A Stranger in My Own Country

Lotta Wadstein Bynert Art

Lotta Wadsten Bynert reflects on her search for God and meaning in her life.

Thank you for this beautiful site and letting me share my thoughts with you about life on the autism spectrum, recovery from mental illness, drawing and doing so together with God. This combination is not a problem for God, but it does creates confusion here on earth both for me and people around me.

As I studied and worked abroad I often heard I was different because I was Swedish. That created curiosity, questions and interesting discussions. In Sweden people often told me I didn’t act and think like a Swede and the outcome of that has been confusion, a sense of not belonging and being a stranger. I am more of a foreigner in my our country than anywhere else. When I came to believe in Jesus I was suddenly a part of a new family of believers. Interacting with people within
the Christian community has shown me it’s more complicated than that. Recently I read the book “Autism and the Church” written by Grant Macaskill and he did a very good job explaining what I had encountered.

Swedish laws forbid discrimination and stigmatization, but as humans we are limited. In real life we discriminate and stigmatize both others and ourselves. We don’t want to, but maybe we need to categorize so we can cope with the unknown. There is a difference between categorizing and discrimination but I’m not sure we notice when we cross over from one to the other. My first husband was from Nigeria. When I met his friends from Africa they called me “that one”. I wasn’t
worthy of a name. I was white. When I worked in China people grabbed my blond hair and called me white devil – I was an outsider.

We form groups and communities based in ethnicity, special interests, education, gender etc. and this creates a feeling of belong somewhere. We, as humans, need to belong. I myself find it peaceful to be a part of an autistic network . We meet occasionally and it is like coming to something I can relate to. Among us I feel a genuine sense of understanding. If that is similar to what non autistic feel having coffee with a group of colleagues or socializing in church environments I understand why they find it relaxing.

When I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and Attention Deficit Disorder at the age of 46 I made a choice to tell people about it. I have held talks and started discussions to create awareness. My choice to share has created positive reactions but also discrimination and stigmatization. Mental illness, a neurological difference and a faith in God often create a reaction of some sort even if that never is the intent. This is my way of participating in this world we have an equal right to be a part of – listening and sharing.

At an early age I sensed that something was not right with me or with my surroundings. When I described feelings or situations I was often told “that’s wrong” or “nobody things that way”. It was like living in a parallel world. When I got older I was called different, odd, original or something similar. Today it is called autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD). I amneither special nor unique – every human is that – but I was given a different perception that can be valued or disfavored.

My life would have been different if my family and I had known about ASD and ADD when I grew up. One of the things I believe I wouldn’t have suffered from is severe mental illness. Maybe I would not have exchanged my true self for a person created through statements from other people.

I want to believe that the knowledge we have today will help coming generations.

Lotta Wadsten Bynert Butterfly
Art by Lotta Wadsten Bynert

If I had known I lack a filter most people seem to have in regard to processing what comes towards us through our senses (sound, vision, physical contact and feelings from others) I could have gotten help to find strategies to minimize the
stress and anxiety it caused. What gave them energy and joy was often exhausting for me even though I did it to be together with them never knowing what made my head worn out, just knowing something was different. Today I know that the ability to iscern feelings from other people as not being my own is something I share with some autistic individuals as well as processed situations without the use of body language. This creates a constant feeling of living in confusion and insecurity never being able to fully understand what really is happening.

When I ask about it I almost always get the answer that I misunderstand, but never an explanation. This creates a strong feeling of panic.

How much this feeling of not belonging due to ASD has effected my search for God is hard to tell.

What I know is that this search has occupied me completely. As far back as I can remember something within me has constantly been asking the questions who created me and why? I had practiced Buddhism and the teachings of Lao Tzu before my encounter with Jesus in China. I then tried to grasp who Jesus was and what he had done through the Bible and Christian communities but I have come to realize that he is well hidden behind behind different theology’s.

After 28 years I am entangling myself and presently I am on a journey getting to know him and reading his word afresh. God has no problem communicating with me or any other human. He knows us. We, on the other hand, are often tied up, surrounded and maybe born into religious patterns our culture and our communities says are truth. What is written in the Bible reveals a deep understanding of the human body, soul and mind.

Today we write long and complicated papers and scientific reports when the Bible describes all those words in a few sentences.

My brain needs to logically grasp abstractions, things not visible and concrete. God knows that. A friend of mine brought me to a man in whom Jesus was visible. His name was Pin Laoshi.

We meet for half an hour in his home, a room with had no windows, the floor was compact damp mud. He had a bed and to chairs. Entering the room he sat on his bed tutoring a young boy in memorizing the Bible. He had been tortured until he was blind in prison for his faith in Christ. He lost his wife in prison during the 30 years he was incarcerated while every day knowing he walk out a free man if he denied Jesus. From this man there was a light, a joy, a peace and contentment I could never have denied. This meeting has carried me forward knowing that the power that was so clearly exposed in him lives in everyone who believes in him though, unfortunately, rarely visible.

