(My) Aromanticism and Mental Health / Neurodivergency

This is a post as part of the May 2022 Carnival of Aros blogging event, which is hosted by AUREA (Aromantic-Spectrum Union for Recognition, Education, and Advocacy) in order to collect material for a book chapter on the intersection of aromanticism and mental health & neurodivergency.  Because I like giving people information, I’ve answered all the prompt suggestions interview-style this month, instead of just picking one to focus on.

#1: How have your experiences with mental health or neurodivergence shaped your arospec identity?

I’m autistic, and although I couldn’t pin down how exactly – I’m not an expert on neurochemistry or the like – I do feel that I can’t separate being autistic and aro (and also ace).  They are different things of course, but they aren’t two unrelated aspects of what makes me, me.  My being aromantic probably stems to some degree from how I relate to people and experience the social world more generally. [I also mention my mental state related to being aromantic in The Stability of Being Aro/Ace]

#2: How have your experiences with discrimination or stigmas related to your arospec identity impacted your mental health?

This is one reason I love being autistic: most of the time, I don’t internalize things like other people’s opinions, which means I have a strong natural shield against other people affecting my mental health.  Although stigma/prejudice/stereotypes around being aro bother me in the sense that they’re socially damaging and people would be happier without them, it doesn’t get to me in an emotional sense when someone makes unsolicited stupid comments to me personally.  Those opinions don’t align with my core values, so they simply go in one ear and out the other without affecting my day.  (And it wouldn’t surprise me if occasionally I’m oblivious to someone’s real intent and take what’s meant to be a stigmatizing question at face value as curiosity and carry on the conversation as such :P.)

That said, I have a great family and haven’t yet had a bad experience with doctors regarding being aro or ace, so I can only speak from a socio-emotional angle, not a tangible-discrimination one.  If I had been kicked out of my home, had to file a complaint against a doctor, etc., the practical concerns I would have to deal with around those issues would make a difference.

#3: How has your arospec identity shaped your views of mental health?

I think it gives me a better perspective on what should and shouldn’t be considered “an issue.”  I have a copy of the DSM-5 sitting on my bookshelf right now (uni libraries are great resources) that I’m reading for fun, and something I’ve noticed is that the criteria for a lot of things include “cause[s] clinically significant distress in the individual.”  But, it fails to specify whether it causes distress for personal reasons or because other people are giving the individual a hard time about whatever the perceived issue is.

Because I have personal experience being in a group where a lot of people start off thinking they’re broken because other people imply / tell them there’s something wrong with them (instead of realizing that being aro or ace is a completely acceptable difference that harms no one), this reliance on “causes distress,” without clarifying the source of the distress, makes me question to what extent we pathologize individuals without recognizing when it’s a societal problem that should be addressed.  I don’t think I would have that perspective if I hadn’t personally encountered that issue with being aspec. [I also mention this distress issue in Is Asexuality a Psychological Disorder?]

#4: Do you identify with any of the following microlabels or any similar labels? How has this influenced your identity or life? [nebularomantic, neuroromantic, adfecturomantic, arovague, caed(o)romantic, acoromantic, requisromantic]

I haven’t identified with it in the past because I only now learned about it, but neuroromantic – “a person whose romantic orientation is affected by their neurodivergency in some way” – describes me I think.  Adfecturomantic seems to mean the same thing based on the definitions provided in the original prompt, but I just vibe with the sound of the word “neuroromantic” more, so I’ll grab that one to add to my label collection :).

(I’m unclear on whether “how has this influenced” you refers to the experience of being neuroromantic, or specifically using the label, but I think I’ve addressed both those questions already anyway.)

#5: Have you spoken with a therapist about your arospec identity? Do you have any tips for others who are interested in speaking with a therapist?

I haven’t seen a therapist before, so I don’t think I would be a credible source of tips for this.  Although I will say that if your therapist tries to pathologize or “fix” your aro-ness, you probably need a new therapist.

#6: Do you have any tips for finding a community that is supportive of your mental health?

I don’t know about specific mental health stuff, but I would definitely recommend trying to find an aro-focused group if you can, just for general support.  Even in the aspec community, a lot of places/people are more focused on aces, so finding that Twitter group chat, Discord server, etc. full of aros can be really nice, because you all already have the same knowledge/experience framework and don’t have to explain basic terms or why you’re ranting about something, like you would elsewhere.  (And incidentally, you’re likely to find other neurodivergent people there too.)

Thoughts, opinions, things you want to add? Feel free to leave a comment!

3 thoughts on “(My) Aromanticism and Mental Health / Neurodivergency”

  1. “…a lot of people start off thinking they’re broken because other people imply / tell them there’s something wrong with them…” – I feel this to my core. In my religious training, I was told I was a sinner, and – coincidentally (or not) – the religion that told me this also just happened to have the magic cure (which involved a large time/money commitment). On a less intense level, as a child introvert I was told more than once that sitting in the corner while the other kids played noisy games was not quite right, and I just needed to loosen up, be myself, and jump right in there! Sitting quietly in the corner *was* being myself! I just needed a good book to be fully “loosened up”. 🙂 Now as an adult and teacher, I keep a special eye out for the quiet kids in the corner and try to reach them in their own style.

    Anyway, great thoughts. I love the overarching idea that there are many variations of “normal”, and we should be very, very careful about what we pathologize. Humanity is so beautifully diverse, and that’s something to celebrate!

    1. “In my religious training, I was told I was a sinner, and – coincidentally (or not) – the religion that told me this also just happened to have the magic cure (which involved a large time/money commitment)” – sounds like basic capitalist marketing stuff, really. Convince people they have a need (whether or not they actually do), come in with your product that conveniently assists with the problem in exchange for their money or something.

      And in my experience when it comes to crowd games, there’s also the fact that probably no one actually explained the rules of the game to everyone anyway, so someone’s just going to be confused what’s happening :P.

  2. Most of the time, I don’t internalize things like other people’s opinions, which means I have a strong natural shield against other people affecting my mental health. Although stigma/prejudice/stereotypes around being aro bother me in the sense that they’re socially damaging and people would be happier without them, it doesn’t get to me in an emotional sense when someone makes unsolicited stupid comments to me personally. Those opinions don’t align with my core values, so they simply go in one ear and out the other without affecting my day.

    Ah that’s amazing! I truly think that’s a wonderful quality to have. I think I’ve been the opposite in that I’ve internalized too much from my time as a child and it led to a lot of mental health struggles as an adult. And it’s to do with everything, not just identity issues. When those opinions don’t align with my values, they end up causing a lot of internal confusion. And that’s why I found writing such an important therapeutic tool because it helps me stay grounded in my core beliefs.

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