Tag Archives: Emotions

When Intense Emotions Take Over My Mind

Okay, this year’s #AtoZChallenge didn’t work out. I knew it would be tough writing about autism and related disorders when myself undergoing re-assessment for autism. It didn’t help that, from the E-mail I received on the day I posted my theme reveal, it became clear that I will not have an answer before the end of April. That wasn’t the reason I haven’t written at all since April 1 though. The real reason was my mental health.

Like I mentioned, I have been rather anxious and depressed lately. It however got extreme over the past two weeks. This likely isn’t a worsening of my depression as much as it is emotional dysregulation. That doesn’t make it less real though.

About two weeks ago, I started being more irritable and having more dark, death-related and suicidal thoughts than I had before. I had had almost-daily dark thoughts for a few months, but now they became more than daily. I also started making more concrete plans for a final step. Before then, there had been bizarre images in my head of how I’d die by crucifying myself over the staircase at home and such. These had appeared a bit laughable even to my twisted mind. Now, I started making plans and the before then bizarre-sounding thoughts didn’t seem that ridiculous anymore.

I wandered out of the house at home last week Saturday. Thankfully, my husband came back from where he’d been within aobut fifteen minutes and I was fine. Then on Sunday I had a very bad argument with my named nurse that ended in me melting down.

On Monday, I decided I’d stop taking my medication. I didn’t take my morning meds other than birth conrol and vitamin D (because I wanted to take birth control and couldn’t tell the two apart) on Tuesday. I spiraled out of control that same afternoon. This, for your information, can’t have been from withdrawal yet.

The reason I quit taking my medication was that I’d been having these dark thoughts for a while already and yet I felt I was too drugged up to express them. I don’t mean that I wanted to tell the world, like I’m doing now, but I wanted to be able to cry. And cry I did. I also felt like maybe, if I stopped taking my meds, I’d feel some kind of motivation again. I take a high dose of an antipsychotic, which admittedly the psychiatrist says can’t cause flat affect. I also take an antidepressant, but I’d forgotten why I’d been prescribed it (in 2010!) and it had never been reviewed.

Admittedly, there was also a part in me that wanted to signal to my staff that I wasn’t coping. That didn’t really work. My psychologist said that, if I wanted to be taken seriously about my mood, I needed to take my meds. Not that she’s ever taken me seriously about my mood, unless writing depression NOS into my diagnosis counts, which I don’t feel it does. She also told me that I sabotage the independent assessment if I don’t take my meds. I don’t like to admit it but that was one reason I started taking them again on Saturday. I hate to admit I give in to authoritarian manipulation, but I do.

on Wednesday, I started experiencing what I believe are brain zaps – a kind of weird dizzy spell caused by antidepressant withdrawal. I at first thought they were a side effect of a failed attempt at an overdose. They weren’t. By Friday, they occurred about every minute. I was then ready to start my antidepressant again, but wasn’t sure I could safely go back on it after five days. The nurses had to ask the on-duty doctor or some kind of head nurse or whoever and I didn’t get an answer till Saturday afternoon. Now I feel so stupid for havng bothered the nurses with this question on a week-end. I am glad for no more brain zaps though. I did also start back on the anitpsychotic. Not because I want to be on it, but because it seems I need to.

Since late Thursday evening, I’ve felt relatively well. I still experience anxiety and depression, but my emotions aren’t as out-of-control as they were before. Some things that helped were one nurse taking me on walks and allowing me to use her boxing equipment to blow off some steam. It sucks that I can’t do this at home.

Realizing I’m Blind

During the #AtoZChalenge, I had all kinds of ideas in my head about what I wanted to blog about once the challenge was over. Now that it’s May and the challenge is over, I however experience a bit of writer’s block. All these ideas that I had during April seem to have vanished. However, O just remembered one of them, which was to write a kind of series discussing topics related to blindness. I am going to answer some of the questions from the Thought Provoker. The Thought Provoker was a monthly question relating to blindness between like 1998 and 2004. The provoking stories and questions are still online. Today, I will write a response to Thought Provoker 10, which asks what a person thinks when they first realize blindness or vision loss has touched their life.

The story seems to be about a person going blind later in life. I was born legally blind. My parents tell me I first realized I was visually impaired at around age seven, when Braille reading was introduced to me. I know my realizing that blindness affected me was a gradual process. At around age eight, I’d ask my parents: “How can yu see that?” According to my parents, it seemed as though I thought I could learn to be sighted.

