I decided to write more about the question of whether Martin Ellingham has Asperger’s because I think that question is very pertinent to the whole issue of whether he can change. As I’ve written previously, the DM series brings up the question of whether people can change throughout the six series and there are various answers given when it is posed. On this blog we’ve been wrestling with the issue of change for quite some time and it’s very much a concern of most of us in general.
We’ve all noticed the frequency with which the topic of people’s ability to change comes up and on occasion there are contradictory positions taken by the same character. Ruth stands out to me as one of these characters because in S5 E6 she tells Louisa that people don’t change when she mentions to Louisa that Martin has told her to mark her calendar for the christening. Louisa replies that people can change if they want to and departs in a bit of a huff because Martin has never discussed the christening date with her. (Of course, Joan has previously told Martin the same thing as Ruth during series 3 and Martin has disagreed with her.) Ultimately we know that Ruth reverses her position on this and tells Martin that he will have to change to save his marriage and that he can if he works hard enough. She’s also told Al that we write our own stories and he needs to get motivated and take action to begin a new chapter in his life. I’ve also noted that Ruth must be convinced that people can change because she’s a psychiatrist and changing people’s behavior is certainly the goal of psychiatric care.
In addition I have previously mentioned that Dominic Minghella, the creator of the series, intended Martin Ellingham to have Asperger’s and says so in his blog. Here’s what the question and answer were:
“Doc Martin appears to show signs of Asbergers [sic] Syndrome. Is this intentional or just the way the character developed? I am married to a man with Asbergers [sic] and watching the series together has been a great help to us both.
on 5 April 2012 at 9:59 pm said:
It was deliberate. I seem to be surrounded by people with aspergic tendencies, and am probably not immune myself. It seemed particularly to suit the concept of Doc Martin: it’s almost as if he knows he has this issue and has deliberately put himself in a place where he will have to improve on his areas of weakness. Anyway, I’m so glad you and your husband are enjoying the show. And thanks for taking the time to write.
So I think that should put to rest whether the doctor was initially supposed to have this disorder. It also subtly addresses the likelihood that the plan for Martin was to have him work on changing himself.
In addition, I have delineated all of the typical Asperger’s traits the show has included in my post of Sept. 29, 2013 titled Psychological Conditions. The list includes many attributes given to Doc Martin.
We must begin with the fact that this is a fictional character and he may not fit the exact parameters of the disorder. Secondly, there is a spectrum that allows for all sorts of differences within the Asperger’s diagnosis. Nevertheless, I am struck by how close his mannerisms do mirror those associated with this disorder, and I’m not judging these as either good or bad. They are simply his manner of behaving and part of him. A 2008 article in Psychology Today written by an Asperger’s sufferer notes, “More aspies than not feel a tremendous amount of empathy, compassion, sadness, happiness, and so forth. What is at issue is their reticent expression.” I think we see that Martin Ellingham has empathy and compassion and can feel sadness as well as contentment. The whole article is worth reading and very much applies to what we see going on with Martin in this show. Another article explains that “Reciprocal, or back-and-forth, conversation is not in the skill set of a person with ASD.” It also states, “Parties and gatherings are rarely attended by them, except when it is with their own family. They tend not to belong to groups, clubs, or organizations, and usually do not have a social network. Living and working alone is often much preferred, and because the syndrome can be accompanied by a superior intelligence, they can excel when left to create and design independently without the distractions of the social environment.” Remarkably, it goes on to say, “Polite niceties seem phony and dishonest to the person with AS. Social convention eludes them. The term ‘brutal honesty’ has often been applied to their list of characteristics, and although their tactlessness may appear to be rude to most people, it is not meant to offend. Rather, it is meant to harmlessly and straightforwardly inform. They might point out to you, for instance, that your breath is bad when your relationship does not warrant such intimate or sensitive discussions.” Sound familiar? There’s more…the article continues: “Many, if not most, people with AS had been bullied in school and in the work place and suffer from trauma-related disorders as a result. Most often they have been rejected, ostracized, or worse, openly criticized in social settings. It hurts them terribly and causes them to feel like outcasts – the single most disturbing and painful of human experiences. Loneliness and isolation are their constant companions.” In DM Martin appears to have no concerns about being alone, but he has a definite yearning to be with Louisa. Louisa is not only beautiful and smart, she’s also an insider in this town and their association makes him much more accepted in Portwenn.
This article also addresses treatment options: “The syndrome cannot be ‘cured’ entirely but treatment for the disturbing symptoms of anxiety, depression, mood swings, trauma, sleep disturbances, OCD-like symptoms, digestive problems and phobias is available and effective…ASD treatment specialists find that social skills training, anger management skills training, trauma recovery methodologies, mindfulness techniques, and cognitive/behavioral therapies are all helpful. Dietary and nutritional consultation is extremely important as well. Self-esteem and assertiveness building, and stress management techniques are all useful for bringing about a feeling of well-being and confidence. Medicine for the symptoms that trouble people on the spectrum can be effective. However, above all else, the person on the spectrum must begin the journey of accepting himself completely and embracing the syndrome that brings them valuable talents and traits. Self-acceptance brings with it a comfort in social situations and it chases away depression and anxiety.” The list of disturbing symptoms reads like a close reflection of what Martin is dealing with in S6: anxiety, depression, mood swings, sleep disturbances, OCD-like symptoms, phobias. Moreover, when Louisa wants Martin to go on a trip with her and James and Martin tells her he can’t, he’s really being honest. Leaving home to stay overnight anywhere is anxiety provoking for him in many ways and he literally can’t do it. He just doesn’t tell her in a way that she can understand, and she interprets it as a personal affront to her. If anything it looks like the writers, etc. have decided to deepen Martin’s Asperger’s disorder in S6.
Martin’s Asperger’s is further complicated by the additional problem of having had remote, cold, and generally uninvolved parents. His mother tells him in S6 E8 that he was always a strange, awkward little boy. She never had any love for him and his unusual behavior due to his disorder was certainly something she wouldn’t have wanted to deal with. Therefore, he had the double whammy of a childhood syndrome compounded by neglectful and even abusive parents. It’s amazing he managed to excel in school, become a physician/surgeon and have any sort of social life. The fact that he was sent away to school and had some time with Aunt Joan perhaps salvaged what it could of his early years. Another story, this time written for The New Yorker in 2007, is worth reading to get a personal view of what it can be like to grow up with Asperger’s and not really grasp what makes you different until much later in life. This man had very involved parents and eventually became a successful music critic with a family and friends who are patient and forgiving, and who has various other means of coping, including therapy and medication.
In my opinion the final episode of S6 suggests that Martin is now highly motivated to make some significant changes and that, if there is a S7, he, too, can learn to accept himself by seeking help from Louisa and through therapy. Crucial to his ability to make these adjustments will be a wife who really adopts the principle she expressed in S1 E6 when she said sometimes we love those people who don’t quite fit in because of their differences. His powerful affection for his son will also be a motivating force. It seems to me that once Louisa learns about Martin’s disorder and his family background, she will be able to try to build the patience and acceptance to enjoy their life together. I can imagine some very poignant yet humorous episodes that could deal with all of the above.
Originally posted 2014-01-04 03:05:09.