Unique Opportunity, Part 2.
I’m back from my break! The heatwave last week sure drained me. The break was just what I needed, and I know what I need going forward. Without further ado, here is A Unique Opportunity, Part 2.
This is the Finale of this post from May:
Songs of the post: All My Life, My Hero By the Foo Fighters.
A couple months ago in April, I wrote to my local newspaper for an article pitch.
The Seattle Times has a series of articles about mental health called The Mental Health project where they ask the local community about their experiences…
“The Mental Health Project is a Seattle Times initiative focused on covering mental and behavioral health. The project illuminates a growing mental health crisis in the Seattle region, Washington state and beyond. It explores the many types of mental illness people experience, spotlights promising treatments and research, and examines actions by government agencies, nonprofits and health providers to address the problem.
Evidence points to worrying signs of a mental health crisis in the Northwest, across the country and around the world, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, economic fallout and the nation’s racial reckoning. The rise in anxiety is straining schools, legal systems and social services, and disproportionately hitting vulnerable people, including people of color. In the Puget Sound region, Seattle Children’s has seen a concerning increase in visits for psychiatric emergencies, and schools are grappling with the effects of trauma and stress on students’ ability to learn. Adding to the challenge: a shortage of therapists and other options for treatment.
The Mental Health Project explores these issues and more. The project is funded by Ballmer Group, a national organization focused on economic mobility for children and families. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain full editorial control over all coverage.
Our team — editor Diana Samuels, reporters Hannah Furfaro and Esmy Jimenez, and engagement editor Michelle Baruchman — welcomes the community’s help in guiding and informing our coverage. Please email any thoughts, tips or story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org, share them on Twitter at @stmentalhealth, or leave a voicemail at 206-464-2090.
Seattle Times staffhttps://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/mental-health/about-the-mental-health-project/
Back in April, on 4/20/22 (Omg, both the classic stoner holiday and Autism Awareness month! I find this funny because I am both Autistic and a Stoner. I never noticed until today… Haha), I wrote to their project email account, pitching an article idea. I had read an article in the Seattle times newspaper about feeling anxious about returning to the office. I decided to take a chance and write to them about my experience in the mental health system. An Autism-centered story proposal- The lack of formal diagnosis tools for adults. I honestly didn’t expect my story pitch to be accepted… let alone published.
That week was so stressful, A classic Murphy’s Law week where what could go wrong, did. I was home after getting awful side effects from the Moderna booster shot. I felt called to write this article because of my past experience and it felt like the right thing to do. I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t take the chance to make it happen and possibly make the world a better place.
The Article after this awesome quote by Terrance McKenna, and drawn into a comic by Gavin Aung Than.
I was diagnosed with autism at 34. We need more research for adults.
I’m 36, and it wasn’t until two years ago that I was diagnosed with autism. I was lucky to even find out.
The years before involved multiple therapists that didn’t work, medication that gave me bad side effects, and misdiagnoses. Navigating insurance was a constant struggle.
The first psychiatrist I saw prescribed amphetamine medication for ADHD. That medication resulted in three heart attacks at age 22. Another psychiatrist prescribed two dozen different medications. Only one worked for ADHD, but my insurance didn’t cover it so I couldn’t afford it. I can only take it now because there is a generic form available.
It was hard for me to connect with therapists because I didn’t know how therapy worked, what kinds of treatment are available and that it’s based on developing comfortable, trusting relationships.
I later sought help from the mental health organization Valley Cities. I went through several therapists there with no success. One left for another job, one finished her internship for college, and a couple just weren’t a good fit for my needs.
It was also around this time that I started to believe I may be on the autism spectrum. No other diagnosis was fitting completely; depression, anxiety and ADHD only partially explained the behaviors and symptoms I had in social situations. Information I found online showed me that I did have some traits and could be on the spectrum.
I asked my Valley Cities therapist at the time what I had to do to be tested. She said the only testing available was designed for children and teens, and I would have to go to Children’s hospital in Seattle or search online for a test. This is like asking a person with a broken leg to go buy new bandages and medical supplies on their own, without help.
I gave up in frustration and despair. Medication somewhat worked, but the side effects were awful. And although therapy groups were helpful, I needed an individual therapist I could trust. I had been spinning my wheels and not feeling or seeing improvement in my life. My faith in the system was shattered.
Meanwhile, I needed to work full time to pay bills, so I took a job as a cook, which meant I had to give up my Washington state Medicaid coverage. Suddenly, everything that had been covered through Apple Health, including therapy, medication, doctor visits and sleep studies, was in peril. The cheapest, lowest-coverage insurance was all I could afford on minimum-wage work.
The early days of the pandemic, and the months leading up to it, were excruciating with few moments of joy.
My 18-year-old cat died, I lost my job, and the pandemic ended the board game night I attended at a friend’s house. I was smoking too much marijuana, and drinking too often. I was close to attempting suicide. I was toxic in a breakup with a friend who didn’t deserve it, which was the last straw.
I asked my mother to bring me to the hospital. The therapist at Swedish referred me to Sound Mental Health. I’m grateful that I chose to try therapy one more time, despite years of mixed results, because finally, luck went my way. I was assigned a therapist after a consultation who could treat me. As we continued working together, I began trusting her and we clicked.
On my third appointment, I asked about getting screened for autism. My therapist at Sound found a test for children and teens and asked me a series of questions, although some weren’t relevant for my age. I found out I am autistic the week of my 34th birthday in April, which also happens to be Autism Awareness Month.
Finding out was a relief because I now have something to work off of, and I know why I behave a certain way or struggle in social situations.
With a guide and stable professional support, I spent the pandemic working on myself full time. Therapy over Zoom worked for me. I met my Sound therapist in person at a park last summer for our final visit.
These days, I’m doing better. I’m in the process of self discovery and self awareness with autism. I am seeing a new therapist through Kaiser to work on the skills I began developing and practicing in 2021, and I smoke less weed and drink less alcohol than I did two years ago.
I do sometimes wonder if I’m having brief setbacks because I felt more comfortable during the lockdown than I do in the regular world.
But I’m also thinking about how long this process took.
It’s hard enough to find a therapist who accepts your insurance, accepts new clients, and has availability during the day that fits around work schedules. How am I supposed to grow as a person on the spectrum when autism in adults doesn’t have a formal guide of how it presents, and how to fit in?
There needs to be more research on autism in adults. It’s odd that I had to find out myself by looking online. Autism presents itself differently at every age group. By not having this knowledge for adults, we are causing unnecessary harm by misdiagnosing medical conditions.
Reilly Anderson lives in Seattle and works in the cannabis industry.
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