Dear Anxiety..

Dear Anxiety,

Thanks for keeping me alive for 47 and 3/4 years. You’ve prevented me from doing idiotic things that could bring about my premature demise: such as overtaking on blind bends or not looking before I cross the road.

Haven’t always been so helpful though, have you?

Remember when I was a child and I worried about monsters coming to kill me in my sleep? My little heart would race and I’d feel sick. Sometimes I would be sick. Obviously, this thrilled my parents no end as cleaning vomit-spattered carpet is just what you want after a bottle (or two) of Blue Nun and a homemade curry on a Saturday night. But, fair dos, you’ve saved me from harm on numerous occasions..

Like when my dad failed to pick up from primary school and I decided to walk home myself. Only, I wasn’t allowed to walk home alone because there were two major roads to cross. One by the school and one outside my house. The latter being exceptionally busy. Lorries ploughed into garden walls (ours for one) and animals frequently got run over. That kind of busy. Unfortunately, one of the teachers saw fit to usher me out of the safety of the playground so I had no choice but to start walking towards home. I managed to cross the first road because there was a zebra crossing which I’d crossed a thousand times and I knew that cars would stop for me. Then I got to the busy road and I stood on the pavement for what seemed like hours, worrying over what to do. I could see into our living room window and hoped that my mum would happen to see me, but no such luck.

‘Go on! Just run across!

What if I get hit?

‘You’ve never crossed this road on your own before. There is no safe crossing here, you must ask for help’.

I went into the local shop and blurted out that I needed help crossing the road to the woman behind the counter, who was slicing some ham at the time. It stunk, but panic overrode my sensory issues. Without you, I would have chanced it and the consequences of that would have been deadly on two counts. One, I could have been flattened under a bus. Or lorry. Two, my mother would have killed my my dad, then buried him under the front lawn for not picking me up. Harsh, but she was well into her peri-menopausal stage by then and was prone to occasional flashes of insanity. I guess you could say you saved two lives that day?

The teacher got one hell of a rollocking from my irate mother who demanded to know what the ‘sodding hell’ he was doing letting an 8 year old child walk home alone when I told him I wasn’t allowed to. At least, I think I did? I definitely thought the words, but whether they translated from brain to mouth, is up for debate.

You did your job. You kept me safe. For that, you have my gratitude and respect. However, somewhere along the line you’ve overstepped the mark. You’ve completely taken over and I’m asking, no, I’m TELLING you to stop. You are with me 24/7, whether I’m in danger or not. It’s been this way for over six years now and with the greatest of respect, you really need to fark off now.

There is no danger in watching Mary Berry bake a cake, so why act as if there is? What’s she going to do? Come at me from inside the TV screen with a rolling pin and beat me to death? Or when a car door is shut three streets down, is it really necessary to respond with a full-on panic attack?

Why are your turning minor health issues, like headaches, into life-threatening diseases?

Your job is to keep me safe, but now I am scared of you. I am scared of how you make me feel, because you make me feel like I am going to die – especially in my dreams – which make The Texas Chainsaw Massacre look like The Muppets Take Manhattan.

I’m sick of feeling my heart race, for no apparent reason.

I’m sick of feeling sick!

Palpitations. Skipped heart beats. Clammy. Shivering. Shaking. Nausea. Tummy ache. Cold head. Tingles (and not nice ones). Tight chest. And a hundred and one other unpleasant symptoms that rage through my body at any given time.

Last, but definitely not least, that horrible feeling of foreboding just before all the shit kicks off. LIKE THE WORLD IS GOING TO END. Or my heart is going to stop and I cease to exist.

I’m a bit pissed off with it all now. Actually, I’m MEGA pissed off. So, I am taking back control of you because I want my life back. I still want you around, not that I really have any choice seeing as you are a primeval part of me (I’d quite like to stay alive), but you will work for me, not against me. Capiche?

I am getting all Godfathery on ‘yo big ol’ ass’ because you need to be put back in your place. Pegs, taking down and all that. My theory is that you took advantage of a hormone imbalance. You saw my oestrogen walking off into the sunset and thought to yourself. ‘I’m in here. This emotional idiot has no ‘balmy’ army to keep me in my place anymore. Lets cause some shit!’

Am I right?

Those rare moments when I feel relatively ‘normal’* are enough to trigger panic attacks because feeling ‘well’ is such an alien feeling to me now. Bizarre plot twist: It’s actually better for me to feel shit because it’s constant and familiar. *throws hands up in the air*

You’re like the boggart in Harry Potter – a shapeshifter feeding on my fears. So how about I use the Riddikulus spell on you? Because if I imagine you wearing a fluorescent green mankini and Compo wellies, you will look pretty damn ridiculous. I will laugh and you will shrink faster than a cheap burger on a barbie and ,eventually, you will return to your rightful place. Which, for your info, is in my BRAIN, not my entire being.

So, you are no longer anxiety. You are boggart or ‘bog’ for short because that word makes me laugh. Like when Mrs Trunchbull calls Bruce Bogtrotter ‘Bog’ in Matilda. Always makes me laugh. Just typing it makes me smile. See?

When you can behave yourself, you can have your title back again.

Regards, your human.

*Normal for me is when I don’t have something crappy going on in my body. Last noted phase of normality was 2008.

It all begins and ends in your mind. What you give power to has power over you, if you allow it.

Creative Commons Image Via Pixabay

 

 

 

The Menopause and Bad Dreams

Before the menopause, I’d go to sleep at night and wake up 8 or 9 hours later feeling refreshed and ready for another day’s crap. I’ve slept through storms and earthquakes and that’s despite being over-sensitive to noise in the daytime. It was one of my better points that I could lose myself in my sleep. Nowadays, a cat farting in the next street wakes me, and that’s despite being deaf in one ear.

I’ve always had vivid dreams, but they’ve often been pleasant ones. The kind of dreams where you don’t want to wake up, like the one with Nick Cage, myself and a jacuzzi. However, once I entered into the peri-menopause, my dreams started to get weird, bordering on nightmares. So now I’m convinced that Quentin Tarantino writes my dream scripts because they are so f**ked up. Dreams of headless horses and eight-legged frogs hanging out of my bottom? And those are not the worst ones. Even Freud would shit himself. Trust me.

I naively thought my sleep would go back to how it was once I was post-meno, but that’s not how this thing works because Mother Nature is a COW. So, like any self-respecting autie, I got researching and after a few hours trawling the internet, I found out that bad dreams are a problem for many menopausal women and if I had to take a wild guess at why it happens, I’d say that it’s partly to do with the lack of oestrogen.

To explain it, we need to go back to the scurge of womanhood.

PERIODS!

Oestrogen levels plunge at week four of the monthly cycle and the lower it goes, the more you want to stab people and eat your own weight in chocolate. You get your period and you’re a grumpy bastard for a few days, (especially if you have painful periods). In that case, you live on painkillers and walk around with a hot water bottle permanently strapped to your pelvis area. Once the levels start to rise your sanity is restored and your family can breathe easy again because the beast is back in it’s cage, albeit temporarily.

So, you get the picture that oestrogen is the calming hormone, right?

Well, there is a natural decline in oestrogen during the menopause and once it’s gone, it’s gone, unless it’s replaced with HRT, and even then it’s only a temporary measure.

I remember that my dreams used to turn nasty when I was on my period, so maybe it’s not so surprising that nearly all my dreams are bad now I’m menopausal?

So, what to do about it?

