Why are you so often depressed? Can’t you get drugs for that?

I have been asked these questions by people who have spent time around me, but don’t really know me. I’m sure it’s because they feel a need to help, but it’s usually best to understand the problem before suggesting solutions. The best answer to the first question that I’ve ever seen was written by Lynne Soraya:

“To me, the answer to this is obvious. The need to bond with others is a basic human need. The very definition of Asperger’s is to have trouble fulfilling that need. So why is it surprising that someone with these difficulties might fall into despair?” (The Pain of Isolation: Asperger’s and Suicide)

My doctor put it this way: “Asperger’s leads to social dysfunction, which leads to social anxiety, which leads to depression, which leads to further social dysfunction.” He also answered the second question. He told me that the depression which commonly accompanies Asperger’s syndrome often will not respond to medication because it is the symptom, not the real problem. The real problem is that social dysfunction bit.

Let me take a moment to define my terms…
Social – living or disposed to live in companionship with others or in a community, rather than in isolation
Dysfunction – failure to show the characteristics or fulfill the purposes accepted as normal or beneficial
Notice that the actual definition of socially dysfunctional behavior depends on the social environment, because it’s based on what is accepted as normal.

Most people I’ve discussed this with have had to admit that we punish those who are socially different. As I’m writing, I’m monitoring my Facebook page, and I see a post from the mother of an aspie. Her son was told today that he should  just go home and kill himself because nobody likes him, much less loves him. I remember being told much the same thing by a girl I liked in high school. You would hope people grow out of this, but I’ve had a guy old enough to be my dad say to me (in a church and in front of kids): “You’re an asshole… or is that an autism thing?” I’m still not entirely sure why he said that, but I wish this sort of thing didn’t happen.

At work, I’ve been pulled aside and told that I “don’t seem to follow social norms like everyone else.” I don’t doubt that this was intended to help me, but honestly, it’s about as helpful as telling me that it’s easier to lift a big box with both hands. In theory, it’s useful information, but it can only be put into practice by someone with the capacity to do so. I can’t lift the box with both hands because my left arm is paralyzed. So if you truly want to help me, you can’t just give advice. I’ll need a hand lifting the box.

Here’s my question: Would you help me lift the box?

I hope this gives you something to think about when you see someone struggling socially. Maybe they don’t need advice. Maybe they need you to step up and help them carry the load they struggle with. This brings to mind a Bible verse…

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2

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9 Comments

Filed under About Asperger's Syndrome, Depression

9 responses to “Why are you so often depressed? Can’t you get drugs for that?

  1. Gloria

    WoW!!! Great Blog my friend. I am so proud to call you my friend and even tho it is the “norm” in society for a girl to hedge her age. I am proud to say I’ve been your friend for 21 years. And yes I will help you carry any burden that I can help you with.
    Love Ya!! 🙂

  2. Kristen

    You have taught me so much and that includes better understanding of what depression is and how it affects people. That doesn’t mean I don’t hate it though. It breaks my heart to see people hurting, especially those I love. I also hate that you hurt from feeling isolated and alone. I’ve been by your side for 11 years and I still cant seem to remove that barrier and help you to feel and know that you are loved, admired, respected and wanted. If there was one thing I could change about AS, it would be the barrier that is there that prevents you from feeling these things. Instead I wish there was a wall against ignorance and pain. I can’t change the past or make others wake up and realize what they are missing out on, although I try. I can keep trying to help you to see the love that surrounds you. I admire your strength, your courage and your determination. I’ve said that from the start and you have never wavered from than despite so many trials and hurts along the way. You are a perfect example of success. I wish you could see that. Just like the inside of your ring says… Forever and Always! I love you!

  3. PJ

    Thank you for the brilliant piece. It made my whole week.

    I hope there’s someone at your church who will address what that man said to you. That’s just. not. acceptable. ever.

    • Thanks, PJ. The truth is that it wasn’t really addressed, at least not that I’m aware of. I hope, though, that by raising awareness, we can change this. This sort of thing hurts more than just the person it is aimed at. In this case, the kids that witnessed it included an aspie and his sisters. I think it should be obvious how it would hurt them, but what about a non-aspie kid seeing it and deciding that it’s ok to say that to someone else? It breaks my heart.

