Autism and Burnout

Burnout is a chronic state of stress which leads to physical and emotional exhaustion. It might manifest as anxiety or depression or both.

The Signs Of Physical and Emotional Exhaustion

  • Fatigue: You lack energy and feel more tired than usual.
  • Insomnia: Starts with the occasional bad night and progresses to the inability to sleep or stay asleep every night.
  • Concentration: Lack of sleep affects concentration and the ability to complete tasks.
  • Physical Symptoms: Palpitations, chest pain, chills, stomach aches, headaches and hundreds of other physical symptoms that make you worry that you are gravely ill which in turn forces you even further down the wormhole.
  • Illness: Your body becomes more susceptible to immune related illness.
  • Appetite: You may lose your appetite or go the other way and over-eat, especially sugary or high-carb foods.

Alongside the physical signs, there are emotional signs.

  • Loss of enjoyment about things you love.
  • Negativity: You become pessimistic about everything. In my case, it isn’t glass half empty. It’s glass smashed into smithereens all over the floor!
  • Isolation: Socialising is hard work for most autistic people but during burnout, we don’t have the energy or inclination to socialise at all. This includes social media.
  • Detachment: As an autist, I have always felt detached from everybody else but detachment from burnout can be a detachment from everything including yourself.

When you reach this stage it is illness.

A lot of autistic people will reach burnout stage at some point in their lives. The reason is that trying to exist in an NT world is stressful and exhausting and the human body can only take so much battering from stress hormones before it starts to burnout.

Burnout.

Nervous Breakdown.

Shutdown.

Call it what you will but it ALL amounts to the same thing.

Your body has had enough and is no longer whispering words of warning to you. IT IS SCREAMING AT YOU TO FUCKING DO SOMETHING!

The whispers started for me as a small child when I constantly felt sick or threw up and was living in a constant state of fear.

The whispers got louder as a teenager when I developed an eating disorder as a way of trying to gain control of my own life.

As a twenty-something the whispers told me that it wasn’t normal to be seeing ‘black things’ scurrying across the floor that nobody else could see or imaginary spiders in front of my eyes.

At thirty-something I tried to shut the whispers up with alcohol.

At forty-something my mother died and I had my first nocturnal panic attack.

At 46 years of age I had a nervous breakdown.

Finally, my body said ‘ENOUGH’.

Physically and mentally, I burned out.

My body has pumped so much adrenalin into my system that my fight or flight response now triggers when it shouldn’t – like in response to my dreams or the heating coming on. This is why I have insomnia. This is why I wake up in the early hours every morning.

Why do autistic people burn out?

The more ‘highly functioning’ we are, the more is expected of us and the more we push ourselves to be neurotypical. People can’t see what’s going on inside of us. They just see somebody who ‘looks’ perfectly normal. The effort it takes to be able to pull this off is phenomenal and sooner or later, the consequences will be burnout.

A lot of autistic people suffer from anxiety and anxiety means fear.

We fear walking out of the front door into a noisy and confusing world. We fear having to socialise. We fear having to make small conversation at work. We fear that we will lose control. We fear people being able to see past our pretence of being neurotypical. We fear rejection. We fear there being no escape route.

We fear.

Our hearts beat faster. Our bodies are constantly primed to fight or run. The fight or flight response is triggered numerous times a day and over time it takes longer for our bodies to recover from it. Eventually, even the fittest of us will succumb to illness. Either physical, mental or both.

Once you have had a breakdown you are never the same. It’s an invisible scar. A wormhole opened up and you know that it won’t take a lot for you to lose yourself down there again. As if life wasn’t already tough enough? Now there is this fragility about you. The difference is that by now you know you have to take better care of yourself and your needs.

You learn to say no.

You learn to let go of people/situations that drain you.

You accept your limitations.

You will hang up the neurotypical ‘skin suit’ for good.

What the fark is a skin suit?

If you’ve ever seen Men in Black, you’ll be familiar with the big ol’ ‘bug’ who comes to Earth. The alien nicks farmer Edgar’s skin so he can look less, er, conspicuous. Only it’s not his skin, so it doesn’t fit. He looks weird and it makes him uber cranky because it feels pretty shit to be wearing someone else’s skin. A bit like trying to cram yourself into size ten jeans when you are a generous twelve..

Feeling ‘alien’ is a feeling that a lot of autistic people identify with. We feel like we don’t belong here and a lot of us pretend to be neurotypical in order to not stand out. It’s an act and acting requires effort. When we shut the outside world out, it’s such a relief to finally be us.

My breakdown coincided with my diagnosis and even though I am still fighting to rid myself of panic disorder and insomnia, I am finally free of the constricting neurotypical suit I’ve been inhabiting for the majority of my life.

I feel lighter.

I don’t push myself to be ‘normal’ anymore.

If I can’t go to social functions I don’t beat myself up about it.

If I can’t face shopping in the supermarket, I’ll do it online.

I haven’t given up on life. I just find ways that make living a little easier.

When I get overwhelmed I shut myself away like I have always done. The difference is that I no longer feel guilty about it. People can think what the hell they like because you know what? They will anyway because that’s what people do.

This is no longer about them.

It’s about you.

It’s about self-care.

With social media, I get overwhelmed pretty quickly so I have learned to give myself breaks from it and to limit time spent on the internet. The internet can get pretty intense and I soak up the negative stuff like a sponge. Bad news and hate is all over the internet. It affects me, then I get ill. Yes, we live in a computer age and the internet can be useful but it can also be damaging to your mental health so it’s up to us to police our internet time so it works for us not against us.

I have also accepted that I can’t do ‘life’ on my own so now I ask for help when I need it. Being autistic, there are certain things that I struggle with. Asking for help, isn’t being weak. It’s self-care.

The thing is that I’ve have put so much effort into existing that I’m exhausted and for what?

To fit in?

So I don’t offend people by saying no?

I’m done with all that.

We should all be done with that, right?

If you can identify with this post. Please don’t let another day go by where you live your life on somebody else’s terms. If it hasn’t already, it will make you ill.

It’s time to be the fabulous human being you were born to be.

It’s time to be you.

