Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often comes along with other co-existing conditions (also called comorbidities). Examples could be ADHD, OCD, anxiety, depression, eating disorders etc. Over the years I’ve been diagnosed with some of those conditions as well. I got most of my diagnoses before I knew I was autistic, but I do still think that they are all linked to my autism. In this article I’m going to tell you a bit more about how it is to live with the different conditions.
Self-harm is not a diagnosis in itself, but it was the first symptom of my mental health issues, so I think it’s important to write about it as well. I first started self-harming when I was 15 and it was a problem for me for around seven years. I felt like I needed a way out when my feelings were too overwhelming. I wish I could tell you an inspiring story about how I managed to stop self-harming. But my story isn’t actually that exciting. I was always told by my counselors that I had to stay in my feelings and that running away from them by self-harming wasn’t the solution. One day I just suddenly realized it myself. My feelings aren’t dangerous. They might be really uncomfortable to stay in, but I have to do it if I want them to disappear again. Self-harm is just a temporary solution.
Two years after starting to self-harm I developed an eating disorder. It felt like I just wanted to lose weight and be thin, but the only thing it was really about was control. Whenever I felt like my feelings or life in general were too overwhelming, I stopped eating or started exercising more. I don’t know if I can say I’m completely recovered. I’ve been doing quite well ever since I realized that self-harm wasn’t the way out. Self-harm and the eating disorder kind of fall into the same category for me, because they were both strategies I used, when I couldn’t cope with life. But I can still have small relapses once in a while. Luckily, I love food so much and I get hungry really fast when I don’t eat, so my relapses are mostly really short.
Unfortunately, issues with self-harm and the eating disorder weren’t enough but I also got a depression, when I was 20. I didn’t know that I had autism and I didn’t know how bad changes were for me either. There were a lot of changes in my life at that point, so I reacted by getting a depression. I tried talk therapy, but I felt so bad that I didn’t get very far with it. So, I started taking medicine. There were a lot of ups and downs and I was ill for quite a long time. But in the end, I got out of the depression. I wish, I could say that I got to know myself and my feelings better through therapy and that’s how I recovered. But it’s not the truth. I was tossed around in the system and I really didn’t get a lot of talk therapy even after getting medication. So, the only thing that actually saved my life were medications.
When I got my autism diagnosis, I thought that I wouldn’t ever suffer from mental health issues again. I thought that I finally knew enough about myself to take care of myself in the best way possible. But it didn’t really work out that way. When I was 24, I suddenly got anxiety. My first panic attack came out of the blue. I’m not even quite sure why I developed anxiety. But if I had to take a guess, I would say, my life wasn’t autism friendly enough at that point. I was stressed and overwhelmed and didn’t have any coping strategies. The world isn’t designed for autistic people, so we need a lot more strategies to navigate in it. But I hadn’t really figured it all out yet. So, my guess is that that’s why I got anxiety.