I’ve been back and forth to the doctors desperately trying to find answers for my sleep problems. Gotta be honest here, they don’t have a clue and if I hear the word, ‘anxiety dear’ one more time, I will strangle the offender with their stethoscope.

HRT is no longer an option for me, and even if it was, once I stopped taking it I would go back to having shit dreams. So, I might as well get my head around the fact that bad dreams are my new ‘normal’ and work on what I expose my brain to throughout the day, because, believe me, it’s relative.

So, what can we do to improve our sleep?

Positivity

Negative thoughts find their way into our dreams, especially when ‘good cop’ oestrogen is no longer there to beat the shit out of them them with her truncheon. REM is the part of sleep where we process our emotions, so it stands to reason that negative thoughts throughout the day will manifest as nightmares, yes?

The answer is simple: Be mindful of your thoughts.

The World

The world can be a scary place. The news highlights high mega-shit humans can be and exposing ourselves to these horrors can be detrimental – as can watching disturbing movies and TV. For instance, I like my psychological thrillers, but I can guarantee a crap night’s sleep if I watch them before bed. I try to remind myself to do some light reading or watch a life-affirming movie or comedy. That said, I had the ‘frog up the arse’ dream after watching Victoria Wood – a comedian. I managed to decipher the dream (ish) and remembered her talking about some bloke in the same hospital as her who had ‘accidentally’ sat on top of his Dyson hoover attachment. As you do. So, that explains the arse bit. However, I still can’t explain the frog. Or why it had eight legs. Where is Freud when you need him, eh?

Calcium and Magnesium

Some women swear by taking calcium and magnesium supplements before bed. I’m doing this, but as I have only been taking them for a few days, there’s no improvement as yet. I would recommend taking citrate versions of these supplements as carbonate can be constipating. However, if you have diarrhea based IBS, carbonate might help to dry you up a bit AND help you to sleep. Win and win!

A Sodding Great Big Glass of Gin?

Alas, no.

Alcohol might propel you off into sleepyland quickly enough, but you will have weird dreams and wake up in the early hours with a dry mouth or needing a big wee. Sorry, but no alcohol before bed if you want to improve your dreams and sleep in general.

Eating Late

Eating big meals late at night can cause sleep disturbance and vivid dreams. This is because your digestive system requires a lot of energy to digest food. Your heart-rate will rise for a start. Light snacks (non-sugary) won’t affect you as much. In some cases, it will help to balance blood sugar levels because being hungry also interferes with sleep.

Sleeping Pills

As they are designed for short term use, I don’t recommend them because this isn’t a short-term problem. Sleeping pills are addictive and you might find you can’t sleep without them. If so, you are most likely addicted and that’s not great.

Our bodies play a part in bad dreams, especially with anxiety cases like me. I think our brains respond to stress hormone surges as we sleep. I have noticed that I typically wake up between 4.30 and 5.30. The dreams I have just before I wake (with my heart hammering) start off being fairly boring, but they always take a sinister turn. Just before my eyes fly open, in strolls Tarantino, and my dream turns into Reservoir Dogs. For example, this morning I was screaming in my dream. I was in imminent danger of being harmed by something unseen, but sinister, when I woke up with my heart pounding. Our heart rates naturally speed up during REM (when we dream) and my sensitised brain associates the increase in heart rate as danger and wakes me up. Clever, but annoying as fuck.

If this is you, my advice would be to get up once you wake up. No matter how early that is. It’s tempting to try and go straight back to sleep, but here’s the thing: Adrenalin is surging through your body and even if you manage to fall back to sleep, you will continue to have vivid dreams. It becomes a cycle. Get up, move about a bit and burn some of that adrenalin off!

We worry because it’s our hearts. Surely, all this waking up with rapid heart beats will cause us harm? The reality is that our hearts are designed to withstand adrenaline surges because this natural response keeps us alive. It’s unpleasant, but not dangerous. A few deep breaths and my heart rate is back to normal because I don’t add fear to the mix anymore, so I rarely have full-blown panic attacks. However, if these kind of symptoms are new for you, and are accompanied by chest pain and breathlessness, you should seek medical help.

There are many reasons why we have bad dreams. In being mindful of what we ingest, via our bodies AND minds, we can improve the situation. But I also think we just have to accept that some nights we are going to have crap dreams. So, lets not worry about it too much because that in itself will earn us a bad night’s sleep.

“Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.” Stephen King

 

 

 

Preparing My Autistic Child For Life Without Me

 

I lie awake at nights worrying about many things. Things such as money. Have I put the bins out? Some cow who wronged me in 1985. You know? Life. Plus, a few thoughts that I’m not willing to publicize. *coughs*.

One of my fears is a really BIG one.

It’s the fear that one day I will have to leave my autistic son.

Leave, as in die.

I worry about being dead because I know that I will no longer be able to look out for my son and that puts the shits up me worse than anything in this entire world!

The thing is: I’m middle-aged (*weeps*) and my body is starting to let me down, so, naturally I’m becoming aware of my own mortality. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if I didn’t have a young son who is dependent on me.

Well, it’s your fault for having him late then!

WHOA THERE! I was 38 when I had my son and lots of women give birth well into their 40s nowadays. Plus, I was relatively fit and healthy. Quite simply. I gave birth and my ovaries threw in the towel and it’s pretty much been downhill ever since..

I have two other wonderful sons, but they are grown up and living their lives. I worry about them, of course I do. Most mothers never stop worrying about their children, right? However, they are independent and stopped needing me a long time ago. My job is done. They can change my big girl nappies when I start soiling myself, right boys?

The Boy is different because he’s autistic and here’s where the problem lies – not because he is autistic – but because I am also autistic and I know how hard it is to live in a world that doesn’t understand you.. While I am alive (and compos mentos mentis) I’m here to fight his corner and I have already had a one person cautioned by the police for intimidating my son.

“There’s no bitch on earth like a mother frightened for her kids.”~ Stephen King

If that makes me a bitch? Fine.

I am preparing The Boy for independence. Just how independent his life will be is unclear as he’s still only eight years old, but I know I must push him and put him into situations that will push his boundaries. If I don’t, his world will be very small. The difference is that, being autistic, I know when to push and when to ‘ease off the gas’, as it were.

I also know when to change things that are no longer working..

One such thing is mainstream education. This last year, it’s become a struggle for The Boy, despite full one to one support and the best efforts of all involved. The problem is with the mainstream system, not the school itself. So he is being transferred from mainstream to a specialist school where he will be with other autistic children. Alongside the usual curriculum, he will be taught essential life skills in a controlled and safe environment. In mainstream this wouldn’t happen as the emphasis is on education, not life skills.

The school has 70 pupils ranging from 8 to 18 with class sizes no bigger than 6. In comparison to his mainstream class of over 30 children! So, this should help to lower his anxiety. It’s a fantastic opportunity for him and one which, thankfully, we didn’t have to fight for as it was the only viable option for him. If he was to remain in mainstream, he would have most certainly failed like I did and I can’t allow that to happen. What kind of parent would I be if I did? Nor could I rule out mainstream from the onset. My experience in mainstream was mega shit, but I didn’t want it to cloud my judgment regarding him. The difference is that The Boy has been happy whereas I wasn’t happy. Ever.

As positive as this is, it’s going to be a big change for all of us.

I will no longer walk him to school. He will use the transport provided by the school. Independence wise, It’s a massive step. If he were to remain in mainstream, there’s no way I could allow him to walk to school alone as some of the older children do because he’s too lost in his inner world to be aware of the dangers around him. He’d also copy the knobends who walk across school crossings when the red man is showing. What kind of example to kids is that?!

