Tag Archives: bipolar

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.

World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day. I don’t know the stats for every country, but here in Canada, 1 in 5 people will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime. So for two reasons, I am going to expand the scope of this blog.

The first is because mental health advocacy is important. A lot of people have misconceptions about or don’t understand mental illness. This misunderstanding leads to hurt. Families are hurt. Sufferers are hurt.

The second is because I just went through something profound, and god damnit I need to talk about it.

In addition to having Asperger’s Syndrome, I also have bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed when I was 24, in 2008. A manic episode led to a hospitalization, which led to eventual depression. While I was hospitalized, quite a few doctors consulted and the consensus was Bipolar I. There are two types of bipolar diagnoses, I and II. II is more mild, and usually doesn’t include manic episodes, only hypomanic ones. Hypomanic means sub-manic. In the extremes of Bipolar I, the diagnosis can also include psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. I am one of those statistics.

I was diagnosed when I was 24. I’m 28 now. That’s 4 years of learning to deal. I’ve gone from being a hospital patient to actually functioning at university. And for the last 2 years, I’ve been completely stable. Not a single episode of mania or depression. Until the beginning of October.

There is usually a build up to a manic episode. There were signs I missed. I started exploding with poetry. I got a tattoo, which was a little impulsive. I was confident and happy but happy is ok and happy is good so it’s hard to miss the line where happy turns into HAPPY!!! and all of the sudden you’re superman.

So things really started slipping on Sunday the 30th of September. I barely slept that night. As Monday wore on, my energy levels kept climbing. I still wasn’t sleeping. I started writing lots of music. At first, it was good music. I took a string quartet assignment that we were basically assumed to add a second violin part to and choose which part to double, but instead I rewrote the entire thing and added running eighth notes everywhere to sound like rain falling. I actually thought I could do better than Handel. Like I said, at first, it was good music. I just got that assignment back and got 100%.

The energy levels of someone in a manic episode are insane. I wasn’t sleeping, but I felt like I could run a marathon or two. I am usually pretty shy but suddenly I was talking to everyone. EVERYONE, whether I knew them or not. I was talking fast. I was intense. My attention span eventually dwindled until I couldn’t spend more than 5 minutes on something.

The only thing I COULD focus on was a string quartet I had started writing. I had based it on the interval of the perfect fifth, and I was convinced that there was some secret in that interval and if I figured it out I could write a piece that would revolutionize music as we know it. This string quartet kept getting more and more complex. I need to bring the sheet music to my prof so we can make sure a human being could still play it.

So I wasn’t sleeping, I was barely eating, I was talkative, I was writing music, I was obsessing over intervals. That idea that I needed to figure out the secret of the perfect fifth? That happens in mania. It’s a delusion of grandeur. But it got worse.

Eventually by Friday, I knew I was approaching that line. Bipolar people will understand the line, the line where on one side you know you’re acting abnormally and probably need help, and on the other side you’re blindly unaware that you’re totally insane. But I’m in Canada and it was Thanksgiving weekend, so I couldn’t see my psychiatrist. Instead, I decided to see if the hospital could give me something to help me keep a lid on it until I could see my psychiatrist. By this point, the mania had ramped up so much that I COULD NOT SIT DOWN. I waited for the bus while pacing, waited in the hospital waiting room while pacing (after telling the admitting person EVERY THOUGHT IN MY HEAD EVER), and eventually whipped out some manuscript paper so I could keep working on the perfect fifth secret. I’ve read over all the music I wrote on Friday night, and it is unintelligible. My brain was churning out insanely fast thoughts, and they just didn’t make sense. And the delusion was deepening. After seeing all of the sick and hurting people in the hospital, I was ABSOLUTELY SURE that I needed to figure out the fifth secret so I could heal everyone’s pain. I personally felt their pain and felt even more driven to figure out the secret so I could help them.

Eventually a psychiatrist saw me and within 5 minutes told me I was manic. I explained about the fifth thing to him and he said it was part of the mania. He made sure I was going to see my psychiatrist ASAP and prescribed me something until then.

And today is the first day I’ve really felt normal again. Normal is subjective, and it’s pretty hard to define, especially when you’ve been manic for more than a week. I still have trouble concentrating, I’m still a little distractable, but I don’t feel like I’m going to explode. I also don’t feel like I’ve been personally chosen to save the world.

But why am I going so public with this story? I know that some people who know me personally read this blog. I think I’m doing it because people need to realize that EVERYONE has a secret story. I am lucky that the worst of this happened during Thanksgiving weekend and I was largely alone and there were not very many people around to alienate, but during the week before, when things were ramping up, nobody even knew that this was something more than just me being hyper.

EVERYONE has a secret story. There are so many things, especially when it comes to mental health, that people don’t want to talk about. If you’ve read all of this and want to write me off as a crazy person, go ahead. But I bet that if you know me, you’d never have guessed I have this story to tell.

Please, PLEASE, don’t be afraid when it comes to mental health. Talk to someone. Talk to everyone. Get these issues out of the dark so that people don’t have to suffer in silence any more. I am not afraid.