#TakeTheMaskOff: What is Burnout? How is it Connected to Masking?

We all mask.

Masking is a human thing, not just an autistic thing.

We hide the parts of us that we don’t like or don’t want people to see for fear of rejection or ridicule.

When I mask I play a role and that means not being myself.

Onlookers can’t see beyond our mask. They see something that isn’t real.

Take Robin Williams: Twinkling eyes and a great smile. He was a hilariously funny man. And he killed himself.

The man was in hell, but nobody saw it. We saw what Robin wanted us to see – his mask.

Masking is taking yourself, your fears and your demons and suppressing them so that you can present the world with a version of you that it will accept. You do it to fit in. You do it to survive. This takes a great deal of mental energy and it comes as no surprise to me that most autistic people develop mental illnesses. With me, it’s primarily anxiety.

Anxiety has shadowed me all my life. I’ve mostly functioned with it, but there have been episodes of depression and anxiety which have been severe enough to require medication and time off work. Somehow, I made it to 41. Then my mother unexpectedly died. The problem was that I’d been trying to run my house on a car battery (theoretically speaking) for so long that there was quite simply no energy to deal with such a shock and when it comes to trauma – losing a parent (especially a mother) is at number 5 on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale scoring 65/100% – 100% being the death of a spouse.

That was the start of my ill-health and five years later I burned out completely.

Mental breakdown. Nervous breakdown. Burnout.

Call it what you want, it all amounts to the same thing. Not limit reached, but limit breached.

I’m convinced that a life of masking led me to burnout at the age of 46 and during that time I didn’t have the energy to function, let alone mask.

The mask was very much off.

How best to describe my mental breakdown?

  • My own personal hell.
  • I lived by the minute, not the day and every one of those agonising minutes felt like an hour.
  • I couldn’t hold onto my thoughts.
  • I couldn’t complete the simplest of tasks.
  • I couldn’t sleep.
  • I was in constant pain.
  • I was having numerous panic attacks a day.
  • I couldn’t eat.
  • I lost weight and muscle mass.
  • I couldn’t watch TV, read a book or listen to my beloved music.
  • I was constantly retching.
  • I wanted to be put into a mental institution – just so they could make all of it stop.
  • I thought I was dying, going crazy or both.

In-between bouts of anxiety, there were lulls where depression would take over and I’d cry. It was the kind of crying where the tears just happen without any effort at all. The depth of sadness was such that I willed the anxiety to kick back in.

Anxiety was the lesser evil because it made me feel alive. When the depression took over, everything slowed down. It was like my body and mind was giving up on me. Was I dying?

With every second of every day – I lost another piece of myself.

There was no dignity in my fight. It was ugly and it was messy and I thought I would never find my way back.

Make no mistake – mental illness is a battle.

You have to remember that the chemicals in the brain are imbalanced. It’s an illness.

Nobody chooses to be mentally ill.

Masking brought me to the brink of my sanity. That’s how it affected my mental health.

Since that time, there is a fragility about me that wasn’t there before. I developed a chronic condition (Fibromyalgia) which affects my entire body. Now, as well as being in mental pain, I am always in physical pain. This is what masking can do!

I wouldn’t be in this state if I’d been able to be myself – if society had accepted me as I am. But it didn’t accept me. It bullied and ostracised me and exploited my vulnerability which forced me to constantly wear the mask that’s damaged me beyond repair.

It’s a lesson I’ve learned – albeit too late to save my health.

“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.” ~ Jim Morrison

Be part of the revolution.

#TakeOffTheMask

 

 

 

#TakeOffTheMask: How Does Masking Affect Mental Health?

According to the Australian Actors’ Wellbeing Study taken in 2015, performers are twice as likely than the general public to experience depression. Many report performance anxiety and high levels of stress due to work-related pressures.

What’s this got to do with masking?

Autistic people who mask are performers.

We play a role so that society will accept us and we can fit in.

The actor: Will I be convincing as Othello?

The autist: Will I convince people I’m the same as they are?

Either way, it’s a performance.