“If you celebrate your differentness, the world will, too. It believes exactly what you tell it—through the words you use to describe yourself, the actions you take to care for yourself, and the choices you make to express yourself. Tell the world you are one-of-a-kind creation who came here to experience wonder and spread joy. Expect to be accommodated.” ~ Victoria Moran – Lit From Within

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anxiety: The Night Shift

 

What were you doing at 2am this morning?

Chances are you were asleep.

Me?

I was cleaning my kitchen.

Are you insane?

Well yes, but I don’t usually snap on the Marigolds in the wee early hours of the morning..

Thing is. I went to bed at 10pm last night and woke up having one of my not so wonderful nocturnal panic attacks. I’d been dreaming so I presumed it was around 4 or 5am, which is the time I usually wake up with a racing heart..

Then I looked at the clock.

IT WAS 11.30 PM!!

There was an ‘What the actual fark?!’ moment, right there.

I’d only been asleep for about an hour?

This was alarming in itself as I am used to waking up around 4 or 5 am. I have woken early on other occasions but when you are half asleep things are confusing and unfamiliarity intensifies fear which intensifies the sensations of anxiety.

I my breathing exercises but on this occasion they didn’t work. I was just too wired.

The adrenalin surged through my body affecting every part of me from my head to my toes. This is the sensation where my body feels electrified combined with a horrible feeling of foreboding. It’s a majorly shit feeling but I’m used to these sensations. I’ve experienced them more times than I can remember. Mostly, the deep breathing works, but sometimes my heart races on regardless.

That’s when I have to get up.

This was one such occasion so at 11.45, I gave in and got up.

On walking into the kitchen, my dog looked at me as if to say, ‘What the fuck are you doing, Human? I was having this totally awesome dream about me, a fit Dalmatian and a pallet load of Bonios and in you walk lookin’ all pale and shaky. Don’t expect me to lick your sweaty face anytime soon, yeah?’

Then she started licking her arse..

I don’t blame her. Like me, my dog is a creature of habit and doesn’t like surprises. I often wonder if she is autistic too?

My first job was to flick the kettle on for some herbal tea. Ginger for the nausea. Then I filled in one of my trigger forms for health anxiety. This is where I talk myself down from my state of irrational fear by asking myself what my worst fear is and what factual evidence I have for it. For instance, my fear might be that I will have a heart attack or my heart will stop and I will, like, die. Factual evidence for this thought are my symptoms – such as palpitations and chest pain.

Then I consider the evidence against this thought. In my case, I have had recent and extensive tests which all showed my heart to be working as it should albeit a bit fast due to anxiety. There is no evidence of heart disease. Also, I have had these episodes for the last 6 years and I am still here.

I remind myself that even if the worst was to happen, I have experienced and come through a major health scare when I was bleeding internally in my 37th week of pregnancy. My life and that of my son was in danger. However, despite understanding the seriousness of the situation, I felt no fear and did not panic. This suggests that if the shit was to hit the fan, I would cope.

I also remind myself that, relative to it’s power input, the heart is the strongest organ in the human body. It’s designed to keep going despite stress or trauma. This organ kicks arse yet because of the sensations of racing and humping, I imagine it to be frail or delicate? There is no medical evidence to support heart failure or disease. My heart is merely responding to the fight or flight mechanism. A necessary bodily function. It’s there to keep us alive. My brain doesn’t know that it’s my thoughts that are triggering the response. It’s simply doing it’s job.

Next, I consider the other possible explanations for the panic attack. What have I done differently?

In this case, I had eaten too much sugar and too many cups of decaf. Even decaf has a percentage of caffeine, so if you drink enough and are sensitive enough, it will affect you. I also ate a spicy meal which I know affects me. When I woke up, my mouth felt like a flip-flop, so I could also have been dehydrated and dehydration can trigger panic attacks.

So what did I do to cope with the situation?

I cleaned my sodding kitchen!

I worked with the adrenalin instead of feeding it with irrational shit.

I completed my worksheet by coming up with a realistic thought about my situation and this is what I wrote..

This is unpleasant but I have been here hundreds of times before.

These sensations always pass.

I can cope with this.

At around 3am, I reevaluated the intensity of my thoughts, emotions and sensations and noted that it had gone from 90% fear to 10% with my physical symptoms being less intense, so much so that I was able to go back to sleep.

It’s 8am as I am typing this. I have had four hours sleep and I feel exhausted but I got through another night shift.

I didn’t add fear to the fear.

I didn’t phone for an ambulance.

I didn’t disturb anybody else.

I will not fear going to sleep tonight.

If I have another panic attack, it won’t kill me.

It never has.

“That’s the advantage of insomnia. People who go to be early always complain that the night is too short, but for those of us who stay up all night, it can feel as long as a lifetime. You get a lot done” ~ Banana Yoshimoto

 

 

 

 

Spontaneity Hurts.

Say yes, and you’ll figure it afterwards ~ Tina Fey

Doesn’t work that way for some people, Tina.

It certainly doesn’t work that way for me.

Sometimes it will appear that I am being spontaneous, but the truth is that I will have been thinking about something in my head long before I actually say, ‘Shall we do this today?’ However, this can only apply to me and OH as The Boy needs time to adjust to any changes because he is autistic too.

One problem I’ve always had is having to cope with other people’s spontaneity – such as those who turn up without notice. I’ve had decades of people just turning up unannounced. There have been countless times when I’ve hidden upstairs or in the kitchen to avoid answering the door..

As part of my diagnosis my ex husband wrote a letter about me as, at that point, he’d lived with me the longest. He referenced how I used to do these things and how at the time he thought I was being moody or rude. He noted that every time the door went or the phone rang, I was suddenly elsewhere..

My parents never turned up unannounced. I guess this was because my mother also struggled with unannounced visitors. My mother-in-law, bless her, was different. She was full on neurotypical and as old fashioned as they came. I know without a doubt that she loved me, but I also know that she didn’t understand me. She’d often ask her son why I was so moody, only I wasn’t being ‘moody’. I was struggling to process the change to routine.

In the early years of my first marriage, I was practically a hermit. I struggled with everything that most people do without thinking. Even fetching the milk in was stressful because there was a chance that one of the neighbours would see me and I’d have to speak to or ignore them. It was often the latter. Sometimes because it was easier. Sometimes because the words wouldn’t come out. Hence, I got myself a reputation for being ‘weird’ or ‘stuck up’. I’ve waited hours for neighbours to go in just so I could walk up the street. On especially anxious days, I have cancelled appointments rather than walk past people in my street. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but it’s true.

