What do I think of the church’s treatment of mental illness? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
So now the internet is erupting with talk about Simone Biles stepping down at the Olympics. I see some people who I respect saying what she did is shallow and egotistical. I also see people who I respect saying that she stepped down for her own mental health and that’s commendable. Which side is right? I have no way of knowing. I also suspect that they don’t know on either side, but I figure I can talk about what I do know about, and that is my own struggles at times on the Autism spectrum.
Keep in mind when I say this, that while I realize that there are struggles at times, I do genuinely enjoy my life and I think my “disability” for lack of a better word, gives me advantages overall. If there was a cure developed, I genuinely would not want it. I also say that realizing that not all people on the spectrum are the same. Some would be greatly benefited by a cure.
However, I do want to speak on the downsides some of being on the spectrum. The biggest way is obviously in my relationships with other people. It is difficult for me to interact with people I don’t know very well and social situations can be a danger for me. I realize this is also my own fault in many ways as I have to work to overcome this, but it is a struggle nonetheless.
Consider a few years ago at a church party. Here I was with people I knew and I was fine sitting on the couch by myself reading something while everyone else was having a meal. I generally do not like meal situations. Even when I go to my own Sunday School class evening groups, I don’t eat anything. Anyway, Allie insisted that I eat something so I went and got some chips.
Shortly after the hostess saw me as I was standing in the kitchen having some chips and came up to me and said “You’re eating something! I’m so happy!” I froze immediately. Allie was next to me and laughed some at it as she thought I was joking, but then she stopped laughing. She could tell I wasn’t joking. This was an extremely difficult experience for me and I cannot explain why. I can just say that for the rest of the evening, I just wanted to leave and go home and I was miserable for a few days. I did work it out with the hostess knowing she didn’t mean any harm, but that’s a difficulty.
Last night, I was writing something in my own personal work about being in high school. What do most high school boys think about but girls? I wasn’t an exception. I had a great interest in several of them, but ask them out? Nope. I had no idea how to do that. If approaching someone I didn’t know well or even knew well to ask a difficult request was hard, how do you approach someone like a girl you’re interested in and ask them out? I had no idea.
Eventually, when I went to Bible College, I was enrolled for some time after graduation in the Master’s program and at an event for students in the program, we all went to the president’s place there. Most brought their spouses and I brought my own parents. Someone asked me, “Nick. How did you get through here without getting married?”
Thanks for asking.
Even in one of my areas of expertise, gaming, I can still have a struggle. I thoroughly enjoy playing Final Fantasy XIV with friends, and if you play also let me know and we can be friends there too, but when I am with players I don’t know, it is still a social aspect. I wonder if I am doing the right thing or not. Am I contributing to the team or am I holding us back? If I think I am being scolded, it is difficult.
People also assume many times that I am intentionally rude on the spectrum. I recall one time doing a cashier job and a lady said something like “Have a good day, even though you are not nice at all.”
What did I do?
The best I can figure is I don’t talk to people like everyone else does. I struggle with eye contact and especially after a long day of working, my social batteries would be dead. It becomes a strain to interact with people like that. For many people, I suspect looking at someone in the eyes is perfectly natural and makes sense. For me, I have to intentionally tell myself to look someone in the eye.
Here’s something that strikes me about this. I am told I am not nice at all, but with no reason. If someone really thought that, wouldn’t the nice thing to be to say why that is and give something that needs to be improved on? I am thought rude for not doing social customs instinctively. Isn’t it more rude to assume that I am just like you? As I have said before, no one would go up to someone in a wheelchair and challenge them to a foot race. I have a disability as well, but mine is invisible, which is a downside. There is no glowing message above my head saying “Autism Spectrum Disorder!” The closest I have is a bracelet for Autism Awareness that I wear, but anyone not on the spectrum could wear that.
I recently had someone who I had had some difficulties with in a group I am in and it was causing me great anxiety as I didn’t know how to bring about a conversation. Fortunately, I prayed and I do believe God answered the prayer in a great opportunity presented itself. We ended up talking for about two hours on the matter as I pointed out matters I thought were inconsistent, rightly or wrongly, and how it was deeply affecting me. My friend apologized profusely not realizing what was going on with me and things are much better.
Here is a problem I can have in group discussions. I want to contribute, but also at times I get so caught up in my own excitement on a topic that I lose sight of how others are seeing it. You mean not everyone else is as excited as I am to talk about something like divine simplicity or the evidence for the resurrection or dealing with the problem of evil or any number of subjects? I have been accused before of trying to take over a small group because I just go on and on so much.
It’s really just wanting to be accepted and make a contribution.
When people go on and on about their personal feelings with God, I’m out of the loop. Personal feelings and emotions don’t make much sense to me. In the past, I had even doubted my own salvation because of this, but thankfully, I am for the most part past that now. Still, I cannot relate when people talk about this. This doesn’t mean I never have joy in God, but my joy comes more from an academic approach and learning something about God.
Yet like everyone else, I have many of the same basic needs. I have a need to be loved and to be encouraged and accepted. It’s one reason I treasure my friends that I have. You can always say your family loves you because they’re family, but friends are different. I am amazed that I have people who seem to genuinely enjoy my company and I’m always just wanting to do something to contribute.
To go back to the lady who said I wasn’t nice at all, anyone who knows me really would know that that’s not true. If I see someone in a need, I want to do everything that I can in my power to help them. I don’t have to know them. I have a strong sense of justice. When I have been at a job and seen one of my co-workers get yelled at by someone, I want to go over and see if they’re okay and offer an ear if they need it. How can I do that? Because that doesn’t really require me revealing my own self or making my own self vulnerable. I just have to listen to someone else and I can usually do that.
It’s also one reason I hate the question of “How are you?” People say it, but they make no attempt to have a relationship with me or call me or contact me by some other means during the week to see how I am doing. It tells me it’s just being polite and not really caring about the answer, which really isn’t polite when I think about it.
I don’t know why Simone Biles stepped out of the event she was performing in. I don’t know if it was selfish or selfless. i do know that the church has a lot of work to do on mental illnesses. I know that until you have been in the other person’s shoes, you really can’t understand. It’s why I’m not saying anything either way on what Simone did. I don’t understand and I’m not in her shoes, I can tell you my experience and what being in my shoes is like and if some of what I think here is wrong, I cannot be wrong on one aspect. It is what I really think.
When you meet that person out there who doesn’t seem to do what you think they should, it is true they could be a jerk, but it could be because of very valid reasons. It could be a struggle. Perhaps they are rude, or perhaps the rude one is the one looking at someone in a wheelchair and expecting them to walk like everyone else. The difference is my wheelchair is a social one.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)