It has taken a very long time (mostly being on the waiting list) to go through the process of being diagnosed for various questions in my life, about my relations with fellow human beings and my vocation as a priest. I have just returned home from my third appointment with the Centre de Ressources Autisme de Haute-Normandie (CRAHN) attached to the main psychiatric hospital in Rouen. The first appointment was with the psychiatrist in charge of this centre, the second with two specialised psychologists and the third (today) with the whole team. They worked with professionalism and a high degree of finesse. It is much more difficult to deal with adults than with children. From the beginning, this was for me about self knowledge and not seeking excuses not to make reasonable efforts to live ordinary life with persons around me.
Like in the psychiatric profession in America, the category of Aspergers Syndrome has been discontinued in favour of a seamless spectrum, a continuum, of the condition known as autism from the most disabled to high-functioning persons with their intellectual abilities intact but with certain “eccentricities” like social awkwardness or things that look odd to the most observant. My diagnosis is that of high-functioning autism which is about equivalent to the old Aspergers Syndrome. Doubtlessly, psychiatrists and psychologists will continue to debate these matters from a scientific and phenomenological point of view. The reasoning is not difficult to understand: instead of putting people in little boxes, you seek to understand them as human souls – as they are – on a spectrum of various characteristics and traits. There are fewer lines to try to draw!
In the meantime, I have to live my life with my talents and difficulties.
Over the past year or so, I have stayed away from internet sites that tend to show “aspies” as being almost “fashionable” or even some kind of Nietzschean Ubermensch. That sort of thing is quite dangerous as with any other kind of label or pseudo-identity like being gay or transsexual or whatever buzzes around these days. Dr Tony Attwood, the most respected specialist in this matter, suggests tongue-in-cheek that this condition might be the next stage in man’s evolution. I’m not an evolutionist (at least in terms of determinism or something mechanical), and I believe that man can find his nobility of spirit from God and a high vision of life. Thus we have such elevated beings – and the low herd mentality of those who follow fashions and ideologies uncritically. Some autistic persons find it easier to elevate their spirit when they see the fallacies, “groupthink” and “bullshit” others take for granted. It can be a gift, a talent, and if we have talents, we are expected to take them to the bank and bring the interest of our investment back to our Creator and Sanctifier.
I will now return to reading Dr Attwood’s famous book The Complete Guide to Aspergers Syndrome, and see if I can participate in local groups. This condition plays havoc with self-esteem and a sense of identity, and I am sure that I could minister to people from a spiritual and philosophical point of view. My own diagnosis came as no surprise, but it made me feel quite shaken for the time it took to shake everyone’s hands and say goodbye and thank you – to the bus stop outside the establishment. I returned home by train and continued reading Dr Robert Lanza’s book on biocentrism, a theory that turns Aristotelian metaphysics upside-down and gives a new look to Idealism, or the idea that consciousness precedes matter. It’s hard going and a challenge, but it will bring a whole new paradigm of the notion of God and life beyond our death as we can observe it. I will certainly have to read this book several times!
I’m not Superman! I’m not the Village Idiot! I have some scientifically observed traits and a reference of self-knowledge (of a relative value) that will certainly help me on my way to a better sense of vocation and purpose in life as a Christian, a priest and philosopher (not someone with academic pretensions but a lover of wisdom). It gives me explanations about my my past so that I can learn for the future and adapt in a special way, unlike the way other people relate to society, their friends and families. This is a challenge, as it should be to anyone who identifies with a minority but has to get on in the world at large.
I’m not interested in Aspie Pride or anything like that – the herd mentality and ideology. We hear about transsexualism, but it is a matter that concerns very few individuals. The hot button issues fly out of the pages of Facebook and Twitter (and others), but we need to shut out the noise and be ourselves – and decent members of the groups of people we associate with in our daily lives.
I have my limits, and some will find my mannerisms difficult to understand. A part of our existence is to ask God in our prayer to docet nos terrena despicere et amare celestia, to be aware that we are alienated from the things of this world and called to God’s Kingdom. This is central to Christian martyrdom and the Romantic soul. Autism is a symptom of awareness of this exile from another world where we belong. At the same time, we live in this world – in it but not of it – and we have to come to terms with that.
I appreciate the prayers of my readers, and I hope this blog will continue to be a part of my ministry as a priest and a human being, because others out there labour with questions for which they have not yet found answers.