My mother-in-law had set days where she would come to ours. The routine worked for me. However, sometimes she’d just turn up when I was on my own. She’d peer in through the living room window and rap on the glass. I loved this woman so much but my heart would sink, not because I didn’t want her, but because I wasn’t prepared for her. There was no time to get my head around it and I had no choice but to let her in because no matter how muddled my head was, I would never have left an elderly lady on the doorstep.

A lot of people like to be spontaneous but I’d hazard a guess that the majority who do are neurotypical.

Take Christmas, for example..

Every year, I give OH a list of what I want for Christmas (almost always books) and he always says, ‘We’ll see’. On hearing those words, I become anxious. He has this thing where he likes to ‘keep me guessing’. It’s utterly NT and it drives me FUCKING NUTS!

Every year, I tell him, ‘I don’t like surprises. Please just get me what I’ve asked for’.

Every year he says, ‘We’ll see’.

I’d hoped that my DX would change this and he would understand that surprises stress me, even nice ones.

Last week, I told him that I’d give him my list of books and he replied that I’d be getting something else as well because it made him happy to surprise me.

What’s more important? The pleasure of the giver? Or the distress of the receiver?

I can’t help how I am. I can’t adapt. No matter what I do, I will ALWAYS react negatively to spontaneity.

I get that there has to be compromise in any relationship, let alone a neurotypical/autistic one, but sometimes compromise isn’t possible. In this situation there can be no positive compromise. It can only be that OH does as I ask him or I try and cope with the anxiety in order to make him happy.

An example of spontaneity malfunction from my childhood..

We’d just moved and my life had been turned upside down. That summer, I turned 11 and my mother decided that I was old enough to be sent on errands, whereas before, I’d always gone with my brother. One day she told me to go to the local shop for her. It was a bad day anxiety wise and I had no confidence at all. I reacted badly. However, my mother interpreted my behaviour as being normal for a girl my age. Except that I wasn’t being rude. Or lazy. I was overwhelmed.

How can a trip round to the local shop overwhelm you?

Here’s how.

The request was spontaneous. There was no time for me to process or plan. Mum wanted something from the shop and she wanted it there and then.

The only route to the shop was along a busy main road where the traffic, at the best of times, was loud and unrelenting. Part of pavement narrowed with railings on the roadside and overgrown bushes on the other. It was claustrophobic and forced you into having communicate when people allowed you past or when they thanked you for allowing them past because for all my problems, I have always practiced good manners whenever possible.

The shop itself was half post-office, half grocery shop and it was always busy after around 10am. Mum sent me round at dinnertime – one of it’s busiest times.

What happens to my brain when I’m stressed is that it goes blank. I struggle to process and retain information. I remember standing in the shop with sweat literally pouring out of me – staring at what my mother had written on the piece of paper..

I was looking but I couldn’t see anything..

The noise was deafening. That, combined with the smells of cooked meats and that general grocery shop smell was an assault on my senses. The ‘normal’ thing to have done would have been to ask someone, but that meant communicating and it was beyond my capability at that moment in time. In the end, I walked out of the shop with nothing and went back home feeling useless. It was a feeling I would become familiar with as the years went on. It really bothered me that I couldn’t do the spontaneous thing without my brain malfunctioning. I need to plan. I need to know where everything is, right down to the toilets. I need trial runs to unfamiliar places. I’ve done this with holidays. It’s a part of my autism that I wish I didn’t have but I also know it’s a part of me that will never change.

Spontaneity doesn’t make me feel ‘alive’ like it does with most people. It freaks me out and fucks me up.

Since being formally diagnosed as autistic, a lot of the guilt has left me. How can I beat myself up over something that’s beyond my control? Nor do I feel the need to apologise anymore. I can try and educate people but I can’t make them understand that spontaneity hurts.

  I might say yes IF I can figure it out beforehand ~ Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas and the Autistic Child

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Most children like Christmas right? For many on the autistic spectrum, Christmas is a stressful time of year. The inevitable changes to routine are enough to send some children spiralling into one meltdown after another..

Same for autistic parents.

The Boy’s anxiety has been climbing for weeks. As soon as things change at school his behaviour deteriorates. He’s on a VERY short fuse and the simplest of requests, like taking his coat off, has him throwing stuff and stomping off upstairs screaming that he wants to DIE. He’s eight going on thirteen only this is him BEFORE the hormones kick in!

Can you imagine when they do?

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Trip hazard? Or my son when the testosterone kicks in?

The Boy’s need for me is ever greater as he battles with a brain that struggles to cope with Christmas. He likes Christmas but struggles with it just as he struggles with a lot of other things he likes.

There are no decorations up at our house yet as we’re trying to keep stimulus to a minimum and my anxiety is so bad that the mere thought of them makes my heart race. The control freak within me struggles to allow other people to do it and in the past when I have let the kids, er, ‘help’, I have stood there fighting the urge to rugby tackle them to the floor in order to prise the baubles from their clammy little hands. *whispers* I re-did it once they were in bed. It’s something I don’t like about myself but it’s a pathological need for certain things to be aesthetically pleasing in my eyes.

When it comes to visiting Santa, forget it. It’s a sensory nightmare.

Queuing = Hell.

Noise = Hell.

Migraine inducing fairy lights = Hell

Sitting on Santa’s knee. Do they still do that? = Hell.

I hated it as a child. The Boy managed one minute in a queue once and we had to leave. Do your child and yourselves a favour and go to an autism friendly session where the visits are timed, you can take your own present. Visiting Santa should be a pleasant experience for every child, no?

There are things you can do as a non-deranged parent to make things a little easier for your autistic child.

Decorations

  • You can involve your child in buying decorations or letting them help you to put them up.
  • Introduce the decorations gradually. It’s probably best not to have it looking like Santa’s Grotto if your child gets easily overstimulated.
  • Give some thought to your Christmas lights. If your child is very sensitive, a migraine inducing strobe effect probably isn’t the best idea. Static or gentle fade in and fade out lights will be more appropriate.
  • Use countdowns for putting the decorations up and taking them down.
  • Use social stories and visual calendars.

