The first in a two-part series looking at Asperger’s and mental illness.
My journey through the mental health maze began in my late teens/early twenties. I’d always struggled in social situations and into adulthood this became increasingly debilitating. It led to severe anxiety and depression, finally to the extent of having to seek professional help. All this roughly coincided with the time I became a Christian.
I had read about Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of Autism, and was eventually diagnosed with the condition (though it had been suspected earlier). A.S. is a neurological condition characterised by an impaired ability to read other people non-verbally, i.e., to imagine what someone else is thinking through reading facial expressions, body language and host of other subtle clues. This is a major barrier to communication and social interaction. Another characteristic is a lack of thought flexibility, or conversely, acute single-mindedness. This can of course be a great advantage but it makes so much of the outside world a complex, confusing and hostile place for ‘Aspies.’ (This is a name we often call ourselves, while referring to those without A.S. as ‘Neuro-Typicals’, or ‘N.T.’s.) While my diagnosis came as a relief, it also turned out to be the beginning of a personal learning curve, with a lot of previously suppressed symptoms coming to the surface. It turned out that I’d had a relatively small grasp of all the implications of A.S. and how they applied to me. Finding appropriate aftercare on the NHS proved difficult.
After being diagnosed I went through a time of distressing and confusing episodes where the outside world seemed increasingly hostile. I found myself having to rethink a lot of what I thought I knew about my own abilities and identity. There was also all the guilt: Was this a ‘real problem’ or was it just my attitude or sense of perspective that was holding me back? One member of my church is on 24-hour life support; did I really have any right to complain after comparing my life with theirs and their family? Perhaps I didn’t have enough will power, wanted everything my own way, was unwilling to pick up my cross and live up to ‘biblical manhood.’ It was all a fair bit of soul searching.
It wasn’t until fairly recently that I found a good counsellor who runs an A.S. support charity in my area. With her empathy and expertise I was able to shed more light on what made me anxious and why; really dig down into how the condition affects me and as a result, give voice to my struggles. My involvement with the charity has made me all the more passionate about the need for informing the wider public about this condition; this is badly needed across all sectors of society, including the church. I would guess this is the case for many other mental health-related conditions.
I am happy to say that I am making progress and this is a continuing journey. But however far I have come or will go in the future is solely dependent upon the bedrock of God’s grace. This is where my faith is vital, as is the support of my church.
Part two will follow tomorrow.