As you know, in addition to my work on Strong in Body, Strong in Mind, I also write professionally. I met Aaron in the online writing group for the highly recommended 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success course. When Aaron approached me with his story, I was enthusiastic to feature it here. Not only because Aaron’s story captures what Strong in Body, Strong in Mind is all about, but because I feel there aren’t enough first-hand reflections available from people who live with Asperger Syndrome.
Exercise is medicine for both the body and mind. Here’s Aaron’s take on it:
Living with Asperger Syndrome
If you have ever seen Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, his character is a good example of someone with Asperger Syndrome. Notice his difficulties with social skills, such as making friends, and communication and even understanding sarcasm despite having above average intelligence. That describes me as I too have Asperger Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Besides Aspergers, I also have issues with anxiety and depression. As a result, I would often self-medicate with food. This would often lead to significant weight gain. In a study done on those with Asperger’s by the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in 2011 showed that 25% of children and teens surveyed with the condition were likely to be obese vs. 6% of normally developing children. Suggestions of the findings include effects from medicine, social issues with other people their age, sensory issues to food and lack of physical activity.
At the end of 2015, due to the stresses of work, I ballooned to over 300 pounds. I felt miserable, I was extremely anxious, I did not sleep well and I was sick. After a family member pointed out how big I got, I knew I needed to make a change in order to live independently and control my depression.
In January of 2016, I joined a gym and altered my sugar and caffeine intake by cutting out soda and drinking mostly water. I do have a cup or two of coffee in the morning and for the rest of the day, I drink water.
After a few weeks of cutting out soda, my depression levels decreased. There are links between Asperger Syndrome and depression. A study presented at the American Academy of Neurology in 2013 showed that those who drank four or more cups of soda a day, especially diet soda, were 30% more likely to be depressed. It was even higher for those who constantly drank other sugary drinks, like fruit punch, at 38%. I lost approximately 35 pounds in the past year and a half just by eliminating soda and other sugary drinks from my regular diet.
The Mind-Body Connection
By getting myself in physical shape, I was then able to work on my mental health. Despite my depression getting better, I was still having anxiety issues, especially at work. The problem was that I often got sensory overload from all the stimuli in the department where I worked, such as people talking loudly, work coming down at the last minute, and trying to do several things at once. Sometimes the sensory stimuli would lead me to have meltdowns, which is a common occurrence when someone with Asperger Syndrome gets overwhelmed.
If I did not get my thoughts and emotions under control, it would eventually affect my physical health by over eating again and I would be right back at square one. My work situation still affected my sleep. I fought to get on an earlier shift that was less stressful as I believed that staying on the second shift would result in me having to quit or even be fired. This really frightened me as the unemployment rate for those with Asperger’s is very high. Although statistics vary, the figure often quoted for those with Asperger’s who are unemployed is 75 to 85% in the United States, due to the social and communication issues in the workplace.
Eventually, I was able to secure an earlier shift at work that is less chaotic than the afternoon shift. My new position involves running work to different departments on different floors. I am walking almost non-stop for four hours a day, five days a week.
Since shifting to my new shift, I am much more relaxed and I am sleeping better at night. I was also able to lose a few additional pounds by constantly moving. Although I attempt to make small talk to the other employees, another benefit to the new position is that I do not have to stay in one place and attempt to socialize for long periods of time. Unless it is something I am interested in, I have a hard time making small talk with others. I really enjoy working by myself.
Writing, Positivity, and Spirituality
As a stress reliever, I took up writing as a hobby. I now have my own blog and not only have I had a magazine article published, I also got paid for writing the article. One of my blog posts in which I advertised a position at my company got the attention of the owner and resulted in personal recognition from the company. Journaling is also good as it allows you to get your thoughts down on paper so you can visually see what you are thinking.
I do try to follow the teachings of the Bible. One of the things the book teaches is that with God’s help, you can control your thoughts. I constantly battle negative thoughts in my head. Now I have learned to fight those bad thoughts with good thoughts from positive verses mentioned in the Bible. Writing also helps channel my obsessive thoughts into something positive, such as this blog post.
The Road Ahead
It really helped to get the physical health in order first in order to work on my mental health. That means exercising when I do not feel like exercising and making wise choices of what I eat and drink and not eating junk food every time I feel like doing so.
Asperger Syndrome is a lifelong condition. I will have to battle these symptoms the rest of my life. As a result, I am responsible for my own health. I hope this post will inspire those on the spectrum to take charge of their own health by following the suggestions that have benefitted me for the better.
Remember to comment to show your support, or visit Aaron Tanner at his blog here.