Disconnect to Reconnect

I have a problem. This digital age is making me ill and I need to cull my use of it for the sake of my health.

Don’t get me wrong, the internet and social media etc has its positives. It’s in social media (and blogging) that I have found my ‘tribe’ – fellow autists who understand me completely. And I’ve found some lovely online friends who I’d definitely make the effort to meet in real life. There is comfort in knowing that there are other people like me – regarding autism, anxiety and fibromyalgia. So, there are positives to the digital era. But there is also a dark side – a side which ramps up anxiety and deepens depression.

The internet is a place where fear and hate lives.

Cyber attacks.

Trolls.

The threat of ‘deletion’.

Addiction.

Fake News

Unwanted news and graphic pictures.

Katie Hopkins.

When it comes to social media, it seems to me that Twitter’s sweet little blue-bird icon should give way to a massive vulture with bits of flesh dangling from its beak because, DAMN! PEOPLE CAN BE SO NASTY!

Tweet this, Motherfungler!

With Twitter, people can be nasty and remain annoymous, whereas, back in the day, ‘trolling’ involved sitting at the kitchen table with a newspaper, a pair of scissors and some glue. There was a certain amount of effort involved, you get me? These days, people only have to switch on the PC (or other electronic device) to get their nasty on and, alarmingly, one of the worst social media offenders runs the United States!

But it’s not just social media that’s the problem. I’m starting to think that this digital era in general is making me ill – the screens and the amount of information in one hit. Not to mention, the addiction.

Take me back to the time of radio, books and record players the size of a small car.

Of simplicity.

I’m not against mobile phones per se. As a female driver, I feel safer with a phone to hand (not while I’m driving, obvs) The problem is that it’s no longer just a phone. It’s an intrusion.

Often, I don’t I don’t need to check my phone. It’s just habit. I mean, just how important is it that I have to see somebody’s fry-up? Or e-mails flogging me worming tablets with 10% off?

*Note to self: Order worming tabs*

Of the twenty or so e-mails I received this morning, two of them are from me!

I can’t do it anymore! I know the digital age is escalating my anxiety, so it’s in my best interests to disconnect as much as possible. Therefore, my plan is to have a month where I don’t use social media at all and to only read paper books. I may still blog because blogging is my voice. Also, I blog in the morning to scare up a bowel movement, innit. The adrenalin helps to get things moving, y’know? But that will be it. It will be an experiment to see if my anxiety levels improve.

I will remove any relevant apps on my phone because if they’re not there, I can’t be tempted, right?

I want my phone to help me, not control me and at the moment that slimline b@stard has me right under its thumb (ID)

To reconnect, I have to disconnect.

The thing is, I’m old enough to remember a time before the digital era, so I know how satisfying that feels. I feel sad that today’s generation won’t ever know that. What they will know is the anxiety and depression that comes with living their lives online, constantly comparing themselves to photo-manipulated versions of people who appear to live the perfect life.

It’s not real.

More importantly, there is the danger of developing problems with our spine. According to the British Chiropractic Association, our obsession with smartphones has led to a rise in the number of youngsters with back problems. This is due to the amount of time they spend leaning over their phones!

45 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds suffer from back pain – a 60 per cent rise from last year.

You Get Me?

Kindles.

Kindles are great. Especially those 99p bargains! But where is the joy in an electronic purchase? Standing in a book shop, inhaling paper and ink? It’s magical! It’s like catnip to a cat! You don’t get that with a Kindle!

Part of what made growing up bearable to me was the fact that I got to buy a book every week and part of that joy was the visit to the bookstore. Granted, there is the occasional whiff of ‘eau de fart’, but book shops are exciting places and it doesn’t surprise me that people feel stirrings within their bowel regions whilst being surrounded by all that wonderful literature. Personally, I’m too posh to fart in public, but I’m no stranger to having to put a book down, mid-browse, in order to sprint to the nearest loo!

I am part of the digital age whether I like it or not, but I know I’m not the only person on the planet who craves simplicity. As with any addiction – will power is required and I’m sick (pardon the pun) of feeling ill and absorbing people’s hatred on social media, so, disconnection will commence on November the 1st.

I am, in effect, closing down all those ‘open tabs’ that are draining me of my energy, creativity and faith in humanity. Not to mention, positivity and you do need a little P to battle mental and physical illness, no?

We already have months of the year where people are encouraged to stop drinking and smoking. Doesn’t it speak volumes that the same thing is starting to happen with social media?

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you. ~ Anne Lamott

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

#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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yours Mentally

Three days ago I stood outside my local cafe and hesitated before I opened the door.

‘Just sodding well go in, you loon!’ I bollocked myself.

I walked in and sat down at my usual table and within minutes the cafe owner was at my side, notepad in hand.

“Nice to see you! What can I get for you?”

‘Tea and toast please’

Five minutes later I was drinking my tea and was overcome with a sense of achievement.

