Keeping Myself Safe

I have depression. I have had it for as long as I can remember. It comes and goes, but it never really leaves. It does not mean that I cannot be happy. It does not keep me from living a good life. It is not obvious to an outsider that I have this chronic illness. However, it does mean that I have to do some things differently to make sure I stay safe. Just like someone with severe allergies might carry an EpiPen to keep themselves alive if they are inadvertently exposed to something that can harm them, I do certain things to keep myself alive during an unexpected depressive episode.

I limit anything in my room that I could use to hurt myself. I do not have any long cords in my room. I have one belt that I keep in the back of my closet. I have one pair of scissors that I keep in a box on my desk. I do not keep any other sharp objects in my room. I keep a limited supply of medicine in my room, which is also at my desk. Both my desk and my closet are on the opposite side of my room from my bed. If I really wanted to harm myself, I would have to get out of bed and walk about 15 feet to reach anything that I could use to hurt myself. Generally, when I am extremely depressed and suicidal, I cry so much that it is hard to get out of bed. If I do make it out of bed, I generally don’t make it farther than the floor next to the bed.

Of course, it does not really matter where I keep things when I am doing well. On a normal day, I can walk past or use a million things that could potentially hurt me without any fear. The problem is that I never know when I will feel suicidal. I can go from being completely well and not feeling depressed at all, to feeling extremely suicidal in the space of a few hours. My world is unpredictable because my mind can quickly become overwhelmed by undesirable thoughts and feelings.

Studies have shown that limiting someone’s access to methods of killing themselves dramatically decreases their risk of dying by suicide. I know this to be true. I know there are things I will never do because of my depression. I will never own a gun. I will never have an internet server or other device in my room that requires a corded connection. I will never hike to a cliff by myself. I will never step onto a balcony of a tall building without someone nearby. I will never look over a bridge or overpass that does not have a protective fence. If I feel depressed, I will not go for a walk down the street without someone with me.

These are the things I have to do to keep myself safe. These are the ways I make sure that I have time to think before I can harm myself. This is my insurance to myself and my friends that depression will not win easily.

Sometimes it is not easy to keep myself safe. Sometimes I have to rely on friends to help me out of an unhealthy state of mind. I know that it is hard for the people that care about me to know that because of my depression, suicidal thoughts can quickly rise to the surface of my mind. But my promise to them is to do all that I can to keep myself safe. I do all that I can to make sure that their fears will never come true. I will not make it easy for this illness to hurt me. And I will continue to do everything in my power to fight my depression for as long as I live.

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How Depression Feels

A while ago I started drawing what my depression felt like. It was a way of expressing myself without actually hurting myself. Now that I am better, I feel like I can share these drawings. These are actual thoughts or images I had while in the depths of depression.

***Warning, these drawings can be a little graphic. I am boldly expressing a sensitive topic, which can make others uncomfortable.***

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I would often just see blood on my arms- at church, work, school. I would see blood everywhere. I didn’t even want to hurt myself sometimes, but the images would come anyway.

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Sometimes when I was lying in bed, I would see demons coming out of me. And more often, I would just feel like I was tied to the bed with barbed wire- moving or breathing or anything would just hurt. There were days when I just lied in bed and silently screamed because the pain was so bad.

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I often felt like I was drowning. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t find anything to hold onto. The only escape, the only thing that I felt like was there for me to grab as I descended into the abyss was suicide. Suicide became my flotation device.

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I often saw myself hanging or choking myself.

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I would see myself hanging from the ceiling as I went to bed. Or sometimes I just felt so stretched to my limit that I would feel like I was trying to pull myself up while being chained to the ceiling.

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I wanted the end. I just wanted the end so badly. I thought about cutting through to the bone. I thought about just hurting myself so much that I would end up in the hospital and maybe then I could get the help I needed.

I am so happy to say that I am out of that now. The images have gone away. The pain is mostly gone. I don’t picture doing any of these things to myself anymore. This was the darkest time of my life. Darker than any other time I had depression or tried to hurt myself. This time I wanted to be better. There was so much good in my life and so many reasons to get better. Depression is an illness. It is a sickness. And these are some of the more disturbing symptoms.

Also, sorry for the low quality of the images. I have limited resources to take pictures at the moment and pencil drawings are hard to see sometimes. 

Why I Break Down

I’m a pretty easy going person. If someone asks to do something at the last minute, I will usually say yes. The problem is that I don’t really have an accurate sense of time. I don’t think about how long things take, I just think about what I have planned for the day. And I don’t panic until what I have planned is getting to the point where I might not be able to do it. When my schedule fails is when my mind fails to process the situation. The world closes in and I want to disappear, and life becomes so overwhelming that I don’t know how to even start to deal with it again.

