Where Have You Been?

I’ve been missing from the world of autistic bloggers for more or less a year now. I made one post on my Instagram, but otherwise it’s been complete radio silence on my end. Some people noticed I was still active on my everyday accounts, and a couple knew about my Harry Potter fan account, but when it came to here, nothing. If you looked at any of my social media accounts, or saw me briefly in real life, it would seem as if I just had everything together and was going about my everyday life. Well, that’s partly true. Mostly though? I’d started masking constantly again.

Masking is this way of not appearing autistic so neurotypical people will accept you. It’s exhausting, time-consuming and leaves you feeling very emotionally drained. Around this time last year, I started feeling a lot of shame about being in my late 20s and still being “childish”, so I tried hard to make myself seem like what I thought a “normal” adult was. Comparing myself to all the other people I knew, rationalising that they all had problems but seemed to be doing fine so I needed to just grow up. I caused myself months of torment, refusing to let myself stim or interact with things that made me calm down because “adults don’t do that”. