Now, about 5 years ago (I was diagnosed only about a year and a half
ago) my problems with self-control, with containing myself (ie not
screaming in public, or not throwing a tantrum when someone doesn't
return a phone call) and with managing my life had gotten so bad I was
seeing a counsellor. This counsellor was the mother of a friend. She
was trained by Relate, which is the British version of the Marriage
Guidance Council, and which has the best training for counsellors in
the country. She also was very generous about letting me call her on
the phone, and charged only a nominal fee.|
It seems that many if not most of us have problems getting people to believe that you don't have to be a vegetable to be autistic - even those of you who are less verbal and seem generally to have more difficulties than me. Now, not only did I never even dream I might be an AC, it really looked like there wasn't much wrong with me apart from laziness and excessive egocentricity. This counsellor went so far as to emphasize that I didn't have clinical depression, I just had a "depression of my mood". Now, I had no conceptual models to explain my behaviour, other than to measure them against "normal" behaviour - in other words, I interpreted myself by asking "what would I think if someone else did this", where the "someone else" was a "normal" person. By these standards I was the judge and jury that tried me and found me guilty. After all, I thought, other people were under the same pressures as me and they didn't throw tantrums and cry and use the phone obsessively and... Of course, the counsellor had no conceptual models to think otherwise, either, even though she seemed to be much less judgmental than me or anyone else.
This counsellor's daughter - my friend - would disdainfully call me a "narcissist" - in other words, "diagnose" me as personality disordered. This was largely because I would talk on and on about my own obsessions, and although I tried to stop, I didn't seem able to (or "didn't care enough to"). If I tried to protest, she would produce further evidence against me. When I thought about what she was saying, I came up against the question "what would I think about someone else who behaved like me?" and the answer was "nothing good". My friend would also make accusations such as "any *normal* person would have..." (known that when I knocked on the door and she didn't answer, it didn't mean she was out, it meant she didn't want to be disturbed, etc.) but whenever I speculated that I might have this or that problem I had read about - depression or anxiety or something like that - she poured scorn on my efforts to question whether I might not be a "normal person".
Now, I suppose my sessions with this counsellor would have been very useful to a normal person. I approached them like a university tutorial (I'd just finished Oxford, and not done too well there in any respect). I would try to come up with the right answer, even though I didn't really understand the question or the topic, and I would accept that if anyone was in error, it must be me. Her daughter told me that this woman was an excellent counsellor, and that she had a "sixth sense", so this must of course have meant she was right. So I was convinced the counselling was helping me... I could understand some of the individual points she made - though not all; for instance she said that there was a "saboteur" inside of me, driving me to spoil everything that was good in my life, and that was certainly the truth. But then she never seemed to bring that topic up again, or if she did I didn't recognize it, and I also didn't understand that when counsellors say you have a "saboteur" inside you they usually mean passive aggression - ie that you are deliberately choosing to spoil your own life in order to punish yourself, or someone else, or something like that. So I didn't completely understand the individual points even when I *did* understand them. And then I had no grasp of how one thing she was saying related to another thing, and my attention problems were so atrocious I didn't really take much in anyway, and I didn't know I had attention problems, and then I couldn't think of much to say because I didn't know what I thought or felt about anything, and I didn't know that I didn't know what I thought or felt about anything...
The sessions were helpful because for an hour a week I could spend time with someone who didn't seem to despise me for being such a flake. Because of this my emotional over-firing would switch to non-firing for an hour, which would have been a relief if I had been able to feel relief or anything else in a state of non-firing. After a fairly short while, she decided I was "a mature woman", and congratulated me on the fine work I had done with her, and sent me away, and I agreed with her and thanked her and went on my way. And a few days later I started throwing wobblies again, or still continued to throw wobblies. My counsellor referred me to a therapist (one level up the mental-health scale). The therapist decided I was extremely disturbed, and observed that I "didn't really know who I was" and that I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to "save myself from myself". In these individual points, she was absolutely correct. A little bit later I threw an immense wobbly in public, and got taken to the emergency room of a hospital, where the duty psychiatrist told me that the problem was outside myself, and a student shrink from Hungary told me I should go out jogging whenever I felt like crying. I thanked them and went away, burning with shame. After this, my therapist said, or seemed to be saying that if I could control myself some of the time, I must be choosing not to control myself the rest of the time. Here, she was wrong, but of course I assumed she must be right. Fortunately, I ran out of money and had to stop the therapy (albeit wrongly suspecting myself of passive aggression). I found a way of calming myself down by reviving an old, fun obsession, and that, surprisingly, seemed to solve everything. For a couple of years I was pretty happy, though I continued to be ashamed of my "laziness" and my "dramatic" behaviour of the past.
