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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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 poo, you manky cow?

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

And 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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

A Few Tips To Ease Your Anxiety Symptoms

person-1627709_640

In the three years that I have had GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) I have trawled the internet and read countless books searching for ideas to ease my symptoms so I thought it would be a good idea to share what’s worked for me.

So, in no particular order..

Sugar

While diet doesn’t cause anxiety it’s fair to say that certain foods, like sugar, do aggravate the situation and making a few dietary changes can greatly improve symptoms.

When you have an anxiety disorder you can become hypersensitive to your body. Even small amounts of sugar can have a detrimental effect on the body because it’s absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. This causes an initial energy surge but once it wears off the body has to increase the production of insulin in order to remove the sugar from your blood stream leaving you feeling like a bag of shite. Cutting down or eliminating refined sugar from your diet will address the imbalances which trigger panic attacks and will improve your body’s ability to cope with stress.

It’s a good idea to learn bout how much sugar is in the foods you are eating. There is a smart phone app called Food Smart which allows you to scan the barcodes to see exactly how much sugar is in a product. It’s been quite the eyeopener!

0e2996601a59aa047e3ae89951b1e914

Mornings

Our bodies naturally release cortisol in the morning as we wake from a prolonged period of sleep. This is known as the ‘cortisol awakening response’. Non-anxious people wake gradually over a few hours whereas anxiety cases (like moi) get woken abruptly with the cortisol screaming “WAKE THE FUCK UP ARRRGGHHH!!!”

Imagine having Slipknot waking you up at 5am with their screamiest song (plus scary masks)

Normally, cortisol is present throughout the day but at a decreasing level, the lowest being in the evening preparing us for sleep. It will spike during short term stressors like an argument or a near miss with the number 57 bus then subside again. The anxious person has consistently high levels of cortisol throughout the day which is unpleasant to say the least.

The best thing I’ve found on waking is to get up and move about – even if it’s 4am. I find that walking helps to burn some of that excess energy off. Lying there only makes me feel crap and if I try to doze off, I only end up having insane dreams of headless horses or toilets that don’t flush. Freud would have a field day with me, no?

I blog. I clean. I use the energy to my advantage and GIVE ANXIETY THE FINGER!

insult-145142_640

Dr Google Will See You Now

Not everybody who has anxiety will have health anxiety but a good number unfortunately do.

Me, for one.

The problem is that anxiety presents with such a plethora of symptoms that it’s hard to believe that you’re NOT dying of something particularly nasty but instead of making an appointment with a GP, the cyberchondriac makes an appointment with Dr Google whose diagnosis is usually terminal. The sufferer then curls up into fetal position and awaits certain death only moving as far as their PC in order to post on anxiety forums which are full of threads like..

‘Pain In My Toe. Cancer?’

And..

‘I’m dying’.

Occasionally some desperate sod will upload graphic pictures of his/her poo for reassurance that they are not dying but as much as I understand and empathise with health anxiety, I really don’t want to see someone’s toilet massacre on my PC at 6am!

Or ever.

My advice would be not to Google your symptoms, but if you really must then type the word ANXIETY alongside whatever symptom it is.

Instead of trawling though pages about diseases you imagine you have, spend a good few hours researching the condition you do have? Learn about anxiety and why the body reacts the way it does. Educate yourself. It will also remove a lot of the fear and once you’ve done that you’re on the road to recovery.

Google isn’t all bad though because you will find great anxiety websites and podcasts.

The Anxiety Guru and Anxiety Slayer  are two excellent podcasts which are informative and help to normalise anxiety symptoms. Well worth looking up.

Exercise

In my opinion, the very worst thing you can do with anxiety is sit on your backside and do nothing. That’s a sure way to keep you in the anxiety/fear loop!

There is a link between being physically active and enjoying positive mental well-being. It causes chemical changes in the brain which positively alter your mood. Even a fifteen minute walk can make you feel better. ANY exercise is better than none.

I walk as much as I can and do yoga. I ALWAYS feel the benefit during and afterwards even if I might not feel like doing it to start with. It’s the knowledge that I WILL feel better that has me reaching for my coat or yoga mat no matter how crap I feel.

Your body WANTS to move. It NEEDS to move to keep all your bits functioning effectively.

You have all these stress hormones whirring away inside you and they need to be diffused so work with them and SHIFT YOUR ARSE OFF THAT SOFA! Go for a walk in the sunshine or a jog if that’s more your thing. Put some funky music on and flick the duster about. Whatever floats your boat. JUST DO IT!

Be well and think positive thoughts.

Images Via Creative Commons

Health Anxiety and Me

portrait-1634421_640

It’s three years since my first nocturnal panic attack and in that time my anxiety has developed into generalised anxiety disorder, health anxiety with some depression.

