#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

 

 

 

We Are Not All ‘A Bit Autistic’

‘We’re all a bit autistic.’

I’ve heard this a few times. That, or ‘We’re all on the spectrum somewhere’. Whether or not it’s intended to make autistic people feel better (or less different) what it actually does is trivialize the problems that we face on a daily basis.

Autism isn’t a life choice.

When I talk about my difficulties, some people say, ‘Well, everyone’s like that sometimes’ – I have to stifle the urge to punch them in the crotch. (I’m not pervy – I’m just really small)

Key word: ‘sometimes’ – meaning occasionally, not ALL of the time.

People can’t be ‘a little bit autistic’. You’re either autistic, or you ain’t. Simples.

‘Well, we’re all different aren’t we?’

Yes, we are all different, but being different doesn’t make you autistic.

So let’s bust this myth by simplifying into a single sentence.

Autism, is a neurological difference.

And repeat it.

Autism, is a neurological difference.

Once more?

Autism, is a neurological difference.

Unfortunately, there are those who reduce autistic people’s struggles to things that can be overcome or, better still, cured. Some people claim that there is a cure for autism, like the parents of autistic children who genuinely believe that pumping bleach into their child’s bottom will ‘rid them of their autism’. These insane idiots call it ‘a cure’. I call it abuse.

This is the mentality we have to deal with.

People misunderstand. They are dismissive. Or they are abusive. They try to compare their occasional ‘off days’ to the struggles which affect autistic people every second of every day.

Day after day.

Week after week.

Month after month.

Year after year.

Decade after decade.

Until they die.

If everybody were a ‘bit autistic’, the world would be autism friendly 24/7, not just for an hour once a month in participating venues.

If everybody were a ‘bit autistic’, the word ‘autistic’ wouldn’t be used as a insult.

For Example: “Beach boys songs are all just autistic screeching” (Twitter)

Wouldn’t It Be Nice if people didn’t use the term ‘autistic’ as an insult?

See what I did there?

Alas , the author of the tweet doesn’t know that The Beach Boys are one of the most critically acclaimed, successsful and influential bands OF ALL TIME. Obviously, the tw@tspanner wouldn’t know harmonising if it bit him/her on the arse! God Only Knows what kind of crap they listen to. You get me?

Here’s another one..

Jenna Jameson“Meanwhile his legion of autistic, screeching followers make the most disgusting, sexist, hateful attacks on me because I happen to do porn in the past. #Hypocrites (Twitter)

A Tweeter replied: “Autism is not an appropriate word to use as an insult. Please reconsider.”

Jameson relied: “I said autistic screeching, stop looking for a reason to be offended”

Jameson picked him up on a technicality, but she’s missing the point, no? Obviously, she didn’t get the memo that it’s OFFENSIVE!

When it comes to ‘screeching’ – neurotypical girls win hands down.

Case in point: Three teenage girls at a well known fast-food restaurant (one milkshake between them)

One was pacifying herself with a massive candy dummy.

One appeared to be auditioning for BGT.

The other was downing the milkshake while the other two were distracted.

Then, in walks ‘Kenzie’ and they unanimously start screeching like bats.

Kenz? He didn’t know they were alive. He paid for his burger, fries and Coke and fucked off out again leaving the three girls finger-drawing ‘I heart you’ into the misted up window.

The point is..

Search Results

No results for ‘neurotypical girls screeching’.

See?

If everybody was a ‘bit autistic’, the abusive ‘autistic screeching’ meme wouldn’t be ‘a thing’.

Or this..

“A woman who has Asperger’s syndrome was “forcibly removed” from a screening of her favourite film by cinema security staff for “laughing too much”.

If everybody was a ‘little autistic’ would the audience member have reported her?

Would the security guards have thrown her out like a piece of rubbish?

Would other people have acted like total tw@ts?

She said that she frantically tried to explain that she was autistic but a member of the audience shouted “you’re retarded”, while another told her to “shut up b****”.(The Evening Standard)

FYI, If these things were said after she announced she was autistic – technically it’s a hate incident.

In comparison, those girls in the well known fast-food restaurant were being disruptive. They were playing music on their phones and it was louder than the music coming out the restaurant speakers, but nobody complained. Nobody got them thrown out.

When it comes to everybody being ‘a little autistic, one of the best analogies I’ve seen came from Facebook saying that it’s like pregnancy. Most people (including men) will know what back ache or throwing up feels like. Do we hear people saying, ‘We’re all a little bit pregnant?’ No, we don’t because it’s a RIDICULOUS thing to say!

If you’re a woman, you might understand the resentment one feels when husbands/partners attempt to compare something trivial (like a stubbed toe) with the pain of childbirth? You want to bludgeon them to death, right? Well, it’s like that. You hear someone say ‘We’re all a bit autistic’ and you start looking around for things to hit them with. Am I wrong?

Maybe when people say they’re a ‘little autistic’ it’s because they like the idea of the ‘quirks’ bit? That’s fine, but I’m guessing they wouldn’t want to be bullied for it? Or experience the mental illness that comes with trying to survive in a confusing world? Or the rejections in the workplace? Or the chronic conditions? Or the hostility from the general public? And I’m guessing they wouldn’t want to be wiped off the face off the planet for being a minority group, eh, Jenny McCarthy?

