Positive Autistic Traits – Memory

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by deficits in social communication, social interaction combined with repetitive behaviours..

Yeah yeah yeah, we know.

Truth is, it’s not all shit because autistic people have some awesome traits that most NTs would give their dominant hand for. I’ll talk about these traits in a series of posts, but today it’s all about autistic memory.

Granted, my memory is now crap, but that’s due to a health condition. Prior to this I was a machine when it comes to music. Never mind about naming bands and songs, I could tell you band members life stories and name songs with ONE SECOND of intro. I mean, if that’s not a superpower, I don’t know what is!

Ok, maybe ‘superpower’ is exaggerating things a little..

If I’m passionate about something, I remember stuff. Disinterest presents like tumble weed blowing across my brain and out through my ears. Such was the case at school during maths, geography, science, chemistry, biology, home economics. P.E and English language where all I remember was how shit it all was..

That, plus being bullied every day.

Don’t get me wrong, there will be many autistics who positively salivate at the prospect of double maths, but this is my story and the only salivating I ever did at school was at the thought of wolfing down half a packet of chocolate digestives the moment my school bag hit the kitchen floor!

My dispassion (that a word?) reflected in my marks. In those tumbleweed areas, I scored pathetically low and those teachers never really knew if I was thick or just lazy as I scored highly in the subjects that interested me, like history, art, creative writing (English) and music. I got 98% in my history mock exam and was set for examination glory the following year but my final exams coincided with the sudden death of my beloved grandmother and the anxiety proved too much for my autistic brain. Every piece of information in my brain was lost amidst a sea of grief. It wasn’t until many years later that I realised I had a case for a re-sit but as it was, I flunked all my exams except art – which I’d already done.

Anyway..

My memory was a thing of wonder before fibro (and it’s delightful symptom known as ‘brain fog’) reduced me to someone who’s in constant frown mode as I frantically try to extract information from my once, oh so reliable brain. Now I often have dig deep to recall the information and it’s very frustrating. Here’s an example for you:

I’m a Fleetwood Mac fan. Have been since Rumours came out in 1977. So maybe you can imagine my distress when I ‘forgot’ Christine McVie’s name?

Christine McVie? Big deal!

To me, it’s a very BIG deal.

It’s a deal of mammoth proportions!

What’s worse is that I’d been watching a documentary about her and Dennis Wilson (Beach Boys) only an hour earlier. When I was recalling the programme, Christine’s name was lost to me and remained lost for three hours. I could see her. I could hear her voice. But her name just wasn’t there. It was gone -seemingly erased from my memory. To me, this was on par with forgetting one of my children’s names!

Three hours later, poof, it was there and the relief was immense. Had it not been 3am in the morning, I’d have shared the good news with Hubs because, for a few hours, I genuinely thought I was in the early throes of dementia and in true catastrophising style, I saw myself wandering round town in my nightwear by Christmas..

I don’t know why this happened. I wasn’t drunk (chance would be a fine thing) and I wasn’t on mind altering meds. I know short-term memory issues are very much a thing with fibromyalgia but this was long term memory, so maybe it’s something I should be addressing with the neurologist when I finally get to see him?

Another personal experience of the wonder of autistic memory is my son who was obsessive about numbers as a small child and as a result he memorised the entire twelve times table at the age of 4. The school thought they had a mathematical genius on their hands but I knew it was all about his photographic memory..

These days, his obsessions are gaming related and he’s memorised every Pokémon that there is. Plus what they evolve into and what they eat for tea. His memory is like mine was. It’s machine-like.

The world of gaming brings in a lot of coin these days, especially if you’re a designer, so maybe he will get the job of his dreams after all? It used to be a cashier in Tesco until I crushed his dreams by telling him that they don’t get to take all that money home. Oops!

The downside to my memory is that I have a whole bunch of memories that I wish I didn’t have. Shit things people have done or said to me stick to my grey matter like chewing gum to shagpile. Sod’s Law says I can manage to forget Christine McVie’s name but none of the stuff I want to forget..

My passion for music and ability to recall songs (brain fog allowing) provides me with the antidote to those toxic memories and what better memories to recall than those of the three boys who call me ‘Mum’ teamed with one of the most uplifting songs ever written.

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.

Reality Versus Fantasy

My autistic son lives in a fantasy world made up of fictional characters. He becomes those characters. He believes in them. To him, they’re real.

