The Coffee and Candy Diet

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Photo by picjumbo.com

No nutritional plan will “cure” autism, any more than a nutritional plan could make it rain in Guatemala… but there is something to be said for the coffee and candy diet. Nope, I’m not talking cures. I’m talking PRODUCTIVITY.

I know, I can hear you now, cringing over the thought of recommending anyone to eat a diet high in all the “bad things”, but hear me out. In some cases where your autism has markers of ADHD or periods of mania, a coffee-candy diet can actually benefit.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which can co-exist with autism.  In ADHD, individuals have issues of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Caffeine and sugar, when administered in the right dose can curb much of these ADHD problems.

 

The positives of a coffee and candy diet

Certainly following this diet without eating ANY healthy items is a bad idea.  I recommend starting the day with a nutritious breakfast, eating a late lunch and a tiny dinner…. and in between is coffee and candy time! WHY? Well, these two foodie items increase happy chemicals in your brain, help you get (and stay) focused, be alert, and it gives you a super spike of glorious energy. Sooo helpful when you have work that needs to get done!

Research (here, here, here, and here) shows that drinking a moderate amount of caffeine daily (<6 cups) can dramatically reduce depressive symptoms, increase productivity and cognitive functioning, as well as lessen suicidal ideations. As for sugar, the general view is that it’s harmful (a faux pas!), but the fact remains: our body NEEDS glucose to function.  This research from NASA shows without sugars in the blood, we fail at cognitive tasks, become less vigilant, forgetful, drop our attention, lack endurance, and feel flat (all bad things, when you’re looking at it from the astronaut point of view).  So, sugar and caffeine really does have some positives!

 

The negatives of a coffee and candy diet

Because coffee and candy are stimulants, addictive, and dramatically affect the body’s blood glucose levels, going haywire on this diet can be a very bad thing indeed.  Too much of anything is generally bad, and overdoing it with either coffee or candy is no exception.

Too much coffee can lead to agitation, irritation, shakiness and difficulty sleeping.  Caffeine can enhance anxiety symptoms, and in some people, it may trigger anger spells.

Too much candy can lead to personality changes, mood swings (triggering manias or depressions), exacerbating anxiety, and of course, overdosing on sugary treats contributes to obesity and physical health issues.

Mixing coffee and candy also has a dark side.  When coffee and candy get together, they give your body huge surges of energy generating spikes of ‘highs’ and then crashing dips of ‘lows’.  Within hours, you may swing between these states, leading to intense cravings for more candy (sugars) or more coffee (stimulants).

 

Finding a balance with a coffee and diet

The key here really is BALANCE and AWARENESS.

Yes, mixing coffee and candy into your diet can be hazardous for some, but for others, this diet really helps us maintain focus and be productive.

To follow the coffee and candy diet, it is important to continue eating a healthy breakfast, and a taking break to eat a small late lunch that consists of low-GI foodie items (that have a slow release of energy) such as brown rice, oats, sweet potatoes, vegetables, pulses. When you combine the coffee and candy diet with a staple of low-GI foods, you can care for your body whilst also giving yourself a boost of energy and focus. Having a tiny dinner is recommended, as the “cap” to your coffee/ candy day. For dessert, have a piece of fruit instead of more candy.

I recommend as well, to drink a glass of water in the morning before your first coffee, and lots of water at the end of your day, to make sure you’re not dehydrated from all the coffee and candies.  Drinking water before bed will help you settle into the night hydrated and able to sleep better.

I understand this is a strange “diet” to follow… but for me, I find this diet really positive for my well-being.  It can help lift me out of a depression-space, encourage me to be motivated, get focused and think more clearly.  I cannot simply eat candy and feel good, or drink coffee and feel good.  For me, I need the combination, and for it to work, I need to look after those other dietary elements (healthy, low-GI meals, drinking water) as well as be patient with myself (self-care!).

This diet plan may not work for you, but it might! You can always give it a go… and see if it benefits you, or what adjustments you need to make to find your own happy balance.

Remember, everyone is different, every autistic, every ADHDer– we’re all wired slightly different, so perhaps this diet will work for you.