My parents have always been open about the nature of my blindness. I knew I had a retinal condition. When a great uncle had a retinal detachment and described what it was like, I feared I’d get it myself, because I saw those flashes he described too. It wasn’t that far from the truth indeed.

Strangely, I also feard going blind from totally unrelated, ridiculous causes. Like, I learned about people who drank cleaning products with methanol in them and who subsequently went blind. From that moment on, when my parents used said cleaning product, I was always afraid that I’d accidentally touch it, then lick my fingers and go blind.

In 1993 and 1994 I had two eye surgeries to hopefully save my vision. They were largely unsuccessful, though I still had “hand motion” vision after the second surgery. This means that at 20 feet away, I could see someone’s hand moving but not count their fingers. My parents say that my eye doctor gave up on me after the surgery in 1994. My vision would deteriorate and there was no way of preventing this.

I never accepted this until I entered mainstream secondary education at age thirteen in 1999. I tried for a while to show I still had some vision, but quickly learned it was useless, certainly when compared to sighted people’s. This was the point at which I gave up on myself vision-wise.

Still, my attitude was more one of resignation than of active acceptance. The thought that my sight might be restored someday was on my mind all the time. When, in 2001, a cataract was discovered on my “good” left eye, I pretended to be more concerned with the appearance of my eye than with my vision. Inside, I did worry what had caused this. Was it the distilled alcohol I had drunk in chemistry class the day before?

I finally decided to go pursue cataract surgery in 2013. I wanted to know once and for all whether my sight could be restored and the only way to find out was to get the surgery. It was largely unsuccessful and I gained only very minimal improvement in vision from it. Since then, I realize blindness is not jus tin my life, but I’m in fact totally blind.

The emotion that went through my mind when I realized this was at first stoicism. I never really cared about my sight, I reasoned, and nothing had changed for the worse after surgery anyway. Then came depression and hopelessness. It dawned upon me that this had been my last chance for sight restoration until or unless technology advances. I hate that adage, because it gives me false hope, but I can’t shake it off. In this sense, I’m still in denial.

E – #AtoZChallenge on Mental Health

Welcome to the #AtoZChallenge on mental health, letter E. This is one of the harder letters. However, I still was able to come up with several words for discussion.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, which include anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and unspecified eating disorders, are among hte deadliest mental illnesses. This is not just because of the physical effects eating disorders have on their sufferers, but also because people with eating disorders are particularly likely to be suicidal. For clarity’s sake: you can’t tell whether someone has an eating disorder by looking at them, because people of any size can have eating disorders. The core of eating disorders is also often not about what or how much one eats, but about one’s thoughts regarding oneself and one’s eating habits.

Emotions

Emotions are an essential part of human experience. They are often affected by mental illness. An emotion is different from a mood, in that emotions last for a short while whereas moods describe one’s overall affective state over a longer period of time.

Equality

Disabled people, including mentally ill people (yes, mental illness is a disability!), make up the largest minority in the United States and probably elsewhere too. The fight for equality for people with mental illness was started in the 1970s with the antipsychiatry mvement. However, you don’t have to believe that mental illness is a social construct to want equality for mentally ill people nowadays.

Experience

I was inspired to share about experience when someone commented on
another post in the challenge that few mental health professionals have been on the other side of the desk. In the Netherlands, many mental health agencies employ “experience workers”, which are people with a (history of) mental illness who have had additional training in using their experience in the support of other people with a mental illness. Most assertive commnity treatment teams, which are intensive outpatient treatment teams for people with severe mental illness, employ such experience workers. The education of experience workers used to be mostly informal, but now there is even a full college track in social work with mental health experience.

Hurricane #WotW

Yesterday, I bought the book Women and Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Sarah Hendrickx. I have been on the verge of crying as I read it. Hendrickx starts the book by recounting her meeting with her son’s autism diagnostician, whom she tells that she herself has autism too. The doctor doesn’t believe her, because she can hold down a two-way conversation. Wham! I heard that exact same stereotype countless times before. Hendrickx replied that maybe it’s because she’s an adult and a woman.

Last Wednesday, I was trying to communicate the mind-blowing chaos of thoughts and emotions and sensations in my head that is casuing me to have great difficulty functioning. I’ve tried to communicate this ever since I entered the mental health system in 2007, but it doesn’t seem like this is of any importance to my staff or treatment team. My psychologist put it down as rumination in an E-mail to the psychiatrist, because I asked for a med review. The “hurricane in my mind” led to a crisis yesterday. For whatever reason, a psychologist – one I hadn’t met before – was sent to talk to me today. Usually this means I’m in big trouble, but he didn’t threaten any consequences.