It’s escapism – a way of coping with a confusing world and it’s something that I understand well because I’ve lived in a fantasy world of my own and to a certain extent, I still do.

I have an understanding of my son’s world because it bears many similarities to my own. In contrast, my own mother was oblivious to my struggles. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t her fault because nothing was obvious with me. I couldn’t verbalise my feelings or what was happening to me outside of home. However, when I was physically at home I was mentally elsewhere and my mother picked up on this..

You look so far away from here..

The reason for that was that ‘here’ was (and still is) overwhelming and causes me a great deal of anxiety and like most autistic people I escaped into the realm of fantasy..

I need escapism as much as I need oxygen to breathe. Those fictional characters of my son’s world? I was that child too and it’s never actually left me as being able to create characters for myself has been an integral part of masking and while it may not be the same world I inhabited as a child, my need for an alternate universe remains the same. The difference is that I understand what’s acceptable (and what’s not) of me as an adult. For instance, It’s not appropriate for me to wander around my garden talking to imaginary people like I did when I was a child. I’d be carted off to the nuthouse, right?

But it’s all there in my head.

Sadly, for me, my fantasy world has evolved to be somewhat darker than when I was a child because I know that monsters are real and they exist in human form. With the best will in the world, one cannot go through years of abuse and come out looking like Snow White. Nor will I ever be the Evil Queen because, empathy, right? I’m damaged and my fantasy world reflects it, but, at least the realm is still open to me in a ‘not requiring medication’ kind of way.

A lot of autistics live (or have lived) in a fantasy world and if you understood how hard it is to live on a planet that’s not compatible with your needs, perhaps you would understand why this happens. The bottom line is this: Our imaginary worlds are where we have complete control over ever single thing that happens because control is something that we have little of in the ‘real’ world. It’s the reason we flounder through life – succumbing to mental and physical illness. Some of us will take our own lives. Many of us will die prematurely from stress related diseases such as cancer and heart disease, but before the killer diseases set in most of us will struggle with chronic health conditions which impact our already limited lives. But inside our mind is a place where we can be ourselves – a place where we don’t have to fight to be heard or accepted – a place where we can be ourselves, or whoever we want to be, without fear.

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

This is our reality.

I know how crap this world can get and how unkind human beings can be, so I indulge my son’s need for fantasy because I understand his need for escapism. The real world disappoints. It hurts. It makes us anxious. I wish that I could spare him all of this, but I know that one day his imaginary world will no longer protect him. I dread that day, but I know that it will because this isn’t our world. It isn’t autism friendly, not yet.

We are merely being given the crumbs off the NT table with an hour in a supermarket or an autism showing once a month at the cinema. This is why so many of us describe feeling as if we are from a different planet. We’re aliens having to work exceptionally hard to try and fit in here.

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

In reality, we exist, rather than live.

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

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

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

Our autistic lives revolve around escapism and obsessions. If a child’s obsession involves wearing a Jason mask AND nicking your kitchen knives, then it would be wise to seek professional help, and pronto. Otherwise, leave them be. Use your common sense as a parent. Escapism is serving a purpose. It’s keeping them sane. The important stuff is going in. Nobody was more ‘locked in a fantasy world’ than I was as a child, but I do understand the difference between fantasy and reality. It’s just that reality overwhelms me, so I need to intersperse it with frequent visits to my fantasy world.

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

Image by Cole Stivers

Knit Me Baby One More Time

Shameless word-play with the title, no?

Moving on (before I’m lynched)

Once upon a time I asked for a knitting set. I can’t remember where I got the inspiration from but it most certainly wasn’t a member of my family because none of them could knit. Plane doors, yes. Knit, no. There was nobody to teach me so needles (intentional typo) to say the set was relegated to the back of my wardrobe and eventually sent onto the local jumble sale..

Fast forward a couple of years to primary school to where knitting was part of the curriculum and our task was to knit a hat or mittens in crimson or blue wool. I chose mittens and crimson wool, which coincidentally matched my face. The teacher gave us our patterns and told us to go up to the front of the class to be shown what to do..

My anxiety went stratospheric.

I tried to ‘wing it’ by trying to copy the girl next to me but I wasn’t successful and by the end of the lesson I had something on my needle that looked like it had been dragged out of a skip. What’s more, ‘Miss’ interpreted my anxiety as ‘laziness’ and punished me accordingly.

