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Guest Blog Post: How I Manage Depression + ASD

 
 

As someone on the autism spectrum, I’ve struggled with depression throughout my life.  But the issues aren’t always something that can be resolved simply with talk therapy.  And the triggers have come from different issues experienced at different ages. 

When I was younger, the depression stemmed from extreme bullying. I always told myself that I should ignore the bullying.  I didn’t want to feed fuel into the fire.  But looking back, I know that the mean things people said or did really would take a toll. 

As I grew older, not only did the bullying continue, but I was more aware of my social status.  I didn’t have a very big group of friends.  This meant I wasn’t usually invited to fun events, I went to dances alone, and overall, I didn’t really have a sense of inclusion.  Top it off with the fact that I was left out of the conversations kids had at school after these events.  My inability to socialize typically, combined with the bullying also contributed to my depression. 

Then there was the issue I had with communication.  I would take things literally, and often thought in black or white terms.  Getting a 100% on schoolwork was perfect.  Getting anything less was, well, NOT perfect.  But sometimes I would misinterpret the instructions, or struggle to understand the question being asked.  Or maybe I was too overstimulated to even focus on the work.  All of this made me feel frustrated, confused, and eventually depressed, to the point that I couldn’t even function in a public school setting. 

As I grew older, other triggers developed.  I would see my peers going off to college, moving out, getting married and starting a family, traveling on their own, and more.   To know that it took me almost 10 years to accomplish barely half of what they have done makes me feel as though I am not living my life to the fullest, and brings me down. 

Today, I have even more triggers which have developed.  I can’t afford to get a dog, because I can barely work a part-time job.  While I’m more independent than I was in the past, I still have to rely on others for support in many areas of my life. This bothers me…and makes me feel like a nuisance.  I know more social skills than I did when I was a kid, but I still struggle with socializing often.  I also feel like, on occasion, I’m treated as a child still.  This makes me doubt myself and my abilities, or simply frustrates me. 

There are so many reasons why I am depressed at times.  Although I’m more prone to it because of my clinical diagnoses, I think a lot of it could be resolved with more lifelong supports, and lots more simple opportunities to be included with typical adults as well. 

That being said, I have found a few ways to cope on my own.  When I was younger, I would watch The Ellen DeGeneres Show.  This helped me to smile, and even laugh during times when I didn’t think I could.  I’d also spend time with my dog, Sadie.  She provided me with an unconditional love.  If I’m completely honest, the responsibility of caring for her also gave me a reason to live during the more severe periods of depression.  Sadie passed away in 2012, but she taught me how beneficial animals can be for my mental health. 

As an adult, I have found even more ways to cope with my depression.   Writing can be helpful.  I enjoy sharing my experiences so others can better understand my life on the autism spectrum.  Occasionally, I’ll write poetry.  I also find that listening to certain songs with lyrics that I relate to helps me to feel less alone.   Sometimes, I just need to do something mindless, so I’ll draw, paint, or do other kinds of artwork to express my feelings.  Since I’ve learned how therapeutic animals can be, I make sure to volunteer at the Brandywine Valley SPCA.  I’ll just go and sit with a dog that needs a little extra love and attention.  It’s as if the dogs can sense that I need them, too. 

The biggest thing I have learned over time is that I need to be gentle with myself.  It’s so hard to remember, but probably one of the most important lessons.  It’s also important for other people to know when I’m struggling.  I will let my friends, family, and professionals know when I feel myself starting to slide downhill.  I will even write out a plan for what I can do if things seem to be getting worse.  When it gets to a severe point, I make sure that I’m safe by staying around other people as much as I can. 

Sometimes, being on the autism spectrum is challenging.  It’s no surprise to me that I struggle with depression as well.  But there are ways to cope with having to “ride the waves”.  I just try to remember to be kind to myself, and that things will turn around for me eventually.    

About the blogger: Erin Clemens is the author of the book I Have Asperger’s, a public speaker, and an autism self-advocate. She enjoys sharing her experiences, and hopes that others can benefit from them.  You can follow her on Facebook (erin.clemens.58), or Twitter and Instagram (AspergerSadie). She is also a contributor to The Mighty, and you can find her articles here.