Driving and Autism

I can drive.

You can drive? Are you sure you’re autistic?

Yes and yes! I learned to drive when I was 17. I found it extremely taxing (scuse the pun) due to having to take in verbal instruction – I didn’t know I was autistic but I did know that I couldn’t handle more than one verbal instruction at a time.

‘When you get to the end of the road, turn left, then your first right, then second on the left’.

*BRAIN SNAP*

After a few arguments, my (then) husband got the message that bombarding me with verbal instructions resulted in slamming of doors and tears. Sometimes I slammed doors and cried too, so he adapted his teaching technique – not that it worked all that well as my L plates spent more time flying through the air than they ever did attached to my car!

It was two years before I felt ready to take my driving test. I had three lessons (in all) with a driving instructor. Unfortunately, as soon as I saw the name of the test examiner, my heart thunk-a-dunked because he’d failed my brother a decade earlier. The bloke had a reputation for giving teenagers the fail slip first time so I was on a downer before I even thrust my size 4 moccasin onto the clutch pedal. Also, I was taking the test in the instructors car which, in hind-sight was a mistake because I had learned to drive in my Mini-Metro..

Long story short, I failed and instantly regretted not putting the examiner’s head through the windscreen on the emergency stop. However, I now understand the role that unfamiliarity played in me failing the test.

In contrast, I took the second test in my own car and it was a piece of piss, as the saying goes.

Independance

Learning to drive was difficult for me, but I was determined to drive because I struggled 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: A recent 20 minute trip to Hobbycraft involved me ‘driving’ the route via Google street maps, even down to checking out the exit route in the car park. It took minutes, but it was necessary in order to familiarise myself with the route.

I establish routines and end up going to the same shops and parking in the same places which makes my world safe, but small. But my problems are generally around directions. I’m shit at them, even with satellite navigation. In fact, my sat-nav’s most commonly used command is: ‘When possible, do a u turn’ or ‘Route recalculation’. One reason is I can’t judge distance very well. By that, I mean when I’m supposed to turn left in 350 yards. This is common with autistic people. The way around this is to use physical clues. My ‘life coach’ has ADHD and she counts the streets on her sat-nav so she knows when to turn. Where there is a will, there is a way, right?

Perception

Sometimes, I feel as if the car is moving faster (or slower) than the speedometer is reading. The perception of speed could be due to dyscalculia? Or anxiety. But, again, it’s common with autistic people in general.

Parallelophobia

I will hold my hands up and admit that I cannot parallel park and previous attempts have resulted in at least one tyre being on the kerb and me feeling like a tw@t. Hence, I’ll drive round the block ten times rather than try to parallel park! Thankfully, PP wasn’t compulsory when I took my test or I’d be on my 1000th attempt by now..

I can, however, reverse into a parking space on a car park. No probs!

The Law

Abiding by the law is important to me. For that reason, I had no problem learning the Highway Code – which in my day was basically a pamphlet. I don’t speed or park illegally and I get hella stressed as a passenger if other people break the law. Nor do I drive too slow, as crawling along a 50 mph road doing 30 is just as dangerous as driving too fast.

Despite my challenges, I’ve held a clean license for 30 years – aside a tea stain on my old paper one. I’ve adapted and overcome problems because being able to drive is my independence. The thought of having to phone for a taxi, then sit in a car and communicate with a stranger is equally as stressful as having to queue with the masses for a bus. Quite simply, if I couldn’t drive, I would turn hermit because public transport is generally too much for me – especially since my burnout.

Accidents Will Happen

I’ve yet to be involved in an accident as a driver, but it is a fear of mine and accidents do happen. Or is it collisions now? Either way, even the safest driver is at risk of some old timer’s slip-on jamming under the foot pedal resulting in a big dent in your rear end. I’m wondering if this is what happened recently when an old lady almost ran me over? Except it was my personal rear end that almost got dented. *still having the flashbacks*

I do worry about how I would cope in an accident as my brain malfunctions in an emergency. With this in mind, I keep a list of what to do in the glove compartment. I also have people listed as ‘ICE’ on my mobile phone. This is to aid the emergency services should I ever be unfortunate enough to find myself lodged in somebody’s bumper. Or they in mine..

