4 Ways I Cope With Depression as a Person on the Autism Spectrum

I have a confession. My life is a paradox. On one hand, public speaking is my profession. I enjoy my job. I feel I have both a calling and a gift to do it. Then there is the side of me that doesn’t like to talk at all. I’m terrified of meeting new people, socializing in large crowds and carrying on small talk. I’m often lost on what to say and when to say it. I’m completely uncomfortable in strange places with strange people. Sometimes, I won’t even leave my home.

I live with this daily, and I’ve learned to accept these two different sides of my personality even when others can’t seem to understand it.

Silence and solitude are at times my greatest assets. It’s not uncommon for me to go hours or sometimes a complete day without speaking. Learning to be comfortable with silence has helped me to become a focused thinker in order to process the world around me in a safe space. Silence is how I handle my sensory processing issues. Yes, there are times that I don’t talk a lot, but I need my moments of solitude in order to stay strong.

Then there are those seasons when silence and solitude are my biggest liabilities. Being comfortable with silence can be just as much a curse as it can be a gift. There are moments when my inclination to stay quiet and alone become the source of my struggles instead of the source of my strength. Sometimes my silence leaves so many stories left untold and unresolved.

One of the most devastating consequences of living with this constant contradiction is the role of depression. Silence ceases to be an asset when I’m unaware or unable to speak out about the secrets of my silent struggle. My story is a story that includes an ongoing struggle with periods of depression.

As a teenager and college student, my desperation to be included, mixed with my natural desire to remain in solitude, created routine periods of depression that led to years of self-medicating through drugs and alcohol. 

As a recently diagnosed adult, I’ve learned the language to describe my struggle, however, there are thousands, if not millions, of teenagers and young adults who are unable to articulate these feelings of despair. This post is for them and the people who love them, so here are just a few tips that I have found helpful in managing my moments of depression:

1. Understand the “norm.”

Every person on the spectrum is different, so reducing their behavior to a standard set of practices is usually not helpful. Instead, understand what normal behavior looks like for them. People on the spectrum also have personalities and likes and dislikes just like everyone else. Try to focus on when they began to show changes in their personalities and moods.

2. Recognize the ripples.

When I’m in a season of depression, the most accurate image I can use to describe it is quicksand. Quicksand can be dangerous, but it doesn’t have to be deadly. One of the primary ways to avoid it all together is to look for ripples in the ground as you walk. Ripples indicate that the ground ahead is unstable.

When managing my life on the spectrum, I’ve learned to do my best to watch out for unstable ground. Excessive changes in routine and/or social interaction can be emotionally, mentally and spiritually draining for me. It also increases the chances of me going into a depressive state. I’m not always good at recognizing when I’m in danger of stepping into the quicksand, so I try to have trusted friends and family who can help me recognize the ripples before I start sinking.

3. Pursue professional help.

When I was much younger I didn’t realize the weight of depression. I didn’t know I was autistic and also didn’t grow up in a culture that talked much about mental health. The result was I turned to drugs and alcohol as teen and young adult in order to self medicate.

I now have an extremely high view and value for seeking professional help. I see my therapist (who also diagnosed me with Asperger’s syndrome) at least once a month since my diagnosis almost two years ago. At this time, my depression doesn’t require medication, however, there are situations that may require the use of medication, and I recommend seeing a professional who can help you make those decisions for yourself or your loved one.

4. Respect the need for rest.

People on the spectrum don’t experience meltdowns or shutdowns because they are underwhelmed. Those moments, along with periods of depression, are usually the result of being overwhelmed. I have recently observed that my extraordinary ability to focus on tasks can, at times, cause me to go long periods without resting.

When I speak of rest, I am speaking about more than just sleep, which is needed. I’m talking about the rest of the mind and spirit. For me, rest is spiritual, so my faith plays a large role in how I manage my moments of depression. I encourage you or the person you love to find an activity that helps the soul to rest.

Depression on the spectrum can feel like walking in quicksand. The harder you try to get
out of it by yourself, the worse it feels, but I’ve learned that learning to speak up is the best way to get help when you need it the most.

My hope is you will learn there are times when it’s OK to speak up and allow others to help pull you out.

You are not alone. 

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