Visiting Santa

  • Check your local papers/social media for autistic friendly Santa-sessions

Presents

  • Mountains of presents will overwhelm most autistic children so it’s best to limit how many they get or don’t put them all out on Christmas Day.
  • If your child has sensory issues pay attention to the paper you use to wrap the presents with.
  • If unwrapping make them anxious then don’t wrap them at all.
  • Place a familiar toy next to the new presents.
  • Try some gentle classical Christmas music in the background especially if classical soothes them normally.

Family

Don’t feel under pressure from your family. If you know your child can’t cope with a big family get together on Christmas Day, then don’t be afraid to tell them to sod off – albeit politely. Your child’s well-being has to come before Great Aunt Ada parking her arse on your sofa all day scoffing the Quality Street eh? Life is different when you have an autistic child. If people get it, great. If they don’t, educate them until they do get it. Maybe give them a book on understanding autism as a Christmas present?

Familiarity

Christmas Day is just the three of us. There are no visitors. There is no Christmas dinner with party hats and other such paraphernalia. The Boy has his usual food and bedtime is the usual time with the usual ritual of a story and his Classic FM.

The Rules are that there are NO rules when it comes to autism. Each person is different. Some love Christmas, some don’t. All autistic people are affected but not necessarily in a negative way.

Me? I find Christmas stressful BUT it’s also the season of fairy lights and I BLOODY LOVE fairy lights!!

As a child I used to lie on the floor under the Christmas tree and stare at them for hours on end. My Nan, having downed a few brandies, would say, “You’re a funny little girl” I used to wonder why she was calling me funny when I hadn’t said or done anything funny. Now I know she was calling me weird. MY OWN GRANDMOTHER!!

Christmas is difficult for me in ways which most people wouldn’t understand. I’m not a Christmas hater – it’s just that there is too much going on and that sends my anxiety orbital. Social media is crammed with Christmas. TV is bombarding us with adverts/mini-movies for the hard sell and it gives me a headache. If I could cherry pick bits of Christmas it would be lights, carols and the act of giving. You can keep the crowds, commercialism and my pet peeve, ‘Secret Santa’.

I don’t suppose it helps matters that my father decided to shuffle off his mortal coil on a Christmas Day. To lose someone you love on any day of the year is bad enough but to lose them on Christmas Day is epically crap. The image of Dad’s lifeless body while Noddy Holder screeched “IT’S CHRISSSSSSSTMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAS” is forever seared into my memory and while I fight to bring forward the memories where he was the life and soul of Christmas, this one always wins.

As regards The Boy, we try to keep things as close to normal as is possible. Whatever ‘normal’ is.

Header Image via Creative Commons

 

 

The Many Moods Of The Menopause

Most women are used to being moody for two weeks out of every month, right? Our significant others understand that all a woman wants during her premenstrual and menstrual phase are painkillers, a hot water bottle and a family size bar of chocolate and if we don’t get those things we’ll be up on a manslaughter charge. Diminished responsibility, obvs.

Here’s the thing..

Menopausal women don’t get a break from the mood swings. The length of time it can take for things to settle down vary but it can take up to 15 years for all the symptoms to subside.

FIFTEEN YEARS!

When it comes to our ever changing moods – think of them as a relay race where Happy starts off and passes the baton to Irritation – who passes the baton to Anger – who passes the baton to Psycho – who passes the baton to Melancholy – who passes the baton to Guilt who sprints through to the finish.

THEN IT ALL STARTS AGAIN AND NOR NECESSARILY IN THAT ORDER.

Irritation

Everything and everybody irritates you. Nuff said?

Psycho

This is turbo-charged irritability.

Scenario: Mrs X has struggled with hot flushes ALL day. Her boss is an inconsiderate arse biscuit who’s fed up of her numerous visits to the loo to stick her furnace face under the cold tap. She fights her way home in rush hour traffic, then opens her front door to find her living room is a shit-tip. The carpet is 50% dog hair, 50% Pringles. The dishes are doing the leaning tower of Pisa in the sink. The house smells like somebody died in it and the culprits behind the chaos are staring lifelessly at the X Box in some kind of gaming-induced coma. The only reason Mrs X knows they are alive is because their thumbs are still moving..

Mrs X realises that while she’s been slaving away at work, the lazy oafs she heaved out of her vagina sixteen years ago have been sat on their backsides killing zombies all day and calling each other ‘dude’ or ‘man’.

‘Pass the Pringles, Man’

‘Dude. WTF?! You killed me!’

Mrs X starts to feel the familiar sensation of heat rising from her chest upwards..

This is where she goes from irritated to PSYCHO.

She starts yelling. This may or may not be coherent. Then, she starts chucking stuff. First, her handbag hits the wall. Then she frenziedly starts yanking wires out of sockets, spitting out a few effs here and there. This gets her offspring’s attention because to prematurely end a gaming session is like shutting off a life support machine. If you were to look closely enough, you’d notice that they were turning blue..

Once the X Box is in bits all over the floor, Mrs X slams off upstairs for a weep and by the time she resurfaces, the living room’s had a make-over, the dishes are done and all the knives have been hidden.

Unsurprisingly, ‘Psycho Mum’ gets things done because she’s fucking terrifying!

Anxiety

Fear loves the menopause. Having entered into this stage of life, we become more aware than ever of our mortality. We gauge our longevity against that of our mothers and grandmothers. We fear the future. We fear getting old. We fear forgetting. We fear being alone.

We fear everything.

Melancholy

Once we know our reproductive days are over, some women break out the Champagne. Others just get sad. They grieve for the babies they will never have despite knowing that they wouldn’t have had anymore anyway because they’ve, like, been there, done that and worn the tee shirt OVER THEIR HEADS!

Also, their wombs are like withered balloons.

In all honesty, if they were to heave another human out of their fadginas, they would probably need a safety net as part of the birthing plan.

So, we cry for our youthfulness because it’s apparently buggered off, dragging our ovaries with it. A few gins and Spandau Ballet’s Greatest Hits on the iPod and we’re sobbing for Britain. Why? Because when Tony Hadley first crooned the lyrics to True back in 1983 – when we were in full possession of our hormones, faculties (ish) and teeth.

