A Word on Trauma

girl staring at the sky

Photo by Skitterphoto

Many, oh so many autistics experience childhood trauma. We rarely talk about it… and i think that’s a combination of it being a private affair, and that it -well- it HURTS to remember the past.

Yet sometimes it’s important to “go there”, such as when you’re with your counsellor(s), or for an illustrative point…


 

As it gets closer to Christmas, I am reminded ever more of things my parents said to me. Yes, the happier times…. but also the darker times too. This festive period brings up emotions… and memories.  I think that is the same for most people. Holidays make us remember and reflect.

When I, probably like many of us neurodiverse folk, reflect on those things from MY childhood, on closer inspection, I see a lot of it was rather hurtful, inappropriate and ‘traumatic’. So, why go there now? Well, because I think today holds an opportunity for an illustrative point.

 

To hurt another is rarely an act of joy. It comes from a place of hurt. 

*

 

Trauma holds teachings

Traumatic stuff in our lives sucks.  But trauma is universally human.  It streaks across and throughout different cultures, lifestyles, language, backgrounds. Everybody hurts, sometimes (Thanx REM). We really do – everyone has emotional pain… and everyone (even those among you who outwardly claim to have “a perfect childhood”). Trauma is painful and sad and horrible, but it also holds a space for learning.

How?

It was not the act itself that can help you.  That was a yucky thing, and I am sorry it happened to you.  It is the remembering and ‘reauthoring’ of the narrative that can help you now. As an adult, we have the ability to apply critical thinking to our past pains. This is where the learning can happen.

See, hurtful things are just that: HURTFUL.  They are hurtful to the person they are directed at, but also hurtful at the person doing the hurting. To hurt another is rarely an act of joy. It comes from a place of hurt.

 

“No-one will ever love you if…”

  • An example: As a child I used to suck my thumb, have plushie toys and sleep with a blanket. I was still doing this a into my early teenage years.  So, my father used to always tell me: NO-ONE WILL LOVE YOU IF YOU SUCK YOUR THUMB and NO-ONE WILL EVER LOVE YOU IF YOU CARRY AROUND CHILDISH THINGS.

No-one will love me? Ouch. Hurtful!

Now, how is it that such information passed between father and daughter could be a kind act? a loving action? a thoughtful parenting duty? Isn’t it *more likely* that my father was hurting inside himself? Isn’t it more likely that he had deep emotional pain?

Remember, to hurt others is to be hurting yourself.

If you think about the example with a critical mind, isn’t it far more possible that my father was hurting emotionally… and the essence of the attack at me (no-one will love you) (being childish) was the very thing that caused his hurt, perhaps in his childhood?

Certainly, I am not saying that childhood trauma ought be forgotten and forgiven instantly over a notion of “it wasn’t their fault because they were hurting too”, but it is something to consider. Re-assessing trauma in this way helps provide a cognitive release.

Being autistic means we tend to get stuck in these unfulfilling thought-loops, or see things completely black and white.  In autistic reactionary thinking, if father (authority) thinks daughter (subordinate) is unloveable, father must be true/ good/ right, and daughter must be false/ bad/ wrong. With a critical thinking hat on, as an adult, we can see that NO, that was not what really happened here. Father may be an authority at the time, but that does not make everything he says true.  Re-asses, review and release!

Looking at things this way helps shifts the problem too.  It wasn’t your fault. Father may have named you, “THE UNLOVEABLE CHILD”, but that is not true. That is not real. You were never unloveable, or unable to be loved.  It was them, the hurting parent.

 


She made it my problem, but it was not my hurt to carry.

“Don’t do that… you’re embarrassing me”

  • Another example: I was the sort of child who got stuck in her own head, and because I had few friends, I used to make things up.  One of my most favourite self-created games was to find a group of pavers/ tiles and imagine I was making music by standing on different paver stones. Yes, I am aware we now have arcade and computer games that do this very thing, but as a child such entertainment did not exist, and for me, at the time, it was about listening to the sounds of the pavers as I stood on them, and they would “ding” in my head, like a piano dings as you tap a key.  So, I would walk between pavers in an unusual pattern, humming to myself until I found a tune of the pavers that I liked, and could make them make music. I continued to make music through imaginary games and objects until– well, I still do it now! Throughout my childhood, my mum would see me doing this with the pavers, sometimes in public and sometimes in private and say: STOP THAT IMMEDIATELY. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME and DON’T DO THAT. WHY CAN’T YOU JUST ACT NORMAL.