This is why I panic.

I remember in middle school when I was first diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. We had an IEP and the adults in the room decided that I should be given more time to finish homework assignments as needed. I remember resenting this decision a little bit. After all, I was fully capable of doing everything my classmates were doing. Why should I be treated differently?

I now realize the reasoning. It’s not that I couldn’t do it. It’s that I panic. I don’t notice time going by until it’s too late. I don’t notice that I have worked on a tiny portion of my project until an hour before the assignment is due, and I haven’t even completed half of it.

The thing is, I get lost in the details. I get lost in the joy of creating, the beauty of being, the fun of doing. I get lost because I love it. I love life. I love learning. I love people. I love looking at the wheels of cars as they roll by and the shapes that make up buildings. I get lost in the little things that no one really notices. I get lost in simply being.

And it’s great. It’s wonderful. I love it and I love life. The problem is that you can’t do that kind of thing in this world. This world has demands and requirements and obligations. And as soon as I come out of being lost in the beauty, I get overwhelmed by the demands.

On the hard days, you might find me curled up in my car after work, trying to distract myself from all the noise and light and heat and pressure of the world. You might find me walking around with ear plugs in because it makes one less thing to deal with. You might find me rubbing my hands or arms in an attempt to relieve the tension inside of me.

No, it’s not that I can’t handle the world. It’s that other people don’t know the world. They don’t see the things I notice. They don’t experience sights and sounds like they are part of them. They don’t get lost in the beauty. It’s not that I can’t handle the world, it’s that no one can. No one can take it all in.

The thing is, most people don’t try. Most people filter it out automatically. They filter out what they feel is unnecessary to only focus on what they feel is important. But to me, to my mind, it is all important. And how do you handle the world when everything is important?

You get lost in it until it becomes so much that you break down.

SensoryBlogHopNew

Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo!

How Autism Contributes to Depression

I have been lonely for as long as I can remember. I didn’t know how to communicate with people that I wanted to spend time with them, and I didn’t know how to just go and talk to someone. Most of my conversations with my parents were on car rides because that was the only way I knew how to initiate a conversation, when I knew I would be with someone for a designated amount of time and they wouldn’t have anywhere else to go or anything else to do. One of my best friends was probably made because of that exact situation. I would give her rides from work and we would talk on the car ride. We would also talk at my desk when we finished our work and didn’t have anything else to do.

Thinking about it, I still don’t know how to initiate conversations with people outside of those parameters- a defined period of time, a setting where we are required to be in the same general area during that time, and a specific task or event that requires our focus on the moment. People are often surprised by how naturally I start and continue conversations in these situations, but they are just about the only situations where this is possible.

Here is where depression comes in. I used to think that my depression was a direct result of my loneliness. I felt that if I could make friends and be able to spend time with them, I would no longer be depressed. I have now realized that my depression is not just from loneliness. I am prone to thoughts of depression. I am vulnerable to thoughts of suicide and self hatred even when I am not lonely. However, my lack of communication skills always contributes to the severity of my depression.

I have two best friends. They are both completely amazing and I would do anything in the world for them. They help me through my depression on a daily basis. However, my need for their love and approval, and my lack of the adequate skills I need to interpret their actions and communicate my needs, often contributes to thoughts of suicide, depression, and self harm. One of my best friends has been my friend for about 7 years. I don’t worry about losing her because I know that she will always need me at least as much as I need her. I have a problem communicating my needs with her though. I do not know how to tell her that situations are too overwhelming for me and that I need an escape. The biggest issue I have with my other friend is that I do not know how to read her signals. I do not know how to tell if she enjoys being friends with me, or if she wants to talk or wants some space, or if I am too much for her at a particular moment or not enough at another moment.

This is where depression and autism entwine and run away with each other. Depression tells me that since I can’t read someone’s signals, that must mean that they think the worst of me. Autism tells me that I lack communication skills to remedy the situation so I might as well consign myself to a state of depression because this will never get better. Depression tells me that since I cannot adequately communicate, I am a worthless human being and no one would ever really want to be my friend unless I do amazing things for them all the time. And since I suffer with major depression, there are times when I cannot do anything for other people because I am struggling so much myself. And these thoughts all cycle in my head. Depression feeds off of lack of communication skills, which I don’t feel I can improve because autism makes communicating harder, and then depression feeds off of my hopelessness, which leads to increases thoughts of worthlessness, which leads to greater isolation and self doubt, which increases my desires to die, which deepens my depression.

