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What being Autistic has taught me about attitudes towards mental health issues

Autism and mental health. There are those who will tell you that the two are separate. Autism is not a mental health problem, with the underlying implication that mental health can’t be the realm of neurodiversity. However, it is not that simple; what we know as “mental illness” has been positioned as such for a reason. Autistic people are privileged that our community is making space between autism and illness, but what of those whose neurology is still widely pathologised?

How many Autistic people have a mental health problem?

Finding accurate estimates on this are difficult for a number of reasons. Chiefly, studies only look at those who have been formally identified as Autistic, ADHD is usually included as a mental health problem (more on that later), and they also do not account for the many Autistic people excluded from the knowledge of their own “mental health issues”.

What I did find was that Autistic people are much more likely to have co-occurring mental health issues. It is important to note this as it sets the scene for why this is an important topic to Autistic people.

How “mental illness” mitigates the benefits of the neurodiversity movement

Autistic people have spent decades trying to liberate themselves from the pathology paradigm. While that work is not complete, we are significantly distanced from pathologisation compared to half a century ago. The pathology paradigm, however, is insidious, and slows our progress in other ways.

Autistic people experience much higher rates of trauma than the general population. Trauma almost inevitably leads to mental health issues. From depression to psychotic disorders; these diagnoses keep us tethered to the systems of the pathology paradigm.

Consider that innocuous name; “mental health”. Health has long been the remit of the medical establishment, which itself is a tool of the pathology paradigm. This creates a dependent relationship between the “mentally ill” Autistic person and the medical world. While we work to liberate autism, we have allowed ourselves to be chained to the very system we seek to escape.

The oppressive systems of the world have done a very good job as well. Even insinuating that “mental illness” isn’t actually illness can bring you backlash from various groups and individuals. The world has just accepted that this very human reaction to suffering is something to be eradicated. We have become complicit in our own oppression.

How do we escape this?

Think back to my earlier comment about ADHD being included in studies of mental health. Neurodivergent people almost all agree that ADHD is not a mental health issue, and yet researchers and medical professionals still position it as such. This, along with the ongoing liberation of Autistic identity, proves that an identity is only a psychiatric disorder while we allow it to be.

Never forget that homosexuality was also in the DSM at one point.

We have to recognise that what is viewed as mental “illness” is acquired neurodivergence. We can’t have this discussion, also, without mentioning the immense monetary value of the concept of “mental illness”, particularly in the Western world. We have created an environment where it’s become okay to take away a person’s right to consent to medication if they are deemed mentally unwell enough.

We need to give our mental health the same treatment that we give our being Autistic. We need professionals to effect meaningful change in our lives. Not just prescribe us medicine. I am not in any way saying that medicine doesn’t have its place. The antipsychotics I take have become an important tool for managing my traits in a world that can not accommodate them. What I am saying is that we need to tackle the issues that cause psychological distress.

Autistic people are weighed down by their own oppression because we have been told it is illness. The blame has been shifted from a neuronormative society and placed onto those injured by its violence. If we as Autistic people want to be free of the pathology paradigm, we need to be free of all systems of oppression.

Mental health and the neurodiversity paradigm

When considering the landscape of mental health, we also have to consider the normalisation of stigma and the dehumanisation of those who are struggling.

Since the advent of psychiatric medicine, mental health concerns have been described in pathological language. What if we used the language of the neurodiversity paradigm? How would it impact the wellbeing of those with lived experience if we recognised “mental illness” as a form of neurodiversity on a global level?

In my own personal experience, recognising my voice-hearing as neurodivergence has helped mitigate some of my distress. Knowing that my brain is different, rather than broken removes the pressure to fix myself, and instead has encouraged me to engage with talking therapies that are teaching me to co-exist with my personal experiences.

Don’t misunderstand me, there are still plenty of times when I feel broken. Such is the episodic nature of my mental health.

Reframing our mental health experiences as natural variation of minds, rather than sub-human errors in a computer may help many people by removing the self-blame that so many of us in the mental health community experience.

Rather than “you are broken and need fixing” we can consider the much more nuanced approach that there are infinite variations of the human mind, living in a world designed for one predominant style of brain. It seems natural to me that such a world would be incompatible with many people, and as such we experience suffering.

No longer do we take medicine to fix a broken mind, but instead to support our wellbeing in a world that causes our suffering.

Of course, we should mention access to diagnosis. Many of us miss out on our part in the neurodivergent community because our diagnosis is wrong or incorrect. While the general attitude in neurodivergent communities is that diagnosis is a privilege and not a requirement, we need to push to make sure that people acquire appropriate diagnosis in a timely manner. We need to make sure that it is an accessible option for all.

