Saturday, September 20, 2014

Depression, Vulnerability and Comments on General Happenings in Current Events

Hi everybody. I don't want to jinx myself, but it's only been a few weeks since my last blog post! OK, I know, that one was basically just a link, but still, I'm getting a bit more disciplined with managing my tasks and my free-time, right?

I guess this is a good time to talk about some serious stuff. I have something to confess. Besides having Aspergers, I also have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and severe Clinical Depression. I guess I have been open in a vague, non-official way about my Anxiety issues over the years. In fact I knew I had an Anxiety and Panic Disorder long before I was ready to face and accept that I might be autistic too. But for years I was in denial about suffering from Depression, and I would venture to say that it's something I've been dealing with from childhood. I can remember feeling so down at various times in my life since my pre-teen years that I wished I had never been born, and felt like I was being punished for some unknown crime(s). These feelings can be very common in people who are on the autism spectrum because we feel, often from as soon as we are aware of other people, that we somehow don't fit in or understand things that seem to come simply for everybody else, things like the unwritten social rules, and the ability to both make, and enjoy superficial chit chat for example, as well as the fact that the majority of people we meet seem to misunderstand and misinterpret everything we say and do as well. In fact Depression is a common co-morbid condition for people on the autism spectrum to develop by adulthood.

Symptoms of Autism in Females

For years my mom has tried to get me to seek help for my depression because she herself finally sought help for hers, and has been mostly doing well now that it's been being treated for several years. She and I even almost stopped speaking to each other a few years ago because I was in such denial about it, even after a few months earlier confessing that I had made plans to end my life!

I can see why she was desperate and worried about me. I know I scared myself when I was in such a dark place that I had actually thought up tentative plans to go through with killing myself. Why? Because I actually don't want to kill myself. I have an irrational, normal human fear of death. In fact since early childhood, I would have panic attacks at the thought of being buried alive. But depression is a mental illness, and the disease literally fucks with your brain. That is the scary part. I don't want to die, but that my brain in a depressive episode could somehow convince me that ending my own life is the only logical solution to any problem, including ending my depression. It makes no sense if you aren't depressed or in a depressive episode, but that's how it works. Anyway, my anger and denial pulled my depression into another direction, and I used it to go back to dancing which was a good thing, and helps, but my depression had become so severe that for me it is not the only solution.

Depression Symptoms

I was feeling OK, but never happy, for a year or so. Plus I was still using maladaptive, self destructive coping mechanisms to avoid my depression, and processing my own emotions, which because of being autistic I process sequentially and consciously, IE very slowly compared to the non-autistic population. Some of these very dysfunctional coping mechanisms were things like binge drinking and binge sexual activity either just online or in person with an on again/off again "friend." I also had stopped contacting my close friends in anyway except to comment or like posts by them on Facebook. I isolated myself. I spent hours binge watching Netflix and reading my Facebook news feeds when I wasn't at work or the dance studio.

In the meantime in spite of my income going down drastically and steadily over the last 5-6 years, some good things did change for me which should have helped me feel better had I not been depressed. Those things were first moving out of my parents' house into a shared house with housemates, and then a few months later into my first apartment in 5-6 years. Prior to that I had been homeless, living in a series of motels, hostels and friends' homes after an accident at work left me temporarily physically disabled and I was also evicted from my apartment because of a conflict over bedbugs with my landlords and the accident leaving me unable to fight them in court. After becoming unemployed, having my unemployment denied and then a job falling through, I had to move to Arizona to live with my parents. I have written about all that before so I won't go into it further.

Last year my income went down again and I had to cut back on taking dance lessons to once a month, with just one performance event, then it went down again and I had to stop taking lessons altogether. My last dance lesson was in March of 2014. The lessons were often both an intense workout which I need, and a kind of therapy session because I could trust my teachers implicitly with anything. In fact if I wanted to just dance and talk for 45 minutes, rather than work on developing a specific dance technique, I could. Then I lost it, although I had banked enough lesson time to still be able to attend group classes at the studio. That in itself probably saved my life.