My nature is to research so there’s not much I don’t know about anxiety and the havoc it can wreck on the human body. Three years ago I was 10 stone. Today I am 8. The weight loss isn’t due to the anxiety alone though -it’s also due to having made dietary changes to try and alleviate some of the symptoms such as palpitations. I avoid sugar as much as is possible and don’t drink alcohol anymore. *weeps*

A few weeks ago I decided to cut out wheat and replace my usual bread with gluten free. The next day my anxiety level went from a 7 to a 3. I had no ‘brain fog’ and the burning mouth syndrome I’d had since July last year disappeared. On top of that I had energy, but it was normal energy, not the nervous kind I usually get with the anxiety. The second day was the same so I figured I was onto something with ditching the gluten. I’m not allergic to gluten, but I do think I am sensitive to it just as I have become sensitive to certain other foods, drinks and products.

Unfortunately I didn’t take into account what a dietary change like that would do to my already sensitive digestion system. Having replaced my bread with GF foods made from rice flour (combined with having to take calcium supplements for Osteopenia) I became, er, bunged up. Now in a non-anxious person this would not be a problem. Just neck a few laxatives or up the fiber and it will sort the problem out, but with a lunatic like me it’s not so simple.

I didn’t have constipation, you see.

I had bowel cancer.

So I decided to sod the GF diet off and eat my usual bread. Within twenty minutes of eating it I felt sick and exhausted with a migraine. I forgot to mention that since going gluten free, my migraines have all but gone too.

So I went back on the GF diet..

After a few tricky toilet sessions I went to the GP. By this time I was feeling fairly unwell, but in my head it was because I was dying. I sat in the doctor’s and told him outright, “I feel as if I’m dying!” as if I have first hand knowledge what it feels like to die?

I also had a ‘feeling’ in my right hand side that had been niggling at me for a few months which only added fuel to my fearful pyre. It wasn’t even a pain, but because it was different and so my lunatic brain homed in on it and made it terminal totally bypassing the less sinister (and more likely) things it could be.

I saw a locum doctor that day who was very supportive and reassuring. He checked me over and told me he couldn’t find any reason to admit me to hospital. I was that sure I would be admitted that I’d cleaned the house and wrote a list of instructions for OH. The fact that people who are genuinely dying don’t tend to whip the hoover round beforehand was lost on me at the time..

The word ‘anxiety’ was brought out for the TRILLIONTH time and I broke down crying. How could I feel this ill and it be anxiety? The doctor was kind and told me ‘Don’t worry, we will get you better’. This was in contrast to the previous week when I had a panic attack in front of another GP who simply carried on writing while I hyperventilated in the chair. Helpful, no?

Unsurprisingly, I left the locum doctor feeling much calmer than when I went in. That’s what happens see.. you go in full of fear and with a bit of reassurance suddenly you’re not at deaths door anymore..

Until a few hours later when the ‘what if’ gremlin pops up again. THAT ANNOYING LITTLE SHIT!

I should point out that another GP had already ordered an abdominal and pelvic scan because of this sensation in my side..

Meanwhile poogate got worse and I ended up having a phone consultation with a GP because I was convinced I was having a prolapse. But he obviously had my nutter notes in front of him and sounding unconcerned told me to take some Lactulose and if I was still worried on Monday to go in for an examination.

The ‘prolapse’ turned out to be some stubborn poo, so no botty-fingering required. Phew!

I didn’t take the lactulose either. One, because I am practically a medication-phobe and two, because I figured it best to try and clear my pipes via my diet. So I upped the fiber, water and switched my calcium supplement from carbonate (which is known to cause constipation) to citrate.

Needless to say, I was able to perform.

After that I was back to normal, well, normal for an anxiety- ridden lunatic!

The rational stuff was all there in my head. I’d changed my diet radically and wasn’t having my usual amount of fiber as I’d been averaging five slices a day. Combined with the calcium, it was no wonder I got bunged up. While I convinced myself I didn’t have a tumour blocking my bowel, there was still that ‘sensation’ in my side.. so I was back to dying again.

So I had my abdo scan and was 100% SURE they would find something wrong. I figured if it wasn’t bowel cancer then it must my gallbladder about to explode, yes?

No.

They found nothing wrong.

I hassled the bloke who did the scan..

“Are you absolutely sure?”

I even questioned him on the size of my kidneys!

I’m sure it chuffed him no end to have his expertise questioned..

Anyway, I’m not dying.

Not today anyway..

What I do have is health anxiety.

The sensation in my side was real enough but was most likely due to muscle tension. I tend to hold my stomach in a lot with anxiety and only became aware of this by doing progressive relaxation. Because I am so sensitized, I am aware of every little ache and pain. Since doing those exercises, it’s, er, kind of disappeared.

I have tried to add a bit of humour to my situation but health anxiety is no joke. It’s mentally exhausting. I hope you don’t read this post and think ‘You need to get a grip, Mrs!’. If only is was that easy, ducks! I don’t want to be like this. Nobody wants to be like this, trust me.