In Case of Emergency (ICE) is a program that enables first responders, such as paramedics, firefighters, and police officers, as well as hospital personnel, to contact the next of kin of the owner of a mobile phone to obtain important medical or support information (the phone must be unlocked and working). The phone entry (or entries) should supplement or complement written (such as wallet, bracelet, or necklace) information or indicators. The programme was conceived in the mid-2000s and promoted by British paramedic Bob Brotchie in May 2005.[1] It encourages people to enter emergency contacts in their mobile phone address book under the name “ICE”. Alternatively, a person can list multiple emergency contacts as “ICE1”, “ICE2”, etc.- Wikipedia

Lots of autistic people drive, so don’t assume that a diagnosis will prevent you from learning. Anne Heggerty of The Chase fame passed third time. The bottom line is a person’s ability to drive.

Responsibility

The important thing to understand is that driving isn’t about propelling a car forwards. My lurcher could do it. (ish) It doesn’t make you a driver. It’s about making decisions and judgements which start with your own fitness to drive on any given day. This is why so many young people are involved in fatal collisions. They speed and overtake on bends for the thrill or to show off – totally oblivious to the potential consequences of their actions. These are the ones who kill others as well as themselves. I’ve never been that person. I don’t understand the mindset. But I have been a passenger in the cars of young men who are and all I can think was that they mustn’t have thought a whole lot about me to put my life in such danger.

I think that my autistic brain makes me a more conscientious (and safer) driver because I am hyper aware and my need to abide by the law means that I don’t speed or take unnecessary risks. I’m courteous and respectful and in that I am becoming a rare breed as too many people turn into ignorant arsewipes once their backside hits the driver’s seat. I will admit to the occasional flicking of the V’s to somebody whose abysmal driving puts my life in danger, but I’m only human, innit?

Need I remind you, 007, that you have a licence to kill, not to break the traffic laws.” Goldeneye

 

More Than a Movie..

My fascination with movies started in 1978 when I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind – a film about aliens, aptly enough. I remember feeling scared, not about the movie, but of everything around me. The crowds. The smells. The cacophony of voices. The familiar feeling of wanting to be sick. The fear of vomiting in public.

I also remember the feeling in my chest as the lights dimmed and the cinema screen flickered into life for the first time in my life..

Cinema was very different in those days and for the young (and undiagnosed) autistic me it made for a conflicting experience because of the queuing, crowds, uncomfortable seating and divs using the back of my chair as a foot-rest. Not to mention the aroma of hot dogs and cigarette smoke! That said, once the film started I was able to lose myself in the fantasy – providing my bladder wasn’t too full, that is.

In contrast, last week I went to see The Crimes of Grindleward – a completely different experience because all of the above (aside hot dogs) has been eliminated. Even crowds, if you choose the earlier showing times.

I’d imagine that a lot of autists love watching movies, either at the cinema or at home. That’s because being able to lose ourselves in fantasy helps to make existence on this confusing planet a little more bearable, no? And when it comes to the wizarding world, I’d guess many autists identify with the ‘non-magical’ versus wizards’ concept because it’s not dissimilar to the NT versus autistic one.That’s not to suggest that we have magical powers, because we don’t. Unless you consider photographic memory a superpower? Or that there is a war between autistic and non-autistic. It’s just that ‘No Maj’s’ don’t understand the wizarding world and vice versa.

There are many autistic traits to be found in the Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts films. I mean, Newt Scamander has many Asperger traits, despite no affirmation from J.K Rowling. Then again, the film is set in the 1920s so Newt wouldn’t have been diagnosed anyway. And while it can be said that Harry Potter himself isn’t an autistic character, one can empathise with the range of emotions he goes through when Hagrid informs him that, actually, he’s a shit-hot wizard and those things about himself that he never understood – such as his hair growing back overnight – suddenly make sense which is not dissimilar to receiving an autism diagnosis.

Aside the film itself, I consider the credits to be an important part of the experience, but time and time again I find that I am the only person remaining in my seat as the last credits scroll up. It’s always the same. The end of the film comes, the soundtrack kicks in and there’s a flurry of activity with people standing up, coats being put on and a general mass exodus towards the exits. Some people hang on for the crowds to disperse and then they get up and leave which just leaves me..

