Q & A: What should I do if I’m mentally disturbed?

It’s hard to answer questions like this without more details. Knowing how old you are, your social status (child living with parents, single, married etc.) and where you live would be helpful. Without those specifics all I can say is that you need to seek help.

Help can come in many forms. If you are a child, of course you should talk to your parents. However, if this isn’t possible for whatever reason, find an adult in some position of authority who will be willing to listen to you. This may be a teacher, a leader of your church, your doctor… Any of them are in a position to assist you.

If you’re an adult and you’re able to seek help, you might want to begin by talking to your doctor. They’re not a specialist, but they should be able to at least have a general conversation about what’s going on, and hopefully refer you to someone who can offer you specific assistance.

No matter your age, if you are in the United States and things are getting bad, simply go to the nearest phone and dial 911. This may seem intimidating at any age, but if you’re a kid the first thing I’d worry about is “won’t I get into trouble?” No. You won’t. That’s exactly what 911 is for. You don’t need to ask anyone’s permission to do this, not even your parents. Give the operator your address and tell them clearly that you are mentally disturbed. You need help. Now. The operator won’t judge you. They’ll ask why you think this, and if you’re going to hurt yourself or someone else. Be honest, but be firm. Clearly repeat that you need help.

If you call 911 things will start to move quickly. Take a deep breath and try to remain as calm as you can. What will probably happen next is that either an ambulance or a police car will arrive (sometimes it’ll be both). Sometimes they’ll have the lights and sirens going, sometimes not. Don’t worry, you have done nothing wrong. At all. If you didn’t tell anyone and someone else is in the house (assuming you’re in a house!) they might be a little surprised but don’t worry. This isn’t about them. It’s about you. The paramedics / cops / firemen or whomever will find their way to you. Again, they’re not there to judge you – just be as calm as you can, tell them exactly what’s going on and why you called. If you’re intimidated by someone at your location and you’d prefer to speak in private, just tell them. They’ll make sure you’re in a safe location to talk.

No matter your age, location or situation I’m glad you’re reaching out. Keep going. Fighting through something like this alone is incredibly hard. Reach out and get the help you need.

I wish you the best.

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Q & A: Do the symptoms of autism get worse with age?

Interesting question! I don’t think the symptoms get worse with age, no. Autism is what it is. You’re born with it, it doesn’t change. However you’ll see two divergent paths as one ages. The first might make it seem that autism gets a bit better, because the person with autism may develop constructive coping mechanisms as they progress through life. To the casual observer that may seem as though the symptoms of autism get better with age.

The second is the toll age takes overall. There comes a time, quite unexpectedly, when every human who survives past middle age wakes up to a “sudden” realization. Without being consulted, without asking first, their body has aged. How rude! Things that were easy for the last several decades suddenly become a challenge. Patterns they’ve had since high school no longer work, organs they’ve never even considered no longer function at an optimal level. Getting older is a challenge even when one is perfectly healthy. Combined with something like autism, and it may seem that autism actually gets worse with age.

If on the spectrum one should proceed with extreme caution past the age of 50. Things that other people can let slide (gaining a bit of weight, letting the diet go, sliding on the exercise) should be completely off limits when one is autistic. The mind is already cross wired. Letting the body decline is a luxury people on the spectrum can’t afford.

And most of the above is a stern lecture to myself. I hope I listen!

Q & A: Why do my parents think isolating me will help with my mental health?

I don’t know your parents, so I can only speak from experience. Whenever I see someone react like this, I tend to believe they’re frightened. They’ve encountered a situation that makes them feel helpless. So they “double-down”, trying to control everything they possibly can, even if it’s the wrong thing or in the wrong way.

If this is what’s going on, it’s not as though they’ve thought it through. What I mean to say is that it’s not deliberate. They’re not thinking “I NEED CONTROL!”. It’s more an instinct really, and that’s the problem. If they’re not doing it deliberately you can’t really reason with them. They’re just acting out in the face of a frightening situation – it’s hard to imagine something more frightening to a parent than a sick child. Talking to them in this case might make things worse – challenging them may simply make them try harder.

If they’re not listening to you, try talking to someone else. You might want to start with a school counselor – someone who they perceive to be in a position of authority. If they’re religious it might be worthwhile to speak to the leader of their congregation – if you think they’ll be receptive. If you’re in therapy see if you can plan a strategy with your therapist. If you’re not in therapy, is that an option? They think mental health is a mindset. Tell them a therapist will help you improve your mindset!

What you’re looking for is a way to open a constructive dialogue. I know it’s tough. You’re the one who’s sick. Unfortunately, with any invisible condition the burden will always fall on the patient. You’ll be called upon over and over to prove this thing that can’t be seen really exists. It’s not fair, but don’t expect that to change.

Fighting the Beast

This is the new “Forward” or “Author’s Note” I’ve written for Fighting the Beast.

I want to talk to you. You picked up this book for a reason. Maybe you thought the cover was interesting, or the title caught your eye. Maybe you went looking specifically for it. No matter how you did it, I’m glad you’re here.

It was a sunny day, I remember that. My doctor left me alone in his office – offering a little private time to collect my thoughts. Only, I didn’t have any thoughts. Every hope or dream I’d ever had derailed during that conversation. My mind was a gerbil wheel, spinning idly without reason or purpose. I walked over to the window and looked down to the street several stories below. There were little bubbles in the glass – unexpected in a high rise. Ordinary people walked down the street as though the world hadn’t just ended. I remember how the thick carpet muffled my steps, I still feel the slightly worn wood of the chair’s arm when I sat down again.

fight yourselfI don’t know how I got home that night. In shock, I don’t really remember anything except feeling somehow unhinged and disconnected. I wasn’t frightened, or angry. I felt almost alien, as though everything about me was distanced and unreal. I was trapped in a thing I had always thought of as “me”. Somehow, in the course of that afternoon, my body became “other”. It was no longer “me” – it was the enemy. Surrounded by my friends, in a city full of people, I’d never felt so alone.

That was the first time I had “the talk” but the worst was yet to come. Between now and then I’ve had that talk twice more. Each time I looked across at a doctor who offered to “give me a moment” so that I could collect myself. I’m starting to get used to it, but it doesn’t get easier.

Have you had “the talk”? You know, the one that changes your entire life? Do you know someone who’s going through it? I know it feels like it, but you’re not alone. I’ve been there. Let’s do this together.