Autism, ADHD and Mental Health – Mental Health Awareness Week 2015

(TW Mental Illness, Trauma, Eating Disorders)

I was diagnosed with autism when I was four years old, and with ADHD when I was twenty. In between this, bouts of depression would send me through counselling, and then antidepressants.

Growing up, I’d have bouts of depression, especially in the summer holidays when my routine of school/college wasn’t there to keep me on track. I’d feel unmotivated, frustrated, hopeless and very alone. My foster mum would call this my ‘Summer Blues’, and would find me very difficult to be around, as I’d be irritable and snappy, in general, a nasty person. I do feel bad about those times when I’d get into a screaming match with her over the slightest thing that during term time wouldn’t have even fazed me.

I never had the best relationship with food either. When I first went into care, I’ve been told that I was a very fussy eater, only liking a couple of meals, and living mostly off of sweets. As my placement with the carers that would later see me at my very lowest ebb continued, I started to use food as the main thing that they couldn’t control in my life, something that I could have all to myself. When the opportunity would seize itself, I’d binge eat until I was physically sick. Then I’d carry on. I’d even shoplift in order to satisfy the monster within, as I never had money due to constant ‘docking’ of my pocket money when I did the slightest thing wrong.

As I got older, and left foster care, things didn’t get very much better on that front. As my relationship with my ex got worse, so did my mood at home. It didn’t help that I resented the carer because of the disapproval of me living an adult life, imposing curfews, prohibiting my use of internet past a certain hour. My coursework at college slipped, I stopped attempting to socialise with people outside my ex and his family, bar at my voluntary job at the museum (that turned out to be my saviour during that time).

It was only when I started at university, away from my hometown, meeting new people, establishing myself as my own person, leaving my ex, when things took another turn. My food control took another turn entirely. I stopped eating more than a few snacks a day. I just didn’t want to try to eat proper meals. I was tired, all the time. I barely slept properly (not that I’ve slept like a normal person). It was around this time that I was diagnosed with ADHD, and the waiting list to be seen for medication made me feel really hopeless, as now I knew why I struggled at university, but had to wait for the help I needed. It was out of my control. Though my diet was…

I dropped a lot of weight, quickly. My Mentor raised the alarm with Student Support, who booked me into the GP right away. I was tested for depression, and was put onto antidepressants for the first time in my life.  I’ve been on them ever since.

Things looked up for a while after that. I met Matt, finished all the back-dated coursework for the year, thus passing my first year, just. I got a job, I’d been accepted into the modules I’d wanted, I’d successfully gotten my paternal family back into my life.

Then I had my accident.

A new monster reared its head.

Everyone feels a small level of anxiety in their life time, be it exams, wedding day jitters, first day nerves. That’s part of being a human being.

But freezing by a road and being unable to cross for a good five minutes, that’s not normal.

In the months after my accident, I didn’t dare to cross any very busy road alone, even if there was a crossing. It started out being because on crutches I was too slow to get across without support. As the walking aids left, I still struggled. Breeze from cars driving past as I walk still freak me out, as does seeing other people amble across busy roads. On bad days I have to ask my best friend B to meet me and cross me over the road.

You know you have a problem with post-traumatic stress when the ADHD clinic insist you go off for counselling…

Of course, I’ve dealt with anxiety a lot, it just didn’t have a name. Being afraid that no one would ever want to be around me. That Matt will turn around and walk away. A change of routine at the last minute, travelling to a brand new location alone. That I’ll be a failure. That I haven’t done enough to make a positive change in the world.

So, what does this all have to do with autism and ADHD?

The National Autistic Society say:

‘Roughly 40% of people on the autism spectrum have anxiety problems compared with 15% of the general population’

‘Depression is common in individuals with Asperger syndrome with about 1 in 15 people with Asperger syndrome experiencing such symptoms (Tantam 1991)’

That’s a lot of people going through the motions in darkness.

A person with ADD/ADHD is six times more likely to have another mental health disorder than any other person. Six times more likely. The reason for this is debated, whether it’s due to the symptoms of ADHD causing frustration, hence depression, or if depression is a symptom of ADHD itself. I’m not sure myself, it could be both, for all I know.

The point is this, mental health is something that we should all think about keeping healthy. And with this week being Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d share this.

It isn’t just neurotypical people who need help and support with this. No one should feel the darkness, no matter who they are. If you know an autistic person, or someone with ADHD, take the time to ask them how they are this week. If anything, they may feel relieved that they can talk to someone about how they are feeling!