Eventually, however, I hope, a world will exist where diagnosis is a thing of the past. Where we can live in a neurocosmopolitan society such as that posited by Dr. Nick Walker. A world in which no one group has privilege. A world where we can all co-exist. A world a long way off perhaps, but still a world I will fight for.

Once we start realising that diagnostic criteria for ALL mental health is based on the neurodivergent person in distress, we have to become curious about what these neurodivergent minds would look like in a world that didn’t cause them to suffer. What a beautiful neuroculture we could build. A curious thought to say the least.

Addiction advocacy and the inspiration paradox: A reflection at 6 years sober

Today I am 6 years sober from addiction. During those six years I have learnt many lessons, but in this reflection I would like to consider something that has played on my mind for the past three years of my advocacy work.


While not overtly a bad thing, it is often misused to infantilise and minimise the achievements of disabled people while hiding behind a mask of feigned respect. This phenomenon is known as “inspiration porn”.

A good (hypothetical) example of such a thing would be a video of a disabled person doing something completely mundane, like dancing, but they would be dancing with a non-disabled person. The video would centre the non-disabled as some kind of saviour to the disabled person for doing something as basic as treating them like a human being. The implication of the video, albeit in subtext, would be “Look at the amazing things that disabled people can achieve when an abled person rescues them from their shameful existence”.

It’s dehumanising and wrong.

So, addiction advocacy.

As a recovering addict in the public eye, I do what I do because I want to help others overcome similar challenges to my own, and help reduce their suffering. This does in fact require inspiring people. If it weren’t for the sober addict who showed me kindness during my first stretch on a psychiatric ward, I might not have chosen recovery.

The fact that they had turned their life around, and become someone I wanted to look up to was inspiring, and that isn’t a bad thing.

What would be bad would be if people like myself are allowed to become another source of inspiration porn. It’s a difficult line to walk. I want people to have what I have found, not get off on the tragedies that have formed who I am.

Contrary to popular belief, addicts are people. We are not burdens, we don’t deserve our suffering. Regardless of whether or not we are in recovery, we deserve food, housing, health care, support, and kindness.

This is what I want to inspire in people.

So please, don’t look at me and think it’s a miracle that I recovered. My recovery shouldn’t be the inspiration. I was privileged to have a loving and supportive set of family and friends. I had good key workers (although the services they came from were woefully ill-equipped). I was in a place where I was ready to enter recovery.

What I want to inspire in you is the idea that all addicts deserve recovery. I want to inspire you to challenge the systems that keep people like me trapped in a world of suffering.

I want you to know that those with less privilege than myself need us to get in the trenches and help them fight this war.

If that is what I inspire in people, then I am happy with what I am doing. If, however, you look at me and see a walking miracle, then I have not gone far enough.

The tragedies and traumas of my life should not be celebrated. They should be wielded as weapons to dismantle the masters house, and rebuild it into something where we can all coexist and thrive.

Addiction, mental health, and my fear of relapse

I have spoken extensively about my struggles with addiction and psychosis. I have talked about what it was like to be in that headspace. I have talked about what it was like to enter recovery.

What I haven’t spoken much about is my headspace 5 years on.

Addiction and psychosis were terrifying experiences, but truthfully I’m still scared. I have to wake up every single day, and do battle with and that seeks to destroy itself. My mind tells me dangerous lies.

“One beer won’t hurt.”

“Wouldn’t life be easier if I could just smoke an occasional spliff?”

“I don’t think my meds are doing anything, maybe I should stop taking them?”

“I don’t think the side effects of these meds are worth it.”

It’s exhausting, because I have to catch myself in these self-destructive thoughts and dismantle them on the spot. Truthfully, I’m terrified that one day my thoughts will win.

I can’t go back there, I refuse. I’m not sure I’d survive this time. I am literally fighting to exist.

Perhaps this is why I write so openly about my experiences? After all, there is nothing more dangerous to a person like me than forgetting where I’ve one from. I can’t forget, I won’t forget.

My autistic brain replays the experiences in vivid detail every day. I must not allow these experiences to escape my mind, lest I lose my life to a forgotten history.

Friends, I am so grateful for you all giving me a platform to speak this truth from. My Continued recovery is, in part, thanks to you. You allow me to remember what I have overcome, and give me a purpose that I have never had.

I owe my friends, my family, my step-children, my best self. Thanks to all the people in my life, I am not in this battle alone, and I know I can overcome many challenges.

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