Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Know Thyself

Those of us with Asperger's Syndrome are no strangers to psychotherapy. Many of us have been seeing shrinks from an early age: way back when we were children in the '90s (or earlier) when nobody had even heard of Asperger's, up through the present day when Asperger's is well-known and understood. What's interesting is that today many kids with Asperger's don't need to see a shrink. Why? Because now that Asperger's is in the mainstream, psychologists recognize that there isn't necessarily anything psychologically wrong with kids who have AS. These kids get a little extra support in social skills and other areas where they have difficulty, these days often in school, but often do not need psychotherapy.

I am turning 34 next month and grew up in a world in which very few people had heard of Asperger's Syndrome. As you may have surmised, I have been in and out of therapy for years to a number of shrinks. Some of them have been great, some of them mediocre, and some just plain bad. I recently had to switch shrinks because my most recent one, Dr. Donalds (not her real name), was a nice person who meant well but who also chased a lot of red herrings, analyzing things about me and my life that had no deep meaning.  Without going into detail, I've recently been having a problem with explosive anger whenever someone criticizes me. Why? Because for decades I've heard "You need to work on this", "You do that", "You make people uncomfortable", "You're perceived this way and that way", "You," "You", "You". It becomes infuriating after a while and makes me feel helpless and angry at myself. It's as if my brain short circuits when I hear one criticism too many. Instead of recognizing this issue for what it was-- anger and frustration--  Dr. Donalds tried to convince me that I was reacting to a repressed memory. Anybody who knows me knows that the idea of me having a repressed memory is hilarious. One of my friends even jokingly said that he doesn't want to end up in a courtroom with me because he knows I'll remember things that he doesn't. I told Dr. Donalds that this idea was absolutely ridiculous, but she got upset, feeling that I was calling her ridiculous. 

Dr. Donalds also tried to diagnose me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of vivid recurring nightmares that I experience. She said that such nightmares are a symptom of PTSD. I am fully aware that one symptom isn't enough to diagnose somebody with anything, so I asked her about the other symptoms. One of them is a "fatalistic outlook on life". I said, "I don't have a fatalistic outlook on life!" She gave me this look that conveyed, "Um, seriously?" In fact, she gave me that look whenever I disagreed with something she said. She also tried to tell me I was clinically depressed. No, I'm happy most of the time, but I'm also frustrated. Again, challenging her assessment earned me the look

This woman also treated my life like a mystery novel, trying to find a constellation of events in my background that converged in a singularity that is my life today. She even asked me to help her put together a family tree. I mentioned briefly that my father's side is mostly estranged these days (long story) but I never really knew them well to begin with. Dr. Donalds tried to tell me that this dynamic ultimately had some effect on me.  I tried to tell her that these people had never had anything to do with me so their estrangement wasn't something I gave a second thought. She also tried to tell me that the occasions that I got separated from a group in school because of being spaced out had to have been traumatic. Why? Simply because I remember them. Never mind that I remember a lot of things, good and bad.

Oh, and Dr. Donalds also gave me that look when I told her I had Asperger's Syndrome. She didn't believe me, despite the fact that I was formally diagnosed back in New York City. And for the record, even if I hadn't been diagnosed, nothing could convince me I don't have Asperger's. I've done the research and I it explains everything about my life that was once a mystery.

I finally got tired of hearing that I had a repressed memory, tired of hearing that Dad's side of the family affected me, and tired of hearing that environment, not genetics, was 100% responsible for my issues, so I stopped seeing Dr. Donalds. I am now seeing a new therapist who seems much better. She understands me better and has worked with people with Asperger's Syndrome all across the spectrum. Most people don't know right away that I have AS, but she was able to see it quickly in subtle things such as my facial expressions and mannerisms. 

Yes, therapists have degrees in psychology, but psychology is not an exact science. A therapist should help you with the problems you know you have and, perhaps, help you identify others. But Dr. Donalds made me question my sanity. If you think your therapist is  seeing things that aren't there, or is overanalyzing aspects of your personality, then you are probably right. Just because a shrink has a lot of fancy wallpaper known as PhDs or MDs doesn't mean they have a trump card on understanding their patients. Besides, I think I know myself better than most people know themselves. I also suspect those of us with issues probably know ourselves better than those who have never had to go into therapy. Why? Because we have been forced to undergo constant sober reflection, for good and bad reasons. 

As the old saying goes, know thyself.


  1. Thanks for this. Google ate my last comment.
    I too recognize "The Look" that some % of professionals give when we know they are wrong about something and we tell them so.

  2. Thanks for sharing this experience - I have seen this look from therapists and doctors who are working with my daughter when I disagree with something they say - Sometimes the only thing you can do is move on.

    I am new here, but I wonder if you have considered some of the therapies available now ie social skills that might help you address specific issues? I apologize if you have already discussed this.

  3. prisoner with autism, serving life w/o parole, writes a blog: