Category Archives: Depression

Autistic Energy – A Depletion of a Person

I have been thinking a lot about energy lately. Particularly about human energy and why I am always so tired.  I have written about being tired before –> The Hidden Meaning Behind “I’m Tired”

Being tired, burned out, exhausted is something that I continually deal with on a regular basis.  Being tired never seems to end. There is a meme that I really relate to – “I am not an early bird or a night owl. I am some sort of permanently exhausted pigeon.”

Exhausted Pigeon

Why am I like this? Why I do I feel tired, exhausted, and burned out all the time? As with everything in my life, it is never one thing.

I am not the first autistic person to write about this topic. Some others include:

The common message in all of these is the problem with masking and not being able to be your true self in a world that is not designed for you. Societal expectations have an enormous impact on an autistic person’s energy levels.  Contrary to what our society pushes, having the goal to look “normal”, or “be indistinguishable from our peers”, is not a good thing.  Having this expectation that we must strive to pass as non-autistic is damaging to the autistic person.  Unfortunately, we learn at a very young age that in order to survive, we must wear a mask.  As a young person, we may not truly understand why we wear that mask; it is almost instinctual, ingrained in our psyche that in order to make it in our society, we must hide our differences.  We become targets if we don’t.  Wearing a mask is exhausting and we can’t always hide who we are.  No one can maintain a mask indefinitely.  At some point, cracks will begin to form.  A person will eventually burnout and crash due to the tremendous toll that wearing a mask takes on a person.

That mask hides a lot of crap. Take me for example.  By looking at me, you are not going to see a highly impaired autistic person who lives in chronic pain and has mobility issues from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, who also has Complex-PTSD from a medical trauma and domestic abuse, who has Generalized and Social Anxiety Disorder, who struggles with depression and panic attacks, who has a math learning disability (dyscalculia), but who also has a Bachelor’s in Science degree, a Master’s in Education degree, been a teacher for over 20 years.  People have gotten frustrated with me over my dyscalculia.  I have been asked, “You are so good at Science. Why are so you so bad at math?”  A person can be good at one thing and still have a learning disability in another thing.  One doesn’t cross the other out.

I am called “high-functioning”, but that is not correct. Functioning labels are very problematic. I am seen as “high-functioning”, but then my needs are ignored.  I am told I am being ridiculous or overdramatic, that I am not really impaired, because I have been successful in X, Y, and Z.  I am questioned as to why I can’t do a thing when I did the thing last week.  There are days I stay in bed all day in recovery mode.  It takes me a long time to recover from social activities.

My son has been seen as “high-functioning” as well. The reason is that he is highly verbal and it considered twice exceptional. His educational support needs were over looked, because the school saw a gifted student and didn’t think he should be receiving services even though he qualified for those services.  He eventually had to be home schooled due to the school not being able to meet his specific needs.  My son could no longer function in a regular school setting.  Functioning labels are harmful.

My daughter has been seen as “low-functioning” and it really bothers her. People think that she can’t do things. They see her as “low-functioning”, because she doesn’t talk much in public and she carries around a stuffed animal and uses “chewies” to help her self-regulate. She complains that things in school are “dumb-down” for her and she finds that insulting. She has learned to advocate for herself and having reached the Age of Majority, she is now in charge of her Individual Education Program (IEP). She wants to be challenged, but not to the point that it overwhelms her. Who would want to be overwhelmed? My daughter is not “low-functioning”.  She has needs just like anyone else.  She can function when her needs are met.  Doesn’t that apply to everyone?

Both my children learned to wear a mask at a very young age. It is not something I set out to teach them.  I didn’t even know I was autistic until after both my children were diagnosed.  As I stated earlier, it is almost an instinctual behavior for an autistic person to learn wear a mask.  Both my children struggle with mental health issues.  Some of these issues are genetic and some were caused by their father. Children don’t choose to be neglected and emotionally abused by a parent.  Domestic violence creates ripple effects on those who have been subjected to it. If domestic violence was experienced in childhood, these ripple effects can last way into adulthood.

There has been more information coming out recently about the intersection of autism and trauma. Lauren Gravitz did a piece about this topic entitled At the intersection of autism and trauma. In the article, Connor Kerns, assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, is quoted:

 “We know that about 70 percent of kids with autism will have a comorbid psychiatric disorder,” says Connor Kerns, assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder are all known to be more common among autistic people than in the general population, but PTSD had largely been overlooked. Until a few years ago, only a few studies had delved into the problem, and most suggested that less than 3 percent of autistic people have PTSD, about the same rate as in typical children. If that were true, Kerns points out, PTSD would be one of the only psychiatric conditions that’s no more common in people with autism than in their typical peers.

One potential explanation, Kerns says, is that, like other psychiatric conditions, PTSD simply looks different in people with autism than it does in the general population. “It seems possible to me that it’s not that PTSD is less common but potentially that we’re not measuring it well, or that the way traumatic stress expresses itself in people on the spectrum is different,” Kerns says. “It seemed we were ignoring a huge part of the picture.”  

Bushraa Khatib wrote An in-depth look into how people with autism experience trauma, and in it, Khatib states:

To date, little research has looked in depth at the experience of trauma in people with autism. Research has shown that people with autism have a higher risk of adverse childhood experiences, such as financial hardship, mental illness or substance abuse in their families or parent separation or divorce. Such events have been consistently linked to immediate and lasting health disparities, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

There are also many reasons to believe that individuals with autism are more likely to experience and struggle to recover from traumas. According to a 2015 review article published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, studies have found that youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities are more likely to be maltreated than their peers. Social isolation, family stress, and poor communication skills – all of which are prevalent in children with autism – increase the risk of maltreatment

The lack of awareness and understanding of autism within the community and increased social isolation of individuals with autism can also put them at additional risk for victimization.

The impression I am getting from these articles is that there is a general lack of understanding of autism and how co-occurring conditions manifest in an autistic person. Due to this lack of understanding, society is ignoring a huge part of what is happening.  Living in our society, being told we must meet expectations that outweigh our abilities to meet them, constant stress of change, the ongoing sensory onslaught, the inability to recover quickly enough from the strain of pushing to meet these external expectations, and this apparent instinctual behavior to mask ourselves so that we can pass as “normal” is harming us so much so that there are those who begin to see suicide as the only logical way to end the pain.  I have written about depression and autism before –> Social Skills and Depression.

From my blog entitled To Those Who Still Don’t Understand:

As the aforementioned article states, the ages for the life expectancy of autistics vary a bit, but the statistics point to an uncomfortable reality.  Autistic life spans are shorter than typical life spans.  A study out of Sweden completed late in 2015, entitled Premature mortality in autism spectrum disorder, revealed that people with autism died an average of 16 years earlier than those who do not have autism.  There are other studies out there that support the Swedish study findings. 

Why is it this way?  Why do autistics seem to die younger than those who are not autistic?

Previous studies had shown that 30 percent to 50 percent of people with ASD have considered suicide at some point in their lives.  Bullying, anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation and alienation all contribute to this.  There is a high cost trying to cope in a world that is not designed for you nor is accepting of you.

Then there are the co-existing conditions that seem to be common to people with autism. Chronic health problems can shorten a person’s life span.  Epilepsy, Elhers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), gastrointestinal problems, sensory overload, and lots of stress related illnesses, which can lead to physical ailments, including heart disease, brain inflammation, strokes, and diabetes – these seem to be common occurrences in the lives of autistic people. 

I will end this blog with a something that I wrote on Facebook on January 11th, 2020, and to clarify that I am not suicidal:

My counselor told me today that the complex stressors that have been ongoing in my life have more to do with environmental/systematic issues than anything else. The type of assistance/support I need to reduce these complex stressors doesn’t exist. This is not the first time I have been told this. Other professionals and non-professionals have told me this over the years.

The system is rigged and it is broken.  Our society is not designed for people like me and families like mine. I feel like I am trapped in these seemingly never ending loops of environmental and financial instability, fight/flight/freeze response, and being retriggered again and again.

On a positive note, I have been able to climb to higher loops than where I was seven years ago. Back then, I was full-on in survival mode. I was a brand new single parent who was under-employed, in grad school, financially insecure, facing food scarcity, beginning the journey of coming to terms with my own disability and Complex-PTSD, needing to begin home schooling (another system failure), and beginning the journey of supporting my children through their own grief and trauma as well as helping them learn self-acceptance. There was a lot of crying, lots and lots of crying. Survival was my only option. I had to survive so that my kids could make it.

