Being Diagnosed with Autism and Psychological Comorbidities

I thought I’d focus on my being diagnosed with autism and comorbid conditions. Comorbid conditions are common with a diagnosis of autism. Comorbidities are the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient. There are many conditions that are commonly diagnosed with autism. I’ll focus on a few of my psychological comorbidities in this post.

As it got closer to my high school graduation I started to change in ways I didn’t understand. I started having trouble falling asleep at night because i was gripped by a paralyzing fear that something terrible was going to happen to my family. A break-in where the robbers were going to kill all the witnesses. My mom and my two sisters raped. My baby brothers tortured and mutilated. My brain told me that if I stayed awake this disaster scenario would be avoided. So I stayed awake. After awhile the solution to preventing my nightmare changed. If I checked all the windows during the daytime and then the doors three times at night everything would be okay. Eventually that fear changed too. The nightmare scenario no longer haunted me but leaving the house for any reason but going to school filled me with a deep dread. I stopped going over to my friend S’s house which was something I’d done nearly every day for almost two years. She would invite me but I wasn’t feeling well. Stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea (not new to me) happened with a new frequency. I couldn’t trust my body.

But that was okay. I didn’t feel like eating. All I really wanted to do was sleep. When I got up in the morning for school I would get dressed, put my hair up, and lay back down until my mom called for me to get in the car. I went to school and then back home. At home I laid down down on the closet floor in my room and just stayed there. Sometimes I slept, mostly I didn’t. I converted oxygen into carbon dioxide. My memories from that time period are very vague. I know a long time schoolmate told me that I had changed and wasn’t my usual self. I knew it to be true but didn’t really care.

Shortly before I graduated we moved from my childhood home. I began having these attacks of intense fear. I would feel overly hot, sweat, shake. My heart would race and race, hammering in my chest. I would struggle to breath, experience numbness and tingling in my extremities, and was convinced i could not survive this terror. That my hear would give out. Sometimes I would cry uncontrollably during these attacks. Sometimes I’d cry after and occasionally I wouldn’t cry at all. Usually I’d fall into a deep sleep when the storm had passed. I graduated high school but didn’t leave for college. I was too scared. Scared of new places and new people. Too scared to leave my family. I started at a local community college a year after I graduated from high school. Two years later I left for university.

I had always been an anxious kid. I “came from a family of worriers” I was often told. I was a “worry wart”. I thought too much, spent too much time inside my head. I needed to try harder to think positively.

Rubbish, bunk, and nonsense.

How were you supposed to get out of your head? How do you stop thinking? Try harder? I had to force myself to walk in a crowd, to get to a classroom. The courage it took to raise my hand to participate left me mentally and physically exhausted. How much harder could I try? I barely had anything left and still had to go to work. And while we’re at it, what did I have to be sad about? People have it much harder than me after all.

Cheer up, toughen up, think positively damn you!

I knew I had had a major depressive episode. I knew I had an anxiety disorder. But my family and my culture see mental illness in black and white. You are either crazy or you aren’t trying hard enough. You’re wallowing. You’re feeling sorry for yourself. You aren’t trying hard enough!

My depression returned my first lonely semester at university. But thing were different now. The student health center was across the street from my dorm building and the counseling center a short walk away. After several days of interviews and testing I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, panic disorder with agoraphobia, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and a math learning disorder (more on that one later).

I met the majority of diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome. I display a marked impairment in facial expressions and in maintaining proper nonverbal behaviors. I fail to develop appropriate peer relationships and lack social and emotional reciprocity. I adhere to inflexible schedules of specific, nonfunctional routines. I have an intense need for sameness and consistency. I have several repetitive mannerisms, such as rocking when seated and standing. My developmental history clearly showed restricted social and emotional abilities, inadequate communication skills, uneven cognitive abilities, and an excessive and/or abnormal on special interests. My rate and tone of speech are often flat. I avoid making eye contact. I often display a significant lack of affect.

Autism all around, that’s me.

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Socalizing

Everyone has their strengths and weakness. With me the things I’m good at I’m spooky good at. The things I’m bad at I’m miserably bad at. There is no in-between or gray area when it comes to my skills. It is black or white. This is very common in pervasive developmental disorders and was one of the defining characteristics in testing that would lead to my diagnosis.

I’m good with technology. My dad has fixed computers for years and I used to hang around him, picking up knowledge. Computers are fun and exciting. All those pieces put together and you can play a game that takes you to another world or talk to someone on the other side of this world. When I lived in the dorms the other girls would bring me their laptops whenever something went wrong. I’d charge a minimal fee or trade for the kinds of things you want in a dorm (toilet paper, non-cafeteria food, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, quarters of the washer and dryer, etc). All the girls knew who to come to for technological help but I didn’t make a single friend. Despite the fact that people were often coming by my room I didn’t learn anything about them. And I had  no idea why. I wasn’t surprised by this failure. I was pretty used to it actually. Social reject began as early as kindergarten for me. I have two friends these days. One I’ve known since junior high and the other I met my second semester in college. I had more friends in high school but once we scattered after graduation I lost them. Without the commonality of being at the same school and in the same classes I just didn’t know how to keep a friendship going.

It wasn’t until I had spent a very lonely three months far from home that I asked my childhood friend, R, about my social failures. She said that I seemed rude, dismissive, and short with people. She said I seemed disinterested and would say odd, sometimes bizarre things. She said I never made eye contact. I was closed off and emotionally distant. She knew I wasn’t really uninterested and that I did care deeply but it took a lot of work/time/proximity to get the real me. In other words, I was a hard nut to crack. Also, I spent so much time alone in my room reading and playing video games. How was I supposed to make friends if I was never around people?

So I decided I was going to try. I started eating my cafeteria dinner in the dorm common room when I knew other girls would gather as a group to watch a particular show on the common TV. I knew nothing about the show and thought that asking questions about it would be a good way to get a conversation going. I listened intently as the other girls explained the characters and plot lines. They seemed to enjoy teaching me the ins and outs of the program. I made sure to smile a lot and look at people’s faces (not the eyes though) to show I was paying attention. The show was Project Runway which consisted mainly of one thing I hate (interpersonal drama) and one thing that bores me to the point of drooling (fashion). So maybe I needed to find a group that watched a show I was interested in. I like procedural cop shows (Law and Order), documentaries, cooking shows, horror films, and anime.

When I learned another group of girls met informally on a different night to watch Supernatural I thought, “Yes! These are my people.” But even then I simply couldn’t seem to connect with anyone. That barrier (that same old social barrier) was between me and them. I didn’t know how to break through it. I never knew what it was I should say, when I should say it, or how to keep a conversation going. Beyond my socializing problems, the sounds of the TV, the sounds of chatter, the florescent lights in the common room, and the mingling smells of food and perfume were too much for me. Eventually I just stopped going to join the others. I had never had much success socially (at school or my job) and it seemed like college was going to more of the same.