I understand now that it’s virtually impossible to learn a new skill when overwhelmed with anxiety, but in those days nobody knew that I was autistic, least of all me.

Ten years later my mother-in-law encouraged me to try knitting again. This lady had patience in abundance and we spent many hours knitting and nattering. Well, she talked and I mostly listened, but it’s thanks to her that I was able to fall in love with the craft and overwrite those awful memories of school.

These days I can knit jumpers, scarves and all sorts but I confess to being naturally drawn to ‘easy knit’ patterns because I can switch my brain off and just knit. The problem with this is that it leaves the door open for Captain Crazy and his Psycho Platoon to march into my mind and cause trouble..

Knit One. What’s that pain in my chest? Purl One. What if I have a heart attack? Knit One. What if the door is locked and the paramedics can’t get in? Checks tension. What if I can’t reach my phone? Purl One. Is that aspirin is in date? Knit One. What if a madman bursts in through the window and stabs me to death with my own knitting needles?

This is how my brain works.

I’ve tried to challenge myself because I’ve discovered that I can’t focus on imaginary psychos and do a complex pattern and, believe me, it’s not easy when you have Dyscalculia. Also, any health benefits from knitting are surely lost by calling my hat (or whatever) ‘bastaaaaaard’ as it goes flying off the needles and into the bin. But while I may momentarily descend into madness, I refuse to let it get the better of me because what I lack in mathematical ability I make up for in determination.

Or is it stubbornness?

So it’s fished out of the bin and on I go!

I’m also an absolute sucker for soft yarn. This can be problematic when you’re autistic with a penchant for soft stimmy things, like when I recently had to remove myself from the Sirdar Snuggly range in my local craft store because the owner suddenly appeared in my peripheral vision – most likely having been alerted to my yarn-stroking presence via his security camera.

(I spend lots of money in your establishment per annum, my good man, so I’ll thank you not stare at me as if I have several balls of Sirdar Snuggly concealed about my person!)

I especially love those yarns that change colour. It’s basically witchcraft!! But most of all is the sense of achievement in having created something, not only practical but pleasurable to the eye. It makes up for never having finished those wretched mittens or everything else that I’ve been unable to do or complete because of my anxiety.

Speaking of colour, I plan to knit a ‘mood’ scarf. This is based on the ‘knit the sky’ idea and I think it will be useful to chart my emotional state in a creative way. I’d do the knit the sky one but it’s always raining so it would only require fifty shades of grey and the odd stripe of blue.

Knitting has given me something useful to do on those fibro-days where my legs don’t work properly. It won’t cure me of my anxiety because it’s hardwired into me, along with autism. But I can see how it could cure anxiety in the non-autistic brain so maybe it’s worth digging out those long forgotten needles that have been gathering dust in the back of your wardrobe?

As for the little knitting set that ended up at the jumble sale..

Well, I hope it found it’s way into the home (and hands) of a child who knitted something beautiful with it and that it was the start of a lifetime of creating beautiful things.

“Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit either.”
― Elizabeth Zimmerman

No Jacket Required

My last post was about my love of autumn and how much I miss my long walks because fibromyalgia is a bitch. That said, it is possible to have an autumn walk even on the most dismal of days – all you need is to visualise it.

Some autistic people struggle with visualisation but if I ask you to visualise a purple elephant with wellies on, and you can do it, then you can do visualization relaxation. It’s basically daydreaming, but with a purpose.

The Basic Tools

Your mind is all that you really need but I like to engage as many of my senses as I can in order to make the experience feel real.

Sounds of Nature

Sounds of nature apps, for example, if you like to go for a stroll on the beach, add the sound of waves or seagulls. For this autumn walk, I use a birdsong and the sound of leaves rustling. The app I use is Relax Melodies: Sleep Sounds.

Essential Oils

I use essential oils to get those olfactory sensory neurons firing but I use them sparingly as oils should enhance the experience, not take over. For my autumn walk I use patchouli oil because it reminds me of woodland walks and it’s great for lifting a shitty mood – just as an actual walk in nature does. There are many oils to choose from but as a starter – lavender is a good all rounder. Plus, it’s cheap!