I know that the only way to reconcile these thoughts is to untangle depression from autism, to look at each one separately and see how they contribute to each other. The only way to sort out my thoughts is by communicating them with people to find what is true and what is only a reality in my head because I’m looking at things through the lens of depression. It really is okay that I can’t be in crowds for very long without needing to have a break at some point. It is okay that I carry ear plugs around with me everywhere I go. It is okay that I’m not sure how to communicate my feelings and I stumble on my words when I try to speak without taking the time to construct the conversation in my head first. Depression wants me to see these things as unforgivable faults that can never be understood by others.

The truth is, that my friends already see it. They know that when I walk quickly through a crowd, it is not because I don’t want to walk with them. It is because I need a break from the sensory input that has been too much for me for longer than I was able to express. They know that I try to do more than I’m capable of because I care too much to let autism stop me from trying. They know that when I lash out at them, it is because I have been trying to stay calm on my own for too long and I finally reached my breaking point. But most of all, they know I love them more than I am capable of expressing. And that is the one thing that depression can’t touch. That love, that amazing, wonderful love that I have for them and they have for me, will always get me past the thoughts of depression and inadequacy. And I know that despite the autism, despite the depression, despite how hard things get, I will always have a reason to keep on trying and keep on living and keep on keeping on.

Hello Darkness my Old Friend

To say I have been depressed for the last few months would be an understatement. To say I have been overwhelmed and stressed to the point of exhaustion would clarify a little more, but would still not give a full picture of how much I have been struggling. The fact is I have been drowning. You forget what it is like to breathe sometimes when life is so crazy that you don’t have time to focus on anything. I have been in a whirlwind of demands and emotions. I have been spinning in a sea of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, desires for self harm, and overall stress. The loneliness surrounding me has felt like walking around in a plastic bag, trying to gasp for air that wasn’t there.

I have checked out of life.

Before the last couple months, I never understood people who said that when they were depressed, they just stayed in bed. I am an expectation follower. I do what people expect no matter how hard it is, how uncomfortable, how much it hurts me, or how much I despise it. I cannot just not go to work because that is what is expected of me. I cannot just stop doing what I am expected to do, no matter how much I am struggling or how much I am hurting. The last month was a little different though. I realized that people don’t expect much from single people. You can pretty much just go to work or school and that is all people expect of you. I usually enjoy doing other things, but this time I did not care to do anything. I did not do any of the things I usually do. I avoided home and my family. I stayed out late and did absolutely nothing most of the time. I left church as soon as possible and arrived as late as possible. I did not go to activities or talk to most of my friends. I did not try to cook or buy groceries. I don’t even remember half of the last month because I was so out of it.

Suicide seemed so enticing. I thought about self harm nearly every day and succumbed to the thoughts more than once.  The darkness won out more often than it ever has before. And for once, I was not scared of suicide because I just figured it was a matter of time, and if it came down to it, I would not be opposed to embracing the darkness for one final time. I felt like a zombie going through the motions of life, and it didn’t matter if I lived or died because I felt like I was emotionally dead already.

The good news is that I’m getting better. I feel like I can breathe again. I feel like I can talk again. I feel like I may have more of a grip on life. It is a slow process. You don’t just come out of depression like that and simply go on with life. But slowly, steadily, I am working towards recovery. I am learning to breathe again. I am learning to see again. I am learning to be myself again. And it will get better. It always does.

Losing my Grip

I haven’t been okay for a while. I feel like I’m drowning. My dreams are disturbing and my waking thoughts are not much better. I lose hold of reality though I try to cling to the things I want to feel real.

I took a couple days off work to try to get back to a semblance of normal. It helped, but I still feel like I’m sliding down a mountainside, trying to find a grip in loose dirt.

I have panicked. I have broken. I have completely freaked out. My brother was telling me something the other day, and I yelled at him and then kept screaming because I just couldn’t stop.

All I keep thinking is that I’m not okay. I’m not okay, and I don’t know when I will ever be okay again.

My family is visiting. I love them, but I can’t handle it. I can’t handle the stress of everyone being here. I have always been the one expected to hold it all together, but now I am falling apart.

I’m trying to cling to a reality that doesn’t feel like it exists. I’m trying to get a grip on life that feels like it’s slipping through my fingers. I’m trying to do anything to be okay again.

Is this normal? It doesn’t feel normal… I feel like something is wrong with me, and I don’t know how to fix it. I just keep hoping for a better tomorrow because I’m doing everything else I can think of to be okay.

It’s Okay to Be Different

It’s okay to be different. I have to keep reminding myself of that. As I sit rocking in my car before class, I have to remind myself that this doesn’t make me a failure. As I feel the urge to bang my head against walls or hurt myself in other ways, I have to remind myself that this doesn’t make me a bad person. As I flap my arms out of excitement or anxiety, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to be different.

I don’t know why I feel these things, but I have to resist the thoughts asking what’s wrong with me. Maybe nothing is wrong, maybe I’m just different. And maybe it’s okay to be different.