I have been rethinking my oxytocin theory recently. I’ll admit it was based on very limited knowledge and this hasn’t really increased. The gist of it was that the first 8 months or so of my baby’s life were the least autistic of my life primarily because of whopping doses of oxytocin released by all the skin to skin time spent breastfeeding – there is a good reason her nickname is Piggy!
During that period I coped very well, I felt I communicated well, I was more sociable than usual, even with a newborn and I made some new friends. Above all I was overwhelmingly happy. It is undoubtedly the happiest period of my life even though it came immediately after one of the worst times of my life.
This oxytocin theory was based on a smattering of reading which seems to indicate oxytocin may reduce core symptoms of autism. I do partially still subscribe to this theory and I would like to read more about the role hormones play in autism or perhaps it might be more accurate to say their role in mental health. Several people have suggested an alternative however which is based on those months simply not allowing me the time for introspective reflection which is tied in with my anxiety and depression. I think there may well be something in this.
I’ve read several account of autistic people coping very well with the necessary unpredictability of traveling, perhaps because they expect the unexpected and stop attempting to predict so much. Much as I disagree with the ‘magical world’ phrase I do think that autism is most likely centered around a primary deficit of prediction – at least that is my experience. Therefore it makes sense that I coped so well with those first months of motherhood because it was such an unknown. I had no idea what to expect, no idea how I would feel, no idea how to do anything. I deliberately did not read a single book on parenting because I believed, and still do to some extent, that mothering is instinctive rather than learned behaviour. I discovered the phenomenal love and joy of motherhood and somehow took it all in my stride. Slowly I learned more from others, I gradually saw that my personal philosophy fitted in with a group of parents who proclaimed themselves as crunchy but evidence based and I learned a lot from some wonderful people. I digress, I should get back on topic before this becomes an ode to babywearing (Best Thing Ever [after breastfeeding]).
I am revising my opinion that I was ‘less autistic’ during that period, I think autism is a constant that does not change and I was just as autistic then as the day I was born and as I will be at any point in the future. The difference was in both the circumstances of my life and the environment I was in.
It was a period of intense happiness, perhaps even manic. I’ve also been thinking about bipolar quite a bit over the past months. I did a screening test which would indicate I’m very bipolar and it would seem there is some sort of relationship between autism and bipolar. If I had not recognized the autism in myself and sought diagnosis for this I think I could easily have been diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar. While I’m not qualified to say for certain that I do not have bipolar I do think this would be a misdiagnosis and limited understanding of autism within mental health services may well have led to treatment, including medication, which I believe might well have done me more harm than good. This is all opinion and assumption but the possibility is one that scares me. It is also very wrong that I fear the mental health system rather than the condition of bipolar itself, perhaps I have heard of and experienced too much bad practice and am resigned to the fact that I’m far from ‘normal’.
This leads me to my final theory. My therapist puts forward a reasonable argument that I’m not bipolar but my low moods are simply depression which is also common in autistic people and my hyperactive manic times are tied in with my ADHD traits (not officially diagnosed but clearly there and again another area of huge overlap with autism) or explained by the sheer joy of indulging in an obsession. Therefore another explanation for such a long period of unusually high emotional well-being could simply be that I was obsessed with my daughter and it happened that this obsession was appropriate and encouraged by society.
In conclusion I think it’s rare to ever find a clear cause and effect relationship when there’s autism in the mix of variables. So I still believe oxytocin plays a role in my happiness and perhaps in my lack of it since I’ve been spending less time with my daughter and this has coincided with a deterioration in my mental health. However this logic applies just as well to the distraction from self-centredness or obsession theories. It seems most likely to me that it was actually a combination of these factors, possibly with the addition of other things which have not occurred to me.
What have I learned from this? I’m trying to take on board the thoughts of others more, their input is often helpful if only I can listen well and try to retain alternative perspectives. I know that being with my daughter is good for me, I cherish my time with her and I even use her as a tool. If I’m anxious in the night cuddling her can help me regulate my breathing, I do appreciate this is something of a role reversal in that typically she should be the one who needs reassurance after a nightmare but she seems happy with this arrangement. Every day I think and learn a little more. Depression has been debilitating for me recently as I wrote about in my previous post however even in the midst of apparently ‘doing nothing’ there is a lot of processing going on as I hide from the world. Little by little I crawl in the right direction and I am grateful for the many people who contribute to keeping me facing the right way on this journey.