"Even though I’m taking the tablets, sometimes I don’t feel normal. I have flashbacks of past events and hear voices at night. This is what I’m up against."
When Mike was a child, his problems were not recognised as autism. He was sent to a boarding school, where he was bullied, sometimes by staff, who were unaware that his problems could be connected with autism.
Later on, his difficulties led to him being treated badly by workmates. Mike’s father was a tailor, and tried to help him into the trade.
"I wasn’t successful in the tailoring trade because I couldn’t keep up with the others. I just took too long as a learner and was asked to leave. Afterwards I worked in a zip factory, on a machine. It was fine for a while. Then I worked in a handbag warehouse.
"Being a slow learner or, to a finer point, having a specific learning difference, I never knew what was expected of me."
Eventually, Mike got a job as a trainee painter and decorator with the council. But as ever, Mike’s inability to pick things up led to friction with his trainer.
"I did unintentionally wind him up. I don’t know why. He was always saying, 'You never learn, do you? You get worse every day.' He was patronising me – talking down to me. I stood up to him once or twice and it wasn’t very pleasant. I had to put up with that for about two or three years."
Now 61, Mike recalls how his social skills let him down with girls. In the beginning, he was very frustrated, not knowing what to say.
"When I was 16, I was besotted with a young lady who to lived near me. I had to write a letter – I didn’t have the front to talk to her. That’s the frustrating thing about it."
What he has always wanted is a loving relationship, but he has never managed to maintain a partnership. Enjoying the company of women has resulted in some scrapes over the years.
"I’ve been barred for all sorts of things. For example, pulling all the ‘birds’ at one nightclub I went to. I danced with them and the security staff asked me to leave. They thought it would cause too much trouble with their guys getting jealous. The girls seemed happy, yet, I was still asked to leave."
These days he gets too tired to go out clubbing at night.
Mike is on Disability Living Allowance and is anxious about being put onto a work placement. He has been interviewed by the Department for Work and Pensions and could be called for another at any time.
"They asked how I manage my day-to-day life. I say I find things hard, and I can’t hold my concentration span for too long. The doctor writes things down and says it’s for a decision-maker who then decides. I’ve had two interviews. One was for the timeframe of 18 months and the other was for five years – that expired in June 2011. And at 61, they can still call me. If I have to go on a work placement then I’ll think to myself, 'Oh well, at 65 I can retire.' I’m worried about it. And then the Disability Living Allowance – I have to reapply for that once this is replaced with a Personal Independent Payment coming into force in 2013."
Nine years ago, Mike moved to a flat that he rents from his sister and brother-in-law. Being a sociable man, he has made many friends. They visit each other’s homes and go to events, parks and exhibitions.
"As far as I’m concerned, my friendships enhance. I have friends who are understanding. I remember when I was overcome with emotion and one of them spoke to me and tried to put me at ease."
Mike has mental health problems that he usually hides quite well. But he is deeply distressed by the voices that sometimes intrude into his thoughts. He is scared for himself. The voices don’t tell him to do bad things, they just talk at intermittent intervals.
"I hear voices. Half the time I don’t know what they’re saying to me. Fortunately, this happens when I’m lying down. If it happens out in the community when I start talking to myself, then I believe that I could well end up being sectioned. You see these people – they hear the voices, and it’s real. And I’ve been frightened myself, once or twice before. And it’s not a very nice experience."
Mike attends a day centre for Jewish people with mental health disabilities. Sometimes when he is happy, he gets somewhat exuberant.
"I know I get a bit silly. I can’t help being somewhat loud, even before I was on the tablets. The members here talk about their lives, the past – get it off their chests. Because, this centre here is for Jewish people with mental health problems."
Apart from the activities, there is a psychologist at the day centre, on hand to talk through problems. Mike is reticent to talk about the things that make him anxious and thinks that isn’t really the way forward for anyone with mental health issues.
People don’t always realise his cheerfulness is a front and that in private, Mike is struggling to deal with his depression. When he’s feeling down, Mike finds comfort in music, which he loves. Sometimes he dances along at home.
"Music can be an excellent therapy. I find that the best time to use music as a way out of problems is when I am happy, or in a neutral mood to begin with. When I’m playing songs from YouTube, I feel uplifted. Things like Sammy Davis’s Candy Man and Frank Sinatra’s Pocket Full of Miracles make me happy.
"I am hoping in time, that things will get better for me and that the unpleasant flashbacks that I am having will be less of an occurrence as time goes on."