the follow-up with my psychologist soon, and I hope to be going into therapy soon after. I feel I’ve identified a lot of the latent and background reasons that I’m vulnerable on an emotional level and I’m equipped to tackle those problems.
These blogposts have certainly helped as an outlet. I can now say I’ve catalogued my journey here and I encourage anyone who feels similarly to do the same. It’s a positive learning experience, and I do feel that, despite the intense pain and sadness and anger and all those emotions – I still feel, right now, very disappointed and, honestly, resentful that certain people I trusted abandoned me for the journey I’ve had to go on – I’ve actually made a material difference to understanding myself. And I can’t go on to do great things in the future unless I’m at peace with my own psyche. I’m happy and proud to say I am on the road to that!