Tag Archives: depression

Brainy info on smarts and depression

From 50 Incredibly Weird Facts About the Human Body an interesting tidbit about the brain:

A higher I.Q. equals more dreams: The smarter you are, the more you dream. A high I.Q. can also fight mental illness. Some people even believe they are smarter in their dreams than when they are awake.

Do check out the links referenced there, it’s at least interesting reading. What do you think of it?

The bit I’m particularly sceptical about is how it relates to IQ. IQ has a cultural bias due to the way it’s designed, but funnily enough people in Eastern Asia actually score higher than West Europeans for whom the test was designed (by a Frenchman, originally). Anyway, depending on how you ask about people’s dreams and the way they are able to express that, you can easily enforce a similar bias and thus come to the above conclusion without actually having a scientific basis for it. In other words, the test may have been utterly borked. Tricky stuff.

On growing up as an alien robot among humans

Since tomorrow there’s an awareness campaign about autism spectrum disorders running, it seems an appropriate time to write about my own experiences with ASD.

As a young child, I didn’t really notice much that I was different. I didn’t hang out with other girls much – they were given to playing games like ‘house’ and whatever that I didn’t understand, whereas the boys played hopscotch and tag and hide and seek, which had rules. I played by myself a lot, too, and read books in the library. Looking back, for a child, I was pretty self-directed.

By the time I was around 8, it was becoming increasingly obvious that whatever I was, it wasn’t normal. My reading level had reached an adult level the previous year, although obviously some concepts had no real meaning for me. My language development reflected the fact that I read far more than I spoke – I pronounced words oddly, and my word usage was often very formal and structured. I didn’t really have normal friendships – I was already being fairly heavily bullied within my own grade, learning early the lesson that people are cruel and untrustworthy, especially children. I looked to adults and older children for companionship. My choice of reading materials varied between science fiction (Isaac Asmiov), fantasy (Tolkien – the Silmarillion was my favourite book), the encycolpedia britannica, and dictionaries. I also liked reading about dinosaurs, especially palentological taxonomies, and physics.  Looking at the wikipedia article on characteristics of Aspergers – I ticked all the boxes to a greater or lesser extent. I was feeling increasingly out-of-place at school.  Add increasing issues at home due to financial stresses in the family, and I began the long fall into depression and anxiety that have since characterised my life to some extent.

The first formal diagnosis was around age 11. High functioning autism, of the particular variety that would probably, today, be called Asperger’s syndrome. This was around 1992 – Hans Asperger’s definitive work wasn’t really accepted as mainstream until about two years later, and certainly didn’t hit the paediatric and psychological professions on Australian shores until perhaps 1998 or thereabouts. The doctor’s recommendations were to get a cat, encourage social interaction, and don’t let me be by myself too much. As we now know, that last one is a recipe for madness. My parents were doing what they thought was right for me – it was not their fault that best practices at the time were very, very bad for me.

I retreated from the world. I would speak if spoken to. I went to classes. Although I kept up my non fiction reading (graduating to simple chemistry, quantum mechanics, and black hole cosmology), my choices also increasingly became escapist – more fantasy fiction, much, much more. I would hide in the book cases in the library during school lunchtimes. At least, until I discovered computers – then I hid in the computer labs instead, getting there when they opened in the morning, and only leaving when I had to. I was constantly buffeted by the consequences of my lack of understanding. Imagine, if you will, a world where the only communication was the spoken word, and that word had all the emotional emphasis of plain text. Where allegory and metaphor were entirely abstract concepts with no basis in reality. Where words meant only their literal meanings to me, which had the effect of making the English spoken by everyone else a foreign language. I had technical proficiency in this language, but I couldn’t make myself understood, neither could I understand the messages that were being given to me. It was much later that I gained this understanding of what was going on – at the time, I literally couldn’t grasp the concept of what was going on. A bit like asking a blind person what colour is like, I imagine.

At age 13, I first became suicidal. I was intensely lonely, as well. There was quite literally no-one in the world who I could talk to – the school counsellor seemed to think that I didn’t have any friends because I didn’t make an effort. I was rejected by every social group except the real weirdos, and the international students. I did well enough academically, but the only real friends I thought I had were my teachers, and by the end of high school, one or two of my peers, who had similarly troubled states of mind. The only thing that kept me alive during those years was the fact of my brother’s illness – I knew for a fact what happened when people around him were very sick or died, he ended up in ICU with a near-death experience. I didn’t want to be responsible for his death as well as mine, so I didn’t try. I also convinced myself that I was a bad person and didn’t deserve such an easy way out. I must be bad, because people didn’t talk to me, and shunned me, and that’s what you do to bad people. In such a state, I graduated high school. I estimate my social skills were, at this time, at the level of most 4 to 5 year olds.

