C

(This was written on Wednesday. I think this is pretty important, considering that’s when my appointment was).

Today was my last appointment with my counsellor. For obvious reasons, I’m going to name her C. It was the end of an era really but I know it was the perfect time to finish. I couldn’t and still can’t believe that it’s almost been two years, about seven weeks off. Almost two years that I’ve had counselling. And just think, I was told that I would only be there for a six week period.

I was first introduced to the idea by my GP when I was sixteen. My mother and I had been looking for a way to cope with my mental breakdown and apparently, medication wasn’t an option at the time. So counselling it was.

“You have two choices. There’s an online therapy site that you can go onto whenever and instantly connect to a professional. You won’t see them and it will all be done anonymously.”

Hmm… Not sure.

“Or you can go to the What Centre in Stourbridge.”

Hmm… Still not sure.

Counselling wasn’t something that I had ever rated or even thought of using. I wasn’t undermining it, but it just wasn’t for me. I am, to some extent, a very private person. You wouldn’t find me sharing or explaining my thoughts and feelings often. So the very thought of having to do those things was actually quite distressing. No, I didn’t want to sit there for an hour while someone analysed everything I said. It was one of my worst nightmares.

After much discussion with my mother, I knew it was the best bet I had to overcoming my issues. I didn’t exactly like the idea of online therapy. Something about it seemed very off to me. So the Centre it was.

I was sent there initially for a review. Was I bad enough to go? It wasn’t C but another woman who asked me very personal questions that I wasn’t prepared to answer. My mother was there for moral support. What was I going to say in front of her? So I said hardly anything. Yes. No. That’s what my head of pastoral care said at school… I tried to lie, to play it down so nobody thought I was bad enough to be there. I must have been, even with my lying, because I was admitted for a six week session. One hour every week on a Wednesday.

When I got there, no mother this time, it wasn’t the woman who assessed me but C. Immediately, I didn’t want to be there. They had given me a completely different person. She seemed nice enough but I didn’t want to tell her anything about me. Technically, I didn’t have to. She had a note from my GP.

…Some form of depression, severe anxiety issues and occasionally has made herself sick…

Well, C had somewhere to start but I just sat there. I didn’t want to explain myself. To me, counselling wasn’t going to help. I didn’t think it was going to “cure” me or change the way that I was. She handed me a star chart and a list of empty boxes to tick. It was “to check how I was”. Well, not very well, else I wouldn’t be there. I ticked them all, growing ever concerned at how many “Often” boxes I ticked. Low self-esteem, no motivation, doesn’t socialise often. Yes, I sounded like a bundle of joy.

It wasn’t until a month or so later that we got to the pinnacle of why I was there, why I had been sent to my GP in the first place.

“Why do you make yourself sick?”

“Because I want to.”

“Is it bulimia?”

“No. I just don’t want to go anywhere. I can’t go anywhere if I’m sick.”

C didn’t push me for an answer, nor did she ask me to elaborate. She brought it up twice after that. Once when I mentioned it, asking if I could discuss it further (much later after the original conversation) and once when she asked a year later if I still had the same problem. No, I didn’t. Nobody made me go anywhere I didn’t want to anymore. Nobody wanted to upset me that much.

After that, it seemed to get easier. I managed to be much more honest as time went on and it wasn’t until nearly a year later that I was able to cover the issues of why I was really there. Only then did I honestly feel like I was slowly getting better. It was a pretty rocky journey, shown by my charts, but I have definitely improved over time.

C showed me the graphs today since it was my last time there. My progress chart has moved from 4s and 5s at most to 7s and 8s, which is actually considerable progress.

“I didn’t realise how bad I was. I didn’t think there was much wrong with me.”

“That’s usually what people think,” said C.

She was as intrigued as me by how much I’ve changed. I remember one of my charts was off the scale, literally, when I started and had been halved by the end. We laughed about it, but it was eye opening to me to see how two years had made such a difference. Also, how much being at sixth form seemed to really have gotten me down. The only times I seemed to ever get better was when I wasn’t at sixth form. Funny that.

We covered a range of topics, pretty much everything that happened over the two years I was at sixth form, from work, friends, family and my mental issues. There wasn’t much that wasn’t mentioned in that room. C was always patient, considerate and friendly. She was also pretty constant too. Imagine seeing someone almost every week for an hour for two years. You get used to them and I think we became used to each other. She noted that I spoke more now than I did when I arrived. Natural, I guess. I’d slowly grown comfortable with her. There wasn’t much that she didn’t know about my past two years.