Note: Artificial candles and scents is a no from me. When it comes to relaxation, keep it real it leave it out.

Temperature

This is a difficult one for fibro sufferers because we’re either too hot or too cold so do what works for you. If that’s having the fire on, the heating on and being wrapped up in ten blankets, then go for it. If it’s sat in front of a massive fan, do that. As long as we are comfortable, anything goes.

Technology (and other distractions)

Aside your nature app – turn off your phone or silence all notifications. Your mate’s Instagram upload of her bacon bap will still be there when you switch back on. Turn off anything that bleeps, bongs or rings and banish the dog to the kitchen if he/she is a serial face licker because, lets face it, stinky hound breath isn’t conducive to relaxation.

As for the visualisation itself, there are guided ones which you can upload from the internet. This way, you get to set the sensory scene, but let somebody else do the talking. I think it’s important to do your research and find a voice which soothes you as all tastes differ. What soothes one may irritate the living shit out of another. My go to for guided meditations is Kenneth Soares who can be found on Insight Timer. The guy’s voice is just perfect for relaxation and his ratings are massive, so I am confident in recommending him.

If you don’t need Kenneth (or anybody’s help) then let your imagination take you to places and contrary to what some people think – autistic people do have it. The phenomenon which is Pokémon was created by Satoshi Tajiri, who is autistic.

I’ll just leave that one there…

Where my imagination differs to Satoshi is that I can’t make things up. I need to have been to a place, like a beach or woods. These places are familiar to me. I can weave a meditation using memories and stealing bits from movies or literature but what does it matter as long as it works?

So, onto my mind walk..

I’ve set the room up.

Everything is perfect.

I’ve been for a wee.

I’ve made sure I have been fed (nothing heavy) and watered.

I settle down, close my eyes and slow my breathing down..

I enter my imaginary world via my Grandmother’s Narnia-esque wardrobe or our back gate. The gate isn’t as exciting but it does the job. You can use steps, an escalator or a lift – it really doesn’t matter what you choose as long as it serves as the separation between this world and the imaginary one.

I’ve walked out of the wardrobe and into the woods, only it’s not blanketed in Narnian snow and Mr Tumnus is nowhere to be seen. What I do see are deciduous trees transforming the emeralds of summer into the reds, yellows and oranges of autumn. It’s breathtakingly beautiful.

Thanks to the patchouli oil, I can smell the leaves and the temperature is perfect for me.  I am in complete control and I am safe. There is no anxiety of strangers talking to me. What’s more, I can walk with ease. There is no pain in my joints or my hips. I can kick piles of leaves. I can do whatever I want!

I walk for as long as I need to and then I come across a little cottage nestled deep within the woods. There are wisps of smoke coming out of the chimney. There’s somebody home, but who would I most like to see standing in the doorway of that house? It could be anyone, but I choose to see my mother.

I see myself sitting at the table with her drinking tea as I have done a thousand times over our 42 years together – a simple pleasure that I miss along with many other things that the death of a parent takes from you. The house is real. I’ve just placed it where I want it to be, along with a memory of me and my mother. This is how my brain works.

Sometimes I fall asleep before I get to leave. If not, I make sure I re-enter reality the same way I left it, as in, back through the gate or through the wardrobe.

When mediation is done properly, your body (and mind) will reap similar benefits as if you’ve actually been out. The only thing is that there has been no cardiovascular workout. However, meditation has a very positive effect on the heart. It’s scientifically proven to lower blood pressure and a whole host of other benefits and that’s equally as important as getting your heart rate up by physically walking.

Three years ago I couldn’t do this. Now it’s one of the most important tools I have in my anxiety slaying box. It’s helped me to recover from a nervous breakdown. Now it’s helping me to take some control back with fibromyalgia because in wandering through my imaginary woods I am flicking the V sign up to this chronic illness.

I refuse to let it take everything from me.

Image by Dark Souls 

Forever Autumn

 

When I was a child I used to get excited at the sight of a conker because it meant that autumn was officially here and Halloween was imminent. Full disclosure, I’ve always been fascinated by witchcraft and all things witchy. Who knows, I may have been a witch in a past life? Or a witch’s cat, if my love of shiny things is anything to go by. But my love of the season is even more relevant now that I have fibromyalgia and my internal thermostat is well and truly buggered!

Thermostat?

Yes, thermostat, like on a boiler (no references to old boilers in the comments section, please) meaning the regulation of temperature. Many people with fibromyalgia have problems with temperature regulation. We’re either too hot or too cold. The reason October suits me better is because the heat of summer has gone and I can enjoy some mild and dry weather without fear of heatstroke type symptoms. Granted, it doesn’t last long because November onwards is generally cold and that brings different, but equally debilitating, symptoms.

I used to love nothing more than kicking my way through massive piles of freshly fallen leaves. Of course, leaf-kicking isn’t without risk, as I found out the time I kicked a pile of leaves and ended up with dog shit on the end of my boot! I use past tense because my leaf-kicking days are over. Not sure if it’s fibro related or arthritis, but it’s a definite no from my hip and groin. I used to think nothing of a 5 mile round walk, now I’m lucky if I get to the end of the street before my hips hurts and my groin starts twanging like cheap knicker elastic!

To be honest, I miss those long autumn walks, but for now I have my memories of the vibrant colours, the smell of chimney smoke and the tea and cake afterwards..

Then there’s Halloween..

To make up for what I can’t do outside, I’ve gone to town on my home. I’ve decked my house with pumpkins, candles and fairy lights. I light my log burner in the evenings, burn essential oils and snuggle up with a witchy book or box set and in case you are in need of some inspiration, here are a few suggestions.

Once Upon a Time ~ Evil Queens, heroes, villains and more magic than Hogwarts. (Literally. It’s 7 seasons with 155 episodes!)

Speaking of which..

Harry Potter And the Prisoner of Azkaban ~ It’s got pumpkins in it. Plus, Hermione gives Malfoy a right hook – which never fails to please me.

Then we have the old favourites, like Casper, The Witches, Hocus Pocus, When Harry Met Sally, any of The Good Witch films, E.T and one of my favourites, Practical Magic.

Books? Fill your wellies, boots – whatever. I’m reading a book called Waking the Witch by Pam Grossman and Hubs has been sleeping with one eye open ever since I bought it, which just goes to show how little he knows about witchcraft!

Then again, if he keeps leaving the toilet seat up…

Reading matter doesn’t have to be witchy. You could curl up with something chick-lit-y about Cornish towns and cream teas if you’re the type of fibro warrior who loves the summer. It really doesn’t matter what you do as long as it lifts your spirits.

The moral of this blog post is, yes, fibromyalgia is a GYNORMOUS kick in the flaps. It’s robbed me of my long country walks and much, much more, but it hasn’t robbed me of my imagination and that’s how I can bring autumn to me.

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

― L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Understanding Anxiety

I’ve spent 49 years living with anxiety and the last eight years researching it. I don’t know what it’s like not to have anxiety on some level. I think I came out of my mother’s womb hyperventilating, but having anxiety and understanding it are different things.

I understand anxiety.

I understand panic disorder.

Knowledge is power.

So, the educational stuff..

The Cortex (or Tex because I like to give things names)

detective-1424831_1280

Tex is the thinking part of my brain. He’s what makes us human, able to reason and know when some chancer has short-changed us. It’s also where we develop negative thoughts and irrational thinking. This is cortex based anxiety.

Tex is a good bloke but sometimes he gets overwhelmed by the volume of negative self-talk we throw at him with the ‘I’m a shit person’ and the ‘What if’s?’ These negative thoughts repeatedly trigger the fight or flight response which releases stress hormones into our bodies. We have lots of uncomfortable physical symptoms, then we worry that we have a life threatening disease. When this happens, we have become mentally ill.

Simplified: Tex thinks.

The Amygdala or Amy for short. (see above)

superhero-4321806_1920

Amy is small, almond shaped and responsible for the response and memory of emotions, especially fear. She is also the reason humans don’t become extinct because: No amygdala = no fear = extinction. Whenever your flight or flight is triggered, that’s Amy doing her stuff.

Amy is responsible for phobias. The reason I break out into a cold sweat when I clap eyes on a spider is because I found one crawling around in my nightie when I was five years old..

ERMAGERD!!!

Amy remembers this event so every time I see one of the eight-legged motherfunglers, my heart starts banging like an old barn door in a gale, you get me?

I have bad dreams every night and wake up in a state of anxiety because my fight or flight response has been triggered by my subconscious. This is amygdala based anxiety.

