When I was first diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, I was scared. I was definitely not relieved to hear that I was “different” and that my brain was, and always will be, different. I felt like I’d been given a life sentence — a terminal prognosis from which I would never recover. Spoiler alert: I was wrong.
I was diagnosed in my early teens after my sister found out that I was self-harming. She immediately ran to my parents and grassed on me. I say grassed as though I still resent her for this. However, in retrospect, I am both grateful and eternally sorry that she did what she did after what she saw.
My self-harm was an unhealthy manifestation of the intense emotional congestion I was so desperate to release. After years of repressing all the true and nuanced feelings that I couldn’t process correctly, anger replaced the hurt, fear, self-hatred, and sadness resulting from a childhood of persistent and relentless bullying.
I needed help because I clearly wasn’t doing well by myself.
My parents took me for an assessment with two psychiatrists, who promptly determined that my lack of eye contact, my general demeanor, and the accounts of self-destructive behavior that we discussed during the session placed me quite comfortably on “the spectrum.” My resounding memory of this day is of my mum crying to my right, my dad sitting calmly to my left, and the two psychiatrists staring at me with a look as cold and dark as the room we sat in.
I didn’t — and, to be honest, still don’t — know all that much about my condition. After attending a course of family therapy sessions that the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) runs through its Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, I was discharged, and I didn’t think about it much afterward.
I started a band, lost my virginity (unrelated to the band), worked part-time at a supermarket (related to losing my virginity), experimented with drugs, and made friends with people I’m still as close with today as I was then.
I felt like I was “normal” for the first time in my life. I had friendships where I didn’t feel like I had to pretend to be someone else or second-guess everything I said to fit in. I just about scraped enough grades together to get into university. I took a year out and spent 6 months in the Austrian alps working in a ski hire shop, waking up every morning with a view of the mountains in my window and a stinking hangover. Life was good.
I struggled through my course at university, but I did it. I amassed four figures of debt in various overdrafts, but as I write this, I’m just one paycheck away from being debt-free.
I fell in love, hard. I fell out of love, harder. I forgot to do the washing up. I made a lot of friends and lost some. I played songs and performed poems I had written in front of hundreds of people. Life was really good.
Around this point in the timeline is where I explain why I started this piece by talking about my first diagnosis and not just my diagnosis. It turns out that Asperger’s doesn’t just disappear, as I’d hoped.
About 2 years ago, I began having quite intense, involuntary, and uncontrollable meltdowns. Initially triggered by a breakdown in my relationship, they began to consume me and quickly became a fairly prompt reaction to almost any situation that evoked a negative emotional response. It was scaring me, and it was scaring my partner.
These meltdowns would take me to a very dark place emotionally. They were also physically and mentally exhausting, sometimes lasting for hours on end with no sign of stopping and completely wiping me out once they finally did end.
Now, as a fully grown man going through this again, it was obvious that I needed help, as this clearly wasn’t going to get better by itself.
I had a further assessment and was very quickly rediagnosed with Asperger’s — or perhaps, considering that it never really left, I was reminded that I still had it. After speaking with the psychiatrist, I took away some pieces of paper containing contact details for various support groups, as well as a detailed analysis and confirmation of my condition.
To be honest, I was devastated, and I hardly even glanced through the lists of sincere and helpful information. I didn’t want to get help, and I certainly didn’t want to be around other people with autism.
I associated my first diagnosis with a very dark period of my life, and I felt as though I had made such leaps and strides to remove myself from that place, distancing myself from my diagnosis.
I saw Asperger’s as a dirty word and wanted nothing to do with it. What I didn’t realize was that by seeing it in that light, I was only making things worse for myself.
I began questioning everything: every word that came out of my mouth, every mannerism, every thought, every relationship with every friend.
Asperger’s was to blame for every shortcoming in my life, including every time I was bullied, every relationship that ended, every exam I’d failed, and every job application or interview that didn’t lead to a job.
Asperger’s made me do this; Asperger’s made me do that.
The more I hated it, the more it took over my life. The more I hated it, the more I hated myself.
My partner couldn’t handle it, and I couldn’t blame her, as neither could I. I started taking sertraline again — I had taken it through sixth form and again in my early 20s — and became even more withdrawn emotionally. The meltdowns had stopped, and the medication was working, but at the cost of my ability to process and convey any type of emotion outside of a very limited range.
All of this happened because I let my condition consume me, and I forgot that I have Asperger’s, not that it has me. Slowly but surely, I have started making an effort to understand myself and manage my anger, processing it as what the true emotion is instead.
I came off medication and started trying my best to exercise and eat healthily as much as possible. This can be difficult when store brand instant noodles are so cheap, but I’m also working on my willpower and impulse control — again, slowly but surely.
I’m doing my best to control my urge to drink as a coping mechanism for stressful situations and to learn when to walk away from or deal with social situations that could set me off. It’s a work in progress, but it all stemmed from accepting that I have Asperger’s and loving myself for it.
It’s part of me; it makes me who I am, and I love myself.
I have so much to be proud of, and I have so much that I want to do with my life. Nothing but self-love will do me any good, and negativity will only bring me down into that same pit I found myself in a couple of years back.
Life is all about ebbs and flows. Some days will be tough, but other days will be beautiful. I am in such a good place in my life right now that looking back on how I felt 2 years ago, it’s almost as if it wasn’t even me who went through that experience.
It’s as though I’m remembering a past life or someone has implanted their own memory into my brain. Life can be more difficult for people who think, look, speak, or feel differently from others, but this is not a reason to give up. It’s more a reason to celebrate the smaller victories in life and to work harder to prove to yourself that your condition won’t define you if you don’t let it.
If getting out of bed in the morning is an achievement for you, then celebrate it — just maybe not by going back to bed! If keeping in touch with your family is an achievement for you, then celebrate it, but try not to leave it another 6 months next time!
If you love your partner but have trouble showing affection all the time, buy them a monthly flower delivery subscription. To you, it’s just flowers — what’s the point, right? Well, to them, it could mean the world.
When I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, twice, I felt as though I’d been given a life sentence. What I’ve come to realize is that I’d simply been given a life. One that no one else in the history or future of the world will ever experience. Just like everyone else.