Climbing out of a swirling tornado is incredibly exhausting, and so much of that climbing I have had to do on my own while “pulling” my kids along with me, because no one gets left behind.

I am still stuck in that damn tornado, but I am a lot further up than I used to be. I am high enough to see the top edge, but I am still too far down with too much weight on my shoulders to reach it.

I need a break. I am tired. I am just so damn tired.

Toxic Shame – You might struggle with it and not even know it!

(Trigger Warning – Mention of suicide and abuse.)

“Toxic Shame”, just reading those words makes me cringe. I didn’t know until recently that there was a term for it, but I am very familiar with the effects and damage that toxic shame causes.  In my experience, toxic shame can cause generational damage as well.

What is toxic shame?

To answer that question, I first have to explain what ordinary shame is. According to Mary C. Lamia Ph.D. , “as a self-conscious emotion, shame informs us of an internal state of inadequacy, unworthiness, dishonor, regret, or disconnection. Shame is a clear signal that our positive feelings have been interrupted. Another person or a circumstance can trigger shame in us, but so can a failure to meet our own ideals or standards.”

brene brown

In the article, What is Toxic Shame? , it is the shame that has become toxic.  That level of shame is described as “internalized shame” that hangs around and alters our self-image. For some people, toxic shame can consume their personality. For others, the shame lies beneath their conscious awareness, but can easily be triggered.

The article further explains that “toxic shame differs from ordinary shame, which passes in a day or a few hours, in the following respects:

  • It can hide in our unconscious, so that we’re unaware that we have shame.
  • When we experience shame, it lasts much longer.
  • The feelings and pain associated with shame are of greater intensity.
  • An external event isn’t required to trigger it. Our own thoughts can bring on feelings of shame.
  • It leads to shame spirals that cause depression and feelings of hopelessness and despair.
  • It causes chronic “shame anxiety” – the fear of experiencing shame.
  • It’s accompanied by voices, images, or beliefs originating in childhood and is associated with a negative “shame story” about ourselves.
  • We needn’t recall the original source of the immediate shame, which usually originated in childhood or a prior trauma.
  • It creates deep feelings of inadequacy.

“If not healed, toxic shame can lead to aggression, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, and addiction. It generates low self-esteem, anxiety, irrational guilt, perfectionism, and codependency, and it limits our ability to enjoy satisfying relationships and professional success.”

 I understand all of this.  Shame and guilt have been used as weapons to manipulate me, to control me, to make me comply with another’s wishes, to make me submit.  It is an awful experience and it stays with you.  For much of my life I had no defense against this.  I was conditioned to be a co-dependent early on. I was taught that my needs came secondary and that I must never disappoint.  It was the end of the world if I disappointed, so I complied, much to my detriment.

Taking responsibility for things that aren’t yours (false responsibility) and toxic guilt are two things that often go hand in hand with toxic shame. A person ends up becoming overly agreeable which opens them up to being easily manipulated. Shame corrodes the person from the inside and can affect all areas of their life.

This is not something that just goes away. My conditioning followed me well into adulthood. Mix in my autistic brain insisting that “rules are rules”, my unwavering loyalty, my need to help others, my fear of disappointing people, my social anxiety traits, and my full-blown Generalized Anxiety Disorder as well as never being taught growing up how to advocate for myself (I learned as an adult) and I ended as someone who has, overtime, developed Complex-PTSD from being subjected to years and years of emotional neglect and abuse.

Keep in mind that shame and guilt are two different feelings.  Brene’ Brown, researcher-storyteller, explains in her TEDtalk – Listening to Shame:

Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is “I did something bad.” How many of you, if you did something that was hurtful to me, would be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake?” How many of you would be willing to say that? Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.

I was not the way they wanted me to be.  My masking took a huge toll on me, but, in my mind, I had to comply. It was how I avoided the shame and guilt trips.  If I just complied, then I was spared the emotional gut punching. By complying and trying to please, maybe I could feel valued and not worthless, at least for a little while.  If I objected in anyway, advocated for myself in ways that contradicted them, and/or insisted on maintaining my personal boundaries, then the shaming would begin. The shaming is still happening, but instead of complying, I get angry.

My neurology and my ability to parent have been attacked for years.  This started when I had had enough and drew a metaphorical line.  I wasn’t going to tolerate being treated like that anymore.  I should never have had to fight those closest to me in order to have my individuality and identity, but I did fight for over three decades.

How does toxic shame become generational?

Parents can unintentionally or intentionally transfer their shame to their children through verbal messages or nonverbal behavior. If they were subjected to toxic shame, then they might project that shame onto their own children and the cycle continues. This is even truer when a parent has an untreated personality disorder or untreated mental health issue. Some examples of this include: a child might be feeling unloved in reaction to a parent’s depression, absence, indifference, or irritability or feel inadequate due to a parent’s competitiveness or over-correcting behavior.

Toxic shame makes it very difficult for a person to accept themselves. A person can find that they hate themselves, that they feel absolutely worthless and have no value what so ever. If this person is also autistic who is trying to live in a world that is not designed for them then that feeling of worthless and emotional pain only grows exponentially.

Up to 50 percent of autistic adults have considered ending their own lives, a rate two to three times that seen in the general population (1).  There was a time that I wanted to die.  I wasn’t suicidal. I just wanted my physical, mental, and emotional pain to end – more on that here.

According to Luna Lindsey:

Shame sends two of these three messages: 

  • I am intrinsically unacceptable which will make me always be alone
  • I am inherently unfixable and therefore will always be a source of trouble for those who do love me.

And shame (and resulting anxiety and depression) causes so much pain, that the third ingredient is an easy leap. After suffering long enough, suddenly death seems like a relief.

Luna continues on and suggests some possible solutions:

Affirmations – “For starters, when I feel this way, I often find relief from reading the well-crafted and autism-specific affirmations by Liane Holliday Willey which are posted on the WrongPlanet forums. These work most of the time, except for when, for whatever reason, I’m feeling overly cynical and don’t believe them.”

Self-Acceptance – “Because of these differences, there are many behaviors that will always be difficult or even impossible for NTs to accept, and you have to accept that, too.”

Identify your strengths (Aspie Superpowers) – “These are examples of how ASD makes you particularly awesome. They are the other side of the coin, your X-ray vision to the kryptonite. For examples, see the two links at the beginning of the paragraph. Come up with your own list. During shame-filled times, go over them and remind yourself of your strengths.”

Consider coming out –According to Brené Brown, shame requires secrecy, silence, and judgement to survive. Without these things, it will die. Consider finding a safe space, free of judgement, either with safe family, or safe friends, or with a therapist, or online at a place like WrongPlanet. Bring your shameful moments to light. If you feel judged, then go back into your shell until you do find someplace safe.”

To close, I would like to share a poem by Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance:

May all beings

Heal and awaken

Into the love and awareness

That holds and honors

The fullness of being.

(Poem found at The Power of Mindful Empathy To Heal Toxic Shame)

 

References:

  1. Segers M. and J. Rawana Autism Res. 7, 507-521 (2014) PubMed

Talking About Mental Illness – Society Needs to do Better

Content Warning: Suicide and suicide thoughts.

Whenever a celebrity or well-known person commits suicide, suicide hotline information is plastered all over social media. 

Feeling depressed? Reach out! Call this number!

Know someone showing these signs? Reach out!

I am not disparaging the need for these types of hotlines.  Many people can find help through them. In 2015, John Draper (PhD, Director, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Member, SPRC Steering Committee) reported that in the ten years since the Lifeline began, their centers have answered more than five million calls from people in suicidal or emotional crisis.  

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 or Chat

En Español – Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio – 1-888-628-9454

For Deaf & Hard of Hearing  1-800-799-4889

The problem is, how many people didn’t or won’t call? How many children and adults don’t call and continued to suffer in silence, because the people they did reach out to dismissed them or they didn’t feel safe enough to reach out at all? How many kept silent, because they didn’t know what to say, didn’t want to burden their families, or because they were raised not to say anything at all?

According to the CDC, in 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide. Yes, as young as 10 years old. Suicide is considered the 10th leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise.  Researchers also found that more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death.

