I am not a depressed person by nature. On the contrary, my ASD has afforded me just a few emotions that I have learned to embrace over the course of my life, of which happiness, and neutrality were dominant. When I was a child, I was tested 2 times for Autism, and passed as human both times. I had learned early on that it was essential to imitate other children and to track their emotional cues so I could blend in. It was enough to get me through most of my early years unnoticed.
Then there is the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. For me, it’s a numbers game. I count everything. Not that I have to achieve a certain number, either. I just have an uncontrollable need to count everything I do. When I chew my food, I count that. When I put my leg into my pants, I count that. I have also learned to cope with that very efficiently, I can count and maintain a conversation with the best of them. When I can’t focus, digital stimulation is the order of the day. I rub the inside of my pointer finger on any pointed edge. If I can make a pointed edge with my pant leg (which is the best for me, but takes a certain type of fabric to make the right edge), I’m golden and usually nobody notices because my pants are under my desk.
As I got older and a bit bolder, I was not beyond speaking my mind during inappropriate moments. People just chalked it up to me being an A-hole after a while and that was just my personality. People either loved me or hated me. I was more than accepting of that love/hate determination because I wasn’t big on friends anyhow.
I worked through several jobs always maintaining my cover. Always concealing my social anxiety. In fact as I became proper drinking age, and learned that alcohol turned down the volume in my brain, I became a bit of an alcoholic, and was amazingly able to be around large crowds with no issue. I actually managed a rather large bar for many years, schmoozing customers and pretending everything was okay as long as I was drinking.
With my judgement clouded, I decided I needed a better career, so I became a correctional officer. At first corrections was amazing. We counted inmates, everything was on a set schedule, and there were rules upon rules. I couldn’t self medicate while I was at work, but it was only 8 hours, right? As soon as I got home, I was planning where my drinking would happen that night, or at least at first. It soon turned into a go grab a bottle and drink at home situation. I would occasionally invite a couple friends so I didn’t feel guilty about drinking like an alcoholic. I worked in corrections for 7 years before I had enough.
After about 10 years of hard drinking every single night, I decided to quit. I met a woman, who knew I was drinker, but didn’t seem to mind. But I knew it was going to kill me, and I wanted a family. I needed something that made me feel human. I quit drinking, cold turkey. I was happy, working and maintaining a couple of friendly relationships at work. I was still counting, and I was still saying inappropriate things at inopportune moments.
My girlfriend and I got married. We had a home, a dog, and her daughter. My wife was the first to notice the digital stimulation. I shrugged it off as a habit. She noticed all the signs after a short time, and asked me if I had Asperger Syndrome. In the interest of honesty, I told her I had OCD and Social Anxiety. Some weeks later, I took the AQ (Autism Spectrum Quotient) I scored a 39 out of 50, which put me in an undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder classification.
Soon after my son was born, I had what turned out to be an anxiety event. I went to the hospital for what I thought was a heart attack. My blood pressure was sky high, my heart rate was through the roof, and the inside of my left arm was numb. An EKG was performed and the nurse said my heart was “great”. They diagnosed me with an anxiety event and referred me to my primary care physician. This is where things get a little more interesting.
My first visit to my primary care physician was focused on the heart related event. I explained the hospitals diagnoses, and asked about the anxiety event. I guess based on protocol, he had to ask a series of mental health related questions, and I explained the AQ test results to him, the OCD, and the social anxiety. He typed and clicked his mouse, and prescribed me Fluoxetine and Lorazepam, and told me to come back in 30 days.
30 days later, Fluoxetine failed miserably, making me sick, disoriented, and confused every day. Now, on to Sertraline and another 30 day follow up. Sertraline was exactly like Fluoxetine, so after about 2 weeks, I gave up on it. I explained to my doc the results of the second drug, and his decision was to keep me on the Lorazepam .5mg two times daily.
Life was good, even though my doctor never addressed the ASD issue, or the OCD issue. My symptoms were controlled, I was counting less, and my digital stimulation ceased. I still had some issues with social anxiety, but I could just double up on a dose of Lorazepam and I could easily power through. We were even able to attend a college football game and do other events that I would have never even considered before.
2 years go by and my doctor suddenly has a change of heart. He puts me on Buspar, takes me off of Lorazepam completely, but since I’m no doctor, I agree to the change. Buspar is a disaster. According to the doctor, it takes three weeks or so to uptake in the human body. I had my second anxiety event within a week of starting Buspar. The worst most uncontrollable feeling crept into my brain. I could only think of doom. I was going to die, and my family would be left without me. My son would have no father. My adrenaline pumped, I dry heaved over and over, unable to actually vomit. I climbed in to the shower turned on the cold water and sat there for 30 minutes trying to rationalize and control my brain. I didn’t want to take another dose of Buspar because I wasn’t sure what kind of effect that would have on me. My wife noticed my despair, and talked me down. She stayed awake with me for hours that night.
I went back to my doctor. His inclination was to up the dose of Buspar. I agreed. The anxiety crept in day after day, mostly occurring at night for another 2 weeks. Buspar did nothing. My social anxiety had now become anxiety. The doctor changed my diagnosis to Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I started counting again, but more furiously, and my digital stimulation had returned. Everything got worse.
I made an emergency appointment with my doctor, unable to work because the anxiety was so bad. He prescribed me Trentillix and referred me to a psychiatrist. Trentillix is another one of these SSRI/SNRI class drugs that my brain does not agree with. I took them for a week, felt worse than any prescription I had to date, and stopped taking them. I was temporarily put back on Lorazepam.
My first visit to the psychiatrist was him trying to establish whether I was an addict, or had an addictive personality. He concluded that I do not. I explained the results of the AQ and the OCD. After that was cleared up, and I explained all the failed medications I had been given insofar as the SSRI/SNRI drug class was concerned, he prescribed me Paxil (another SSRI/SNRI) and Lorazepam in combination. Yet again, on schedule, the Paxil seemed to increase my anxiety events, and I would turn to the Lorazepam for balance. I had to budget the Lorazepam use, not taking it some days knowing that another anxiety event was on the horizon. I gave up on the Paxil after the longest 3 weeks in my life.
By now, I have quit my job. The work related stress coupled with the anxiety were too much. My last visit with the psychiatrist turned into another drug experiment in the SSRI/SNRI drug class – Effexor. I started taking Effexor, and for about 8 hours was pleased with the result, that’s about the time my brain turned on me. I used the Lorazepam as a balance point again. On the third day of using Effexor, I had a mortality vision. It wasn’t suicide, but I was definitely dead. It actually scared me. I can say that not much scares me, but I felt fear. I have subsequently stopped taking Effexor, and have made another appointment with my psychiatrist to address the ASD testing, failed use of the same drug class, and alternatives to SSRI/SNRIs. At this point, I am ready to explore physical illness that may somehow relate to anxiety and have also made an appointment with my primary care physician to explore that path.
Doctor’s want to preach to me the “patience” part of this whole process. My patience is wearing thin. I want my normal (for me) life back. I would even settle for the common Social Anxiety, and OCD that I once so easily coped with. My family deserves more than me trying new drugs every month that don’t work and me trying to cope with these drugs.
And so on the next appointment in a few days. I’ll keep you posted.