I want my son to live a full and happy life. I love him, so I have to start letting him go because the job of a loving mother is to let her children go. Even children with severe learning difficulties need a level of independence from their parents – even if it’s just for a few hours a day.

It would be easy to protect The Boy from the world and wrap him in cotton wool, but I would be failing him as his mother. Being too afraid to leave his own four walls because he’s stricken with anxiety or depression is no life at all and I speak from experience here. I grew up undiagnosed with no support and I’ve struggled EVERY step of the way.

I know I won’t be around for ever, so I must prepare him for that eventuality.

The Boy is limited by his diagnosis, but it was vital in order for him to access the support he needs. However, as things stand today he would be refused jobs simply because he’s autistic. Hopefully attitudes will have changed and companies will understand the value of autistic employees in the workplace by the time he is ready to enter the world of employment.

So, in a few weeks The Boy will start a new chapter in his life. I will stand outside our house as he gets onto the school bus and I will wave him off with faked enthusiasm – not because I don’t care, but because I care too much. I will have to call on ALL my acting skills to suppress my overwhelming emotions. As soon as the bus is out of sight I will probably go inside and drop-kick a cushion to the floor. Then I will collapse on it in a flood of tears..

My boy won’t be five minutes around the corner anymore. I won’t be able to walk past the school and wonder what he’s doing. It freaks me out just writing about it. I know I will struggle in those first few months. I will worry how he’s doing? If he’s happy? If I’ve done the right thing? Then I will remind myself that I am a mother. This is my job. His brothers are living their lives and I owe it to The Boy to give him the tools to be as independent and happy as they are.

The Boy is more than my son. He is a human being in his own right and a beautiful one at that. He shines as special children do. I want him to understand the positives of living inside the rainbow, because autism isn’t the tragedy that people imagine it to be. The tragedy is in the ignorance of people who don’t understand autism.

So, on with the journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autism: The Pretender

I’ve always known I am different, but for most of my life I haven’t known why.

I’ve had to suppress the real me and try to be like everyone else in order to try and fit in.

Masking. Mimicking. Copying. Pretending. Camouflaging. Whatever you call it – it all amounts to the same thing: Survival.

The cost of trying to fit in is high as many autistic people succumb to physical and mental exhaustion at some point in their lives. Like me. I burned out at 46 years of age.

The moment we leave the security of our homes we become somebody else in order to survive.

We are performers.

So much for autistic people not being able to act, eh?

As well as mimicking my peers, I took inspiration from characters in books and TV. Sometimes it was hard to know where the characters ended and I began. I remember asking my mirror reflection, ‘Who are you?’

Forty years later, I was diagnosed autistic.

Finally. I knew who I was.

Make-up has always been a tool in my ‘how to survive life’ box. Like clowns who hide their true identity behind over-sized clothes and painted on smiles, I tried to hide my ‘weirdness’ behind eye-liner and a layer of foundation thick enough to plaster walls. I’d seen how make-up changed my mother’s face so I experimented on my own and suddenly I didn’t look like me anymore, and if I didn’t look like me, then surely it would be easier to pass off being like all the other girls and, just maybe, they’d like me?

Er, no.

I wore eye-liner at first, but Dad went paternal on me and made me sponge it off. He didn’t understand my reasons for wearing it. How could he? He was a ‘man’s man’ and he just wanted me to stay a little girl as long as possible. It’s understandable, I guess.

Girls my age were wearing make-up – the difference with me was that make-up put a barrier between me and them – at the same time allowing me to blend in a little better. It was psychological because in reality I was still different. I just looked more feminine..

“My dad used to say makeup was a shallow girl’s sport, but it’s not. It’s armor.”~ Courtney Summers – All The Rage

For me, make-up wasn’t about beauty or fashion. It was about protection. Just as a riot cop would never go into an affray without their helmet on, I would never go out without my ‘mask’ on because I would feel vulnerable and exposed.

It was about pretence.

“Costumes and makeup play an important role in the drama, character creation.”

I have reinvented myself more times than Madonna, only with less success. And money.

Is it any wonder I burned out?

Since my diagnosis there have been changes. I feel different. Lighter. Less tolerant of people’s crap. I’ve found that the word, ‘no’ comes a lot easier these days.

I’m a long way from being make-up free as some habits are hard to break. Plus, I look bloody horrifying without it, but the mask is slowly falling and hopefully one day I will wear make-up simply because I want to – not because I need to.

So, what’s changed?

I accept myself for who I am. Also, I’m knackered from decades of trying to hide who I am in order to fit in and for what?

I GOT BULLIED ANYWAY.

Bullied. Ostracized . Whatever. It’s basically human beings exploiting vulnerability instead of offering protection and support.

I’d hazard a guess that most autistic people have encountered bullies at some point in their lives?

Bullies are cowards. Bullies are not stupid enough to abuse people bigger or stronger than themselves. They dominate those who are different in order to boost their own self-esteem and there lies the problem: Bullies actually have low self-esteem.

While I am new to knowing I’m autistic – I have always been autistic and I’ve been feeling resentful towards the people who have let me down over my life. However, resentment will only harm me, not them. That said, I feel more in control of my life than I have ever been. This is why the mask is starting to fall because I no longer need to hide. For what’s left of my life, I will embrace being autistic because it’s who I am. Some people say their autism will never define them but I don’t feel that way. If I wasn’t autistic, I wouldn’t be me.

Being autistic explains everything. Every moment of my life. People think I struggle because I’m autistic, but that’s not true. I struggle with an overwhelming (and confusing) world and I struggle with people.

People are a major problem.

I’ve floundered about from one self-help book to another trying to ‘find’ myself and only when I had my third child did I finally get my answer because he was diagnosed autistic. I have so much to thank him for because without him I would still be struggling with my identity. I’m not sorry that I’ve passed my autistic genes onto him because he’s the happiest little boy I know. He does NOT suffer. He’s NOT a burden. He requires NO CURE. However, I’m am sorry that the world still has a long way to go when it comes to understanding him.

Not so long ago, the school asked him to name things he liked about himself and do you know what my beautiful autistic son said?

“I LIKE BEING ME.”

Will I ever be able to say that about myself?

Lets just say that I’m working on it. Yesterday, I left off the eye-liner AND eye-shadow and I went out into the world. Maybe to most women, that isn’t a big deal, but to me it’s HUMONGOUS because it means that the mask is slowly coming off.

I’m also growing my hair-dye out. This is a challenging process as I need things to be visually ‘right’ and the mad badger look isn’t exactly flattering. However, I choose to think of it as a transformation from my old (and confused self) to who I am now and with each inch of silver hair, I can see the real me emerging. Like a butterfly, no?

Sounds wanky, but it stops me from reaching for the box of hair dye that’s in the cupboard..

For most of my life, I have been a pretender – always trying to be someone else because I thought that I wasn’t good enough.

I AM good enough.

I always have been.

Wanting to be someone else is a waste of who you are ~ Kurt Cobain

Image Via Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a Hypochondriac

Charles Darwin, Andy Warhol, Florence Nightingale all have something in common..

Ooh. What’s that? Intelligence? Creativity? Empathy? Fabulousness?

Well, all of those, but what I’m talking about is hypochondria.

A hypochondriac is someone who lives in fear of having a serious illness. This could even be despite medical tests never finding anything wrong. They may also have somatic symptom disorder known as illness anxiety disorder, health anxiety, or hypochondriasis.

