Category: depression


To the Moon screenshotThanks for reading my introductory post about the computer game To the Moon!  This post will start to get into the details of the plot in earnest, so only continue reading if you don’t mind finding out what happens in the game.

My girlfriend Megan has already written over a dozen posts reflecting on her reactions to the game and how it relates to Asperger’s syndrome, and they are really neat!  Her posts are a lot less spoilerish than mine, so you can check them out if you want to learn more about the themes of the game without being spoiled about the details of the plot.

Megan seems to have less trouble expressing her thoughts in words than I do; I usually have to have all of the details laid out in front of me before I feel like I can say anything.  With that in mind, the spoilers begin below…

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Earlier, I wrote about how I was afraid that becoming a teenager would turn me into a rebel and make me fight with my parents.  That didn’t happen.  But my thinking did change.  Looking back, I think that was when I first started dealing with “the voice.”

It was a voice that would remind me of all the times I had messed up, when I had looked silly, when I had hurt someone’s feelings.  Being reminded of a mistake felt like reliving it– even years later, I would look back and shudder about the smallest misunderstandings.

It was a voice that told me to pause before speaking up, reaching out, or taking action.  What if I made a mistake?  Better to stay silent and hidden.

It was a voice that told me whenever something bad happened, to assume it was my fault.  “I’m sorry.”  I felt like I needed to apologize for everything– it probably was my fault somehow.

It was a voice that told me to compare myself to others and that I wasn’t ready for the challenges ahead– I didn’t know how to drive (or want to learn how), I didn’t have a job, I didn’t like to go out with friends, I’d never had a girlfriend, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after I graduated.  And before I knew it, it would be too late to learn.

I want to be clear about this– when I talk about hearing a “voice,” I don’t mean the sort of voice that a person with schizophrenia might deal with, where you can’t tell for sure if what you’re hearing is a real sound or coming from your mind.  (Also, I know almost nothing about schizophrenia aside from the fictionalized portrayal of it in the movie A Beautiful Mind, so my concept of it may not be very accurate.)

See, I knew that the critical voice that plagued me came from my own mind.  It was my own voice, the voice of my fears.  As I said in an earlier post, part of growing up was that I became more aware of other people, and of their awareness of me.  And that caused me to be more careful about what I did and said.  But my rule-oriented mind took it to the extreme.  And it tended to create a vicious cycle, because the more I hid from potential failure and embarrassment, the more I feared that I was leaving myself unprepared for the world by not trying.

To greater and lesser degrees, every day since then became a fight against that voice in my head– usually subtle, but sometimes exhausting.  I could fight it by distraction, or by applying myself to a task that I really enjoyed.  Better still, I could fight it with other voices– the voice of God’s Word telling me that I was forgiven, my sins had been paid for, and God was in control of my future.  The voice of the Holy Spirit assuring me that I was a beloved child of God, and the voices of my family echoing that same unconditional love.

One of the greatest things about God is that he is so near.  I don’t have to make a journey to talk with him.  I don’t have to go through a series of mental exercises to make my thoughts acceptable to him.  He is as close as my own thoughts at all times.  Just by remembering that he is there, I can turn any time of distress and doubting into a prayer.  This didn’t make the struggle go away, but it meant I never had to struggle alone.

Hopefully this post makes some sense; I don’t intend for it to be a “woe is me” post.  I’m trying to be honest about how I see my life and development.  My next post will be on something more fun and less serious.

I’ll finish with a couple of quotes from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis that hint at how this struggle will end.  If you’re not familiar with The Screwtape Letters, they are written as a collection of letters from a demon named Screwtape, whose nephew Wormwood is assigned as the tempter for a young man.  These sections come from the last letter, in which we learn that the young man was killed in a bombing raid, and Wormwood has failed in his task:

“How well I know what happened at the instant when they snatched him from you!  There was a sudden clearing of his eyes (was there not?) as he saw you for the first time, and recognised the part you had had in him and knew that you had it no longer.

Just think (and let it be the beginning of your agony) what he felt at that moment; as if a scab had fallen from an old sore, as if he were emerging from a hideous, shell-like tetter, as if he shuffled off for good and all a defiled, wet, clinging garment.”

