‘Halloween is looming ever near, ‘tis the season for ghosts, ghouls and fear.’
Many autistics experience depression and it is becoming more prevalent today. In a research study (that I will link below) it states that autistic individuals are four times more likely to experience depression in their life time. To myself depression feels like a black cloud that distorts the way I see the world. What has this got to do with Halloween you may be pondering. Well when I think of Halloween I think of darkness, ghosts and ghouls and all things evil. Halloween also reminds me of warmth, the fiery glows of pumpkins giving out light. Depression can make us feel like we’ll be stuck in darkness and subject to thoughts that crush our confidence and these thoughts can torturously take over your entire being. When we’re in the depths of depression it is hard to find the warmth and light again, but it is possible because recovery from depression is possible.
I like to think that sometimes when I’m experiencing depression it can feel like my brain is a haunted house. When your thoughts are too loud and you can’t tone them down. You feel as though you’re trying to escape this haunted house, but you have weights holding you down that block your escape route. To get out, you have to get rid of some of those weights. As demons jump out and ghosts hauntingly drift through the hallways of your mind, the search for an escape route can become frantic. For autistics our struggles are often very internalised. We might struggle to communicate how we are feeling and to pinpoint why we might be feeling that emotion.
In our haunted house of horrid thoughts as we pace through its rooms we shift from fight, flight and freeze states. We may be screaming for help, trying the way we know how to communicate what we’re experiencing with others. Our behaviours might show signs of distress in different ways. We may fall back in to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Good friends will offer their help and advice, even if sometimes we don’t want to hear it. When we’re not engrossed in the hauntings of our thoughts we are in the physical world.
In the physical world we wear our masks. In this case not the medical masks, but the masks we wear to hide our pain, to present ourselves to the world. Though sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves, to mask so hard, and we exert all our physical and mental energy into masking. When we reach this stage we may hit burnout. For example, if we have carved a jack’o lantern and placed a candle inside the pressure of the wind dims the candle until it is no longer alight. The passion of the flames have dwindled. That’s what happens to us too when we are experiencing depression.
As chameleons we often use our masks to portray the way we think we should be. We use it to hide our thoughts and feelings and as our way of survival. Just as where we lie on the spectrum is individual so is the way we experience depression.
You may be familiar with internal negative thought patterns and statements such as these:
- Why am I not good enough?
- I need to be better
- I should be ….
- I am shameful
- I am not worthy of anything
- I don’t deserve things
You may beat up your mind constantly, never give yourself credit for what you are achieving and constantly think you could be doing better, but depression locks you into the haunted house of horrid thoughts and it can feel impossible to change that.
In times of darkness, despair, and all the confusing emotions we contend with, those emotions that we may struggle to identify and explain (alexithymia), there is still warmth and light to be found.
Our mental health has been pushed to the limits universally in 2020. As an autistic young adult I know I have regressed a lot and recognising those behaviours, habits and the things I need to work on to get better take time. What I am trying to learn is that you can’t get stronger if you beat your mind up constantly, in my experience that only makes things worse.
Although Halloween isn’t an all year round experience, for many of us the haunted house of horrid thoughts can be. Depression doesn’t go away in one night like Halloween does. This is where we have to find our coping strategies and these strategies will look different for us all.
From our past experiences maybe our haunted house of thoughts is so full of our sentimental moments we want to keep, but the overpowering thoughts, the negative intrusive ones are probably really old and dusty, wood rotting furniture that we just need to get rid of, to give our headspace more breathing room. Changing it from a haunted house to a happy home, that has few tricks and plenty of treats.
This year, Halloween is going to be different. One thing I am going to do is some ghost busting of my own, ghost busting some of the negative thinking patterns that I can take control over. If you are feeling the strain of this year, and are finding it is having an impact on your mental health I hope you can find ways to cope. Although our brains may sometimes feel like a haunted house of horrid intrusive thoughts, our autistic brains are awesome and the way they work is magical.
You are magical!
Cerys The Chameleon
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