 

I am embarrassing? Ouch. Hurtful!

I am NOT normal? Cutting…. Deeply cutting….

These were things my mother continued to say to me, right up until I was an adult – and the year I decided to cut her out of my life.  I was embarrassing her.  My actions, to her, were embarrassing. I was not normal, and God forbid anyone found out!

Applying the cognitive gaze again (and this one is harder for me to do, so bare with me as I try this…): How is it that such information passed between mother and daughter could be a kind act? To say your child is an embarrassment; is that a loving action? A thoughtful parenting duty? Isn’t it *more likely* that my mother was hurting inside herself? Isn’t it more likely that she had deep emotional pain?

To be embarrassed is, according to the dictionary, “to feel awkward, self-conscious, or ashamed”.  How can a child make you feel that, unless you’re just not comfortable in your own skin?

Yep, I am aware, kids do the strangest things.. but they are children! Children who are growing, children who are learning, children who are experimenting with their world… As parents/ adults, we can forget we were all a child once. All children are innocent! If a child is “being embarrassing”, instead of judging that child, why not consider what the child may need? Could the child be wanting something? Could they be trying to communicate with you? Could it be that… its not about you, Mum!? Also, an autistic child is not being a bad child: they are being an autistic child.

My mother was embarrassed by me, ashamed of me — and she told me that regularly as a child and as an adult.  This made me feel like I was not good enough and bad.  I felt I was defective because how could it be that I was a good and right and proper child if my mother is always embarrassed by me? My mother felt I was not normal, and she was ashamed that the secret would get out! So, led by her fear and her hurt, she struck out at me. She made it my problem, but it was not my hurt to carry.

It wasn’t my fault. Mother may have named me, “THE EMBARRASSING CHILD”, but that is not true. That is not real. I was never embarrassing. It was them, the hurting parent.

*


Letting Go, or at least, trying to

It’s hard, that’s for sure — whether working with a therapist, or on your own, to let go of the pain, the hurt, the anger.

I learned a while back that letting go doesn’t mean forgetting.  Nor does it mean that you accept what happened. Letting go is more about YOU, not about them.  They were the ones who through there unresolved (held, and not let go) hurt, HURT you.  They hurt you.  But as you keep hold on to all the shitty memories, you’re also holding on to them hurting you over and over.  They hurt you in the past, so let that go.  They are not hurting you now, but as you hold so tightly to the memory of them hurting you, you’re allowing them to keep hurting you in the present.

I know, it sounds self-helpy, but hear me out– just try letting go.  Just now, right now, for this tiny moment, try letting go.  Take that feeling of the hurt, the feeling of the anger and pain, and breathe it out.  Breathe it so far out that the hurt is across the horizon.  Let it go.  Sure, that trauma happened, and yeh it sucked, and yeh it wasn’t your fault… but all this hurt? Just try to let it go.  Breathe it out, breathe it away from you, far away. You don’t need to carry it any more ❤

 

Bless.

 

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Meltdown vs. Shutdown vs. Tantrum

adult alone anxious black and white

Photo by Kat Jayne

Autistics have meltdowns. Autistics have shutdowns. This is just part of life. We experience the world at 100% and some days it can just all get too much.

I’ve heard recently a lot of talk around people using autism as an excuse for bad behaviour, specifically with respects to childhood tantrums… I want to clarify some things here.

I wonder if there is just not enough information about the differences between autistic responses to overwhelm and temper tantrums?

 

So, here’s my take on it all.


 

What is a Meltdown?

A meltdown is essentially a complete loss of control over emotional regulation and behaviour.  It is an autistic’s response to overwhelm, which often is seen as an explosion of emotion, or an implosion (or sometimes both). When an autistic person is completely overwhelmed by something that is happening in their environment, or something that was said to them, they can *melt down to a childish state*.  So, a meltdown can look like: becoming reactive, stomping feet, throwing objects, screaming, banging things (or themselves), running away, etc…

Meltdowns are the result of sensory-overwhelm. Yep, this can be emotional overwhelm (too many feelings!), or too much light, texture, noise, aromas, people… Remember, meltdowns are never really about you. They are about the *environment* being too much for us to bare. A meltdown is completely non-reliant on your attention or reaction; it is a response to the environment.

