Miscellaneous

Not Wired The Same

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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!

Miscellaneous

Silver Linings

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So last month I wrote publicly about my recent struggle with depression. I do want to elaborate on what’s happened since then but the original post has enjoyed a reception that I am pretty grateful for – I got a lot of very nice tweets, comments, messages etc of support, and it’s certainly reassuring to know that, crazy as I may be, that there’s people whose positivity and support is much appreciated.

Anyway, one of the key aspects of depression, as I’ve found out myself, is that talking about it is the first step, but it’s probably more important to talk about it to the right people. I’ve made a few quite big errors in this regard – dumping on people who are ill-equipped, whether that be wantonly or incidentally – but I’m pleased to say I’m seeking some professional help.

On Tuesday I had an assessment with my local ADHD/ASD team because, with this depression, I want to really get to the root causes of it, and then take things from there. I’d made a doctor’s appointment some months ago explaining that, after giving this whole situation a lot of thought, and taking my own historical considerations – that is, thinking back and realising, maybe I wasn’t just “being myself” – into account, I’d a strong belief that I was suffering from Asperger Syndrome. I didn’t know a lot about it, but it’s a continual cycle of gaining knowledge about the condition and my own self. However, I did print off the page on Asperger Syndrome from the NAS, and annotated it with my own thoughts and reflections and my doctor referred me to this team.

I do feel that a diagnosis would be helpful to me – for too long I’ve just assumed “I’m wired a bit differently” but a diagnosis would be advantageous, as I could use it as a signpost to go some way to explaining how, perhaps, I act against certain expectations and that, at its most basic, it’s “not me just being rude”.

Arriving for the appointment was weird – I was pretty anxious the night before because this is a pretty big thing for me. I was more anxious walking in to the hospital because I glanced a sign saying “Mental Health” and it struck me. I felt a strange sense of “well, you’re going into a mental health unit, there must be something wrong with me” and “here’s me just feeling a bit crap, maybe I’m wasting my time”, but I went in.

The assessment was surprisingly pleasant, and surprisingly in-depth, too; exploring my reactions, expectations and also my developmental history. I talked about my concerns and what led me to seeking help, the emotional “events” that had happened and the discussion then went quite in-depth, from my childhood to how I react to certain situations even now. The psychologist I saw was extremely pleasant and I did feel at ease. I feel that so much about mental health is associated with unhelpful “stigmas” and it’s the real barrier to getting treatment. I do need to go back for a second appointment to finish up the evaluation but, as with most “new situations”, now I know what I’m in for, I can prepare for it a bit better and be less anxious. And, honestly, I’m looking forward to it – the nice thing about a psychologist or a therapist is their neutrality to the raw emotion of situations that lead to being in places like this.

I think that whatever happens – if I get diagnosed with Asperger’s or not, or Borderline Personality Disorder (which I definitely feel, on initial glance, I’m a candidate for; but this assessment is about finding out what’s really up in my head) – this experience is good for creating an emotional resilience I feel I am clearly lacking. I’m also learning a lot about mental health through this experience – and confronting to a lesser degree, the awful stigmas around it – which can only be positive.

Being open has helped me and I will try my hardest to continue doing so. This is a journey for me that I feel is worthy of being documented and open about – that way I get the support I need and it’s not something that just breeds horrid resentment if left to bottle up. So expect more posts about it as I work through this issue – both the macro (my underlying personality issues) and the micro (current bout of depression) – side of things.

Image credit: frinkiac.com

Miscellaneous

The Black Cloud

Today comes a rambling but important post. Read it in its entirety. Normal service resumes shortly.

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For the last six months I’ve been suffering from some pretty steep and horrible depression and, after reading the post by my friend David R. Agon, I think the time is right to discuss it.

For me, depression has been a black cloud that has steadily enveloped me. It’s scared me and brought me to my lowest ebb. Unlike David, I know where it all really began and I know that it’s brought out a side of me I’ve probably tried my best to ignore for the best part of fifteen years or so. Better out than in, right?

The circumstances around my depression are, in essence, inconsequential. There’s no point in going into intrinsic detail; that’ll both bring up painful memories and thought processes, plus it might appear embarrassing to individuals involved. But to briefly recap: In 2015 I suffered two personal tragedies and I feel guilty for blaming my depression on them because, ultimately, who doesn’t suffer from losing relatives or people they’ve known all their lives; why indeed should it tip me over the edge? Suffice to say, 2015 is a year with relatively few good memories. And those I do have are soured by what happened. But the two large events of 2015 that quite profoundly upset me weren’t the tipping point; rather, they destabilised my personality enough to make the third event finally tip me over.