So about 3 weeks ago, I again started having serious suicidal thoughts. My depression had steadily gotten worse over that last year, and I had begun to seriously consider asking my primary medical provider about medication options and seeking counselling. But I had started working a second job, and was keeping myself going with the thought that in a couple weeks I could go back to taking 1 lesson a month. Then a tooth broke, and I was shown the estimate for the cost of treatment, and it triggered my depression into overdrive. My extreme physical pain and my depression had my brain secreting neurotransmitters that were sending me the thought that the way to end all the seemingly never ending pain, was suicide, and that suicide in spite of being devastating to friends and family, would in the long run release them of the terrible burden of having to take care of me, and/or listen to my problems. My depression and my autism even often has me having thoughts that people who say they are my friends, are not really my friends etc. The good thing is that there was still a rational part of my brain working that was seriously frightened by these thoughts. I am normally a cheerful, and optimistic person. I don't want to die. It's scary to think that my own brain could betray me in this way, and one day I could go through with it, if I didn't get help.

The other thing that inspired me to get help, was the suicide by one of my idols since childhood, Robin Williams. I was devastated by his death. At first I felt numb. Then I cried off and on for several days about it. I took it as a sign though that I needed serious help. The very next day, I went into see my Nurse Practitioner with the full knowledge that she might have me committed for 72 hours, and that if that is what I needed, I was ready and willing. Instead as I had not made any concrete plans yet, she prescribed me a drug called Lexapro, which so far is working OK I think.

I want to state that I am not pushing drugs on others or saying that if you are depressed you should try medication. I am saying that for me, treating my own depression over the years with meditation, physical activity, herbal remedies and self destructive behavior, including denial and self harm, did not work for me. I am also not promoting a particular drug. In fact just because I seem to be doing alright on a particular drug does not mean that you should rush out and demand that your physician prescribe Lexapro for you. Every brain is different. The drug or drugs that help me, might not help you at all or might even harm you. And you might not need to take any medications at all. So in advance, please do not tell me I should get off the drugs or that all pharmaceutical remedies are bad. For me, the pills I take daily are saving my life. I know this to be true. But am I saying that is true for everybody. No. What is right for you is a discussion you need to have with your medical care providers and/or your therapist/counselor.

Signs and Symptoms that someone is Suicidal

Guardian article on Robin Williams' Suicide and Depression

Because of what I already knew about depression, and through my research I knew I had to immediately tell close friends and family that I was severely depressed, and had had recent thoughts of committing suicide so they could watch me closely, check on me frequently and call 911 if I started even joking about it or if I started behaving in ways that were odd compared or worrying compared to how I normally behave. I even opened up to a teacher and friend who I only opened up to about having Aspergers (which I pretty much tell everyone at some point as I am a self advocacy advocate). This is a person who I want to think highly of me and who I want to trust me enough to advise me on my non-profit dance project. But I did it. I also opened up on social media because I have this drive to help others, and Depression is a very common and very misunderstood mental illness that is wrongly stigmatized. I wanted to show that having Clinical Depression does not make weak. In fact that being open about it makes me stronger. Just like being autistic and open about it makes me and others stronger. I have a vision of removing all stigma from being disabled or perceived as disabled no matter what that is whether it's autism or anxiety or depression or PTSD or physical issues like being in a wheel chair or an amputee or deaf etc.

The drug I am on seems to be starting to work. At first I had pretty tough side effects from the Lexapro, including severe nausea and feeling like an apathetic stoned out zombie with extreme drowsiness, then that evolved into light sleeping type of insomnia where I'd sleep for 1-2 hour stretches and wake up wide awake and nauseated. But all of this was preferable to dying by my own hand. Now I am not aware of any side effects. I think clearly. I am less anxious and less depressed. Last week for the first time, I actually didn't have the desire to watch Netflix past being done with my coffee, and ran errands before going to the dance studio. I even was not so self centered anymore. (I can always appear a bit self absorbed because of my autistic emotional and sensory processing taking a lot of time and energy). I actually for the first time in years thought of doing something to thank a friend for listening to me, and to cheer him up, and make him laugh as well as others laugh. I used to be a person who would buy or do things for my friends and family spontaneously and thought out all of the time if I would think of something they would enjoy or see something that they would like that would make them smile. I had lost that desire due to my depression years ago.