 

How to help in a meltdown:

It’s generally hard to identify the start of a meltdown in your loved one. You may become cluely to their personal triggers, and this is definitely handy because it means you can help keep them calm… but sometimes LIFE just happens, and meltdowns occur.

If your autistic loved one is in a meltdown, stay calm. We dont need you also melting down! Please try to make sure they are somewhere safe, remove the offending sensory stimuli and leave them be.  Give your autistic SPACE. Avoid excessive verbal prompts. Aaagh, words are hard for us to process during meltdowns. Depending on the autistic individual and whether they have advised you of their needs, weighted blankets, firm hugs, or comforting sensory objects may help.

Meltdowns are not about a grab for attention or bad behaviour; this is simply a response to overstimulation, overwhelming factors.  Yes, as adults, we can rationally discuss the reasons why a meltdown is a silly action, childish and inappropraite. As adults, we can also agree to *not* meltdown, but essentially this is moot point. Meltdowns are out of our control. We do not choose to have a meltdown. They just sometimes happen.

 

black and white black and white depressed depression

Photo by Kat Jayne

What is a Shutdown?

A shutdown is an anxiety response to “too much”. It can be triggered directly by the sensory challenges in the immediate environment, or over a long-term exposure to being in crowds, at work/ school, around media/ TV. When an autistic person is completely overwhelmed, they may *shut down to a silent state*.

Shutdown is a coping response to overwhelm.  It is not reliant on you; it is not bad behaviour, nor is a grab for attention. It is a response to the environment. We need to shut it down, shut it out, and find peace.

A shutdown may look like:

  • They may hide away in a small dark space
  • Get far away from the noise/ offending sensations
  • Close their eyes
  • Block up their ears
  • Non-communicative/ Silent
  • Non-responsive
  • Staring blankly, as if they are “not there”
  • Not being able to move

 

How to help in a shutdown:

Noticing a shutdown about to happen in an autistic can curb us back into reality and make us feel stable again. The triggers and signs of shutdown will differ with each person you meet, but for me it starts with stuttering and confusion in my mind. I quickly lose my ability to think and to speak, and then it just stops all together. When I begin to stutter, my partner Z. will tell me to sit down, breathe, say ‘everything is ok’, offer me a comfort object, and that helps me so much!

If your autistic loved one is in shutdown mode, make sure they are somewhere safe, remove the offending sensory stimuli and leave them be.  When the autistic person has calmed down you can rationally chat about ways to manage the future. I recommend they keep a mood calender and to record their worries in a seperate booklet. The worry book can then be discussed with therapists/ parents/ partners together with your loved one to remedy or remove some of these anxieties.

 

“A tantrum is an on/ off event, where the person is SOLELY seeking a response from you”.

 

What is a tantrum?

A tantrum is a form of bad behaviour, meant to attract attention, often puported by young children (and some adults). Tantrums happen because these people do not know how to communicate their complex feelings of frustration, guilt, anger, or disbelief. As an expression of temper, they cry, stomp their feet, throw objects or scream… and why? Because something did not go their way. A tantrum feeds off attention with even negative comments propelling the emotional response… A tantrum stops when good attention is received.

What makes a tantrum different to an autistic meltdown or shutdown is that a tantrum is an on/ off event, where the person is SOLELY seeking a response from you. For example: The child wants a chocolate bar. You say ‘No’. Child screams and kicks and cries. You give in. Child gets chocolate bar. The screaming and kicking stops. This is a tantrum. If this event occurred in an autistic meltdown, the child will keep screaming regardless of whether a chocolate bar is presented or not.  Why? Because in an autistic meltdown, the denial of a chocolate bar is not even remotely related to the emotional outburst. You may be able to calm your autistic child down in time, but in autism, your interventions will not switch the behaviour on and off.

 


In Sum…

An autistic experience of the world being too overwhelming, and resulting in either a meltdown or a shutdown is NOT bad behaviour. We cannot control this. We do not choose this. We are not being bad.

Knowing the difference between a meltdown and a shutdown can help when working with, living with, or being with autistics. We understand that these intermittent experiences and responses to stimuli can be frustrating or unusual for you.