The problem with performing is that we’re not being ourselves. Whether it’s strutting about on stage playing Hamlet or standing on the school yard with the other parents – performing takes a great deal of mental effort.

Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be…

Some of us mask so much that we lose ourselves. The boundaries between what’s real and what isn’t become blurred. Then one day we look at ourselves in the mirror and are shocked to find that we no longer recognise what’s being reflected back at us. The person that we used to know is buried under the mound of characters that we’ve created over our lifetime.

When I mask, I rely on what I’ve learned.

I have to recall lines or appropriate responses.

I have to judge when to speak and when to stay silent and for how long.

I have to remind myself to look at the person from time to time.

I have to try to work out facial expressions, which is hard when you’re crap at non-verbal communication.

I have prompt myself constantly.

I have to try and deal with the emotional fallout when I get it wrong.

I have to do all of this while trying to cope with my sensory issues, like background noise or smells or lights.

It’s mentally exhausting.

Imagine having to do this EVERY time you socialize, even with a neighbour or someone in the street – every single day.

Imagine having to perform every time you walk out of your front door? Or, even in your own home?

They say that the world is a stage and from the perspective of a lot of autists – it’s true – except that YOU are the actor, the director, the producer, make-up artist, wardrobe stylist and, well, you get my drift?

I have always been scared of the world and most of the people in it – so I’ve worn a mask and tried to fit in. To protect myself. To survive. Except that a lifetime of pretending has left me mentally (and physically) exhausted. All these years I have performed in order to fit in, but the truth is that I no longer want to.

I no longer want the anxiety that goes with trying to fit in.

I no longer want to feel the fear of rejection.

All these years I’ve pretended to be someone I’m not and in doing that I have failed to honour the unique (and worthy) person that I am – that all autists are.

Reggie removed his mask to discover that he’d been awesome all along!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#TakeOffTheMask: Stimming

I’m a stimmer. I stim to calm and to self-regulate. It is (and always has been) necessary for my mental health well-being.

One of my favourite-ist ways to calm myself as a child was to twirl myself around until the ‘butterflies dance’. Why? Because it blocked out all the shit stuff. While I was spinning, I couldn’t think of anything else except the fluttering sensations in my body.

Those few minutes allowed my brain to reset itself.

I didn’t know that I was autistic.

I didn’t know that I was stimming.

My ‘stimbox’ includes rocking, spinning and stroking tactile materials. It also includes me picking at my skin until I bleed. Then, come the scabaroonies which I will pick off time and time again. Scabs are the gift that keeps on giving, right?

If you happen to see me manically ripping the skin off my lips, I’m probably mega-anxious.

If you see me rocking gently, I could be happy, excited or apprehensive.

If I’m rocking like a psycho, it’s best to assume that I’m experiencing brain-snap, so I’d back away s-l-o-w-l-y.

When I stim, my brain overrides some of the stimulus that makes me anxious.

When I suppress my stims, stimulus (and anxiety) becomes amplified.

Lets get one thing clear: EVERYBODY STIMS. If you’ve ever chewed your nails, hair, pen-top, or shoved your finger up your nose and left it there longer than is necessary – you’ve stimmed. The difference is that non-autistic people’s stimming is more socially acceptable. Nobody gives a toss if someone bites their nails, right? Hand-flapping? Tosses are very much given and people turn into judgemental @rse-holes!

I used to be semi-successful at suppressing my stims. Just as I was semi-succesful at camouflaging myself, but since I burned out, I’m not so good at it because I don’t have the energy to suppress anymore. That and I can’t take medication for my anxiety disorder because I have Fibromyalgia – a condition which can affect how your body reacts to medication.

Stimming keeps me sane – literally.

I stimmed recently at my son’s school presentation day. It was necessary because the stimulus levels were THROUGH THE ROOF! It was a sensory nightmare – which is ironic considering the event was for an ASD specialist school.

I rocked gently, back and forth or from side to side. It calmed me enough for me to be able to remain in my seat. Plus, I fixed a mini-fan to my phone, which went down quite well with the lady who was sat next to me. However, the room was full of autistic students and their parents – some of which will have been autistic too, so I doubt that I stood out at all, but even if I did, I doubt that any shits would have been given.

