Somewhere Only I Know

I wake up with a racing heart..

‘Fer f**ks saaaaake!’, I whine, a bit pathetically.

This time it’s different though because I don’t fear the sensation. It’s unpleasant but it will pass. I’ve been here a hundred times before.

‘Don’t you DARE look at the clock!’, I warn myself, though I imagine it’s around four. I elbow OH in the ribs because he’s snoring like a bastard, then I make myself comfortable.

I close my eyes..

I breathe in for four seconds.

I hold my breath for four seconds.

I breathe out for four seconds.

I reach into the certifiable mess that is my mind and retrieve a happy memory of a sunny day on a beach in Wales. I remove the people from the memory so there is just me. No stressed-out parents, no screaming kids and no Mr Whippy van with his highly irritating mechanical chimes..

I change the weather from hot to warm, because I can.

Editing done, I start to walk along the beach, seeing myself in first person perspective, just as in life. Though it has to be said that my feet are hideous..

There are sand dunes to the left of me, cliffs behind me and the golden Welsh sands stretch out before me. I walk for a while then turn to face the ocean..

I love the sea. It has the ability to take my life within minutes, yet can soothe my frazzled mind. The only snag is I can’t swim.

I watch as the waves roll in and out, synchronizing them to my breathing. Then I become aware of my bare feet sinking into the cool sand and a catastrophic thought creeps into my mind. I see myself being dragged under by deadly quicksand. This is because Mum, bless her, nearly ended herself on a beach in Bournemouth. Thankfully, all she lost was a flip-flop and her dignity.

The seagulls fly above me but there’s no danger of them crapping on my head. Nor are there any Carling cans and fag-ends jammed into the sand ruining my view because this is my special, no shit allowed, place.

Suddenly I feel something cold on my leg and look down to see a beautiful Lurcher with his nose pressed against my leg. He has golden fur, the kind that’s comfortingly rough. His eyes are caramel brown with more love inside them than you could ever imagine..

He starts to dance around me, nudging my leg and woofing like a mad thing.

He wants to play..

A piece of driftwood appears, as if by magic, and I hurl it into the sea with all the finesse of a shot-putter, not that he cares. Off he bounds into the waves, barking excitedly. He finds the driftwood and brings it back to me. ‘Again?’ his eyes implore me..

So I indulge him, again and again until I have to tell him to sod off because my arthritis is giving me gyp.

He hurdles the waves, like Usain Bolt, only with fur. He is uninhibited and for a moment I envy him because he isn’t scared of anything..

After a while he tires himself out and makes his way towards me. I crouch down to his level and stroke his face. He makes this noise, like he’s singing, only it’s more of a howl. It’s dog-speak for ‘I’m happy’.

Miraculously, his fur has dried out. How did that happen? Because it can, that’s why.

I put my face to his and breathe him in. He smells like sunshine. His aroma comforts me and I can feel my heart rate slowing right down. This moment lasts as long as I need it to, then he gives me one last look with those beautiful eyes before he ambles off towards the dunes..

I gaze down to see two sets of prints in the sand, one of hideous size 4 feet, the other of paws.

My four-legged friend is nowhere to be seen. No doubt he is lying in the shade somewhere chasing rabbits in his dreams..

A gentle breeze stirs up so I walk some more, watching as the clouds pass along the blue sky like big balls of cotton wool. If heaven exists, I want this to be mine.

My heart rate has returned to a steady beat and my breathing to normal. I am calm.

I stare at the ocean one last time then make my way towards the dunes where there are a set of steps. In reality, those steps lead to some public bogs that reek of piss but I edit that bit out because, well, it’s a bit shit.

As I climb the steps, I congratulate myself because Fear didn’t win this time. I showed that little shit who’s boss, i.e. me.

By the time I reach the last step, I am opening my eyes and blinking in the sunlight, or dinge, whichever is applicable. Back to life, back to reality..