According to The State of Mental Health in America, 1 in 5 Adults have a mental health condition. That’s over 40 million Americans; more than the populations of New York and Florida combined. Youth mental health is worsening. Rates of youth with severe depression increased from 5.9% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2015. Even with severe depression, 76% of youth are left with no or insufficient treatment.

From the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA:

“Anxiety and depression are treatable, but 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment, according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report.”

“Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.”

In Spokane County, Washington State, the youth suicide rate more than doubled from 2013 to 2016. It went from 4.3 per 100,000 people 24 and younger to 10.7, Washington State Department of Health data show.  It was reported that nearly 20 percent of Spokane County’s eighth, 10th or 12th graders have seriously considered suicide, according to the Spokane Regional Health District. In 2016, the last year data was publicly available, 15 percent reported that they made a plan to do so. Chris Moore, a student services coordinator with Spokane Public Schools, says suicide attempts are spiking as well, even among kids in elementary school. “We’ve seen a drastic increase with the number of attempts,” Moore says. “It’s a public health crisis. It really is.

For more information – As youth suicide rates surge in Spokane, school officials search for answers

My family has a long history with mental illness on both sides. Then there is my ex-husband’s family.  Various forms of anxiety and depression, PTSD, Bipolar, alcoholism (which is considered a mental illness according to the AMA and the APA – it’s all there based on information spanning five generations.  

For more information – Anxiety and Depression Association of America – Facts & Statistics

My sister-in-law, who I will never have the opportunity to meet, violently committed suicide with a gun when she was 21 years old, three weeks after her son was born.  He will never know his mother.  He is now older than she was when she ended her life. His father raised him on his own. 

My brother-in-law has struggled with depression all his life and has been slowly killing himself with alcohol and drugs. He is in his fifties and he doesn’t expect to outlive his parents. He can’t hold on to a regular job and lives most of the time with his parents and some of the time with his girlfriend. 

My ex-husband has also struggled with depression all his life, but has refused treatment.  His untreated mental illness and his untreated personality disorder ripped our family apart, twice.  He ran from life instead of facing his problems.  He couldn’t deal with his demons, so he pushed his family away and went into isolation with his seven guns and his paranoid ideas.

My ex-husband came from a family who doesn’t talk.  My ex was raised to believe that it was a sign of weakness to talk about your emotions and to ask for help.  Instead, he buried his demons, walled himself up, and went emotionally flat lined to the outside world. The reality is that he can’t handle his emotions, he fears them.  He is emotionally stunted, a 45 year old man emotionally stuck somewhere between a 12 year old boy and a 17 year old teenager.  Our children are actually more emotionally mature than he is.  My sister-in-law killed herself when my ex was only 17 years old and that is where he stopped growing emotionally as a person.     

My son, who is now 15 years old, was diagnosed with depression and anxiety when he was six years old.  He was diagnosed with Autism a year later.  Autism is a developmental disorder, not a mental illness.  My son was on suicide watch twice when he was 11 years old due to his father’s behavior.  My ex had fallen into a major depressive episode, the worst I had seen him be in. He refused to get help.  He neglected and then abandoned his children resulting in my son developing PTSD.  My son was never suicidal, but he had given up hope in life. He saw no point in life any more.  My son still struggles with depression.  He is on medication and goes to weekly counseling sessions. 

My daughter was diagnosed with Bipolar when she was only eight years old.  She has been on medication ever since. She was diagnosed with Autism two years later at the age of 10.  She is now 17 years old.  She was hospitalized when she was 15 years old due to going into psychosis.  She had been essentially stuck in a depressive state for some time and then had a breakthrough manic state.  The combination sent her into psychosis.  The voices told her she had to hurt herself with a knife and then the voices told her to use fire.  She never did and insisted that she could keep fighting the voices, but we managed to convince her to go to the hospital where she stayed for a week in the youth psychiatric ward.  Three months later a space opened up at a long-term treatment facility for youth.  She went into long-term care as an outpatient for three months.  Her medications were straightened out and a new treatment plan was developed for her to be used by her counselor, occupational therapist, and her speech therapist.

Then there is me.  I was diagnosed with Autism after my children were at the age of 36. 

Depression and mainly anxiety have been a part of my life for as long as I remember, but no one talked about it.  I didn’t have the words I needed to use growing up to describe why I felt the way I did.  I was told to lighten up, to stop taking things so seriously.  I was yelled at if I cried.  I was conditioned to not show emotions or to ask for help.  I was also conditioned that my needs didn’t matter.  I was on my own and told to take care of my younger sister who was only two years younger than me.  Alone, that was how I felt for so damn long.  No one listened when I tried to reach out, so I stopped reaching out.  I withdrew into myself, which only isolated me more, because my family either didn’t know what to do with me or took it personally that I had withdrawn, so I was ignored.  I was an undiagnosed autistic child with undiagnosed mental health issues. 

I grew up in a toxic home, but I didn’t realize it.  All I knew was something was off, but I never could figure it out.  I was told I was loved, but I felt so alone and I was scared.  I felt silenced.  What I wanted never seemed to matter.  I was conditioned to comply.  I had no idea how to say “no” or how to advocate for myself.  I was to comply with the wishes of others and rules were rules.

I didn’t know anything about emotional abuse until I was required to take a class for my professional certification as a teacher.  Even then, my mind just couldn’t accept that I had come from an abusive home life.  No, it couldn’t be.  There were other reasons for the behavior, always an excuse, excuses I had heard as a child growing up, excuses I was taught to just accept without question.     

By the time I took this class, I was already married and a parent.  I also hadn’t realized that I had married into an emotionally abusive marriage.  I married what I knew.

For more information – Invisible Scars – A Tale of Emotional Abuse

About 15 years ago, I went through a horrible medical trauma that was made worse by my family’s behavior.  More information can be found here – The Volcano is Awake. There was a time that I wanted to die so the pain would end, but I was never suicidal. I reached out for help so many times, but I was told get over it, bury it, move on.  I would reach out and get a cold shoulder or a back turned to me.  I had to get myself through that dark time of my life on my own and I would never wish that torture on anyone.  What got me through was that I couldn’t leave my children without a mother.  They were only a baby and a toddler at the time and something inside me kept saying that there was no one else to take care of them.  It was my responsibility as a mother that pulled me out and in the process “mama bear” emerged.  I had reached my breaking point, but never fully broke.   I became stronger, but in the process of working my way out of the darkness, I learned I had developed Complex – PTSD.  

Reach outWhen my marriage ended, I once again reached out for help, but was met with the same cold shoulders and told to move on, get over it, stuff it away. As with my medical trauma, I was not allowed to grieve in the way and for the length that I needed to.  I had become an inconvenience, a burden, again.  Once again I found myself alone with two children, teenagers now, and I had to get through the emotional pain of having my family ripped apart, but this time I was going to do things on my terms.  By this time I had learned about self-advocacy and self-determination.  I drew the line and held those boundaries. 

I reached out to others outside my family.  It took time, but I eventually developed a support network that is primarily online.  I am in a better place now, but my children and I are still grieving.  We are getting there, though.  We are much better than where we were a few years ago, but the depression is still there.  It has never fully gone away and I don’t know if it ever will. 

I have tried to create an environment where my children can feel safe talking about how they feel. I want them to feel that there is someone who will listen to them, who feels their voice is important, and who will never give them a cold shoulder and tell them to get over it and move on.  I remind them often that they each have a whole care team rooting for them.  I want them to know they are not alone.   

There is still too much stigma around mental illness. In 9 Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma, Laura Greenstein states, “Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need. For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain. And while stigma has reduced in recent years, the pace of progress has not been quick enough.” 

As a society, we need to do better.  We can’t just post about a suicide or crisis hotlines only during a time when a celebrity commits suicide.  We can’t just think posting these hotline numbers are enough. 

What is mental health stigma?

Mental health stigma can be divided into two distinct types:

  • social stigma is characterized by prejudicial attitudes and discriminating behavior directed towards individuals with mental health problems as a result of the psychiatric label they have been given.
  • perceived stigma or self-stigma is the internalizing by the mental health sufferer of their perceptions of discrimination and perceived stigma can significantly affect feelings of shame and lead to poorer treatment outcomes.

How can we eliminate stigma?

People tend to hold negative beliefs about mental health problems regardless of their age, regardless of what knowledge they have of mental health problems, and regardless of whether they know someone who has a mental health problem.

