Autism and Co-Morbids

It’s one of those days where I have to remind myself that things can be worse. Yes, I have a mental illness, but I have not yet been homeless, or cast out by family. No one has refused me entry or service because I was bipolar. Social services is another issue. I HAVE been barred from getting help for my bipolar disorder because I had “too much support”, and I HAVE been barred from most help for autism for being “too high functioning.”

It’s a problem a lot of autistic adults face. Once you’re out of the school system, support for your differences is few and far between. And it’s not like we stop being autistic once we graduate high school. I wasn’t even diagnosed until college, but the diagnosis was mainly based on clear signs from childhood. But many autistic children learn ways to mask the most glaring aspects of autism by the time they are an adult, and so, they function for a while and then burnout. I have heard other autistic people talking about autistic burnout, trying to pass as “normal” for too long.

I wonder how many people with autism have a comorbid mental illness and I would like to talk to them. When things get dark and you can’t breathe, how do you reach out to a friend when your definition of friend is shaky and you don’t know how much weight is appropriate to lean on someone and all of the uncertainty makes you not reach out at all? Does anyone else understand how scary it is to be darkly depressed but completely isolated?

I don’t *not* come to you because I won’t. I’m not proud. I want help. The reason I don’t come to you is twofold, both related to autism. First, childhood bullying. Simply put, I’m scared. Second, I don’t know what the rules are for asking for help. I don’t know what is too much. I don’t know how to start the conversation.

I think this would be a really good skill to start teaching autistic children. In a study cited by the National Institutes of Health, 70% of the kids had a comorbid disorder, and 41% had two or more. Most common were social anxiety disorder and ADHD. Things like bipolar disorder and depression usually have a later age of onset, or at least adulthood (though there are childhood cases.) Where are the studies of autistic adults and their comorbids?

My bipolar disorder and my autism interact directly. When I’m depressed, I can’t handle chit chat nearly as well and am either very quiet and not participating, or I’m cutting straight to the point. When I’m manic, my sensory sensitivities are turned up even higher, the closing of a door becomes a gunshot and I can practically hear the NEIGHBOUR’s TV.

But asking for help is hard, for non-autistics, but even more so for autistic people. And I think the general population tends to operate on “Oh, it’s his life. Maybe he’s having trouble, but if he needs me, he’ll ask.”

Not necessarily.

I’ve spent nights choking as I tried to breathe, staring at the phone but unable to call because I DIDN’T KNOW IF I WAS ALLOWED.

Autistic adults with mental health comorbids: I hear you. I know it’s hard. I know it’s scary and isolating. But we will get through.

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6 responses to “Autism and Co-Morbids

  1. rebecca dobbins

    I have bipolar and high functioning autism. I have been fired more than fifteen times, sometimes for bipolar, sometimes for autism, and some for a combination of the two. I have never met anyone with both disorders. I take Seroquel every night. I think the biggest problem is not being able to work at a level commensurate with my extensive education. Visual tasks like data entry are difficult.

  2. I would 100% love to talk to you more in depth about how you discovered the Asperges diagnosis in college. I’m currently 23 years old and have a bipolar diagnosis. I’ve been doing A LOT of self-assessment this year. I’ve noticed that I’m NOTHING like my peers. Most of the time I literally can not understand the way my peers behave. I don’t understand their thought process, how they can go to raves and concerts and just do whatever. I lives by boundaries, rules, consequences and punishments. I don’t like more than 10 seconds of eye contact. After that I get anxious and uneasy.
    Long story short you are the first person I have found with bipolar with a late diagnosis of Aspergers. I need help understanding if I’m just really different from the rest of the world or if I’m missing something about myself that might help me better thrive in my natural surroundings. I would be eternally grateful if you would be willing to talk with me further!

  3. Wow, I loved reading your thoughts on this issue. My 11 year old son may be struggling with this very same issue. It is hard being a parent and unsure of how much help to give your child without making them dependent on you. I will continue to work close with his doctors and therapist to get him thru these difficult years.
    Willy mans mother. 🙂

  4. Thank you for your blog.
    I too, am AS with BD.
    I appreciate you posting all this. It is so dead on accurate…but a bittersweet reality.

    Why dont you have any current posts?
    Hope you are well.

    Gracie

  5. Oh, this sounds like me too. i know i can call them for help, but i don’t know how, how to ask for help, neither if i’m really allowed. and kinda if i’ll trigger something on them, or if they will understand what i mean, this all always block me from asking for help. I have depression and autism (and anxiety, i think), so i don’t know if i count on those comorbids, but i agree with you about studies about studies of autistic adults and comorbids, it would surely bring a interesting outcome, in my opinion.

  6. I have yet to be formally diagnosed as having aspergers (its so hard to do so as an adult) but I believe very much that I have it on top of my bipolar disorder. A friend suggested it to me to look into based on her own then recent diagnosis and at first I thought I couldn’t have it as is on not known of the typical male expression of it. She shared the work of a doctor who had been working with females and it presents quite differently with more masked symptoms due to the way females are generally brought up. Being unable to engage socially is seen as shy in women but abnormal in men who are expected to have fewer social fears. High intelligence masks the issues too as does my own growing up at a very small school with 4 academic years in one class! When you have a teacher able to focus on tailoring the class to each student you don’t fall behind or get seen as any different even if you still needed the counting cubes to visualise adding in the final year of primary school. Still got level 5 in my sats test for maths even though I had to use coping tools to manage. I’m still mostly number blind to this day (and yet sometimes have a weird fascination with numbers).
    When I showed the list of female specific traits to my Mum she thought it explained a lot. I’ve just yet to go to a doctor about it (last time I tried they said there were no adult assessment centres in the area, but when I looked online there are actually 2 in the city!).

    I find that it depends on my bipolar disorder which parts of my aspergers is expressed to a level where it is a problem. When depressed or nearing a depressive state, I can’t cope with people at all. Its like my brain is too tired to put the extra effort in to work out what they are saying and wanting me to say. I struggle more with tone of voice and telling if something is a joke or not. I fear going out because it means I will have to be around strangers.
    When manic social issues don’t affect me as badly. I’m able to mask my difficulty behind my manic enthusiasm for everything. And the masking isn’t tiring like it is when I’m depressed. But when manic I have more issues with sensory processing. Its like everything is already firing too rapidly before you add in a loud noise or something like that and its really overwhelming. Its difficult in summer because its too warm to wear my earmuffs which I find really help me when it is cool enough to wear them. They reduce noise levels just enough to stop me being overwhelmed by them. They work less well if I’ve already been overwhelmed but still help if I can get to a quiet dark room.

    Light bothers me more when depressed. My eyes just seem to respond extra slowly to a change in light levels so my brain can’t cope when depressed.

    These are general things but sometimes things like to surprise me by being different.

    I hope to get a diagnosis and hope it will give me the ability to get help for coping with the aspergers side because I think it makes bipolar harder to treat and manage when you have a co-morbid like this one.

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