As April nears its end and May approaches, we segue from Autism Awareness Month to Mental Health Awareness Month. As such, I thought it apropos to briefly discuss these two topics, and how a dual diagnosis of autism and mental illness can have devastating effects on an individual.
My name is Russell Lehmann, and I am a motivational speaker, author and poet. I happen to have autism as well as several mental health diagnoses. In normal times, I travel for work quite frequently.
Oftentimes, to get from the airport to my hotel, I will take an Uber or Lyft. Inevitably, the drivers ask what I am in town for, and when I tell them what I do, they subsequently ask me what I speak about.
I hesitantly say autism and mental health, not because I am embarrassed or ashamed, but because I know what the driver’s response will be: “Oh wow, I would have never guessed YOU have autism! You must be doing very well!” I give a half-smile on the outside, while frustration fills my inside.
Individuals with autism are at a significantly increased rate of having a mental health diagnosis. I have 8 invisible disabilities, and usually, aside from massive public meltdowns that have taken a toll on my well-being, only those closest to me see my struggles.
The driver taking me to my hotel doesn’t see my meltdowns at home where I shake, rock back and forth, screaming at the top of my lungs while cussing and punching myself in the head.
My followers online don’t realize the excruciating thoughts that consume my mind, such as suicidal ideations and disturbing intrusive thoughts stemming from my OCD.
My neighbors aren’t aware that every day is a fight to get out of bed. Sometimes I don’t, and when I do I want to run away from being misunderstood, not fitting in with society and being extremely isolated and lonely.
Very few know of my past hallucinations, because even though I take pride in being extremely transparent and authentic, there is still too much stigma for me to walk around telling people how terrified I was when I was sobbing on my floor while the devil was yelling at me.
I can excel at the extraordinary, but I struggle with the simple. Do not for one minute think I have it “made” due to the nature of my career. I have not “outgrown” or “overcome” autism or my challenges. To be honest, I wouldn’t wish my mind on anyone unless they were readily prepared for it.
Indeed, I have beaten the odds and continue to do so every day due to my tenacity and perseverance, but don’t let that paint a false narrative. I still struggle vehemently, I get severely depressed, I get discouraged with the lack of compassion and understanding in society and I cry almost every other day.
This world is too harsh for me. However, my heart and soul drive me to speak up for others who are not heard, because I know how challenging and hurtful it is to go unnoticed.
Always remember this line I wrote a few months ago, and that I continue to find to be more and more true with each passing day:
“What you do not see is much more important than what you do see”.