I’m not sure whether an unquiet mind is common with autism or whether it’s purely a borderline thing. I sense that it’s more to do with my autism, because it is not the content of my thoughts that is distressing, but the chaos the thoughts, emotions and sensations create. As such, it is particularly hard to communicate.

Unfortunately, my unit is not equipped to deal with autism and I appear to function too well to be getting autism-specialized support. The autism center’s entire recommendation was thrown into the bin by my psychologist and now I’m stuck being sent to a treatment team for personalty disorders. I won’t say I don’t have BPD too, but I also have autism and need support for this. Unfortunately, because I can hold down a two-way conversation, the team thinks I’m not all that autistic at all. Maybe that’s because I’m an adult and a woman.

After all, I was utterly incapable of holding down a two-way conversation even when in high school. As I’ve shared before, I am perhaps the opposite of the old DSM-IV autism criterion which says that autistics do not spontaneously share their feelings or interests. Hendrickx does point out that autistic girls may superficially appear quite sociable, but show self-centeredness on a deeper level. That’s exactly me.

But I don’t care about behavior, at least not anymore. Medication has sedated me enough that I don’t exhibit many troublesome behaviors anymore. Perhaps this means I can now come across relatively normal, but I don’t feel normal at all.

Another thing that’s annoying about this is people constantly attributing thought processes to me that aren’t there. For example, when I reacted with irritability at a psychotic man on my unit who constantly talks to his voices, I was told that I should try to imagine what it’d be like to hear voices all the time. I can’t imagine what that’s like, though I do understand it must be very distressing, but my irritability was not out of anger with this guy. It was just that I was utterly overwhelmed. And just so you know: thinking that the hurricane in my mind is just a breeze, doesn’t make it disappear.

Due to the stress of making arrangements for moving to the tiny village, the hurricane, the chaos in my mind, has been particularly strong this week. Therefore, I choose “hurricane” as my word of the week.

The Reading Residence

What My Mental Illness Feels Like #Write31Days

31 Days of Mental Health

Welcome to day 29 in the #Write31Days challenge on mental health. Phew, we’re almost done. I truly find it a challenge and unfortunately don’t find it particularly rewarding.

Today, I’ll give you a glimpse into my unquiet mind by describing what it feels like tohave my mental illness. I have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by self-regulation difficulties. It also overlaps with other disorders.

Once, years before I had been diagnosed with any mental illness at all, I read a description on a Dutch site of the “borderline feeling”. It described a starting point at which you are feeling fine, or at least appearing as though you are fine. Then, a minor annoyance occurs. You start feeling frustrated, angry, infuriated. Then you feel sad, depressed, depserate. Fear and then panic also comes in. Finally, all feelings tumble over each other and create a big emotional whirlwind. That’s what the experience of BPD is like.

I can illustrate this with an example. This afternoon, I was feeling slightly on edge because it was time to make afternoon coffee and no-one was available to assist me. Then, when I noticed the nurses were flipping through some seemingly unrelated photos at the nurse’s station, I completely lost it. They had told me they were busy and now they were just chattering! I can’t even remember how the situation progressed, but within minutes I was banging my head, screaming and then ran off. When I came back to the unit (I had the sense of rationality to find my way back myself), I accused the nurses of faking being busy and ignoring me. They had truly ignored me (or been oblivious to me at least) when i stood at the nurse’s station and I still cannot be sure what thing was keeping them so busy. That being said, I couldn’t politely ask them whether they truly didn’t have time to help me make coffee.

We had a group discussion, in which I was again relatively calm. Then we had dinner, after which I went on the computer for a bit. I still was feeling slightly on edge but not over the edge. I wanted to talk to the nurse, so made use of my daily talk time to discuss my tension. However, I couldn’t get it out clearly what I was feeling and why. At that point, all emotions started coming together and I became angry and depressed and fearful at the same time. I went outside, accompanied by the nurse, to blow off some steam.

Usually, this feeling I had in the evining for me is triggered by some flashbacks or relivings of past “trauma”. I put that between scare quotes because the events I am reliving can be relatively minor. However, they can cause distress nonetheless.

During such episodes I also often feel dissociated. I used to completely regress into a child mode, but now I just feel as though I’m small and start speaking or babbling incoherently but don’t fully act like a child.

