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.

 

 

 

 

 

Diagnosis/Self Awareness – How Does That Affect Masking?#TakeTheMaskOff

 

Until the age of five, I didn’t mask. There was no need to. I was free to exist in my little world without fear of ridicule. I was happy with who I was. Then one day my mother took me to a strange place. This place was loud and scary and had lots of other children in it. It was a sensory nightmare.

My mother stayed with me for a while, then she got up to leave. I remember trying to leave with her, but she told me that I had to stay there. So I did what many children do on their first day of school – I cried.

The teacher sat me on her knee, but it didn’t comfort me because I didn’t like the closeness of her. She was a stranger invading my personal space, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t do anything to change the situation. A bell rang (loudly) and we were told to go outside where it was hot and the noise was deafening. It hurt my ears. I mean really. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, so I just stood in the middle of the playground trying (and failing) to process the sensory stimulus that was threatening to overwhelm me.

That was the first time I remember experiencing loss of control.

At that moment, a girl walked up to me. I thought she was going to talk to me. Maybe offer me some friendliness? But she didn’t say a word. Instead, she looked at me as if I was something particularly nasty. Like shit? Then she pinched me hard on the arm.

Whatever I was expecting it wasn’t that.

To the onlooker, it must have looked like I didn’t react at all, but inside of me all hell was breaking loose.

I stared at my shoes while my brain went into overdrive.

I remember wanting to run off home to be with the family who loved me unconditionally and the invisible friends who understood me.

I also remember that nobody came to help me.

Nobody.

How could nobody have seen this?

And why had my mother left me in this horrible place?

At the end of that first day of school, I went to collect my coat, but there was something else on my peg – a mask. I placed it over my face and I wasn’t me anymore.

I wore it for the next forty-one years.

In my forties I became ill. The mask had been slowly suffocating me and now I was struggling to breathe – to live.

During this time I saw a doctor who saw beyond my anxiety. He sent me to see a psychiatrist who sent me for an autism assessment.

Nine months later, I was formally diagnosed as autistic.

First there was relief. Then came the grief – not for being autistic, but for all the time I’d lost trying to be something I’m not and can never be. I grieved for the fearful child that I’d been, the troubled teenager I became and the adult who masked so much that she lost her own identity!

In the beginning, masking is helpful because it provides a way to fit in with everybody else, but over time the mask gets heavier because you lose energy and strength. The mask starts to suffocate you. But you’ve worn it for so long you don’t know how to take it off. Then, life has a way of forcing change upon you and it often comes in the form of mental illness.

Mental illness shrinks you. Literally, in my case. My clothes became loose. My skin lost it’s elasticity. My mask came loose. In the end, it came away with no effort at all, but it was because I was ill. I thought I would feel vulnerable without it, but mental illness takes you to the darkest place you could imagine. A place you NEVER want to be again. I would rather take on the world in it’s full judgemental glory than go back there!

I masked because the world didn’t want the real me and I needed to try and be like everyone else to survive. Being me wasn’t an option – certainly not when I was school in the 70s and early 80’s. It also meant that I flew under the autism radar.

Masking delays diagnosis. Boys are diagnosed a lot earlier because they are generally crap at masking. The example I can give is of my son and myself. My son doesn’t mask and he was diagnosed at 4 years old. I have masked for the majority of my life and I was diagnosed at 46 years old.

Since my breakdown and subsequent diagnosis, I no longer care what people think of me. I get to be me, now.

Epilogue

I walk out into the middle of the infant school playground towards the smaller version of me.

She looks lost, awkward and out-of-place.

She’s hurting, but nobody knows it.

I gently take her hand and whisper, ‘Don’t worry. I’ve got you now’.

We walk past the girl who is responsible for the bright red mark on my younger self’s arm.

We could use the law of retaliation and give the little bitch an eye for an eye, but this is about healing, not revenge.

So we place the girl’s image into an imaginary balloon and let it float up into the sky.

Then we walk off into the cloakroom where a solitary coat is hanging on its peg.

I remove the coat and replace it with a well-worn mask.

We don’t need it anymore.

We’re free.

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

We all mask.

Masking is not just an autistic thing. It’s a human 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 died unexpectedly. The problem was that I’d been trying to run my entire 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.