I always watch the credits. One reason is that I like to see the names of the people who made the film possible. Another is that I’m a music fan and there are often several pieces of music of soundtrack played during the credits. Also, there is often something extra mid-credits or at the very end. Some movies use bloopers and in others the post credit scenes are a crucial part because it ties the movie up or leaves the audience (or who ever is left) in a state of anticipation.

*SPOILERS WARNING* At this point I’m going to use UP and Christopher Robin as examples so if you haven’t seen those films and would like to, please scroll down beyond the italics.

In the case of the animated film, UP, the credit scenes flip through Carl’s photo album and we get to see the adventures he has with Russell and Dug. As we see in the film, this is what Ellie wanted him to do after she was gone. Blended with the beautiful (and award-winning) score by Michael Giacchino these scenes brings this movie to a pleasing end. Everything is tied up and you leave the cinema feeling happy.

A more recent example is Christopher Robin where, after a few minutes of credits, there is a little sequence where all the characters are having a dance and a sing-song on the beach where there is an old man playing a piano. The old man is no other than Richard Sherman, a nine time Oscar nominee and writer of some of the most memorable songs Disney ever made. It’s a sweet touch and one that many people never got to see because they left the cinema as soon as the credits started to roll.

If I hadn’t stayed for the Fantastic Beasts credits, I wouldn’t have heard the fantastic soundtrack. Or learned that Mr Depp had a small army of people pandering to his every need. Or that his scary contact lens had its very own technician.

Then, there’s the flip from fantasy to reality..

I would happily sit in the empty cinema long after the credits have finished because I need time to adjust from fantasy to reality. But that’s not possible when the cleaners are giving you the evils because they can’t start cleaning up until you’ve shifted your arse.

In my younger days, I would go home and reenact everything I saw and then I would work the characters into my world using their phrases, mannerisms and style. I know now that it was part of masking – of being somebody I wasn’t because I couldn’t be myself. In those days, I was more out of this world than I was in it – something which my mother would testify to, if she were alive. She always said that I never seemed to be here. She was right. I was far, far away..

I wish I could take the credit for this quote, but it comes from a fellow autist in response to an online post I made about staying until the very end of the credits. I think that many of us will identify with it.

Earth is simply where my body is tethered…

These days, I don’t go home, shut myself away and reenact. Those days ended when I realised that nobody else I knew did such a thing – not on their own anyway. Drama was never an option for me due to my social and communication problems. Not to mention, crippling anxiety. Any enjoyment of being able to become different characters would have been lost in the discomfort of everything else. And so it’s down to music, literature and the movies to take me away from life.

In the cinema, the endorphins flood my body. The feel good hormones. The ‘I can fucking do this‘ hormones!

Then the experience ends. I push open the exit door and reality slaps me in the face with atomic force.

The anxiety. The weariness. The disconnection.

I’d give anything to turn around and walk back into that darkened room because that room is my wardrobe into Narnia. It’s a portal to another world – a world that understands me.

Only in Dreams..

Spandau Ballet are performing in my living room, but the concert is cut short when Tony Hadley suddenly flounces off in the middle of Only When You Leave. (Apt, no?) The Kemps are shaking their heads in disbelief and the audience are on the verge of turning hostile when in strolls Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran..

Nick takes Tony’s place as lead singer, which is Strange Behaviour (see what I did there?) because his place has always been behind his impressive organ keyboard. Whatever. I’m up for it because Nick is my life-long crush – a man whose wheelie bins I would lovingly trawl for traces of his DNA. (not really, M’Lud.)

So, what’s a stalker girl to do? I have to make my existence known to Nick or I might as well DIE!

Gets weird (er)

I find myself on an old-style double-decker bus trying to out-run a typhoon. (Typhoons in Manchester?) It’s during the confusion that I corner Nicholas and confess my love for him – especially during the years 1980-1987..

At this moment he pulls me towards him and kisses me!!

I don’t want this moment to end. Ever!

No doubt I was attempting to snog my pillow thinking it was Nick’s gorgeous face, but this was one dream that I did NOT want to wake up from – typhoon or no typhoon!