I’ve written about my struggle with health anxiety before and I’m not ashamed to do so. The way I see it is this: The more we get mental illness out in the open, the more people can be helped, yes?

So if you’ve ever listed your aches and pains down in a diary or journal – you could be a hypochondriac.

Darwin, for instance, kept records of his own flatulence.

I like to think it read something like this..

Monday: Long. Rasping. Smells like something crawled into my colon and died.

Wednesday: Guffed. Put myself into a coma.

Saturday:  Woke up from coma & farted a 9.8 on the rectum scale.

Sunday: Attempted ‘danger fart’. Followed through. Mrs Darwin – NOT happy!

Darwin’s fart diary? That’s nowt. I kept records of my bowel movements. Yup, I lined the toilet with bog roll in order to inspect the contents of my own poo!

Then I wrote about my findings in my journal. *blush*

Note: A courtesy glance into the pan as you wipe your botty is NOT hypochondria. It’s normal. Advisable even. If there’s blood in your poo it could be an early sign of bowel cancer and early detection could save your life. We’ve all seen the Be Clear On Cancer ads, right?

Avoidance is probably worse than obsession because people ignore symptoms altogether, which was Andy Warhol’s story..

Warhol was a genius in his field, but he pathologically feared growing old and getting ill. He refused to go anywhere near hospitals and so he ignored a recurring gallbladder problem until the pain was bad enough to hospitalise him. Problem was, he’d left it too late.

Avoidance is a killer.

There is a midway between avoidance and obsession.

AWARENESS.

It’s normal to be aware of new symptoms and to seek help if problems persist, but I was doing went waaaaay beyond the realms of normality.

I compared my poo to the Bristol Shit Scale and one thing I learned from playing Miss Marple with my own crap is that EVERYTHING you ingest affects what comes out of your bottom. Even supplements!

P.S Calcium supplements can make your poo pale.

P.P.S They can also constipate you.

Pale bowel movements and hypochondria? What could possibly go wrong?!

DID YOU KNOW? Sweetcorn comes out appearing to have been undigested. Apparently it’s something to do with humans not being able to break down the cellulose husk? However, it is a good way of finding out how long the journey takes from food going in your mouth to it coming out the other end. In my case, sometimes the sweetcorn was outta there in a matter of hours. Sometimes it was festering for days..

Stress affects your digestion system. Fact. I varied from feeling nauseous and not being able to manage anything more than a dry cracker – to feeling ravenously hungry, even after a full meal.

When it comes to your bowels, stress can play havoc with them. Believe me! Some days I was crapping it up for Britain at 3am, whereas other days my poo got stuck in transit and I was stranded on the loo for what seemed like decades. One such day being when I, er, strained a bit and convinced myself I’d prolapsed my bowel.

I was on my own in the house – stranded in the bathroom with what felt like a grapefruit hanging out of my orifice.

I tentatively prodded the ‘mass’ with my finger.

As you do..

The only plausible explanation was that I’d forced my bowels out, right?

I texted OH: MY FUCKING BOWELS HAVE FALLEN OUT!

I rang the doctors and demanded to speak to my GP. Now, normally I avoid phone calls like Justin Bieber songs, but my fear of dying with my innards hanging out of my arse-hole overrode my phone phobia.

The jobsworth receptionist gave me the ‘You’ll have to make an appointment madam’ spiel, so I screamed at her that my bowels were hanging out of my bottom.

‘Ooh! Right. In that case, the doctor will phone you back as soon as possible.’

So my GP phoned back and listened as I hyperventilated in-between the words. My. Bowels. Have. Fallen. Out. Of. My. Bottom. He asked a few questions then said, ‘You’re constipated. I’m writing out a prescription for some Lactulose. Pick up in an hour’.

Lactulose? Why the fuck wasn’t I being taken to hospital to get my bowels shoved back up into their rightful place?

‘Wait, don’t you want to have a look up my bum?’

‘Well I can if you want me too, but from what you’ve described I’m 100% certain it’s constipation. You just need some stool softener.’

My GP obviously didn’t have a clue.

So I consulted another one.

Dr Google.

I can hear the sound of palms being slapped on faeces faces from here.

IDIOT! You type in constipation and two clicks later, you’re dead!!

Yes, I know, but fear overrides common sense. Also, you don’t need to make an appointment cos Doc Google is available 24/7.

Aside the usual cancer scaremongering, I was treated to some wonderful anecdotes of bowel prolapse. Not to mention graphic photographs of something resembling afterbirth protruding from people’s bottoms. Apparently prolapsed bowels are not uncommon with weight lifters? ‘Bob from Barnsley’ volunteered the info that the last time it happened to him (after an intense barbell lifting session) he simply poked his innards back up with his finger. ‘No fuckin problem’.

Quite.

Turns out my ‘prolapse’ was hard poo.

I’ll spare you the details of how I found that out.

Er, why are you talking about shit, you manky bastard?

Because IBS affects a lot of anxious people and until they know it’s IBS, they think it’s something terminal.

I thought it was bowel cancer.

It’s easy to understand how IBS can scare the living daylights out of people and a how health anxiety can develop, but if you ever find yourself poking around in your poo – it’s probably time to get some therapy!

There’s NO shame in being a hypochondriac.

Some of the world’s best have been hypochondriacs!

It’s hard to imagine Florence Nightingale (the most famous nurse in the universe) was in fact a hypochondriac, but she spent the last 57 years of her life bedridden convinced she was dying. Flo eventually flitted off her mortal coil at the grand old age of 90. Who says that doing sod all is no good for you?!

My health anxiety co-exists with a panic disorder, as it often does. The thing with panic disorder is that you get panic attacks, which are terrifying enough when they happen in the daytime, but the majority of mine happen at night. These are known as Nocturnal Panic Attacks and leading up to my crisis point I was having at least one attack every night, cue Insomnia! A tired mind is an irrational mind and all those normal symptoms of stress became life threatening to me.

There was a period where I was either pestering my doctors, the out of hours doctors or A & E. My health was my existence – my obsession.

I was having a mental breakdown.

Writing this post (specifically the literally shit bits) I can see the funny side, but at the time it was anything but funny.

IT WAS TERRIFYING.

I guess I was destined to breakdown at some point in my life because I am one of the many autistic people who’ve had to stumble through life undiagnosed. Once diagnosed we are labelled as ‘highly functioning’ though I can assure you that it’s a misleading term as most of us struggle to exist, let alone live.

I am also hyper-aware of changes in my body. Most people are unaware of such changes, but I’m special, innit?

Being naturally anxious (and obsessive) this makes me a prime candidate for health anxiety. Also, I’ve been exposed to death earlier than most as my family started dying off before I could say “Mummy, I’m going to be sick”. By the time I was 26 I’d lost all my grandparents, a school friend, my father-in-law, an aunt, an uncle and my father – The Reaper was on overtime with my lot!

When it’s written in black and white, it’s easy to see how I came to lose the plot. However, I knew I needed help, so I got some therapy. Got cured (ish) and I no longer stare at my poo longer than is necessary, or healthy.

Will I ever be free of health anxiety? Probably not, because worrying is stamped into my DNA. If they ever autopsy my body, they will find WORRIER written through me like a stick of Blackpool Rock!

There is a massive difference between controlling health anxiety and and it controlling you..

In between Andy Warhol and shit-prodders like me is awareness. It’s acting on persistent or unusual symptoms instead of ignoring them.

