Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Running from depression

I don't think I've ever had a depression. But I know I have been depressed.

Life has never collapsed on me and left me weeping on the floor. But I have had periods of immense sadness and I've experienced anger and despair directed towards almost all elements in my life.

I was about 17. I was in high school, I had a boyfriend and a few close female friends. I was busy at school, playing handball, working. My life was generally OK. And when I came home from school, I cried for an hour. Every day. My boyfriend and my best friend told me to see my GP, who referred me to a psychiatrist. My best friend, also 17 and always very wise, was convinced I was depressed because of the way my father was bringing me up. Now this seems ridiculous, but 17 was the age of teenage showdown for me, and for some odd reason, I targeted my father. Neither my showdown or the psychiatrist (who was told by the patient that the reason was the patients father) had any effect on my moods. They did however fade after a while.

I was 24. I lived in South Africa, studying at the university. I had a boyfriend and a very close friend that I lived with. I had a student job at the university. A couple dramatic life events caused me to be depressed. I was so sad. I didn't cry much, I was just dark inside. I felt hollow and useless. I went to a social worker at the hospital and talked to her. She was nice but it had no effect. Of course we blamed the life events for my mood.

I was 39. Lived with my children. Had a partner, a demanding job and a large social circle (and the usual few close friends). Every Saturday, I cried. There was no energy left. I went to see my GP but I told him I was depressed because my son was showing signs of Asperger and that stressed me. So my GP told me what to do about my son and not what to do about me.

In between there are countless episodes of sadness, social anxiety, insomnia. Generally, my life has been as described at those three points in time: busy in the successful way. But the depression has always been there, lurking in the background, and striking when I was too busy to notice.

What also happens is that if my mind is idle, I start looping. Something somebody said or did keeps coming back to me and bothers me. Something my husband says makes me angry, though with a considerable time delay. So he says something without thinking and the next day I write him a spluttering e-mail. The more prone to depression I am, the more frequently this happens.

I once got anti-depressants. Not for depression but for insomnia. They made me gain weight and I also became cynical. So I stopped.

I self-medicate: I excercise. I run. I run from depression. Some days I go to the gym, but I need to have cardiovascular excercise for at least 20-25 minutes, at least four times per week. Yes I still loop. And sometimes I can't sleep. But I am much more stable mood-wise now. And the episodes mentioned above taught me at least one thing: depression comes from inside. It's nobody elses fault. Not my fathers fault, not the life events, not my son. In fact it is not even my mothers fault. I take responsibility; and I run!


We talk about train tickets. I go on and on about where I travelled to and from, and how I purchased my ticket. Did I always do this? I try (hard) to sense when they tire of the train talk, so I should stop. Did people always lose interest in my subject before I did?

We talk about baking. They ask for my recipes. There is a joke but I didn't catch it. Was there always a joke I didn't catch? I explain carefully how I go about baking, the share of wholewheat flour, the amount of yeast, and I realise I talk too much. I stop. Did I always talk too much?

We discuss a political topic. We disagree on a central point. My feelings on the topic rush through me and take over. I argue at length, well-spoken (to the point of being too hard), and in an emotional manner. Afterwards my opponent seems cross with me and avoids me. Have I always done this? Did this happen before?

We are friends and we meet on a regular basis. We share things that we don't share with everyone else. One day I share too much. My next invitation is declined. My greetings are met with surprise. Now we don't greet each other anymore. Have this happened before? Did I always over-share (when I stopped under-sharing of course)?


I know all these things happened before. I know because I was there and I noticed. I just didn't know why. Now I know, and that has increased my sense of these things. Before I ignored it, didn't see a pattern, thought the other people were dumbasses, etc. My recognition of my own Asperger has changed my perspective. These issues, that I disregarded before, are now perhaps blown out of proportion.

So what is better? Disregarding, ignorance and blaming everyone else? Or over-focusing and blaming myself?

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The melting pot

Among the common aspie traits are meltdowns. In fact, this is not a trait or a feature, rather it is a recurring behaviour. Hence I think it can be 'cured', at least to an extent.

A meltdown is an uncontrollable anger and sorrow, expressing itself through me, but using means of communication that are unfamiliar to me. During the meltdown I say things I didn't know I felt, in a horrible and hurting manner. I shout and I swear. I cry. Afterwards I am exhausted as if I went to war and fought it all by myself. About half an hour later I start getting a headache.

