The last week I have spent in a bit of a state. I had a couple of speaking gigs cancel – not because of me, just because, and this was coupled with a perception by me that not many organisations were contacting me with speaking and other work. Was it my new name meaning they couldn’t find me? Not likely as my wonderful web designer Barb made sure that my old web address works even if you type in YennPurkis.com. Was it something more sinister? Was every autism organisation and university really transphobic / transprejudiced and didn’t want an openly gender diverse person speaking for their events? Given the way my coming out has been received very positively by almost everyone that also seemed a little unlikely. Was I unable to deliver the goods any more? Had I lost my touch? Was I just the most tedious character and nobody wanted me working for them any more?
The reason for the problem was something entirely different. The reason for the problem had little to do with my work and a lot more to do with my self-perception. The concern around speaking gigs was manifestation of a depressive state which was compounded by impostor syndrome and self-doubt, qualities of which I have a large amount! I found myself checking my emails constantly, disappointed every time there were no emails asking me to give a presentation. It got quite extreme and I was thinking self-destructive thoughts, and then thinking that would be the most nonsensical reason for self-destruction “didn’t get any speaking gigs”. At that point I realised it was something beyond my work and needed more than a couple of requests to be on a focus group or speaker panel to address. This was something in my psyche that was focussed on me not liking and valuing myself.
In the past few years I have been called a lot of very positive – and quite superlative – things: Autism world royalty, thought leader, game changer, rock star, that sort of thing. It never makes sense to me. My self-perception is very poor. I always say a little prayer before I go onstage and it is never a prayer for greatness. Instead it is a prayer to not screw up the presentation! So the perception of others who love my talks and my own perception are very different.
True to type I have been sharing my struggles with insecurity online. A few people suggested past trauma might be responsible, and I suspect they have a point. I had a very difficult start to life and lots of people gave me messaging that I was worthless. In fact when I started to change my life and become an autism advocate I was driven by the need to prove that I was not worthless, particularly to my parents (who I might add never demanded anything like that and were happy enough with me gong to university. I didn’t need to become the Prime mInister in their eyes but I sort of felt like I did).
When I realised my anxiety and feelings of worthlessness related to low mood I got into action. I have a whole book for of mental health strategies (I wrote it with Dr Emma Goodall and Dr Jane Nugent and its called The Guide to Good Mental Health on the Autism Spectrum. It literally is all my strategies written down with a bunch of other useful stuff. Sadly I don’t have a spare copy at the moment!!) I also contacted some of my friends and walked through what was happening for me with them. It was great to have the chance to share stories about this kind of thing as it helped me to feel less alone. As often happens with my mental health issues, once I figure out what the problem is I can start to address it. I can report tat today I am feeling quite a lot better, mostly thanks to my friends and my own ability to be self-aware and put in place strategies to help alleviate mood issues.
Some strategies which ca address this kind of mood issues and insecurity are:
- Logical thinking can help although it usually needs some backup from emotional strategies and depression isn’t logical I find
- Accessing friends, positive family members and networks. You don’t even need to talk about the issue. Just being around people who you care about and care about you can have a huge impact
- Distraction, distraction, distraction! This means doing something engaging that you enjoy to take you mind off your mood. This one is used in a number of therapy models and is the gold standard according to a lot of people, including me. You can use different distractions and make a list if you like
- Do something nice for yourself
- Do something you are good at. This can help banish those self-doubts
- Ask a friend or someone you trust for a reality check. Tell them what you are worried about and see what their perspective is. It is likely to be very different form yours
- If this works for you and you feel the need of it, get some professional help. There are some great counsellors and psychologists who can support you and help you with your thinking.