My advice is to learn about the effects of stress on the body. Start with this blog if you want. I’ve written about it enough times. Just search for health anxiety. Or read some books. Whatever. Just educate yourself because knowledge will help to remove the fear.

I write about my experiences to help people. No filters. I share my crap (literally in this post) so that people will see that there is no shame, whatsoever, in being mentally ill.

The End.

 

 

 

 

 

Autism: When Awards Can Be A Negative Thing…

There was recently a thread on Twitter started by Claire Ryan who tweeted:

“When is giving a child an award at school, not an award at all?” – along with this excerpt about an autistic boy called Jack.

Jack reported being anxious recently in assembly as school were giving out awards. He would sit thinking ‘don’t pick me’. When he was picked he was very anxious and worried about which way to walk to the front of the hall with all people watching him. Jack was able to describe how this made him feel saying “my bones were dust..my brain was mush..if I could curl up into a ball and fall into a hole 50 feet deep”

A thought provoking tweet which stirred up memories of sitting in the school hall DREADING being given an award because of having to walk up to the front to receive it. You could bet your dinner money that somebody would stick their foot out on route to ramp up the humiliation factor and when you crave invisibility this is the LAST thing that you want.

My infants school had a ‘star’ system where children were awarded gold and silver stars for good work/behaviour. We also had black stars, which are sort of self-explanatory. Nobody wanted one of those. I liked the gold and silver stars because they were aesthetically pleasing. I like shiny stuff. What can I say? Maybe I was a cat in a past life. However, I did NOT like going up to the front of the class to receive one because it meant that everybody would look at me so I deliberately underachieved in my favourite subjects in order to avoid it..

For example, I purposely made myself read slower in order to avoid going to the teacher to get a new book. It seemed like I was below average but in actual fact I was an early self-taught reader who could easily read an entire book in a couple of hours at home. I was also reading books way beyond my age group but as far as the school was concerned, I was slow.

Despite my avoidance strategies, I would sometimes forget myself like when I ran a 100 meter sprint in the school sports. I didn’t realise how fast I could run and to everybody’s surprise, including my own, I won the race.

So, there I was, face down on the grass (dying) when I got an overpowering whiff of Paco Rabanne. This could only mean that my class teacher (and head of sports) was close by and sure enough he was standing over me with his mirrored sunglasses on looking like something out of Top Gun.

Actually, this anecdote story predates Top Gun but you get my drift?

He grinned at me.

Temporarily blinded by the glare off his whitened teeth, I gasped ‘Alright Sir?’

‘Well done young lady!’ *pats me on the back but I’m highly-sensitive so it feels more like a thump*

Then came the kick in the metaphorical flaps.

You’re in the athletics team and practice starts Thursday after school.

Shit. Shit. SHIT!!

Didn’t say shit, obvs.

Instead of feeling euphoric as I imagine most other children would – I felt sick to my stomach.

I didn’t want to be in the school team.

I didn’t even like sports except for watching football and Wimbledon. Plus, I did enough nervous sweating at school without having to work one up in my own time. The problem was that I couldn’t verbalise my feelings. I didn’t understand that I could have said no so I found myself turning up for athletics practice and the next thing I knew I was on a noisy coach bound for the local athletics stadium. Can you imagine how sensory that was? I was that anxious, I forgot how to hand the baton over for the relay race. That occasion was for town. Next came running for my county – by which time I was totally stressed out and visibly so. My mum asked me why I was doing it if it made me so unhappy? So I simply stopped turning up. Needless to say, Sir wasn’t pleased.

I don’t hold a grudge. How can I? He had no idea what was going on inside my body and mind as I wasn’t able to verbalise any of it. I suppose from his point of view it just looked like I was messing him about? He misunderstood me but then being misunderstood has been the story of my life.

Then there was the time when I got 98% in my history mock exam..

Teacher read out our scores. She read everyone’s name out except mine. That’s when I started to feel sick because I figured that I had either done exceptionally shit or exceptionally well.

Either way, it wasn’t good.

She read my name (and score) out and looked pleased for me. What she didn’t understand was that it reminded the class dickheads that I was there and that it had been a few minutes since they’d thrown something at my head. Needless to say, any sense of pride was obliterated by the feeling of wanting to die.

That 50ft hole that Jack described? I know it well.

I underachieved on purpose and the main reason was that achievement equaled anxiety.

The majority of replies that came from #ActuallyAutistic people (including myself) were that receiving awards causes distress and anxiety.

This isn’t to say that autistic people don’t want awards. Most people appreciate recognition when they have worked hard on something. It’s the social aspect of it that is the problem. For me, opening my book and seeing a gold star would have made me happy. It would have been enough. Having to face the entire class took the pleasure away and turned it into something very unpleasant. Just as being picked for the athletics team took away my pleasure of winning. For a child to purposely underachieve has a detrimental effect on their present and their future. No doubt Jack’s teacher meant well but despite their good intentions, the child was distressed.

It’s impossible to get things right every time but when teachers get it wrong they really need to learn from it.

The Boy likes to get rewards at school but he doesn’t like going into assembly to receive them. On a VERY good day he will go and get his award but will have to leave immediately. It’s all about gauging how anxious he is and if he is up for it or not on that particular day.

    • The thing with autism is that normal rules don’t apply.
    • Each child is different with individual needs.
    • Some autistic children are unable to verbalise their feelings.
    • An autistic child might be able do something one day but will struggle with same task the next.

To clarify. Autistic children like to feel a sense of achievement but how the recognition of that achievement is undertaken must be carefully thought out or irreparable damage could be done.

Teachers, take note.

Anxiety: All Aboard The Crazy Train

 

It’s normal to have aches and pains in middle-age. The problem with minor aches and pains when you have a fearful and sleep deprived mind is that you start to overthink them until they turn into something terminal, like cancer.

This is health anxiety.

Since my late 30s there has always been a part of my body playing me up. This week it’s neck pain and I’m having another IBS flare up. I’m constipated and there is a niggling pain in my lower bowel region. A few months back I would have Googled my symptoms, come up with bowel cancer and scared the metaphorical crap out of myself.

This is what I now call ‘climbing aboard the crazy train’.

The crazy train is the runaway thoughts train. It’s a scary ride. Scarier than ANYTHING you have ever ridden on in any theme park.

Or ever will.

It’s fulled by your catastrophic thoughts. There is no driver. There are no passengers. There is only YOU.

These are just some of my anxiety symptoms over the past six years.

  • Allergies
  • Back pain, stiffness
  • Breathing problems
  • Blanching (pale face)
  • Body Aches
  • Body Jolts
  • Body Zaps
  • Body shakes
  • Body Tremors
  • Blurred vision/sensitivity to light
  • Body Temperature (going from very hot to very cold)
  • Bloating
  • Brain zaps
  • Brain fog
  • Burning sensation on skin
  • Buzzing in hands, arms and feet.
  • Chest pain
  • Chest tightness
  • Chills
  • Constipation
  • Craving sugar
  • Crazy thoughts
  • Difficulty speaking (slow speech)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Depersonalisation
  • Difficulty thinking/concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dry mouth
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fear of dying, of losing control and going crazy
  • Feelings of unreality
  • Feeling that the tongue is swollen
  • Frequent urination
  • Hair loss
  • Headaches/migraine
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hot flashes
  • Hyperactivity
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mouth (burning tongue and clicking jaw)
  • Memory loss
  • Muscles (vibrating, tremors, weakness and wastage)
  • Nausea (retching and vomiting)
  • Neck (shoulder and neck tension and stiffness)
  • Nervous stomach
  • Night sweats
  • Numbness in fingers, feet and arms
  • Rapid/irregular heartbeat
  • Pulsing sensation
  • Sensitivity to foods and medication
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Shooting and stabbing pains
  • Skipped heart beats
  • Soreness on scalp (like bruising)
  • Twitching
  • Tinny taste in mouth
  • Tinnitus
  • Lightheaded
  • Weak limbs
  • Weight loss

To list ALL my symptoms would obliterate my word count but you will see that my anxiety symptoms have affected me literally from my head to my feet and I have multiple symptoms at any one time. In my case, being menopausal and autistic means that there are overlaps but the anxiety makes things profoundly worse. For instance, my Tinnitus isn’t an anxiety symptom per se but it is worsened by the anxiety.

