Jeremiah Savant’s Adventures in Mental Health
TWELVE: Draining the Circle
So finally, it all made sense. It was not Them after all, it had been me the whole time, and no one had particularly noticed. How many others are there like me – never found, always lost and alone? Why was it not picked up? How did I fall through the net every time?
Two main reasons, I think: prejudice (including preconception, misconception and lots of other things like that) and fashion. For example, years ago, it was fashionable to diagnose people with certain difficulties as dyslexic. It was very big for quite a while – but like so much in my life, that fashion happened just a couple of years too late for me, and whether or not it forms a part of my personality matrix will be a mystery forever. A combination of working hard on my writing skills and now the good old spellchecker has seen that little thing off. For years, the fashion was to diagnose everyone with some form of depressive condition: cyclical, seasonally affected, bipolar – and of course, change all the names of them to something else, to make them sound grander and more clinical. First, ‘this’ kind of wonder drug would cure such maladies, then ‘that’ type, then the new shiny and ultra-improved would DEFINITELY take care of the problem… then, the fashion changed somewhat, and ‘counselling’ was all the rage – often, I have been offered advice about how to get through the day, only to expose the counsellor’s empty words for what they are because in my lifetime I have just about seen it all.
For at least twenty years now, any deep and underlying uneasiness anyone might have about themselves is either put down to general anxiety disorder (in other words, clinicalised unhappiness) or gender identity/sexual orientation confusion. On top of which, there is the old chestnut of, ‘low self-esteem’ (which – should it actually exist – is not helped by being patronised by Psychobods).
It seems to me that Psychobods et al. expect me to fall into a stereotype: that under stress, I should speak in computer code or draw incredible pictorial representations of things. Not mimic people. Not write a fresh batch of poetry or prose – and certainly not be able to perform such things in public. (I ended up unofficially banned from one poetry session I used to go to, because one event ended up like a one man show: every participating writer wanted me to read their work for them because they felt I could do it justice – better even than they.)
The thin glass wall reasserted itself between me and the world with the Diagnosis. It was like in films, where the undercover cop is discovered, and the love interest looks him in the eyes and says things like:
“I don’t know who you are. Was any of it real? What’s between us – is that real, or were you just trying to get to my brother?” Cue much anguished (and quite frankly, immature – because it always reminds me of those break-ups that happened in school) staring into the middle distance to terribly fashionable emotive guitar music or a soft rock power ballad…
Except… this is how it is with me, every morning as I look at myself in the mirror. I clearly am the same, but what – exactly – does that actually mean? How do I re-establish any sense of identity, knowing that the further from the mainstream of society I have fallen, the more I have noticed the unpleasant creeping strangeness of it, and the less able to tolerate it I have become?
It is also like this, imagine the scene: on the stage, there is a fully laid table with several full place settings of crockery and cutlery, including an elaborate centrepiece of a vase of flowers, and a jug of water with glasses for drinking – all on a large, white tablecloth. The magician steps up to the table, grasps the tablecloth and, HEY PRESTO! whips it away so suddenly that everything stays exactly in place. Cue applause. THEN, the magician takes hold of the table, and, ABERA CADABERA! pulls that away, too… yet everything still stays in place…
NOW imagine that you are the vase of flowers…
That is what it feels like.
There is also frustration, as the only way to describe the whole thing is in second hand, not very good clichés, and always in popular fiction of any kind, the main character’s own Big Moment Of Change is far more momentous… usually they have some life-threatening thing or situation to agonise over. But THIS… everything changed while staying exactly the same.