The brain is a powerful thing. Thoughts can destroy and heal you in equal measure. My brain frustrates me on a daily basis with it’s catastrophic thoughts yet the memory of a much loved friend, who died over ten years ago, has the power to heal me.

The memory is real and it’s a privilege to have, just as it was a privilege to share part of my life with such a loving creature.

The first time I saw him in my guided relaxation, he simply appeared without me having thought of him. Did my subconscious bring him to me? Or did he find me?

Either way, I am grateful because each time I wake up panicking, I go to my special place and there he is, waiting for me.

Friend and Healer.

Footprints CC Image via Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Ageing With Autism

Did you know that over 700,000 people in the UK are autistic and most of them are adults? Much has been written about children and autism but there is very little information about ageing..

Most autistic people have additional problems such as depression, anxiety, sleep issues or learning difficulties and on top of all this comes the ageing process – which can be shit at the best of times.

Being diagnosed at 46, I understand myself as the child that I was and the adult that I am now but what next?

What will happen to me when I’m old?

A positive thing about diagnosis is that it’s given me permission to be myself. Pretending to fit in is exhausting but I have confidence to be me so I no longer have to work quite so hard at existing.

*does air-punch*

However, the way my mind works is that I dwell on the past and overthink the future. The future causes me concern because I fear being put in an old peoples home where I would be forced to be social. I’m not saying that every autistic person will feel like I do as we’re all different but as far as I’m concerned, it would be hell.

I’m not completely averse to being social but it has to be on my terms and I reckon I’d die pretty flipping quickly if my need for solitude was not respected or understood.

Also..

I don’t want to sit on a plastic chair and watch shit TV programmes.

I don’t want to play bingo.

I don’t want to eat my food with everybody else.

I don’t want to go on day trips to the fucking seaside where I’ll be asked if I need a piss every five minutes.

No ta.

I’m sort of hoping I’ll vacate this planet via my own home but you don’t always get what you want do you?

I get that oldie homes work for many people. The social thing probably keeps them alive longer but not me. I’d be bagged, tagged and laid out on the mortuary slab within a week!

As I age, I will most likely need more medical intervention. I mean, I’m creaking like an old barn door now so it’s a given. One problem with this is I struggle with verbal instruction, not because I’m slow, but because my brain can’t process more than one verbal instruction at a time so when medical professionals start reeling off instructions at one million miles an hour because they are SUPER busy, my brain goes screen saver and I just remember the first part or nothing at all. I need them to understand this about me and either slow up or write it down and when I request this of them I don’t want to be considered an awkward git.

One example of this is when I recently went for a Dexa scan. The radiographer fired out about four verbal instructions in one go. My brain went blank and I froze so he got up from his chair and physically moved my legs into position. He didn’t ask if he could move my legs for me and I resent that. I felt stupid. In the past I have been called stupid when I haven’t responded to verbal instruction. Now I understand why I struggle. I’m NOT stupid but people ARE ignorant.

I want healthcare professionals to understand that unfamiliarity makes me incredibly anxious which exacerbates my sensory issues, like pain threshold. I’m not being pathetic or difficult. I’d like them to treat me as they would a member of their family. That applies to everybody, regardless of autism, because we ALL matter. Would that radiographer have been as abrupt with his own mother? I don’t think so!

Although I’ve known I’m autistic for the past four years, I wasn’t able to say it. Had I have had the diagnosis it when I had that scan, I would have been able to explain about the verbal instruction (or OH would) and I wouldn’t have been made to feel like a tit.

The first children diagnosed as autistic are now middle-aged and I think it’s very important that we research how the autistic person changes physically, emotionally, cognitively and socially as they age. Most people need help in old age so it stands to reason that autistic people will require more support and understanding of their individual needs. I still fear old age but not quite as badly as before I was diagnosed..