I understand this post may be a bit tmi for some people but I wanted to show how something simple like constipation can be turned into something terminal by the power of thought. It’s called catastrophic thinking. A headache becomes a brain tumour. A cough becomes lung cancer and so on. Not everyone who suffers with anxiety will have health anxiety but for those who do have it, it’s yet another fear to overcome.

I will overcome it though.

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.” Game of Thrones

Image Via Creative Commons

Guess Who’s Back?

fear-615989_640

Therapist: ‘I’d like you to imagine your worry is a tree’

Me: ‘Tree? I have a bloody forest in my head!

My therapist laughs and so do I, but my laugh is manic whereas hers is not.

It’s what it feels like in my head. On my worst days it’s gnarled trees and demons. If my mind was a novel, it would be written by Stephen King because he knows all about fear.

Fear.

I’ve known Fear for as long as I can remember. It’s always been with me. That bastard was there when I was born, watching and waiting for the moment when it could scare the crap out of me.

I don’t know what it’s like to live without anxiety and I’ve had panic attacks since I was a little girl. One minute I’d be fine, the next my stomach would lurch and I’d feel sick. Sometimes I would be sick. It would often happen after I’d seen something unpleasant on TV. My chest would feel tight and the room would spin. I remember feeling this way whenever Panorama came on.

Two years ago I had my first nocturnal panic attack.

I woke up in the early hours utterly convinced I was having a heart attack. It became the norm to wake up with my heart pounding. Things reached a crisis point in February when my heart started beating erratically at about 5am one morning. It wouldn’t slow down despite triple-bagging my Chamomile tea and deep breathing. I ended up in Accident and Emergency and once again I was convinced that Death was coming for me…

He wasn’t. Obviously. Or I wouldn’t be typing this.

It was a severe panic attack.

I was given a beta blocker and sent on my way.

That day my anxiety went orbital. I genuinely thought I was losing my mind. The drugs made me so ill that I lost half a stone in two weeks. I chose to come off the medication and CBT became my only hope.

CBT has been helpful because it’s about changing your thoughts. Or trying to. Medication is great (when it works) but it only deals with the symptoms, not the cause. CBT has given me some useful distraction techniques aside the old ‘worry tree.’

Two weeks ago I noticed the good days were starting to outnumber the bad and I was controlling the panic more. I wasn’t waking up with my heart going nuts every day and dared to think that I’d got this thing beaten.

‘I think I’ve turned a corner!’ I proudly told the therapist after giving her my scores for how anxiety is affecting my life.

‘You’re doing really well’, she said.

I told her that I’d taken up ironing again after a 10 year hiatus. I hate ironing with a passion, but figured it might help me if I imagined the creases were my fears which were disappearing with each glide of the iron. The therapist was impressed and I think she wrote it down because she went quiet. Either that or she was updating her Twitter..

Got a right one here #loon #needacareerchange

This week the symptoms have been creeping back in. I’m back to the 4am waking up with my heart pounding. This morning it was 4am then again at 5.30. I know I’m not breathing properly which is why the palpitations are back.

I feel SO disheartened.

However..

I know setbacks happen with anxiety. I know it’s a long way back from where I’ve been. As soul-destroying as it is to relapse, it’s a normal part of the recovery process.

Some days I wish they give me a lobotomy.

I feel too much.

I think too much.

There is just too much mind-traffic.

The Boy and I came up with an analogy which helps him describe what’s going on in his head as being autistic he struggles to describe how he feels. We say his head is like a motorway and on a good day it’s running smoothly and traffic is flowing. On a bad day it’s congested and people are peeping their horns in frustration. My personal version (for grown ups) includes lots of wanker signs, road rage and multiple collisions. Of course, there are fatalities because my thoughts are catastrophic ones.

It drains you. The happiness goes out of your life as if you have a Dementor circling around your head only you have no wand. But wait, I DO have a wand. It’s in my head. An imaginary one along with the imaginary thoughts that torment my mind. So I whip out my wand and send those thoughts spinning into oblivion.

EXPECTO PATRONUM, MOTHERF*CKERS!

Obviously, Harry Potter didn’t call them motherf*ckers, but I bet you anything he was thinking it…

I hold onto the thought that I’ve been here before and things have got better.

I hold onto that thought tightly when Fear threatens to overwhelm me.

I know that worrying about symptoms and constantly body scanning triggers panic attacks so I try to acknowledge the sensations but refuse to take it to the next level because that’s where the shit happens. That’s what Fear wants me to do because then it can control me and I’ve had enough of it controlling me.

I will no longer run from it.

I will look it in the eyes, smile and say.

‘Hello, Fear, you bastard.’

‘I’ve been waiting for you…’

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”~ Frank Herbert – Dune

Image Via Creative Commons