Over that summer between high school and first year university, I was finally told what was wrong with me – what the diagnosis I had received many years ago was. Not being told ‘until I was old enough’ was also a recommendation from the doctor. It was like a nuclear warhead going off in my skull. The first thing I did was read everything I could lay my hands on that had the slightest relevance to Autism, and it was a revelation and a relief. This is what I had been missing all those years. This is what I lacked – and, given sufficient effort, what I could surely develop. The next few months, using the internet, some very sympathetic and patient friends, and a great deal of energy, I slowly observed and learnt to mimic normal social behaviours. The process involved many discussions on why exactly people acted how they did – what prompted a particular behaviour, what thought, what emotion, what associations. I was – and still am, at times – incredibly distressed by the lack of literal meanings in human interactions, by the lack of straightforward relationships between thought and action, and by the sheer inconsistency from person to person. I would estimate that I spent upwards of 40 hours a week focussing on this, and working to improve my imitation of humanity. I have often described it as developing a giant look up table in my head of ‘behaviour -> response’, and that’s a pretty accurate description of how it feels.

It’s twelve years later, and I’m now 29. Even to the professional eye, I generally no longer present as having an autism spectrum disorder. It is perhaps ironic that it is the obsessive focus on minutiae that is a characteristic of the disorder that has allowed me to develop these skills. It has, to a large extent, become reflex to act this way. However, there is still large swathes of social programming that I have simply missed out on, and don’t see value in adopting. I’m more comfortable in being slightly sideways from most of humanity, and on most days, can see myself as being human. I believe I have established solid relationships with other people, and that most of the time, I’m not too difficult to be around, or too opaque. Still, I’m always trying to improve.

(original at Elspeth’s personal blog, reposted with permission)

Keep on moving

I know when I’m feeling down because this little part of my brain starts questioning why I’m doing anything.  Why go out and visit friends when I don’t really feel like it?  Why do any exercise when I feel tired?  Why get all dressed up to go to work?  Why get up at all?  Why…

Once I recognise this symptom it’s often difficult to fight.  I have a somewhat philosophical nature and I like asking those big questions of “what is the right thing to do” and “where should we be going”.  It’s easy to get a kind of choice paralysis when asking these questions, and if one is definitely staring down the barrel of a big question – should I disagree with someone I love, should I say something against a person that everyone else agrees with, should I complain about someone else’s misplaced generosity – then it can be really difficult to feel like you can move on.  And that’s when you start questioning why you should get out of bed.

It took me a while to feel like I could just ignore some of those questions and move on.  But I finally realised that I couldn’t let everything stall just because I can’t answer a question for which, almost by definition, there is no ‘right’ answer.  By getting on with the things we do every day – eating, doing the chores, getting out, exercising – we actually give our brains space to process some of those hard questions.  And in the process we almost invariably get some more input that adds valuable information.

By getting up and getting on with things, we are not stalling or putting off the question.  We are adding to our perception and improving our ability to choose.  Stalling is lying in bed doing nothing.  And sometimes things will solve themselves naturally without our intervention.  Most importantly, we keep to our comfortable routines, we keep on the move for new opportunities, and we don’t lose the energy and momentum to tackle life’s problems.

We sometimes need to walk around the problem and look at it from another angle, and we can only do that if we keep moving.

Healthy eating (unprocessed foods)

The following is from BBC News site: Depression link to processed food

After accounting for factors such as gender, age, education, physical activity, smoking habits and chronic diseases, they found a significant difference in future depression risk with the different diets.

Those who ate the most whole foods had a 26% lower risk of future depression than those who at the least whole foods.

By contrast people with a diet high in processed food had a 58% higher risk of depression than those who ate very few processed foods.

Not really surprising (to me, anyway) but interesting to see some research on this. And the difference is quite significant.

Why me?

Depression takes many forms and comes at different times.  One thing that I took a while to learn was that depression also has many reasons.  I thought that ‘real depression’ would only apply to people that had lost everything, or had everything go wrong, or had no prospects.  It took me a while to realise that everything could seem fine but I could still feel depressed – and that this was normal.  Sometimes even the fact that you theoretically have so much going for you can exacerbate the feeling of depression, making you feel even more out of touch.

My first step to dealing with these bouts of depression was to realise that I’m not unusual or abnormal for feeling depressed when other people aren’t.  It’s perfectly acceptable to feel differently from other people, and to feel sad, or scared, or uneasy, at something that other people seem to take as normal.  Accepting my feelings as normal has been a good way for me to move on from them.