Yesterday was apparently World Laughter Day. Missed it accidentally, or I can blame the Italian newspapers only covering it today. Oh well, main point though, either way didn’t have a day without laughter. 🙂
Plenty of blogs I read frequently have a recurring topic of mental health Mondays. I’ve always stayed clear of that topic as it seems too different from my world. Since not being neurotypical makes everything so very different, trying to apply the standard psychology does not fit much or at all. Being neurodiverse with generally invisible disabilities can make life unique but also so frustrating. A big part of the frustration comes also from the fact that pretty much everything I’ve read (listened to) about psychology (mostly books for future psychologists, social workers, spec.ed. teachers and psychiatrists) seem to always be written by – you guessed it: neurotypical people with good sight and hearing. This leaves a huge black area for interpretation. Since people in general are hugely visual, and sight is most people’s primary sense, a lot of guesswork and misinterpretation can go in deciphering what the lack or loss of it can mean.
So here’s some cruel facts. Most, or at least many people who go thru sensory loss (sight and/or hearing) will get frustrated and have some depression related to what it causes or how it complicates their life. At some point. The same kind of issues can happen to those of us with neurodiversity issues, whether it’s dyslexia, autism, TBI, PTSD, or something else. And the changes in either sensory or neurodiversity issues can be harder when the changes are slow and gradual and not “complete”. When your hearing goes so you can’t understand 50-80% of what people say, or when you have some sight to not look blind yet have no facial recognition. Or when your body starts to transform during puberty and you realize how other people of your age differ so much from you in their thinking. Many many similar examples. So here some rambling thoughts about MHM and sensory and neurodiverse as in how they interact:
First, everyone is different. Never assume. If you are someone working in special education, as a social worker, psychologist etc, that is especially for you. Quit assuming. Listen.
Second, not everyone goes thru the same mourning, loss, depression etc. Quit assuming. Ask, listen. So. For instance for sight related issues, many people mourn over the loss of independence when they no longer can drive a car. Some of those who were born blind also wish they had sight just to be able to do that. But it’s incorrect to assume that everyone that can’t (or shouldn’t) drive due to insufficient visual acuity will think of driving as an act or form of independence. I used to drive. Guess what? Running feels more like independence, and so does using the public transport by myself. I know where I’m going if the place is by my usual routes and usual bus line, otherwise I might have to plan a bit more and ask for help finding the correct bus stop for getting out. Everyone will have their own things that matter(ed). For me reading has always been important, and I have no memories from the time before I could read. Guess what? It took a bit of adjustment to switch from print to audio keeping the same proficiency. (I wish I could add braille to the same sentence. I’m far from the same proficiency yet but keep advocating for it. All forms of literacy matter and bring independence.) Fortunately we live in a time when audiobooks are popular so there is a big selection out there, narrated by lovely human voices. And many devices have great accessibility features so whether someone wants audio or be able to still enjoy some sight reading with giant print and whatever screen settings work for them, also that is possible. I remember when I preferred print, and when even the thought of needing large print was daunting. Now? Shamelessly audio and my “weird” screen settings that work for me. Reading is reading, if one form fails, I’ll ask for another format. 🙂
Third, everyone will go thru it at their own pace, and not the same things will be as important for everyone. For many girls and ladies finding their own style in makeup and clothing can be a really important thing, especially as they want to also be pretty in the sighted world’s view. For others finding sports that can be adapted can be a similar thing, both first as a problem and then a huge fun thing when some comfortable ways are found. For others, finding happiness in reading and crafts, or finding out that cooking and gardening can still be fun, or that maybe you’ll need some new friends. So many possibilities.
Fourth, it is ok and can be normal to mourn it. Yes, I used the word mourn. Because I was first talking about sensory loss. So especially if you were born with some decent levels of sight and/or hearing and those will then change beyond your comfort levels it can be equally anger, mourning, other negative emotions and not just depression. It’s ok. I’ve heard from so many blind, deaf and deafblind friends about their past struggles.
