Friday, May 13, 2016

Depression and Aspergers: A Personal Journey

I had a humbling experience recently. As part of my writing process, both for this blog, and for my book, I took it upon myself to reach out to the psychiatrist who my parents saw for a second opinion on Aspergers as a kid…the one who eventually determined that in her opinion I have ADHD. Going in, I prepared myself for what it would be like, knowing that I’d have both an incredible source of wisdom and knowledge in her, and a window to an uncomfortable part of my past. Despite this, I still don’t think I was fully prepared for the things I learned about myself and my childhood in talking to her.

My former psychiatrist (we’ll call her ‘Dr. M’ for the purposes of this blog post) told me how getting a second opinion on the Aspergers diagnosis was not the only reason my parents took me to see her. Apparently, according to Dr. M., I was also going through a depressive episode at the time stemming from my feelings regarding my parents’ divorce, and was experiencing flashes of mood swings which were very intense. Such strong, volatile and quickly changing moods are all hallmarks of both ADHD and Aspergers’, and so I can’t say I found this all that surprising. No, for me, it was finding out about the depressive episode which really rocked me. Apparently, I had even mentioned thoughts of suicide at the time. I don’t remember any of this, but Dr. M. gave me the documentation to back it all up. Truthfully, I’ve had to take some time to process everything, which is why it’s taken me a while to write this blog post.

Having thought everything over in great detail, I’ve come to a few realizations. For one, I’ve had it driven home for me exactly why I’m the cheerful optimist that I am. I would of course go through another dark period years later in middle school and again stand on the razor’s edge. The fact that in both cases, I not only refused to jump off, but stood defiantly and chose life is proof of my brain’s choice of positivity over negativity any day, even if I didn’t realize at the time that I was even making it. Robin Williams said it right when he said that “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.” This screams of truth for me.

The second realization I came to is just how susceptible those of us on the Autism spectrum are to things like depression. I’ve mentioned before just how close to the surface the emotions of someone with ASD bubble, and this combined with something like a divorce situation was bound to wreak havoc on my young mind. Having all of these aggressive, angry, sad feelings and not having many healthy outlets made things difficult. Thank goodness my mom always let me rant. As someone with ADHD and Aspergers, I feel my emotions deeply and passionately, and react to things intensely since the volume on the whole world feels like it’s dialed up to 11. It’s only natural that I’d have hit such dark times.

In the end, I’m eternally grateful for the work Dr. M did with me as a child. While I disagree with her on a few things (she seemed to think I only had ADHD, while I definitely see both that and Aspergers in my makeup), she helped me work through a dark period in my history that I’d forgotten I even had, and in the process helped me learn a bit more about exactly who I am and how my brain works. I could tell as she and I spoke how proud she was to learn that I’d gone on to do well for myself in life, and I think my request for her help on the book flattered her to no end. Frankly, she deserved every bit of praise I gave her. Depression isn’t easy to work through when you’re a neurotypical adult; it’s even harder for a neurodivergent child. We need to give everyone living with it our unconditional support and love, not judgment and anger.

Thank you, Dr. M., both for your work with me as a child, and for teaching me just how far I’d come and how strong I have been my whole life. You rock!
As always, yours in diversity,

Adam Michael

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