My mental health journey.
I was asked to write a blog for mental health week and wondered what I would write about. I am not (as far as I know) suffering from any particular mental health problems, but I am different to most people. Not one person that knows me would describe me as normal. I take that as a compliment by the way. As I don't know what to write about I decided to share some of my life with the readers of our blogs, which is not such an easy task for me to do. Mainly as I tend to say (or in this case write) things that offend people and secondly as I am either fully private with people I don't know or totally open there is no in between. In order to be fully opened up I have grabbed a bottle of wine and just started to write (just for reference I don't advocate drinking to support mental health issues, I just like drinking wine).
I suppose I realised that my mental health was not great around 2014, I was not myself, living a very reclusive life – it didn't help at that time I was living in a different country for my husband's career and lived in a very small village, that had no shops, sports clubs, or pubs. So I became more and more isolated. However it didn't really start here. It started way back in childhood, which I enjoyed until senior school. I was always different to most children (this my mother now says she knew but thought nothing of it at the time – more on that later).
I was kind and generous, almost too kind and too generous, which resulted in me being quite hurt at times. However, the main thing was that I had no idea how to relate to children my own age, and could not really keep friends. Even now, I have one friend (apart from my husband) that I have known for over 20 years. How she copes with me I have no idea. Even with all of this, I loved primary school, and really enjoyed learning, I would not say that I am especially academic, however, I still, even at the age of 41 love learning new things. Things went downhill at senior school, I had 5 years of systematic bullying which was honestly horrendous. It culminated when I was about 14 in beating the crap out of the main guy, much to his surprise, however I lost my temper and when that happens it is always a good idea to run. After this it went from everyday to about twice a week, slightly more bearable. I thank (insert whichever deity you like here) that I was at school without phones and social media, my home really was my sanctuary at that time.
I was bullied for lots of things, I can't pick one thing over any other that stood out. I wore glasses, I was fat (not just chubby but really fat), I was crap at sport (other than Rugby which my school didn't do) and swimming, I had ginger hair, I was the child of a single mother, and something which I didn't really know at the time I am not straight. Actually reading that list makes the teenage me sound like a bullies wet dream, almost like a menu of things to pick on, on any given day. At least I gave them some variety!
After my GCSE's when all the unintelligent tossers left, I started to become myself like I was in primary school, even though I failed my A Levels, I managed to blag my way into university on a law degree no less (I still have no idea how I did that – neither did my Mum, she went into hospital for an op and I was a lifeguard, she came out three days later and I was enrolled). At university I excelled further, especially after I was diagnosed with dyslexia, it was this time they also did an IQ test for me (I hover around 140, which I have always thought was normal – more later). After university, I decided to get climbing that ladder, I was loving work, moving when I hated my boss (happened quite a lot) and always managing to get a promotion in different companies. Again I had no idea how I did this. Life was good, I was on the treadmill I didn't have to think too much, I was busy, moving around different cities and countries and able to take lots of holidays and drive a jag. The bullied boy who grew up with a single mother had made it!
It was around 2016 when my husband nearly left me that I thought things really needed to change. I hadn't worked for 2 years having taken redundancy from corporate world to start a life in the country with dogs (I still have the dogs and they are amazing – we have extended the brood with chickens and soon may get alpacas). I realised I had placed so much importance on my work, I was really quite unsure of who I was without it. Whilst I was never diagnosed, I was probably looking back in a severe depression and full of anxiety. I was dragging both of us down, and that was not acceptable. So we moved back to the UK and started to set up life here. I have to say the day I got off the plane from our previous life I was the happiest I had been in a while.
As I started to build up my life in the UK, I started to work as a barber, and I was incredibly proud when I handed my notice into my boss, who had continually informed me that my haircuts were shit, and continued to belittle me in front of clients for 4 months. The last straw came when I was sick with a chest infection and got a bollocking. I handed in my notice and I realised this was the turning point. Yes I might not be normal, yes I might be different, but one thing I know is that my haircuts are good. Not perfect (but then what is perfection, not one person can measure this – interesting thought that isn't it?) but certainly not shit, and more to the point I was not going to be dragged down by this person, who didn't know how to manage staff.