The feelings expressed by me during a meltdown are mine. They belong to a hidden subconsciousness and perhaps it's best if they stay there. But they are mine, I admit that. Before my mouth expresses these feelings I didn't know I had them. Afterwards I take responsibility (though somewhat reluctantly) for the feelings.

I have nothing positive to say about the way I express these feelings. I wish I didn't express them at all, I wish that at least I could express myself in a more civilised manner. I am trying.

My son has the same problem. When he feels that he is being treated unfair, he risks having a meltdown. Some circumstances may trigger this, e.g. being under under types of pressure - if his peers look at him in class, if there are guests at our house etc. It has been a long while since he had a meltdown at home though. Feeling secure prevents meltdowns apparently.

My son describes the process like this: In an unpleasant situation, there are two men (in his head that is): the ignoring-man and the anger-man. The ignoring-man wants my son to ignore if he is being bullied or laughed at. He (the ignoring-man) demonstrates this wish by sitting on a chair, ignoring. The anger-man wants my son to be angry (leading to a meltdown) and cry. He expresses his wish by being angry, and acts aggressively towards the ignoring-man. So if the ignoring-man tries to tell my son to act sensibly (i.e. ignore the annoyance), the anger-man will jump from his chair and press his hand against the ignoring-mans mouth. The anger-man usually wins.

I like the picture, but I am sad about its implications. The tendency to melt down is, due to its aggression, superior to more sustainable and wise coping strategies, when they are confronted inside the head (my sons head, or mine, for that matter). The ignoring-man needs assistance, and I told my son that. I said: 'You need to help the ignoring-man by imagining what he would say, and do as he does'. I am going to do that myself, I go with the ignoring-man, because going with the anger-man only leads to more trouble.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Small talk

Small talk is difficult. Much worse than sudoku. Because there is not one solution to the problem. And when I've managed to small talk for twenty minutes I am awarded... some more small talk.

I really enjoy hearing about other people's work. In particular researchers, but also other areas of work. If I am at a function and people start talking about their work, I am home free. I relax and respond to whatever they are telling me.

When the person I am talking to chooses another subject than work, it becomes slightly more difficult. Because we engage in some sort of dialogue, that I am not comfortable with. If we talk about his/her family or relationship issues I don't know if I am supposed to

  1. just listen and add one-syllable exlamations at strategic times
  2. offer my own opinion: 'I don't think it is that bad', or 'could they have misunderstood you'
  3. contribute with my own experiences in the field
When I follow strategy 1., the conversation usually dies. When I follow strategy 2., either I agree and act sympathetic towards the other person, and then the conversation dies; or I offer another perspective, which very often is not well received. If I follow strategy 3., I often monopolise the conversation, because I don't know exactly when to stop.

I like to run. The past 6 or 7 years I have run regularly with colleagues wherever I have worked. And while I enjoy the running, and in fact also the company, I dread the conversation. If somebody very talkative joins the running team I am relieved. Because then he or she can do the talking. If something interesting is happening at work (a poor manager, a merger), we can talk about that. But very often there is simply not enough to talk about for approximately half an hour. These days I mostly run with one person from work. This guy happens to be the person I also work with in the only project where I work with others. And while I have nothing bad to say about him, I have virtually nothing to say TO him. He seems a nice person, very laid-back. And not very talkative. I've started to dread the running. And it is nothing personal. I just don't know what to talk about. We can't talk about our common project for half an hour. And I am sure we've been around workplace issues and normal small-talk issues more than once. I sometimes tell the same story again in a sort of panic.

I've decided I need a longer list of 'safe' topics for small talk. Not only the running of course, but also for parties and other functions where I am supposed to talk to people I am not comfortable with. My list so far:
  1. The weather
  2. Food
  3. Holidays
  4. People's clothes, jewelery etc (not that I have any interest but it buys me some 30 seconds)
And there's someting else I would like to know: When I bake or cook for others and they compliment my results, they often ask for the recipe. Is this small-talk or do they really want the recipe?

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Physical contact

About five years ago, I saw on facebook a group called Asperger Awareness. I had a look and one of the things they listed as an aspie trait was: Standing too close to others.

I felt a number of things: Firstly I was annoyed. Did we really become so intolerant that we assign diagnoses to people that cross the 15 cm boundary? If diagnoses are trigged by such minor details, we eventually end up in a society where nobody belongs to normality anymore... And then I was also relieved. Because I was home free. I don't stand too close to others. In fact, I think I stand too far away. As history showed, I was not home free, and now I am quite content about being an aspie. But is has taken me a while to get there. I wasn't there yet five years ago.