Also, we had GREAT hair!

Disconnection

Sometimes women find that their entire personalities change. They don’t recognise themselves anymore. Their bodies are different. Their minds are different. They feel different.

Sometimes, women feel as if they they’re going crazy and people say: ‘You’re effing crazy, you are!’

To be fair, they have just lobbed hubby’s best golf club over the back fence in a fit of hormonal rage..

But you know what? This menopause lark is NOT easy for many of us.

If people could spend a day being us – they would understand that it’s not craziness – it’s exhaustion, depletion and bewilderment.

It’s also a sense of disconnection, as if we are observing ourselves? Rather than owning our own bodies and minds. It’s hard to understand that we can never be the same as we were before the menopause. It’s just not biologically possible.

Hysteria

Have you ever started laughing at something funny for it to morph into hysterical crying?

This happened to me.

One minute I was laughing at Victoria Wood singing about being Freda being bent over backwards on her hostess trolley. Proper belly laughing. The next I was crying hysterically and OH was debating whether or not to call the chaps in white coats to come and inject me.

The cause?

Hormones.

Those little shits are the reason behind ALL the crappy bits of menopause.

Lack of Motivation

Basically, you get days where you have zero motivation. That pile of ironing? Sod it. Need to go shopping? Sod that too! You make a date with your duvet and something with Colin Firth/ Sean Bean/whoever in it and woe betide any human over the age of 14 who tries to come between you and your 13.5 togs!

Happy

We get moments of happiness too. Hurrah! Granted, these moments can turn from happy to not happy a bit sharpish (Boo) but you’ve got to understand that it’s all down to hormone imbalance.

It won’t always be this way.

One day your feral hormones will start behaving themselves. The hot flushes will trail off. The moods will stop swinging. The brain fog will clear and you will accept your new ‘norm’.

But inside you’ll always be 16, eh?

Mullet Queen 1986

 

 

 

Senses Working Overtime

I’m hypersensitive.

It means that I experience the world in an overly-sensitive way both physically and emotionally.

Hypertactile

For me, this means that I feel discomfort at the slightest touch – cue Five Starr with their MASSIVE shoulder pads. A hand on my arm can feel like a punch if I’m sensitised enough. Sometimes OH will touch my arm and I recoil as if I’ve been shot. I can see how this affects him but I’m unable to reassure him that it’s me, not him, because I struggle to verbalise how I feel.

I also can’t tolerate certain materials which are itchy and scratchy.

Aren’t they characters in the Simpsons?

Many of my clothes have ended up in charity bags due to them irritating the crap of me. Shoes, the same. I don’t like to feel as if I am wearing clothes, see. Sounds kinky, I know, but what I mean is that materials have to be soft and not constricting..

It’s been trial and error over the years. Like when I knitted myself a mohair jumper. I know, I’m an idiot, right? It took months to knit the bastard thing. I wore it once and chucked it straight in the charity bag because I itched like a dog with fleas. Lesson learned!

After decades of buying the wrong stuff, I’ve finally settled on leggings, tunic top and boots in Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer is jeans, tee shirt and a pair of Converse hi-tops.

Not forgetting my beloved cardigans, one blue, one black, with pockets which I wear ALL YEAR ROUND!

Hypervision.

This means that I see what most people don’t. This can be annoying AND wonderful.

I see details that most people miss. This came in handy when I worked as a packer in a pharmaceuticals warehouse because I picked up on subtle differences in packaging, IE, counterfeiting.

It also means that fluorescent lights give me migraines, as does sunlight and the blue light emitted from computers and tablets.

Hyperhearing

I used to jump EVERY TIME the school bell went and without looking up I could tell which teacher had entered the room by the sound their shoes made. Some shoes were soft and and pleasing whereas others were squeaky and f**king annoying. My maths teacher in secondary school had a particularly irritating squeak in his right brogue and he was wearing the same pair when I left four years later..

Traffic also annoys me and don’t start me on emergency service sirens. On a good day they are LOUD. ON a bad day, hearing nee-nars makes me want to rip my ears off and sling them in someone’s privet. I also hear low level buzzing noises that nobody else can. Only thing is that since I developed tinnitus, it’s hard to work out what is actual buzzing and what isn’t..

I used to be able to hear a bee fart in the next street but over the years I’ve lost hearing in one ear. This is both good and bad. It means that the other ear over-compensates – which is disorientating. I do have a sexy hearing aid courtesy of the NHS but it amplifies sound too much and increases my sensory issues, so I hardly ever wear it, hence I say, “Eh?” and “What?” a lot.

On the other hand it helps when my tinnitus is giving me gyp.

The reason why autistic people have hearing sensitivity could be due to differences in the temporal lobe of the brain, which is the area that deals with auditory processing. Or it could be that responses are learned. I don’t think they know for sure why it happens..

By far, the biggest problem with my sensitivity is that I feel too much. Swiss researchers, Henry and Kamila Markram argue that the fundamental problem with Asperger’s is ‘hypersensitivity to experience’. Rather than people with Aspergers not feeling enough – the Markrams say that it’s actually the opposite and they feel too much. That’s definitely true of me. I’m both physically AND emotionally sensitive. Unkind words really hurt me. They scar me. You just can’t see them like a physical one.

If I see a homeless person lying in a doorway, I hurt for them. The down and outs. The underdogs. Life’s rejects. The weirdos. The persecuted. I hurt for them ALL. Emotionally I am a wreck of a human being and my sensitivity is the reason that I try and stay away from the news because I get overloaded with people’s pain. I know that most people see things on the news and feel empathy but it doesn’t haunt them forevermore. That’s the difference.

I HATE how people lie and deceive. To put your faith into someone only to be betrayed is soul destroying. Having been officially diagnosed as autistic, I understand how my vulnerabilities have been exploited over the years. People sense I’m different but they mistake silence for weakness.

Here’s the thing..

It’s NOT weakness.

Can you imagine how hard it is to exist in an increasingly sensory world?

To constantly feel that you have to adapt and camouflage yourself in order to fit in?

To live your entire life in a state of anxiety and having to make choices between everyday situations in order to lessen the stimulus?

To live like this EVERY SINGLE DAY takes strength my dears.

