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

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

Hello Hurricane

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I HATE this time of year. It’s the time where things start to change as the school prepares for the new term in September which I remember only too well from my own school days.

*Twitch*

When it comes to The Boy, there is a pattern. He starts the school year in a state of anxiety and by Easter he begins to settle down. After the last half-term things start to deteriorate as preparations for the new school year begin. This year has been different because he hasn’t really settled at all. He is increasingly unable to do his lessons in the classroom and ‘incidents’ are happening on a daily basis.

The school can’t try any harder than they do to support him. They are always thinking of new things to try and whatever isn’t working they change. It’s just that school life is getting harder and he struggles with having to do things that he doesn’t want to do (demand avoidance) but he has to do certain things or there is no point him being in mainstream and despite his difficulties he’s happy there.

He’s been struggling at home as well and the other week he had the MOTHER of all meltdowns.

A fellow autism mum and good friend used the word ‘hurricane’ and that nailed it perfectly for me. It certainly looked like a hurricane had hit his bedroom.. At one point he was in danger of hurting himself so I intervened whereas I usually allow him to work through the meltdown himself. It was then he started yanking at my hair (which farking hurt) and slapping me. As a parent you take the blows because you understand that your child is out of control due to being overwhelmed and you’d rather they hurt you than themselves. It’s a reaction. It doesn’t make it OK. It just explains it.

As soon as I felt his body relax, I stepped back and allowed him space to calm down.

The storm had passed, for now.

To hear the child you love scream that he hates you and wants to die is hard to take. It’s hard for ANY parent to take. No matter how many times he loses it, it never gets any easier. It’s not you they hate. It’s how loss of control makes them feel.

There was this moment where he declared he was ‘going to die’ and theatrically threw himself face-down on his bed. It the best bit of am-dram I’ve ever seen and at any other time it would have been hilarious but he was hyperventilating and knowing how this works I’m pretty sure that at THAT moment he probably did think he was dying…

He is theatrical in the normal way. He is expressive with a wonderful vocabulary range. If he can learn to get a handle on his anxiety, he will make a good actor one day (and there are lots of great actors on the spectrum) but this wasn’t a performance. It was real. It was him struggling against the tsunami of emotions within him and it was heartbreaking to witness.

This meltdown was a result of preparations starting for the new class. It’s a bigger class size and a new teacher. He was worried about it but didn’t know how to express it in a positive way so it came out in a meltdown. He has since visited the new class and THEY HAVE LEGO, FOLKS so he came out smiling.  An added bonus is that one of his teachers from this year is also going to be teaching in the new class along with the new one. So the familiarity of her and his long suffering SST (who hopefully will follow him up through school as long as he needs her) will help to lessen his anxiety. The school are using social stories and the usual strategies to help him with the transition but the real test will be when he goes back in September.

The last few weeks of the summer term are all about change and change is one of the things in life that he doesn’t handle well. Even the nice changes do his head in. However, I have faith in the school that they will do their best for him but most of all I feel sorry for my son who is struggling with the fear of change, just like I did. SODDING GENETICS!

It’s never easy for me to write about my son this way but it’s part of his autism and the meltdowns are part of our life, at least, they are for now. The meltdowns are not who he is. They are a reaction to a world that he struggles to cope with. If his world was constant there would be fewer meltdowns but it isn’t constant. Things change. Sometimes unexpectedly and sometimes planned but changes ALWAYS affect him.

The thought which consoles me the most is that he is not alone like I was. Nobody helped me because nobody ever knew there was a problem. I was the invisible girl when it came to the teachers but not invisible when it came to bullies. I stood out like a belisha beacon to those bastards…

My boy’s autism is IN YOUR FACE visible and the positive thing about that is that it gets him the help he needs.

We’re strapping ourselves for a fight to get him to where he needs to be. My bandana is on. I don’t have Sly Stone’s biceps (or penis) but I’m strong where it counts. My anxiety is sky-high but I’m working on that, like triple-bagging my cups of Chamomile tea and taking time in my day to stare at fluffy clouds and tropical fish.

Breathe, just breathe.

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Got Through Another Meltdown!

Image Credit Via Creative Commons

Sons, Sand & Sauvignon

 

 

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

 

A Difficult Week

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One of the Boy’s biggest problem areas at school is playtime. This isn’t surprising as the playground is crowded and noisy – not to mention the unpredictability of unstructured play which autistic children struggle to cope with. He is a sociable child, it’s just that he struggles with the social rules that govern our society especially those which are unwritten.

