Today was an emotional day. There was a lot to handle, and I did not handle all of it well. But… I had to think of something good for the day. As I curled up in bed, I told myself that I did not want to think of something good. I committed to this, though, and I know that the challenging days are the most important to see the good. I actually had a decent day at work, made some needed household purchases, and had a good dinner. My day was emotionally draining but otherwise, a good day.
I saw my best friend yesterday for the first time since quarantines started. We have talked and video chatted, but this was our first time in person. We went for a walk and talked. It was nice to see her again. I am glad I live in a state where the threat is relatively low.
I watched the movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” today. I really liked the message about choosing how to express our emotions. Sometimes it feels difficult to express my emotions in positive ways, but I appreciated how the movie showed that we can all do little things to become better.
I have been taking an antidepressant fairly consistently for a couple years now. There have been times when I stopped taking it because of money or pride or thinking I would be okay without it. I always go back though because I see what my depression does to those I love. I never want to hurt people, but depression is a complicated beast that is hard for me to control without medication.
My antidepressant works wonders. It helps me go from constantly suicidal to occasionally suicidal. It helps me go from desperately needing to be saved from myself to being as close to normal as I can imagine. Medication helps me stay alive.
Unfortunately, medicine has side effects. Sometimes these are in addition to its helpfulness. Sometimes it is because of how it is helping. I have noticed recently that my antidepressant seems to make me less compassionate and sympathetic. In addition to suppressing my harmful urges and destructive thoughts, I sometimes feel nothing when I want to feel something. The medicine does not completely negate my emotions. I still feel sadness and pain and all the other emotions tied to depression, just at a more normal level. There are some emotions though that I enjoyed.
I feel like I loved people more in my depression. I felt for them more. I understood them more. I wanted to be around them more. It can be hard to lose these feelings, to feel heartless, emotionless, unable to connect to others. Depression is a beast, but it made me feel more compassion for others.
I am not sure how to get those feelings back. I know that I cannot stop taking my antidepressant because the consequences of that are worse than not feeling emotions I want to feel. Maybe I just need to learn how to feel differently, love differently, live differently.
I never understood grief. I had never lost anyone close to me suddenly or unexpectedly. My great-grandparents have all passed on, but their deaths were not a surprise and I was not emotionally close to any of them. When my nephew passed away, I suddenly understood loss. For years I struggled to understand why one of my best friends was so emotional about certain things. I could not sympathize when she struggled with a coming date that commemorated a birthday or reminded her of the day a loved one died or so many other dates that seemed to mean something to her. I simply had no experience with grief and while I tried to be supportive, I admitted to her that it was not something with which I could sympathize.
I understand grief now- not in an all-encompassing depth of knowledge, as I only have a glimpse of the journey that I now travel, but I now understand that grief is real. I have nights of not being okay. I have days where everything seems to remind me of that terrible tragedy. I know what it is like to ache for a part of you that will never return. I try not to sink too deeply into my grief. I know that I must cling to happiness because depression constantly reaches for me, simply waiting for me to slip back into its grasp. I must not succumb to the grief because it will swallow me whole if I choose not to fight. However, I do need to greet the grief. I need to welcome it and entertain it for a while because it is now a part of me that needs to be addressed. There is a balance to grieving and a balance to living. I must do both. I will do both as I traverse these new emotions that I never thought would be a part of me.
It’s 6 a.m. I’ve almost been awake for two hours. I have two finals today. I should probably study for them but I don’t really feel like it. Instead I’ve been reading stories online and singing songs in my head. But mostly when I wake up this early, I just think.
I am not like anyone I have ever met. Honestly, I don’t know anyone that thinks like me. I’m not sure what that means. Maybe it just means that I need to get to know more people. But I wake up at 4 a.m. singing Disney songs. I think about people all the time. I’m a people pleaser and people watcher and people analyzer. My best friend was frustrated with another friend of hers, and I told her what was probably going on. She told me later that I had been right. I’ve just spent my entire life learning about people, but I feel like I hardly know anything.