And:

“Defeated, out-manœuvred fool! Did you mark how naturally—as if he’d been born for it—the earthborn vermin entered the new life? How all his doubts became, in the twinkling of an eye, ridiculous?

“I know what the creature was saying to itself! ‘Yes. Of course. It always was like this. All horrors have followed the same course, getting worse and worse and forcing you into a kind of bottle-neck till, at the very moment when you thought you must be crushed, behold! you were out of the narrows and all was suddenly well. The extraction hurt more and more and then the tooth was out. The dream became a nightmare and then you woke. You die and die and then you are beyond death. How could I ever have doubted it?’

“As he saw you, he also saw Them. I know how it was. You reeled back dizzy and blinded, more hurt by them than he had ever been by bombs. The degradation of it!—that this thing of earth and slime could stand upright and converse with spirits before whom you, a spirit, could only cower. Perhaps you had hoped that the awe and strangeness of it would dash his joy. But that is the cursed thing; the gods are strange to mortal eyes, and yet they are not strange.

“He had no faintest conception till that very hour of how they would look, and even doubted their existence. But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realised what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not ‘Who are you?’ but ‘So it was you all the time.’

A few days ago, I got to see some of my classmates from Cedarville again for the first time in quite a while.  One of my friends was getting married, and it was a lovely wedding in which God was honored.

After the wedding, we went to the reception, which was held in the church’s gymnasium, and I found where my Cedarville friends were sitting and sat with them.

Have you ever been annoyed with yourself because you were in a time that should have been joyful and fun, but you were in a gloomy mood for no good reason?  I think that sort of happened to me.

As I think back on it now, there were a few things that were working against me.  To begin with, a wedding is the type of occasion that tests a lot of areas that I am weak in.  Making sure I am ready to go to the wedding requires using a lot of those executive functioning skills that are often tricky for Aspies.  I needed to make sure I had planned out what I was going to wear, what I needed to bring, and especially when I needed to leave in order to get there on time.  Driving increases my stress level a little more, and being in a social situation by myself bumps it up another level.

(What a whiny person I’m being!  I’m making it sound as if it’s such a hardship to do things that are a matter of simple courtesy.  This is part of the reason I’m annoyed with myself.  The fact is that it wasn’t that hard– I was glad that my friend invited me to her wedding, and I wanted to be there to share my best wishes for her and her husband.  I have a love/hate relationship with social situations in that part of me tries to avoid them, but I think deep down I really want to spend time with other people, and I almost always feel better after I have, even if it’s tiring sometimes.)

But the thing that seemed to mess up the meeting with my Cedarville classmates the most was unexpected– it was because I had a lot of trouble hearing what they were saying.  I mentioned that the reception was held in a gymnasium.  With so many people in a room with a basketball court for a floor, the echoing sounds of people’s voices in the background made it really hard for me to understand what my friends were saying.

It made me wonder if I’m losing my hearing.  I do like to listen to music a lot– is it possible the music is too loud?  Or is this more likely due to my brain processing sound input differently?  I have a difficult time tuning out background noise.

Whatever the case, I tried to have a conversation with each of my friends from Cedarville, but I wasn’t able to follow the larger conversation they were having as a group.  It got me thinking about how back when I was still going to Cedarville, I often felt the same way– not that I couldn’t hear what people were saying, but that I just didn’t know how to participate in the conversation on the same level as my friends.  It was sort of like being behind an invisible wall.  I wonder if it seemed to them like I was pushing other people away.

When I was talking to each of my classmates, I asked about how they were doing and what they were up to since graduating from Cedarville.  They are a bunch of really neat, talented people!  But it made me think about how little I knew about each of them even when I was still at Cedarville.

Anyway, sorry for making such a gloomy post.  I suppose that the positive side of this story is that it means I am getting a little better at interacting with others than I was ten years ago.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been such a shock to think back to how I was then.

This is another attempt at the sort of post I have a lot of trouble writing, an update about how I’m doing. It occurs to me that one of the traits of Asperger’s is speaking like a professor, and most of my posts are in the form of lectures rather than casual conversations. I’ve been really gratified that people have been reading my posts about autism and Asperger’s, and I hope that they are helpful and informative (and I hope to write more).