I used to stfu and keep everything inside. Being a teenager sucked. For me it was probably a huger hassle figuring out how neurodiverse I was from the population I lived with. My family was neurodiverse (parent, not sister) to a big degree in the same ways I was. But my settings were different from even theirs, and adding huge generational gaps didn’t help either. I didn’t really fit in the country either. I tried, tried again… It’s weird, realizing only as an adult how differently you’ve been trying to make sense of the world around when compared to others. Like how hearing is wired to be one’s strongest sense and has caused all sorts of issues over the years just because the rest of the world is primarily sight users. Or like how the autistic mind seems to have so differently functioning memory. Remembering the exact words used by someone, months or years before whereas others focus on their emotional attachment to an event and cherish photos for anchoring memories. (I don’t usually take photos of key events but want to rely on memory instead). Autism played a huge part for the teenage angst and not fitting it. Touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing, every cell in your body… how can it be so invisible in front of people? When everything about you reacts differently? Either your (any) sense is heightened or lowered, so you’ll be searching for simulation for that sense or avoiding it, searching for comfort in the sameness, avoidance, sensory regulation, … I know that from the perspective of others around me especially before high school I must have seemed rather odd, but that was a long time ago. When girls weren’t even considered to have autism. Especially if they were able to speak and hid in books… If I were a kid these days, I would certainly hope I’d have been discovered earlier. But as that didn’t happen, it means I’m still in some ways often coming in terms with the sensory aspects of everything. I can speak for what my kind of neurodiversity issues (mainly aperger) means, and learn from others what their kinds mean too.
I’ve heard of so many dyslexic people who went thru a lot of bad periods in their life just because learning to read efficiently was so difficult. (I had problems with math because of that). I’ve heard of many friends who were so frustrated when they went thru gradual hearing loss and could no longer participate in conversations because it became increasingly difficult. And many friends whose depression years were cause by the loss of sight. Some have worked it all out and have it all past them. Some still struggle sometimes. All of them are stronger as they are more open about it. “It is really frustrating sometimes when I meet people because I have no clue who anyone is”, “it’s really frustrating when I can’t understand what people say in loud, dark environments” etc. Start from there.
There was an interesting article in a UK newspaper today: two thirds of adults experience mental health problems such as anxiety or depression at some point. Two in three. That’s more than the dyslexic (1 in 5), those dealing from problems with hearing (1 in 6), sight (a lot more people than you think), autism (I would guess around 1 in 40-50, in both sexes) etc together. Plus statistics also conveniently forget people are also a result of their life’s events: someone they love dies, or they go thru divorce, violent events, move abroad, get cancer, get stroke and no longer speak and so on. All of which would for any person cause a lot of frustration and adjustment. So, maybe, why focus on the stupid MH labels when it’s all people stories and life? X was sad because they lost their grandmother and also lost 80% of their sight in a year. Z was isolated in school and tried to control their sensory system and autistic world by restricting their food input. B felt worthless, insicure, unloved and fat on her first year of university, leading her to binge drinking and casual unprotected sex. The world of H had always centered around himself as his helicopter parents had always helped make sure everything was always about him, yet now, working in an office environment, he grew depressed realizing he wasn’t as smart or interesting as everyone had always pretended, and some of those culturally diverse coworkers kept going past him in office promotions. N tries to hide her feeling of worthless and unloved in her obsession over religion and appearing to help everyone else. P is working on his depression, caused by his religious parents shaming him for his being gay. Etc etc. When all the cases of anxiety and depression and whatnot get turned back into personas it should all be back about being human. So no casual “chemical imbalance” excuses when it’s all a result of growing in a toxic, unsupporting environment or not having anyone around who would understand what going thru some death, sensory loss, immigration, GLBTQIA etc is all about.
Find something to laugh about and make you happy today (and every day).