Last week we sat staring at each other, smiling rather awkwardly. C admitted: “I’m actually going to miss you.”

Part of me wasn’t yet ready to let go. It seemed strange that we might not see each other again after the next week.

“It’s okay. I’ll probably come back about Christmas time, let you know if I’ve stabbed anyone over milk.”

This has been an ongoing joke for a little while now, since I knew I was going to university. ‘The Kitchen Affair’. The one where nobody touches Hannah’s things in the shared kitchen else she’ll cry and possibly confront you. C had been trying for a few weeks to reason with me. Would you ever speak nicely to them? Would you be okay with sharing? What are exceptions? And don’t forget, these people will be living with you for a year. I didn’t care. If someone took something of mine, I’d be knocking on their door at whatever hour to get it back. She must have realised because she eventually dropped the subject and started helping me prepare for Aberystwyth.

So, yes… It really did feel very final today. I was equipped as soon as I walked through the door with a blue bag, filled with a Cadbury’s chocolate box, a psychology book, a bunch of flowers and a silver enveloped card. I’d even tried to write a nice message, something hard for me. But to my great surprise, it all came very easily. It was so easy to thank her for the time we’d spent together, her support and the immense guidance she’d given me. C has definitely helped me recover from probably the worst time of my life, whether through advice or just listening and talking to me.

Like I’d said, I hadn’t rated counselling. Would I rate it now? Yes! It’s not for everyone and people go away feeling as if nothing has changed. Yet, after two years, the gradual incline of my mental health was incredible. I couldn’t be anymore grateful and I hope she knew that.

Thank you, C.

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Posted in CTagged

Enough

You’re too lazy. You’re not motivated enough. You’re not intelligent enough. You’re not pretty enough. You’re not fashionable enough. You’re not funny enough. You’re not laid-back enough. You’re not cool enough. You’re not nice enough.

When was I ever enough?

And to be frank, enough was enough.

“Hannah, have you ever considered that you have Asperger’s?”

No. Of all the things I had considered, Asperger’s wasn’t one of them. Without meaning to sound unfortunate, I always knew there was something wrong with me. Other people didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t make sense to other people. It was a daily struggle to understand how people thought and felt. And it turned out, they felt the same way about me.

I’d considered that I had OCD. No, I didn’t have enough traits. I’d considered that I had ADD. No, I didn’t have enough traits for that either. People joked I had autistic traits, but I was too high functioning for that.

I was a teenager. What was worse, I was a girl. You get all the dismissive things that people say to teenage girls. “It’s a phase.” “It’s your hormones.” “You’ll grow out of it.” I was still waiting to grow out of it. In the meantime, my behaviour and life was becoming worse and progressively more restrictive. Time was ticking by and nobody knew what was wrong with me. Nothing was wrong and everything was wrong.

It was my counsellor that first suggested it. It’d been bothering me for a long time about the way people felt differently to me. I’d had a mental breakdown a year before and I thought it was the result of that. Then she asked me if I’d always felt that way. The answer was yes. For as long as I could remember. That’s when she asked me.

My example had been when I went with my friends to Alton Towers. At the end of the trip, they’d all said they’d had a great day. Most people would probably say the same. Did I have a great day? I don’t know. Was the weather nice? Yes. Did I have lunch at the right time and did it fill me up? Yes. Did I get a thrill from the rides? Yes. Did anything or anyone upset me? No. So I had a good day. That’s how I know I had a good day. But did I feel anything about it? No, I didn’t feel anything.

I don’t ever remember having good days. I have good moments and they are very far and few. The only time I consider having a good day is when I am completely overcome with excitement. Examples include: meeting Mary Poppins at Disneyland, getting new books and films for Christmas, and seeing Julie Andrews and Danny Elfman. Those are some of the only memories I have of having a good day. But that was only because my excitement was extremely palpable.

How many bad days did I have? How about the day my orange juice leaked over my new Les Miserables book? I cried on the way home, I cried whilst at home and I kept on crying till mom came home with a new one. How about the time all of my friends used my colours without permission and put them back in the wrong order? Or when my parents said we were going out for the morning and came back in the afternoon? I can’t even begin to count my bad days. Or my okay days.

“Go home and think about it.”

I did. This was my chance to finally see if there was something wrong with me. A new lead. As soon as I got home, I read all about Asperger’s, from professional to personal perspective. And all of a sudden, everything seemed to make sense. It’s like having a jigsaw for 17 years and knowing there’s one piece missing. Then someone hands you that piece and it fits perfectly. Then you suddenly wonder how you didn’t see the full picture before.