In 2016, at a time when I was in a more vulnerable state than I was likely either prepared to admit nor was aware of, this third event happened. Someone I was close to and trusted, to truncate a very sad and very upsetting story, let me down and things generally went horribly wrong. The hole they’ve left is pretty much akin to the losses I suffered in 2015. Looking back, I think the way this person chose to let me down, and the timing too… it was certainly the straw that broke the camel’s back. It still hurts because I was unprepared for it and I was emotionally battered as it was. Bad things happen in threes, right?

I don’t want to blame this person for “tipping me over the edge” – that’s unfair, really. It wasn’t entirely their fault; I think they were unaware (either wilfully or through ignorance) of what bad shape I was in and they did what they felt was the right course of action; I disagree. Sure they should’ve known better. I am not perfect – this experience highlights that quite acutely. How I feel about this person… it’s complicated because I don’t want to feel anything because it just makes me upset and opens up the wound as the initial sinews of healing begin. However, I lack the ability to disconnect that they do, and I suppose I envy them for that.

What I will say is that, in a way, they did me a favour, in a roundabout (and truthfully, unnecessarily painfully way but that’s neither here nor there any more) – they have brought up the flaws in my personality that I was probably aware of somewhere but was kicking into the long grass. When you’re in pain for what seems like days and weeks on end, with the only apparent solution some kind of decisive and scary act… I never realised for one how scary a place I’d find myself.

What I hate the most about depression is that is creeps into the very crevices of your life and waits for you to sleepwalk into it. It replaces your default state, and becomes all-consuming. It waits there, waiting for you to linger back into some old comfort zone where it ensnares the unwitting psyche. That’s what happens to me all the time: I can so easily fall back into a state where my mind inexorably drifts back to this bad territory, which can spoil my tenuous good moods. I try my best to, ultimately, distract myself from going down that path, but it’s brutally hard at the best of times.

Considering I’d no real experience with “mental health”, all this came at a time, very quickly, that became scary and frightening. Pride, I’ve found, is probably the biggest barrier to getting the help I need, and I’ve made the initial, hardest steps. Prejudice, too – depression is not what people take for granted as “just feeling crap today” – it’s a truly encapsulating beast I think a lot of people allow to carry on because “everyone feels crap from time to time”.

Depression has left what I’d describe as a chemical burn on me, and the wound, left untreated for a fair while, has festered enough that I’m no longer caring about prejudices and my own stupid pride. I just want help, because the places I’ve been with this are so awful and upsetting already I never want to go back. This isn’t an over-exaggeration, as depression can have similar effects to physical pain, and it lingers. People, I guess, put it aside as “just feeling crap today”.

The effects of depression on me have been quite varied and wild and scary. Certainly, this is an experience that will define 2016 for me, such as losses defined 2015 for me, and that’s disappointing but I have to be at one with that. I can’t really change it now.

However, on a positive note, I’m seeking help. I’ve decided to be open with one more person – myself, and I’m challenging the stigmas attached to mental health. My sense of pride and stoicism is no reason to stop me getting help and addressing concerns about my mental wellbeing that I feel I’ve neglected. If I can take one positive from this horrible experience I have had, it’s that, with luck and effort (and probably tons of pain too) I will be more resilient to the sort of mental and emotional triggers that sent me on this dark path this year.

The more I talk about this, and with the right people, the better it gets. I’m really grateful for the friends – the real friends – who have been sympathetic and actually seem to care, even though at times I feel I’ve been a nightmare, when I’m at the lowest point, mood-wise and they have to endure me at that time. I can get really foul then. I feel I’m in a place – aware of what’s happened but reflective, and both anxious and enthusiastic about beginning the long-term healing process – where I can talk about it more publicly.

Do I have any advice for people who feel trapped by depression, who feel scared to admit they are in that trap and that it’ll “just go away”? It won’t, trust me. Don’t be scared of depression, or the work you may need to do, the soul-searching and introspection and self-evaluation that comes as part of that, but embrace that, as without doing that, you’ll never be able to own your depression, it’ll own you. And talk to friends and family. Talk to anyone. Don’t suffer in silence.

Update: I wrote a follow-up to this post. Please read it before you continue on.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons