Welcome to Steve’s Aspie Adventures

Whether you are reading this as a parent, carer, friend or are on the spectrum yourself, a warm welcome to the blog and I’d welcome your comments. I was diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition as a teenager. Throughout my life this has brought unique challenges, deep lows but also very happy times. I hope with this blog I can share some of my experiences, challenges and successes with you. My hope is that it can help along the way at breaking down some of the fears, misconceptions, stereotypes that come hand in hand with Autism by giving an insight into what it’s like as an individual living with the condition.

At times when I’m affected most by my condition life can grind to a halt, but that has given me a drive to experience all I can when I’m feeling well. Travel brings a new perspective on life and the experiences it brings have made my good days even better and given hope in my bad days. For me it’s a metaphorical middle finger to a life-long condition. In my other blog (Roaming Steve) I share some stories of my travel and adventures.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog. Feel free to share this with your friends if you've found it helpful. I'd love to hear your thoughts, any topics you'd like to read about and own experiences so please comment or message me.

Please note, that in all my blog entries I can only relay my personal experiences and perspective. It is important to remember that every single person on the spectrum is an individual with a different story to mine. I have no medical expertise or training and am writing to share my personal experiences only.

Friday, 22 August 2014

I Know There's People Worse off Than Me

Today’s school meal was grisly mince slop served with dry potatoes with the texture of shoe insoles. I’d lost my appetite and gingerly prodded at this mess until it had been concealed beneath the remnants of the potato.

‘Starving children in Africa would be thankful for that lunch!’ exclaimed the dinner lady.

I pondered this comment. Did the school really send my leftovers to Somalia? How did they get it there? Would it not be cold and inedible by the time it arrived?

The problem was that I simply didn’t understand the sarcasm and the real meaning behind her statement. Instead of understanding that she was telling me to eat the food and be grateful that I actually had food, I could only summarise that this food was actually sent there and therefore I should always leave a portion for them at every meal.

Not quite the affect this dinner lady had in mind but a common attitude encountered.

The sentiment behind the message here is simple; My dislike of the food is far less important when in the perspective of someone who had no food and would be thankful for the vile slop I was turning my privileged nose up at.

Clearly there are times when it’s helpful to step back and see things in perspective, but other times it’s down right dangerous. It’s not the times we have a small gripe about the quality of the food here, It’s when there is something else, something more serious going on.

The recent tragic death of Robin Williams should highlight an important lesson for us all. Mental Illness can affect anyone, regardless of circumstance. On the surface it would be easy to ask what Robin Williams had to be depressed about. Was he living with abject poverty, war, starvation, severe disability…..? No he didn’t, but that’s not the point. Depression and feeling depressed are two entirely different things. Depression is an illness and should be treated as such. I can’t possibly speak into the circumstances that spiralled so tragically for Robin Williams but I can share my experience of depression.

I have at times struggled with severe depression. It comes and goes, but is something that I know I am likely to face again in the future. The struggles of living with autism create a particularly challenging set of circumstances for me that can act as a trigger and this comes hand in hand with periods of both depression and anxiety. I will be covering both of these subjects in more detail in later posts. Both anxiety and depression are treatable and manageable but need proper support. There is a vast difference between feeling a bit depressed and having chronic depression, the same can be said for anxiety.

At times like this it would help to see the bigger picture right? This is an attitude that is so very common and one that stirs anger in me and makes me seethe. But why? What could possibly be wrong with a reality check on our own place in the world and a reminder that in fact our problems aren’t as bad as they could be?

Let’s start by looking at the inconsistencies of the perspective.

By picking this apart there are a number of glaring holes in the argument. The first one we come across is how inconsistent it is. To my logical brain using a linear perspective like this removes an ability to express any personal feeling at all. So there is someone worse off than me? What if I was that person, there’s still someone worse off than me! At what point can I just get some support without being compared.

It also has to work both ways.

If I cannot be sad because someone has more to be sad about then logically I also cannot be happy because someone else has more to be happy about than me.

It makes support conditional.

One of the frustrations about mental illness is that it doesn’t make sense. If I’ve got depressed then there isn’t a logical list of reasons why. It’s simply that I’m depressed. Withholding support because I haven’t ticked enough boxes to justify to you why I’m unwell is downright dangerous.

Let’s look at this as if it was a physical issue,

I tell you I have a headache. You refuse to give me a pain killer as someone 5000miles away has a brain tumour.

This sounds ridiculous, but is it any different to the time I had an anxiety attack and took medication to calm myself and was told, ‘you’ll feel much better if you remember that you live in Britain, think about the poor people in Iraq, they’ve really got something to have anxiety about!’

Comparing unrelated issues

So I can’t have anxiety because I don’t live in Iraq? This to me was as obscure as saying You can’t have anxiety because there are no goats on the moon. It’s just unfathomably unrelated in my little mind.

It also had an underlying message.

‘Your illness is selfish’ I heard. I care deeply about injustices in the world and would love to help in any way I can, but this isn’t linked to my day to day life. Back in the school canteen I could only rationalise that the school would be sending the leftovers to the starving children. After all, why else would they tell me about them. What difference does my lunch choice have on a starving child. Indeed what difference does my anxiety have on a troubled Iraqi?

Now I’m older and able to tell that this doesn’t have anything to do with these suffering people in far off lands, we can get back to the issue I was complaining about….

Withholding support

I’ve always been taught to tell someone if I have a problem. Depression is very difficult to talk about, especially if you are going through it. So complaining that I don’t like my school lunch is trivial but what about alerting someone to a growing depression? How do you tell someone effectively that you are struggling? Who do you tell?

The times I’ve had the response given to me that my problems are insignificant in comparison just make things worse. It gives the clear message that my very real issues are of no importance. At an already vulnerable place this extra kick isn’t helpful. Is that the message you are wanting to convey?

A Better Response

For me I benefit being allowed to vent on occasion. Often simply having a good moan can help me to put things into perspective myself. Just be there for me, allow me to talk and offer advice if you can. What to you might seem like a silly or minor issue may be a major concern for me. Allow me to process this myself – it is not your place to judge this for me.

Mental health concerns are a serious issue and if you or someone you know may be struggling please contact and talk to someone in a position to help. Don’t put it off and don’t be afraid to talk about your concerns.

If you need to talk or have concerns about someone you know then here are some phone numbers for you:

UK: Samaritans 08457 90 90 90

Republic of Ireland: 1850 60 90 90

USA & Canada: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Australia: Lifelink Samaritans: 03 63 31 3355

For a larger list of countries visit http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html