Last Thursday we learned he’d had a ‘tricky’ afternoon. He’d been throwing stuff and pushing tables over in the classroom. There was no obvious reason for his behaviour, as is often the case. As usual I worried because this kind of behaviour tells me something is wrong. There’s always a reason for challenging behaviour so we tried to talk to The Boy about what had upset him but within seconds he started screeching like an owl so knew we left it. However, the following day we had our answer…

The Boy has been friends with a boy in his class and for the last few months it’s been ALL about this child. However, we were informed last week that the child’s parents had been into school to make a complaint against our son. They said their son had gone home saying that The Boy had hurt him at playtime. What their son didn’t tell them was that he (along with another child) provoked a reaction from The Boy by deliberately and repeatedly poking him. The reason The Boy had a meltdown in the classroom was because he was responding to what had happened on the yard. Unable to verbalize how he felt, he reacted in the only way he knows how and that’s to lash out.

All complaints are taken seriously by the school and an investigation took place. Witnesses said The Boy had been provoked and reacted to it.

I managed a small conversation with The Boy and he simply said his friend had ‘kicked him out of his group’ and told him he didn’t want to be his friend anymore.

My heart sank as all parent’s hearts sink when their child is ostracized in this manner.

Children fall in and out of friendships and there is nothing unusual about that but it’s no secret that The Boy has autism and there’s always a niggle of doubt about parents not wanting their children to have a friendship with him. This isn’t me being neurotic. The ‘niggles’ aren’t unfounded as it’s already happened with a parent who stopped talking to me as soon as I told her The Boy had been diagnosed with autism. The next day she looked straight through me as if I wasn’t there and after a few days of the same treatment it finally dawned on me why she was blanking me. It was the autism.

Is that what’s happened here? I don’t know. I do accept that I am overly sensitive at the best of times but, in my mind, most boys of this age will have scuffles on the playground and several times a week at that. Whatever The Boy did on the yard wasn’t considered serious enough for parents to be informed as is the policy when one child significantly hurts another yet these parents felt it necessary to complain so, yes, I can’t help but wonder why.

My son doesn’t instigate. He’s not vindictive nor a bully but he does react when provoked and I don’t blame him. All I can do is try and encourage him to walk away next time but as any autism parent knows, this is an impossible ask.

The loss of this friendship was a big deal for him but it explains the recent decline in his behaviour at school and at home. Had it not been for the child’s parents going in to complain we may still be wondering what the problem is so, in that respect, they did us a favour though I can’t help but wonder how it felt for them to learn that their son wasn’t the victim at all. That, actually, he was the instigator.

Children of this age normally drift in and out of friendships. Most parents will have experienced the ‘friends one minute and falling out the next’ only to be the best of friends again a few day later but from experience, I know that some autistic children are unable to forgive as easily as a neurotypical child and incidents are rarely forgotten. They remain in their memories for the rest of their lives.

Friendship is a difficult area for autistic people. Some make friends easily but struggle to maintain friendships. Others struggle to make friends in the first place. The Boy makes friends easily enough but there does seem to be difficulty in maintaining those friendships. Some children are unable to deal with his mood swings and steer clear of him. Sometimes he drifts in and out of friendships mostly because a child isn’t willing to play games on his terms, as is common in autism.

Those children who understand his autism (thanks to understanding parents) take it in their stride. They know he has meltdowns and why he has them and they don’t make a massive deal about it. They focus on the part of him that makes them want to be his friend in the first place. Those are the friends he needs.

We’re all social beings – even us misfits – and that’s why you’ll find us lurking on the internet where we can feel that we belong because people speak our language. Even I, Mrs Misfit of Misfitington, have a deep seated need to fit into this world in some meaningful way. It’s primeval instinct, after all.

All I want is for my son to feel that he belongs here because we all belong here. God willing, there will always be a special friend who will watch his back as well as their own.

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”~ A.A Milne

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Sons, Sand & Sauvignon

 

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

 

Misfits and Meetings

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When it comes to school – I do the necessary. I drop The Boy off in the morning and pick him up at home time. Sometimes I go in to calm him down if he’s having a particularly difficult day, though I should add that it’s at my request that they phone me.

Some parents do other stuff like going in to read with the children and going on school trips etc., I don’t. Not because I’m a lazy cow who’d rather be sat at home watching Jeremy Kyle point at chavs – no- it’s because I have social, sensory and anxiety problems.

