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.