April 3, 2019
For Stefan, finding the right words to say is like searching for a missing jigsaw piece on a patterned carpet. In frustration, his arms fly in all directions which can be a little unnerving. Stefan has Asperger syndrome and, at 64, is finally coming to terms with how to feel at peace with himself, with thanks to support from New Leaf which is funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) and The National Lottery Community Fund.
“I used to have a well-paid job, computer programming for Barclays Bank. I had a wife and a house, but I couldn’t communicate properly with the people around me. The pressure of trying to fit into a world I didn’t understand led me to a nervous breakdown in 2005. After that I couldn’t focus on my job and was made redundant and my wife and I got a divorce. After that, I kept moving every two years, searching for a better place but I couldn’t find anywhere I could be happy or feel in control of my life.
“Part of my Asperger syndrome means I get tongue-tied when I try to tell people how I’m feeling. I ended up retreating into a lonely place, drinking alcohol to escape my feelings. If people are hurting me, I can’t be assertive and defend myself and I began to be treated badly by people who wanted to take advantage of me as I can’t lie or hide behind a mask. I even lost my home at one point after being abused financially and physically. I had to move into James Lee House (housing for homeless males in Warrington) and I thought that was going to be it for me. I knew I needed help, but I couldn’t ask for it, so I put the shutters down to block the flashbacks and hibernated into alcohol and sleeping 14 hours a day.
“With support from New Leaf, I’ve managed to gain some structure in my life. I can speak to Joan, my mentor at GGHT, about problems I’d never discussed with anyone else. I went onto IT classes with Nick at Warrington Disability Partnership and even though I used to be a programmer, anything to do with computers now just gave me horrible memories and flashbacks. So much so, it took me a while to learn it all again as I’d buried it all so completely. The ‘I Am, I Can’ training course I’m currently on is teaching me how to be true to myself. The big change I need to make is learning how to look after myself and not trying to fit in with others all the time. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to fit in, and it led to my breakdown.”
So, what does the future hold for Stefan?
“I want to get back into music. I used to play the piano and I’d like to learn how to teach others how to play. With music I feel absorbed and complete.”