Meeting Pin Laoshi empowered me but interacting with people is always stressful for me. I find it really interesting and awarding, but at the same time exhausted and confusing often leaving a feeling of not succeeding to understand or make myself understood. Even if others perceive me as “normal” I find myself confused, shattered, scared and unsafe. However, that does not mean I don’t want to meet people, I just need to do it on, at least partly, my terms.

I will always be autistic, no matter how hard I try to adapt to this non autistic world around me.

This world will continue functioning after, what I find, a very illogical system. The model for social interaction will most certainly always be a foreign language to me. This life I live here will be an ongoing series of everyday life situations that will challenge me because, honestly, I don’t get what they are about. One way or the other I and the people sharing this everyday life with me will have to find ways to accept and deal with this.

Lotta Wadsten Bynert Art
Art work by Lotta Wadsten Bynert

My faith and life in Jesus does not exclude challenges that are overwhelming or my personal inability to cope with them. I pray that the panic I often feel when I face situations that wants to overpower me will ease away the more I get to know him. These challenges, though filled with so much fear, loss and sorrow, has made me face both my weakness and the strength he is. Today I can see that misunderstandings are no more than thinking in different wavelengths which in fact opens up for great possibilities if we dare to embrace it.

We are created unique for a purpose. Our outward features, our personality’s, passions, our abilities and inabilities are different and we are given different ways to express and communicate this. Some use the spoken language, others prefer the written. Some use visual forms of expression like art, dance, theater, pantomime, clothes while others use music, instruments and voices. There are people with exquisite taste and smell. Among us are those who see the structure of the world as numbers, other who can spot detailsin nature hidden from the masses.

A woman who had studied image therapy helped me in a very difficult situation by saying that I should try painting. Following her advise I found my way of communicating. 55 years old I had found my way to communicate. A way that made it possible for me to finally see myself. By drawing I can start to identify layers of guilt, shame, anxiety, panic, depression and statements placed in me by others.

The drawings I share are my words, a reflection of me. The real artwork, the masterpieces of art is not what we do or how we do it, which title, group or disability we possess. It is us, you and me, we, as we are.

Lotta Bynert photograph

My name is Lotta Wadsten Bynert. I live in Småland, Sweden. My native language is Swedish. Born in the capital of Sweden I grew up in a family of four. I was fortunate to grow up in an era with more structured schools and less input from media. When libraries closed on Saturdays the possibility of fact searching was limited to listening to people sharing their knowledge.

When I was nine my father had the opportunity to work at Brown University a year and we were invited to the US along with him. 1978 I returned as an exchange student to Ellicotteville Central High School in New York State from which I graduated 1979. I had an excellent family, but I never felt I belonged and I interpreted my environment as not mine. It is hard to explain my perception. The best way to describe is that I lived in a world that wasn’t where I was supposed to live. At the age of 12 I started to smoke hashish as weed was not available in Sweden. I quit during my year in the US and started dieting and developed an eating disorder that almost killed me. By eating fairly normal in the company of others I hid my problem. My twenties I spent working in hotels, restaurants and as a tour guide. Always on the edge of burn out.

Traveling – sitting alone in places no one could reach me – was my way of dealing with life. In 1987 I went to China. China fascinated me and I searched for God in their religions and monasteries. During my travel I met a man who introduced me to the headmaster of a university in Wuhan. There I got a job teaching students about how to be tour guides for people visiting their country.

In the middle of the Tiananmen demonstrations in 1989 I met Jesus. I went home, got married and we had our son. A year after he was born I had to leave my husband taking our son with me, a story that is not my own to share. It ended in divorce and I was a single mom with quite a heavy baggage to deal with. I worked part time, but ended up on sick leave. My search for who Christ was continued as I diligently tested one theology after the other without finding the freedom I so desperately was look for. In this mess I remarried. My search went on.

2004 my doctor wanted me to go through a neurological evaluation as she thought I had Asperger’s syndrome. In 2007 the evaluation was completed and she told me that the root of my issues were found in the fact that I always had perceived things differently. Suddenly I had a disability called Asperger’s syndrome in combination with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Throughout this I have had different jobs. After being diagnosed I found ways to avoid burn out time and time again. But thing happened and suddenly my diagnosis became a hindrance. This has made me use my teaching experience to share about my life to create awareness hoping that our mutual understanding will benefit others.

This last year has been life changing. I have lost so much and at the same time gotten to know Christ. In the midst of deep sorrow I found life. This year has been a year of contrasts. I am beginning to finding freedom.

The above post can be viewed in Swedish here.

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