Battle of the Syndromes

Anyone who read this blog in May 2010 might have seen a post entitled Intellectromagnetic Spectrum in which I wondered - having read up on some of the symptoms for reasons which are not going to become readily apparent again at this juncture - whether I might in fact have Asperger Syndrome.

From what I could see I considered it likely, but I couldn't quite silence that little nagging voice at the back of my mind. You are probably familiar with That Voice yourself. It's the one that constantly puts you down and emphasises your worthlessness. In this instance it was whispering Of course you don't have Asperger Syndrome! You're just saying that to make yourself seem interesting, you're using it as an excuse for your social failings. You don't have it at all. You're just shit at life and don't you forget it.

Hardly the most cogent of arguments, but there's always been something convincing about That Voice. No matter how much you might try and dismiss it as pessimism, there's always a part of you that fears it's speaking the truth. This is partly because when good things happen we take them as read and think nothing of it, whereas when bad things happen we remember being warned about them by That Voice. This is an evolutionary trait - our ancestors survived by being pessimists.

So we've been conditioned to trust That Voice but the problem arises when other aspects of our personality - such as self-loathing - employ it. Thankfully in recent years this self-criticism and inability to recognise one's own achievements has been identified as an attributable personality trait in itself which has become known as Impostor Syndrome. So that all helps, right?

Unfortunately not. Now That Voice simply says Of course you don't have Impostor Syndrome! You're just saying that to make excuses for the fact that you are, in actual fact, shit.

And so it goes. In this instance the opinions swirled around and around in my head for years. In better times I considered that I was probably right about having Aspergers, in worse ones I berated myself for being such a lazy, worthless, excuse-making fraud.

And then in spring this year it changed. For another completely different set of reasons - which also are not going to become readily apparent at this point - I saw a mental health practitioner who thought that one of the reasons I might be having the problems I was having at the time was because he could see evidence of autism. As such he referred me to a neurobehavioural clinic for an assessment.

Six months later I finally had the assessment. I found it quite interesting - there were a number of questionnaires as well as an in depth discussion of my life so far and what I thought about it. I even brought up my fear that I'd only self-diagnosed to make myself interesting and to use as an excuse for the fact that I was simply crap at social stuff. The practitioner said that he had indeed seen people come in for the assessment who seemed to want the diagnosis almost because it was "trendy" (the mental equivalent of the hipster beard) but I on the other hand actually had Asperger Syndrome - he could tell that just by talking to me.

Except they don't call it Asperger Syndrome any more. It's now Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). That's fair enough. I like a good acronym. As long as no-one refers to it as ASC Condition I think I'll be fine.

So everything was OK after all. I had it and I had a piece of paper to prove it. Despite its ongoing attempts to undermine me, I now knew that I could ignore That Voice and that my problems weren't because I was Simply Shit At Life. I had a reason for people finding me difficult or hard work. And oddly enough having received the diagnosis I actually found social situations slightly easier. I panicked less and the awkward feelings I experienced weren't backed up by an undercurrent of self-loathing. I knew why I felt like this.

Of course with the official diagnosis come a number of other issues. Even though it has entered into the public consciousness, many people still have misconceptions about the condition. For some it seems to be simply another label in their vocabulary that they can toss about to demonstrate just how well educated they are and use to classify anyone rude, thoughtless or selfish they might come across.

No, someone rude, thoughtless and selfish is just an asshole.

They may well have Asperger Syndrome as well, but being an asshole is unrelated to this. Tying rudeness to the syndrome makes about as much sense as tying blue eyes to deceit. Anyone can be an asshole.

There are other misconceptions too, but I can save them for another time. In the meantime I can say that it does feel good to have discovered one of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that I call me.


Unknown said…
We had a chat with our Middlest (aged 11 at the time) and told him that he might have an ASC and we'd treat him as such. He felt that all his life he had been weird and hadn't fitted in but once he had a label he felt happier!

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