When an episode is severe, I may resort to self-destructive behaviors such as binge eating or self-injury. Usually, these behaviors temporarily relieve the tension but obviously they aren’t the solution. I often relapse soon after I engaged in destructive behaviors. With PRN tranquilizers, especially benzodiazepines, the same used to be true: they temporarily calmed me down, but when they wore off, I was increasingly agitated. Research shows that borderlines often become more agitated and may become aggressive when given benzodiazepines, because benzodiazepines reduce their anxiety and thereby their impulse inhibition. I do not personally experience this.

Calm: The Power of Mindfulness

This week, I’m participating in #theprompt once again. I am rather late, because I was quite busy with other things over the week. For example, on Wednesday, I had an intake interview at the country’s top notch autism center, which happens to be in my town. They are hopefully going to assess my needs and provide recommendations for when my husband and I will be living together.

The meeting was quite intense. However, I have been able to feel relatively calm lately thanks to practising mindfulness. Since this week’s prompt is “calm”, I am going to share some information about mindfulness and how it’s helping me.

Mindfulness is, as far as I understand, more or less a western, popular term for meditation. This is at least one type of mindfulness, the type that I practise when stressed. It involves trying to sit with my thoughts, feelings and bodily sensatiosn without judgment. You can try to focus on one aspect of your experience, such as your breathing. When distracted, you should not waste energy on fighting the distraction, but simply notice it and return to paying attention to your breathing.

Any activity can be done mindfully. For example, you might notice that you start eating and suddenly the entire plate or packet is empty and you didn’t realize you ate this much. Mindfulness teaches us to be aware of what we’re doing, feeling or thinking.

Mindfulness does not eliminate life’s pressures, but it helps us look at these pressures with more clarity and less judgment. For example, when you’re eating, you might think about all the calories you’re consuming rather than simply noticing the act of eating.

Mindfulness will also teach us to respond more adequately to experiences. This is achieved by creating a gap between the experience and our reaction to it, as in the example above. Mindfulness can help me actually enjoy food rather than binge on it.

In the example of the autism center meeting, I was constantly worried about what if I had to be re-assessed for autism all over again and what if my parents had to be involved and what if they were going to convince the professionals that nothing was wrong and what if… You get the idea. By being mindful, I would look more objectively at the meeting, which went quite well. However, I’d also sit with my present thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations without judgment. For example, I’d be conscious of my butt touching the chair or bed, my breathing, my current emotions, etc.

At this very moment, I am relatively calm. My fingertips touch the keyboard as I type this blog post. My bum and back touch the chiar as my toes touch the floor (my chair is too high for my entire feet to touch the floor). I could be thinkign about how the car broke down again yesterday. I could be worrying about all the stress of possibly buying a new one. Instead, I let these thoughts go by without judgment. I don’t fight them, but I don’t give them extra special attention either. It doesn’t mean the car isn’t broken or that we don’t have the pressure of buying a new one, but what use is there in worrying about this now that I’m writing?

Mindfulness can be useful in dealing with emotional stress, as in the examples above. It can also help in dealing with physical symptoms, such as pain. After all, we often tend to make the symptoms worse by worrying about them. If I feel an ache, the ache is usually not so all-encompassing that it in itself overpowers every other sensation. There are exceptions of course, but in most cases, the effects of pain get amplified by our thoughts about this pain. Again, what use is there in thinking about an ache? Will it lessen the ache? Quite likely not, and it will distress me. So I notice the ache but don’t give it more attention than it deserves. Of course, we do need to pay just enough attention to pain to take appropriate care, but particularly for chronic, largely untreatable and/or intractable pain, mindfulness can definitely help lessen its impact.

mumturnedmom

Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness: BPD Explained

May is mental health month in the United States. It is also borderline personality disorder awareness mnth. BPD is my current diagnosis. I have written a few posts on this condition already, but most required some previous knowledge of BPD or mental illness in general. In honor of mental health month and BPD awareness month, I am going to write about my experiences with mental illness in this post and will share facts along the way.

I have always struggled with rapidly shifting emotions and mood swings. If it had been popular at the time and my parents had sought help for me, I might’ve been diagnosed with a childhood-onset mood disorder. I do not have bipolar disorder or major depression now, but these conditions are thought to affect children differently. In the current edition of the psychiatrist’s manual, the DSM-5, there is a diagnosis for children with severe mood swings, dysphoric (sad or angry) moods and extreme temper tantrums. This disorder is called disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. It is thought not to be lifelong, as it can only be diagnosed in children under age eleven.