Yesterday for the first time in a long time I felt inspired to start taking better care of my living space. I was inspired to buy a new comforter in a color and style that I like, and while in the store, I got inspired to make future plans for decorating my apartment little by little as my meager budget allows. I bought a mop/sweeper and a vacuum cleaner. I started setting up ways of paying my parents back money I owe them, and of banking funds towards future lessons little by little with the dance studio.

I still need to take the next step of looking for a therapist who can help me with my anxiety and depression, as well as who can evaluate me officially for autism. At the moment my focus has been getting stable and getting my dental trauma healed. Over the past 3 and a half weeks I have been to the dentist every week. First to evaluate the broken tooth, then to have it extracted, and a temporary bridge put in, and lately to have the bridge adjusted as it kept causing me extreme pain. I'm feeling pretty good again today and for the first time this week, I will be going to classes at the dance studio.

Those are my personal current events. But I want to jump to the public autism world and touch on a few other things that have been going on in the autism world recently. The first issues are all related to bullying and violence towards autistic teens. Recently there have been several incidents of autistic teens being brutally bullied by NT peers who they were tricked into thinking were their friends and who were then beaten while the incidence was being filmed or in the most public case, the boy who was convinced he was participating in the "Ice Bucket Challenge," but who instead had a bucket of urine, feces and cigarette butts dumped on his head, also filmed and posted. These kinds of things make me angry because in the days of increased awareness of autism and other disabilities, there is no excuse for this type of behavior to occur at all. Secondly in 2014 it should never take a public outcry for authorities to prosecute these assaults to the full extent of the law. It's troubling to me that society in general seems to see it as ok to assault autistic people or people with disabilities. But there is something that even further enrages me, and that is a current of sympathy for parents who murder their autistic children, and the continued publicity for people to blame the victims and sympathize with the murders by organizations like Autism $peaks and by shows like Dr. Phil.

Ice Bucket Prank Prosecution Progress

Brutal beating of Autistic Teen

ASAN Statement on Dr Phil episode featuring K Stapleton

The second thing I want to mention is something positive, so I will end with it, and that is a documentary streaming for free, and commercial free on called, "Too Sane For This World." This film is an illuminating and brilliant portrait of 12 autistic adults, their struggles and more importantly their gifts. I applaud the filmmakers for including a wide array of individuals that really shows how diverse and different we are all from each other. I could relate to this film in more ways than I can count. I can not stress strongly enough how important it is for everybody to watch this film, these types of positive documentaries about autism, and to share them with others.

Too Sane For This World Trailer

View Too Sane For This World on Hulu here

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Positives about being an Aspie video I found on youtube, and my thoughts on being an Aspie