When it comes to dreams, most of mine are weird and not in a pleasant way, but then I’ve always been a bit prone to weird dreams..

I dream a lot, which is interesting as studies have shown that a lot of autistic people have poor dream recall. Other studies, however, have shown that people with Aspergers dream vividly and recall their dreams very well.

I’ve had anxiety problems all my life and severe sleep issues for the last seven years so I wonder if anxiety plays a part? Or the menopause? If I remember rightly.. my dreams always turned a bit funky when I was on my period – aka – minus the calming influence of oestrogen.

I would imagine that many autists have anxiety, so high levels of stress hormones in the body at night will no doubt affect the quality of sleep and influence dreams. I also know that If I have a nightmare in the early hours, I will have subsequent nightmares because the stress hormones have flooded my body – therefore there is zero chance of me achieving dreamless sleep.

I’ve also had premonition and visitation dreams.

No, I’m not a nutter. Well, maybe just a little nutterish?

See, there is a marked difference between your ‘bog standard’ dream and a visitation one because normal dreams are fragmented and make no sense – especially if you’ve been at the cheese. For instance, you might dream about your house, but the kitchen is a swimming pool and your back garden is a supermarket and a grizzly bear is chasing you with a wonky trolley that transforms into a sports car. How many grizzly bears have you EVER seen driving a car? These kinds of dreams are your brain trying to make sense out of the information it’s taken in during the day – often without you realising it. Visitation dreams, on the other hand, are rational except the people in it (aside yourself) are often dead. Or about to be, as many people dream of loved ones at the same time that they die. They often appear younger and/or in ‘good health’. You wake from such a dream convinced that you’ve experienced something far too real to be a dream. What’s more, you never forget it.

There are theories about visitation dreams, but I won’t bother with the ‘psychotic episodes’ one that pseudosceptics insist on peddling because the thought of an afterlife gives em the willies!

One theory is that it’s to do with the grieving process and that may well be true, except that many of these dreams foretell the future. In one of mine, I saw my dad sitting in the same crematorium where his funeral service had been held, with his arm protectively around his brother. I distinctly heard Dad tell my uncle that he would “take care of him”. The dream felt very real. I didn’t understand it at the time, but it made sense a few weeks later when we got the news that my uncle had died – just six weeks after my dad’s death!

I remember that dream very clearly – as is the case with visitation dreams.

Case in point: My Nick Rhodes dream has been sitting in my drafts folder for months. I’d written the details down within half an hour of waking up because I knew I’d forget them otherwise. As a rule, I don’t make a habit of writing about my dreams, but this one was about Nick Rhodes – the love of my teenage life. The man I used to daydream about pulling up at the school gates in a big limo and carrying me out of double-maths like Richard Gere in Officer and a Gentleman. The fact that I was a zit-ridden fourteen year old didn’t come into it, but let’s not get bogged down with the legal implications as it was only ever going to be a one-sided relationship between Nick and my adolescent mind, y’know?

The point is that this dream was special and a most welcome change from my usual Tarantino-esque offerings from my insane brain.

I had completely forgotten about the dream until I came across it one morning while I was looking through my unpublished posts. I read through it and honestly don’t recall any of it. I just know that it must have happened for me to write about it. In contrast, I remember visitation dreams in vivid detail, even though they happened years ago. I’m ruling out wishful thinking because if that was the case, surely I would remember every detail of my Nick Rhodes dream – especially the kiss part? Alas, I don’t remember it at all. 😦

Do you remember your dreams? Or do you wake up blissfully unaware of where your sub-conscious mind has been?

“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.” ― A.A. Milne ~ Winnie The Poo

 

 

 

 

Racing The Bumblebee

 

After 46 years of not knowing who I was, you’d probably imagine that when I finally got the answer I would be happy?

Maybe, for other autists this is the case?

The truth is that I’m not a happy person. I feel happy occasionally, but mostly all the nice stuff is weighed down by anxiety, pain, and sadness.

It hasn’t always been this way. I’ve known happiness. Real happiness.

Until the age of five, I was happy. The world was a magical place. I was in-tune to the oneness of the universe and while I’m aware that some might consider that a bit ‘wanky’, everything is connected. The problem is that we grow older and become disconnected.

