TW: depression, eating disorder, self-harm, sexual assault (very brief mention), and suicidal thoughts/actions. CW: Higher education, therapy.
My first official psychological diagnosis was Major Depression nearly 15 years ago. I was in college and, although I’d been extremely excited about attending college at first, my experience had rapidly gone downhill ever since I’d first arrived on campus. I didn’t know I was Autistic or faceblind. I didn’t know that I had sensory issues. So much change to contend with while lacking any sort of direction or understanding of myself.
Somehow, in the first couple months, I’d managed to alienate pretty much every friend I’d made during the first couple weeks at college. My roommate had initially invited me to come along with her and her group of friends to mealtimes and such, but soon those invitations evaporated mysteriously along with my other former friendships.
I’d been depressed for years prior to my official diagnosis. During my last year of high school now-husband’s friendship probably helped keep me alive. After being dumped by an abusive boyfriend at the end of my 3rd year of high school I’d begun to break my skin (eventually led to cutting) to relieve the pressure of the feelings inside of myself and was passively committing suicide by simply not eating anything that contained any nourishment (was not a good plan – I still have health issues because of those years).
Ultimately, now-husband and I began to date and I began to eat a bit more adequately, although I continued minor self-harm (repetitive scratching of my skin) when under stress and struggled because I never felt any physical sensation any longer to let me know when I was hungry.
In an effort to do what everyone told us was the “smart thing” – husband and I decided not to change our college plans just because we were dating. So, we ended up being several thousand miles away from each other during college.
I had also chosen to do the “smart thing” and attend the excellent college I was accepted into instead of the mediocre state school that would’ve only been a hundred or so miles from my home. I could’ve attended that state school with one of my favorite people from high school – we even had similar majors and I’m certain that he would’ve helped me puzzle out some of the more distressing aspects of college if I’d gone to college with him. He’d helped me out a fair amount during high school, after all.
Instead, I chose to send myself all the way across the country while all my support systems, tattered though they were, remained thousands of miles away – mostly inaccessible because this was before cell phones and texting had gained widespread popularity. I had a wall phone in my dorm room, but had to use a phone card and I have a great deal of trouble talking on the phone anyhow. There was email too. I’d had access to email since I’d been around 13 years old, but that wasn’t enough.
Slowly, over the next year, I began to break. Looking back it seems to have been, most likely, part depression and part Autistic burnout.
I believe that nobody could tell I was breaking at first partially because I’d gotten pretty good at hiding it. I also wasn’t close enough to anyone by then for there to be much prying into my mental state by others.
I stopped eating adequately again and started cutting in earnest. I always tried my best to hide those things from others, but eventually it got to the point where people noticed that I was falling apart. I’d joined a sorority early on in my second year in hopes that being part of a group would provide friends.
I was wrong. For all their talk about “sisterhood” and sticking together – there was no place for me and I was kicked out shortly after joining. In addition, while I was part of the sorority, I was “turned in” for self-harm, which I explained to the administrator (or counselor or whoever it was I had to see) was a coping method because I would otherwise have exploded and killed myself outright if I wasn’t letting the pressure out periodically.
They sent me directly to the clinic with a recommendation for a screening and I left the clinic with a script for an SSRI antidepressant and instructions that I had to have weekly “talk therapy” in order to keep my med prescription.
The therapy was a joke and the meds didn’t seem to help at all. I couldn’t explain anything that was happening in my mind. It was around this time that I was raped at a party and I couldn’t even find the words to bring that up with my therapist, let alone tell anyone else.
At one point the therapist suggested Borderline Personality Disorder, which I immediately went and looked up after that session. The outward signs fit a little bit, but the motivations didn’t make any sense to me. All I had managed to tell the therapist was outward stuff. I couldn’t access anything inside well enough to put it into words. I didn’t know how to explain any of it.
I left college after my 2nd year, barely holding on to any sense of self. I didn’t know who the actual “me” was. There were too many of me to keep track of and anything good about myself was automatically shunted over to “not the real me” in my mind.
At that time in my life, it was so very obviously clear to me that I was wholly, completely, utterly toxic to everyone including myself.
Looking back, that is when I wish I’d found out that I was Autistic. It may not have made anything else better, but maybe I wouldn’t have believed such horrible things about myself for so long. I could’ve had a chance of maybe understanding even a little bit of what was happening and maybe I wouldn’t have taken all the blame onto myself.
Or maybe not. Maybe it wouldn’t have helped at all. It’s impossible to ever know for sure. Knowing doesn’t always make things better and there was still so much ignorance…. more than now. But I still sometimes wonder how knowing then might’ve changed things.