This is primarily a blog about adult autism, but the crossover with depression is a pretty common one. Are all autistic people depressed? Absolutely not. Are all depression sufferers autistic? Of course they aren’t. But there is often a strong correlation, so here’s a look at my ongoing issues with depression…
It’s not easy to write something original about personal experiences of depression. As I’ve alluded to before, it seems like 90% of Z list celebrities have ‘opened up’ to a newspaper or magazine. I’m just going to tell it like it is for me. This is my personal experience of depression and how it’s impacted my life…
We all have low spells, times when we think the whole world is against us and days when we don’t want to do anything. I had plenty of those in childhood and the early years of my adult life, but as with some of the autistic symptoms I displayed, I just dismissed this as ‘me being me’ and it was my normal.
The problem is that as you get older, responsibilities increase. Bills, maintaining a home, having a career et al are all constant issues and cannot be forgotten with a quick tantrum or a day in bed. That is often (and is in my case) when depression comes to the surface.
So how does ‘falling apart’ manifest?
Coping with important stuff has never been my forte, especially when there’s a roadblock. Failing a job interview or not even reaching interview stage is something that I find almost impossible to deal with. I feel worthless, unwanted, stupid and a failure. Putting things into context is really tough for me, I take things personally and literally when it’s not appropriate. It’s part of my neurodiversity – the inability to think normally and practically. My brain has a set way of thinking and that sometimes causes problems.
I struggle when I make mistakes in everyday life. Like really small stuff – forgetting to put the washing machine on, getting into the wrong gear when driving or anytime I forget something. My self-regard goes through the floor and I feel really useless and upset. This is something that has been a lot worse in recent years due to the aforementioned increase in responsibility that comes with adult life and fatherhood. I need everything to go smoothly and when it doesn’t, I fall apart and my self-worth evaporates.
Generally speaking I can still function to an extent. I’ve only ever had two spells of depression that have stopped me going to work (whether I should have had more is debateable!), and only one that was more than a couple of weeks.
I’m pretty good at ‘masking’, so can put on an act for work and small talk, which at least creates the illusion that I’m relatively ok. I don’t turn to alcohol, binge eating or drugs. I’m not abusive or violent, and I don’t cry very often. That’s the good news.
Pause for thought
I used to do marketing work for a counsellor. She did a lot of corporate presentations and would always use the following analogy to explain stress.
We all carry a metaphorical stress bucket around with us. In the bucket we have screwed up bits of paper on which we write the things that cause us stress. So standard stuff like bills, relationships, your terrible football team et al will be in everyone’s bucket. Having a few issues to stress us is good, keeping them bouncing around in the bucket is perfectly healthy.
The problem is that sometimes you can have too many pieces of paper in your bucket and the bucket overflows. And that’s when people get ill through stress. Plus, we’re all different, ergo we all have different sized buckets, some overflow more easily than others.
When the bucket overflows we breakdown. Too much stress leads to anxiety and depressions. That then leads nicely into a talk about resilience training and how you can help minimise the risk of your bucket overflowing
Writing these blog posts has caused me to revisit this concept and it’s made me realise that there’s another major issue that causes the bucket to overflow. Being neurodiverse often means that one stress can open up many other stresses. For example – I worry about bills, that leads me to worry about money, that leads me to worry that I don’t earn enough, that leads me to worry about my career choices, that leads me to worry that I’m wasting my life and so on. Basically, I’m printing out stresses and there’s no pause button!
The net result is that the bucket is constantly overflowing, and that equals long term depression and anxiety.
Back in the room
The bad news is that I’m completely energy-less, devoid of any enthusiasm, I can’t concentrate, I struggle to muster any interest in anything aside from just sitting on my own, I can’t see anything to be positive about, I’m terrible company (insert joke here) and I’m very easily aggravated. The end result is that I just feel extremely sad.
You see, my brain just refuses to switch off or forget about negative things, no matter how minor they are. Everything plays on my mind. Sometimes a fun conversation, a good tv programme, playing with my daughter or playing/watching sport can lessen the issue for a bit. Sometimes I just want to spend a chunk of time on my own. But it’s very much a case of a short term cover up.
It’s a negative spiral – my brain causes me to overthink, thus making me think negatively and become anxious, thus making me feel worthless, thus making it harder to think positively. Repeat repeat repeat. It’s not a huge amount of fun, and a lot of the time there’s no way out. You just end up going round in circles and feeling low for days on end.
A mantra I often say both to myself and people close to me is that I just want everything to be simple. No complications or hassle and I can function ok. I don’t mean that I want a boring life, far from it. Just one that I can manage with no complications. Then I can get through life. Of course, life isn’t that simple and it’s impossible to make it so.
I take medication and have regularly counselling sessions. I think they help, but it’s impossible to really know. There’s no visible healing, so I’ve no idea how I’d be feeling if I stopped going to counselling or taking tablets. The whole process of getting an autism diagnosis will hopefully help me get the correct medication and assistance going forward.
How can you help?
This is something I’ve had a few people ask me. It’s difficult. The big thing that depression sufferers struggle to convey is just how bad they feel. There’s no bandage, cough or physical scar to show off your illness. Most of the time it’s invisible, and despite awareness being better than it’s ever been, mental illnesses still don’t get regarded in the same way as physical ones.
If you’ve never had depression or extreme anxiety then it’s pretty impossible to fully understand how it feels. All I can say, aside from the above, is that it’s the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced and not one I’d wish on anyone.
This post, as well as my others, is trying to help people understand what it’s like, so I guess the best way you can help is to read this blog! Which sounds like a cheap plug, but honestly reading this can be a great help. As can sharing it and trying to bring it to a wider audience.
So when you see somebody at work or at home behaving out of character or being quiet or perhaps lacking patience, you can understand that it might be a consequence of their mental health.
I could write hoards more on this topic, and maybe at some point I will. But for now this can serve as an overview, not an especially cheery one but there you go. It’s an important part of my life and hopefully adds a lot of value to the blog.
Thanks for reading, and you’ll be pleased to know that after that rather heavy post, next time I’ll be lowering the tone somewhat by writing about the 2010 World Cup!