 “The fact that such negative attitudes appear to be so entrenched suggests that campaigns to change these beliefs will have to be multifaceted, will have to do more than just impart knowledge about mental health problems, and will need to challenge existing negative stereotypes especially as they are portrayed in the general media.” – Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D

According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), stigma harms the 1 in 5 Americans affected by mental health conditions. It shames them into silence and prevents them from seeking help. People need to feel safe talking about mental illness, so here I am talking about mental illness in a public forum.  I do not feel shame.  I do not feel embarrassed. I am not a burden. I refuse to be silenced.  I want people to know that they are not alone. End the stigma!!

Educate Yourself and Others – Learn More

“Everyone knows a little about mental health issues but knowing the facts can help you educate others and reject stigmatizing stereotypes. They are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Understanding mental health isn’t only about being able to identify symptoms and having a name for conditions, but dispelling false ideas about mental health conditions as well.” – NAMI

To Those Who Still Don’t Understand

(Content Warning: medical problems, references to death, suicide, murder)

I came across an article by Sarah Kurchak today, entitled To Neurotypicals On My 36th Birthday and it really resonated where my thoughts have been lately.  I commented on the article, but I felt I needed to expand my comment.

I have tried to live a healthy life style all my life.  I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke, I don’t do recreational drugs, I try to eat right, and I am I runner.  Unfortunately, the statistics are not on my side.  Due to my genetics, my life expectancy has been shortened. 

As the aforementioned article states, the ages for the life expectancy of autistics vary a bit, but the statistics point to an uncomfortable reality.  Autistic life spans are shorter than typical life spans.  A study out of Sweden completed late in 2015, entitled Premature mortality in autism spectrum disorder, revealed that people with autism died an average of 16 years earlier than those who do not have autism.  There are other studies out there that support the Swedish study findings. 

Why is it this way?  Why do autistics seem to die younger than those who are not autistic?

Previous studies had shown that 30 percent to 50 percent of people with ASD have considered suicide at some point in their lives.  Bullying, anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation and alienation all contribute to this.  There is a high cost trying to cope in a world that is not designed for you nor is accepting of you.

Then there are the co-existing conditions that seem to be common to people with autism. Chronic health problems can shorten a person’s life span.  Epilepsy, Elhers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), gastrointestinal problems, sensory overload, and lots of stress related illnesses, which can lead to physical ailments, including heart disease, brain inflammation, strokes, and diabetes – these seem to be common occurrences in the lives of autistic people.  

I was diagnosed when I was 36 years old. This is the same age that the article is focusing on, the same age that the researchers CNN cites say is the average age that people like me die. 

I am a teacher and have been for almost 20 years. During the 2011-2012 school year, the same year I was diagnosed, my doctor told me that my stress was actually killing me. This is why I don’t have a classroom of my own anymore. I was very fortunate to be able to find employment where I can work predominately from home, but still keeps me in the education field. I don’t know if I will ever be able to return to the classroom on a regular daily basis.

Due to EDS, my body has been falling apart all my life. I have been a runner for 24 years. It has kept me out of a wheel chair. I had to stop backpacking and weight lifting long ago. I have had to garden in pots for years now (doctors’ orders). I am not even supposed to push a grocery cart anymore, because the right side of my diaphragm is no longer securely attached.

I don’t know how much longer my body and mind can take. Stress can literally kill you. I am so tired. I do know that whenever I just what to collapse, my body won’t. It has got a lot of fight in it still, though. When everything went to hell at 21 weeks when I was pregnant with my son, my body gave everything it had to keep him alive. He was born healthy and to term. That was 15 years ago and my body has never fully recovered. I am still bleeding internally with significant nerve and tissue damage.

I am 42 years old now and I don’t know how much longer I have. So, I will just keep carrying on the best I can with the time I have.

Looking through my old writings, I see that this carry-on-attitude is found all over.  I mean, what else can I do, but to keep moving forward? I am a single mom for two teenagers.  I don’t feel there is much choice in the matter.  The only other option that I see is giving up and dying.  My resilience is too strong, which I explain in “Strengths of Autism – Resilience”.  My body won’t let me give up, so I keep going. 

In The Hidden Meaning Behind “I’m Tired”,  I explain that the phrase “I’m tired” is just a cover for a long story of struggle, confusion, stress, frustration, pain, and exhaustion.  I am always tired.  It never seems to go away and it has only gotten worse as I have gotten older.

In September 2017, I came across this meme with a quote by Dr. Shana Nichols:

Females with ASD“Females with ASDs often develop ‘coping mechanisms’ that can cover up the intrinsic difficulties they experience. They may mimic their peers, watch from the sidelines, use their intellect to figure out the best ways to remain undetected, and they will study, practice, and learn appropriate approaches to social situations. Sounds easy enough, but in fact these strategies take a lot of work and can more often than not lead to exhaustion, withdrawal, anxiety, selective mutism, and depression. -Dr. Shana Nichols”

How long can a body maintain a perpetual cycle of burnout, stress, and pain? 

I really don’t know. 

Something my children’s psychiatrist told us this past week:

ARC – Autistic Renewal Cycle

ABC – Autistic Burnout Cycle

They need to acknowledge ABC, but focus on ARC. Both are in ABC right now. As a family, we need to find ways to break the ABC using ARC.

I have struggled with ABC for so long. Every year I would find myself in some level of autistic burnout. I need to break the cycle, too.

What the ARC looks like depends on the individual. Basically, an individual needs to be encouraged and provided opportunities to do activities that fuel them, that give back emotional currency.

Being stuck in ABC can potentially shorten a person’s life.  The cycle must be broken, but that is not a easy thing to do.  How does one fuel their emotional currency?

Personally, I feel it has a lot to do with acceptance.  I feel acceptance is the greatest gift you can give to a person. 

According to Rick Hanson Ph.D.:

“Accepting people does not itself mean agreeing with them, approving of them, waiving your own rights, or downplaying their impact upon you. You can still take appropriate actions to protect or support yourself or others. Or you can simply let people be. Either way, you accept the reality of the other person. You may not like it, you may not prefer it, you may feel sad or angry about it, but at a deeper level, you are at peace with it. That alone is a blessing. And sometimes, your shift to acceptance can help things get better.”

Acceptance is an action and it requires work.  Kassiane S. explains this concept beautifully in Acceptance vs. Awareness:

“Acceptance comes from a place of understanding.  Understanding isn’t generated by soundbites and posterchildren. Understanding takes work. To accept us, people first need to acknowledge us as individuals-as three dimensional, growing, developed characters. We are not all the same, and we are not but a collection of deficits. Acceptance is seeing that-and seeing that one’s distaste for an autistic person is more likely than not because of “autism”. Awareness tells you that anything objectionable about us is “autism”, but that explanation is clear, simple, and wrong.

Acceptance requires facing that which makes you uncomfortable about us, thinking about why it makes you uncomfortable, and confronting any prejudice at the root of that discomfort. To accept us is to make a conscious effort to overcome that prejudice, to recognize that your discomfort with our differences is far more your problem to overcome than ours.”

In Accept Them As They Are, Dr. Hanson continues to explain how you find acceptance:

“Consider how you have gotten tangled up with this other person, struggling to change them. When I do this myself, I become aware of my own rightness, positionality, judgments, pushiness, irritability, narrow views, hurts, longings, grievances, or remorse. See if you can let go of some, even all of these entanglements. Open to the easing, relief, and peace that can come when you do.

Also consider how much you like it when you feel that another person accepts you completely. It’s a beautiful gift – and we can give it ourselves to others when we accept them. Imagine how it might improve your relationship with someone if that person felt you accepted him or her fully. Acceptance is a gift that gives back.”

I am so very tired of fighting just to survive. I explained this in So, how does it feel to actually live your life as opposed to just surviving?  I chose years ago to live in the moment, because I don’t know how any moments I have left. 

When people want to push the idea that there is a supposed autism epidemic (there isn’t), I have found the question that will inevitably come up is, “If there is no epidemic, then where are all the autistic adults?”

Autistic adults are there and have been there since there have been people.  From what I have learned, autistic adults seem to disappear either by choice or design.  As they age, they either remove themselves from society to get away from the unrelenting life killing stress or they die at a much younger age than non-autistic adults.  The question really should be, “If autistic adults have always been there, then why are you not seeing us?”  

In closing, I would like to reiterate what Sarah Kurchak stated in her article about what to do if you want to help and add a few words of my own.