When you mask, you suppress or adapt your stims. On top of having to think about what to say and when to say it, you have to suppress the urge to stim naturally. Maybe that will give you some indication of how social interaction can be so exhausting for autistic people?

With the controversial ABA approach, stims are literally shouted ‘out’ of autistic children.

‘But it works! Little Jimmy no longer flaps his hands!’

It works for you, but little Jimmy has turned into a robot. He’s been trained to obey.

You don’t ‘cure autism’ – you suppress an autistic person’s need to be themselves which could potentially result in mental health disorders.

“We’re not trying to deny kids the right to be who they are,” Dr John McEachin, co-director of the Autism Partnership, an ABA service provider,

Denying autistic kids the right to be who they are is EXACTLY what you are doing, mush!

Often, autistic people are unable to communicate verbally how they are feeling and parents/carers are too focused on trying to eradicate their stims to understand that stimming gives a clue as to how a person is feeling/coping in a situation. A change in stimming frequency (or intensity) might indicate that a person’s anxiety levels are rising and it would be wise to remove them from the situation. Understanding the role of stimming could help to prevent a full-blown meltdowns and improve an autistic person’s overall well-being.

What would people rather see. A child flapping his/her hands or a child running out into the path of a car because their anxiety has hit the danger zone?

Your homework for this week is to go out into the community and observe people stimming. Foot-tapping. Finger drumming. Doodling. Stroking hair. All self-stimulatory behaviour, but it’s only autistic people who get called out on stimming. The problem is that our stims are generally more visible and it makes people feel uncomfortable and we can’t have that, can we?

Some stims are simply not acceptable in public and in those cases it’s necessary to encourage more appropriate ones. For instance, some people firk with their crotch area when anxious. Nobody wants to see people firking around in their crotch areas unless it’s by mutual agreement, you get me?

Other stims are harmful, as with head-banging and other self-harming behaviours. To understand this behaviour, you need to know that when a person self-harms, it’s because their anxiety is overwhelming them to the point of requiring pain to block things out. I’ve never self-harmed in this way, but I’ve seen it many times and I understand that it’s a total loss of control due to severe anxiety. If it makes you, the onlooker, uncomfortable to see this. Can you even imagine what the person who is in pain feels like?

“Stimming is rarely dangerous. It can, however, be embarrassing for parents and siblings, disconcerting for teachers, or off-putting for potential friends and co-workers.” (somewhere on the internet, but I’ve closed the tab on the page and cba to trawl through my history)

I’d argue that stimming can be dangerous. Banging one’s head against a brick wall isn’t exactly soft-play, is it?

As for the second sentence in this quote..

This is the problem.

We make ourselves mentally ill so we don’t embarrass our families or make our teachers, peers and co-workers feel uncomfortable.

The worst it’s going to get for these people is to feel uncomfortable?

The worst it’s going to get for autistic people who suppress their stims is to be mentally ill.

Actually, worse case is premature death.

Instead of trying to force autistic people to conform to the detriment of their health, how about society adopts a more tolerant attitude to stimming?

OOH LOOK! A FLYING PIG!

 

Autism: Highly Functioning?

There’s a label when talking about autism.

‘Highly-functioning’.

It’s a term intended for professionals, but one that is used generally. In this post I’m going to try and illustrate why hearing this term makes me scream inside.

You can dress yourself? You’re highly-functioning!

I can dress myself, but sometimes I wear those same clothes for days because the thought of having to put something ‘new’ on makes me anxious. I do change my undies daily though – in case you were wondering?

I have sensory processing issues and hate to feel constricted in any way – so neck-lines, waistbands and sleeves have to be just right or my brain snaps. Also, I can’t tolerate anything that isn’t almost exclusively cotton. How I survived the seventies with it’s obsession for nylon, I’ll never know. Maybe that would explain whay I was a little shit most of the time?

I can physically dress myself, yes, but it’s a sensory nightmare.

You can wash your own hair? You must be highly-functioning!

I can physically wash my hair (though it’s getting to be more challenging now with the fibromyalgia) but it will be 80% dry-shampoo by the time I do wash it – which will be when I can’t physically get a brush through it. Or my scalp itches -whichever comes first!