There seems to be a gap between me and the rest of the world. I have a lot of friends. Most are distant or just slightly closer than being an acquaintance, but they are friendly and we talk sometimes. I just feel separated. There seems to be a gap keeping me from becoming better friends with people.
I contemplate suicide a lot. It’s mostly in the quiet moments like this that I think it would be easier to just go, to silently slip out of everyone’s life. In truth, I never really want to die. I just want my situation on the outside to fit my feelings on the inside. I feel so far away from people emotionally that I just want to be that far away from them physically, like on another planet type of distance. Or I feel so torn up on the inside that I just want to be torn up on the outside to match all the things I’m feeling.
I know I’m going to do fairly well on my finals today, mostly because I don’t have to do very well. I have already calculated my grades and my final won’t make much of a difference. There’s something about life that I have never understood- how can it be so hard and so easy at the same time? I don’t think life is really that hard or complicated. You find something you want to do, learn how to do it, do your best at it, and try to make friends and have fun along the way. Yet, there is a dichotomy and a distance between physical life and emotional life. I want to be loved. I want to feel needed and wanted and important. That’s what we all want, right? And I know that I am. I am loved and needed and wanted. But there still seems to be a gap. Does everyone have that gap or is it just a product of my own creation?
I think I feel too much. That is what autism is most like for me. Autism is feeling everything acutely all the time. I literally feel everything. I feel every object in a room. I feel sounds and smells and tastes. I feel words. I feel emotions. I can’t say I feel differently than you because I don’t know exactly how you feel. I have never been you. But I can say that I feel everything physically. And it is exhausting…
I was telling a friend today that I think I love too much. Love for me is overwhelming. It makes my whole body tingle. Love is a burst of energy that penetrates every fiber of my being. It feels like it literally changes my DNA so that I am now connected to a person in a way that they are made a part of me. I love hugs because it feels like the energy inside of me finds a place to belong. Like the love inside of me connects with the love inside of someone else, and for a moment, I feel whole.
Joy is like that too. Joy is like a spring inside of me. It makes me feel like every particle in me wants to jump up and down. This is why I flap and jump up and down and smile like crazy, because the joy in me has to have somewhere to go. When I am “flapping happy”, I feel like I am flying. It is like the joy inside of me has come out of my skin and when I jump or flap, I’m releasing that joy into the world. It feels like the joy springs from me and dances in the air, and when it lands, it becomes peaceful, like it is lying on the ground watching the clouds on a cool spring day.
Unfortunately, depression and darkness are also things I feel acutely. Depression is like millions of tiny weights hanging from each hair, each skin cell, weighing me down with an enormity that cannot be seen from outside. And if the weight wasn’t already enough, it feels like there is a black hole in my chest. Opposite to the feeling of joy wanting to come out of me, depression feels like it sucks everything into me. It is a constant sucking force that seems to suck all of the air and light out of a room, making it difficult to breathe and to see anything other than the darkness inside of me.
Fear, joy, sadness, disgust, anger, and every other emotion that ever lives inside of me all have their own physical feeling attached to them. Each one is so powerful and all-consuming that I can hardly do anything else because my body is overcome by the feeling of each emotion. I think that this is why I shut down sometimes, because constantly feeling everything wears me out. And after feeling so many strong emotions, sometimes it is simply painful. Pain for me is like an exploding of every emotion. It confuses me, and I don’t know what will come out. I feel like Cyclops from the X-men before he learns how to control his powers. Everything comes out and I don’t even see what I’m destroying until after it’s done.
I want you to know that depression doesn’t keep me from being happy. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but when we remember that depression is simply a mental illness, or in other words, sickness that occurs in the mind, it makes sense.
I have an undiagnosed medical condition that has prevented me from being able to eat normally. Although it can be serious at times and it means my eating habits widely differ from those of most people, I am overall fairly healthy. The same is true with my mental illness. Although I may have long periods of darkness when I see little light or hope in life, I am overall happy.