Yes, therapeutic interventions such as psychotherapy can help us manage our own emotional space, yet sometimes sensory overwhelm creates a response of meltdown or shutdown in us. What we really need is your patience and calm and awareness that we are not having a tantrum, or acting out…. we are autistic.

At times like these, we ask for your kindness.

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

black and white woman girl sitting

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.

 

nature-tree-green-pine.jpg

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.

 

 

 

Stress and Overwhelm

Many a calm river begins as a turbulent waterfall, yet none hurtles and foams all the way to the sea.” —Mikhail Lermontov

photography of barrel wave

Photo by Emiliano Arano on Pexels.com

The dictionary defines stress as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”, and for autistic individuals, stress is one of the greatest challenges to living life well.

Research shows autistic people have a higher stress-response and are more susceptible to stress disorders than their neurotypical counterparts.   A combination of childhood adversity and heightened sensitivity to emotions, hyperawareness of the environment, and interpersonal challenges with others create the space for stress to grow.

Autistics find it hard to “let go” of a stress-response; their bodies hold the stress-response longer, meaning that they need to be more mindful of stress-reduction activities, and become aware of how stress affects them.

 

Stress Response – What it can look like

Stress can lead to a range of sometimes vague symptoms– some that overlap with “just being autistic” and some that overlap with mental health conditions, like depression.

WebMD gives this handy list-

 

Emotional symptoms of stress:

  • Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
  • Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
  • Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
  • Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed
  • Avoiding others

Physical symptoms of stress:

  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
  • Aches, pains, and tense muscles
  • Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent colds and infections
  • Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
  • Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
  • Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
  • Clenched jaw and grinding teeth

Cognitive symptoms of stress:

  • Constant worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Forgetfulness and disorganization
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor judgment
  • Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side

 

Okay, so how do you know if you’re experiencing stress-symptoms rather than just existing in this world with autism, or having the flu or something?

There are some key stressful life events that can shake you– like moving house, getting a new job, death of a loved one, falling in love, or the birth of a baby… but other things can also rock your boat.  Good things can be stressful, as well as bad things. EEK!

I think the key is to look BACK. I mean, defining whether we are in a current state of stress is not exactly easy. So, look back at your week or month or few months you’ve just had.  Defining whether you’re stressed is necessary, because you can’t start looking after yourself unless you know what’s wrong.

Write a list of what’s happened in the past week/ month/ year. Take the past week, per day describing key events, or a per week, or per month. Look at what happened. What events took place?  This will help you see the truth of what is happening.  I find analyzing your experiences really helpful to figuring out what you need to change them.

Notice your productivity levels.  What are you not getting done, that previously you could easily get done? Are you way behind on your work? Another factor is change. Have you recently changed something big in your life, like made a new friend or let go of someone toxic? Also, consider your moodiness. Are you having more bouts of ups/ downs? Do you find yourself in more fights with loved ones over small and pointless things?

Just note these elements… and if you decide YES, I AM STRESSED, then go about changing that.  Find your equilibrium again; get out into nature; take space; immerse yourself in your special interest; take a self-care day (or week!); ask for help; see your therapist or doctor; exercise; meditate.

 


I think I am stressed.

At the time, I didn’t think I was stressed.  But now I am looking back on this year so far, I can see I was stressed in each month, and hell- I still am stressed now!

In the beginning of the year,  my narcissistic mother told me that by Christmas I’d homeless because she has decided to WITHDRAW FINANCIAL SUPPORT and move overseas.  She said I am stealing from her, that I need to be taught a lesson, and that I am undeserving of help (she also thinks my autism is a made-up disorder and completely untrue).  See, from 2004, she decided that I needed to receive a small living allowance which she said would enable my independent living. So, I moved out of home, and she paid me a small weekly amount so that I could live a modest existence outside the family home. Her initial idea was that I’d find work and she could cut down my allowance till such a time I was completely independent.. however, whenever I started to earn money, she would refuse to cut my allowance, and then later used her gifting of the allowance as a way to blackmail me… ahhh the trials and tribulations of a narcissist!  At the start of this year she made it clear that she was not going to continue giving me financial support and that when she left Australia, I would just have to fend for myself.