It’s the tidal wave. Or it’s a hurricane.

It’s catastrophic.

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.

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 music.
  • I was constantly retching and feeling sick.
  • 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. The kind of crying where the tears just happen without any effort at all. I actually prayed for the anxiety to come back. I could fight the anxiety, you see, but depression doesn’t fight fair. It consumes you. It numbs you. It steals every ounce of joy you ever had until you feel that nothing is worth living for, even when there is.

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

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

Make no mistake – mental illness is a battle.

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

Nobody chooses to be mentally ill.

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

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

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

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

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

Be part of the revolution.

#TakeOffTheMask

 

 

 

#TakeOffTheMask: How Does Masking Affect Mental Health?

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

What’s this got to do with masking?

Autistic people who mask are performers.

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

The actor: Will I be convincing as Othello?

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

Either way, it’s a performance.

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

Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be…

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

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

I have to recall lines or appropriate responses.

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

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

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

I have prompt myself constantly.

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

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

It’s mentally exhausting.

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

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

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

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

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

I no longer want to feel the fear of rejection.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#TakeOffTheMask: Stimming

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

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

Those few minutes allowed my brain to reset itself.

I didn’t know that I was autistic.

I didn’t know that I was stimming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stimming keeps me sane – literally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for the second sentence in this quote..

This is the problem.

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

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

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

Actually, worse case is premature death.

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

OOH LOOK! A FLYING PIG!

 

Dear Anxiety..

Dear Anxiety,

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

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

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

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

‘Go on! Just run across!

What if I get hit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m sick of feeling sick!

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

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

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

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

Am I right?

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

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

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

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

Regards, your human.

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

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

Creative Commons Image Via Pixabay

 

 

 

Confessions of a Hypochondriac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like to think it read something like this..

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

Wednesday: Guffed. Put myself into a coma.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avoidance is a killer.

There is a midway between avoidance and obsession.

AWARENESS.

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

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

P.S Calcium supplements can make your poo pale.

P.P.S They can also constipate you.

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

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

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

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

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

I tentatively prodded the ‘mass’ with my finger.

As you do..

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

I texted OH: MY FUCKING BOWELS HAVE FALLEN OUT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My GP obviously didn’t have a clue.

So I consulted another one.

Dr Google.

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

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

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

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

Quite.

Turns out my ‘prolapse’ was hard poo.

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

Er, why are you talking about poo, you manky cow?

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

And I thought it was bowel cancer.

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

There’s NO shame in being a hypochondriac.

Some of the world’s best have been hypochondriacs!

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

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

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

I was having a mental breakdown.

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

IT WAS TERRIFYING.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End.

 

 

 

 

 

Autism and Burnout

Burnout is a chronic state of stress which leads to physical and emotional exhaustion. It might manifest as anxiety or depression or both.

The Signs Of Physical and Emotional Exhaustion

  • Fatigue: You lack energy and feel more tired than usual.
  • Insomnia: Starts with the occasional bad night and progresses to the inability to sleep or stay asleep every night.
  • Concentration: Lack of sleep affects concentration and the ability to complete tasks.
  • Physical Symptoms: Palpitations, chest pain, chills, stomach aches, headaches and hundreds of other physical symptoms that make you worry that you are gravely ill which in turn forces you even further down the wormhole.
  • Illness: Your body becomes more susceptible to immune related illness.
  • Appetite: You may lose your appetite or go the other way and over-eat, especially sugary or high-carb foods.

Alongside the physical signs, there are emotional signs.

  • Loss of enjoyment about things you love.
  • Negativity: You become pessimistic about everything. In my case, it isn’t glass half empty. It’s glass smashed into smithereens all over the floor!
  • Isolation: Socialising is hard work for most autistic people but during burnout, we don’t have the energy or inclination to socialise at all. This includes social media.
  • Detachment: As an autist, I have always felt detached from everybody else but detachment from burnout can be a detachment from everything including yourself.

When you reach this stage it is illness.

A lot of autistic people will reach burnout stage at some point in their lives. The reason is that trying to exist in an NT world is stressful and exhausting and the human body can only take so much battering from stress hormones before it starts to burnout.