The fear I have about not being here for The Boy is one I have the most trouble with. How will he cope without me? That thought physically hurts me but my job is to make sure that he can survive on his own. We’re on a path, him and I. He’s growing up and I’m growing old. I may still be 16 in my head but my body is convinced it’s 109. However, while I still have breath in my rapidly ageing body, I will do ALL I can to support my son. The day he no longer needs me will be a heart stopper but that’s what I’m aiming for. Not for my heart to actually stop cus I’d be dead like, but for him to be independent.

That’s what any parent aims for.

Some autistic people never achieve independence and that must be so hard for parents to deal with but I can only tell our story and independence is a possibility given the right support.

I’ve managed to survive for almost 47 years without support. However, it’s been hard and I don’t want him to struggle as I have. Once he’s living his life independently, I’ll embrace codgerdom in all it’s glory until Death points his bony finger my way and says in his best Sean Bean accent “Come on lass, let’s go ‘ome”.

And off I’ll go.

Thanks for reading.

Image Credit

Spectrum Sunday

 

A Few Tips To Ease Your Anxiety Symptoms

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

So, in no particular order..

Sugar

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

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

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

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Mornings

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

Imagine having Slipknot waking you up at 5am with their screamiest song (plus scary masks) and you’re somewhere near.

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

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

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

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Dr Google Will See You Now

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

Me, for one.

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

‘Pain In My Toe. Cancer?’

And..

‘I’m dying’.

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

Or ever.

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

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

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

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

Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

Be well and think positive thoughts.

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Health Anxiety & Me

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

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

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

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

I didn’t have constipation, you see.

I had bowel cancer.

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

So I went back on the GF diet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ‘prolapse’ turned out to be a bit o’ stubborn poo so no botty-fingering was required. Phew!

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

Needless to say, I was able to perform.

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

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

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

No.

They found nothing wrong.

I hassled the bloke who did the scan..

“Are you absolutely sure?”

I even questioned him on the size of my kidneys!

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

I’m not dying.

Not today anyway..

What I do have is health anxiety.

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

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

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

I will overcome it though.

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

Image Via Creative Commons

Guess Who’s Back

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

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

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

It’s what it feels like in my head. On my worst days it’s gnarled trees and demons. If my mind was a novel, it would be a Stephen King one.

Fear.

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

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

Two years ago I had my first nocturnal panic attack.

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

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

It was a severe panic attack. I was given a beta blocker and sent on my way.

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

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

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

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

‘You’re doing really well’, she soothed down the phone.

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

Got a right one here #loon #needacareerchange

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

I feel SO disheartened.

However.

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

Some days I wish they give me a lobotomy.

I feel too much.

I think too much.

There is just too much mind-traffic.

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

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

EXPECTO PATRONUM, MOTHERF*CKERS!

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

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

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

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

I will no longer run from it.

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

‘Hello, Fear, you bastard.’

‘I’ve been waiting for you.’

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

Image Via Creative Commons

Papa Tont

 

Send In The Clowns

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I was an anxious child and constantly imagined I was dying of something horrible. One day I noticed lumps on my wrists so I worried myself sick thinking of all the terrible things it could be when in reality they were my perfectly normal wrist bones. I wasn’t dying but I was suffering from anxiety and unfortunately the anxious child grew up to be an anxious adult.

You see, I’m a worrier. Glass half-full? How about glass smashed to smithereens all over the floor and shards sticking out of my size fours?

Anxiety in some degree is a constant but every now and then Blind Fear shows up doing a Slim Shady singing, “Guess who’s back, back again Fear is back, tell a friend”. At this point my body is screaming, ‘ENOUGH WITH THE WORRYING ABOUT STUFF YOU CAN’T CHANGE, YOU TIT!’

So Fear showed up about six weeks ago..

The signs had been there for a while. I was unable to complete the simplest task, struggled to read a sentence (let alone a book) and I’d lie in bed for hours with irrational thoughts zipping around in my mind. Not to mention that EVERYTHING (and everybody) irritated me.

I ignored it all.