  • Listen to us.
  • Believe in us.
  • Let us be our authentic autistic selves.
  • Invest in our work.
  • Invest in science and actions that actually make our lives better now instead of chasing a hypothetical cure.
  • Meet us halfway, we can’t do all the work to conform to your world. Compromises need to be made and bridges need to be built. Help us build that bridge.
  • Tell us you accept us and mean it!
  • Tell us we don’t bore you.
  • Tell us we don’t drain you.
  • Tell us we are not broken.
  • Tell us we are not a burden.
  • And above all, don’t kill us.

I Hate Complex-PTSD

(Trigger Warning – Discussion about Trauma)

I hate Complex-PTSD. There is no way around it, I hate it.  I got triggered today.  All it took was for me to be sent spiraling was for me to notice that a relative of mine had changed their profile picture on Facebook.  It was a completely innocent thing for them to do.  There was nothing wrong with the picture that my relative chose, but for me, it was enough to trigger a cascading effect of interacting layers of trauma that I have accumulated over the years.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape.”

C-PSTD can occur in such cases of:

  • domestic emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • entrapment or kidnapping.
  • slavery or enforced labor.
  • long term imprisonment and torture
  • repeated violations of personal boundaries.
  • long-term objectification.
  • exposure to gaslighting & false accusations
  • long-term exposure to inconsistent, push-pull, splitting or alternating raging & hoovering behaviors.
  • long-term taking care of mentally ill or chronically sick family members.
  • long term exposure to crisis conditions.

How did I get to this point? I grew up in an emotionally neglectful and abusive household.  I married what I knew and the covert emotional manipulation and emotional abuse only got worse.  I have also been taking care of mentally ill family members for over 16 years now.  Then there is the medical trauma I endured 15 years ago that resulted in my initial diagnosis of PTSD which eventually grew to C-PTSD when more and more layers of trauma were exposed.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and C-PTSD are similar, but they do differ in causes and symptoms. C-PTSD results more from chronic repetitive stress from which there is little to no chance of escape. PTSD can result from single events or short term exposure to extreme stress or trauma.

***Remember, C-PTSD is a stress disorder, not a weakness or defect of character nor is it a personality disorder although it is often misdiagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder.

From The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders:

CPTSD Symptoms

People who have gone through a long-standing, extremely traumatic situation may exhibit both physical and emotional symptoms related to their ordeal.

Emotional symptoms may include:

  • Rage displayed through violence, destruction of property, or theft
  • Depression, denial, fear of abandonment, thoughts of suicide, anger issues
  • Low self-esteem, panic attacks, self-loathing
  • Perfectionism, blaming others instead of dealing with a situation, selective memory
  • Loss of faith in humanity, distrust, isolation, inability to form close personal relationships
  • Shame, guilt, focusing on wanting revenge
  • Flashbacks, memory repression, dissociation

Victims of C-PTSD may also have physical symptoms, such as:

  • Eating disorders, substance abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity
  • Chronic pain
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems.
  • Migraines

From Out of the Storm:

Symptoms Shared by CPTSD and PTSD

According to Cloitre et al (2016), CPTSD shares three main symptoms with PTSD which include:

  • Re-experiencing the past – in the form of nightmares and flashbacks.  While in PTSD flashbacks tend to be visual, in CPTSD they are often emotional.  That is,  a sudden, overwhelming rush of emotions such as anger, shame, humiliation, abandonment, and of being small and powerless much like a child would feel when abused.  These are referred to as Emotional Flashbacks (EFs). and can last for minutes, hours or even days (Walker, 2013) . 
  • Sense of threat – constantly on guard or hypervigilant, strong startle reaction
  • Avoidance – of thoughts, feelings, people, places, activities relating to the trauma (e.g., dissociation, derealization)

Symptoms of CPTSD Only

Cloitre et al (2014) suggest that CPTSD differs from PTSD in that it has three additional symptoms:

  • Emotion regulation – Emotional sensitivity; reduced ability to respond to situations in an emotionally appropriate and flexible manner  
  • Negative self-concept – Feeling of worthlessness and defectiveness. Walker suggests that those with CPTSD suffer from toxic shame and have a virulent Inner and Outer Critic.
  • Interpersonal problems – Difficulty feeling close to another person; feeling disconnected, distant or cut off from other people (depersonalization, social anxiety). 

Everyone is unique and the above list of symptoms is not complete and not everyone with C-PTSD will exhibit all the symptoms listed. I, for one, do not have the physical symptoms of “Eating disorders, substance abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity”. There was a time I wanted revenge, but I couldn’t stand that feeling and fought hard against it. Revenge never solves anything and can ultimately destroy the person seeking revenge. I have wanted to die, but I have never had suicidal thoughts.  I also have never been violent, destroyed property, nor committed theft. I do not have cardiovascular problems, but I do experience chest pain during anxiety and panic attacks. I have had to establish healthy boundaries and am no longer in contact with certain family members beyond an occasional email.  I also never lost my ability to form close personal relationships with others.

What makes experiencing all this worse for me is that things that trigger me are typically seen as happy moments by most people, so there is little to no understanding as to why I cut myself off from exposure to reminders and why an unexpected exposure to a photograph of my happy sister, her happy husband, and her new baby affected me so badly.  I didn’t experience anger seeing that photo.  I was terrified!  Pregnancy and children birth reminders are horrible, panic inducing triggers for me. The reason for this is my medical trauma resulted from me being pregnant and giving birth.  I am not going to go into detail, but more information can be found here and here.

I got triggered this morning by a reminder of that horrific time in my life that was my medical trauma, the lack of emotional support I experienced from my family and continue to experience, and all the loss I experienced and continue to experience.  That one trigger not only triggered me regarding my medical trauma, but every  emotional trauma after it. There is a lot.  As I stated before, I was in an emotionally abusive marriage and came from an emotionally manipulative and neglectful home life that followed me into adulthood.    

It is 11:31PM now. I am still struggling. I have been crying off and on all day, but most of my crying was this morning.  How have I coped?  I used music and running.  I let myself ride the melody and lyrics of specifically chosen songs and played them over and over again.  I let the music flow through me and let the emotion flow with it.  I had to.  No more pretending.  I am safe now.  I don’t have to hide my anguish anymore. I have to let my pain out, but I have to do it in a health way.  I have been a runner for 24 years.  Running helps me regulate my anxiety and helps me control my meltdowns.  Running is not for everyone, but it is a way for me to help ground myself when the whole world feels like it is collapsing all around me like it did today.

My theme song today was “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler.  I felt this song fit with how I was feeling and how I wanted to express myself, because I had no words, just tears and pain.  (Lyrics) 

After my run tonight I found myself still feeling lost. The song I needed to listen to was “Send me an Angel” by Real Life.  (Lyrics)

I have been waking up lately with this song playing in my head. I wouldn’t mind at all having an angel sent to me right now with some guidance and emotional support. Days like this are so hard, but they do eventually get better.  I just have to keep moving forward.  A better day will come.  

 

 

I Can’t Anymore . . .

NOTE: I feel that this writing is lacking, but I am struggling right now and needed to write and release it out in cyber space in order to reduce the build up of emotions inside of me.  I feel there needs to be a trigger warning, but I am not sure what to warn about. There is mention of depression and the thought of wanting to die, but please understand that I am not in any way suicidal. My hope is that this writing may help someone else that is also going through a difficult situation. Now, deep breath . . .

I can’t. I just can’t anymore. I feel so done with everything.  I know I am grieving again, but a person can only take so much emotional turmoil in their life.  I don’t want to have to start over again.  I have done this so many times before.  I don’t feel I have the energy anymore, but I will carry on.  I always do.  I will continue on, but tonight as I type this, I don’t want to.  I am so tired of it all, the pain, the heartache, the feeling of loss.

Oh, gosh, the pain, always with the pain. I am not just talking about physical pain.  I have a lot of that. My body has been degenerating, well, for as long as I can remember.  Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome will do that to you.  What is hurting me more right now, what is gouging at me, is the emotional pain. Physical pain takes a huge emotional toll on a person, but the lack of emotional support from loved ones makes it almost unbearable.  It is so bad that you want to die.

Do I want to die tonight? No, but I want to give up.  Everything I have been fighting to hold on to for almost 20 years is disintegrating right before my eyes.  It might be an archaic idea, but I am the type that bonds for life.  Unfortunately, I bonded with a man who doesn’t hold these same views.