In February, I found out I GOT INTO UNIVERSITY to do my PhD topic and was really excited about that, but soon found out that I needed to PAY FEES and I couldn’t really afford it.  Mum refused to pay anything, although she encouraged me to do this degree and said she’d pay for it.  So, that sucked. Then, when I started my course, I also discovered that my SUPERVISOR IS ABSENT, and that he was rarely available or, it seemed, interested to give any support in the writing of my thesis. Such a disappointment. I’ve actually been seriously considering dropping out of university because of this situation…

In March, I started dating a friend, but as it turned out, he was depressed and had some strange sex trauma from his past, so our ‘relationship’ if you can even call it that, did not really progress beyond a few cuddles– even though he talked about being together, he was completely disinterested in intimacy and well, we broke up after a number of weeks… which really was blessing, because I was QUITE DEPRESSED by then.

In June, my mum forced a visit upon me where she spent a great deal of the time criticizing my life, picking on me, and joking about me being homeless. I realized that HAVING A NARCISSIST IN MY LIFE is not a good thing.

In July of this year I got a PAID JOB, one that I got totally by myself; my first ‘real’ job in 10 years- I was now being employed by someone else, paid a wage that more readily suits my qualifications and experience. I also got a NEW BOYFRIEND, someone who is really into establishing roots together.

In August, I had an unexpected condition which really required that I GO TO HOSPITAL, and I was very emotional about it because my recovery would take a long time. Later in that month, I also learned my MUM HAS CANCER. And I had a minor CAR ACCIDENT, but it totally shocked and shook me. When I heard about my mum, I just did not care. Her physical illness made her even more selfish, even more demanding, even more critical of me and my life… and she did not give me any emotional support in my situation. She told me I was a bad child for not wanting to quit my job and ditch my university to be with her.  She cut off individual payments of my living allowance because I was apparently not being loving enough to her, and that really hurt me financially. August was the month that made me question whether my mum even understands the concept of love.

In September, I was still recovering from my operation, and I TOOK LEAVE FROM UNI, quitting one of my subjects.

In October, I decided to cut off all contact with my mother, and that was really freeing and beautiful for me because I could now finally be who I am without hearing constantly how wrong and bad that is.  Yet, in all the amazing good, not having her occasional financial support has made it pretty hard as I now have these insurmountable  FINANCIAL STRUGGLES, especially with health insurance, rent and bills — these things cost so much! At the end of October, I also experienced a strange tightness in my chest and inability to breathe… I had a severe ASTHMA ATTACK, and now I’m taking asthma medications, despite never having had asthma before; I’ve acquired it as an adult, and it sucks. In late October-early November, I experienced choking in the middle of the night; had it not been for my partner waking me up, I’d probably be dead. Frightening stuff!

Now it’s November and I am behind at work. I am behind with my thesis.  I have been fighting more with my partner. I have neglected seeing my friends. I am aware that I have been more forgetful than usual, struggled more with focus, had more aches and pains, felt more overwhelmed, felt more lost, found it harder to self-soothe, and had greater anxiety.  I am stressed.

My stress comes from the fact that I didn’t accept I was experiencing stress

I let myself get stressed and did not address it when it was happening.

Not all is bad.  I am getting support NOW.  And that’s the take-away, here. No matter when you notice it, seeing and accepting your stress is the way to reduce it.

Being autistic means we might totally miss the signs of stress brewing, and sure– we’re like stress-magnets, but we can find balance again once we’ve identified the problem as, well: STRESS.

If you have an autistic friend or partner and you see their lives getting hectic and full of stressful life events, remind them to breathe, take time out and de-stress.  We’ll appreciate your kindness… and, as you may know, a calm person is a productive and lovely-to-be-around person.  🙂

 

Bipolar vs. Autism

Research shows that autism shares signatures with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But is this a case of co-occurrence, or just that of misdiagnosis?

 

clouds idyllic landscape mood

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

For those who are not familiar with bipolar disorder, this is a condition which affects MOOD. Individuals slide from feelings of intensely elevated (mania) to intensely low (depression) in a pattern of repeating episodes. Some people cycle rapidly through these moods, others follow more slow set patterns.  Bipolar individuals get “stuck” in moods, and often experience extreme negative intrusive thoughts which can lead to relationship difficulties and suicidal ideation.

In autism, individuals also experience relationship issues and mood disturbances. We too get “stuck” in emotional states and experience periods of mania and long-standing depression.  We hyper-focus, suffer irritability, intrusive thoughts and suicidal ideation.