Below is a good video on the positive/gifts of having Aspergers Syndrome/Autism that I found on youtube. I can really relate to all of what she says. I am the same way. My two main special interests are dance and autism, but music and dance are intertwined. Music has always been a calming, stress releasing kind of thing. I also have to say that my intellectualization and practical approach to my emotions are what makes me able to take steps like now finally with my depression to get help, try medication and seek a counselor as well. So although severe depression, suicide and generalized anxiety are common co-morbids to Aspergers and other forms of autism, it's my Aspie mindset that helped me be able to see a practical solution and seek help. It's also my Aspie nature to post openly about my challenges in order to help others going through similar issues, not feel so isolated and alone. I could also relate the the loyalty and trying to fix every friendship and misunderstanding even with people who hurt me and behave not like a real friend. I will also sometimes get confused if a person who stabbed me in the back or was unkind, then becomes nice to me. I get hopeful and even now, for a split second, default to the mode of "now they are my best friend again," when in reality, they are just being manipulative or playing games/politics, or both. It's definitely made me more guarded than I used to be, although the Aspergers and my introversion has also made me a little guarded. I just used to be more quick to trust anybody who was nice to me, and I over relied on people's words, but would get upset when they didn't match actions or sometimes even intentions. Aspies tend to be people of our word, but the NT world is often more about telling people what they want to hear, rather than the truth. I'd rather the truth every time. Also I am more leery of romantic relationships because in every one so far, men have tried to "fix" me. NEWSFLASH: I am not broken. I need a partner, and somebody who accepts me, stims, quirks and all, rather than judges me. I need to be comfortable being able to dance around and hop up and pace, and sing silly songs, and fidget with clasps, my ring, my keys, my shoe laces, the zippers on my boots, to cover my mouth, to sometimes look down while talking, when I am at home. When and if, only if I find that loyal, non-judging, non patronizing man, who also supports my goals and dreams, and who wants to share in them and/or has a parallel vision/dream will I settle down again. Part of my recent depressive/suicidal episode has been exacerbated by my desire since I was a small child to be a wife and mother, to have kids of my own, and now that I am 46, almost 47, I am having to face that that dream as far as biological children is probably gone, and I won't adopt without a supportive partner, who is a partner, and who loves me for me, how I am NOW, not what they want to change in me to fit an idealized fantasy. It's a long post and I hope you watch the video.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Blog Title Change: Dancing With Aspergers

Hi readers of my long lost blog formally titled "Ah Shit! I Think I'm a Cougar!." That title while being funny, never really sat well with me. I know I chose it, but I am terrible at titling things. In fact, I feel slightly unsure about the new title, although it describes me, and my life on a literal and metaphorical level better than the other one did.

I never was a "cougar." I don't pursue men on purpose who are younger than me. I do sometimes have a younger outlook on some things, and I tend to attract men who are in their mid 30's, but I think that's because I look and behave more like a person at that stage. But I've written about this before. and will not rehash the topic again now.

My blog is still going to be fairly extemporaneous in nature. That means if you are annoyed by tangential or associative thinking, or writing style, then this blog might not be your thing. The topics I explore will not just be about dating, and being single as a woman who is in her 40's, an artist in various forms and who most likely has Aspergers Syndrome, a form of Autism, but who hasn't been formally diagnosed at this time. I am going to write about whatever ideas pop into my head. Right now, it's the title change obviously.

I chose the new title based on the fact that as an art form, dance is my first love as far as creative expression goes. It's closely intertwined with music, but there you have it. Plus as I've already said, it's likely I have Aspergers or some other related condition on the Autism Spectrum. I also work with autistic kids as a tutor/1:1 (I prefer saying tutor, because I don't agree that methods of teaching skills to autistic individuals should be called "therapy"). Besides the fact that I am literally a dancer and an Aspie, I have been in a sense dancing with and around this condition which I prefer to think of as difference in neurological wiring, and struggling to dance through a world that is not set up for autistic people at all. I even dance around the idea of maybe not being autistic, but having some other difference. That's ok too. It's close enough to Aspergers for me to just identify that way until a doctor tells me something different. I relate more strongly to other autistic people, and I share the common experiences of feeling different, misreading nonverbal cues, coming across as rude or blunt when I don't mean to and/or not understanding why I upset someone, etc. I may go more in depth into this topic in other entries, so I'll stop writing about it in this one.

But there is something else I want to write about in this installment, and that's my attempts to start up a non-profit project, called Ballroom All Stars, or Ballroom AS or, BAS. The experience of founding something like this from the ground up, mostly on my own has been a combination of exciting, empowering, illuminating and disappointing to frustrating. I won't go too in depth in this entry about all of it, because it's again a topic for one or more entries in itself. I am in a holding pattern at the moment while I figure out which way is up with it after a couple setbacks have happened. One thing has happened which I can't go into right now because it's uncertain, and not official yet. The other issue is a failure that still stings, and that is that nobody signed up for the dance camp, so it didn't happen.