I have a mobile hairdresser who comes to sort my hair out a couple of times a year. Even though she’s lovely (and technically brilliant) and I always look forward to seeing her – I still get the inevitable migraine which comes with having to make conversation. Recovery usually involves painkillers and at least three hours sleep.

You can apply make-up? You’re highly functioning!

I’ve been wearing make-up since 1983, but it’s a mask. Without it, I feel vulnerable. Might as well be wandering around in my bra and pants, innit? However, my routine rarely varies. I use the same products every day. Even if I go completely nuts and buy something new, I invariably revert to my old stuff because it’s familiar.

I don’t like brushing my teeth as they are sensitive as hell, but my fear of having fillings and extractions overrides my sensitivity to brushing.

Just because I can do something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cause me discomfort or distress.

I used to be the opposite way. I bathed every day. Sometimes twice a day. Occasionally, three. It’s a miracle I’ve any skin left! My hair got washed daily, sometimes twice. It wasn’t necessary. I was just a nutter. Then again, my personal care has always been more psychological than beauty or fashion.

You clean your house? You must be highly-functioning!

Again, it’s all about the realms of what’s considered ‘normal’.

I used to clean obsessively. I would clean the entire house (including hoovering) every single day. The living room carpet got hoovered at least three times a day. I mopped the kitchen floor just as frequently and disinfected everything that was wipeable. I mowed the lawns as many times as I thought I could get away with without coming across as lunatic, but I admit that I once mowed the same lawn twice in one day! That’s not gardening. That’s a bit nuts!

As soon as a dandelion reared it’s head, I was out there with my Flymo. Then I’d be on my hands and knees cutting round the edges of the lawn with a pair of scissors. Yes, I was that person!

The anomaly is that I love to see dandelions elsewhere..

I realise now that it was about control. The same way my eating disorders were about control. I just didn’t understand why life was so hard for me. So I’d scrub, disinfect and mow until the late hours. Then, I’d numb my brain with homebrew. As the Smiths song goes: “I was happy in a haze of a drunken hour but heaven knows I’m miserable now.” For a while, the world was tolerable. I could do this life thing, yeah? Then I’d overdo it. I’d vomit and the next morning I’d wake up to find the world was as confusing as it ever was.

Vomiting aside, my corner of the world HAD to be perfect to compensate for the chaos outside my front door and that inside my head. Nowadays, half an hour of light housework equals three hours resting on the sofa. I am completely the opposite way, but it’s not by choice.

You do your OWN shopping? Are you sure you’re autistic?

I’ve always found shopping difficult because of the social aspect, sensory overload and the range of choice. Choice, you see, overstimulates my brain and the more anxious I become, the more I am unable to make choices – even simple ones like between coffee or tea.

A super-functioner and I can’t make a simple decision between tea or coffee? What am I like?!

Nowadays, I have the added joy (not) of fibromyalgia which limits me even more. For the days when I can’t cope with the supermarket, I do online shopping.

You can drive? Super-Functioner!!

Fancy that, an autistic person with a driving licence!

I was determined to drive because I struggled so much with public transport. Lesser evil, right? With me, it’s always been a case of one fear overriding another. However, getting myself from A to B is a different matter entirely..

For example: Recently, a 20 minute trip to Hobbycraft involved me virtually ‘driving’ the route via Google street maps, even down to checking out the exit route in the car park. Who does that, right? It took me twenty minutes, but it was necessary in order to familiarise myself with the route.

Diversions bugger my brain up. I’m still dealing with a diversion from last week! I NEED to be able to get into my car and drive the same route as I always do, but life isn’t so simple, is it? It creates diversions and obstacles all of which have a knock-on effect with me.

I establish routines and end up going to the same shops and parking in the same places which makes my world safe, but small.

I’m also crap with directions and distance. My sat-nav’s most used commands are ‘When possible do a U turn’ and ‘Route recalculation’. Nuff said?

Some days I can’t drive at all due to brain fog. Better safe than sorry, right?