I remember as a child of about nine already experiencing suicidal thoughts and making suicidal threats, particularly during meltdowns or tantrums. This is not necessairly a sign that the child is going to attemtp suicide – I never did -, but this is also not just “attention-seeking”. It is, in fact, a sign that a child is in serious distress.

Making repeated suicidal threats or attempting suicide is one of the core symptoms of borderline personality disorder. It is commonly thought that most people with BPD only threaten suicide and “aren’t serious about it”. In fact, however, about ten percent of people with this diagnosis die of suicide.

As a teen, I started self-injuring. Self-injury is also a core feature of BPD. This may have many functions other than “attention-seeking”. Of course, some people with BPD do not know how to ask for attention and instead use self-harm as a way to get it. Even then, attention is a human need and withholding it altogether will not usually solve the problem. Other functions of self-injury may include to express pain, to numb out feelings or conversely to feel something when one is feeling empty or numb.

Chronic feelings of emptiness are another symptom of BPD. Generally, a person with BPD is somewhat depressed or numb. This feeling of numbness is also common with major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative disorders, all of which commonly co-occur with BPD.

Dissociation is the feeling of being disconnected from oneself, one’s thoughts or feelings or one’s surroudnings. Symptoms of dissociation, particularly depersonalization (feeling “unreal”), are common in many mental illnesses. The most well-known specific dissociative disorder is dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder. My former therapist, who diagnosed me with BPD, believed that BPD and DID/MPD are on the same spectrum.

Paranoia is also common in people with BPD. However, as opposed to people with schizophrenia or related disorders, people with borderline personality disorder experience paranoia only briefly when under stress. For example, when I am overwhelmed with eotions, I tend to mistrust people and situations, while I am not usually paranoid.

Lastly, people with BPD have difficulties in relationships. Firstly, they often have an intense fear of abandonment and go to great lengths to prevent people from leaving them. Some may push people away (“I abandon you before you can abandon me”). Others, like me, are excessively clingy. People with BPD may also alternate between idolizing and devaluing the people who are important to them.

No two people with BPD or any other mental illness are alike. For a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, you only need to meet five out of nine criteria. I meet between six and eight depending on how you look at it.

Borderline personality disorder bears similarities to post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociatve disorders and mood disorders, particularly bipolar. However, the difference between bipolar and borderline personality disorder is that people with bipolar disorder experience long-lasting mood episodes, whereas people with BPD have rapidly-shifting moods. BPD cannot be diagnosed in children, although of course they can have mood swings. They may then be diagnosed with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. Psychiatrists are beginning to diagnose BPD in adolescents starting at arund age fifteen. This is good, because, the earlier someone gets treated, the more likely they are to reach recovery.

Unusual Fascinations and Fears in Autism #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to the A to Z Challenge on autism, day 21. Today for the letter U, I will focus on unusual fascinations and fears in autistic people. This is mostly a personal post.

Many autistic people have one or more special interests that they obsess over. In the previous edition of the psychiatrist’s handbook, the DSM-IV, these interests were said to be abnormal either in intensity or focus. I discussed intensity when I talked about obsessive and compulsive behaviors. Focus refers to an interest in an abnormally narrow aspect of a topic. For example, I used to be interested in public transportation, but only insofar as I could memorize bus and metro routes.

Another DSM-IV criterion of autism was an unusual fixation on (parts of) objects. This could include collecting a specific object, as I discussed before. It can however also refer to fixation on parts of objects rather than the whole. A classic example of this is a child who spins the wheels of a toy car compulsively rather than playing with the toy.

Unusual fears are also common in autistic people, particularly those with emotion regulation problems (such as people with McDD). A person with autism or a similar condition often creates illogical relations and jumps to irrational conclusions. For example, Gunilla Gerland wrote in her book A Real Person that she thought that her sister would come home if the newspaper lay in a certain position on the table, so when someone moved the newspaper, she thought her sister would never come home again. In a Dutch book on autism, I read about a boy who heard a grey wolf had been seen somewhere. He was afraid that the wolf would come into his home, even though it had been seen nowhere near his city.

I draw similar conclusions which lead to fear. For example, in our apartment, my husband and i have a taxus on the balcony. Since I know taxuses to be poisonous, I don’t want to go on the balcony, fearing that somehow this taxus thing will kill me.