This summer, I had hoped to be able to launch the project with a pilot dance camp. I had a great venue, Arrowhead Arthur Murray who had agreed to host the camp, plus a dance teacher to run it with me. I contacted colleagues, local autism and disability groups, and I sent flyers home with adolescent autistic students I knew through work. I got a positive response from colleagues for the most part. But the response from local parent groups was one of being ignored, except for one group who's response was they didn't see the point in teaching Ballroom Dance to autistic people, and that the teenage children of the parents in their group would only be able to learn a very simplified version of a line dance, such as Gangham Style. Before you agree, let me explain three things. One, this group labeled itself as being for "high functioning" autistic people. (please note, I don't like that term because it is usually meant to mean autistic people who can talk with their voice as opposed to "non-verbal" autistic people who need to use visual, typed or augmentative communication devices to communicate). Two, Gangham Style dancing is mostly pretending to gallop around on a horse. I don't know one could make it more simplistic. Three, most line dances are actually harder to learn than Ballroom and Social dancing at the beginning level. Obviously at the Intermediate and more Advanced levels, Ballroom dance gets more complicated and requires developing more complex skills, but even those would not be beyond an autistic person who has been steadily progressing through the previous levels.

I have talked to other autistic adults who have run across similar issues with autism organizations run by or for parents of autistic people. I think this attitude is partly because parents want to protect their kids. This is a good thing, but can go too far at times if it strays into over protection, and interferes with the level of independence that an individual could be capable of achieving. The other piece is that there are several organizations, including, but not limited to Autism Speaks, the largest Autism charity in the US, and one which dominates the conversation on Autism in the US because of it's size, and marketing spending power, that paint having a family member who is autistic is a fate worse than death, worse than cancer, and akin to having a child who is missing due to abduction. None of this true at all, but if you are a parent of a newly diagnosed child and this is what you find when you Google "Autism," you are going to probably feel terrible, as if there is no hope, and your child is capable of nothing, and will never develop at all. This is an attitude that many advocates in the self advocacy movement are working to counter and change, and hopefully the tide is turning.

I'll be honest, at first I was hurt and angry about the email I got from this organization who I won't name, because I would like to try to convince them that actually their children can learn to dance, and that Ballroom dancing will have amazing multilevel benefits for their children, and by extension for their family. They might even decide to take up dancing themselves! I cried for about a week or more. I had huge doubts, not in the young adults I was trying to reach, and one day teach, but in my own ability to start this organization, and to handle the overwhelming enormity of the task. But finally it taught me that marketing Ballroom AS is the same way I had marketed my own 1:1 tutoring services when I was an independent contractor, working for myself, 13 years ago, was not going to work for something as huge as this that is a huge unknown to parents who are largely anxious and over protective about their kids, no matter if their offspring is adult age, a teenager or a young child.

It became clearer and clearer to me that I am going to have start the process of actually turning the project into a real non-profit which includes recruiting a board that includes well known Ballroom dancers, celebrities, autism professional, and even more importantly, autistic adults, raising money to get non-profit status (5013c), and raise money to hire experienced professional dance teachers to go to schools and organizations to give a presentation, and teach a mini-class to autistic individuals and their parents/caregivers. This is where I am, and it's overwhelming because I don't actually know any well known dancers personally. Although I have teachers who do, who I hope will get involved even if it's just as a sometime adviser. I've gotten some advice on a couple other people or organizations to contact as well. I do have some colleagues who have expressed interest in the project, and I know I'll have plenty of help once it's up and running. I just am not feeling quite confident enough to take this leap, but I'm getting there. Every successful person fails, many times. The difference is that when we fail, we keep trying and adapting until we succeed.