My Journey with Autism I am a 32-year-old combat veteran of the Marine Corps Infantry and I have been recently diagnosed with autism. This story is my attempt to communicate how critical it is to not only provide adequate mental health services to everyone, but to end stigma as well. I also want show how our culture can be more supportive and not react with abusive or negative behavior. I am from a rural, less-educated area, which is why this condition has had such a dramatic effect on my life. As a child, my family tried to discipline it out of me because they didn’t have any understanding of what the problem actually was. In their eyes, I was a spoiled brat and a disappointment. My father was in the Marines and instilled in me the understanding that my weird behavior was completely unacceptable. My middle brother, who is also a step brother, took every weakness he saw and attacked me with it. At school, I had no help and was seen in a negative light there as well. I tried to do my best and adjust to the world that I was living in. I went to counselor my senior year of high school and they told me that I had nothing wrong with me. I believed them because I was young and didn’t know any better. When I attended college and couldn’t get along with anybody I thought that it was because I had been raised wrong and raised on a farm in a military family—a situation most of my peers could not relate to. I then joined the Marine Corps Infantry, not only to serve my country, but to get people to respect me. I went through three tours and a good deal of abuse for my condition that I didn’t even know I had. I left with an honorable discharge and returned to the civilian world an emotionally and psychologically broken human being. I enrolled in college again. My peers, who I hoped would respect me more for my service, couldn’t understand how such a strange individual could make it through something like the Infantry and gave me even less respect. I received the suggestion of autism from the counseling services provided at this small town college, but found no effective treatment. I was told to do positive thinking exercises and take medication. When those failed, they told me I wasn’t trying hard enough. I tried to take my issue to the Veterans Administration and they told me it was just anxiety. The counselor I went to didn’t know what to think of autism and didn’t seem to know what he was doing, so I decided that the VA was not a good route either. I completed my Bachelor of Arts and enrolled in Graduate School. I had good grades, but left and moved into my parent’s house because I had to that point failed to establish friendships or relationships and I was tired of being alone. I eventually found a job with the Federal Government because of my veteran status, but they weren’t prepared to handle my issues either. I have been searched illegally and the security in the area I work in is jumpy around weird people. The office culture around here also tends to see people with mental health conditions as dumb or threatening. The employee health services are inadequate. They linked me with a counselor in my local area, but when I asked for help finding a neurologist they told me to call my insurance company. The insurance company told me to find help myself, which was worthless because that was why I was calling them. After a year of counseling I asked my psychologist to help me because even though he also believed I was totally normal, I knew something was different about me. He made the suggestion that I see a neurologist. The neurologist sent me to a neuropsychologist, where I finally was tested and diagnosed with autism issues. They set me up with a psychologist who also has autism. After this difficult and dark journey, I finally have found effective treatment and a real diagnosis. After all this time, understanding myself and why I am different is a huge relief and a source of happiness. Everyone deserves this chance and deserves access to it as early as possible. Without that the difficulty of living with a mental health condition and the challenges of living under stigma become a serious problem. Note: I describe autism as a mental health condition for the audience. I personally see it as a difference in thinking, not an illness, as do many other people with autism. Share your story, message, poem, quote, photo or video of hope, struggle or recovery. By sharing your experience, you can let others know that they are not alone.