Mental Health Awareness: A Client’s Journey Pt 1

Mental Health Awareness

The Association of Virtual Assistants continues to bring awareness to mental health during the month of May with the help of guest experts. 


Georggetta Howie, licensed clinical social worker, life coach, and expert on an impressive range of subjects related to high achieving adults, emotional management,  trauma, managing mental health, and mindset shared 7 Tips for Managing your Mental Health as an Entrepreneur. 


Nicole Neer, founder, and CEO of Bloom Admin Services, a full-service virtual support agency shared 3 Strategies for Success as a Virtual Assistant. As a VA and an agency owner with fibromyalgia and bipolar disorder, Nicole knows what it takes to not merely survive but thrive. 


Last week we were are pleased to bring you expert advice from Dr. S.D. Shanti, Relaxation Is A Necessity Not A Luxury. Dr. Shanti is a psychologist, public health professional and the founder of Prescriptions for Hope.


These last two weeks of May we wanted to provide you with insight to what it’s like to work with clients who have a mental illness. If you haven’t already, statistically it is very likely you will be working with a client who has been diagnosed with a mental illness. A client’s perspective gives virtual assistants great insight into how to work with their clients better.  


This is Clay’s story about being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome as an adult.


I sat up straight on the psychologist’s couch surrounded by children’s toys and strange charts on the walls while she presented her conclusions about the batteries of tests I took, and her interviews with me and close family members. 

She was the tenth therapist/doctor/counselor I had seen by my count, her office stacked with toys and children’s books with strange titles like “I am Fine” and “Personal Space Camp.” She had few patients in their forties, but had seen more in recent years, often a parent after she diagnosed their child. After nearly two months since my first appointment with Dr. Lauren, hearing “You are Fine” from her on that day frightened me more than anything ever has. If it turned out I was “perfectly normal,” I thought, I saw little reason to go on living.

Our last meeting ended abruptly, in the middle of her “Alexithymia” test questions. “What does it feel like when you are sad?” Uh, I feel unhappy, I guess. “Describe how you feel when you receive great news.” I feel happy, of course. “Yes, but what does the happiness feel like?” I don’t know. Happy? “What is it like for you when you are embarrassed?” Huh?

I let out a sigh and raised my hands, as if to surrender. “Look Lauren, I don’t understand what you’re looking for with these questions, but what’s the point?” The Alexithymia test is a requirement for the diagnosis. “Well then,” I seethed, “why don’t you tell me what it feels like to not be autistic, and I’ll let you know if I feel that way.”

She didn’t respond or look at me, but scribbled a few notes in the file folder in her lap, in that way all psychologists seem to scribble (and most are left-handed, which should tell you something). Lauren closed the file, looked up, and folded her hands in her lap. 

“I think I’ve seen enough. That will be all.” 

I suspected, and she later admitted, that she was fairly certain I was autistic fifteen minutes into our first meeting. My discovery was valid, my suspicions correct. I found the answer, at last, to every question that puzzled me about myself and my place in this world throughout my life. Solving the puzzle, finding the one thing that explained everything in one fell swoop, was cathartic. But not long after that day, I realized the diagnosis also meant something more ominous—that everything I thought I knew, I wasn’t so sure about anymore.

As I gathered my things to leave Dr. Lauren’s office, I asked, “if and when I tell people about the diagnosis, what is a one-sentence description I can use that sort of boils down how the condition affects me?” Nobody had asked that of her before, which surprised me. “I think if you can figure out a way to describe autism in one sentence,” she replied, “you’ll be the first.”

Challenge accepted.

Autism is a neurological condition of the brain that gives me some unique gifts, while also presenting unique challenges that can be overcome with a large amount of energy and effort on my part, and a small amount of patience and curiosity on your part.

Before I continue, please note that I speak for no person on or near the autism spectrum except myself. People with Asperger’s Syndrome, like squirrels, or Hollywood starlets, share many common characteristics amongst themselves, but each one is unique. They’re also cute and a little nuts. Seriously though, each person on the spectrum has unique strengths and challenges among the generalized characteristics of autism. Differing similar differences, one might say. Or not. 

When you have a condition in which the people with the condition can’t even agree on a name, the easy way to solve the problem is to make no assumptions and ask the person where their challenges lie. Better yet, schedule a call to discuss their challenges the day after tomorrow, so they can go off and think about it, and prepare their answer. 

Dr. Stephanie Holmes, wrote the following in the Foreword of my memoir about autism in the workplace: 

Although sensory issues may cause difficulties, their sensitivity to specific sensory experiences gives them a different perspective on the world. They comprehend multiple levels of meanings of concepts and ideas, and make connections that others miss. Most excel at recognizing patterns and organization, which gives them a talent for problem-solving. Many adults with Asperger’s are particularly skilled at noting and remembering details, providing an advantage in work that requires deep knowledge of concepts, structuring ideas, and recalling information. They tend to be honest and loyal, and judge others based on their behavior, not the color of their skin, socioeconomic status, or political influence.

Perceiving the world in a manner different from virtually everyone is both good and bad. Each ‘vertical,’ let’s call it, of the condition, low emotional intelligence, poor executive function, ridiculous ability to focus, exceptional visual-spatial abilities, inductive and analytical superpowers, and thinking about darned near everything in a different way, has big advantages and big disadvantages. 

Few things about me fall into ‘normal’ range. With respect to IQ, aptitudes, temperament, and any of the myriad tests I’ve taken over the years, I get exceptional scores in most of the categories, but in the areas where I don’t test exceptionally, the results are average or worse. The problem is that the areas where I’m average at best are the important ones.

Stay tuned for next week when Clay talks about working with Aspergers.

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