Children are open to most things because they are new. They accept what they see and feel because they’ve yet to be brainwashed with jaded and narrow-minded opinions of their elders who tell them:

1. There’s no such thing as ghosts!

2. Santa doesn’t exist!

3. There is no heaven!

However, none of these statements are fact.

1. There are such things as ghosts if you’ve seen one and I have, twice, and if you understand that we are energy and energy can’t be destroyed ( it can only change form) then ghosts are completely viable, no?

2. Santa existed in human form. His name was St Nicholas and as Santa Claus he lives on in every parent/guardian who ever put a present under a Christmas tree in his name.

3. People who have been clinically dead who come back to life with stories of heaven or a place beyond normal consciousness.

‘If heaven existed, then everybody would experience the same thing!’

Says who?

It depends how you think of heaven. Maybe my heaven will be a massive library? Maybe yours will be that special beach you visited once? Or do you associate heaven with clouds and a bearded bloke wearing sandals? The point is that many people experience another state of consciousness during cardiac arrest (even brain death) which suggests that our consciousness does not die with our bodies.

Children are open to the unseen and the mysterious, this is partly what makes childhood so magical, but childhood is brief and there comes a day when it ends and my childhood’s end came when I was 11 years old. Bonfire night. Talk about ‘out with a bang’? The stomach cramps I’d been experiencing for weeks turned out to be the onset of my periods. I wasn’t ready, but is anybody ever adequately prepared for puberty? Not us and certainly not our parents who have to put up with their sweet little children turning into argumentative arseholes!

The big P coincided with a house move and a new school where I was bullied from word go. Here is where the sadness became a constant emotion. Magic struggles to thrive in such conditions and a few years later I discovered the numbing effects of alcohol and it all but vanished into the vaults of my mind. But there have been moments where the universe has reminded me that there is more to this life than what people think. I’ve always known it, but sometimes I forget it because mental illness clouds the mind. This is when the universe has to work harder to get me to notice but when I do, it lifts me enough to keep my head from going under.

Recently I was having one of those days.

I was on an old fashined steam train and I was alone in the carriage. The track was only about a mile long so we were going slow enough to be able to appreciate the countryside. Something told me to look to my left and when I did so, I noticed that a massive bumblebee was flying level with my window. It flew in a straight line with my window for about fifteen seconds, though it felt like hours. This tends to be the case when a connection is made. Time as we know it, changes. It slows down. The movies depict this by freezing everything around the subject (s).

A thought crossed my mind..

I was racing a bumblebee!

Not THAT Bumblebee!

There was this connection. The bee and I were one and, no, I hadn’t been at the cider!

It was magical.

It was funny and uplifting and amazing and all those wonderful feelings that had been covered up with the haze of mental illness.

We forget that everything is connected, but the universe has a habit of reminding us and often at the exact moment that we need the reminder the most.

“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic — the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.”
Charles de Lint

This was one of those moments.

This was the magic of my childhood. I noticed this kind of stuff all the time and I couldn’t understand why other people couldn’t see it too? But growing up does that to a person. Those spaces in our mind where the magic is recieved are gradually replaced by worries, sadness and useless information.

Enchantment gives way to stress.

Mental illness is an enchantment killer. Catastrophic thoughts are like weeds that strangle the life out of every beautiful thought you’ve ever had, You stop feeling the magic. Sometimes you stop feeling full stop. You become disconnected from the universe and eventually, yourself. It’s at this point that you struggle to know what the point of it all is. The years of suffering yet to come stretch out in front of you and you feel a sadness of such depth that you cannot begin to describe it. It scares you. You don’t want to feel this way, so you fight, but it’s like quicksand; the more you struggle, the quicker you go under. It’s only when we stop struggling that we get chance to breathe and in that moment we can see that the universe has sent us a life line. All this time, we thought we were alone, but we were not. We never are.

The only issue I’ve ever had with that is when I’m having private time on the loo. Do the unseen respectfully float off elsewhere? I hope so because there ain’t nobody, alive or dead, who needs to witness me having a tricky bowel movement, you get me?

To you, the bumblebee race might seem insignificant. Fanciful? I can see why you would. But this was something you had to experience.