Drop me a line or comment with your thoughts on this, or just to tell me your favourite candy… I love sour gummi bears! 🙂

 

 

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Depression and Getting Shit Done

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call that man ‘cold’ when he is only sad.” ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Photo by Gratisography 

 

It has been hard to write recently due to the pervasive sadness that has moved back into my world.  I find it difficult to explain what happens, but let me try.  My depression is like a quiet underlying existence in my life.  It becomes a challenge to manage because it is predictably unpredictable.  When I feel good, I know it will be short lived, for I know the cloud of depression will return– but when?– I do not know.  And so, I try, like most people I guess, to enjoy my happier times and embrace the world and get shit done… but then suddenly the cloud returns and envelopes me.  When the sadness is here, my ability to complete tasks, think more coherently and be a better person in the world– that shrinks, and I’m left this shell of my past self, putting on a smile, lifting on foot in front of the other to walk and force myself to go out, go shopping, get out of bed, or– WRITE.

 

The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM5) explains depression is a mood disorder whereby the individual experiences “either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.  Additionally, individuals suffer five or more of the following symptoms during the same 2-week period:

1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
3. Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
4. A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
5. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
6. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
7. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
8. Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

To receive a diagnosis of depression, these symptoms must cause the individual clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. The symptoms must also not be a result of substance abuse or another medical condition”.

(Wow, that’s just depressing to read. Thanks DSM!!)



I could write a long lament here about things that suck about depression, but I think it’s kind of self-explanatory, especially after that DSM descriptor! What I will do here is give you some tips and ideas on “Getting Shit Done” when you’re depressed.  May it’ll help you (or me?) today.

 

Tips to get shit done

1. AIM FOR COMPLETION, NOT PERFECTION

Ok, so you have something that needs to get done.  It’s a high-priority task. You have work due, you want to pick up a creative activity, you need to buy toilet paper at the store, or perhaps you just need to eat something healthy today.  Plan to complete the ONE task, and “just do it”.  This is not about perfection; it’s about completion.

With depression, focus becomes harder.  Decision-making becomes harder.  And worst of all, your critical voice becomes louder. Accept that you may not perform to your best, but give yourself a little leeway. You’re depressed today, and that means completion is good enough.

  • Aim to complete one task today, and give yourself permission to feel a tiny bit of pride over that.

I understand it’s hard to do that, because you feel all judgmental about yourself.  I know that when you’re not depressed, you’re like a wildfire of activity– you get shit done! However, today you are depressed. Today is where you are right now. So just for now, let it be.  Just for now, do one task to completion.  Just for now, breathe and be okay with completions.  Yaye, you did a task.  That’s really great!

 

2. GIVE YOURSELF SOME STRUCTURE

While most of us autistics like structure and routine anyway, when we get depressed, all that structure can go out the window.  Like, for example, I used to get up every morning between 8-9am and make myself breakfast, listen to music and dance in the kitchen, before attending to my day of tasks ahead.  Now I’m in bed till 11, 12 or 1pm… sometimes 2pm and I often forget about breakfast, don’t listen to music or dance, start-and-not-finish tasks, or just find myself staring blankly at the wall for hours on end without noticing the time pass.

Now, I’m NOT saying that you must now get up at 8-9am to have breakfast and alike, because that’s my schedule.  What I mean is that perhaps you should aim for getting up at the earliest end of your current wake-up cycle (for me, this would be 11am). Set your alarm clock, and put a plan into effect. Follow this plan, and substitute your own wake-up time and tasks, as indicated by the square ([…]) brackets.

  • Today, I will get up [at 11am], make and eat breakfast, then complete my ONE task [write the blog].  After that, I will give myself permission to feel a tiny bit of pride because I completed the one task I really wanted to do today.

Losing structure creates additional problems in many autistics; our routine is in place because it reduces anxiety, acts as self-soothing, and having this plan helps us to be motivated and ‘get shit done’. When we know what to expect from the day, it is easier to manage our emotions associated with the upcoming activities.

 

3. MAKE NATURE A FOCUS

There is a lot of research (studies here, here, here to name a few) into how spending time in nature can alleviate or reduce feelings of sadness and depression.