Fear-inducing things or situations can also be a person’s special interest or fascination. For example, I used to be fascinated by the Brazilian wandering spider, even though I was also fearful of it.

Of course, magical thinking and related fears are common in typically developing children too, but in autistics, they last much longer. Autistic people may also benefit from a different approach to reassurance. The boy in the Dutch book, for example, was reassured when he’d read an encyclopedia article on wolves, even though the article had quite gruesome details in it.

Feelings and Autism #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day six of the A to Z Challenge, in which I focus on autism. Sorry for being a bit late – I have been quite tired lately again.

As I said yesterday, today I will focus on autistic people’s experience and expression of feelings. It is a common yet tragic myth that autistic people do not have feelings at all. Autistics, especially the ones who are very much in their own world or who seem very self-absorbed, are often thought of as not having emotions. The truth is, everyone experiences emotions, we just experience them different from non-autistic people.

An example is the fact that I did not feel particularly sad at any of my grandparents’ funerals. However, I did not have a particularly strong bond with any of them so did not naturally feel sad, and I indeed wasn’t aware of the social requirement of displaying emotion. By the time my maternal grandma died in 2007, I had rationally learned the appropriate emotional response, but none of my family members showed it so I felt a little confused.

I also sometimes will focus on a detail in a situation and respond emotionally to that. For example, when a fellow patient in the psychiatric hospital told us that he had been diagnosed with incurable cancer, I did rationally feel sad for him. However, I ended up laughing out loud when someone used a funny nickname for a nurse. This emotional tesponse to a detail in a situation rather than to the big picture, may be one reason autistic people are accused of lacking empathy.

I for one have very strong feelings, but I do not always identify them correctly. Until I was in my late teens, I used “good” and “bad” only when talking about how I felt. Even now, I mostly register primary emotions – anger, sadness, joy and fear -, and even confuse sadness and anger sometimes.

Some autistic people, like myself, feel very intense emotions. In some, these emotions might spiral out of control so that fear becomes panic and anger becomes rage. This is particularly true of autistic people with a condition called multiple complex developmental disorder. People with this condition also often have thought disorders. For example, they might make illogical leaps in thinking. I do not have this diagnosis, but it is very similar to the combination of autism and borderline personality disorder, which is my diagnosis. For this reason, I will illustrate this problem with a recent example from my own life.

At my husband’s grandfather’s funeral, I did not display much emotion as I didn’t feel particularly attached to the deceased. I must say here that, in the days prior to the funeral, I had turned my phone off for an unrelated reason. In the night following the funeral, the emotions of the funeral caught up with me and I began to think that my father had died and I hadn’t heard my mother’s call about it because my phone had been turned off. At first, this was just a scenario playing in my head, but I rapidly grew very upset at this scenario and had to take some emergency tranquilizer. I also became very angry, which shows the confusion between anger and sadness I mentioned earlier.

In short, autistic people do have emotions, some very intense ones. They however may have trouble identifying their own emotions and expressing them appropriately.

Empathy in Autistic People #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day five of the A to Z Challenge on autism. Today, I focus on empathy. Many autistic people are accused of lacking empathy. Since empathy is thought of as very important, autistic people often feel offended when they're accused of lacking it. I will present what I know about autism and empathy.

Empathy is the ability to feel emotions along with another person. Do autistic people lack this ability? It depends. Empathy requires many social and cognitive skills, which may be lacking in autism.

For example, many autistic people have troulbe reading body language, such as facial expressions or tone of voice. This means that they do not know what another person is feeling, so how can they feel along with them?

Some other autistic people, like myself, sometimes very acutely sense another person’s emotions but do not know how to respond. I often absorb another person’s emotions, but thinking of what to say or do in response to these emotions, is often hard for me.

It is also required for empathy that the person empathizing can relate to the situation the other person is in. Some autistic people do not have the experience or cognitive abilities to do so. Some other autistics do not have the same desires or aspirations as neurotypical people, and hence they cannot relate to what a neurotypical person is going through. For example, if a person were sad because they didn’t get a promotion, I would not be able to empathize. I do not work and do not care for a highly-esteemed job.

Many autistic people appear to lack empathy because they do not respond with the same emotional expressions that neurotypical people expect. It is tempting to assume they do not feel emotion or do not want to empathize. However, autistic people usually do want to connect emotionally to other people. I will discuss the experience and expression of feelings in autistic people tomorrow.