Proximity to others bother me. I am not talking about my family, but everybody else. If another person stands close to me, I usually take a step away. I really don't like talking to people when I can also smell them. If I have to show a colleague something on my computer, I carefully place myself away from him or her, e.g. with a chair in between. I don't like it if I accidentally touch the other person during a conversation.

Some people use physical contact as part of their communication. E.g. some colleague pats me on my shoulder while we are talking about school kids over lunch. I gathered that it was a way of telling me: I know how you feel, I feel the same way and you have a funny way of expressing your experiences. But I had major difficulties in concentrating on our conversation because her constant patting me on my shoulder distracted me. Sometimes I get used to it though.

If there is one rule of greeting and it is hugging then hugging is OK. But some people hug upon arrival one time and before farewell the next. Some people hug hello and goodbye one time and not at all the next. Nobody (I guess) hug their colleagues everytime they meet. But if the colleague had a baby, or they leave because they got another job, then you hug. Maybe. And if you don't work together anymore but meet at the zoo one day, you hug, even though you never touched the person while the two of you worked together.

I hug because social convention dictates it. I'd rather not touch at all. I am not afraid of germs or anything, I just get very self-concious and insecure. And I can see the disappointment in people's eyes when I 'forget' (I don't, I just pretend). You see, I didn't hug the colleague that had a baby. And not the ex-colleague at the zoo either.

My family and my best friends: That is different. If I feel completely comfortable with others touching is OK, and I like to hug. I still get confused about physical contact as a means of communication though. I get distracted when the person I am talking to, touches me during conversation.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

This is what it's like

It is like singing in a choir, and constantly being out of tune. Sometimes to the point of singing a different song. Other times almost carrying the tune. And not knowing which is which. Either I have to be very proud of my out of tune singing, or I just shut up, pretend I am singing and knowing that I will never ever learn.

It is like being Goldielock, but never finding the right chair. There's always something wrong. Too cold, too noisy, too many people...

It is like being a sprinter in a marathon. You can impress at first, but sooner or later they'll find out that you can't run the whole distance.


This is what it's like for me:

Good stuff:
I am honest. I will not cheat you, and I will do my best to help you and to make you feel comfortable.

I have a very good memory. I remember birthdays, telephone numbers, past events, how you take your coffee, and almost everything you told me (though I forget what I have told you).

I am good at concentrating. I dig into a subject until I have the information I need.

I am loyal and I don't escape, not physically and not into substances.

Not-quite-so-good stuff:
I am always cold. And when I wear woolen clothes and turn up the heater, I am fine temperaturewise but my eyes get dry and sore.

I need complete darkness before I can sleep. I wear 'night goggles' even when it is dark in the bedroom. I can't sleep - even with the goggles - if the light is on in the room.

There's a track in my mind that is always busy. I can't stop thinking, and I can't control the thoughts. That is also why I can't sleep. It is also the reason of many conflicts, because it is not nice, calm and harmonious thoughts. The track is like a railway track next to the real railway track. When the train manages to switch tracks (I don't know how), it runs on the 'thought-track' and it can't get back to the real railway track. The thought-track often leads to aggression, temper tantrums, and regular meltdowns. I wish it was not like that. I wish I knew how to control the train.

I am gullible and I am extremely bad at lying. Very often I don't catch jokes or I catch them too late.

Crowds exhaust me. Sometimes I get social anxiety but most often I am just very self-conscious. I don't mind crowds of strangers though. They don't expect anything from me.

I lose things out of my hands. When that happens, I cry and scold myself.

I don't know what to do with other people's feelings. I have empathy but I don't know how to show it.


This is what I do to make me feel better:

Being at home.

Structuring and planning (calendar, to-do lists).

Knowing what is going to happen.




Sleeping on my stomach.


This is what others can do to make me feel better:

Don't surprise me.

Inform me, structure things, be predictable

Don't write between the lines (I might read it but you never know)

Be honest.

If you want me to do something (or don't something), please tell me.

Talking about feelings and other sensitive issues is probably not such a good idea. I am much better in writing. Writing also prevent most tantrums. So if there's something sensitive you want to tell me, it's fine by me to e-mail or facebook-chat about it.

If you think that I go too much on and on about nutrition or a smartphone app, just ask me to stop :)