In the last 7 years I have had to cope with a divorce, moving house (3 times) The Boy’s abrupt entry into the world and my mother’s abrupt departure from it, The Boy’s autism diagnosis and getting married. Oh, and the menopause. Stressful, no?

Things came to a head when I woke up one morning at 5am with a racing heart that refused to calm down. I’d been having occasional panic attacks for two years and I’d always been able to calm myself down but not this time.

This time it was different.

This time there was something wrong and I was terrified.

I woke OH up and begged him to phone an ambulance. At first he refused because he was used to me having panic attacks but quickly relented after I bellowed, ‘PHONE AN EFFING AMBULANCE!!!’ in his face.

Within twenty minutes the paramedics came and stuck things all over my chest.

‘Am I having a heart attack?’ I asked, my eyeballs bulging with fear..

“Doesn’t look like it. It’s just that your heart’s beating very fast and it’s jumping a bit so we’ll take you in to get checked out”

‘Jumping a bit’? It felt like I’d got sodding Diversity in there!

So I lay in the ambulance hoping for some comforting banter from the paramedic but he kept yawning and looking at his watch (you don’t get that in Casualty, folks) so I tortured myself with a bit of hardcore hypochondria instead which worked an absolute treat in keeping my heart rate through the roof.

To keep the story within an acceptable word count, my ECG’s and bloods were fine so after four hours of hyperventilating while listening to some poor sod making noises akin to a distressed Yak, I was given a beta blocker and told it was psychological.

“Not dying then?”

“Not today”.

At this point I’d calmed down. Death wasn’t pointing his bony finger at me so I was able to relax and then came the realisation that I was wearing my skanky dressing gown and reindeer slippers. Oops!

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Slippers of shame.

My dressing gown hadn’t seen the inside of the washer for about three weeks and it had various stains on the front.. mostly tea but one was curry. The Boy had attached a ‘Good Work’ sticker to me at some point so I covered the yellow stain with that TOTALLY forgetting that the doctor had already seen it along with my cactus-legs and scary no-make-up face.

THE SHAME!

You don’t care what you look like when you’re convinced you’re about to shuffle off your mortal coil, at least that is my excuse. *cringe*

The next two weeks were a blur of particularly nasty side-effects from the beta-blockers and then anti-depressants of which I managed ONE before telling my GP where to shove the rest. The drugs don’t work, they just make everything worse – some bloke from Wigan once wrote.

The drugs made me feel as sick as a dog and one day the sight of one of Mary Berry’s recipes actually triggered a panic attack. So I chose to come off medication and address my stress levels. That’s not to say that medication doesn’t work at all because it does work for many people. Alas, not me.

In those first weeks I existed from one hour to the next. The nervously knackered tend to think in minutes and hours as opposed to days and weeks. I became obsessed with my symptoms. My heart raced and there were moments where I genuinely felt I was losing my remaining marbles and would be carted off in a snug fitting jacket but I kept telling myself that they were just sensations caused by adrenalin. There were rare moments where I felt ‘normal’ and that in itself would trigger a panic attack!

In my lowest moments, I miserably thought I was broken and would never know normality again, or at least normality as I know it. Fear really messed me up this time!

I know about anxiety (am bit of an expert) and I understand that the worse thing you can do is lie on the sofa every day. Daytime TV is shit for one and I knew I was heading for trouble when I caught myself watching Jeremy Kyle’s (non) Emergency Room. So I pushed myself to work with the panic attacks by doing housework or walking the dog in order to burn off some of the adrenalin. I felt abysmal but knew that I would feel slightly better afterwards and slightly was better than nothing. At night I’d wake up with my heart racing but I’d breathe it out. If sleep still eluded me, I’d get up and clean something.

I’ve also removed all the news apps from my devices. It’s not that I don’t care what’s going on in the world, it’s just that my mind can’t take anymore grim faced drama. Recovery lies in understanding how a tired mind can affect the body. My body is working as it should. It’s reacting normally to me bombarding it with adrenaline with my negative thinking.