Burnout.

Nervous Breakdown.

Shutdown.

Call it what you will but it ALL amounts to the same thing.

Your body has had enough and is no longer whispering words of warning to you. IT IS SCREAMING AT YOU TO FUCKING DO SOMETHING!

The whispers started for me as a small child when I constantly felt sick or threw up and was living in a constant state of fear.

The whispers got louder as a teenager when I developed an eating disorder as a way of trying to gain control of my own life.

As a twenty-something the whispers told me that it wasn’t normal to be seeing ‘black things’ scurrying across the floor that nobody else could see or imaginary spiders in front of my eyes.

At thirty-something I tried to shut the whispers up with alcohol.

At forty-something my mother died and I had my first nocturnal panic attack.

At 46 years of age I had a nervous breakdown.

Finally, my body said ‘ENOUGH’.

Physically and mentally, I burned out.

My body has pumped so much adrenalin into my system that my fight or flight response now triggers when it shouldn’t – like in response to my dreams or the heating coming on. This is why I have insomnia. This is why I wake up in the early hours every morning.

Why do autistic people burn out?

The more ‘highly functioning’ we are, the more is expected of us and the more we push ourselves to be neurotypical. People can’t see what’s going on inside of us. They just see somebody who ‘looks’ perfectly normal. The effort it takes to be able to pull this off is phenomenal and sooner or later, the consequences will be burnout.

A lot of autistic people suffer from anxiety and anxiety means fear.

We fear walking out of the front door into a noisy and confusing world. We fear having to socialise. We fear having to make small conversation at work. We fear that we will lose control. We fear people being able to see past our pretence of being neurotypical. We fear rejection. We fear there being no escape route.

We fear.

Our hearts beat faster. Our bodies are constantly primed to fight or run. The fight or flight response is triggered numerous times a day and over time it takes longer for our bodies to recover from it. Eventually, even the fittest of us will succumb to illness. Either physical, mental or both.

Once you have had a breakdown you are never the same. It’s an invisible scar. A wormhole opened up and you know that it won’t take a lot for you to lose yourself down there again. As if life wasn’t already tough enough? Now there is this fragility about you. The difference is that by now you know you have to take better care of yourself and your needs.

You learn to say no.

You learn to let go of people/situations that drain you.

You accept your limitations.

You will hang up the neurotypical ‘skin suit’ for good.

What the fark is a skin suit?

If you’ve ever seen Men in Black, you’ll be familiar with the big ol’ ‘bug’ who comes to Earth. The alien nicks farmer Edgar’s skin so he can look less, er, conspicuous. Only it’s not his skin, so it doesn’t fit. He looks weird and it makes him uber cranky because it feels pretty shit to be wearing someone else’s skin. A bit like trying to cram yourself into size ten jeans when you are a generous twelve..

Feeling ‘alien’ is a feeling that a lot of autistic people identify with. We feel like we don’t belong here and a lot of us pretend to be neurotypical in order to not stand out. It’s an act and acting requires effort. When we shut the outside world out, it’s such a relief to finally be us.

My breakdown coincided with my diagnosis and even though I am still fighting to rid myself of panic disorder and insomnia, I am finally free of the constricting neurotypical suit I’ve been inhabiting for the majority of my life.

I feel lighter.

I don’t push myself to be ‘normal’ anymore.

If I can’t go to social functions I don’t beat myself up about it.

If I can’t face shopping in the supermarket, I’ll do it online.

I haven’t given up on life. I just find ways that make living a little easier.

When I get overwhelmed I shut myself away like I have always done. The difference is that I no longer feel guilty about it. People can think what the hell they like because you know what? They will anyway because that’s what people do.

This is no longer about them.

It’s about you.

It’s about self-care.

With social media, I get overwhelmed pretty quickly so I have learned to give myself breaks from it and to limit time spent on the internet. The internet can get pretty intense and I soak up the negative stuff like a sponge. Bad news and hate is all over the internet. It affects me, then I get ill. Yes, we live in a computer age and the internet can be useful but it can also be damaging to your mental health so it’s up to us to police our internet time so it works for us not against us.