The most comprehensive list of anxiety symptoms I know of is here.

The next time you say, ‘THERE’S ABSOLUTELY NO WAY THIS SYMPTOM CAN BE DUE TO ANXIETY!’

Have another read through the list!

All these symptoms and the ones listed in the above link are symptoms of stress.

Heart symptoms are classic anxiety symptoms but you should ALWAYS get them checked out if they are new for you. I underwent tests on my heart and the doctors concluded that my ticker was doing everything that it should, it was just beating faster than it should because my body constantly thinks it’s in danger.

I have generalized anxiety with health anxiety that is now in ‘remission’ cos I got myself some therapy, innit? I’m also autistic which is where the roots of my life-long anxiety problems lie. A lot of autistic people have mental health issues. Most, I’d say. This is because it’s stressful living in a world that you don’t understand and which doesn’t understand you. I also have OCD with sporadic bouts of depression. Not forgetting the good old menopause which means I am lacking in the hormones which kept me sane (ish) for 30 years – discounting one week out of every month where I went psycho and would have willingly stabbed somebody for their Mars Bar..

Over these past six years, I have been UTTERLY convinced that I have having a heart attack or that one is imminent. Or that I am riddled with cancer or some other insidious disease. Yet, ALL the tests keep coming back clear. The horrors that I have tortured myself exist only in my imagination. Whoever said that autistic people don’t have imagination? I have a fabulous imagination. Ask my GP!

Everybody is different when it comes to anxiety. My symptoms may not be your symptoms but the one thing I have learned about anxiety is that it affects your WHOLE body. Symptoms are transient. They stick around for a few days or a few months but then they go to be replaced by something else. To the exhausted mind – new symptoms equals fear.

‘THIS time, I’m really ill.’

Yes you are, but the illness is mental not physical. Dear.

A few months ago I would have been hyperventilating in my GP’s surgery at the onset of a new symptom but I have been there, done that and the t shirt is a mangled mess. Now, I calmly remind myself to acknowledge the symptom but not to Google it. If it lasts longer than two weeks, I see my GP.

It is important that I don’t CATASTROPHISE.

Yesterday it was neck-pain to the point where I needed painkillers but instead of allowing my mind to start shitting me. CANCER? OMG AM GONNA DIE kind of thing, I thought it through logically..

Last week, I’d been decorating, as in, climbing up ladders and looking up. I was working muscles that I hadn’t used in a while. Plus, I have arthritis. When you look at it rationally it’s easy to see why my neck would be giving me gyp. Simple isn’t it? IBS symptoms? I’ve been back on the beans and onions. To the exhausted mind – ANY pain – fires up the stress response. It has to be an illness, right?

Nope.

Don’t believe everything you think.

I didn’t allow my thoughts to run away with me. I took painkillers and each time the ‘what if?’ Gremlin wandered into my mind, I acknowledged it for what it was – A THOUGHT – and carried on binge watching Benidorm. Today, there is no pain and I had a decent night’s sleep because I didn’t climb aboard the crazy train.

Way to go, me.

The point of this post is to help you to understand that anxiety affects the entire body. Often there will be no explanation other than stress hormones affecting your body. I wouldn’t have thought that my scalp feeling bruised was an anxiety symptom but it is. Or a clicking jaw. The good news is that your symptoms will start to fade away as your stress levels recede. If you need the reassurance of your GP, by all means go and get your ten minutes worth.

Then ACCEPT it when they tell you it’s anxiety, especially when tests come back clear.

The crazy train will come for you.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO CLIMB ABOARD.

 

Autism: Confessions of a Skin-Picker

 

What’s Stimming?

Stimming is self-stimulatory behaviour. It is repetition of movement, sound or movement with objects.

It’s done for relief and pleasure.

Simplified: Stimming calms or stimulates.

Everybody stims, however, NTs have more socially acceptable stims and are more able to control them.

With an autistic person – stims are necessary to their mental health well being.

We stim to release tension or to stimulate ourselves.

Some people stimulate themselves to feel pain for pleasure, like my friend who liked to pull her leg hairs out one by one using tweezers.

*eyes are watering*

I didn’t know I was autistic until five years ago – so I’ve had forty plus years of generally hiding/suppressing behaviour that I now understand to be stimming..

It started with spinning where, as a small child, I would spin myself around until the butterflies danced in my stomach.  Then came infants school where there were boxes upon boxes of colourful (and tactile) objects that I liked to stroke or manipulate in my hand. Doing this soothed my anxious mind – albeit temporarily. I wasn’t interested in constructing things like the other children. Sod THAT for a game of conkers! I just wanted to sit in a corner and stroke stuff!

Speaking of conkers…

I like to touch them. (NOT a euphemism)

Then came the glue..

You’re probably reading this and thinking, ‘Glue? Oh my God, she’s a glue sniffer!’

Rest assured. I wasn’t (and have never been) a glue sniffer.

I may, however, have had a brief dalliance with Tippex in my high school days..

One of my all time loves is art and that love started in school. However, art was sensory for me. Visually? Great. Smells? Not so great.

I loved the smell of paint. Still do, but not when it’s combined with the aroma of curdled milk, cabbage and dried vomit as was the case in school. That said, I loved to create pieces of art so I forced myself myself to tolerate everything else..

The other sensory issue was that I almost pathologically HATED getting stuff on my fingers..

My mother told me that I was using a knife and fork a lot younger than my brothers were. She presumed it’s because boys are generally slower than girls? I think it’s probably because I disliked the feel of slimy food on my fingers. *shudders* This also explains why I find making pastry so unpleasant, hence, I avoid it wherever possible.

Whoever invented ‘Jus Rol’ has my unwavering adulation.

So, glue..

The first time I used glue – the stickiness made me anxious but I had communication issues so I wasn’t able to ask if I could go and wash my hands. I was starting with palpitations when THIS happened:

The glue dried and I discovered that peeling it off my fingers was quite possibly the best thing to happen to me since Enid Blyton!

I could happily lose myself in a glue-peeling session which made my school day slightly more tolerable.

Note: FFS don’t try this using Super Glue!

Glue-picking was the precursor to my most used stim – skin picking.

Yeah, a lot of my stims are gross.

When I was 21 I got chicken pox. Initially, this was crap because I was pregnant at the time. I was the size of Brazil with spots that itched like fuckery. I remember the one thing that people kept saying to me: ‘WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T PICK THE SCABS!’

That’s like telling Mary Berry to stop baking and become a binman..

OF COURSE I PICKED THEM!!

I especially loved the scabs on my head because I would pull them ever-so-slowly through my hair which was, like, orgasmically pleasurable.

