The idea of seeking a diagnosis scared me to death. My family had been anti-psychiatry both for religious as well as personal reasons. The featured image today is the mental asylum in Missouri where my great-great uncle spent the vast majority of his life. My great-great uncle was said to be a loner, he despised other people, was prone to emotional outbursts, suffered from learning disabilities and had a strange gait to his walk; all of these point to him also being autistic but at the time he was simply labeled as insane and locked away remainder of his years. My grandfather loved his uncle and so any talk of mental health was shunned in my family for many years. Psychiatrists were evil men who were bent on sending good people to horrific asylums, where who knows what might take place.
So with all of that in mind, I was perfectly happy being self-diagnosed. My wife however continued to encourage me to seek a diagnosis, she didn’t try to force me into it, but attempted to show me how a diagnosis might help me and in helping me I might be able to help others like myself and my nephew. My nephew had no idea that I self-diagnosed, to him I was his cool uncle but also in his mind I was another neurotypical person who had no idea what his struggles were like. I thought to myself that by seeking a diagnosis I could be a better role model to my nephew, showing him that autism doesn’t have to be the limiting force that many people try to portray it as.
Throughout life I had always considered myself a failure.
Throughout life I had always considered myself a failure. I failed to make friends in school, failed to understand subjects that I had no interest in, failed to hold down a job for many years, failed to sustain a healthy marriage, failed as a minister; my whole life had seemed to be paved with one failure after another. For many years I felt as if I was born on the wrong planet, or that maybe I was mentally handicapped and everyone else could see it but me. Once I began researching autism, all of that went out the window.
I wasn’t a failure, I simply hadn’t recognized my shortcomings and my capabilities. I realized that I wasn’t actually a failed human being but was actually a fairly successful one, who happened to be an Aspie, that just hadn’t found my way in life yet. I graduated from college and found a great job as an accountant. I also believe that my autism is what makes me so well suited for that role. I can spot issues in patterns of numbers that others might not see right away. If something seems off, I will be the first to question it, while other people might stay quiet. I found my way and through finding my way I thought I might make a good example for my nephew of what someone with autism can achieve.
I found my way and through finding my way I thought I might make a good example for my nephew of what someone with autism can achieve.
So after several months of gentle prodding, I agreed to see a local psychiatrist. While my wife was happy that I was taking this step, I however was horrified. I thought of my great-great uncle, I worried that something like that might happen to me. I worried that maybe I was wrong and that all of my research had simply been a form of confirmation bias, or looking for the facts that fit your opinion. In my mind I knew that this wasn’t the case but the worries were still there.
The night before my appointment, my wife and I decided to list everything that I could think of about the struggles that I had faced in life. My handwriting is horrible so I dictated everything to my wife as she wrote it all down in a notebook. In the end we had come up with nearly 4 paged worth of information, starting from early childhood, through adolescence, the teenage years, early adult life and my current mindset and issues. I went to bed confident that I was prepared and ready to face this fear.
The next morning I awoke and spent the morning having a horrible anxiety attack. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, my stomach cramped in pain, my head ached and the world spun. I told my wife that I no longer wanted to go to the appointment. She assured me that everything would be fine and explained what was going to happen that day. She said I would just be meeting the psychiatrist and talking for a bit. I began to calm down after I got to work, the appointment was during my lunch break and I had plenty to keep me busy that morning. Lunch arrived and I drove home to pick up my wife, we then drove to the local clinic and I had my wife check me in because my anxiety was beginning to build again.
A few moments later, the psychiatrist came out and called us into her office. I sat down on her couch and she sat in a chair a few feet away. She asked, “So what brings you to my office today?” I immediately began to cry…
Pulling myself together I described my nephew and how I saw many things similar between him and I. After that I went into detail about all of the things that I had written down in my notebook. Told her how hard I struggle with social situations and how eye contact is nearly impossible. I described my childhood, schooling, adult life and all things in between.
She paused for a moment…
“If I were to give my professional opinion, I would say you show all the signs of Asperger’s, or what’s known as high-functioning autism today.” She then went on to say that autism was not her specialty and adult autism was even harder to diagnose. She said that she only knew of one psychologist in the area who was trained and specializes in adult autism and diagnosis. He had a very long waiting list, but if I wanted she would refer me and see about getting me an appointment with his office. I agreed that it was something I desperately wanted to do, so she gave me a referral and told me that his office would contact me.
That was the last thing I heard for nearly two months. I am not a patient man and constantly I would ask my wife, “Why is this taking so long?” Eventually I had annoyed her long enough that she called and asked what the wait was about, turns out I needed to sign some paperwork in order for the referral to go through. I signed the paperwork, left the office and a few days later was contacted by his office. The e-mailed me even more paperwork to fill out which I did as quickly as possible. After e-mailing back that paperwork I went back to waiting. Nearly two weeks later, the office called me to schedule an appointment. Finally the date was set and my anxiety once again hit in full force.
To continue on to part 4, click here.