I have also accepted that I can’t do ‘life’ on my own so now I ask for help when I need it. Being autistic, there are certain things that I struggle with. Asking for help, isn’t being weak. It’s self-care.

The thing is that I’ve have put so much effort into existing that I’m exhausted and for what?

To fit in?

So I don’t offend people by saying no?

I’m done with all that.

We should all be done with that, right?

If you can identify with this post. Please don’t let another day go by where you live your life on somebody else’s terms. If it hasn’t already, it will make you ill.

It’s time to be the fabulous human being you were born to be.

It’s time to be you.

“If you celebrate your differentness, the world will, too. It believes exactly what you tell it—through the words you use to describe yourself, the actions you take to care for yourself, and the choices you make to express yourself. Tell the world you are one-of-a-kind creation who came here to experience wonder and spread joy. Expect to be accommodated.” ~ Victoria Moran – Lit From Within

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changing Your Diet Could Help With Anxiety

In England about 4.7 in 100 people suffer from anxiety, 2.6 from depression and 9.7 from depression combined with anxiety. That’s shit loads of people. Overall, 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem this year and I am a one in four because I suffer from generalised anxiety disorder.

What you may not realise is that diet can make symptoms worse..

Anxiety isn’t necessarily caused by our diet but it can definitely make the symptoms worse. When it comes to anxiety eating healthily really does make a difference.

Before I got carted off to A&E with my epic (I’M DYING) panic attack, I’d noticed that I was getting palpitations after eating my daily Kit-Kat (four-fingers) and a pint of real ale would have me waking up at 2am with a 10/10 scale panic attack. The night I was taken to hospital, I’d downed a take-away and a pint of 7% beer. Not excessive by any means but a) I’m a lightweight and b) I was on the brink of nervous exhaustion due to the amount of adrenalin that had been surging through my body over the previous two years. There is NO doubt that it triggered the panic attack.

It makes sense to avoid foods which could be making your anxiety worse.

Such as:

Alcohol

Relaxes you initially but you wake up at 3am with a gob like a flip-flop because you are dehydrated. Dehydration can trigger a panic attack. Alcohol also mucks about with the serotonin levels in your brain which makes things worse once the alcohol has worn off.

Caffeine

It’s a stimulant so it makes your heart beat faster and can give you palpitations. It’s a known anxiety stimulant. Remember Tweak in South Park? One cup a day preferably in the morning is OK for most people but anything more than that is a panic attack waiting to happen. I’m an all or nothing type of girl so I’ve given it up completely and I have to say that some of the decafs on the market aren’t too bad at all!

Fried Foods

I noticed that I felt iffy after trawling my way through a full English and now I understand it’s because the digestive system has to work it’s arse off to digest it all. OOPS!

Sugar

AVOID! AVOID! AVOID!

Naturally occurring sugars are fine but the nasty white refined stuff will have you hyperventilating into a paper bag before you can say ‘One lump or two?’

Dairy Products

Dairy isn’t bad in the grand scheme of things but when it comes to anxiety it can raise your adrenalin levels so if you’re already ‘buzzed off your baps’ it’s not rocket science to understand how eating a lot of dairy can contribute to your anxious state. I’ve ditched the cheese but can recommend the vegan cheese-less cheese slices which are relatively palatable with some imagination.

Acid Forming Foods

Acid forming foods play havoc with your magnesium levels. Many people are deficient in this mineral due to food processing. Low magnesium levels can also contribute to anxiety and many people say that taking a magnesium supplement greatly improves their symptoms. Some even say that it makes them disappear completely but low magnesium levels can cause the same symptoms anxiety.

That’s the depressing part but it’s worth looking at what you are ingesting to feel less anxious. As Del Boy says, ‘You know it makes sense, Rodney!’

So what can you eat and drink to make you feel a bit calmer?

Herbal Teas

Chamomile, Lemon Balm and Valerian are all calming drinks. Be careful with Green Tea though.. It has numerous health benefits but it’s also a stimulant, so make sure you drink it decaffeinated.

Fresh Fruit

Fruit will give you the energy you need without the buzz that sugar gives you. Bananas are also a good source of magnesium.

Vegetables

They make you fart but farting ‘trumps’ a panic attack any-day of the week. See what I did there?

