Susan's Blog

Friday, March 16, 2007

Depression as Medicine Ball

Some people feel that autism gives them a new perspective on life and on what is important. I have been known to say that, myself. But lately I have been feeling that it is depression that has given me a perspective on autism, and everything else!

It will probably not surprise my readers to find that I am prone to bouts of depression. This condition has been with me for a lot of my life, particularly adulthood. I do not make it a secret, because 1) I believe there is no shame in having problems like this; and 2) I hope that my openness will make it easier for others with the same issues to get help.

I was having coffee yesterday with a man who qualifies as being my oldest friend. I met him when I was in sixth grade. We teased each other and hung out together and ultimately we went to the high school prom together, as friends. I love him like a brother. He is a true ziese neshuma, a sweet soul. But I’m not sure that he always “gets” me. After reading my book and knowing me for this long, he still asks, with a face furrowed full of concern, “But how’s Nat?” And it kind of feels like he is assuming that the answer is a sad one.

These days — and for quite some time, I believe — the answer is, “Great!” But I already feel, when the question is posed the way it was, that I seem to be protesting too much (?) How can I explain to people that Nat simply is. That I have known him for seventeen years, eighteen if you consider my clueless pregnancy, and I have never known a different Nat, an Otherwise Nat, the What-If Nat. I would love to, of course. But in the same way that I would love to live a whole different life, simply because there are so many things I don’t get to do in this incarnation. When I was a little girl, I also wanted to be a boy, just to live that particular kind of life, too. So NT Nat would be a trip, I’m sure; a delight, and a pain-in-the-ass. But he is already those things.

It is not Nat, nor is it autism, that makes me pause when people offer to cut me some slack. They seem eager to do so, for his sake. My uncle practically canceled coming to Passover at my house because, “You have your hands full, with the three boys.” I had to convince him that, NO! Everything is fine! I just get really depressed sometimes, that’s all!!!!

But I think that people really believe my life is harder because of my sons, Nat in particular. Maybe it is easier for them to feel compassion about something like autism, than to find out about something like depression.

My life is harder because of depression. When I am feeling good, as I have been for the last week (you can tell by my blog posts; the more dancing and writing, the better), there is a golden cast to everything around me. Autism is a part of my landscape, just as the muddy yard and the noisy birds. Depression, on the other hand, sends cold wet clouds across everything so that I can’t be happy anywhere. Nat, (Max, and Ben), with their beauty and gentleness, are like colorful little blankets to wrap around myself, even during the darkest times.


I also suffer from depression… I do make it a secret, and I’m sitting here organizing my thoughts on it, and there’s so many reasons (Small and Large) for it. From my parents reaction, to people who treat me differently, to a boyfriend who doesn’t think of it as a disease, to a doctor who turned me off medication and seeking help because she told me I should be in a mental hospital.

The thing about depression that makes it so awful is that I can have the best week in the world, to the worst the next. How I feel as if I am in the darkest pit imaginable, without a way to climb out or people to call for help. It such a scary, isolated terrible feeling which I’m sure I only make worse by keeping my secret under wraps.

It’s an awful feeling, and I’m not surprised that you suffer from it as well, it’s amazing how many similar souls on blogs that I enjoy have gone through similar experiences- but I’m sorry to hear that you do too.

— added by I Wax Poetic on Friday, March 16, 2007 at 3:34 pm

Hi Susan

My name is Alison and I have emailed you before, but I am sure that you have forgotten.

I, too, suffer from depression and got it diagnosed when I was coming out of college. It seemed to get more intense when my now 7 year old was diagnosed with PDD.

I never hide my feelings-all my friends know about my depression, anxiety, manic, etc…it’s also no secret that I am in therapy once a week and use medications to moderate my mood.

I applaud you in finding confidence in yourself to reveal that in your log; You are giving me more power to promote more of myself on my log.

I can tell that when you are happy you dance (and your costumes are beautiful), but when you haven’t danced in a while your depression hits.

My depression goes up and down like a roller coaster, and is dependent on the week I am having. Our family is in the process of having our child go out of district thru the town and I have been all over the place.

I find comfort in reading your blog and I am sure that others do as well.

I look forward to eventually meeting you at one of your talks.



— added by Autismlicious on Friday, March 16, 2007 at 5:00 pm

Same here, Sooz.

— added by mrs. gilb on Saturday, March 17, 2007 at 1:34 am

“Nat, (Max, and Ben), with their beauty and gentleness, are like colorful little blankets to wrap around myself, even during the darkest times.”

so beautifully put.

i’m glad you talk about the depression. there is NO shame in it. we all need the honest you bring to the subject. i wish we could ALL speak frankly about everything that feels hard.

— added by kyra on Saturday, March 17, 2007 at 9:29 am

heads up – being brief eluded me.