Simplified: Amy reacts.

Some people have cortex based anxiety. Some have amygdala based anxiety. Some unfortunates have both.

I have both.

My physical symptoms have given me cause to imagine the very worst is happening to me, as in terminal illness instead of anxiety. This is cortex based anxiety. Basically, one of Harry Potter’s Dementors has Tex in a choke hold and is draining all the happy from him. How’s that for an analogy?

Every night my Quentin Tarantino-esque dreams prompt Amy to leap into action – cape and all. She’s literally a super hero trying to save my life. Except that she doesn’t understand that the ‘danger’ to my life is a harmless dream – not some deranged axe murderer making his way up the stairs with murderous intentions.

None of this is Amy’s fault. She is, after all, trying to keep me safe. She must be knackered though. I know I am. Therefore, changing how I think is necessary if I want to control my anxiety instead of it controlling me. Note I say ‘control’ as opposed to ‘cure’. I have to be realistic here. I’m autistic and the autistic brain is prone to anxiety. I’ve always been anxious and, failing a lobotomy, I always will be.

Changing how we think is important but there are other things we can do to take back some control. The first thing is to understand the stress response and how relaxation can reverse, or at least improve it.

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)

  • The sympathetic nervous system is part of the fight or flight response.
  • Adrenalin and cortisol are released.
  • Heart beats faster.
  • Blood pressure goes up.
  • Digestive system slows right down.
  • We experience trembling, sweating or chills.
  • The urge to open our bowels or have a wee (because needing a poo isn’t helpful when we need to run like buggery or punch an mugger in the face, right?)

When SNS kicks in, the amygdala has been activated. Remember, Amy doesn’t know if you are in danger of being run over or if it’s merely your thoughts that are asking her to step up and save your life.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)

  • Heart rate slows
  • Blood pressure lowers.
  • Gastric juices increase enabling digestion.
  • Breathing slows down.
  • Body temperature returns to normal.
  • PNS is the body returning to normal.

We need BOTH responses to live. It’s just a question of balance.

Research shows that doing deep breathing exercises, mediation and relaxation exercises helps to activate PNS. If you do relaxation exercises regularly it’s possible to stop your amygdala from responding to your thoughts as if they are a threat on your life.

If your anxiety is cortex based, you need to work on your thoughts.

Things you can do include:

  • Writing your thoughts down.
  • Try and look at your situation in a different way.
  • Do what makes you happy.
  • Avoid people who make you feel like crap.

If your anxiety is amygdala based, relaxation therapies are the way to go.

Relaxation therapies include:

  • Yoga
  • Guided meditation
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Mindfulness

Any of these therapies will help with anxiety but you have to be prepared to put the effort in because it won’t happen by itself. The beauty of breathing exercises is that they can be done anywhere and nobody will know you are doing them except for you. Also, progressive muscle relaxation will teach you exactly where you hold tension in your body. For me, it’s my jaw, shoulders, stomach and, believe it or not, my arse.

Moving on..

Breathing..

We need to breathe or we die. Simple.

Anxious people don’t breathe properly. They breathe so shallowly that they hyperventilate which causes a whole load of unpleasant symptoms.

Learning to breathe properly is probably the most valuable thing we will ever learn.

Try it when you feel stressed.

Take a big breath in.

Feel your diaphragm expanding.

Then let it out s l o w l y.

Do this another three or four times.

If you’ve done it correctly your heart rate will have slowed down a little and you will feel calmer.

If you do nothing else, learn to breathe properly.

When it comes to therapies find what works for you but be consistent.

I find it helpful to acknowledge when my thoughts are turning funky and to do my breathing exercises.

It slows my heart rate down.

It calms me.

It stops Amy from launching into action.

To summarise: Anxiety is truly horrible but once we understand how our thoughts affect us physically – we can work towards a more manageable level of anxiety.

Breathing
(Out, in, out, in, out, in) ~ Breathing ~ Kate Bush

Highly Functioning?

I am a wife and the mother of three children. I’ve had numerous jobs, therefore I am what’s referred to as ‘highly functioning’ and if you stick around I’ll tell you why this term gets on my ‘highly functioning’ tits.