Tryptophan

Foods such as poultry, oats, dates, fish, peanuts, sunflower seeds, soy and chickpeas are rich in Tryptophan which is known to reduce anxiety.

Water

Most of us are dehydrated and dehydration nearly always leads to anxiety symptoms so increasing how much you drink will improve things. I’ve found that knocking back a glass of Lancashire tap settles my palpitations down a treat.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Evidence suggests that Omega 3 is important for anxiety so Flaxseed oil, fish like salmon and tuna are good for you. Your house will stink like Grimsby Docks but your body will adore you for it. I also take a supplement and as well as the improvement in my anxiety, I’ve noticed that my brain doesn’t feel as ‘foggy’.

Supplements

Magnesium

Magnesium is a calming mineral. It supports the nervous system and helps to prevent anxiety. In my opinion it definitely helps so I take a daily supplement to make sure I’m getting enough.

B Vitamins

B12 is the most common, but all B vitamins may have an effect on anxiety. B-vitamins play a strong role in the nervous system, so studies indicate that supplementing B vitamins could also improve anxiety outlook.

A word of caution about B Vitamins

I was taking a B vitamin complex until I realised that it was increasing my anxiety and I learned that Vitamin B6 is used in most energy supplements because it can increase the production of various energizing neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. It’s better to take it in the morning and with food.

The general function of norepinephrine is to mobilize the brain and body for action

When you are in a state of anxiety, your body is permanently ready for action so pumping more of this stuff into your body is going to increase anxiety levels. However, everybody is different in how things affect their body so the best idea is to see how it affects you and adjust the strength accordingly or leave them off altogether until you’re body isn’t constantly flooded with adrenalin and cortisol.

Cutting out the crap and eating more healthily will not cure your anxiety but I can assure you that it will improve how you feel. Alcohol, caffeine, sugar etc are all known to worsen anxiety and trigger panic attacks so removing those from your diet means less triggers to deal with. Less triggers means less adrenalin and cortisol. Try it. You may feel worse to begin with as withdrawal from any addictive substance makes you feel like you’re coming off crack (not that I know) but after a while you should notice an improvement. You will also notice that your skin is clearer and you don’t have ‘brain fog’.

I know how comforting food can be. My heart has soared many a time over the glorious sight of a Yorkie bar hiding at the back of the cupboard but I’ve also learned that those few minutes eating sugar-laden goodies isn’t worth the ambulance ride at 5am in the morning. If you want to get better, I strongly suggest you cut out the stimulants. This is not to say that you can never enjoy these things again. Once your body recovers and is no longer releasing stress hormones 24/7, you will be able to snaffle the odd doughnut and cappuccino again without it being a problem.

Until then, do the right thing by your bod, eh?

 

 

 

 

Why Inactivity Doesn’t Help Anxiety.

Today, I’m talking about cortisol.

‘What the chuff’s cortisol?’ I hear you say. ‘ It sounds like a mouthwash!’

No, that’s Corsodyl.

Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands in response to fear (or stress) as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism. Normally, it’s released into the body when the fight or flight button is activated, like when you have a near miss in the car or you can’t find your purse at the checkouts in Tesco. Once the danger is passed, cortisol subsides and the body returns to normal. When somebody has panic disorder they become sensitised and their fight-or-flight mechanism responds to EVERYTHING as if it’s a threat. Put it this way. I once had a panic attack while watching Mary Berry on TV. I mean, who knew that Mary Berry could be so bloody scary? Maybe it was the way she was chopping the carrots?

We’d be forgiven for thinking that we should be lying in bed or sitting in a chair all day because our bodies are burning calories without doing anything and in any case, we feel too tired to do anything. Right?

Wrong.

The worst thing you can do when your cortisol levels are sky high is sit on your arse because anxiety LOVES inactivity. Why? Because it means that it has your undivided attention. Rest is good. We need to rest but only if that rest includes sleep or doing relaxation exercises. Lying on our beds, tormenting our minds with unhelpful thoughts isn’t restful. In fact, we are KEEPING THE CORTISOL FLOWING.

We need to break the cycle.

We need to DO stuff that distracts the mind from our fruitcake thoughts.