But my overall idea for this blog is for it to be just like anyone else’s personal blog, where I can write about things that I’m doing or that are on my mind– so that might result in some abrupt changes in topic (like when a Star Trek review shows up in the middle of a series of posts about autism!)

This week I’ve been preoccupied with a lot of thoughts about friendship– trying to figure out what it means to have a friend and to be a friend. I said in one of my earlier posts that I felt like it was easy to make friends when I was a kid, but it got harder as I got older and felt gradually more socially disconnected from my peers. Now that I’m an adult, I feel like it’s harder yet again, because I am no longer in a similar situation to many people my age. A lot of my contemporaries are starting or growing families, which totally reshapes a person’s life. Others are pursuing various goals in school or work. And some, like myself, are not quite sure what they are doing, but are hoping to figure it out soon! So it’s not as simple as when I was in school and the people around me were in the same classes.

I think it’s also a challenge to make friends because it naturally requires time and energy, and most people’s lives are quite busy. Mine isn’t quite as busy right now, but I often struggle with a shortage of energy– it can be draining physically, mentally, and emotionally to venture outside, so it’s not exactly as if it’s easy to make friends with me.

Some of that goes along with being an introvert– that means that I expend energy when I’m with people and need time by myself to “recharge”– from what I understand, for most people it works in reverse?

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In my last post, I said that I think researchers have overlooked Asperger’s syndrome in females, and that’s the biggest problem I have with the “extreme male brain” theory of autism. I’m not the only one that thinks so. Recently I read a very interesting article online from the British Sunday paper The Observer:

Doctors are ‘failing to spot Asperger’s in girls’ by Amelia Hill, April 12, 2009.

The article quotes Dr. Judith Gould, director of the UK’s National Autistic Society.  In 1979, she and Lorna Wing co-wrote a paper that helped to begin the process of defining Asperger’s and the autism spectrum.  The British government is forming a strategy on dealing with autism, and Gould is pushing for an effort to pay attention to girls on the spectrum.

“We’re failing girls at the moment. We are doing many thousands of them a great disservice. They are either not being picked up in the first place, but if they ask for help they are being turned away. Even if they are referred for diagnosis, they are commonly rejected.”

One problem that you can run into in science is that forming a theory requires making assumptions, and if you’re not careful, those assumptions can be self-reinforcing.  If you go back to the posts about defining Asperger’s, you’ll remember that the syndrome is defined by a set of outward characteristics that seem to go together.

Most of the people diagnosed according to those characteristics are male, which leads to the expectation that most of the people who will be diagnosed will be male.  And because Asperger’s is still such a new diagnosis, even a lot of professionals don’t know a lot about what to look for.  I have read accounts of girls being told “You can’t have Asperger’s; you’re a girl,” even when they believe the traits of Asperger’s actually do describe them quite well.

In addition to that problem, what if the definition itself is biased because it is based on what Asperger’s typically looks like in a male?  Might it not be the case that the same cognitive condition might tend to have different outward signs in females than in males?  The differences in behavior between genders are not all due to physical differences in the brain.  There are a lot of societal and cultural differences in the things that boys and girls tend to do, and in the ways that they are expected to behave.  It seems quite reasonable to me that Asperger’s syndrome would tend to look a bit different in girls than in boys, and we won’t know what to look for until we pay attention and look for it.

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I have always tended to be moody.  (Maybe my name should be “Dwight L.”)  Even though depression is something I have struggled with and sought help for, it’s never been with the expectation that my mood would remain constantly at one level– it seems to be human to have times of feeling happy and feeling sad, and strangely they often don’t coincide with the circumstances of life.

C.S. Lewis was very insightful about this human tendency.  There’s a section in The Screwtape Letters that puts it very well.  (In case you’re not familiar with The Screwtape Letters, each chapter is presented as a letter from a senior demon named Screwtape to his apprentice Wormwood.  Wormwood has been assigned as the tempter of a human that Screwtape calls only “the patient.”)

MY DEAR WORMWOOD,

So you “have great hopes that the patient’s religious phase is dying away”, have you? I always thought the Training College had gone to pieces since they put old Slubgob at the head of it, and now I am sure. Has no one ever told you about the law of Undulation?

Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal. (The Enemy’s determination to produce such a revolting hybrid was one of the things that determined Our Father to withdraw his support from Him.) As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks. If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life—his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dulness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.

There’s a lot of cleverness in the way that C.S. Lewis quite literally takes on the role of the devil’s advocate to help the reader listen to what he has to say in a new way.  It can be a natural response for a Christian to assume that a time of depression or of feeling far from God must be because of sin.  But the Bible doesn’t teach that.  The Psalms seem to have as many examples of people crying out to God from the midst of trouble as they do of people giving God praise for their blessings.  God has a purpose in allowing us to go through both, and he is with us through both, regardless of how we feel.

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Okay; we’re now on the third criterion from the DSM-IV for the diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome.  This one has only one part:

The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

On the face of it, it may seem like there’s not much to say about this criterion.  Maybe this is the criterion that separates those diagnosed with Asperger’s from those who are merely considered not very social and a bit obsessive in their interests.  Asperger’s is sometimes seen as a “trendy” diagnosis in recent years, so perhaps this is a measure to make sure that people don’t become preoccupied with getting a label if it’s not particularly useful.  After all, practically everyone can identify with at least some of the traits I’ve talked about so far at some point in their lives.

I think this criterion helps to highlight something interesting about the way the label is applied, though.  I learned about my Asperger’s because I sought help and answers after struggling with anxiety and depression during my time at grad school.  (Actually, these have been lifelong struggles for me, but the high-pressure environment of grad school made them much more apparent.)  Currently, the areas that I find most difficult in my life are the two that are mentioned here– social (forming relationships) and occupational (finding a career).  These are common struggles for “Aspies.”

However, I can easily imagine someone with virtually the same brain chemistry as me coping with life just fine without ever learning about Asperger’s or getting diagnosed with that label.  After all, I did fine for 26 years without knowing about it!  I can look back and realize now all of the ways that God provided for me throughout my life the strength and support I needed.  And I believe that my diagnosis and all of the things I am learning about myself now are yet more provisions from him.

It’s like I said before; Asperger’s is just a human label– God knows me better than I know myself, and I trust that he knows what he is doing.

I do think it’s important to take this criterion into account when you see statistics that say things like “People with Asperger’s are prone to anxiety and depression.”  While it’s useful to be aware of such a correlation, it’s possible that causation could go both ways.  Yes, perhaps people with Asperger’s are more likely to struggle with depression and anxiety; but at the same time, an “Aspie” who doesn’t struggle with something is not likely to be diagnosed in the first place!

Since Asperger’s was defined, there has been much speculation about famous historical figures that may have been on the autistic spectrum based on descriptions of their behavior.  (It’s really popular to mention Albert Einstein, but of course everyone wants to be like Einstein, so I’m not sure I believe that story.)

But the fact is, if autism works as a spectrum, then the line between having Asperger’s and not having it will necessarily be fuzzy.

Don’t worry; even though there are three more criteria in the diagnosis, I think I will be able to talk about them all in one post.  : )

Psalm 42

In this post, I’m going to talk about some of the struggles I’ve had with worship songs.  Before I say anything else, I want to be clear that the specific worship song I’m going to talk about is a good song– if any of my readers really like it, that’s fine!  But it took me quite a while before I learned how to sing it.

As the Deer by Martin Nystrom

As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after thee.

You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship thee.

Chorus:

You alone are my strength, my shield; to you alone may my spirit yield.

You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship thee.

You’re my friend, and you are my brother, even though you are a King.

I love you more than any other, so much more than anything.

Repeat Chorus

I want you more than gold or silver; only you can satisfy.

You alone are the real joy giver and the apple of my eye.

Repeat Chorus

It used to cause me a lot of distress to sing some of the worship songs we sang at my school, and later, in college chapel at Cedarville University.  I liked to sing songs about God– that reminded me of his faithfulness and love.  But I had a lot of trouble with songs like this one that expressed the strength of the singer’s love for God.  I had heard messages that warned that I shouldn’t sing anything I didn’t mean.

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