So what’s up? Are all autistics bipolar, or all bipolars autistic?

 

Can bipolar and autism co-occur?

Many researchers and therapists say NO. They say that autistics are often misdiagnosed as bipolar, because of the periods of mania that many of us experience. I have to agree.  I have met many autistics who have been misdiagnosed and given medications for bipolar due to their presentations of mania, depression, anger, sadness and general confusion about the world.  In women, most often the misdiagnoses are disassociation or borderline personality disorder; in men, bipolar or schizophrenia.

An old study (which is too often quoted as the prevailing thought) showed that 27 % of autistics also have symptoms of bipolar disorder, and I reckon that’s where it stops: SYMPTOMS.  Just because you have some symptoms of the bubonic plague doesn’t necessarily mean you’re about to die from the plague.  You could just as easily have the flu, or an infection from an untreated blister.  My point is that while there are overlaps,  I think bipolar is mistakenly over-diagnosed in those with autism.

I think there’s something to be said about how autistics and bipolar individuals relate.  I can sort of see both sides, because I have bipolar friends… I think bipolar is distinctly different because there’s a much stronger lean towards negativity, and to the idea that the Self is not true, or not clear.

Christopher Baddock explains this well. He says—

“Autism involves difficulties reading others; it is an inter-psychic disorder. Bipolar, however, is …intra-psychic mentalism: in other words, [difficulty] reading of your own mind. Normally, we read our own mental states by way of sensing our moods, thoughts and feelings in relation to something, and report these to others with phrases like I feel like Y; I’m in the mood for X; or, I’m happy with Z. In bipolar disorder, these internal mind-readings become pathologically exaggerated into crippling swings… often combined with delusional ideas about the self, messianically megalomanic or suicidally self-critical as the case may be”

So, with autism, we can get to understand ourselves and learn what our authentic feelings are.  We may have intrusive thoughts (OCD), but the grounding is still us to ourselves in clarity of feeling.  When we look externally, THAT is where we struggle.  In bipolar, they look within and struggle.

 

What are the differences and similarities between bipolar and autism?

The symptoms of bipolar disorder fall into two overarching categories: mania and depression.  Most untreated bipolars flip between the two and rarely find any periods of “normal” or “balanced” self. A “normal” state for a bipolar individual varies, but what I know from friends with bipolar, they say it’s a place where they have control over their emotions and feel stable to get things done without feeling pulled towards a pole. So, without further ado, here’s the bipolar symptoms, based on the mood extremes–

Symptoms of a manic episode include:

  • excessive happiness, upbeat and wired
  • suddenly changing from joy to irritability to angry to hostile
  • increased energy and agitation
  • restlessness
  • exaggerated sense of self and inflated self-esteem
  • sleep disturbances
  • poor judgment and impulsive behaviour
  • being easily distracted, forgetting stuff
  • drug and alcohol abuse, excessive sex-drive or promiscuity
  • mania leading to difficulties maintaining relationships

 

Symptoms of a depressive episode include:

  • acting or feeling down or depressed, sad, or hopeless or worthless or VICTIM-like
  • difficulty making decisions
  • loss of interest in normal activities
  • sudden and dramatic changes in appetite
  • unexpected weight loss or weight gain
  • fatigue, loss of energy, and sleeping lots
  • inability to focus or concentrate
  • suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • disconnecting from relationships, people, things

 

Autism is a unique and complex disorder where symptoms vary from person to person, along with the severity of those symptoms.  In general, autism presents with:

  • challenges with social interaction and communication
  • difficulties creating and maintaining relationships
  • a tendency to prefer routine and structure
  • focus on repetitive behaviours (often undertaken leading to self-soothing)
  • displaying very specific preferences for item placement or activities

If there’s auditory processing disorder alongside autism (a common dual disability), the autistic can also present with difficulties concentrating, remembering information, and an agitated state.

 

As you read the two groups of symptoms– the mania/ depression from bipolar and those of autism, you’ll see they are remarkably different.  I think the overlap is seen as times where the autistic person is emotional.

 

Anyway, I guess it’s possible you’re reading this and you’re that one person who is legitimately bipolar AND autistic! I guess it’s possible to have both, but if you have got a bipolar diagnosis and you feel as though it doesn’t quite fit…. maybe you actually have autism?

Just a thought.