Hey everybody, Ultimate Oddball here. In this episode of ‘The Ultimate Oddcast’ I will be discussing depression and anxiety, both in general as well as speaking to my own personal experiences, with a content warning for mental health content and references to suicide. I started experiencing depression and anxiety very early on in life, which started to get bad when I was around eleven. If you’ve watched my ‘Thoughts On the Spectrum’ series, you may know that I was medicated with anti-depressants and had a suicide attempt not long after that.
Long before I was diagnosed with autism at twenty eight years old I experienced a lot of depression for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest reasons was that I felt different from everyone else, knew that I didn’t fit in, and that bothered me a lot. I had spent years honing my abilities to mimic the behavior of others, but even though I’d put a ton of time and energy studying other people and learning about human psychology, I still struggled to fit in. This is part of why I was relieved when I was diagnosed. I’d always known there was something that made me different, and the more I read about autism the better I was able to understand certain difficulties I’d experienced. I had struggled to attain the goals that most people consider important, and that probably fed in to my depression as well. Not to mention how society views you when you don’t fit in line with norms and general expectations.
Depression can be particularly difficult to live with as an autistic person because many of us also experience a condition called Alexithymia, which is characterized by the inability or difficulty to express and gauge emotion in one’s self and in others. I often don’t recognize my emotions until they reach a higher threshold than what non-autistic people seem to notice their emotion at. This may be part of why so many autistic people have emotional outbursts in what seems like a sudden fashion. There have been times when I get frustrated and slam a controller or other object down, and only later do I realize how many things contributed to me being upset in that moment. It takes me being able to literally analyze the situation from a logical perspective afterwards utilizing information and insights I’ve gained from studying people and subjects like psychology, sociology, relationship dynamics, and other similar things in order to get any grasp of it. My ability to intuitively grasp emotion is simply a relative area of weakness.
In the past this has resulted in me going through periods of severe prolonged depression without being totally aware of just how depressed I was. That isn’t to say the signs weren’t there. Typical indicators like lack of motivation, feeling like life is pointless, not wanting to interact with anyone, and other similar things were still present. Over time I learned to analyze myself and my behavior from as objective a perspective as possible, and this helped me notice when my unconscious behavior indicated I was depressed or anxious. Anxiety is something I deal with every day to some degree, though it is at its most severe when I’m in public, especially around large numbers of people.
I have a few subconscious behaviors which help to reduce my anxiety. These are commonly called “stims”. The things I often do when I’m anxious is to pick at my nails or massage my hands, which often hurt. I tend to like keeping my hands together and up, not hanging at my side. I’ve always had no idea where to put my hands, and I didn’t like forcing them to my side, but that was what everyone else did so I made myself do the same for years. There are a lot of movements or similar behaviors which I used to repress and now no longer do. Sometimes it’s a spin or it’s rocking but it could be any type of seemingly random movement. Repressing these movements increases my anxiety, and thus I refuse to do so.
There are a few things I do when I find myself starting to get overly anxious. I try to busy my mind with other things, which can be anything but is most often my Nintendo 2DS handheld video game system. I take slow, deep breaths, utilizing breathing techniques which slow heartrate. If possible, I remove myself from the situation temporarily and get some fresh air. The best, and sometimes only, solution is often to leave the situation entirely. At a certain point anxiety can get to a point where, coupled with a meltdown and sensory processing overload, things go past the point of being able to get by on a quick recharge by stepping away temporarily. The location of this point depends on the variables of the situation, as well as the anxiety levels of the person in said situation.
But, as I said, alexithymia means that I and other autistic people may not recognize that emotional tipping point until we hit it, and sometimes not even then. I’ll give you an example. A month or so back I asked my mom to take me by a game store. She said she would but she wanted to go by the grocery store after and get some chairs. It was supposed to be a relatively quick trip, but the furniture set wasn’t available and my mom had to pick a different one, and because of this it ended up being over an hour that I was waiting there. I was prepared for a short trip, and because of this I hadn’t eaten before I left. Eating tends to be an issue for me because of gastrointestinal issues and pain, so I’m not able to do so often. In this case my blood sugar was low and I was very tired, and I got frustrated when the car was being loaded up and was a bit short with my mom. I tend to internalize everything, so things like this are most damaging to me, but I also don’t like being rude to my mom because she supports me in a lot of ways. At the point that I made the comment to her about the car not having enough room for the furniture, I was so overloaded and anxious that I didn’t care if what I said upset her. I put a lot of thought and effort into many things, and trying to avoid hurting other people is fairly high on the list.
In that situation, I didn’t realize just how annoyed and frustrated I was until it got to be too much. When I get upset I usually shut down rather than meltdown. I just stop engaging, and if someone is really upsetting me, I won’t make eye contact with them at all. I retreat into my own personal world when the outside world becomes upsetting, which I think is fairly common among autistic people. I think it’s important for people who have autistic individuals in their life to remember that we may not react in the same way as everyone else, but that whatever things seem on the outside, that doesn’t indicate anything about what’s going on inside that person’s mind.
It’s important we discuss these subjects further and destigmatize them. The stigma surrounding mental health issues means that many people don’t consider getting help until they’re basically suffering daily, and sometimes not even then. No one deserves to suffer alone: there is help available. Well, thanks for tuning in, thanks for coming by, and have a good day.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal ideation and is seeking help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week to call toll-free: