Back when I was growing up, many years ago now, mental health evoked images of straitjackets, padded cells, asylums, and electroshock therapy. If you had mental health issues, you were a lunatic and got sectioned. Between lunacy and compos mentis there was a whole spectrum of absolutely nothing whatsoever.
In the modern day and age, research and medical advancements has led to recognition of the myriad of ways in which a human brain can misfire, and that should be no surprise for something that is so phenomenally complex. Whether it be dyslexia (previously known as “being stupid”), autism (previously known as “being retarded”), and depression and anxiety (previously known as “being a miserable git”) there is now an acceptance and understanding of how to negotiate the related issues in young people and adjust their circumstances to mitigate the downsides.
However, what of those of us who always knew we weren’t “quite right” but basically had no idea that there was anything *actually* wrong with us? That’s my experience. In my mid-40s I went to the doctor and said “I’m tired of not knowing WHY I react to some situations in the way I do”. Luckily I got some counselling and the outcome of that and a myriad of tests was a diagnosis of Asperger’s. I had already been on medication for depression and anxiety for years, but there was literally nothing that could be done for Asperger’s, not that I expected it though. Finally I could understand the why, I didn’t necessarily need to make any changes to my life but just having that recognition of why I had always felt different has allowed me to rationalise and come to terms with the whole experience.
As a “high functioning autistic” I was deemed perfectly capable of negotiating life, which is a fair conclusion since I’d managed to get this far. However, the benefit has been looking back at what adjustments I had made to my life over the years that had unconsciously navigated me through potentially problematic situations.
Jobs? No team work thanks, don’t like trusting other people. Managerial responsibility? Delegate it all off. Work socials? Say I’ll go, and then don’t. Friends? Few and don’t make much effort. Acquaintances? Loads and don’t make any effort. Intimate relationships ? LOL (although there’s a lot more to this than I’ll go into now). Dining? Alone thanks. Nip out for a drink? Go on my own and use my phone for social contact. Phone rings? NO chance I’m answering that unless I know who it is, and I don’t store anyone’s number on my phone so….
There are countless examples of how I have simply adjusted my lifestyle to cope with my mental health, I just had no idea that I was actually doing them. Now that’s not to say I don’t ever go out with other people, I do….but I have to be very careful about how I do it. Do I know everyone or almost everyone? Is there any chance I’ll be left on my own and not feel part of the group? Will they go somewhere loud, or busy, or unfamiliar? Have I got an escape plan if things get too much? How do I get there? Get home? What if I feel that I need some space and want to be on my own for a short while?
The sheer complexity of a simple trip to the pub is, I admit, pretty substantial but there is absolutely no escaping that I have to go through the whole checklist every single time.
So, how does Villa help? Well I go with the same group of people, we always go places I am familiar with or where I’m with others I trust if I’m not, I know I can have some time to myself if I need it, there’s sub-groups if I want to talk to a smaller group. On the coach I take the same seat about 95% of the time unless I have a good reason to sit elsewhere. At home matches I have my seat – even for cup games I won’t sit anywhere else – where I recognise the people around me. I always buy a programme and then never read it, I usually get the same train there. It’s all routine but I just can’t imagine not having the constants in my routine that remove potential anxiety.
I have had so many years of perfecting the art of anxiety management that most people would be surprised that a problem even exists at all, which is obviously a benefit as I don’t really want to go out and look like a total mess. However, it’s the old duck on water thing, on the surface it’s all calm and underneath I’m usually paddling like mad to keep me going in the right direction.
The diagnosis hasn’t changed me, hasn’t changed my habits, hasn’t changed my weaknesses, but it has given me comfort that is method to my madness….. or my not madness more to the point!