  4. "different" mom of "different" kids

    Maybe the reason that many aspies don’t follow social norms is because they see so many faults in the “norms” that society has established. I am 35 and the diagnoses of Aspbergers was not around when I was young, however I feel that I am in the autism spectrum. When I was young, I desired nothing more than to feel like I fit in. My perspective was different than other peoples in that they saw that I did fit in, I just didn’t feel it. I always felt “corrected” by other people. How do people think it is socially acceptable to point out other peoples’ flaws? I mean, we are all human and have flaws but I would not go out in public telling people what is wrong with them. It is a given that we have to accept flaws in people we love, why would it be any different in social settings? There are so many things that people see to be normal and acceptable, yet to an aspie it isn’t. Some people like to hug which is great, but make sure you read other peoples body language (or even ask them directly) before you do it. I know that for various reasons I do not like being touched and I feel like people take offense or think I’m “weird” for it. How about they are weird for invading my personal space?
    With all of that being said, it is difficult to expect everyone else to develop “real manners” (i.e calling “different” people assholes). Maybe there is a diplomatic way to handle this like, “Do you call people assholes regularly at church?”. But, I think you will find that you have to do this all of the time depending on how frequently you put yourself in social environments. You made the comment in your article that “So if you truly want to help me, you can’t just give advice.” Advice coming from people with these types of experiences can be very helpful if you don’t perceive their advice as a way of “correcting” your behavior. I have offered advice to people who have children with social differences to home school their children. Doctors tend to give the advice that children with autism require socialization and they will just regress or introvert with daily social activities. That may very well be true and I still struggle with being social myself, but I can guarantee you that being told to kill oneself, no one loves you or likes you, being called names and beaten up regularly IS NOT HEALTHY and IS NOT SOCIALIZATION. Kids being put in this atmosphere WILL introvert and become suicidal or violent. When you home school your children, you are basically in total control of what social environments your children are in. You can be there to observe and help your children when they require a social lesson. You will be there to provide love and support all day to them which is a form of socialization. Getting along with family members is a good way to learn how to socialize with other people. Forcing children to endure this daily torture and expecting everyone else to stop being rude assholes is NOT THE ANSWER. Someone made a comment once about some home schooled children saying “They aren’t going to be those “weird” home schooled kids are they? to which a reply was given “Maybe kids aren’t weird because they are home schooled, maybe they are home schooled BECAUSE they are “weird”.

    • It sounds as if you and I have had similar experiences. I was actually diagnosed at 35, so I lived most of my life not really knowing what was “wrong” with me. For the sake of clarity, I’m speaking in this post to those who would give advice without understanding the problem. I am happy to accept, and often solicit, advice from professionals, other aspies, and even a few trusted neurotypicals. I am also happy to report that I feel much better equipped should the “asshole” incident, or something similar, happen again. Ideally, it would never happen in the first place, but we don’t live in an ideal world. On the other hand, history has shown that a few people standing up (or sitting down in certain contexts) can change the world. That’s my hope for us.

  5. drgrcevich

    Carlyle,

    This is a wonderful blog. God is going to use you to do great things.

    I’m a physician specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry. When I’m asked to evaluate kids with Asperger’s, there are usually two types of presenting problems that bring them to my office. One group comes in with symptoms consistent with ADHD…disorganization, academic underachievement, lack of motivation for school, etc. (60-70% of children and teens with Asperger’s have ADHD). The second group comes in because of obsessive thinking. This is the group that’s especially vulnerable to depression.

    In your post on Tony Attwood’s criteria, you reference persistence as a trait common among many people with Asperger’s. This persistence (I’d refer to this trait by using the words perseveration or rumination) is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, folks with this trait are often very successful because they’re problem-solvers. When faced with a challenge, they don’t give up. The downside is that the unrelenting distress that results when a person is unable to let go of negative thoughts often leads to depression. One of the ways we help kids like this is by getting them as busy as possible…the busyness of the day causes distractions so they don’t dwell so much on negative thoughts. The problem many people with Asperger’s face is that the difficulty with social interaction often leave them alone with their thoughts for far more of the day than for neurotypical peers.

    All the more reason for churches to become more intentional about welcoming and including kids and adults with Asperger’s and their families.

    • Thanks, Doc! 🙂

      It’s true. It is a double-edged sword. Attwood’s description of it is “persistence of thought,” which I think is a true description of what happens in my head. It is as if my thoughts scream for my attention, and I wrestle with depression constantly because of negative thoughts I can’t get rid of. Aside from staying generally busy, something that helps me tremendously is developing relationships with positive people. Once they understand the struggle, they can help me quite a bit. Our friend Katie is a great example. She doesn’t make an issue over my differences, and I feel that she genuinely thinks I’m an awesome person.

  6. Keri

    I enjoy your writing….I enjoy being inspired…..keep it up.

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