You can communicate verbally? That makes you highly-functioning!

I can talk. I had no speech delay that I am aware of. I love words, only I prefer to type them. I’m much better at communicating via the typed word. But even then, it’s not simple, as my need for perfection means that my posts are edited 35 plus times! I can’t just ‘knock’ a post out, like most bloggers can.

When it comes to actual speech, I sometimes become aware that my voice has become ‘monotone’ and I have to prompt myself to change pitch. When I’m excited, I talk too fast. When I’m exhausted, I talk too slowly and my brain ‘buffers’. As in, something gets lost between the thought process and communicating what’s in my head.

Then I have meltdowns where I have this kind of ‘verbal diarrhoea’ thing going on. Or I stop talking altogether. This is known as a ‘shut-down’.

Many of us have co-morbid conditions as well as being autistic. It’s life farting in your face, then following through. As if life isn’t hard enough, right?

I also have Fibromyalgia which means I am in some level of pain or discomfort all the time. I also have OCD going on, which is a pain in the arse.

Fibro what? Isn’t that something you take for constipation?

No. That’s Fybogel!

Having fibromyalgia means that I am less able to function than ever and I will have to learn to live within even more limits as this illness is chronic and life-long once it’s established. I also most likely have Dyscalculia (number dyslexia) which makes life difficult as maths is such a necessary part of it. I’ve probably been short-changed out of hundreds of pounds in my time. However, I stand by my argument that trying to learn algerbra was a waste of sodding time!

Ooh. You have a learning difficulty? That makes you low-functioning then?

I was in the top set for English. I scored 98% in my history mock exam because I was (and still am) obsessed with the past. I was also in the bottom set for maths. So, you tell me?

I give up. I don’t know what you are!

I’m an individual.

The term ‘highly-functioning’ belittles how hard it is to get through every day. Just because I don’t need help putting my knickers on, it’s presumed that I function ‘highly’? In reality, every day takes a great deal of effort simply to exist. I’m always in some level of pain or anxiety – even in my sleep. Some days I barely function as migraines wipe me out or I reach my capacity to cope with anything unfamiliar or taxing. If you’re wondering what fibromyalgia has to do with autism. The answer is – EVERYTHING! It’s relative because a life of anxiety makes autistic people prone to conditions like fibromyalgia.

Yes, I can physically do stuff, but it comes at a cost, both physically and mentally.

I get overwhelmed quickly. I need regular breaks from social media/internet due to information overload. What energy I do have is reserved for my role as a mother. It’s primeval, because despite my health, I ensure that my son’s needs are met. I know the days of obsessively cleaning are gone because I just don’t have the strength and that causes me considerable distress, but it means that my obsessions shift elsewhere – as I discovered when I developed heath anxiety last year.

The term ‘low functioning’ is equally as belittling because in labelling someone ‘low-functioning’, society lowers it’s expectations of this person. They are pitied, rather than respected. Or worse, ignored. Just because a person needs help with daily care, doesn’t mean they can’t contribute to the world in a meaningful way!

A highly-functioning person might barely be able to function physically (or mentally) on some days, but there are expectations of them because of a term which most people take at face value. This is why we burn out repeatedly until we become chronically ill.

Is this really functioning highly?

Some days I barely function at all.

I am spending more and more time in survival and recovery mode and if you don’t understand those terms, lucky you!

The term ‘highly functioning’ implies that I am successful at life. That I can do things with ease?

To those who take one look at me and say, ‘You’re autistic? You must be highly-functioning then!’

COME AND LIVE MY LIFE FOR A WEEK. THINK MY THOUGHTS. FEEL MY FEAR, PAIN AND EXHAUSTION. TOUCH MY F**KING PLUGS UMPTEEN TIMES BEFORE YOU CAN LEAVE THE HOUSE – THEN TELL ME I’M FUNCTIONING HIGHLY!

*hyperventilates into paper bag*

The point of this post is to show that being physically able to do something comes at a cost. I’ve reached the point where I’ve worn myself out and I now I’m constantly ill.