Issues with social skills. Well, that’s always been a problem. Eccentric or repetitive behaviour. I did think I had OCD, didn’t I? Unusual preoccupations or rituals. Well, some things make sense in a certain order, don’t they? Communication difficulties. I’m just shy (sort of). Limited range of interests. I like what I like and that’s not an issue. Coordination issues. I’m just a very awkward person, that’s what being a teen is all about. Skilled or talented. I wouldn’t rate myself in this but I have been complimented occasionally on certain things so I’ll say yes.

Then it was a case of: where do I go from here? Am I serious enough to want a diagnosis? If so, how do I get one?

So I did a whole Google page of Asperger tests just to be sure. After scoring high on all of them, after I retook them all at least three times, I decided that I should probably seek professional advice. Of course, with my mother’s advice first.

“Are you sure you have Asperger’s?” “Do you really need to know?” “You need to think carefully about this.” “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you.”

I hated these kind of questions, ranging from professionals, family and friends. Yes, I am sure I have Asperger’s, else I would never have bothered to go through a lengthy process, would I? Yes, I do need to know. This is something someone should probably know about themselves. I have thought carefully about it and discussed it at length with my mother, my counsellor, and my educational psychologist. And it doesn’t matter what you think.

It was a very straightforward process really… Go to the GP. No, you can’t do that. You have to take the AQ50 test. I’ve already done it…. Well, we need evidence. Go home, take the test again. Screenshot it. Book another appointment with the GP. Great but we’re going to do it again with you. Take the test again. Get the same score again. Ask me extra questions just to be sure. Recommend me for diagnosis. Get rejected by CAHMS. I’m seventeen, nearly an adult. By the time they get round to it, I’ll be too old. Get rejected by adult services. I’m not eighteen yet. This goes on and on until my mom starts phoning people. Now, she doesn’t get named the family bull dog for nothing. She manages to speed up the process and I get an appointment shortly after my 18th birthday.

It was in Birmingham. Mom took the day off to make a day of it. We were meant to see them at 2. We stopped for lunch where mom didn’t realise we’d pulled up at a Harvester. I mean, it’s easy to not notice the big sign on the side of the building, the board by the front door and the logo printed on the menus as we come in, but hey, we all get confused in our old age.

Then it was off to the assessment centre.  We were told to sit in a small waiting area and were offered drinks. The lighting was really bright and the whole space was nearly all white. They were fourteen minutes late. I thought they’d be more punctual, considering they were fixed appointments and they are talking to people with Asperger’s.

When I went in, I struggled to walk a little. I’d burnt my foot the day before on the exhaust of my bike so I was trying hard not to limp. Dr Man was the kind of observant psychologist that sits and watches you. He was watching me walk and to be quite honest, I was just trying not to drag my dead foot behind me (I’d been stupid enough to wear Dc Martins). The other psychologist, Dr Woman, was more the talkative psychologist. She wanted to hear me speak.

They sat us down. They’d asked us to do a 100-question online questionnaire before we went and for me and mom to separately fill in a booklet about me. Our answers had a positive correlation of over 90%. So we talked for three hours, about my childhood, about my views, about my time at high school. My mom made a point of how she had never seen anything wrong with me while I was younger. I was just different. Let’s not think about the time I screamed the place down because a boy had not put my crayons back in colour order, or that I’d always been advanced in reading and writing, or that I never participated in imaginary play or spoke to anyone for the first two years of being at primary. Apart from that, there wasn’t much sign that I struggled with issues related to Asperger’s.

After three hours of extensive talking, they sent us back to the waiting room for ten minutes. The two doctors were discussing whether they should give me a diagnosis or not. They called us back in shortly after and we sat back in the meeting room.

“Sometimes we bring people back because we’re not sure whether they do have it or not. It’s not always entirely obvious. Normally, we discuss it for a while but we didn’t think there was any need.”

Basically, you’re very autistic and it wasn’t really a discussion. I was given a piece of paper with it all written on, given two books to read and plenty of advice. I know they were trying to help but Dr Woman was all for the positive outlook. Plenty of people with Asperger’s live fulfilled lives. Most of them are at the top of their career early. It doesn’t change who you are. You will always be you.

That’s fantastic. I already know these are all true but I had to remind myself that she was trying to be nice. I thanked them, smiled at them and left. I have Asperger’s.

Now, all of my issues made sense. All of those things that I thought wrong with me wasn’t actually something that was wrong; it was a part of me. The expectations shifted and I could finally flourish in a capacity where I was aware of me and the situation I was in. Suddenly I was enough.