Autism and ADHD can feel isolating, especially if the person is the only one in the peer group to be going through it. Reach out, and let them know you’re there to talk. You’re aware. You’ll never truly understand what their world is like, but you’re ready to try.

You never truly know what the person next to you is experiencing.

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It’s all OK!

I’m slowly recovering from all the crap that life has been throwing at me.

I say this, because I’m sat in a Starbucks in Bath, tucking into a bagel and planning my study plan for the next month or so (on Tuesday I have exactly a month to get all my assignments in so I don’t fail first year… Such Fun).

Eating has proven to be very difficult for me, as during the time I was dealing with the aftermath of breaking up with my ex, and trying to get my academic life back on track, I started to get really anti-eating. I still hate the idea that I have to put food into my mouth, chew and swallow, but I’m slowly reconciling to the idea that I do have to eat in order to survive. At my worst, I was steadily losing weight, and weighed in at 9 stone (I’m 5’10”, to give you an idea), when I’d started university at 11 stone. After a while, I had to go to the doctor, who told me I had depression, as well as ‘an eating disorder not otherwise specified’ because I don’t purge, have any body dismorphia, but exhibit starving and binging (I try to have 5 starve days to every 3 food days), and gave me medication for it, which I’ve now been taking for a couple of months. I also start CBT next month, so I’ll see how it goes.

I was on my online dating account a little while ago, when a pink icon flashed on my screen. Turns out a guy I’d quite enjoyed talking to the fortnight before, before he didn’t reply for a while, finally got back to me. He asked me on a date! Now, I’d just gotten back from another date that wasn’t so grand, (I’ll write a post about my dating endeavours later), so I was a bit cautious, but then thought ‘capri diem, I guess..’, so agreed. We met for pancakes, he brought flowers, I brought a quaking shy girl with rainbow hair (wait, that’s me!). The pancakes were amazing, the conversation was smooth, and he was alright about my eating issues, and all my disabilities! Huzzah! We’ve been seeing each other every week since, and he stayed over for a night on Friday, before coming with me to Bristol Pride yesterday, and he said he was happy that I’m openly queer! Another Huzzah! He texts me daily to make sure I’m up and about, eating and drinking, and not smoking too much (yes, I picked up smoking, a terrible habit, but I find the ADD subsides when I do). I think I’ve fallen on my feet with this kooky, geeky filmmaker!

On top of this, my friends have been amazing, especially B and L. They are two of the bestest friends I could ever ask for, they come over to make sure I eat something, and encourage my crazy ideas and pursuits (I run a mixology blog with B now, liquorishgirls.wordpress.uk if you wanna check it out!). They were there when my ex sent abusive Facebook messages to me, and helped me deal with that, they assisted with collecting my belongings, and held me whilst I cried.    Obviously my other friends have been pretty darn wonderful to, even if it’s to listen to me whinge, or grumble, share a cigarette and a cocktail with me, and generally make my life so much more enriched and joyful for it.

The university have been lovely as well, I still see my mentor and study tutor from DSA, and will continue to do so until my assignments are complete for the year. I also see my support worker from Student Support as well, and she’s been a rock to me in recent times. Yes, I get chided for drinking and smoking, and attempting my English Literature essay whilst under the influence, but I still adore them all the same.

My foster mother was also pretty awesome when everything blew up, texting me to make sure I was OK, and also assisting me with my ex. She will always be a person I’ll love like I would a mother, and the one I’ll go to if I need an opinion on something, or if I just need a tea and a natter when I’m in Hampshire. Her character radar will always wow me, so quite often I run potential partners by her to see what she recons, and I’ll always respect her opinion and often follow the amazing advice she gives. It’s thanks to her that I’m the determined, stubborn woman I am today, and I hope I’ll make her proud one day.

Without all these people, I don’t know how I would of survived or coped with the past few months. I’m thankful for all of them, and will love them all forever. When you become mentally ill, for whatever reason, you do find out who actually care about you. And that’s freaking awesome!

This coming week is going to be crazy! Today I need to start an assignment, begin getting ideas for a screenplay that could become a film that I work on with my guy (we’ve decided to team up with some filmmakers in Bath that he is good friends with to make a film!), do more in the way of laundry, travel to Leister and back for a job with the Care Leaver’s Association (more about that in a post next week, so stay tuned), go to Bristol for the ADHD Clinic (I’ll update you all on how that goes!) and generally be a good writer/mixologist/student.

Until then!