If you look close enough, you’ll see the exhaustion in my face. You might notice the way my body slumps with fatigue. You might even see a tear fall unchecked or hear a door slammed in frustration. These are hints to an inner chaos – a chaos I’ve known all my life. Only death will bring me any real peace, but I’m not suicidal. I’m in no hurry to leave this life because there are souls who that make this struggle worthwhile. Three of them call me ‘Mum’ and I’ll fight until my last breath to be with them.

And it is a fight. A daily battle to exist, but it would be a lot easier if people would only take the time to respect us for who we are.

High or low-functioning – the terms are misleading and unhelpful. What we are is individuals.

All images are in the public domain via Creative Commons

 

 

 

Now That’s What I Call Autism!

People of a certain age (*coughs*) will remember when a compilation album called Now That’s What I Call Music! came out in 1983.

I was 13.

What are we up to now? Now That’s What I Call Music 7509?

I’m almost 50!

No doubt, the multi-gazillion franchise will go on long after I’ve stopped breathing..

*Note to self* Record funeral mix-tape and call it, ‘Now That’s What I Call Being Dead!

The difference is that I could probably name all the tracks on the original album, whereas I couldn’t name a single track on the latest one. This is probably because I’m geriatric (not really) and geriatric people tend to live in a musical time-warp when they were youthful and had their own teeth.

I’m no music snob, but the auto-tuned, sampled-to-the-hilt crap that’s trawled out to the masses these days makes me want to hack off my own ears. What happened to pure talent? You could shove me into a recording studio with all its sorcery and I could could bang out a s(hit) record in three hours flat!

Granted, I would have to pay a body-double to do the bumpin’ ‘n’ grindin’ on the video, as that particular ship has sailed thanks to arthritic hips. Actually, I do grind, but it’s more of a ‘bone on bone’ thing which isn’t as arousing, especially when it’s combined with the stench of Deep Heat.

Anyway, back to Now That’s What I Call Music or as my dad used to call it, ‘That’s What I Call a Load of Crap!’

So, some of us bought (or were bought) Now That’s I Call Music on vinyl (album, not flooring). The rest of us pestered our mates/siblings to borrow it, which they did, albeit reluctantly, and only after issuing a warning of certain death if said album was returned to them with any defects, such as scratches or tea-stains on Tracey Ullman’s face.

The beauty of cassettes was that you got to spend hours of your life jamming biros into cogs trying to wind the b@stard tape back in. Remember that? Happy Memorex, eh? See what I did there? I’ll get my coat!

In the spirit of those bygone times, I present to my fellow autists, a mix-tape.

Enjoy and feel free to add ‘requests’ via the comments section.

A Side

1. Don’t Stand So Close to Me ~ The Police (for the claustrophobics, obvs)

2. Move Closer ~ Phyllis Nelson (for the space-invaders)

3. Too Much Information ~ Duran Duran (social media overload)

4. Anxiety ~ Good Charlotte (‘I am anxiety free!’ said no autistic person. Ever)

5. Green Day ~ Minority “Stepped out of the line. Like a sheep runs from the herd. Marching out of time. To my own beat now”. (blog author adds: So, up yours, haters!)

6. Pushing The Senses ~ Feeder (I push mine round in an old Tesco trolley) Too literal?

B Side

1. 99 Problems ~ Jay Z (I got 99 problems but the Nintendo Switch aint one)

2. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now ~ The Smiths “I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour, but heaven knows I’m miserable now” (You get pissed, wake up and realise that everything is still shit)

3. 19th Nervous Breakdown ~ The Rolling Stones (currently on my 20th)

4. Spinning Around ~ Kylie (literally, though not necessarily in size zero hot-pants)

5. Communication Breakdown ~ Led Zeppelin -“Communication breakdown. It’s always the same. I’m having a nervous breakdown. Drive me insane! (self-explanatory, really)

6. Beloved Freak ~ Garbage ~ “People lie and people steal. They misinterpret how you feel. And so we doubt and we conceal” (adoring you from afar, Shirley Manson, but not in a criminal way)

Bonus track – Senses Working Overtime ~ XTC ~ “I got one, two, three, four, five senses working overtime”. (My senses literally never clock off!)

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.