It was a year after this at Christmas time when that one friend I have known for over 20 years was down with her family for a day. She made a flippant remark that her husband was autistic. She was half joking and half serious, so me being me said lets do an online test. So the four of us did it, me, my husband, my friend and her husband. All three of them came out normal (the correct term is neurotypical) and I was off the chart! So I spoke to an acquaintance of mine, who is an educational psychologist to find out more. It turns out that a full diagnosis would be about £5000 privately, and I didn't wish to burden the NHS when I was nearly 40 at that time, and had done ok. She very kindly referred me to a colleague of hers.
So along I went, quite interested by now, and I had two one hour interviews, which was a little like an interrogation, however, was quite fun. By now, things had started to make sense in terms of why I was not normal, and well me. At the end of our sessions (she had already told me it would not be a formal diagnosis as it was far cheaper) she was very open in that with some clients she was not sure if they were autistic or not. Then came her revelation, that she was 100% sure I was and would be somewhere between level 1 (the new name for High functioning Aspergers) and level 2. This is effectively mild to moderate autism. By now I wasn't surprised, however, I wondered how I had been successful in career and monetary terms with a supposed handicap. This is when she started to explain that my brain is not normal, and that my IQ is gifted. Well I never! I just assumed everyone was like me, what is special about me? Nothing in my head, turns out there is a lot of special things about me.
In one of our conversations, she asked how I am at parties. Disclaimer I hate parties unless I know who is going, how I can get home if I need to, and that it is not too late into the evening. Reducing the uncertainty is brilliant for me. At parties, I explained that I have filing cabinets, which help me navigate social rules, so I have one labeled do not say, one that is safe topics and one that is a maybe. Then I put all these topics through a couple of filters and hopefully something not too bad pops out of my mouth. As I was explaining this, I was already aware that this is unusual behaviour. She went on to say that it was because of my kindness, and my IQ plus the filing cabinets that is how I managed to have a career.
After my sessions, it has made my life and hopefully my husband's much better. I have confidence in myself, I look at where I can interact with people and when I need to be alone, due to being overwhelmed. The biggest improvement to my life has been other people, which baffles me honestly. Before if I said I didn't want to go somewhere or do something, everyone would call me boring, or try to persuade me that I should go. Afterwards, when I said I am not going as I am having a difficult week, or I just don't want to, that was fine, as I am autistic. Now this confused the hell out of me, because I was still the same person. I didn't change, there was just a label for it. However, this label has improved my life, funny as that sounds.
In terms of mental health I would urge everyone to be kind. Why does it matter if someone doesn't want to do something with you? Couples do not need to do everything together. In fact I don't know what you would speak about if you spent every waking moment with someone. Different people have different friends for different things. Ultimately, someone's mental health is about what they need, not what you need from them. To be able to think about this, start to think of things differently. Most of our ideas, are formed from what society says you should do. Under 25 well you are odd if you don't party and have a ton of friends? Really I just see this as saving money, not being tired and reducing unnecessary drama. Over 40 well clearly you should be married with a mortgage and know what you want to be doing in life. As well as having children. Obvs.
Hopefully this has given you a few thoughts, about people in your life, how they may have things going on that no-one knows about and how you may change yourself to support them. I will always be forever grateful to my friend for joking about autism that day. The way that my life has changed since I investigated further is brilliant and I am indebted to her for making that joke so that I found out more about myself. It has given me more energy, the ability to set more boundaries and also to say, yes I am autistic, I say the wrong things in societal rules, however, I am kind, I have a voice and I am happy.
So what would you do to become kinder or happier today? After all isn't it the case that one's life is more about how successful you feel, than how much money you have in the bank, the car you drive or your job title?