In fact, I am one of the happiest people I know. Even though I think about suicide sometimes, even though I still struggle with desires for self injury, even though I sometimes cry for hours at a time for no real reason, I am incredibly, undeniably happy.
Here’s the thing, life is incredibly difficult. There are hard things, painful things, things that make you want to cry or scream or even stop living. But there are also beautiful things, amazing things, things that make you want to jump up and down and shout for joy and sing your heart out.
I feel those things, all of those things, the good and the bad. Because I have autism, I feel the world around me more than most. Because of depression, I feel emotions within me more than most. Because of my life experiences, I am more acquainted than most with pain and beauty, suffering and peace, destruction and ugliness.
So I struggle with the noise inside of me. I struggle to reconcile the explosions of joy that I feel with the craters of hopelessness that I experience. I struggle to make sense of this beautiful, crazy, heartbreaking world we live in.
But I want you to know that though the depression returns, though my suicidal thoughts may not disappear, though I wade through depths of darkness and hopelessness, I am happy. My depression does not leave me desolate. I still have joy. I still jump up and down flapping my arms because my body cannot contain the excitement of my happiness.
Yes, I may be depressed, but depression does not always equal sorrow. I am still happy.
Do you sympathize or empathize with others?
Probably… but most likely not all the time. There are things that we just don’t understand. If you have never known someone who died, it’s impossible to empathize with someone who had a loved one pass away. If you have never had the experience of being teased or bullied, you can’t really empathize with someone who goes through that every day.
So… why do we ask if people with autism can empathize?
I don’t understand the dichotomy between what questions are appropriate to ask of people with autism and people without it. If you feel sympathy, why wouldn’t someone with autism feel sympathy? If you can empathize, why wouldn’t someone with autism be able empathize? We’re human too… We may not sympathize or empathize in everything, but no one can. We all have different experiences and can only understand what we’ve somehow experienced.
Anyway… rant over… I just had to get that out.
My best friend is homeless right now and just had her phone stolen… and I am definitely empathizing… And I just don’t understand how anyone could not empathize at some point. Empathizing is part of being human. Just because I may not be able to express my empathy like others or relate to certain things doesn’t mean I don’t empathize. I empathize as much as anyone I know… and I think everyone else with autism does too…
One thing that is very hard for me to deal with is when people discount my feelings. I often get upset or annoyed at things that really don’t matter. I know that they don’t matter and I try not to get annoyed by them, but I do. Generally when this happens I am alone or can go somewhere where I can be alone. However, sometimes people notice when I get upset about something. This is where problems can arise for me.
I know that the things I get upset about are inconsequential and in general there is no reason to get upset about these things. They are things that are easily solved and have no bearing on the rest of my life. The problem is that I can’t control what I get upset at. It just happens. However, I do have some control over what I choose to do after I get upset. And what I do usually has a lot to do with what else happens surrounding the event.
When I am alone I can generally calm myself down. I can reason within myself about the validity of my reaction and think of an appropriate way to handle the situation. When I’m not alone the reaction of others to me getting annoyed or upset can sometimes interfere with me being able to immediately think things through and proceed to calm myself down.
When people discount my feelings by asking why I am getting upset at something so trivial or by telling me to calm down because whatever I’m upset at isn’t important, my feelings take over me. Instead of stepping back and analyzing the situation and allowing my reason to trump my emotional reaction, my emotions take control and carry me to a less ideal end. Instead of calming down and letting the situation go, I get more and more upset until I either outburst or find an escape.
I think my autism is probably most apparent in these times. I usually have the time to think about my reactions to things and can respond appropriately, but in these times I know I don’t respond appropriately. People say “use your words,” but how can you come up with words when the only thing inside you is pure emotion? How can you turn energy into sentences? Especially when you aren’t given the time you need to do that?
So, yes, I can use my words. But no, I probably can’t do it when you want me to. I need a little more time.