I have written a lot about this man’s behavior over the past several years. It was a way for me to process through the grief and here I am again, grieving over another lost dream.  A dream of a new future, a new start with this same man who I naively thought shared the same dream as I did. 

I was wrong. His lifestyle choice seems to be more important to him than his own family and our relationship.  It is so frustrating.  I know this man loves me and he loves his children, but he is clueless when it comes to doing what is necessary to maintain a healthy relationship. 

There is a pull to be angry, but why? I have been there before many times.  It is an emotion a person needs to go through when processing things, but one needs to work past the anger.  Sadness and loss is what I feel tonight.  Sadness and loss is what I am familiar with when dealing with this particular man.  I guess tonight this sadness and loss is filled with more answered questions, then unanswered.  At least I have that.  For too many years I did not even have that, which only led to high levels of anxiety. 

Tonight, what I feel is depression and the knowledge that I have done all that I can. It is all on him now.  I fear that this is where it will finally stop, my ongoing effort I mean.  For nearly two decades I have tried and tried, but I can’t anymore.  There comes a time when there is enough evidence to show that you have hit a dead end, because you have done all that you can and still have gotten nowhere.   

I have been through so much in my life, so much crap. I have Complex-PTSD because of it, layers of trauma over many years. I am the autistic one, the person whom others have claimed has no empathy, no feelings, and has been called a robot and stuck up, but have also been told I am too emotional and too sensitive. Well, which is it?  You can’t be too emotional and too sensitive, but also lack empathy and feelings.  It doesn’t work that way.

I can tell you with all honesty that I have extremely strong empathy, so much so that it hurts. I have a very hard time separating what I feel from those I am around, particularly those who I care about. I might just not express it in ways that the general population may expect.  I feel it all, though.  I can’t seem to filter it out, just like I can’t filter out sensory input.  It is all bombarding me at once. 

I am a textbook autistic person. I say what I mean and mean what I say.  There is no hidden message and there is nothing written between the lines. I am a blunt and honest person who adheres to the virtues of integrity and honor.  I am also loyal and trusting, much to my own peril.  As a friend of mine once said, people like she and I seem to have a target on our foreheads, because of how we are. 

Where I come from, non-autistic people seem to be the ones who “lack empathy”, at least they seem to be this way towards others who don’t think like them. This same man that I have been referring to has come to some realizations as of late. 

My basic needs are not the same as his. It has taken him a very long time to come to realize this.  How I express my happiness is also not the same as his way as well as what makes me happy is not the same as what makes him happy.

More on this here —-> I am Real, I am Human, and I Feel!

I do not understand why he would have so much trouble understanding this, but he is still struggling with this whole concept.  This non-autistic man seems to be only able to see the world through his eyes, yet I am the one who is said to be lacking in “theory of mind”.  No, I am not lacking in “theory of mind”. I am just different.

——————–

This is my blog that I wrote in July 2013 entitled “Theory of Mind – The Debate Continues” .

Here is Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg’s blog entitled “A Critique of the Theory of Mind” .

And Ariane Zurcher’s blog entitled “An Empathic Debunking of the Theory Of Mind” .

——————–

How do I deal with all of this? I practice mindfulness.  From What Is Mindfulness? :

“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.”

I suppose my writing is one way for me to practice mindfulness. Before I started typing tonight I felt like my life was imploding.  The life that I wanted is basically over and I just couldn’t take it anymore.  After putting myself in the moment and allowing the emotions I was feeling to come out in written form, I am starting to feel the pressure that was building up inside me subside.

Deep breaths .  .  . I will not give up. I will get through this. 

Hear My Battle Cry  (A poem I wrote.)

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

Hear My Battle Cry

Here I am sitting at my lap top again trying to find words and at the same time I am listening to “Battle Cry” by Imagine Dragons.  I am in a battle now, a battle to just hold on, to make it through, and to survive.  Life shouldn’t be this hard.  How did my life get so hard? I will not give up, though.  I will keep fighting. This is my battle cry!

Hear My Battle Cry

I will make it through!

I will survive!

Hear my battle cry!

 

I may be hungry.

I may be cold.

I may be in pain.

 

But, I will make it through!

I will survive!

Hear my battle cry!

 

I may feel hopeless.

I may feel lost.

I may feel alone and isolated.

 

But, I will make it through!

I will survive!

Hear my battle cry!

 

My body may be taxed.

My mind may be flooded.

My spirits may be shattered.

 

But, I will make it through!

I will survive!

Hear my battle cry!

do-not-give-up

Finding Hope

NOTE:  This blog was originally written as a journal entry for my Peer Support Specialist as part of my Wellness Recovery Action Plan.  It reads somewhat choppy, but I wanted to share it nonetheless.  My children have given me permission to share their medical information as long as I don’t use their names.

(Trigger Warning:  Reference to suicide, emotional abuse, and trauma.)

“Hope is the life force that keeps us going and gives us something to live for. Hope is a crucial part of dealing with life’s problems and maintaining resilience in the face of obstacles. Even a glimmer of hope that our situation will turn around can keep us going.” – Joe Wilner (How We Lose Hope and How to Get it Back)

The word “hope” is defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. I sit here staring at my computer monitor trying to think of things that bring me hope. Where is that feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen?  I seem to be lacking it.  I am in full-on survival mode and have been for some time. The feeling of hope seems to not be in the equation for me.  

I sit here reminding myself it has been bleak before, I mean really bleak. Bleak to the point where I didn’t want to live anymore.  I was never suicidal, I just wanted the physical and emotional pain to end and I only saw death as a way to finally escape it all.

What kept me going?

My responsibility to my two young children is what kept me going. I refused to leave them without a mother.  They were only a baby and a toddler at the time and they had a father who wasn’t always around and grandparents who only wanted to involve themselves on their terms, which was limited. 

This all happened years before I was diagnosed with Autism, years before we knew both my children were also autistic, and years before realizing my daughter also had Bipolar. Medical trauma, grief, chronic pain, post-partum depression, family neglect, emotional abuse, isolation, lack of a proper diagnosis, lack of support from anywhere lead me into the worst autistic burnout I have ever experienced and without a proper diagnosis I had no idea what was happening to me.  I thought I was losing my mind.  I was diagnosed with PTSD during this time.  This diagnosis would eventually grow into Complex-PTSD.  

I have experienced burnout many times since, but never to the extent of how it was during those very dark, dark days of my late twenties/early thirties. Unfortunately, I am finding myself horribly burnout out again, more so than I have been in a very long time.  I am 41 years old.  My daughter will be 16 next month and my son will be 14 two months after that.  One October night in 2012, my world once again began to fall apart.  My husband, whom I had been with since 1998, sat me down and told me he didn’t want to be married any more, he didn’t want the responsibility of a family any more. 

Things continued to get worse and worse. My husband was self-destructing from a life-long struggle with untreated severe clinical depression and he was taking the family down with him.  I will not go into detail of the three years of hell that my family went through over this, but I will say that my son developed PTSD from emotional abuse by his father.  My daughter grieved like her father had died, yet there was a stranger walking around with his face. 

Fast forward three years, my husband finally agreed to get professional help and has since come home. We have spent the last year trying to rebuild our family.  Five months ago we moved to a very isolated area with dream.  We would build a house together and start our new life as a family, all four of us together.  Unfortunately, life happens when you are making other plans. 

We have been living in what can be described as a glorified shed with tarps for walls. It is the end of November. We have no plumbing or insulation. What electricity we have comes from heavy duty extension cords that are plugged into the meter outside and drugged into the house. We can’t run much on them or we end up popping circuits.  We do have a wood stove, but with no insulation, it can only keep the house just below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the bedrooms are even colder.  We are miserable.

Due to unforeseen financial problems over the last few months, who knows yet when we will have plumbing. My in-laws’ house is about a football field’s length away. We utilize their kitchen and plumbing. They are very caring people, but their house is small and they are very elderly.  My mother-in-law has had two strokes, is diabetic, has blood pressure problems, and needs round the clock care which my father-in-law provides.  Their house is very unpredictable and stressful.  It is hard to explain, but no one can handle being in their house for more than a few hours. We are looking at another six to eight more months without plumbing. It realistically could be longer than that.