You are absolutely right in that there is no shame in experiencing depression. My brother always says “It’s not how far you fall but how high you bounce.”, and I try to apply that to my life, to Katrina, my marriage, etc. I suffered from depression before Jared was born, so I do not blame autism, but the attending stress certainly exacerbates my bouts.

One thing I could not effect, no matter how hard I tried, was how my husband deals, or doesn’t deal with his depression. He has shrouded and isolated himself with our son’s autism, so much so that he has refused to look at other alternatives to our son’s education, and how our reality is impacting our younger son. I liken the equivalent to if our son had cancer, that we wouldn’t rush him to MD Anderson, but instead treat him at Joe’s tumor shack.

I forget who pondered that it was insanity to keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome, and so I have moved out of the house this week. Since that time (five days ago) my husband has agreed to visit the school and consider some different options. As wretched as I feel being away from my boys, this seems to be the only to break out of our miserably unsuccessful cycle.

It may not seem like it, but I am trying to stop blabbing about myself so much when I respond to blogs, but this week has been a cluster of self-examination. I’m learning that I don’t have to aplogize for fighting for what is best for my kids.

Everybody take your pills, journal and see the beauty in something mundane around you. It’s working for me, today anyway.

— added by lisa on Saturday, March 17, 2007 at 5:06 pm

Susan, thanks for writing this piece. I’ve also dealt with depression for a long time. I fit into both of two patterns here: a parent-of-an-autie dealing with depression, and an Aspie adult dealing with depression.

I have learned that what depression does, is distort my *perspective* and *emotions*. I do use an antidepressant that I can taper onto and off of, as needed over time, but the most important element of how I manage depression is more or less cognitive-therapeutic in approach.

I try to identify oncoming bouts of depression, and take their effect on my perspective and “gut feel” into account as I proceed.

When I know I’m in one of those moods, I try to defer jumping to conclusions that rely on the perspective and “gut feel” that is most likely distorted. Sort of like leaving the car keys on the mantle and not driving when I’m a little too tipsy or tired to do so safely. (A lifetime of practicing this skill has transformed me from a Jungian (or Myers-Briggsian) “J” to more of a “P”.)

*Detecting* those moods is a skill I constantly work on — just like my skill at detecting the oh-so-many nonverbal social cues that the non-autistic majority engage in and seem to have natural intuition for. It’s a bit like the way folks responsible for telecommunications equipment that is sensitive to geomagnetic disturbances keep an eye on the sunspot activity that generates those disturbances. (Yeah, yeah, geeky analogy, but then I was a teenage Aspie fully obsessed with shortwave and ham radio who used to listen to the US National Bureau of Standards broadcast that stuff on its time station, WWV. I stimmed on WWV a lot more than I used to be willing to admit :-).)

*Getting out* of one of those moods is like getting out of quicksand: I make little motions that yield incremental progress without overwhelming the fragile leverage I have at my disposal so far in the process. I find something that’s “shooting fish in a barrel” — something concrete that I know I can do and get positive feedback from.

For you, wrapping yourself in the colorful little blankets of interaction with Nat, Max, and Ben, (and maybe Ned too?), gives you exactly that kind of positive feedback. An incremental step forward, that then enables greater subsequent steps. Like the “there for a reason” anecdotes which you tell in your next blog essay do.

Those little incremental steps that generate stabilizing bits of nachas (or more generally, positive affective feedback) are really important.

The medication I use (Mirtazapine, chosen because I seem to need an up-kick in bandwidth both on serotonin-based and norepinephrine-based neural channels) helps damp out the anxiety and rapid-fire jumping to pessimistic conclusions and “gut feels” that I experience in an oncoming depressive mood tailspin — but it takes those little positive-feedback-quanta and the activities that generate them to really send the mood-storm packing out to sea.

And a healthy ongoing accumulation of them serves as insurance against the frequency, severity, and length of future tailspins.

Hence I’ll often joke that (for me at least) the Brahms second symphony (listening to which is a ready source of a tiny bit of positive affective feedback) has antidepressant powers that fall somewhere between St. John’s Wort and Prozac in efficacy :-).

Being an Aspie, and equivalently, being a parent of an autistic child, and managing the often concomitant depression, is like living in New England. There are things that are wonderful and glorious about it (think “fall colors”, for example), because of which I wouldn’t trade it for any other sort of existence, but there are also things that I put up with because they are part of the package. (Like today’s round of clearing lots of very wet snow from a long driveway.)

Depression is one of those things I put up with, because I wouldn’t trade my life for any other. The key is acquiring and using the tools I need to manage it.

And commiserating with each other when we find ourselves in situations that call for using those tools. Like the several of us on the street this morning with our snowblowers.

— added by Phil Schwarz on Sunday, March 18, 2007 at 1:06 am

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