My recovery also lies in humour.

Gone are the police dramas and murder mysteries, for now at least. Happy Valley (a misnomer if ever there was one) remains unconcluded in my Skybox and I’ve turned to comedy to give my body the endorphins that come from having a good old belly laugh.

It’s therapy.

Optreden Rolling Stones in het Feijenoordstadion, Rotterdam; Mick Jagger , kop *2 juni 1982

Fear doesn’t like humour because laughter chases it away, if only briefly.

I imagine my fear to be Mick Jagger and when my heart starts racing I visualise him doing his ‘rooster strut’ and can’t help but smile. The effect is instantaneous and it takes the edge off my fear. Similarly in Harry Potter where the children take what terrifies them with scary bastard Bogart and make it funny. I think there’s a lot to be said for sending in the clowns when it comes to mental health. However, it’s not lost on me that many of the clowns themselves suffer from anxiety and depression.

It’s taken years to bring me to this point and there isn’t a quick fix, especially without medication but hopefully CBT will succeed where drugs have failed. I realise that my negative thinking has got me into this state so changing how I think should help to get me out of it.

Or maybe a lobotomy.

Worrying doesn’t take away tomorrows troubles, it takes away today’s peace.

Image Via Creative Commons

Image Via Creative Commons

mumturnedmom

 

Autism – Life After Diagnosis

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The BBC is currently running a series called The A Word which is based around a little boy who has autism and his family’s struggle to come to terms with it. So far, his mother has struggled to come to terms with the diagnosis and while I can understand why some parents might feel like that – it wasn’t my experience..

Autism was suggested as a reason for his behaviour when he was 3 years old but prior to that we hadn’t considered it as an option. I knew very little about autism so I researched it and soon realised that he ticked all the boxes. One year later he was diagnosed.

The formal diagnosis came via a phone call. The pediatrician had told us unofficially that our son was autistic but she needed the full report before she could make it official and she was waiting on the speech therapist who hadn’t yet seen him in clinic. A change of plan on the day of his speech therapy appointment threw The Boy into a major meltdown to the point where the therapist was unable to work with him. As distressing as the meltdown was – we were quietly pleased that this would be going in her report. A few days later later the consultant phoned and gave us the official diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder with Sensory Processing Disorder.

How did we feel?

Relief, mainly. We had concerns for the future, but what parent doesn’t? Before that I was more worried about him not receiving the diagnosis or having to wait because that meant he wouldn’t get the full support that he needed.

Having read a lot of blogs from autism parents it’s clear that we’ve been lucky. We’ve had no problems at all in getting an assessment, diagnosis and subsequently the right support. I know that many parents are not so lucky but each of us can only speak of our own experience as we find it.

Why Go For A Diagnosis?

Some people live their entire lives knowing they are autistic but never getting assessed formally. When you look at the figures for the amount of people in the UK who have autism, I would suggest that the actual figure is much higher. For some people, they know and it’s enough.

Early intervention makes a massive difference. The Boy copes in mainstream school with one to one support. Without it life would be very different. When I was a child, Leo Kanner’s narrow opinion of autism still influenced attitudes and my son would have been labelled a troublemaker and most likely expelled.

A diagnosis can:

  • Provide relief to the person and their family.
  • Allow access to services only available with a diagnosis.
  • Give better understanding of how to cope with any problems.
  • Provide access to financial support.

How To Get a Referral

Our journey was different to a lot of families as our son’s nursery manager approached us with the suggestion of autism. The child psychologist observed him at nursery and agreed that he should be assessed whereas most parents start with their GP. The one thing I would urge all parents to do is to document unusual behaviour when it happens and note what was happening prior to it.

If you suspect your child has autism:

  • Make an appointment with your GP. Prepare notes on what you want to say in order to get the most out of your ten minutes. If you feel you require a longer appointment, request one.
  • Keep a diary to log unusual behaviour.
  • Not all GPs understand autism. If you are not satisfied, ask to see another one. Trust your instinct!

