An open letter to those who are struggling to accept their Aspergers

Once a week, I check my blog statistics. One of the statistics given is the terms that people have typed in search engines to reach my blog. Two of these terms made me feel disheartened and upset-these were “I have Aspergers and hate my life” and “Aspergers never proud of myself”. A family friend suggested, on hearing this, that perhaps my next blog post could be an open letter to the people who are struggling to accept their Aspergers and I thought this was a good idea so here it is.

To whomever typed such terms into a search engine and was directed to my blog, I hope that the content helped you realise that, just because you have Aspergers, it doesn’t mean that you have to live in misery and despair. Everybody in this world, including you, is unique and special in their own way. Human life is a beautiful thing and should be appreciated and celebrated. I know that sometimes it can feel like the world is conspiring against you but you CAN achieve. The fact that you continue with your daily life every day in a world that is not designed for someone with your neurological makeup and, indeed, can be incredibly harsh on those of us on the spectrum, is a testament to the strength of your character. You are strong and you can get through this.

There is no denying that Aspergers can be a very hard condition to live with. I often feel like offering people a day in my head so that they can understand why I react in certain ways to certain situations and why I am tired a lot of the time because my mind never switches off. I am constantly thinking all the time about the tiniest, most trivial things and it leaves me mentally drained. However, EVERYONE with Aspergers and on the wider autistic spectrum has positive aspects of their personality. We live in a world that places a huge emphasis on social performance-how well we can make small talk, how well we can influence people, how many friends we have in our social circles and how popular we are. It is not surprising therefore that, judged against such criteria, those of us with Aspergers often fall short because we have social and communication difficulties. However, much as it may be hard to believe, the world isn’t all about being social. Some of the most compassionate people I have met, people who make a real difference to the lives of others, are on the autistic spectrum and struggle socially. If you care for other people, you will always be appreciated, even if people don’t always show it in the way we might expect them to. What I have noticed about a lot of people on the spectrum that I have met is that we struggle with social skills but are instinctively kind and have a strong desire to help people. Social awkwardness does not make you a bad person. It can make life really, really hard at times (believe me, I’ve experienced this frequently in the past and still do today), but, inside, you are unique and have just as much right to be proud of yourself as anyone else out there. You should be proud of yourself for achieving the things that you find challenging. Someone who has always been sociable and popular will, more than likely, not be aware of how just going into a shop and paying for a packet of crisps or a drink with the interaction that such an encounter involves can feel like climbing Mount Everest to someone with Aspergers. To me, learning how to take the train was a massive achievement. What other people don’t even think about caused massive issues for me-the worry that the train would not be on time, the worry that the train would be cancelled, the worry that I’d board the wrong train-the list of potential anxiety triggers is endless for someone on the spectrum. My proudest transport moment to date was flying alone from London to Trinidad to stay with an old friend of mine from university-I was extremely nervous dealing with Immigration officers and airport staff on my own but I got through it. What I am trying to point out here is that, even if you think there is nothing in your life to be proud of, think of the achievements that others would consider to be small and consider how long it took you to master them and how they made you feel once they had achieved it. I think a lot of people with Aspergers, including myself, do have a lack of self confidence that is pervasive across all areas of our lives. Therefore, we need to take confidence in the smallest things so that we eventually have enough confidence to try and tackle the big things.

I don’t want anyone reading this to come away from my blog with the impression that I am preaching to you from a position of ignorance. I know how it feels to not have any belief in yourself. I know how it feels when you think the whole world is against you and that you are the worst person ever. I know how it feels to be trying your hardest in a social interaction only for it to fail, when other people socialise as naturally as they breathe. I know how hard it is to go through life in a world where, the more effort you make to conform to the endless social rules in order to be accepted by people, the less tolerance people have for the social mistakes you do make. It is because I know how it feels that I wrote this post. If I did not have any experience of these horrible episodes of depressive thoughts, it would be hypocritical of me to write such a post. I have now reached a point in my life where I am (usually!) happy with how my life is going and I can look back at the low points in my life and evaluate them logically. However, there are still issues. I evaluate how nice I am as a person by the fact that I am not racist or homophobic, do not knowingly discriminate against anyone and would never intentionally hurt anyone but, other than that, I don’t consider myself someone that people like to be around, even though, logically, I know this is untrue as I have people who want to  be around me. What I am trying to say is that it is a hard journey to free yourself from negative and self loathing thoughts but it is one that you need to undertake for your own wellbeing. Whether that is through the form of counselling or informal talking with relatives or friends, please take that first step and admit that you are struggling-somebody out there cares enough for you to hate the fact that you are feeling this way.

I know that a lot of people with Aspergers who have depression seem to think that, if they didn’t have Aspergers, life would be perfect. This is not true. I know that it often feels true and I have been guilty of having that same thought myself but EVERYONE on this earth has their own personal hang ups and issues that they are fighting against, even the “popular” people. For a lot of people, it’s their weight or their height or their academic ability but there are hundreds of things that have the power to upset people and get inside their minds. People have different defence mechanisms against these hang ups. A lot of people turn them into something to be laughed at-a good example is the hypothetical guy who is overweight who constantly makes self deprecating jibes about his weight. I’m sure we all know someone like this hypothetical guy. It is worth remembering that, just because someone’s issues cannot always be seen, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have them. We have a name for our particular pattern of issues but that does not mean we have the monopoly on depression and anxiety.

My final comment for people with Aspergers or on the wider autistic spectrum is this-you are all unique, wonderful people. You may not think it right now but your life has a purpose and you have so much potential. What really helped me was using my experiences to write this blog and educate and help people on a global scale. Think about something you can do which uses your Aspergers or even just your life in general to help others and I guarantee that, in time, your self esteem will improve little by little. I still have a LONG way to go before I can say that I have a positive level of self esteem but I am getting there and you can too.

My final comment for people who aren’t on the spectrum is this-I hope that this post has shown you how sensitive people with Aspergers are to their perceived failings. We know that we struggle socially-we don’t need reminding unless it is going to be in the context of helpful advice on how not to make the same mistake again. A lot of people with Aspergers have incredible long term memories and the times when we have been made to feel that we are rubbish or weird come back at inopportune times to haunt us and make us doubt ourselves again. Please remember that we are usually our own harshest critics so we don’t need any more external criticism. If you know someone with Aspergers who is struggling, reach out to them and  offer friendship and tolerance-you will make their lives so much better.