You see, some people question the authenticity of people’s ‘autism’ if they’re nothing like their sister’s mate’s autistic cousin or the savant brother of Charlie Babbitt in the infamous movie Rainman. And the problem isn’t only with NTs because I’ve had the immense displeasure of communicating with a member of the Autistic Dark Web who stated that a person cannot be autistic if they’re married, have kids or can hold down a job for longer than an hour.

Well, I am autistic and I am all of above things. Well, I don’t work now cus I’m mentally part-cabbage and my body is decomposing at an alarming rate, but, yeah, I’m a wife, I have children and I’ve had numerous jobs.

But here’s the thing..

I masked throughout school.

I masked in order to get a boyfriend.

I masked in order to get a job.

I masked in order to get married.

I masked all the way through parenting my children.

I masked until mental illness stripped away my ability to do so.

Masking requires a great deal of mental and emotional effort and another problem with masking is that the lines between what’s ‘you’ and what’s not you become blurry until you lose yourself completely.

Masking is stressful, which means that stress hormones are constantly released and this has a direct effect on the mind and body. To the onlooker, it might look like a person is handling a situation well enough but inside is a different story and it’s a very physical experience as well as mental. Ability to function varies on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis and in my case that was always to do with anxiety levels. Now it’s anxiety levels and chronic illness which dictate whether or not I can walk the dog or go to the shop.

When an autistic person keeps pushing through mental and physical exhaustion, day after day, there comes a time when the body says, ‘Nope. Can’t do this anymore.’

This is when an autistic person breaks down.

When you say someone is ‘functioning highly’ you are belittling the effort it takes to exist in this world, let alone, thrive. You show me a ‘highly functioning’ autistic person and I’ll show you a human being who is pushing themselves at full throttle in order to get through life and if the brakes haven’t slammed on already, they soon will, and when that happens they will struggle to function at all.

NERVOUS BREAKDOWN

ANXIETY DISORDERS

OCD

EATING DISORDERS

CHRONIC ILLNESSES (FIBROMYALGIA, ME, AUTOIMMUNE CONDITIONS ETC)

DEPRESSION

INSOMINA

PAIN

IBS

These conditions tell a story. They are a direct result from years of masking and trying to cope. The above applies to me but they apply to a lot of autistic people, especially my generation because we had to try and survive mainstream education (where bullying was still seen as ‘character building’) and life thereafter with no support whatsoever. It took me 41 years to breakdown and when I did it was catastrophic.

Is this highly-functioning?

The term ‘highly functioning’ implies that something is done super well. It has almost heroic connotations. The state of my mental and physical health and that of many (if not most) autistic people over the age of 40 strongly suggests that this is not the case and I definitely don’t own a cape! And how about my anxiety is so bad that I go non-verbal? Is that functioning highly?

Autistic people do not function highly. We function in chronic states of anxiety until our nervous systems malfunction and we burnout. Can you imagine how belittling the term ‘highly functioning’ is to those of us who have literally been broken down by the exhaustion of trying to cope?

It’s not about whether or not an autistic person can physically do something, it’s how they do it that makes the difference. If an autistic person can make a phone call but it involves using scripts and having to psyche themselves up for hours, then feeling exhausted afterwards – that’s not functioning highly, is it?

If an autistic person can go to work but requires anti anxiety medication in order to do so – this is not functioning highly.

If an autistic person panics in unfamiliar situations and emergencies – this is not functioning highly.

If an autistic person relies on people for practical support – this is not functioning highly.

I can drive, so people presume I’m ‘highly functioning’, but it’s not that simple.

Learning to drive was hard because I have Dyscalculia and problems with verbal instruction, however, my fear of public transport gave me the determination to drive and I passed second time. Journeys have to be planned and I need somebody to take me to unfamiliar places first. When anxiety is too high, I can’t drive. I can’t get in the car, let alone drive it. I have a mental breakdown if someone asks me for a lift. I drive to the same places and park in the same bays and it bothers me if I can’t. I’ve never taken a car for an MOT (or through a car wash) and these days I hardly drive at all because of concentration issues. But, I can drive a car..

This isn’t functioning highly, it’s treading water. My head may be above the water but I’m thrashing away trying to stop myself from going under. That’s what us ‘high functioners’ do – we try to keep afloat in a world that’s constantly trying to drag us under. Is it any wonder that most of us are mentally and physically wrecked by the time we’re 40?

This isn’t functioning ‘highly’. It’s functioning, just about.