I know some of you hate the outdoors.  I am not suggesting you go camping today, or sunbake.  All I am suggesting is that you spend a little time in nature. Here are some ideas on how you might bring nature into focus today:

  • Go for a short, 10-15 minute stroll, passing trees and shrubs.  If you like, it can be a stroll to your local cafe, to buy a coffee/ tea.  Perhaps touch the leaves as you pass, or smell a flower.
  • Find a comfortable place outdoors and take 10 minutes to just watch the insects or birds.  Look for ants or spiders or bees; magpies, crows, cockatoos, parrots– whichever you like and is around you.  Watch them go about their day, think about them, what they might be thinking or doing, and reflect on how they behave.
  • Take a 10 minutes to walk through your garden and pluck 3 weeds.  Should you feel inspired to weed some more, or snip the hedge, do so.  Allow yourself to be with your garden.
  • If you have an indoor garden or plants, take 10 minutes with your plant.  Look at it, explore its leaves, the colour, shape, and feeling of it. Consider if it needs any support (water; sunshine; bug sprays; harvesting; pruning). Take some time to give it what it needs…
  • For winter or rainy parts of the world, take some time to sit on your balcony, or at an open window and watch the outside.  Listen to the rain, look at the clouds, observe the trees in the wind, feel the coldness on your breath and skin.  Take 5-10 minutes to look, listen and ‘be’ with nature.

It seems the breathing-in of fresh air, movement of the body, reflections of the ebb and flow of the seasons, on how nature and trees continue growing in spite of obstacles, and the experience of being in/ around natural environments is calming to the mind and balancing to mood.

 

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Photo by Tookapic

 

There’s just 3 possible ideas to help you get better focused and motivated when you are experiencing a downward turn. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling quite positive having just finished writing this blog… and having reflected on those 3 tips.  I’m now going to make another coffee and look at some of the other work I need to do.  Maybe I can complete TWO things today? *hopeful*

Take care everyone.

As usual, comments are welcome. Much love.

 

 

 

Focus and Procrastination

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Something many autistics struggle with is FOCUS.

Parents with autistic children ask me: “Why can’t my kid focus?” “Why can they focus on one thing and not others?” “How do I get them to give all school subjects equal focus?”.

Adults on the spectrum ask, “Why can’t I get motivated to do [subject/ work]?”, “Why I am terrible at sticking with something?”, “How do I stop procrastinating?”

 

All these questions point to one thing:

FOCUS.

I know. As soon as someone says your kid (or you) have “focus issues”, there are raised eyebrows and accusations of other conditions, communicated in a derogatory fashion- “do you have ADHD?” or you get comments like, “You seem a bit bipolar”.

Don’t be confused here. The “problem” autistics experience is not that they lack the ability to focus, but rather that they are continuously hyper-stimulated in their ability to focus.

Remember, we autistics experience the world at full-volume: 100%.

The “problem” about focus

If something is interesting, everything and everyone outside that laser-focus is ignored. At school, that means autistic kids may ignore the teacher; you may ignore your boss or your parents… This also happens to me in my love relationship a lot.  I get so involved in my work that I complete exclude my partner. I ignore SMSes, calls, and when Z. is in the house, I can shut myself off from him emotionally.  It’s not malicious. It’s simply that everything outside the focus loses importance. This laser-focus can make autistics seem to “disappear”. The interesting thing is the focus. Nothing else. Then after a number of hours your autistic will reappear and are starving because the focus has replaced the need for food, or they are exhausted because the focus has replaced the need to sleep. Eh, I digress.

To neurotypicals (people not on the Spectrum), consider autistic-focus like this: You know when are “in the zone” and you get loads done? That special kind of experience doesn’t happen much, but when it happens you feel great. Now, imagine being “in the zone” all the time. You can get heaps done, but also by the nature of being “in the zone”, you will reject everything outside of your focus. Now, imagine that everywhere you look, you see everything with that “in the zone” ability. What do you focus on? What do you choose to do?

