Monday, 10 December 2012

Mood is like music to me

Having said I'll try and write more mental health stuff in this blog since I'm running out of Aspie-related things to say, I'm not wholly sure what to write. Do I write just about mental health, changing the direction of the blog? Or do I try and fit in my experiences and views on mental health with having Asperger Syndrome?

Let's try the latter. I was diagnosed with mild-moderate depression after a particularly rough patch in summer 2010, just before my second year of university. I'm fairly sure that I've had depression for longer than that, but then again how much of my teenage lows were due to depression, and how much due to hormones, and how much due to being frustrated with my difficulties with social interaction? A lot of my diaries (I kept diaries regularly between the ages of 13 and 18, I still have them in my bookcase) are full of what looks like the three - teenage angst and mood swings (of course), feeling overly upset after a negative social interaction such as being tongue-tied or feeling ignored, and sometimes just unsure as to why dark feelings that I couldn't seem to escape from would come out of nowhere.

It's not always easy to describe having depression - the first time that I had counselling shortly after my diagnosis, I got frustrated that the person I spoke to seemed to have hard-and-set ideas as to what depression was. Since I didn't fit into his descriptions, I doubted whether or not what I had was depression, which made me feel worse. Interestingly, a friend of mine who saw him before I did said that she found him really helpful, someone who saw him after I did found him just as unhelpful as I did. I'll try and describe what it can be like, forgive me if this doesn't make too much sense.

I've been taking piano lessons since I was eight and violin lessons since I was nine, so I'm going to explain this in musical terms since this makes most sense to me. Imagine that a tune's playing. The tune is made up of pitch (i.e. high or low) and volume. On a day where I'm feeling content, the pitch is moderately high, and the volume's relatively soft. If I'm feeling really happy, the pitch is probably the same but the volume's louder. When I feel depressed, it can vary. Sometimes the pitch starts very low, and the volume is loud - great feelings of sadness. Sometimes the pitch starts normal and suddenly goes low and loud - sudden onset - other times it gradually gets lower and quieter, until I realise that I'm no longer feeling alright. Sometimes the pitch is low and the volume is very quiet - constant sadness from which there feels no escape. Sometimes there seems to be no volume at all and I just feel numb. My most recent episode (my depression's not constant, on many days I feel perfectly happy and content) was one of sudden onset - low and loud - but since it varies, it can sometimes be hard to tell that I'm in a depressed state. And that's hard, since for me, I need to realise I'm ill before I can get better.

I'm getting better at it, though. I had 9 sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy last year, and am learning to recognise my moods and negative thoughts. Once I'm aware of this, if I'm in an okay frame of mind I can try things that might make me feel better, such as reading or sleeping (if appropriate!) or talking to someone. If I don't feel able to do this, I wait it out and try to avoid doing things that I'm aware can make me feel worse, such as putting myself down, watching depressing films, or eating certain foods (dairy and artificial sweeteners can sometimes trigger an episode).

Thankfully I've not had an episode in over a month :) Part of me worries about when the next one will come, but I'm trying to avoid triggers and trying to stop myself from feeling worse when I do feel sad, so I think that there's only so much I can do. Change and stress can also set me off - I think that that's the Aspie in me - so while I'd ideally keep things the same, I know that this isn't possible. So I'm making sure that before change happens (if I have sufficient warning), I have a strong support network and coping strategies. It's like a pre-emptive measure, so that hopefully I'll feel safe if I do have a strong episode. I keep getting better at managing my episodes, so I'm hopeful that I can live with my condition. Same goes for being Aspie - I like to think that I'm managing it better and have fewer problems adjusting to the world. Or maybe the world's becoming more tolerant. Whichever way, when I'm not in a depressed state, I'm confident that I can cope.

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