If you don’t know what I’m on about, Google the semi-plastic gobshite’s #endautismnow campaign.

When a person says ‘We’re all a little autistic’ they are either trying to show solidarity or trivialising a someone’s struggles – either way, it’s not appropriate or helpful.

To put yourself in my size 4s you have to have known fear, pain, humiliation and a disconnection from those around you. You need to have worn a ‘mask’ to the point that you no longer know who you are. You will have had two separate eating disorders and numerous episodes of anxiety and clinical depression until you completely and utterly lose your shit in your mid-forties. At the same time, you need to have succumbed to a physical illness that limits your already limited life and will do for the rest of your days. From that moment on you have to try to exist in this confusing world in an even more fragile and vulnerable state than you were when you were heaved out of your mother’s fanjo!

Not all autistic people have this kind of back-story, but most do, especially those who were diagnosed late in life. And let’s not forget those troubled souls who are no longer around to tell their story because their lives were ended at their own hands or by those whose duty it was to care for them.

The problems are not with being autistic per se – it’s more to do with how the world preceives us and it’s about trying to survive in a world that isn’t autism-friendly – such as being called a retard when you’re enjoying yourself at the cinema.

While I appreciate that everybody goes through difficult times (and people become ill) it’s not comparable to living life with a brain that processes everything differently. How can it be? Autistic people are born at a disadvantage to most other people, simply because of the way their brain is wired.

If you can’t identify with autistic people’s life experiences, don’t try and claim our identity and, please, don’t belittle the effort it takes for us to exist by saying: ‘We’re all a bit autistic’.

Remember, autism, is a neurological difference.

Stand beside us.

Stand up for us.

That’s how you can support us.

#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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Anxiety: All Aboard The Crazy Train

 

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

This is health anxiety.

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

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

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

Or ever will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have another read through the list!

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

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

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

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

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

‘THIS time, I’m really ill.’

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

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

It is important that I don’t CATASTROPHISE.

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

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

Nope.

Don’t believe everything you think.

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

Way to go, me.

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

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

The crazy train will come for you.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO CLIMB ABOARD.

 

Autism: Confessions of a Skin-Picker

 

What’s Stimming?

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

It’s done for relief and pleasure.

Simplified: Stimming calms or stimulates.

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

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

We stim to release tension or to stimulate ourselves.

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

*eyes are watering*

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

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

Speaking of conkers…

I like to touch them. (NOT a euphemism)

Then came the glue..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whoever invented ‘Jus Rol’ has my unwavering adulation.

So, glue..

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, a lot of my stims are gross.

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

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

OF COURSE I PICKED THEM!!

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

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

Downside is: I have scars.

LOTS of scars.

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

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

My bad, motherfunglers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next, is my thumb ring.

Yep, I just lurve touching my ring.

Leaaaaaaave it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autism and Socialising

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

This was one such occasion..

Sometime in the 1990s

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

Needless to say, NIGHTMARE!

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

The danger of having to walk into an unfamiliar building.

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

The danger of having to act ‘normal’.

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

Flight was no longer an option.

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

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

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

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

I’d have said: ‘No thanks’.

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

Not that I overthink things at all..

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

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

All I could manage was a vacant stare.

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

Or maybe he was pissed?

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

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

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

My body went into panic mode.

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

My heart was thumping out of my chest.

My mouth was dryer than a camels hoof.

I wanted to vomit.

I needed a really BIG wee.

My eye tic kicked in.

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

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

*confused face*

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

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

I froze.

I’m a freezer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was the joke.

Am I missing something here?

Were those girls being funny?

Or were they being mean?

To this day, I don’t know.

I never went out with them again.

Why would I want to?

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

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

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

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

Now I know it’s because I’m autistic.

I’m the misfit.

The odd one out.

Or I was..

Then I found my ‘tribe’.

People who get me.

People who understand everything I say and do.

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

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

People like me.

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

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

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

I Am What I Am ~ Gloria Gaynor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anxiety: Rewiring The Brain

 

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

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

I understand anxiety.

I understand panic disorder.

Knowledge is power.

So, the educational stuff..

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

Tex

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

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

Simplified: Tex thinks.

The Amygdala or Amy for short. (see above)

Amy

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

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

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

I SCREAMED THE HOUSE DOWN.

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

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

Simplified: Amy reacts.

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

I have both.

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

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

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

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

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

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)

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

Adrenalin and cortisol are released.

Our hearts beat faster.

Blood pressure goes up.

The digestive system slows right down.

We tremble, sweat or get the chills.

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

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

The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)

Heart rate slows

Blood pressure lowers.

Gastric juices increase enabling digestion.

Breathing slows down.

Body temperature returns to normal.

PNS is the body returning to normal.

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

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

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

Things you can do include:

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

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

Relaxation therapies include:

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

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

Moving on..

Breathing

We need to breathe or we die. Simple.

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

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

Try it when you feel stressed.

Take a big breath in.

Feel your diaphragm expanding.

Then let it out s l o w l y.

Do this another three or four times.

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

If you do nothing else, learn to breathe properly.

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

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

It slows my heart rate down.

It calms me.

It stops Amy from launching into action.

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

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

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

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

Cheesey vector art to close the post.