In every playground you will see the ‘perimeter ‘hoggers’. These are the lone wolf parents who lean against walls and railings looking at their phones trying to be invisible. I am one of those people.

My coats have pockets which disguise the fact that I am constantly fiddling with my keys. If I’m not fiddling with my keys I am looking at my phone – sometimes I am doing both. I look at the parents who socialise with ease and know it will never be me, not unless I have lobotomy anyway.

The thought of being jammed on a school bus with noisy kids is my idea of hell and when I was asked if I could help out I had no choice but to tell the truth.

‘I’m having a panic attack just imagining it. I’m not great with crowds and I have anxiety problems, you see. Sorry!

The school are understanding of this now and don’t ask anymore. I feel sad but accept that I have limitations and to push beyond those would do more harm than good as they would have a hyperventilating lunatic to look after as well as the children.

Thankfully The Boy has his SSA and he probably copes better without me in those situations as he could pick up on my anxieties no matter how much I tried to mask them – especially if a full blown panic attack was to occur.

However, when I heard that our SENCo was setting up a group with the parents of children with special needs, I knew I had to be part of it. I was apprehensive but knew the group would be small and that my friend would be there. She’s very lovely and reassuring, bless ‘er.

Having missed the first two meetings due to being elsewhere and, er, mixing the date up – I finally made the third.

Even something as trivial as this causes me anxiety especially when it’s something I haven’t done before, (fear of the unknown), but my mind was made up. I was going to do it because the school has given us so much support and I wanted to give something back.

So the day came and I ran through my notes.

Have something to eat so tummy doesn’t growl like a bastard.

Take reading specs.

Pen and paper because you know you’ll totally forget everything that’s said.

Wear hearing-aid to avoid saying ‘Eh?’ all the time.

Have massive wee before you go.

Drawing on my years of coping skills I went in earlier than the others. I find it hard to walk into a room with people in it I aim to be first in whenever possible. There were six of us in total – so a nice small group which I can cope with.

Heart clanging away I waited for the others to arrive.

I recognised one of the other mothers as a lady who used to work at The Boy’s nursery, (where he was first suspected of being autistic), so there was only one parent there who I didn’t know, at least by sight.

First job – tea and cake.

After years of practice I can now drink in front of strangers but food is still iffy. So the flapjacks were a no-go area for me. Better safe than choking to death having breathed in whilst trying to swallow, eh?

I may not have felt entirely comfortable but I was there.

Most people will consider this an insignificant thing. ‘It’s only a little meeting yer silly mare!’ but I know there will be others who will nod like mad. ‘Oh yes! That’s me too!’

It felt good to be in the presence of people who understand what it’s like to have a child with conditions like autism. They understand the daily challenges and judgement by ignorant gits. I’m used to the feeling of not belonging because I’ve never fitted in anywhere, (hence the misfit reference), but for the hour and a half I was there I didn’t feel quite the “misfit missy”as I usually do.

The school supports our son but they also support me. If I go into school to comfort him and the hall is full of kids catapulting themselves over the vaulting equipment the receptionist takes me around another way to avoid my anxiety levels going orbital. It’s a small thing but means that I am better mentally equipped to deal with my son’s meltdown.

I’m passionate about autism awareness so I really need to be as proactive as I can. My next goal is to attend the autism show. Don’t get me wrong I have been to crowded venues in my time – sometimes it’s required a nip of the hard stuff and sometimes I’ve gone in cold but it’s always been a struggle which is why I tend not to bother now.

It will be crowded and my anxiety will be off the scale both before, during and after but I figure that even if I was to lose the plot – it wouldn’t really matter because most people there will have seen much worse.

My drive comes from years of being ignored or misunderstood at school. Without doubt I have a learning disability and struggled every day of the ten years I was there. Nobody saw my distress and as a result I left school with nothing to show for it. Going through the SEN process makes me realise that, with support, I’d have been capable of much more. As it is all I have are a bunch of ‘if onlys’.

If only I’d have been allowed to stay in at play-times my anxiety might have lessened to a degree where I could take in information in order to learn.

If only I could have entered the class early and left after everybody else then I would have been spared the anxiety of being pushed and shoved in crowded corridors.

If only I could have worked in small groups – I might have learned something except fear.

If only I’d have had somewhere to escape to when it became too much instead of having to endure the stress, the stimulus and the bullying.

If only somebody would have seen beyond ‘shyness’ and recognised that I needed help.

How different my life might have been..

