I have been writing this blog for sometime now and to be perfectly honest I think I have subconsciously avoided touching on the darker side of Autism, but a few days ago it occurred to me that I had been ignoring the elephant in the room: Depression.
There are no hard and fast statistics on depression related to Autism. I have spent the past few days looking online, scanning research and medical journals. I contacted every contact and no-one is aware of any substantive research on the subject, yet all agree on one thing – Depression and Autistic Spectrum Disorders are very common bedfellows. It seems that diagnosis of depression in people of all ages is substantially increased in ASD’s.
Not all people on the spectrum are depressed by any means. We are as unique and varied as anyone else. We come with our own hopes, quirks, desires, problems and eccentricities that have little to do with our condition. However, the unique challenges we face create an environment where depression can easily germinate.
For me as an adult Aspie, perhaps the greatest issue is just how aware I am of my own limitations and problems. I suppose the irony is that as you learn to come to terms with your own limitations, by necessity you need to explore those limits and learn where your problems lie and you become increasingly aware of the effort required to fit in or to try to comply with societies expectations of you, which is a taxing process, and one that doesn’t necessarily become easier with age and increased responsibility. I’m sure most Aspies have experienced more than there share of guilt, shame and regret over past meltdowns or misunderstandings or have been overwhelmed by strong emotions or thoughts. Feeling constantly like an outsider can be draining in its own right.
There are other factors too which are less obvious:
Many people on the spectrum have a truly excellent long term memory and can be obsessive. These two traits combined mean that often every mistake, argument, meltdown, embarrassing moment or social faux pas can be etched into memory ready to be relived at any given moment.
ASD often comes with a strong need for order, a sense of completeness, the comfort of predictability and the joy of patterns. It may seem obvious to say the world around us rarely, if ever works this way, it doesn’t change that inherent need, nor does it lessen the anxiety when that need is not met.
Just like everyone else, we have a need to communicate. Unfortunately, most of the time, we can communicate only with varying degrees of success and failure; especially when we need to convey emotions or emotional needs. We simply don’t have those social tools that allow us to easily express ourselves emotionally and when we do, it can be without filters and can seem disproportionate. Renowned 19th century author, Christian Nevell Bovee once said “Tearless grief bleeds inwardly”. All human beings need an emotional outlet, but with ASD barriers are a natural defence against that which we are poorly equipped to regulate.
People on the spectrum tend to have one very unpopular characteristic: they are extremely poor at following the crowd. They often have unusual world views and differing paradigms which are inherited from seeing the world in a different way. These world views, although different aren’t necessarily wrong, indeed they can often be brilliant, but equally are rarely easily embraced by society. When you have a minority view and you are not adept at socialising or communicating, it is extremely likely your interpretation of the world around you will remain unknown and widely ignored regardless of its advantages or insights. Indeed it is often this aspect of autism which when acknowledged can occasionally change the world.
The autistic mind more than any other has an inherent need to analyze their environment, to rationalise and to make judgements based on coherent understanding of their circumstances. One of the cruellest things about depression is that it distorts the ability to reason and this above anything else is the most difficult obstacle to overcome.
Overcoming depression is a whole book in and of itself and much better minds than mine have written chapter and verse on the subject, most of which, unfortunately, is meaningless when you actually have depression. Depression on the spectrum means more hurdles to jump, but that doesn’t mean it is insurmountable, merely difficult, as is so much of life.
To strive against depression requires an immense amount of effort and for those who have over overcome depression, whether on the spectrum or not, you have my respect. For those who are facing that challenge, good luck, you have my best wishes. I am sure there are many people out there who have been through this experience and I am sure your insights would be valuable to those still going through this struggle, so please, if you have a few moments, share your story with us.