I’ve always picked my spots. And other people’s. Feeling that satisfying ‘pop’ as zit matter is released at high velocity? That’s right up there on the pleasure scale for me. Welcome to the pleasure dome mateys! I literally don’t understand how a person can have a big fat juicy zit and NOT want to pop it? Weirdos.

Downside is: I have scars.

LOTS of scars.

I also pick the skin off my lips. Sometimes with my fingers – sometimes with my teeth. NOT the best of stims if you like vinegar on your chips!

Zit slaying and lip picking are stims I try and save for ‘me time’ because even I know that it’s socially unacceptable to be pecking at yourself in public like a demented pigeon. Even so – sometimes I forget myself..

My bad, motherfunglers.

Rest assured that once I’ve acknowledged my skanky behaviour, I switch to a more socially acceptable stim – like fiddling with my cube/keys/phone/pebble/whatever.

Should I mention that I’m allergic to nickle so when I wear cheap earrings, my skin weeps, then crusts over? I guess you’ll know where I’m going with this so I’ll move on..

My, not gross stims, include rocking back and forth or side to side. I take more in when I’m rocking because I am less focused on my anxiety. It’s a gentle movement but if I’m having an anxiety crisis at home, it’s full on IN YOUR FACE back and forth rocking sometimes combined with manic pacing up and down.

Then there’s my fidget cube. I say mine. I may have nicked it from The Boy because his stim of choice is to chew his nails..

I also use a spinner which I like to spin near my cheek because I like how it feels on my face. No doubt, I’ll probably end up in A & E one day with a spinner-related facial injury..

NOTE: I’m trying very hard NOT to think of the scab..

Next, is my thumb ring.

Yep, I just lurve touching my ring.

Leaaaaaaave it.

I always wear one on my thumb which I manipulate with my index finger or my left index finger and thumb. It started off as me trying to give myself an edgy look? Then I realised that manipulating it calmed me down, so I’ve worn one for years. My current one is metallic rainbow colours so I get visual and tactile pleasure. Win and win!

I also LOVE soft materials. I wear soft leggings and stroke my legs, but not in a kinky way. I love blankets too – especially fleecy ones. They comfort me and keep my extremities semi-warm as I seem to be lacking blood flow in my hands and feet. Plus, under a blanket, you can hide from the world.

Also, people trying to sell you PVC windows. Or God.

Going back to pastry, I was once informed that cold hands make better pastry? So it’s a shame that I dislike the feel of it on my fingers or I could be the pastry queen of the North by now, no?

I get that I have some gross stims. I mean, picking my skin is pretty, er, what’s that word the young un’s use? Ah yes, ‘minging’ but it gets me through the day and through life. It’s not like I sit in Costa flicking my skin into people’s skinny lattes is it?

FYI, I am picking my lips right now as I’m editing this post for the 135th time.

Finally, people may tell you that stimming is offensive or unacceptable. The problem is with them, not you. Stimming has a purpose. It is part of the armory that we need to exist in this world. For this reason (and many others) it is perfectly acceptable to tell them politely, but with conviction, to eff off.

Me? I stim to calm myself and because it feels good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autism and Socialising

I avoid socialising like the plague because I am socially challenged, phobic, whatever. However, on occasion, I’ve forced myself to be sociable in order to try and fit in, often with disastrous consequences.

This was one such occasion..

Sometime in the 1990s

I found myself agreeing to meeting up with my work colleagues for a drink.

Needless to say, NIGHTMARE!

I don’t remember how I got to the pub. What I do remember is feeling all those fight or flight symptoms that my body produces when it thinks it’s in danger.

The danger of having to walk into an unfamiliar building.

The danger of having to locate my work colleagues without the aid of a mobile phone.*

The danger of having to act ‘normal’.

I walked into the pub. I was possibly only standing there for a few minutes, but it might as well have been hours. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t see any familiar faces. I was aware I was being stared at. Plus, my shoes were pinching the shit out of me. I was just about to adopt the flight aspect of the stress response when I saw one of my colleagues waving at me.

Flight was no longer an option.

There were seven girls including me. I say girls – we were all in our 20s but I was the oldest. I was also the only one who was married and who had children so I was already on a different ‘page’, as it were.

I refused a drink. This was met with some funny looks. I mean, who refuses a drink in a pub, right?

I sat fiddling with stuff in my handbag and concentrated very hard on not throwing up.

No doubt somebody offered me a crisp. It was a pub. People offer crisps. It’s what people do.

I’d have said: ‘No thanks’.

I’d have thought: ‘I’m actually struggling to swallow at the moment, so I might choke on the fucking thing and one of you might have to do that humping me from behind move to get me to cough it up. That or phone for an ambulance.’

Not that I overthink things at all..

I just sat there trying to nod and smile in the appropriate places, as you do.

After about five minutes (which felt like five hours) a man appeared in front of me, smiling, and said, “Hi, (my name) you remember me don’t you?”

All I could manage was a vacant stare.

I’ve had random people approach me in the street and say stuff like, ‘SMILE LOVE! IT’LL NEVER HAPPEN!’ so I wondered if this was one of those times?

Or maybe he was pissed?

The difference was that THIS man knew my name and was coming out with details about me.

My brain was working overtime trying to place this person. Why couldn’t I remember? What was wrong with me? Was I having a stroke?

What happens when I’m stressed is that my words don’t come out right. I mix them up or say something I don’t mean to say. Or the words don’t come out at all. I need time to process before I speak in social situations. There was no time here. I was in a situation and my brain couldn’t handle it.

My body went into panic mode.

I could feel the stress response flooding my entire being. My face was burning and I could feel cold sweat running down my upper arms. You know those embarrassing sweaty patches that appear on the underarms of your shirt? That. With bells on.

My heart was thumping out of my chest.

My mouth was dryer than a camels hoof.

I wanted to vomit.

I needed a really BIG wee.

My eye tic kicked in.

My body was reacting as if a drooling tiger was standing in front of me. I was powerless to stop what was happening to my body. Nor could I run from it. I had no option but to endure it..

In the background, I that noticed the other girls were nudging each other doing that giggling thing that a lot of girls do. They looked at me, then they’d look away and giggle some more.

*confused face*

I wanted to run as fast as my size fours would carry me but I couldn’t move.

During fight or flight some people run, others fight. Some just freeze.

I froze.

I’m a freezer.

Freezing is generally a primeval attempt to stop a predator from seeing you. The problem was that the predator had not only seen me, but was tucking into my innards – theoretically speaking. I think this means that should I find myself in the direct line of an articulated lorry – I may quite likely be run over.

I don’t remember anything after that, as is the case with anything traumatic.

Some of you might read this and think ‘Traumatic? Oh get a grip you silly cow!’

I get that it sounds ridiculous but you’ll either understand this or you won’t but the definition of traumatic is deeply disturbing or distressing.

To me, it was traumatic and my body reacted accordingly.

Some days later, one of the girls confessed that they’d asked the man to act as if he knew me – for a laugh.

I was the joke.

Am I missing something here?

Were those girls being funny?

Or were they being mean?

To this day, I don’t know.

I never went out with them again.

Why would I want to?

I didn’t understand their language. They literally giggled at EVERYTHING, which I found irritating. I don’t giggle. If something is funny, I laugh. Sometimes until a bit of wee comes out. Granted, some of this is down to a compromised pelvic floor but mostly it’s because I laugh from my belly. Giggling to me is like water crackers, as in, what’s the point?