Of course, you can choose to ignore such things or write them off as coincidences, but you will never know magic or enchantment if you continually slam the door on it.

Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it ~ Roald Dahl

Then there’s the sea.

A lot of humans have a connection to the sea. This could be because we’re mostly made up of water, but there is also this spiritual connection to water. Except for boys who develop an aversion to it until they discover start fancying girls (or boys).

Or it’s simply the desire to try and conquer the sea because it’s bigger and stronger us? Despite having nearly drowned, I love to look at the sea. It calms me. It always has. The way the waves crash when it’s stormy or gently roll when it’s calm. It’s moody, like me. The sea has the capacity to kill me, but it also has the capacity to calm my anxious thoughts in a way that no drug ever has or ever will.

“Look at that sea, girls–all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds.”
Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Then again, I am the Cancer water sign so maybe that’s another reason why I’m connected to it? It would certainly explain why I walk sideways. Or is it to do with being deaf in one ear? You know, balance? Either way, my walking is very crab-like!

So, in one week I got to race a bumblebee and stare at the sea and it provided a lull in the chaos within my tired middle-aged brain.

More importantly, it gave me hope.

I know that enchantment exists. It’s never not been here. I just lost sight of it because anxiety and illness clouds the mind. It’s like when a radio loses it’s signal. The capability is still there, you just have to re-tune the station.

 

 

 

 

 

Autism: Fantasy Versus Reality

For the majority of my 9 year old autistic son’s life, he’s lived in a fantasy world made up of fictional characters. He becomes those characters. He believes in them. To him, they’re real.

It’s escapism. A way of coping with a confusing world and I understand it because I’ve lived in a fantasy world of my own, particularly as a child. One thing my mother picked up on was how I was never ‘here’. The reason for that was that ‘here’ was (and still is) overwhelming and causes me a great deal of anxiety.

As I grew older, I escaped into music and books. Music conjures up vivid imagery to me and my mood changes with tempo. It would seem that I am wired to physically and emotionally react to music.

Music provides me with the protection that my imaginary world once did with fictional characters. With music, I’m physically here, but mentally (spiritually) I’m elsewhere. Walking down the street becomes a tolerable experience with my ear buds in. I know that people can see me, but I am anesthetized to them and the environmental noises that make me anxious.

I need escapism. While it’s not the same world I inhabited as a child – my need for an alternate universe remains the same. The difference is that I understand what is acceptable (and what is not) of me as an adult. But make no mistake – when I listen to music or lose myself in a book, I am as far away as I ever was.

Being autistic, I don’t have interests, I have obsessions and one of mine is death and true to my autistic self, if I can find a way to weave my obsession with mortality into a conversation, I will, but don’t worry, I haven’t gone off on a tangent. It’s relative, so bear with me.

I don’t see my interest in death as being morbid. It’s something that is going to happen to me, so I need to familiarse myself with it because – the fear of the unknown, right? I’ve already planned my funeral and one of the songs I have chosen is David Bowie’s Life on Mars.

You see, Bowie knew a thing or two about misfits. He knew that they would identify with his style – visually and musically – thus making him a very rich man. Arguably, one of his best tracks is Life on Mars – a song which Bowie labelled, “a sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media” and added, “I think she finds herself disappointed with reality… that although she’s living in the doldrums of reality, she’s being told that there’s a far greater life somewhere, and she’s bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t have access to it.” For me, it’s reminiscent of own crushing disappointment with reality. I was the ‘girl with the mousey hair’ watching movies over and over (and over) again – wondering why reality could never live up to them. I know that my family will struggle to understand the song’s meaning, but if ever a song existed that was my song – it’s this one.

In fact, in my fantasy world – Bowie wrote it for me, innit?

A lot of autistics live (or have lived) in a fantasy world and if you understood how hard it is to live on a planet that’s not compatible with your needs, you would understand why this happens. The bottom line is this: Our imaginary worlds are where we have complete control over ever single thing that happens.