Neurotypical people do those things without thinking whereas I have to think about almost everything I do, even how to breathe when my anxiety is bad enough.

I guess that my problem is that I am just too sensitive for this world.

“You,” he said, “are a terribly real thing in a terribly false world, and that, I believe, is why you are in so much pain.” Emille Autumn ~ The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls.

It’s The Freakiest Show..

My big brother was into the 1970s glam-rock scene, I mean, he had the platforms and everything.. He looked a div, but then what teenage boy didn’t look a div in the 70s?

For what’s it’s worth, I also looked a div – only I didn’t have any choice in the matter.

Anyway, it’s from rooting through his records that I came across the phenomenon that was David Bowie..

Being born in 1970 rendered me too young to appreciate the glam rock scene first time around. However, I didn’t have to wait too long because it made a comeback in the 80s with the likes of Def Leppard, Poison and Kiss – only with less glitter and more hair. Oh. And the flares were replaced by skin-tight, testicle-trapping jeans which of course helped them to reach those high notes..

WHOOOOOOOOO-YEAHHHHHHHHHHHH

Of all the records of the glam rock era, Life on Mars is my favourite.

Bowie labeled Life on Mars, “a sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media” and added, “I think she finds herself disappointed with reality… that although she’s living in the doldrums of reality, she’s being told that there’s a far greater life somewhere, and she’s bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t have access to it.”

I know how she feels..

Reality sucks. You spend nine months in the womb being prepared for your big entry into the world only to reach the age of five when you start school and your world turns phenomenally crap.

Yes, I know how that girl feels..

Life on Mars was released as a single in 1973. I was three years old and still wearing plastic pants. So it’s fair to say that while I no doubt heard it on the radio (or saw it on TOTP) I wasn’t into it until a few years later..

First, I fell in love with Mick Ronson’s orchestral arrangement because, lets face it, it’s EFFING AWESOME! Then came my obsession with the lyrics (also awesome) and all these years later, it STILL does things to me insides..

When it comes to the lyrics, the song is somewhat ambiguous but I identify with Bowie’s description because, like the girl, I am also at odds with reality. I see life as one big freak show.

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man, look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show

Bowie started out ordinary enough, apart from his freaky eye, but Mrs Bowie knew that his image was a bit crap so she turned him into the spiky red awesomeness that was ‘Ziggy Stardust’. He made weird, cool, and all the misfits and weirdos whooped with joy and bought all his records. He was like something out of space – which was kind of the idea. Nobody knew what the fuck he was. Was he male, female or alien?

Bowie wasn’t my dad’s cup of tea, as I imagine was the case with a lot of other parents of the time. Dad’s nervous cough would kick in when Ziggy beamed up via the gogglebox during those early years but he settled down once Dave brought out Lets Dance and ‘that one he did with Jagger’, got the Dad stamp of approval too.

Bowie has been a constant in some form or other since Ziggy. I almost had a coronary when the TV series Life on Mars was screened in 2006. Great plot. The legend what is ‘The Gene Genie’ (Gene Hunt) and a cracking 1970s soundtrack, including Life on Mars which was used a LOT. What’s not to like?

For those of you unfamiliar with Life on Mars.. the plot is is that Sam Tyler has an accident in 2006 and wakes up in 1973 wearing flares and driving a Cortina. The tagline is, Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Whatever’s happened, it’s like I’ve landed on a different planet.

I just hope to God I never suffer a head trauma and wake up in 1983 wearing a ra-ra skirt and legwarmers!

So, if I had to choose ONE song to listen to before I die, it would be Life On Mars. I want my life force to ebb away to this song but knowing my luck, it will be Justin Bieber and I will die with my middle finger stuck up in mid-air.

There is something satisfyingly poetic about Mick Ronson’s melodic string arrangements to Life on Mars being the last piece of music I ever hear before I depart this shit-hole planet. I am the girl with the mousey hair, or at least I used to be before I started dyeing the crap out of it, and I very much want this to be my swansong. Family, take note.

Finally, a bit o’ trivia for you..

The string arrangement for Life on Mars was written in a TOILET.

Genius.

Laughter As Therapy

Some of the most saddest people on earth are also the funniest. Funny, that.

Spike Milligan

Stephen Fry

Robin Williams

Jim Carrey

Paul Merton

Catherine Tate

David Walliams

Ruby Wax

Caroline Aherne

Kenneth Williams

All have had a depressive disorder.

I can understand how some people would struggle with the concept of funny people being depressed but the fact is that being funny doesn’t necessarily mean being happy. Humour is often a way of coping with life and the shit it throws at you – a defence mechanism, if you like..

I write funny posts. Correction, I try to write funny posts as well as serious ones but you may have noticed that even my funny ones are sometimes about difficult subjects? It’s a release for me. The sting of a bad memory isn’t quite as sharp when I’m putting a humourous spin on it. That said, some things just aren’t funny and never will be.

Humour was a lifeline to me when I was growing up. Watching comedy like The Kenny Everett Show or The Young Ones went some way to lifting my mood after yet another diabolically crap day at school. I laughed so hard I was in actual pain and sometimes my laughter bordered on the hysterical – which was a bit freaky – but I think it was in lieu of the tears that I hadn’t cried at school. That’s my theory, anyway.

Or I am indeed certifiable?

 

For me, the humour is there but it gets lost in translation if I try to verbalise it, so I write it down. I’m funnier on paper, or screen, in my case as I HATE writing with a passion. Maybe if I’d have been able to make people laugh at school, I wouldn’t have been bullied so much? As it was, I did make them laugh. The problem is that they were laughing at me, instead of with me.

Research shows that children laugh about 300 times a day whereas adults only laugh around 15 times a day.

I have laughed three times today. THREE!

This needs addressing, no?

Humour is medicine.

Write that down and stick it on your fridge door or laptop.

The sciencey bit..

Physical Benefits of Laughter

  • Improves brain and heart function
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Boosts immune system
  • We create disease – fighting antibodies
  • Increases oxygen levels in the blood
  • We heal faster

The way I see it, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting this to the test. So instead of putting on a film that makes you sad or on edge – put on a comedy.

Buy yourself a funky notepad (with unicorns on it, if that’s your bag) and rate how you feel, before and after the film.