I point blank refuse for my son to go through that.

But thanks to an amazing school with teachers who care.. he hasn’t.

Image Credit Public Domain CC

Sons, Sand & Sauvignon

The Boy and the Hospital Visit

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Not many people enjoy a trip to the hospital but for those on the autistic spectrum – especially children – it can be traumatic.

Hospitals are a sensory minefield for autistic children due to loud noises, smells and harsh lighting. It’s an onslaught on the senses alongside the anxiety of the reason they’re there in the first place so visits can be challenging for children and their parents. On top of that the tea and coffee is often of the vending variety – therefore crap.

We came to be in hospital because The Boy has been having nose bleeds and headaches with the headaches steadily getting worse so his GP referred him to a pediatrician who he saw this week.

First off he was weighed and measured and I can officially state that he is 4 foot 2 inches tall. He’s only six years old and he’s almost as tall as me! *gasp* He’s always been bigger than the average bear height-wise and this has always confused people into thinking he’s older than he is. Of course, Hedwig the owl also had to be weighed and measured and she’s 26 cm’s tall and 0.3 kg – in-case you were wondering.

Then it was in to see the pediatrician. The Boy entertained himself by turning the taps on and off while she wrote down his history. Then she examined him as best as you can examine a child with ASD but he allowed her to listen to his heart on condition that she listened to Hedwig’s too, which she did.

She informed us that headaches in children are common and she thinks his are migraines. Apparently a child is more likely to have migraines if a parent has them and in our case, that’s me.

Due to his age (and the fact that the headaches have been increasing) she wants him to have an MRI scan which can be a bit lengthy but is completely safe. However, knowing how The Boy struggles to keep still at the best of times – I can see this being a huge challenge for him.

I had an MRI scan when he was born. They whipped him out of my tummy and whizzed me off to the MRI room and that’s all I remember because I was completely trollied on morphine so I slept through the entire thing but I’m hoping that it will be of some comfort to my son to know that I’ve had one. Obviously, I won’t tell him about the ‘being trollied’ bit.

After the pediatrician had done her stuff a play worker took us into a side room (aka baby change) to explain to The Boy in child friendly terms what would happen but anxiety was threatening to overwhelm him. He was making more owl noises than human ones (a sure sign of distress) but she understood that it was unwise to go any further at this stage. We came away knowing that we will be contacted in a few weeks with an appointment for the scan but we can make arrangements to see the scanner beforehand if we wish to.

The Boy isn’t going to be sedated because the pediatrician has found that sedation often has the reverse effect on ASD children and apparently they go a bit ‘loopy’. I’m not finding a lot of evidence for this to be honest and I feel that it will be too big a challenge for him to keep still so we are going to get another opinion on whether or not he should be sedated.

In the meantime, there are lots of things we can do to prepare him for the scan in order to keep his anxiety to a minimum.

Books

Reading books about hospital visits will give him knowledge of what to expect as much of the anxiety is fear of the unknown so I am trying to find stories which feature an MRI scan.

Videos

Youtube has videos specifically for children and MRI scans, with or without sedation. We intend to show these to him over the coming weeks and then he will know exactly what to expect.

Playing

I thought it would be an idea to do some practice runs maybe using a big cardboard box that I can make into a scanning machine and we can practice him lying still, Hedwig too!

Social Stories

Using social stories is a great way of introducing new social situations to the child. We are hoping his teachers will work with us as well so that they can address any anxiety he has about the scan when he’s at school.

Keeping it positive

It’s important to talk about hospitals and staff in a positive manner. Me? I hate hospitals. They smell all disenfectanty and stuff and they conjure up memories I wish I didn’t have but I know that I can’t afford for The Boy to see my discomfort, so I do what I’ve done all my life and pretend I’m OK.

The Bribe

We know this will be a massive deal for our son so we’re going to promise him a trip to the Lego store after the scan has been done. Yes, it’s a bribe but it’s also a strategy because he needs incentives to do even the basic stuff and this goes way beyond anything he can comprehend. Nothing he has experienced in his six years comes close to this, not even what he went through during the autism assessment. It’s a big deal and if he manages to go through with it all, I will be so proud of him.

Hedwig

Where The Boy goes, so does his feathered friend and both got a sticker for being brave at the hospital.

Well done The Boy and well done Hedwig.

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Have you have been through this with your child? If so, any advice would be appreciated.

 

Sons, Sand & Sauvignon

Image Credit

“MRI-Philips” by Jan Ainali – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons