Friday, August 22, 2014

Depression and Mental Health: A Post in Honour of Robin Williams and a Dear Friend...

Greetings to all you Aspies and allies out there in interweb land! Today, my original plan was to write about something else entirely, but in light of a few developments recently, there’s another important issue I feel the need to address in a special column of this blog. As you are all no doubt aware, recently the prominent comedian and actor Robin Williams committed suicide after a long battle with depression. Indeed, this was a tragedy, and I’m sure I speak for many when I say that the world will miss his manic sense of humour. Through this, many have taken to the internet to raise awareness for mental health and depression-related causes. This is a fantastic thing, but this is ultimately not my motivation for writing tonight. No, my reason is far more personal; you see, just this week, a dear friend of mine also committed suicide after a long battle with depression and other mental health issues.

The friend in question (henceforth referred to as M) wasn’t one of my closest friends, nor was she someone I saw on a regular basis, but she was always someone I got along well with and whose company I thoroughly enjoyed when we did finally find moments to spend together. In light of this, despite knowing that she’d struggled with depression since long before we met, I found myself deeply saddened by her loss. M was a transgendered individual, and one with a long history of being shunned and having to make it on her own without help. Perhaps one of the things I find most haunting about her tragic life story was that much of her misery was caused by the judgments and criticisms of others. Being a member of the transgendered community, while being far less understood than Aspergers, shares that one common element with our own scene; there is an overwhelming lack of correct information and understanding among people. Yes, friends, this is indeed the dark side of being born anything but typical; in fact its commonly known that LGBT youth have one of the highest suicide rates of any demographic, and its due in no small part to the judgments of others and lack of acceptance. I can’t help but feel like if there were more love in this world, my friend, Robin Williams, and the countless others who fall victim to depression each year would still be with us.

Despite this, we must resist the urge to oversimplify the situation. Depression is, after all, an illness. It can no more be willed away with happy thinking than a broken leg can be mended with faith healing. It requires treatment, hard work, understanding and support from all those involved for any individual to make a recovery, and many don’t ever fully do so. For these people, depression is very much like epilepsy or asthma; a condition one lives with on a daily basis. Those suffering with depression and other mental health issues do not need our condescension, nor do they need our well-meaning yet overbearing attempts at help; often times, they just need friends to stand by them and prove to them that, despite what the evil little voice of depression is whispering in their ears, people do in fact love them. As I’ve thought about it over the past few days, I’ve come to the conclusion that I wish I had done this more for M than I did. Even if it meant that long-discussed sushi outing. 

Friends, I realize this is merely one blog entry in a sea of mental health awareness articles, but I felt it was important to share on this site. Being neurodiverse often carries with it the stigma of being different or broken, along with the many tears and frustration such labels bring. Though the idea of being broken couldn’t be farther from the truth, its not always easy to realize that when one is living through a rather nightmarish situation. It’s important that we stand together and help lift each other out of the dark places if and when we fall close to them. Only through education and mutual support like this are we going to make the world a better place.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play some Super Smash Bros: Project M…in honour of the aforementioned individual with the same initial. She was a huge geek and gamer, and I feel like she would appreciate this.

As always, yours in diversity!

Adam Michael

Monday, June 30, 2014

On Education and Fear

Hey all and welcome to another edition of Differently Wired; the blog for all things Aspie! I’m sorry I haven’t updated in a long while, but life has been rather busy as of late. I’m back though, so without further ado, let’s get on with it!

Today’s blog entry is actually based on something that happened to me recently. You see, in the past few months, I moved in with my best friend in a fantastic new apartment building. Coincidentally, two of my aunt and uncle (henceforth referred to as zia and zio due to my Italian heritage)’s friends live in the building too, and one night as I was leaving, some of their friends were coming off the elevator to pay them a visit. I was just leaving my own unit when something unexpected happened. One of them; a lady who my zia had been friends with for a long time, saw me and asked to speak with me about something. She told me that her grandson has Aspergers and that she would very much like my advice on how to approach the situation!

I’m rather ashamed to admit it, but I was engulfed by quite a bit of emotional confusion upon being asked this. On the one hand, I was honoured and thrilled to be able to do good and make a difference in someone’s life. It is, after all, my motivation for writing this blog and for continuing to be an outspoken activist for Aspie pride. On the other hand, I felt an emotion which is all too human; fear. I was afraid that I was and would be considered to be less of a person by her and angry that my zia seemed to talk about me behind my back in such a way that one of her friends knew something very personal about me. It was my secret to choose to share, dammit!

…at least, that’s how I felt at the time.

As the days went on, I thought more about the request, and finally decided that I would do it. It was the right thing to do, and it would help someone out who was in need. And you know what? As we sat down to have coffee and discuss all things Aspergian, I feel like I truly got through to someone. Many of the things I mentioned were things I’ve written about on this blog, along with a heaping dose of Neurodiversity 101. I think what helped tie it all together though was that my zia’s friend saw me, a fully-functioning adult aspie with a good job and burgeoning writing career, and felt comforted for her own grandson. To borrow a phrase from the LGBTQ community, it DOES get better.

I guess what I’m trying to say with this entry is that, to quote a very wise green puppet from a fictional universe, fear is the path to the dark side. It’s extremely understandable, especially when it comes to something like Aspergers, which isn’t widely socially understood or accepted. That being said, we should never be afraid of being who we are. The only reason people have the power to judge is because we give it to them through our fear. If we proudly proclaim to all the Neurotypicals out there that we are proud to be Aspies, then we effectively rob them of all power to judge us. The only way to help the children growing up with Aspergers right now is for all of us adult Aspies to take pride in ourselves and educate others.

After all, we must be the change we want to see in the world!

(Also, I should really stop quoting famous people and characters shouldn’t I?)

As always, yours in diversity,

Adam Michael