Even though I call my husband “my husband”, we are not legally married any more. He made sure of that during those three years of hell.  He recently has informed me that he doesn’t know what makes me happy and he doesn’t know how to meet my needs when it comes to our relationship.  That really hit me hard. After all these years, he still doesn’t know how to be a husband to me (he has admitted that he has sucked at being a husband and father), but there is a positive note to this.  He wants to learn and he is listening.  Progress has been at a snail’s pace, though, painfully slow, but for the first time he is putting in real effort. He is committed and is determined to make our relationship work.   

Then there is my employment situation. I have been a certified teacher for 18 years in grades Kindergarten – 12th grade.  The 2011-2012 school year literally almost killed me with stress.  Over the past four years I have slowly been transitioning myself away from working a daily teaching job.  I can no longer physically or mentally continue working every day and also care for my two children who cannot attend a regular school day at a school.  They are both homeschooled, but are also enrolled in our local Home Link program, and my daughter receives her education services at our local high school by attending only mornings Monday – Friday. 

I finished my Master’s degree last April. I now officially have the credentials to say I am both a professional in Autism Education and a Science Teacher, yet I am still under employed and I don’t see how that is going to change anytime soon.  As of now I have five invisible disabilities:  Autism, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Complex-PTSD, and Dyscalculia.  I struggle everyday with chronic pain, Misophonia, anxiety mixed with depression, and I struggle to live in a world that is not designed for someone like me. I have been on ten different anti-depressants, five different anti-anxiety medications, and three different sleep aids.  I have tried a variety of pain medications as well.  I have paradoxical effects with all these types of medications. Nothing works for me and only makes things worse.

My medication is running. I have been a runner for 23 years and I fight every day to stay out of a wheel chair.  Due to the continued degradation of my connective tissues all over my body from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, it is only a matter of time before running may be taken from me. I have already had to give up weight lifting, backpacking, mowing, gardening in other than large pots, picking boxes up, moving furniture, the list keeps growing every time another injury occurs or another body system begins to fail. I carry on, though. I just brace up my joints, bind up my torso, and continue to persevere.  I have to, but it gets harder and harder when the feeling of hope just isn’t there. The chronic pain wears you down.

With all of this, I am still struggling in thinking about what brings me hope.

The first thing that comes to mind as I have been typing all this out are the two young people who kept me going before when I found myself horribly burned out, my two children. They are everything to me and I am determined to persevere above all odds for them, always.

I have been told by my own mother that she would never be able to do what I do. If it had been her raising my children instead of me, my daughter would have been sent away a long time ago. As for my son, his needs would also have been ignored just like mine had growing up, because he is so “high-functioning” in my mother’s eyes.  Neither my son nor I are “high-functioning”, but we are quiet enough to be easily ignored.

Both my children have Dysgraphia and both are autistic (my daughter as an accompanying expressive language impairment and my son does not).

My daughter was also diagnosed with Bipolar II (but it may instead be Schizo-affective Disorder – Bipolar Type) with debilitating anxiety. She takes six type of medication either once, twice, or three times a day depending on the type. We have alarms set to help her remember to take her medication. She has been hospitalized once for suicidal thoughts and hallucinations telling her to use knives to kill herself.  

My son was also diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and Social Anxiety as well as Misophonia. He also struggles with re-occurring depression. He takes two types of medication once or twice a day depending on the type. He has been on suicide watch twice.

Then there is the glimmer of hope that comes when I look in my husband’s eyes now and see the man I married in there. In his eyes I see an older, tired, and struggling version, but I see hope there, too.  He sees a future for us, a future that I thought we had lost that one October night when he decided to give up on me, our family, and the life we had. 

I have not reached the same point where he is, but I want to.  This place where we live now is where he grew up.  This is his world, but it is not mine.  This is why I am not at the same point where he is.  This world is so foreign to me.  The language is different, the mannerisms are different, the way of life is different, and I am cut off from my world due to our rotten living conditions.  No internet and all my belongings, my tools I use to self-regulate and make my environment safe and comfortable, are all locked up in storage.

My senses have been on overdrive since moving here. Everything is too loud and too bright. It hurts here.  Then there is the problem of my husband’s recent poor choices haunting us.  During those three years of hell he involved himself with four women in ways he shouldn’t have.  One of these women he purposely used to rip our family apart and my children and I caught him with her. Neither had feelings for each other, which just made it worse for me.  This woman ended up marrying my husband’s first wife and they both show up at my in-laws’ house on a regular basis. They are also both invited to family gatherings, gatherings we can’t go to because of their presence.  I am reminded of my recent trauma and loss all the time.  I can’t get away from it. This has taken a considerable toll on me.

“Though, when we begin to lose hope, things can seem bleak. When we run into constant resistance and are prevented from reaching our goals we can start to feel like there is nothing to live for. If we can’t get to where we want to be and don’t feel in control of our life, what’s the point?” – Joe Wilner (How We Lose Hope and How to Get it Back)

I have been finding myself asking, “What’s the point?”

What is the point? Why do I keep going when all there seems to be is endless struggle and pain?

The answer:

Because I must!

My life would be very different if I had been dealt a different set of cards. I know this, but there is no point in lamenting over that fact. I was dealt a certain set of cards and I have to live with what I was given and make the most of it. 

Over the years, I have written a lot about persevering and not giving up. I have to keep on fighting.  I have to keep moving forward.  I have to keep trying to reach that light at the end of the tunnel.  When I was at my darkest all those years ago, I kept telling myself that the tunnel will end and light will be reached again.  I knew it would happen, because that was the only option available.

I am there again telling myself that this dark, burned out tunnel that I have found myself in will eventually end. It has to.  I don’t know what I will find when I reach the light again.  My life may once again be transformed into something I wasn’t planning on, but at least I will be there to see that transformation. 

I will persevere. I will keep moving forward.  I will keep on keeping on.  That is the only option I have. 

 

Perhaps that is where my hope really lies, by keep on keeping on . . .

 

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

The Hell of a Meltdown – When Your Brain Becomes Flooded and Short Circuits

explosion

Image found at Regarding Autistic Meltdowns: What They Are, How to Handle Them, and Why Kids Having Meltdowns are NOT Naughty Brats

My Facebook post from yesterday:

So, meltdowns suck, are painful, are hugely embarrassing, and you cannot stop them . . .

Meltdowns don’t stop when you become an adult . . .

A meltdown has been ongoing all day . . . I am in hell . . .

My environment sucks . . .

Trying to block everything out with music. Life keeps intruding . . .

 According to Bec Oakley from Snagglebox, “Anybody Can Have A Meltdown”:

What are meltdowns?

Put simply, a meltdown is a state of neurological chaos where the brain and nervous system overheat and stop working properly. It’s called that because it’s the body’s equivalent to a meltdown in a nuclear power plant, in which the fuel in the reactor core becomes so hot that it melts and releases energy.

Sometimes it gets so hot that it causes an explosion, and the energy is released outside of the core. It’s this explosive reaction (crying, yelling, lashing out) that most people refer to when they talk about behavioural meltdowns, but that’s just the bit that you can see. There’s a whole lot more going on inside during a meltdown.

Bec Oakley goes on to describe what happens during a meltdown:

What happens during a meltdown?

When we find ourselves in a stressful situation from which we can’t easily escape, the brain becomes flooded with emotional, sensory or cognitive input which jams the circuits and kicks off the ‘fight or flight’ responses associated with panic. Executive functions like memory, planning, reasoning and decision making start to shut down, which makes it even more difficult to find a way out of the situation.

Eventually the neurological pressure builds to the point where it begins to trip internal circuits like language, or is released externally as an outburst of physical energy like yelling, hitting or running away. Although this explosive reaction often seems to come from nowhere, it’s just one part of the meltdown cycle.

Meltdowns are horrid things.  They hurt so much and you can’t stop them. They also don’t stop simply by becoming an adult.  I am 41 years old and I still have them.  At least now I know what they are and I can feel them building.  Five years ago I didn’t know what meltdowns were.  I also didn’t know what autistic burnout was.  Five years ago I was finally diagnosed and I finally had answers.  I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t losing my mind, and I wasn’t broken. 

The first time I went into autistic burnout I had no idea what was happening to me. I had no words to describe it.  It was hell.  It felt like I had been sucked into a black hole.  I was being torn apart, yet no one could see it.  I was screaming for help, but no one heard me.  I had to claw my way out on my own.  It took years.  During that time I was diagnosed with PTSD. That was just over 12 years ago. That initial PTSD diagnoses has now been upgraded to Complex-PTSD.