I sent OH a text..

In the cafe. ON MY OWN! *smiley face*

I’ll forgive you for thinking ‘what on earth is the idiot on about now?’ but what if I was to tell you that it was the first time in over 12 months that I had been in ANY cafe on my own?

Being autistic, going into any public places requires effort due to my sensory and social issues but this post isn’t about my autism, not directly anyway.

The anxiety which has shadowed me from birth morphed into Panic Disorder in 2014, then General Anxiety Disorder and after three years of my body being constantly flooded with stress hormones, I had a nervous breakdown.

Definition: A nervous or mental breakdown is a term used to describe a period of intense mental distress. During this period, you’re unable to function in your everyday life.

At the peak of my illness,  I visited my GP ten times, A&E twice and the out of hours GP service twice – this was in a period of two weeks. EACH time I was convinced I would be admitted to hospital. EACH time, I was told it was anxiety.

When it came to symptoms, I had the works with my entire body from my scalp to my toes being affected. I felt sick ALL of the time and kept spontaneously retching. On one occasion I sat in the GP’s office retching violently into a cardboard bowl. She said I had a gastric bug but I’d been retching for the past three years (just not in public) so if it was a gastric bug then I was breaking some kind of record! Another time I was walking down the street and retched so hard I actually vomited over myself.

Barfing, not dancing, in the street.

My weight dropped into the 7 stone range and my muscles were starting to waste. I was starting to look like Skeletor, only less sexy..

My bowels woke me up at 4-5am with a ‘MOVE IT OR YOU’LL SHIT THE BED’ cramping in my lower regions. I’d also wake in the early hours shaking violently, not that it woke OH. Nothing short of the house blowing up would have roused him from his coma..

I couldn’t tolerate drugs, even painkillers. Come to think of it, even vitamins gave me gyp.

Palpitations? Don’t start me.

My mouth was sore but with no visible cause because I checked via a dental mirror NUMEROUS times. Yes, REALLY! You do things like this when you are mentally ill, see. You spend hours inspecting yourself and prodding your poo. Dignified, no?

I had test after test but all came back clear.

‘All those doctors can’t be wrong, Sweetie’, OH said.

‘They just haven’t found the cancer yet dearie.’ countered Fear.

By far, the most debilitating symptom was the feeling that I was losing my mind..

My grip on reality can be iffy at the best of times but this was in a different realm completely. I struggled to go out or be on my own. My stims became more noticeable and I had no control over them at all. My rocking went from my usual subtle movement to virtually falling off the chair-rocking and my lips were sore from frantically picking the skin off them.  I couldn’t see a way out and in my worst moment I actually wanted to be sectioned.

Yep, you read that right. I wanted to be thrown in the big house where they could put me to bye-byes and be there for me 24/7. I understand now just how poorly I was and If I hadn’t have turned myself around when I did, I may not have had any choice in the matter..

I threw everything at getting better. I did relaxation and yoga. I cut out sugar, caffeine, alcohol, gluten etc but none of it helped for long because I wasn’t accepting how I felt. I was fighting Fear ALL the way..

The breakthrough came when I was told I would have to have a colonoscopy. I was SO convinced I was coffing it that I accepted my fate AND all those weird and unwonderful sensations. I told myself to enjoy what time I had left because Fear could eff right off if it thought it could rob me of that too. With support from OH and a few good friends, including one who’s had a breakdown of his own, I began to see blue sky even in the shadow of my imagined death.

Beautiful Blue Sky

I stuffed food into my mouth and didn’t dwell on how crap it made me feel. I lived alongside Fear and accepted whatever it threw at me. What had I got to lose?

I started to put weight on and my tummy started to rumble again. I FELT HUNGRY!!

I told myself constantly that ‘whatever happens to me. I am here, NOW’.

Then my bum got invaded courtesy of the NHS, and everything was fine. I wasn’t dying (HURRAH) but I had to face the fact that I was mentally ill..

My weight is now back up to 8 and a half stone and my heart isn’t pounding all the time. The anxiety will always be there but I’m not in crisis anymore. I have taken steps to help myself, the biggest and most important being ACCEPTANCE.

There were many times when depression tangoed with the anxiety and I thought I would slip further into insanity but my mind is stronger than I could ever have imagined. It’s healing itself, especially now I understand that magic word, acceptance.

So, yeah, I went to the cafe alone. It was a GINORMOUS step and I’m PROUD of me. I know that recovery is a long process and there will be setbacks along the way but that’s ALL they will be because I’ve accepted fear for what it is.

We need fear. It stops us from being reckless but fear should work for us, not the other way around. That jumped up little git needs to know it’s place, innit.

If you are reading this and are struggling with mental illness, know that you CAN get better. It’s your thoughts that have put you where you are and it’s your thoughts that will set you free.

Yours, mentally

ACCEPT

 All Images Via Creative Commons