The idea is to bring those cortisol levels down, so go for a run or a long ramble. Take a gentle walk or do some light housework. Have a potter round the garden. Don’t those weeds need pulling up? Paint a picture. Knit a crap scarf. Put a shelf up. Mop the floor. Clean a window. Whatever you fancy as long as it distracts you from your thoughts of doom.

‘I can’t do it. I have no energy’

‘I’m too tired’

‘What’s the point?’

‘Just leave me TO DIE’

The point is that you will feel BETTER for doing it. No matter how retched you feel when you start, you will feel better for doing it because you will have distracted yourself from those unhelpful thoughts. Each time you do this you are bringing those stress hormone levels down. Do you see?

The trick is not to think about doing stuff because you will only talk yourself out of it.

‘I’m too tired today. I’ll do it tomorrow’

Tomorrow will come with the same old excuses but meanwhile those stress hormones are running riot – like a room full of two year olds. Don’t think about going for a walk. Just DO it. Tell yourself that, yes, you feel like crap but you will feel better for it when you’ve been. Get your coat. Open the door. GO.

Even at my very worst, I understood that going out made me feel better. I have walked down the street retching into my hand. But I kept walking and when I got home, I felt better than I did before I went out. It works. It REALLY does. Trust Mrs Fruitcake because she knows her shit. By Mrs Fruitcake, I mean me.

Cortisol & The Mornings

Not the name of a band. I’m talking about cortisol and it’s role in waking us up..

Normally, cortisol levels rise during the early morning hours and are highest about 7 a.m. This is where you start to wake up. It’s a gradual process..

Normally, cortisol level diminishes throughout the day.

Normal goes out the window with anxiety disorders. With a lot of us, there is no gentle start to the day. Our day starts with some bastard standing over us with a megaphone, screaming, ‘WAKEY WAKEEEEEEEEEY!!’ – metaphorically speaking, of course.

See, what happens is this. Normally, people have really low levels of cortisol in the evenings but after a day’s worrying, the anxious person’s levels are sky high before they even try to sleep. We toss and turn for hours, then finally fall into anxious sleep. Then our bodies try to wake us up. Our heart rates increase, blood pressure goes up and hormones go FULL ON NUTS around our bodies in order to rouse us from sleep.

Think of it this way. The non-anxious person’s morning cortisol is the long distance runner. His pace is slow but steady only gathering momentum in the final few laps. The anxious person’s cortisol is Usain Bolt. Nuff said?

This waking state can feel really uncomfortable because we are sensitised.

THIS is why so many people with anxiety feel worse in the mornings.

THIS is why most of my panic attacks happen on waking.

I’ve found that lying in bed after waking up suddenly at 5am isn’t the best idea. Even if I manage to fall back to sleep, the chances are that I will have dreams of the ‘orrible kind. It’s best to get up and go and do something. I find that having a piece of toast and a cup of herbal tea helps to sort out low blood sugar levels.

It’s also worth thinking about what you are eating (and drinking) at night because if you are are eating a heavy meal late at night, you are asking for trouble as digesting food requires the body to work it’s arse off. The heavier the meal, the harder it has to work. Yes? However, going to bed hungry is just as bad. A well thought out snack an hour or so before you go to bed will help to stabilise blood sugar levels. By snack, I don’t mean crisps. I’m thinking more along the lines of a milky drink and a plain piece of toast.

Here, I will sneak in a little note about what you DO before bedtime. Are you watching horror films or psychological thrillers? Are you listening to upbeat music? If you are, you are ramping up the stress hormones. An un-sensitised nervous system will cope with Freddie Kruger at 10pm. At worst it will result in a bad dream but when you are sensitised, you are adding fuel to the fire, so be mindful of what you are doing in those few hours before bedtime. Think, ‘winding down’, not winding yourself up.

If mornings are worse for you, you could try exercising?

Work with the adrenalin. Go for a run and get those endorphins going. If elective sweating isn’t for you – or if you find it too stimulating – go for a walk or do some relaxation techniques. Experiment and see what works for you. Just don’t fear the sensations. Your body is doing what it should, it’s just that you are sensitised.

It won’t always be like this.

Creative Commons Image Via Pixabay