Further reflecting on last week’s post about how I have grown comfortable living in Great Britain has brought up an issue from the past. When I came to the UK 32 years ago, the one great piece of baggage I brought with me was my mental health issues. Changing country doesn’t make them go away, though I never thought it would. Saying that, I still disagree with the college chaplain at Queen Mary College in London, who said that I came to Britain to run away from my problems. I won’t go further into it but you can read my ancient post, “Did I Run Away?” if you’re interested.
Thirty or so years ago, mental health was a taboo subject for people but even more so in Britain. In 1990, I went to my doctor because I have a family history of thyroid problems and I saw that I had some of the symptoms associated with it. My doctor told me that it was all in my head and referred me to a psychiatrist. When I started seeing the psychiatrist, my wife swore me to secrecy about it, especially around her family. Her feeling was that seeing a shrink wasn’t something you do in Britain. It’s something Americans do. During the time I was seeing the psychiatrist, I was also strong in the Mormon Church. There was some things the psychiatrist said that came into conflict with the teachings of the church. As a result, I thought I should talk to my bishop about it and when I told him that I was seeing a psychiatrist, his response was, “A lot of Americans do that.” Even though, he gave me some wise council regarding it, those words were the ones that stuck out the most.
This is the stereotype that filtered through my Asperger’s/DAMP mind for many years. Throughout my life, I always thought that there wasn’t something quite right in my mind. Hell, others were quick to point it out too. However, in addition to the popular taboos about seeing a mental health practitioner, the fear that I was acting like a stereotypical American persuaded me from getting any help. Shrinks and counselors were things that ‘Americans do’ and in Britain, you’re simply supposed to sort it out on your own. The stereotype went even further with some Britons saying that Americans were so weak minded, they need to talk to their psychiatrist because they can’t cope with their pet hamster dying. I definitely didn’t want to be thought of in that way.
Eventually, I did break free of the stereotype when I decided to go into counselling many years ago. Even then, I did it in such a way that only the people I wanted to knew about it. Fortunately, at my first session with the counselor, I told her my fears with the stereotype and it was a major breakthrough for me when she said she had never heard about that stereotype. While that was a major turning point, there were still many obstacles to over come and with that help, I have been able to overcome many of those. My conclusion is that no matter where you live or who you are, if you need help, go and get it!
Now, my Asperger’s mind has me envisioning loads of people, most British, saying that I shouldn’t have let that stereotype get to me. Well, they’re right, I shouldn’t have. But when there are so many stereotypes against your nationality that I wanted to avoid, the last thing I wanted to do was to do something that substantiated that stereotype. I must also point out that not all British people think that about Americans and I don’t want to be accused of stereotyping all British people, my counselor certainly didn’t. Stereotypes aren’t good and with someone with a mental health problem, they can get in the way of getting the help that person needs.
To buy He Was Weird, go to: https://www.amazon.co.uk/He-Was-Weird-Michael-Lefevre/dp/1909740942/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1538416596&sr=1-1&keywords=he+was+weird