For most of my life thus far I have found myself surrounded by my own thoughts, hopefully the more coherent of which will pop up on this weekly blog. However, after being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at a later stage in life negative thoughts and feelings are serious pitfalls for me as I get used to having the condition.
From a psychological perspective this is no surprise, as there is a documented link between Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) and Depression. But after a long struggle to get past my depression I will have to be regularly keeping what Churchill called his ‘black dog’ from my door†. In my experience, it is easy to believe the depressive thoughts because, leading quite an isolated and introverted life, I don’t have the thoughts of others to measure against. For example, before I knew I had Asperger’s I thought that when I when to public places everyone would be looking at me and judging everything I do and say, even down to how and where I stand or sit in a shop or café. I didn’t realise that they didn’t have the same attention to detail that I have. Also, because of the condition, I find it difficult empathise and understand the thoughts of others. The way I picture it in my mind is that it’s a bit like trying to use electricity when on holiday abroad: my brain needs an adaptor in order to plug itself in and understand what others are thinking and why. Once I learn how to fit this adaptor I’m not all that different from everyone else.
Another thing that I, but not necessarily everyone with Asperger’s, suffer with is a consistently heightened sense of mindfulness. The way that I explain it to people is that I have a Wikipedia brain, not because I know everything, but because everything I think of has a link to something else like the Wikipedia website does.
So, for example, when I see a mango on a market stall it makes me think of the video game Crash Bandicoot because it has Wumpa fruit, which look like mangoes. This makes me think of my old original Playstation I had as a kid, which then makes me think of the shop my mum bought it from, which makes me think of the shopping centre that shop was in, which makes me do a detailed analysis of how the shopping centre has changed in the approximately fifteen years since, and this will lead to something else and so on. I hope it reads as tedious as it feels, then you will start to understand what it’s like.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s good to let your mind wonder when you’re in a waiting room and you’ve forgotten to bring a book. (I bring my own reading material when I go to the waiting room at the doctors’ surgery. Firstly because their magazines are rubbish, and also because they’re probably covered with germs because they’re read by sick people) But it does drive you mad when it happens when you’re trying to sit an exam or go to sleep – when it happens it feels like a gremlin is at the controls of my brain.
Sadly it’s because of my Wikipedia brain that I’m often in danger of getting depressed, because I come across things that remind me of sad times like a DVD I bought whilst I was in teacher training, which makes me go over in my mind everything that happened [see: On what should have happened in ’92 (pt. III)] which makes me think of the self harm and alcoholism I fell prey to. This often makes me start to feel the de-energising lethargy that I had when I was at my lowest. Also, the beginning and end of the school year is tough for me as it is usually quite prominently covered by the news and other media.
However I have developed a strong weapon that I can use against these kinds of thoughts. The first of which is my own DIY version of colour therapy. I have always been cheered up by bright colours, especially green, which is my favourite. I surround myself with bright colours which seem to give me good feelings, which can involve going for a walk in bright and open spaces, or handling brightly coloured object such as marbles or looking at my collection of butterfly photos. The second is to surround myself with my favourite things such as Doctor Who; video games; comic books; my telescope and other geeky stuff. Luckily, thanks to my Asperger’s, I have no problem concentrating on things that interest me and this has quite a good calming effect on me. I’m learning now to surround myself with people who are close to me too – it’s a work-in-progress as I don’t naturally connect with others, so it’s not the first thing that I instinctively think of. But I’m sure I can learn how with some time and practice.
With all this in mind I think it’s important when having negative thoughts to practice spotting the signs that tell you that you’re starting to feel depressed. One of mine is when I start making assumptions about what others think of me – even though those without Asperger’s can instinctively read between the lines and understand others, which I cannot do easily, they’re not mind readers. So I tell myself “you don’t really know that’s true!” when I feel inferior because of my condition, or when I feel like I’ve made a social faux pas that makes everyone think that I’m crazy. I have to remember that, like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, “I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested”.
† Interesting Fact: The figure of a large dog has been associated with depression or woe in general for centuries. This comes from one of my favourite interests – astronomy. The constellation Canis Major, Latin for Great Dog, appears near the horizon in the depths of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, when people are vulnerable to the depressive condition Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) because of the lack of Vitamin D from sunlight because of the dark and cold conditions. People used to call this time ‘dog days’, which is now a phrase that can mean a period of sadness or lethargy. When Spring comes Canis Major goes away, which gave rise to the saying ‘dog days are over’ and a popular song by Florence + the Machine, covered by the insufferably cheesy cast of Glee, a TV show which makes me feel depressed and/or lethargic. In the Southern hemisphere the dog days are in the height of summer, where the sultry conditions have a similar draining effect on people.