I have fallen into autistic burnout many times since, but I knew what it was and I knew what to do. I have once again fallen into autistic burnout, but this time is different. I know longer have a healing environment to submerse myself in.  In fact, it is this environment that I currently exist in that has led to this newest bout of autistic burnout.  I have been having more and more meltdowns.  Yesterday was a particularly bad one.  As I type this I am still struggling to recover from it.  I am shaking as I type.  The crying that started yesterday morning hasn’t really stopped.  My brain wants to shut down, but I have to keep going.  I have responsibilities to take care of.  I don’t have the luxury of shutting down to allow my body and mind to heal. 

Yesterday evening I went through my old blogs looking for ones about meltdowns. I started blogging in September 2012. Pain and struggle seem to be re-occurring themes with me and it is getting really old.  Today I have been playing Avril Lavinge – Keep Holding On  over and over again. I am determined to make it through.  I will keep holding on.

Here are my past blogs about meltdowns:

The Dreaded Meltdown – Part 1 and The Dreaded Meltdown – Part 2 – February 10, 2013

Why Won’t They Listen? – January 27, 2014

Being Emotionally Exhausted – February 27, 2014

Here I am Again – The Long Road of Living Exhausted – January 8, 2015

Side to Side – May 13, 2015

Here is some more useful information about meltdowns and autistic burnout:

The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them? – Psychology Today Article

Ask an Autistic #3 – What is Autistic Burnout? – Video

Meltdowns: triggers vs. root cause – Blog (Life, His Way – Thriving with Autism)

 

Rescuing Myself from Unrelenting Frustration

Frustration. I am not talking about the type of frustration that you experience while sitting in a car and the person in the car next to you is blasting the bass that pounds your ears, it is too hot, and the red light just won’t change to green. You can escape from that type of frustration.

I am talking about the type of frustration that is ongoing and seemingly unrelenting. The type of frustration that you can’t escape from, the type that makes you feel stuck and helpless in an intolerable situation that you can’t do anything about.  I have been experiencing this type of frustration for far too long.  

Here is a video by Charlie McDonnell about him coming out about having anxiety and depression – Anxiety, Depression, and Being a Downer.

I can’t escape it, I can’t make it better, and it is not going to get any better any time soon. I am past the point of “dealing with it”.  I am to the point of just trying to survive it.  I must endure for mine and my family’s sake.  They are stuck in the same frustration that I am, but how we each are experiencing it is unique to each individual.

How do I explain this? Where do I start?

First of all, we are in the process of building a house. Due to weather and financial setbacks we got behind on our building time line.  Our lease ended before our house was even close to being able to be lived in.  As of tonight, we are on our 26th night living in tents on our building site which is on half of my in-laws’ 160 acres of cleared pasture, but mostly heavily treed land.  Three nights ago I was done with tent living.

It is not just the fact that we are living in tents that has gotten me to this place. It is the constant buzzing of insects (lots and lots of yellow jackets), the heat during the day and the cold at night, the dust, the lack of proper bathroom and kitchen facilities, lack of privacy, the lack of sleep, lack of proper nutrition, and lack of money.

As I type this I am struck by my privilege. Here I am typing this on my laptop while sitting in my tent with a bottle of clean water next to me.  I am used to having a proper toilet, running water, and a cold refrigerator.  I am used to having four solid walls and windows and doors that lock.  I am use to having access to the internet on a regular basis.  I am use to being in an environment where I can control for the most part how light or dark or cold or hot I want it to be. 

I am not used to living in tents. I am used to tents being something you use to go camping in when on vacation, not to live in for a prolonged period of time.  I am coming from a place of privilege and I am whining about how frustrating my current situation is.  Yes, it could be worse.  We could be living out on the street.  We are not eating well, but we are not starving. It could be winter instead of summer. 

Again, yes, it could be worse. The key here is that I am not accustomed to this type of prolonged living.  There is no safe place for me. My body and mind cannot recover from the stress in the way that I need them to and am using so many more “spoons” living in this environment then I would be in the environment that I am accustomed to, the one that is safe for me.  I have lived in various states of burnout for years.  I know what I need to do in order to replenish my “spoons” so I can function well.  I am using way too many “spoons” right now and I am not able to adequately replenish them.  I knew it was going to be hard, but it still frustrates me that I am not able to tolerate living in tents to the level that I had hoped I would.    

An addition to our stressful living situation is the constant driving that I am doing (my daughter is an outpatient at a facility that is two hours away from where we live now). I am on the road four to eight hours a day depending if I come home or not during the eight and a half hours that my daughter is away.  That is A LOT of money being used to pay for gas.  I had fuel vouchers, but they were revoked for reasons we still don’t quite understand.  What we got out of it was that psychiatric health care is not seen as important as physical health care.  It is a long story that I won’t go into here, but just more frustration to add to the mix.

There is also the stress with our pets (one dog, three cats, and two parakeets) and the problems we have had with feral cats trying to get to our house cats that stay in my tent all day. My tent has been slashed open in many places. I sewed it up as best as I could, but the tent is pretty much trashed.  

Then there is the big problem of dealing with my husband’s past transgressions and all the choices he made during a three year period of hell when he was self-destructing. For more Information regarding this read Reaching for More, but also Striving for Balance.

My family is still in the process of healing from that and we got hit big time these past few weeks with triggers and the stress of unprocessed pain. We can’t seem to get away from the triggers (i.e. certain individuals that will remain nameless).  It has been a particularly difficult time for all of us, but since the pain has been brought forth front and center, it shows what we still need to address.  So many unanswered questions, so much confusion, so much hurt.

This all came ahead four nights ago. We had made it 22 nights, then I had a meltdown and my son had an anxiety attack at the same time.  That was Sunday night.  Tuesday morning my daughter had one of the worst meltdowns she has had in a very long time.  Later that day my husband admitted that he was overloaded.  He wants out of the tents as well.

Unfortunately, our house still is not livable quite yet. Today is Wednesday and the good news is that the metal roofing is going up on Friday and hopefully will be completed by Monday.  We don’t have the money for doors or windows yet, but we have talked about screening up everything and moving some stuff into the house so we and the pets can get out of the tents.  With the metal roofing up, we can then start putting in the wiring, then the insulation, then finally the drywall.    

We are building this house on our own with the help of friends and family and out of our own pockets. The going is slow and the frustration is high. Why are we doing all of this?  Why are we putting ourselves through all of this?

These are the questions I have found myself asking. The answer is we needed a fresh start. A chance to give ourselves a real opportunity to heal and live in a place where it is quiet, where we don’t have to worry about landlords and making rent every month, and struggling to pay bills with our limited income. It is a place where we will have a real chance to finally be able to live instead of just trying to survive each day.  With everything with the house, my family has had to really put in the effort to learn how to effectively communicate with each other.  We are learning to be a family again through the process of building our house. 

As frustrated and helpless that I have been feeling lately with everything, I have to remember that we are all together working on this project and we will see this through. There is no turning back now, no running away from problems. We have to face these problems head on, hand-in-hand, supporting each other through it all.  

Surviving means to “continue to live or exist, especially in spite of danger or hardship”. We have survived this long and I plan to continue enduring our frustrating situation until such time as it begins to improve.  My family has been through so much in a relatively short time, one thing after another after another after another.  We have survived this far and we will continue to persevere.  I am waiting for the day when I can start to live my life, to feel that I am actually thriving, and not feel so burned out all the time.

To me, as an autistic person, to feel comfortable would be a dream come true. There has only been a few times in my life where I could say I felt comfortable and there times were short lived.

Ah, to feel comfortable . . .

My kids have that wish, too. To feel comfortable in an environment that is not constantly bombarding you with sensory input. To feel comfortable in an environment where your anxiety is not always so high, draining you of energy, and keeping you so tense that you actually start to shake under the stress.  To feel comfortable means having the ability to finally being able to relax.

I am waiting for that day, the day when I can finally relax both my mind and my body in a safe place that is my own amongst my own things with my beloved husband, children, and pets.  

As I have been writing this, I was listening to an album called “The Sound of Rescue” I found it to be very calming music.  I also thought the title was appropriate for how I feel.  Rescue from this frustrating situation is coming and I will part of making that rescue happen.  In this particular case, the only people that will be rescuing us are ourselves.

Rescue yourself