This past Thursday, April 2, was National Autism Awareness Day and I invite you to consider reframing autism and quite frankly, all previously medically described mental illnesses as components of a uniquely hard-wired nervous system. Add into that nervous system the collective ability of our species to step into dimensions that are not available to us through our five physical senses and you will have the proper wood and nails for your new “frame”. It is beyond time, I believe, to loosen the corsets of fear and to embrace all that is possible with our brain and body operating together with spiritual intent as the guiding principle.
We forget sometimes the power of words and the dramatic effect that labeling a person – a whole person and their life as well – as being different than the defined norm within the human species spectrum. Who decides that spectrum, anyway? A quick peek at the internet yields this from the National Alliance on Mental Health: A mental illness is a condition that impacts a person’s thinking, feeling or mood may affect and his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis. And this from Wikipedia: A mental disorder, also called a mental illness or psychiatric disorder, is a mental or behavioral pattern or anomaly that causes either suffering or an impaired ability to function in ordinary life (disability), and which is not a developmental or social norm. Well, the first is a fairly narrow and dare I say impossibly slim parameter. On a given day which one of us has the ability to consistently and fully relate to another being? What does that even mean – to relate? Does that mean to speak to, to be with, to do-whatever-you-like-with? And when was the last time you felt that you had an “ordinary life”? Won’t that vary from person to person about what they perceive for themselves as ordinary or is that already defined as well? Is the standard for defining behavior as a mental illness based on how other people perceive us to be in our actions towards them? Yikes! This definitely gives me a creepy feeling of shades of Big Brother and societies that are fodder for movies where imperfection and uniqueness are threatening to the culture because of the natural growth that comes with these “conditions”. I can honestly think of no other species on our planet that consistently and continuously judges the other animals not only of its own kind but others as well simply because they’re different the way that the human animal does.
There’s definitely something about a mental illness diagnosis by those who have been anointed to be in the know – medical doctors – that holds a stigma especially in today’s society. It seems as though we’ve created a system that lops off the head from the rest of the body and singularly defines mental illness as being the worst of the worst of all maladies. This differs dramatically from all other medical conditions which are verified by science via tests done usually by independent labs where actual cells are isolated that visually represent where the harm is being done to the body itself. Not so with mental illnesses which is mostly based on observation by others and judgment within societal norms. Have we as a species really come to believe that the mind is everything and only others are capable in knowing whether or not the brain is functioning simply by observing?
There was an interesting study done with children who have been diagnosed as autistic who were subjected (among other tests) to needle sticks in order to draw blood along with other children with no diagnosis of autism. Where clearly via observation the children with autism had less outward behavioral responses than those without autism their bodies told an entirely different tale of the effect this had on their nervous systems. Their cortisol (stress hormone) responses were much higher than those of children without autism which was a revelation to the scientists involved because they hadn’t observed any increase in response. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3245359/
There’s another relatively new explanation of why it is difficult for some people – 20 percent of the population to be exact – to thrive in a world where overstimulation of the nervous system is rampant and makes relating to other human beings challenging to say the least. This is a trait known as high sensitivity and it has long been my perspective that a good majority of previously defined “mental illnesses” (such as autism) are actually an exceptionally finely tuned nervous system on continual overload. www.hsperson.com. At this point the body has no choice (in order to survive and maintain equilibrium within itself) to shut down and turn inward because the body will always protect itself. By modern definition of mental illness these highly gifted people because of their nervous system incompatibility with their surroundings which makes relating to others in a “normal” way impossible are shunted off to the side and become part of a group the rest of the tribe sees as imperfect and troubled. All because they’re different and special in ways that cannot be quantified by science and which hides their gifts to the world which are just waiting to be given.
I invite you to take just a few moments out of your day to reflect on how what we see and the judgments we tend to make of other beings actually turns the tables on who might need to focus more on what is felt with the heart than what is seen. May there come a day when the human species drops its need to segregate those seen as less-than by revising the parameters of relating to each other if only as an act of surrender to revealing the full imperfect glory that is all of our species – together. Photo credit: Brain by Lovelorn Poet.