Then, a year and a half ago, my flamenco teacher - the one that fired me - told me I wouldn't be ready to do any more public performances until I got "my head sorted out" and told me I would have to see *her* shrink for a lot of psychotherapy. Fortunately, a few months earlier, I'd picked up Dr Christopher Green's book on ADD and found that I was understanding *every word* of it, rather than just muddling through on 15% comprehension. My mother had always said I'd been "hyperactive", but what I didn't know was that "hyperactivity" had any significance beyond the fact that I'd tended to be too energetic as a child. I had no idea that this was something that could impact my life or my ability to study or live independently or get along with people in any way. I also had no idea that I'd received a proper diagnosis as ADD when I was three.
Suddenly everything made sense! Armed with my new information, I went to the first ADD support centre that could give me an appointment, and there I was assessed by a chartered psychologist. Not only did she specialise in ADD, she was also the only person in the country to specialize in gifted people who have both ADD and Asperger Syndrome, and after I'd babbled to her for an hour, and she'd asked me some questions that really *meant* something to me, she diagnosed me as combined ADD and AS. She told me I was emotionally well adjusted, she congratulated me on my phenomenal ability to manage compensations - something no-one else had *ever* been able to see - and she gave me a reading list. I read. And at last I understood! At last, there were incidents - at least a thousand incidents - in my life that I could understand 100% in terms of being an AC, instead of just 15% in terms of being an NTer. I had proof that I REALLY EXISTED! I, HELEN OLIVER, WAS NOT JUST A POOR EXCUSE FOR UNDERACHIEVEMENT OR A FIGMENT OF MY OWN NARCISSISTIC IMAGINATION! I, HELEN OLIVER, WAS A REAL PERSON!!! At first I was skeptical, I thought she must be too eager to diagnose too many people with her "favourite" disorders, but a great deal of reading, and measuring myself against checklists, convinced me that she was right. She sent me to a neurologist, he agreed, and at *long last* I understood! Not only that, but I could even be proud of myself, and believe that I had just as much right to exist as anybody else.
I told my flamenco teacher. She asked me how much they'd charged me to tell me I was well adjusted, and told me I'd better not take any of the medicine the neurologist had given me, but that I must use my "willpower and discipline" to overcome, because "any syndrome in the world can be overcome by willpower and discipline". When I tried to protest, she hugged me, nearly crunching my ribs to pieces and wailed that she "loved" me - as if "love", as she called it, could turn a half-baked, nonsensical argument into truth. (I am Flamenco Teacher of Borg! Resistance is futile! You will be assimilated!)
I told my counsellor, whom I was still allowed to phone and talk to if I wanted, the good news. At first she said she believed me, but she pointed out that I was being rather hard on myself. The next time I spoke to her, she said she didn't know what AS was but she'd made it her business to find out. And she said it couldn't be true. She kept repeating that I was an "intelligent woman". She asked "do you need a label?" and obviously the only right answer was "no, I'm a big girl and big girls don't need labels". She said ACs didn't go to university. She said that only children were medicated for ADD, never adults (do you suppose she meant to imply that I was lying?). She said only children were AC. She said the person who diagnosed me probably did so because *she* was "like that" and she "wanted me to be like her". She said that if anyone said that something was wrong with me, I should take no notice.
I thought very hard about what she said, for a very long time. Of course, we all know that these stupid stereotypes are total garbage. I could have put that down to her being honestly misinformed. But an you spot the contradiction in these arguments? Yes, she said that ACs don't go to university, but the psychologist who diagnosed me *must have* been to university or she wouldn't be a psychologist! Now, I think that, if she had been making an *honest* effort to find out about AS, she would have thought it out enough not to contradict herself like that. Therefore, she was probably *dishonestly* rejecting the idea and not wanting to know. When she said "do you need a label", she must have been trying to make me follow this line of reasoning: a label is a word, and a person is more than a word, therefore by telling you you don't need a label, I am showing more concern and understanding for your individuality than someone who puts a label on you. But, in fact, her *real* agenda was to totally refuse to understand what my type of mind is even *called*, let alone what it *is*. I thought that what she said to me, under the guise of lovingness, was the most rejecting and horrible thing anyone could have said. I don't know why a mental-health professional would want to reject new information just because it is new, but, after a lot of pondering, I concluded that her reaction was malevolent, and that I'd better not ever phone her again, even though she'd been good to me in the past. I didn't try to explain anything or work it out, because experience tells me that only honestly mistaken people will co-operate. And she has never tried to contact me since then, so I assume she has no interest in reconciliation either.
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