Diagnosis and its Effect on the Family

Every parent/family reacts differently to diagnosis. For some it brings a sense of relief, for others they grieve for what they feel they have lost. It’s important to understand that your child is still the child that you’ve always loved. The only difference is now you understand that they have a condition and it’s down to you, with support, to ensure that they reach their potential in order to live their life to the fullest.

Siblings

Caring for an autistic child can be all consuming but you need to make time for your other children. Remember that autism affects the family as a whole.

Looking After Yourself

Caring for an autistic child can be mentally if not physically exhausting. It’s important to take time out for yourself in order to re-charge the batteries. Don’t be afraid to ask for support and accept it when it’s offered.

Talk

The one thing that’s kept me from going completely doolally is being able to talk about how I feel with other autism parents and sympathetic friends. Being able to talk (or type) things out can make all the difference in those low moments that we all experience. I’ve also phoned the NAS helpline a few times and they have been helpful and informative.

The helpline number is 0808 800 4104

Autism doesn’t begin with a diagnosis. It’s been there from the start and it will be there in the end but the right support can make all the difference. The difference in The Boy after three years of support is nothing short of amazing. He is loved and accepted for who he is because he goes to a wonderful school with people who care. More importantly, he is happy.

I gave some thought to potentially burdening him with a label but the benefits of diagnosis outweighed the negatives, especially with him being so young. Hopefully when he comes to leave school in twelve years time- having autism will no longer be an obstacle to employment thanks to programmes like Employable Me which highlighted how valuable an autistic person can be to the workplace when given a chance.

Ours is a relatively positive story but it’s not the case for everyone. There are some children whose autism is so severe that there is little hope of an independent life and that must be absolutely devastating for their parents to cope with. It certainly puts things in perspective for us. Life can be difficult but we know it could be a lot worse..

Life with an autistic child is an emotional roller coaster or at least that’s how I see it. There are highs and lows in every day. Sadness and joy. Hope and despair. Resignation and determination. Courage and fear.

But always there is love.

Sons, Sand & Sauvignon

 

Creative Commons Image

Crazy Bonkers

‘Mummy, I PROMISE not to go crazy bonkers today.’

How my heart melted to hear those words..

The Boy was referring to his meltdowns because he was going on a play-date.

The last play-date was back in November and resulted in me having to carry him out of my friend’s house kicking me and screaming. OH picked us half way home and The Boy proceeded to scream and kick the back of OH’s seat. He fought OH as he carried him across the road and into the house. It wiped him (and us) out for the rest of the day. As meltdowns go – it was one of his worst.

Most autism parents will know what a meltdown is and they will experience challenging behaviour on a daily basis.

What is challenging behaviour?

  • Self-injurious behaviour – any activity where a person inflicts harm or injury on themselves.
  • Physical challenging behaviour – hair pulling, kicking, punching, biting (or in his case, ninja kicks)
  • Pica – eating or mouthing non-edible items like dirt, stones and stuff.
  • Smearing  – people smear can be due to medical or sensory reasons.

The important thing to remember about challenging behaviour is that it has a reason.

Such as:

  • Difficulty in processing information or what I call ‘busy head’.
  • Unstructured time – for instance – at school this would be playtime or free-play in the classroom.
  • Over or under sensitivity to sensory stimuli like noise, light and smells.
  • Changes to routine.
  • Feeling unwell
  • Tiredness
  • Being hungry.

If a child struggles to communicate it leads to frustration, anxiety and anger resulting in a meltdown.

What is a meltdown?

A meltdown (or going crazy bonkers) is a reaction to feeling overwhelmed and any number of reasons (or combination of) can cause it.

Some people make the mistake of thinking it’s a tantrum but there is a massive difference between a child who is having a hissy-fit over not being able to get their own way and one who is out of control due to sensory overload.

A meltdown is the last straw.

