A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

Archive for March, 2017

Depressive Episodes

It has been a sad week for the University of Waterloo this past week. A student committed suicide. While this has created shock across the campus, I believe it shows there is a lot more work to be done on the issue of mental health and that there is still stigma against talking about it. While it is incredibly unfortunate that this suicide happened, it has inspired me to share my own experience in dealing with depressive episodes. I don’t tell everything that’s happening in my life on this blog (either because some details I’m just not comfortable sharing or too private to share), but I would like to take the time to talk about how depression has personally affected me. I do hope to help remove a lot of the stigma that surrounds these issues.

Throughout my life, lot of things have made me have periods of depression. This probably won’t surprise you if you’ve read a lot of my blog. Being diagnosed with autism has created certain difficulties in my life, which then lead to depression. There have also been other triggers for depression in my life, but again I won’t go into detail on them here. A little over two years ago, however, I ended up having a pretty bad depressive episode. I remember it like it was yesterday. It affected how much I could work and even affected my basic daily functions. Even getting dressed or getting breakfast for myself were a challenge on some days. It felt like it would never end. I went to a doctor and talked with him about putting myself on an anti-depressant. I was also seeing a psychologist at the time who I also discussed this option. with In the end, I ended up going on the S.S.R.I. (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) Zoloft.

While there are mixed views out there about anti-depressants and S.S.R.I.s and there’s a certain stigma against them, my personal experience with Zoloft is that it has been helpful in calming me down, removing some of the anxiety and depression. I don’t believe, however, that such medications are a permanent solution to mental health problems. Actually discussing such problems with a professional is more important. What I do believe, however, is that such medications can be very useful in soothing the healing process. For a period, I was on a dosage of 100 mg of Zoloft daily, but due to an undesirable side effect, I reduced my dosage back down to 50 mg hence reducing the side-effect, so being aware of possible side-effects is important as well. Fortunately, even on 50 mg, I’ve found the benefits are still present.

I’ve been talking a lot about my issues with depression with my current therapist (the one I’m seeing for social anxiety I describe a couple of posts back) and have found she is really making it easier for me to pull myself out of this current depressive episode. We’ve been going through CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) where we examine how thoughts influence feelings, which in turn influence behaviours, which then influence thoughts and so creates a vicious cycle. She is very good at helping me break this cycle through altering my behaviour and challenging my perceptions and learning to accept perceptions that are different than mine. As such, I’ve learned how to be more accepting and less judging of myself and others.

I hope others affected by depression will also share and talk about their own experiences. We need to end this stigma and the more voices we have the more powerful our cause will be.

 

Autism: A Feminist Issue

I’ve read a few blog posts over the past few days that have really opened my eyes to an issue in autism diagnosis. They are here: https://themighty.com/2017/02/autism-feminism-and-bodily-autonomy/  and http://www.loveyourrebellion.org/intersections/autism-is-a-feminist-issue/. I’ve always known that there have been far more males diagnosed with autism than females, but after doing some reading, have discovered that this disadvantages females with autism in a few ways. Regardless of whether there is any biological or psychological explanation for this unbalanced proportion, this unbalanced proportion is unfortunately at times to be taken as encouragement for the prejudice that autism is strictly a male trait. Even professional studies done on autism often focus primarily on males with ASD (autism spectrum disorder), while not addressing the issues that females with ASD face.

Society has an easier time labeling a man as “odd” or socially challenged than doing so for a woman. One of the core defining characteristics of having autism is having social difficulties and, as such, many girls with autism go undiagnosed until their adults with many of them being misdiagnosed when they were younger. Females are somehow expected to have exceedingly good social skills. They must appear kind and gentle and not easily tempered and they can be judged harshly based on how they look and behave. Females with ASD might not adhere to American’s standards of beauty or not appearing “ladylike”. They are particularly vulnerable to such judgement because one of the characteristics of autism is experiencing difficulty in not understanding a lot of the dogmatic social rules that govern society.

I like how one of the authors of one of the post describes bodily autonomy on her own terms and relates it to having autism. One of the major issues that feminism deals with is uninvited sexual advances that many girls and women deal with, such as catcalling and rape, which feminists place under the phrase “my body, my choice”. This author, however, points out that this phrase means far more to her than just the issue of rape culture. To her it means portraying her body through her mannerisms and behaviours, exactly as she sees fit without being teased, ridiculed, or outcasted for it. Even some people who call themselves “feminists” are not true feminists; they are only advocating for the most privileged of women without giving a voice to other women who may experience different issues. Such people frustrate me because they’re completely missing the point of what feminism is all about: equality for all.

Given this analysis of these social factors that come into play in diagnosing boys and girls with ASD, I am a bit skeptical that the diagnostic rates are accurate when it comes to displaying the actual proportion of males to females with autism. I am not dismissing here the negative or unfavourable reactions a male with autism might receive in not having good social skills (a lot of this blog has been after all about my own social difficulties as a male with autism). Rather, I am emphasising how gender roles in society make this especially hard for females with ASD. And this is what makes autism a feminist issue.