Am particularly conscious, during this Mental Health Awareness week which focuses on relationships, of how mental health affects not just the person with Asperger’s but the whole family around him or her.
This weekend was the perfect example of how Asperger’s affects our family. A toy wooden boat fell on Ethan’s head as he was getting something out of Sam’s wardrobe on Saturday (a toy wooden boat that Ethan himself had put there, I hasten to add). Ethan’s anger immediately took hold. He stormed downstairs with the wooden boat where he proceeded to smash it into pieces. Sam cried, I shouted, Ethan fumed.
The fallout lasted all day. I was so angry with my husband. I was disappointed for my son. I had to spend the whole day with Ethan and go to a party with him that night feeling rubbish and hurt and worn out with him. Having spent the first ten years of our marriage sulking over events like this, I have now learnt it’s a reaction that is completely counter-productive. I tried to talk with Ethan about what had happened. But his refusal to accept any blame (it’s the boat’s fault, it’s the wardrobe’s fault, he never played with it anyway, it had some parts missing (it didn’t)) made me even more depressed and frustrated.
Eventually, through my perseverance and refusal to let him walk away from what he’d done – he admitted liability. He accepted that he’d lost his temper, that he’d acted badly, that he needed to say sorry to Sam. But it took all day to get to that point and I was still left feeling resentful that I’d had to work hard on him all day for him to reach that point, and angry and disillusioned that it had happened at all.
I’m reminded of the importance of the NT partners of AS individuals to look after their own fragile mental health. To ensure they have time for them and, crucially, time with other NT friends. So much of my life with AS is hidden as Ethan doesn’t want people to know about his condition. I understand that, and respect it, but it makes being able to off-load difficult - if not impossible. Having one or two close friends that your partner agrees can know about his/her AS and be your sanity (although often, unless they have experienced living with someone with AS themselves, it can be hard for them to really get it) can be a lifeline, as can forums like those on Different Together. And, of course, writing a blog can help too :).
So, this Mental Health Awareness Week, thanks for being my sounding board, my confidante, my listening ear! And do protect your own mental health however you need to – we’ve got a lot we need to be strong for.