author: aurel dumont – contributor
“Why the fuck would you say that?” She asked. “I don’t know,” I said, “Isn’t that what people say?” “No, you can’t say that.” She looked confused. I felt hurt.
I cannot read body language. I can’t tell if I’m speaking too much, or if I’ve said or done something offensive. I speak obsessively to someone about things that interest me without realizing that they don’t care. I can’t flirt, and I don’t know when I’m being flirted with. This is what it’s like to live with HFASD.
I live with HFASD (High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder), ADHD, anxiety and depression. My name is Aurel Dumont, I’m 19 years old, and I don’t really know where I’m going in school. This is probably because every few months, I become deeply obsessed with something different. Right now, it’s playing the banjo. A while ago, it was being a fire lookout. For a long time it was religion.
These things make my life difficult to control. When I become heavily interested in something, that thing is nearly the only thing that I find real comfort in. Sometimes it’s an easy thing to comfort myself with, like watching Breaking Bad. Other times it’s more complicated, like learning Afrikaans. Obsessive behaviour isn’t the only hurdle presented with HFASD; I also have no clue how to operate socially. A social deficit means not having a social “antenna.” What most people find obvious, people with ASD can’t see at all; how little or how much they’re talking, when someone is interested in the conversation, and even what is offensive or inappropriate.
Having a social deficit, as well as ADHD, has become part of who I am. I am very crass and explicit, probably because of my inability to see the consequences of doing so. I also have an issue with volume control, which doesn’t help my case. Basically, if you picture a young man with a strange haircut yelling obscenities, that’s me. I’ve dealt with people avoiding my presence a lot in my life. I’ve always been the “weird kid.” But, the only thing you can do in life is play the cards you’re dealt as well as you can. So, I’ll be the best “weird kid” I can be. I’ve made friends because of this. Best friends that I’ve had for years. I find it hard to make new friends, but when I get along with someone they seem to stick around. These rare relationships are what give me purpose. Seeing people get past my obsessive and crude personality shows me that I am capable of getting the social interaction I need, even if it’s hard to come by. The people who let me be myself, however, are few and far between, as I find most people to be adverse to the concept of speaking openly about mental illness.
Mental well-being is treated differently than physical well-being. If you tell someone you have a broken leg, they offer to help you in any way without hesitation; but, when you tell someone you have anxiety, they look at you as if you’ve done something wrong. This isn’t always the case, but most people with mental health issues can probably agree that they’ve felt this way before. When I first got diagnosed with autism, I felt like I shouldn’t tell anyone. I felt like I would be ridiculed. What I have noticed, though, is that there are some people who can openly talk about mental well-being and make you feel comforted. Most people react coldly to me telling them I have autism, but a handful of people have been overwhelmingly supportive. If you are reading this editorial because you have mental wellness concerns yourself, heed my advice: surround yourself with these people. They enjoy your company as much as you enjoy theirs.
Dealing with having HFASD, ADHD, anxiety and depression isn’t easy. There are a lot of other people out there who have mental health issues, and a lot of them are worse off than me. I have autism – a disorder that makes social interaction very difficult. Yet, I have friends and they love me for who I am. If you have anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness, do not let it limit you. Other people with other illnesses are out there and we want to be there for you. A mental illness might be what you have, but it is not who you are. As cheesy as it sounds, don’t give up.