So, I was being publically humiliated and apparently it was hilarious.

I get that I am different. I’ve always known it but I’ve tried my hardest to fit in. The trouble is that the harder we try to fit in, the more we make ourselves stand out.

Back then I didn’t have a clue why I couldn’t fit in.

Now I know it’s because I’m autistic.

I’m the misfit.

The odd one out.

Or I was..

Then I found my ‘tribe’.

People who get me.

People who understand everything I say and do.

People who don’t look at me as if I am a moron.

People who will read this post and think, ‘Yeah, me too!!!’

People like me.

I go back through my life and wonder, could have done things differently? The answer is no. My brain will always react the same way because it’s wired up differently to the neurotypical brain. I am what I am and all that shit and as Gloria Gaynor says, ‘What I am needs no excuses’.

Me, the reboot, doesn’t push myself to socialise like this anymore. These days, I reserve my energy for people who deserve it. I no longer say yes to things I don’t want to do in order to fit in. I no longer make excuses, nor do I have to provide an explanation why I don’t want to do something. I politely decline the offers (not that there are many) and mentally high-five myself for putting myself first.

I bang my own drum
Some think it’s noise, I think it’s pretty

I Am What I Am ~ Gloria Gaynor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anxiety: Rewiring The Brain

 

My autistic brain likes to research. I have an almost pathological need to understand things. I can’t take things at face value. I have to dig deeper. So, I have an anxiety disorder and in true ‘me’ fashion. I have to know why I am an anxiety case.

I’ve spent 47 years living with anxiety and the last seven years researching it. Maybe that makes me something of an expert? I don’t know what it’s like not to have anxiety on some level. I think I came out of my mother’s womb hyperventilating but having anxiety and understanding it are different things.

I understand anxiety.

I understand panic disorder.

Knowledge is power.

So, the educational stuff..

The Cortex (or Tex because I like to give things names)

Tex

Tex is the thinking part of our brain. He’s what makes us human, able to reason and know when some bastard has short-changed us. It’s also where we develop negative thoughts and irrational thinking. This is cortex based anxiety.

Tex is a good bloke but sometimes he gets overwhelmed by the volume of negative self-talk we throw at him with all the ‘I’m a shit person’. ‘I will never be happy’. ‘What’s the point?’ ‘This is just too hard’. Not to mention the ‘What if’s?’ In time, these negative thoughts repeatedly trigger the fight or flight response which releases stress hormones into the body. We have physical symptoms. Then we worry that we have a life threatening disease. When this happens, we have become mentally ill.

Simplified: Tex thinks.

The Amygdala or Amy for short. (see above)

Amy

Amy is small, almond shaped and responsible for the response and memory of emotions, especially fear. She is also the reason we don’t become extinct because: No amygdala = no fear = extinction.

Whenever your flight or flight is triggered, that’s Amy doing her stuff.

Amy is responsible for phobias. The reason I break out into a cold sweat when I clap eyes on a spider is because I found one crawling around in my nightdress when I was five.

I SCREAMED THE HOUSE DOWN.

Amy remembers this event so every time I see one of the eight-legged fuckers, my heart bangs like an old barn door in a gale.

I have bad dreams every night and wake up in a state of anxiety because my fight or flight response has been triggered by my subconscious. This is amygdala based anxiety.

Simplified: Amy reacts.

Some people have cortex based anxiety. Some have amygdala based anxiety. Some unfortunates have both.

I have both.

One thing can be said of me.. I do NOT do things by halves.

My physical symptoms have given me cause to imagine the very worst is happening to me, as in terminal illness instead of anxiety. This is cortex based anxiety. Basically, a Dementor has poor old Tex in a choke hold and is draining all the happy from him. How’s that for an analogy?

Every night my Quentin Tarantino-esque dreams prompt Amy to leap into action, cape and all. She’s literally a super hero trying to save my life. Only, she doesn’t understand that the ‘danger’ to my life is a harmless dream – not an axe murderer making his way up the stairs.

None of this is Amy’s fault. She is trying to keep me safe. She must be knackered though. I know I am. Therefore, changing how I think is necessary if I want to control my anxiety instead of it controlling me. Note I say ‘control’ as opposed to ‘cure’. I have to be realistic here. I’m autistic and the autistic brain is prone to anxiety. I’ve always been anxious and, failing a lobotomy, I always will be. The best I can hope for is to be able to control my anxiety instead of it controlling me.

Changing how we think is important but there are other things we can do to help to rewire our brains. The first thing is to understand the effects fear has on the body and how relaxation can reverse it.

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)

The sympathetic nervous system is part of the fight or flight response.

Adrenalin and cortisol are released.

Our hearts beat faster.

Blood pressure goes up.

The digestive system slows right down.

We tremble, sweat or get the chills.

We have the urge to open our bowels or have a wee because a full bladder isn’t helpful when we need to run like buggery or punch a mugger in the face, right?

When SNS kicks in, the amygdala has been activated. Remember, Amy doesn’t know if you are in danger of being run over or if it’s merely your thoughts that are asking her to step up and save your life.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)

Heart rate slows

Blood pressure lowers.

Gastric juices increase enabling digestion.

Breathing slows down.

Body temperature returns to normal.

PNS is the body returning to normal.

We need BOTH responses to live. It’s just a question of balance.

Research shows that doing deep breathing exercises, mediation and relaxation exercises helps to activate PNS. If you do relaxation exercises regularly you will eventually be able to stop your amygdala from responding to your thoughts as if they are a threat on your life.

If your anxiety is cortex based, you need to work on your thoughts.

Things you can do include:

  • Writing your thoughts down and, if you want to, trashing them.
  • Try and look at your situation in a different way.
  • Do what makes you happy.
  • Avoid people off who make you feel like shit. If you are in the quicksand, you want someone who will lift you out, not push you down even further.

If your anxiety is amygdala based, relaxation therapies are the way to go.

Relaxation therapies include:

  • Yoga
  • Guided meditation
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Mindfulness

Any of these therapies will help to rewire your brain but you have to be prepared to put the effort in. It won’t happen by itself. The beauty of breathing exercises is that they can be done anywhere and nobody will know you are doing them except for you. Also, progressive muscle relaxation will teach you exactly where you hold tension in your body. For me, it’s my jaw, shoulders, stomach and, believe it or not, my arse.

Moving on..

Breathing

We need to breathe or we die. Simple.

Anxious people don’t breathe properly. They breathe so shallowly that they hyperventilate which causes a whole load of unpleasant symptoms.

Learning to breathe properly is probably the most valuable thing we will ever learn.

Try it when you feel stressed.

Take a big breath in.

Feel your diaphragm expanding.

Then let it out s l o w l y.

Do this another three or four times.

If you’ve done it correctly your heart rate will have slowed down a little and you will feel calmer.

If you do nothing else, learn to breathe properly.

When it comes to therapies find what works for you but be consistent.

I find it helpful to acknowledge when my thoughts are turning funky and to do my breathing exercises.

It slows my heart rate down.

It calms me.

It stops Amy from launching into action.

I tell her, ‘I don’t need you, Amy. It’s just my crazy thoughts. Go wash your cape or something.’

So, when you think you will be this way forever and it’s hopeless, remind yourself that it is possible to rewire the brain by changing your thoughts and doing exercises which activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Whenever you think that it’s impossible and you can’t be arsed because it will never work etc etc – just change the m to an s and put a lil space in to make it is possible.

There is a way. You just have to find what works for you.

Cheesey vector art to close the post.