Many adults with Asperger’s Syndrome, including myself, have obtained their diagnosis following a period of depression. An Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis is a starting point in gaining a stronger understanding of who you are. It may take a little more time and patience though at the point of diagnosis to accept who you are as you are, as well as for those around you, especially your family. Initial relief and acceptance of the diagnosis though can then become clouded by anxiety of how the condition may affect one in their future, including in situations which they may be yet to experience. This is where adults with Asperger’s Syndrome may be liable to relapse into depression.
In this sense, depression is effectively present in a continual now within many people with Asperger’s Syndrome in that one can relapse into it at any point throughout their life. As those who have experienced depression will be familiar, some of its effects may also include high-level stress and anxiety. Often treated with anti-depressants, these are only effective if one keeps taking them. While it is not possible to cure or eliminate the possibility of relapsing into depression, including through medication, one can change their relationship with it so that one doesn’t become trapped by depression.
Simply noticing when you are relapsing into depression, as well as noticing its effects, is a good starting point in coping with it. Obsessive compulsive tendencies characteristic with Asperger’s Syndrome though may make it difficult to let go of feelings and thought patterns that arise during depression. Feelings that the mind may find itself lost in when depression recurs can include the mind forming comparisons of where we would like to be or how we would like it to be.
A person with Asperger’s Syndrome in adolescence or in adulthood may experience low self-esteem feeling that they have missed on things in life that appears to be the norm for their contemporaries, with the mind painting a picture that they are ‘inferior’ to others around them. One’s natural tendency to cope with such feelings may be either to allow them to take hold to the extent where one’s actions and behaviour is controlled by them, which can potentially result in dangerous habits such as self-harm. Alternatively one may also try to cope by suppressing or banishing negative thoughts. This method though often only leads to higher levels of stress and anxiety when such thoughts keep coming back.
The next stage of coping effectively with depression, however, involves being able to notice that how you feel isn’t how it actually is, with our perception and reality being two different things as well as our thoughts and assumptions as to how things around us appear not necessarily being facts. When one is able to notice this, it enables one to work with depression rather than finding themselves trapped in it. Increasingly being recognised as a tool to help cope with anxiety and depression, including by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), mindfulness practice, including meditation and related breathing exercises can give one control over depression through being able to acknowledge and accept negative thoughts and emotions, allowing them to arise and pass.
When hearing the term meditation, one may immediately think of sitting still in an uncomfortable cross-legged position, but the mindfulness practice offered by the NHS in a secular rather than spiritual context and delivered over an eight-week period is surprisingly flexible and much more accessible than one may perceive. What has been one of the most simple, accessible and effective practice for me to help cope work with negative thoughts and emotions has been the three minute-breathing space, which can be practiced at just about any time of day.
Over time, with a little patience and effort, mindfulness practice can enable people with Asperger’s Syndrome to reduce recurring depression and take more control over their lives, including being able to make the most of the strengths their condition may present.
For more information about NHS Choices’ mindfulness programmes, see the following link http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/mindfulness.aspx
Chris Mitchell is currently raising money for the Daisy Chain project in Stockton-On-Tees. Daisy Chain is a charitable foundation that provides support services to the autism community, including animal therapy and arts therapy projects. To find out more about Daisy Chain and Chris’s fundraising events visit. www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR
Asperger’s Syndrome and Mindfulness, Taking Refuge in the Buddah (2008) by Chris Mitchell is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.