Think of laughter as therapy. No, I don’t mean the kind of therapy where you sit in a circle and laugh like sodding hyenas for no reason at all. I mean funny books, films and TV.

I’ll give you three examples of what tickles my funny bone..

The 86 Fix by Keith A Pearson

It’s hard to believe this is Keith’s debut but it is and it’s hilarious. If you’re a certain age – you’ll need a change of pants or Tena pad.

It’s basically about mid-life, time travel and the 1980s. That ticks three of my boxes. It was most probably written with male readers in mind but I generally find male humour funnier than female so it works for me.

When it comes to films, Blazing Saddles is up there with the VERY best. There is a little high-pitched fart part way through and I usually lose it at that point. If you can watch this scene and not laugh, you’re dead to me.

Last of all we come to TV..

Dinnerladies is one of my all time favourite comedy programmes. Victoria Wood was a comedy genius. She was an observer of northern life and could take the mundane and make it knicker-wettingly funny. Victoria took her ‘flaws’ and made them funny. Her death was such a huge loss to the world of comedy but it’s the likes of her that inspire me to put a humorous spin on my own life.

This scene NEVER fails to make me laugh.

My examples may not be your cup of tea. The point is that there is something out there to suit everybody’s taste. So get looking and get laughing ha ha ha?

“Do you do sugar free muesli?”
“No. This is a canteen, not a ground sheet at Glastonbury.” ~ Dinnerladies

 

 

 

Panic Disorder: When The Fire Isn’t Out

 

Panic disorder is like a fire.

At worst – a raging inferno.

Your body becomes sensitised and responds to everything as if it’s a threat and each fearful response releases more stress hormones into your body. It’s like throwing petrol onto a fire that’s already out of control..

So, you work your backside off to get better and in time those do flames die down. The panic attacks reduce and are less severe or they stop altogether. You’re no longer in fight or flight mode 24/7. You sleep better. You feel better. You think you’ve recovered.

So, you stop doing the things that helped you to feel better..

This is where you make a big mistake because those embers are still burning away..

The fire isn’t completely out.

The way it works is this: Your body has been sensitised for a long time and even though you feel better, you still have a higher than normal level of stress hormones knocking around in your body. These are the burning embers, if you like. Meaning that it doesn’t take much for the fire to be rekindled. Then a few months down the line you wake up at 4am with your heart thumping in your chest. You feel sick and dizzy and the full weight of despair punches you in the face.

There’s Fear, suitcase in hand, with a big smile on it’s fugly face.

HEY HEY HEY!! I’M BAAAAACK! DID YOU MISS ME?

Fear doesn’t wait for an answer. It’s already pushed it’s way past you and before you know it the little shit’s sitting with it’s size 10 feet up on your imaginary sofa.

WTF?! How did this happen?!

Here’s how..

You went back to your old habits and for a while your body tolerated it because you were less sensitised, but when you have been nervously exhausted it really doesn’t take a lot for things to get out of control again. The good news is that there are signs that let us know us that our stress levels are increasing.

  1. Increase (or return) of addictive behaviours
  2. Increase in obsessive compulsive behaviours.
  3. Rumination
  4. Tensed muscles
  5. Inability to complete tasks.
  6. Seeking reassurance.
  7. Completely losing your shit over trivial stuff.
  8. Living in the past or the future, never in the present.
  9. Avoidance behaviour.
  10. Insomnia.

These are all signs that anxiety is flaring up. Those embers are now flames but it doesn’t have to escalate into a full-on inferno. Recognising these warning signs gives us the chance to address our stress levels BEFORE things get out of hand.

The Fab Five.

Five important steps that will put you back on the road to recovery.

  1. Diet
  2. Relaxation exercises
  3. Thoughts
  4. Sleep Hygiene
  5. Acceptance

Diet

Have you lapsed back into poor eating habits by eating crap? By crap, I mean sugar-laden or fatty foods? or caffeine? The foods that made you feel shite when you were poorly?

A reminder.

Eating such foods releases CORTISOL into the body. Cortisol is a STRESS HORMONE.

If you want to get your cortisol levels down – you have to watch what you eat and drink. Boring, I know, but it depends on how much you want to kick this anxiety shit out of your life?

Relaxation

When was the last time you did some relaxation or meditation? Chances are you’ve gone from doing it religiously every day to when you can be arsed or never at all. It’s good practice to do some kind of relaxation EVERY DAY, even when when you feel better because it helps to keep the stress hormones down. Mindfulness lowers cortisol levels. FACT.

Thoughts

Be aware of your thoughts. Are your thoughts in the past or in the future? They should be mostly in the present. Thoughts about the past can produce pain if your dwelling on painful events whereas thoughts about the future can produce fear because the future is unknown. Fleeting thoughts about either are fine, necessary even in order to make plans. The problem is when you are living in the past or the future (or both) instead of the present.

Sleep Hygiene

How are you sleeping? If it’s poorly. What are you doing differently? Are you on social media before bedtime? Or watching stimulating TV? If so, remove all the electronics and read a book. A really boring book and aim to be asleep by 10pm.

Are you ingesting caffeine (inc chocolate) after 3pm? If so, stop. Caffeine is a stimulant. All you are doing is ramping up the stress hormones.

Are you lying there thinking about problems? If so, try mentally put those worries into imaginary balloons (or whatever you like) and watch them float away. You can address them the next day when you can actually do something about them. You can’t do much in your rollers and nightie, can you?!

Acceptance

Acceptance is the most important of them all.

You must accept every bewildering symptom.

You must accept every bewildering thought.

You must accept that you will have crap days.

You must accept that you will have some monumentally crap days.

You must accept that the road to recovery isn’t short.

You must accept that you need to keep doing the things that made you feel better EVEN WHEN YOU FEEL BETTER.

It’s called MAINTENANCE.

As long as you fight against your anxiety, you will never beat it and I do mean, NEVER. Those embers will keep on glowing with the potential to flame up at the slightest bit of stress.

Fear is the firestarter – the twisted firestarter. Deprive fire of oxygen and it will be extinguished. Deprive Fear of stress hormones and it becomes powerless. Make no mistake, Fear will try to knock on your door again and again but each time you will become more adept at seeing him coming..

