Asperger’s / autism and depression…

Depression, for me, has always been like a big, gaping hole in the ground.  If I’m careful and I watch where I’m going, I can step around/over it and avoid it.  Most of the time, this strategy works for me.

Sometimes, though, it sneaks up on me.  Maybe the hole suddenly widens before I notice it.  Or maybe I miscalculated my step.  Or I didn’t look where I was going.  Or it was covered by fallen leaves.

And that’s when I fall in.

Usually, I can pull myself out.  Some episodes are harder and take longer, while others are easier and heal more quickly.  It just depends.

The dangerous element about depression in someone who is Asperger’s/autistic is that it can be unrecognized by others, by ourselves, or both.

Other people might not pick up on it for several reasons.  The first one is that we can mask very well; our acting skills are fairly well-seasoned.  The second reason is that Asperger’s/autism and depression share a few characteristics that look similar on the surface, such as introversion, anxiety, insomnia/strange sleep cycles, loneliness (or conversely, a desire to be alone), clothing styles and/or hygienic practices, and probably a few more.  What makes it especially difficult to detect depression is that many Aspie/autistic people who display these attributes aren’t actually depressed at all; in fact, they might be in a very bright mood.

And then there’s the issue of our own “depression detection meter”.  We might not notice the early signs of depression in ourselves.  This is because we tend to process thoughts and feelings differently.  We may have a tough time identifying our emotions.  There might be times where we may not even be able to tell if we’re feeling generally positive or negative.

Do people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum experience depression more often than the general population?  I’m not exactly sure (please forgive me; usually I love diving into research analysis, and I would come up with the numbers for you, but I’m a little fatigued tonight, and writing is about all I can do–that’s how intensely I feel about this subject). 🙂

I do know that although my psyche is prone to flirting with depression at times, I don’t consider myself a depressed person.  In fact, I often experience the opposite of depression.  Other Aspie/autistic people I know run the full gamut; some are very cheerful and upbeat, while the lives of others are painted against a backdrop of hopelessness.  Although I’m mostly a positive person, I’ve been there, in that hopeless, helpless dungeon before–sometimes for hours, sometimes for months or even a year or more.  Many times.

Some of those times, I felt it starting to weave the first of its tight roots under the surface.  Other times, the depression was in full root-system swing before I noticed.  I don’t know if anyone else noticed, because they never said anything to me.  Maybe they did…or maybe they didn’t…

They may not have noticed anything, because in someone “with” Asperger’s/autism, depression usually looks different (in comparison to the non-spectrum population).  Like everything else, we’ll probably experience it internally, without revealing (or being able to reveal) much on the surface.  To us, it may be a vivid downpour; to others, it might be a subtle ripple.

Here’s a list of clues I’ve compiled (this list is probably incomplete, but it’s everything I can think of at the moment.  Note: Not all of the signs may be present in all cases):

  • Loss of motivation in anything that motivated us before
  • Loss of focus ability, especially on a task or subject area we could focus on before
  • Loss of interest in “special interests” (i.e. primary focus areas)
  • Increased introversion (either in general, and/or a drop in desire to interact with people who are otherwise close)
  • Increased emotional intensity (either in general, and/or involving specific emotions)
  • Increased emotional confusion (may not be able to identify emotions as easily, and this may happen more often)
  • Lower threshold/tolerance for frustration
  • Lower threshold/tolerance for stress
  • Increase in meltdown frequency, severity, and/or duration; and/or longer recovery time
  • Increase in shutdown frequency, severity, and/or duration; and/or longer recovery time
  • Reduced self-care and/or hygienic practices/rituals
  • Newly-developed or increased “clinging” to objects or certain people (or, conversely, a pushing away from, alienation of, or separation between themselves and others in their lives)
  • Conflicting feelings/emotions – for example, simultaneously feeling lonely, but yet desiring to spend more time alone
  • A desire to spend more time alone (even if the feelings about doing so don’t conflict)
  • Increase or decrease in creativity/production, if the Aspie/autistic person is creative or produces creations
  • Increased alcohol use (or alcohol abuse)
  • Increased clumsiness (in some)
  • Increased gastrointestinal problems (in some)
  • A drop in speaking volume (or a reduction in speech altogether)

Depression (whether referring to someone on or off the spectrum) usually doesn’t happen for no reason.  Normally, there’s a psychological/emotional trigger somewhere.

It is possible for depression to arise without a psychological/emotional trigger; in those cases, I look to physiology and human biochemistry.

Dealing with depression can be either simple or tricky; medications can sometimes help, but let’s face it: depression is not a Zoloft, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Abillify, or any other antidepressant deficiency.  Those drugs make decent temporary band-aids for some people, but they’re incomplete (and potentially damaging) long-term solutions.

I’ve resolved my own depression multiple times, sometimes with professional help, and sometimes without (I’m trained and licensed).  This really should be done under the guidance of a competent licensed professional who takes a thorough, whole-person approach, though; I don’t recommend the self-treating trial-and-error method–at all.  It’s risky, time-consuming, and expensive (not to mention that some of that time/money investment may go to waste).

But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to leave you hanging.  I’ll outline a fairly comprehensive list of solutions from all valid branches of medicine in a near-future post (stay tuned for a Part 2!)