What can you do to help your child during a meltdown?

  • Never punish your child for having a meltdown.
  • Speak calmly – never raise your voice or shout.
  • Do not reward your child for calming down after a meltdown as this may lead some children to understand that meltdowns get them what they want.
  • Try and talk to your child about the meltdowns once they are relaxed and receptive.
  • Sometimes it’s necessary to restrain your child but this must only be in situations where they could harm themselves or others. The Boy sometimes likes to be held firmly but other times he can’t stand to be touched. If he is in danger, we have no choice but to restrain him. This is incredibly upsetting as a parent.

Preventing meltdowns

  • Learn to understand when your child is becoming overwhelmed.
  • Distraction can sometimes stop a meltdown it it’s tracks.
  • Establish routines and stick to them. Prepare your child for changes to routine as far in advance as is possible.
  • Pick your battles. Try not to sweat the small stuff as you’ll need your energy for the big ones.
  • A hungry child is a meltdown waiting to happen.
  • Reward positive behaviour – when they get it right in social situations, BIG IT UP!
  • Keeping a behaviour diary can help to identify some of the triggers.
  • Teach your child relaxation techniques.

When The Boy goes ‘crazy bonkers’ he becomes aggressive. Being 4ft 2 and strong he is capable of doing some serious damage. This is the part of his autism which I struggle with and unfortunately it’s his most problematic area.

The Boy isn’t a naturally aggressive child. His default setting is to make people happy so for him to lose control means there is stuff going on in his head that he is unable to process.

How it began

The Boy’s behaviour was noticeably different early on and people put it down to the ‘terrible twos’ but I instinctively knew it was more than that – I just didn’t know what.

One day (aged three) he had an epic meltdown. One minute he was smiling – the next he was yanking out my hair and hitting me in the face. My bewilderment only seemed to spur him on. I understand now that the change in my facial expression must have upset him even more. I needed to put some distance between us so I put him in his room (removing anything that could hurt him) and closed the safety gate. Then I sat on the stairs and listened to his tirade in a state of shock. I had never experienced anything like it. He threw his toys down the stairs then I heard the door slam off it’s hinge. Three years old and he could take a bloody door off?

This doesn’t bode well for his teenage years!

*hysterical laugh* *makes mental note to go open-plan*

At that point I did what instinct told me to and held him. He was shaking with rage but I wrapped my arms and legs around him and rocked him back and forth. Initially he fought me but slowly calmed down. He slept for four hours afterwards which was unusual for him as he only usually manged half an hour but he was exhausted. As he slept I sat and stared at the wall. My mind was in tatters and my heart was heavy. Something definitely wasn’t right and I was scared. At that time I was keeping a journal so it was documented and four years later it’s hard to read.

A few weeks later he started nursery and the manager recognised the autism straight away. With our agreement the child psychologist was brought in to assess him. A year later he was officially diagnosed with ASD and Sensory Processing Disorder.

The rest is history.

To see our child lose it in spectacular fashion is hard to say the least. We’re not talking feet stamping tantrums here – we’re talking total and utter loss of control. It rips my heart out to hear him scream that he hates us but I know at that point he needs our love more than ever.

Our lives revolve around preventing meltdowns but it’s not always possible and the ones which happen in public are a whole different kind of stress because people can be judgmental and unhelpful b**tards.

I have meltdowns but mine are mostly silent. I shut down whereas The Boy explodes. For me it’s like having too may tabs open on the PC and everything locks up. The only way to remedy it is to shut down and re-boot. For him, it’s like the entire thing blows up.

Four years on and the meltdowns still happen but not as often because he is developing coping skills where he can take himself off to his quiet place when he starts to feel overwhelmed. Progress is slow but it’s progress and that can only be a good thing.

He may not be able to promise me he won’t go ‘crazy bonkers’ again but I can promise that we will still love him when he does.

“The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving of ways”. ~ Unknown

Sons, Sand & Sauvignon