Then, of course, there is the thing of trying to work out if there are any applicable real-world role models… and it just so turns out that being an Asper (I loathe the cutesiness of ‘Aspie’) or a highly functioning Aut is something people just keep to themselves – unlike the plethora of famous people who keep popping out of the woodwork and declaring themselves depressives. My mother used to send me articles clipped from magazines and newspapers in which ‘National Treasure Describes Battle With Depression’ and I always felt insulted. I understand that their point is to use their fame to let people in crisis know that they are not alone, but…
All of them have a privileged lifestyle. They are well-paid for doing work they believe in and love doing or feel called to do, unlike the economic prison I was trapped in. They can afford to take a bit of time off and go somewhere pleasing to them to rest for a while – try doing that in Electrical Retail as Christmas is approaching and you cannot afford to heat your flat, your bank has cut off your supply of money and all you have in the larder is a handful of rice a day for the next week. The internal emotional landscape of the condition itself may be exactly the same, but the external lifestyle landscape can make things so very much worse. At one long-ago GP consultation, I wept so harshly that he did not know what to do, and said so. I told him he could write me a prescription for a job that paid me enough to live on, preferably in the performing arts, and tried a little laugh. Impossible, of course. He sympathised and saw how life in general was just smashing the living daylights out of me.
Another privilege they have is being able to afford to go private and choose their Psychobod – and also get attended to fairly quickly, as opposed to waiting many months for an assessment, then a consultation… on top of this, I imagine that the offices of the Psychobods they see are decorated a lot more comfortably than the basic utilitarian tuffstuff and bareness with tatty year-old info posters of the NHS.
I do not mean to diminish these Privileged People’s emotional experiences in any way, but I do wish to point out that they only get one half of the equation. If my jobs had not paid so poorly, I would not have been so overwhelmed with hopelessness and despair and could have carried on until… well, forever, I suppose. Instead, I slowly sank into an ever increasing mire and finally succumbed to become a part of the underclass which has no occupation – and I consider that to be a waste of my own life and a good argument to pay living wages. I would not have cost ‘the taxpayer’ all these years of welfare payments and admin costs or been a drain on the NHS, I would have been paying tax and National Insurance instead; contributing, not taking out.
And I would not be living in constant fear of an uncaring administration moving the goalposts and mainstream media intent of whipping up brute hatred against all in a position somewhat similar to mine; forever presenting more extreme examples and pretending they are the norm. Work never did me any good, and the only thing I ever took away from it was pain and grief that I was so undervalued – as so many of our citizens are. There has to be a change, and people need to be (and also feel) valued again, not throwaway items in a dirty money-grubbing system built of blind and stupid petty greed.
I want the hovercars and rocketboots, the holidays on the moon we were promised when I was a child… but above all, I want the officials and Psychobods who have ignored me for the best part of twenty years to continue to do that: just leave me alone. Because, you see, I WILL fight back, and I have the verbal skills to be able to convince almost anyone that any expectations of me are ‘unreasonable’ and only by being ‘reasonable’ will everyone win. Plus, of course, it would be much cheaper, as I would try for compensation for a lost life, also. I would have to on principle, because IF I had been diagnosed earlier, and IF the Psychobods had not kept assuming I could cope with life due my being able to describe how I cannot, IF… IF, IF, IF… ‘If,’ – the smallest, saddest word in the English language.
And all the time, I am floundering around, trying to rebuild myself, to establish and begin to get comfortable in my New Reality. I suspect that this is something which will take the rest of my life to do. I posted some of my written pieces on my Twitter timeline and Sonya at LeanOnUs liked them, and I let her post them on the website.
Then, one day out of the blue in direct messaging, she asked me if she could ask me a question. She was curious and wondered what it was like being diagnosed ASD at my time of life… I hummed and hahed (as it were) then joked about how complicatedly simple it all was, and that she was probably angling for a new blog or something. After some excitement, we came to an agreement about it, I checked with a friend who encouraged me; so I sat down and wrote:
“Jeremiah Savant’s Adventures in Mental Health
ONE: Intro and Starting Points
In the mid-80s, Richard Dreyfuss and Nick Nolte starred in a kinda comedy, Down and Out In Beverly Hills. Dreyfuss’ character ‘rescues’ Nolte’s from a life on the streets in a My Fair Lady-ish experiment… [Continue reading]”
If you would like to speak with Jeremiah Savant, or have any questions about this series, feel free to get in touch.