Control is something that we have little of in the ‘real’ world. It’s the reason we flounder through life – succumbing to mental illness. Some of us will take our own lives. Many of us will die prematurely from stress related conditions and diseases such as cancer and heart disease. The rest of us will struggle with chronic health conditions that won’t kill us, but which will impact our already limited lives. But inside our mind is a place where we can be ourselves. A place where we don’t have to fight to be heard or accepted. A place where we can be ourselves, without fear.

How sad that this is the stuff of fantasy, instead of reality?

This is our reality.

I know how crap this world can be. I know how unkind human beings can be, so I indulge my son’s need for fantasy because I understand his need for escapism. The real world disappoints. It hurts. It makes us anxious. I wish that I could spare him all of this, but I know that one day his imaginary world will no longer protect him. I dread that day, but I know that it will because this isn’t our world. It isn’t autism friendly. Not yet. Not by a long way. This is why so many of us describe feeling as if we are from a different planet. We’re aliens having to work exceptionally hard to try and fit in here.

In our fantasy worlds, we live, rather than exist.

In reality, we exist, rather than live.

Whether escapism is being a fictional character, or losing ourselves in the lyrics of a song or the pages of a book – it’s important that we do it and it’s important that people, especially parents, understand why.

“For a child with Asperger’s, especially a fantasy subtype, fantasy can become an obsession. If fantasy becomes an obsession, it may take therapy or perhaps medication to correct the situation. Do not hesitate to contact a psychologist for help if your efforts are unsuccessful. A child locked in fantasy is a child lost to reality.”

I came across this on a website specifically for parents of children who have Aspergers.  The last sentence in particular suggests ignorance of the importance of escapism and it’s function. Is intervention really in the child’s best interests? Or is it another example of autistic children being forced to adapt so that non-autistic people can feel more comfortable in their presence?

Our autistic lives revolve around escapism and obsessions. If a child’s obsession involves wearing a Jason mask AND nicking your kitchen knives, it’s probably best that professional help is sought – pronto. Otherwise, leave them be. Escapism is serving a purpose. It’s keeping them sane. The important stuff is going in. Nobody was more ‘locked in a fantasy world’ than I was as a child, but I do understand the difference between fantasy and reality. It’s just that reality overwhelms me, so I need to intersperse it with frequent visits to my fantasy world – medication not needed.

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” ~ J.R.R Tolkien

 

 

Preparing My Autistic Child For Life Without Me

 

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

One of my fears is a really BIG one.

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

Leave, as in die.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If that makes me a bitch? Fine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, on with the journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autism: The Pretender

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

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

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

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

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

We are performers.

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

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

Forty years later, I was diagnosed autistic.

Finally. I knew who I was.

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

Er, no.

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

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

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

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

It was about pretence.

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

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

Is it any wonder I burned out?

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

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

So, what’s changed?

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

I GOT BULLIED ANYWAY.

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

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

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

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

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

People are a major problem.

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

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

“I LIKE BEING ME.”

Will I ever be able to say that about myself?

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

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

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

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

I AM good enough.

I always have been.

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

Image Via Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a Hypochondriac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like to think it read something like this..

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

Wednesday: Guffed. Put myself into a coma.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avoidance is a killer.

There is a midway between avoidance and obsession.

AWARENESS.

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

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

P.S Calcium supplements can make your poo pale.

P.P.S They can also constipate you.

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

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

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

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

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

I tentatively prodded the ‘mass’ with my finger.

As you do..

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

I texted OH: MY FUCKING BOWELS HAVE FALLEN OUT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My GP obviously didn’t have a clue.

So I consulted another one.

Dr Google.

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

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

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

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

Quite.

Turns out my ‘prolapse’ was hard poo.

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

Er, why are you talking about 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Autism: When Awards Can Be A Negative Thing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He grinned at me.

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

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

Then came the kick in the metaphorical flaps.

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

Shit. Shit. SHIT!!

Didn’t say shit, obvs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Either way, it wasn’t good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teachers, take note.

Anxiety: All Aboard The Crazy Train

 

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

This is health anxiety.

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

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

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

Or ever will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have another read through the list!

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

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

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

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

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

‘THIS time, I’m really ill.’

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

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

It is important that I don’t CATASTROPHISE.

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

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

Nope.

Don’t believe everything you think.

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

Way to go, me.

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

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

The crazy train will come for you.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO CLIMB ABOARD.