Need for Harmony

In my experience (lived, observational and working) with autism, it seems many autistics view their relational world as a system which needs to be harmonious. The need for internal harmony is exceptionally important. This homeostasis need, or striving for ‘universal balance’ means that autistics tend to create structures within their world that bring order and maintain calm. By the way, this is where the desire for routine comes in. Now, the issue of focus is such that autistics often have difficulty prioritizing stuff. Our internal harmony needs always come first. Internal harmony needs are not to be confused with basic human needs. What maintains harmony in our own individual worlds is a completely personal and transitory experience.

The problem with getting outside-world things done (like meeting a deadline/ doing schoolwork/ getting to an appointment on time) is that the need for internal harmony takes precedence. Given enough time, however, outside-world things do get it done. Deadlines, generally, are frustrating to most autistics because of these focus issues. That is– No autistic likes to be told, “you MUST [be somewhere/ do something]”. That outside element of “must” is horrifying. If we create our own rules, it’s universal law and internal harmony, but if the rule or demand comes from outside, therein lies the challenge! (Consider theory of mind)

“We are doing something very intensely, but to the outside world, it seems like we’re doing nothing”

This inner world/ outer world struggle is something that autistics continuously re-evaluate. For example, autistics are sometimes misinterpreted as “doing nothing” or being distracted over “pointless” things. Rather, we are doing something very intensely, but to the outside world, it seems like we’re doing nothing.

The outside world (neurotypicals) do not see what we see. So, quite understandably, if I were to I spend a whole day at home, micro-adjusting the pillows on my couch, most people not on the Spectrum would view that behaviour as A) crazy; B) a waste of time; C) pointless; D) incomprehensible. However, in the autistic world, that intense pillows-adjustment has now enabled me to maintain inner-world homeostasis. By maintaining my inner structures, I can now spend a measly 3 hours working on an assessment, where I write 5,000w in perfect academic prose. Tell another autistic this, and they shrug – it’s normal. Tell a neurotypical and they don’t know what to do with it.

Basically, the need for harmony is such that the internal balance comes first. Now, the assessment might have a deadline, and it might be important in some external outside world kind of way… but in my internal autistic world, there cannot be balance in the Force until the pillows are adjusted!

 

Strategies to improve focus

If you want an autistic to stay focused, then you have to make the desired topic of focus the ONLY focus. It’s hard to stay focused on someone speaking to you when they are wearing glittery earrings and the light is dancing all over them. It’s hard to stay focused on the teacher if there is a spelling mistake on the board. Equally, it’s hard to feel inspired to start something if there are other distracting things in your immediate environment. You may find this is precisely why most autistics like to study in complete silence, in a cocoon of comfort…

What I hope you might gain from this article is that though focus issues might appear to manifest in autism, they are not permanently debilitating. If you absolutely must complete a task, a key way to manage or hone focus is to rationalize the situation, or create new rules for prioritizing things.

 

How to manage “getting focused” when you feel–

·       I CAN’T BE BOTHERED

Is there something about the task that you can find interesting? Maybe it’s the way of working, or the systems you’ll use to find the information, or perhaps you can rationalize that by learning more about the topic, it could become interesting.

·       I AM ANNOYED THAT I HAVE TO DO [THE TASK]

What makes doing it annoying? Maybe it’s a good idea to rationalize on the usefulness of completing this task. Will completing the task advance your schoolwork, get the teacher/ your boss to appreciate you more/ get you closer to finishing your study? Remember, you can always create a voodoo doll of that stupid teacher and poke it with pins to take out some anger whilst completing the task 😉

·       I FEEL IT WON’T BE GOOD ENOUGH

Ahh anxiety-time! How about gently reminding yourself that your version of perfect is far exceeds anything the average person can even conceive. Bolster confidence. Say “you can do it; it’s great”, or simply, “I am fantastic, and everything I do is fantastic”

A lack of focus is not inherently bad.

You just learn to go with the flow, accepting the knowledge that things will be completed in their due course. If you ditch topics or abandon jobs, don’t worry about it so much. Essentially you have gathered all there was to learn about it at that moment in time. We can always go back and try it again!

I think it’s good to always always always remember that being autistic is not a disorder (quite apart from the diagnosis label). If anything, being autistic is a “bringing-to-order”. Being autistic makes you different, and while it brings inter-relational challenges, they are not insurmountable.

Being autistic is okay; it really is.