Living on the Autism Spectrum Anxiety Attacks
Living on the Autism Spectrum Anxiety Attacks, while diagnosed in my thirties, I finally understood why the first third of my life had so much depression and anxiety attacks! I could recall my anxiety attacks so clearly I remembered my initial one as a small first grader.
Since beginning this Blog I have charted all anxiety attacks throughout my life. Because I am a Baby Boomer of a certain age, the total number of attacks is significant. With each recollection I still feel the anxiety build up within me all over again.
How do I explain these attacks? Looking back I now see how they always came on as a surprise and never under the same circumstances. I hope that by sharing my story it will help you, your spouse, child or someone close to you better deal with anxiety attacks. We all have periods of depression. But someone living on the Autism Spectrum experiences depression and anxiety attacks totally different: the attacks are more magnified, overcoming, paralyzing and terrifying. I often tell people that they feel like someone took a knife to my skin and peeled it all off, leaving all my “wires” exposed: picture one of those pictures of our muscle structure, without skin. This is not a description about feeling vulnerable but exposed: highly sensitive to everything — the air stung — the light burned — all aromas were sickening.
My First Anxiety Attack
At age six my first attack was over my inability to wrap a gift for my mother. I was so proud of the pearl necklace, gift boxed and purchased at our school’s fall festival. I wanted it wrapped perfectly. Unfortunately I had never been shown how to wrap a present, having just assumed that I would be able to. That is one of the major characteristic of someone living on the Autism Spectrum: an overwhelming sense that we can do it all without any training or experience. That characteristic has consistently gotten me into trouble throughout my entire life, it is also common in those with Autism, specifically Asperger’s.
Amy Morin gave an interesting Tedx talk on how our unhealthy beliefs about ourselves and others along with assumptions about the world in general, can lead to depression. And Daniel Wendler gave an interesting talk about his battle with Asperger’s. He tells of how our Autism deprives us of social skills. We know we need support but are afraid of rejection, so we never ask. Therefore I never asked for help wrapping the present. I simply had a total meltdown all by myself, at aged six, alone and uncontrollably distraught.
A anxiety attack starts with the slow buildup of our internal body temperature, often without our noticing. Lights suddenly becoming glaring, aromas stronger and we feel nauseous. A huge pit in the stomach feels often swells with excessive acid buildup. Weakness takes over the body. Our skin feels clammy and we begin to perspire excessively; our knees buckle. Sometimes there is hysteria, especially when younger, because we do not know what is happening. The attacks intensify after puberty, often leading to depression and increased thoughts of suicide.
These attacks, in my case, happened often, sometime yearly. It is only through lots of research, a major change in my diet, exercise and quality sleep that I learned the tools to control these attacks. The frequency of my attacks disrupted my careers, marriages, parenting, and more. Nothing is scarier than having an attack when you are driving in the car with your child and his friends. Handling the situation is just like escaping a straight-jacket while underwater: doable, with a lot of focus and coping skills. Adding any health issues, or, God forbid, alcohol and it is obvious how dangerous anxiety attacks are.
What’s Important to Know About Anxiety Attacks
Consider how many people we read about daily who have done despicable, violent things. There are so many people in the world who could be considered “walking wounded.” Many are suffering alone every day until something horrible happens. I believe that we all have some degree of ADD-ADHD-Dyslexia as well as Autism. Looking back on the frustrations and failures from our past we often see a clear pattern that could be attributed to un-diagnosed learning differences. We are all square pegs being forced into round holes.
But each and every one of us is unique, at once perfect and amazing. There is no right, wrong, best, or perfect in this world. We are constantly evolving works in progress:
- We should be kind to ourselves and others.
- Life is too short.
- Smell the roses, lavender, cookies or freshly brewed coffee.
- Love who you are today and everyday!
One of the bloggers I follow just talked about her anxiety attacks and referred readers to her 2015 post. Along with this thoughtful blog she included a link to someone she follows who posted a . Her explanation and recovery methods are simple to understand and entertaining in her delivery. I like that she added tips for people who are with someone who is experiencing an attack: stay quiet, confirm you are there for support, and promise to get anything the distressed person needs immediately upon request. So important. Please take a few minutes to watch her Vlog.
CNN has an interesting article about a new program UCLA is offering their students. They are now screening for signs of depression. I wish more schools thought about this because college is very over-whelming. Becoming depressed as a new college student is very normal, but we rarely realize that when experiencing it first hand. I hope more universities and colleges follow their example.
“Life is a risk.”
Recommended Reading: Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes
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