For now, here are a few things that can be done:

…..We can evaluate our relationships – this includes family (parents, children, extended family), significant other/partner/spouse, friends (close friends and acquaintances), classmates/teachers, co-workers/supervisors/subordinates/customers/clientele, etc.  Are any of these relationships toxic?  Do any of them have a glaring lack of warmth, communication, or validation?  Do close relationships lack sufficient love, quality time, or affection?  Are there any gossips, manipulators, liars, or authoritarians in those relationships?  Is someone being unrealistic or demanding?  Is someone into the “blaming and shaming” game?

…..We can evaluate recent conversations (especially ones involving people in the relationship categories above).

…..We can evaluate our worldview/attitude – Are you generally optimistic, generally pessimistic, or neutral/somewhere in between?  Do you hope for the best and prepare for the worst, or do you automatically assume the worst…or do you assume an ideal outcome and leave yourself unprepared when what you hoped for doesn’t pan out?

What’s your overall impression of the world at large?  How do you fit into it?  How do you get along within it?  If the general “vibe” you get isn’t positive, that may be a source of depression.  That happened to me and one approach that helped me a lot was to study subject areas like world religions, meditation, other cultures, and the like.

…..We can evaluate our online activities, such as web searching history, social media use, etc – what have we liked, shared, commented on, searched for, read through, etc?  Who are we connected with and what’s our general impression of them?  Do they rub us the wrong way, share posts we don’t like, fail to interact with us as expected, etc?

…..We can evaluate our music, art, movie, TV, etc selections – some of them can leave us feeling strange, almost like they’ve penetrated us in some way, with invisible tentacles.

…..We can evaluate our environment – I know that personally, I’m more susceptible to feeling “down” if the window blinds/shades are closed during daylight hours.  Interior decor such as walls, flooring, furniture, etc may influence our mood; I can’t stand very-dark furniture (it “looms”), bold or dark colors on the walls drive me nuts, and hard-wood floors echo the noise too much (I have to have carpet).  Maybe the view out the window(s) is dilapidated or depressing.  Maybe the weather sucks.

This can play out at work, too; maybe our office space isn’t conducive to peace or concentration.  Maybe the overhead lights flicker and the room noise and chatter reverberate.

This also applies to outdoor surroundings; do you live in a polluted area?  Are sunsets obscured by haze or smog?  Are the buldings ugly, run-down, abandoned, the streets/sidewalks cracked, the yards barren, etc?

…..We can evaluate our daily activities – I personally don’t like sleeping in too late; it makes me feel lazy, like I’ve wasted a big part of the day.  I also don’t like to be out-and-about too much (the average societal crowd can be depressing!).

I do like to make sure I get enough physical activity, though; that’s a great anti-depressant for me.  I don’t like shopping (too many people, too many decisions, too much noise, and too much stuff that I might like, but that (of course) serves as constant reminders of how much money I still don’t have).

…..We can evaluate our work/employment – Are you employed but can’t stand your job?  Do you like your job but can’t stand someone you work with?  Do you like what you do but think the policies are overbearing?  Do you feel like you chose a fulfilling career?  Do the customers/clientele grate on you?  Or are you unemployed or under-employed, looking for a better job, or any job at all, with no success?  Are you feeling the weight of rejection?

…..We can evaluate our nutrition/dietary intake – that’s actually a huge and unfortunately-overlooked factor in brain health in general, and is a common culprit among a lot of mental/emotional health issue.  Some foods even increase the breakdown of certain brain chemicals, which may (if you eat them too frequently and/or in large amounts) deplete these brain chemicals over time.

…..We can evaluate our finances; that’s a potentially major source of depression.  Is there enough coming in?  Although that’s the type of Life Issue that incessantly nags and stares at you, and thus it’s not likely to be unrecognized, its role as a source of depression often does go unrecognized.

…..We can make note of any pain or other health issues; they themselves can cause depression.

…..And of course, depression can stem from a one-time or ongoing trauma (such as abuse, bullying, abandonment, etc) in the past.  Unfortunately, time doesn’t heal all wounds.  And in fact, some of those wounds can fester.

…..Do keep in mind that depression (or other mood disturbance) may actually stem from something in our past, maybe even one we don’t consciously remember.

…..Do consider that it may stem from something we aren’t even consciously aware of.  There are a lot of possibilities here, but a couple of examples include EMF (electromagnetic frequency) sensitivity (many of us are indeed sensitive), and moon cycles, such as the Full Moon (don’t laugh–just ask any emergency services personnel, pretty much anywhere in the world; they’ll tell you all you need to know and then some).

Depression can be an elusive hellion.  I know that I’ll never be completely home-free.  I’ll always have to keep looking over my shoulder, to make sure it’s not sneaking up behind me.  I’m sure it’s there, in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to grab hold.  All that I can do is keep going, one day at a time, and take care of myself, being as Real with myself as I can be, and “checking in” every so often with the people closest to me.

Will there ever be cure depression?  I’m not sure.  Part of me hopes there will be.  Strangely, the other part of me hopes there won’t; without having had to feel my way through the Darkness, I wouldn’t know Light. 🙂

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(Image Credits: RedEyeDemon (featured image; footer image unknown)

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