The day you no longer react WITH FEAR to Fear, is the day you’ve well and truly beaten that nasty little shit and with time (and effort) you will put that fire out completely.

 

 

Changing Your Diet Could Help With Anxiety

In England about 4.7 in 100 people suffer from anxiety, 2.6 from depression and 9.7 from depression combined with anxiety. That’s shit loads of people. Overall, 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem this year and I am a one in four because I suffer from generalised anxiety disorder.

What you may not realise is that diet can make symptoms worse..

Anxiety isn’t necessarily caused by our diet but it can definitely make the symptoms worse. When it comes to anxiety eating healthily really does make a difference.

Before I got carted off to A&E with my epic (I’M DYING) panic attack, I’d noticed that I was getting palpitations after eating my daily Kit-Kat (four-fingers) and a pint of real ale would have me waking up at 2am with a 10/10 scale panic attack. The night I was taken to hospital, I’d downed a take-away and a pint of 7% beer. Not excessive by any means but a) I’m a lightweight and b) I was on the brink of nervous exhaustion due to the amount of adrenalin that had been surging through my body over the previous two years. There is NO doubt that it triggered the panic attack.

It makes sense to avoid foods which could be making your anxiety worse.

Such as:

Alcohol

Relaxes you initially but you wake up at 3am with a gob like a flip-flop because you are dehydrated. Dehydration can trigger a panic attack. Alcohol also mucks about with the serotonin levels in your brain which makes things worse once the alcohol has worn off.

Caffeine

It’s a stimulant so it makes your heart beat faster and can give you palpitations. It’s a known anxiety stimulant. Remember Tweak in South Park? One cup a day preferably in the morning is OK for most people but anything more than that is a panic attack waiting to happen. I’m an all or nothing type of girl so I’ve given it up completely and I have to say that some of the decafs on the market aren’t too bad at all!

Fried Foods

I noticed that I felt iffy after trawling my way through a full English and now I understand it’s because the digestive system has to work it’s arse off to digest it all. OOPS!

Sugar

AVOID! AVOID! AVOID!

Naturally occurring sugars are fine but the nasty white refined stuff will have you hyperventilating into a paper bag before you can say ‘One lump or two?’

Dairy Products

Dairy isn’t bad in the grand scheme of things but when it comes to anxiety it can raise your adrenalin levels so if you’re already ‘buzzed off your baps’ it’s not rocket science to understand how eating a lot of dairy can contribute to your anxious state. I’ve ditched the cheese but can recommend the vegan cheese-less cheese slices which are relatively palatable with some imagination.

Acid Forming Foods

Acid forming foods play havoc with your magnesium levels. Many people are deficient in this mineral due to food processing. Low magnesium levels can also contribute to anxiety and many people say that taking a magnesium supplement greatly improves their symptoms. Some even say that it makes them disappear completely but low magnesium levels can cause the same symptoms anxiety.

That’s the depressing part but it’s worth looking at what you are ingesting to feel less anxious. As Del Boy says, ‘You know it makes sense, Rodney!’

So what can you eat and drink to make you feel a bit calmer?

Herbal Teas

Chamomile, Lemon Balm and Valerian are all calming drinks. Be careful with Green Tea though.. It has numerous health benefits but it’s also a stimulant, so make sure you drink it decaffeinated.

Fresh Fruit

Fruit will give you the energy you need without the buzz that sugar gives you. Bananas are also a good source of magnesium.

Vegetables

They make you fart but farting ‘trumps’ a panic attack any-day of the week. See what I did there?

Tryptophan

Foods such as poultry, oats, dates, fish, peanuts, sunflower seeds, soy and chickpeas are rich in Tryptophan which is known to reduce anxiety.

Water

Most of us are dehydrated and dehydration nearly always leads to anxiety symptoms so increasing how much you drink will improve things. I’ve found that knocking back a glass of Lancashire tap settles my palpitations down a treat.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Evidence suggests that Omega 3 is important for anxiety so Flaxseed oil, fish like salmon and tuna are good for you. Your house will stink like Grimsby Docks but your body will adore you for it. I also take a supplement and as well as the improvement in my anxiety, I’ve noticed that my brain doesn’t feel as ‘foggy’.

Supplements

Magnesium

Magnesium is a calming mineral. It supports the nervous system and helps to prevent anxiety. In my opinion it definitely helps so I take a daily supplement to make sure I’m getting enough.

B Vitamins

B12 is the most common, but all B vitamins may have an effect on anxiety. B-vitamins play a strong role in the nervous system, so studies indicate that supplementing B vitamins could also improve anxiety outlook.

A word of caution about B Vitamins

I was taking a B vitamin complex until I realised that it was increasing my anxiety and I learned that Vitamin B6 is used in most energy supplements because it can increase the production of various energizing neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. It’s better to take it in the morning and with food.

The general function of norepinephrine is to mobilize the brain and body for action

When you are in a state of anxiety, your body is permanently ready for action so pumping more of this stuff into your body is going to increase anxiety levels. However, everybody is different in how things affect their body so the best idea is to see how it affects you and adjust the strength accordingly or leave them off altogether until you’re body isn’t constantly flooded with adrenalin and cortisol.

Cutting out the crap and eating more healthily will not cure your anxiety but I can assure you that it will improve how you feel. Alcohol, caffeine, sugar etc are all known to worsen anxiety and trigger panic attacks so removing those from your diet means less triggers to deal with. Less triggers means less adrenalin and cortisol. Try it. You may feel worse to begin with as withdrawal from any addictive substance makes you feel like you’re coming off crack (not that I know) but after a while you should notice an improvement. You will also notice that your skin is clearer and you don’t have ‘brain fog’.

I know how comforting food can be. My heart has soared many a time over the glorious sight of a Yorkie bar hiding at the back of the cupboard but I’ve also learned that those few minutes eating sugar-laden goodies isn’t worth the ambulance ride at 5am in the morning. If you want to get better, I strongly suggest you cut out the stimulants. This is not to say that you can never enjoy these things again. Once your body recovers and is no longer releasing stress hormones 24/7, you will be able to snaffle the odd doughnut and cappuccino again without it being a problem.

Until then, do the right thing by your bod, eh?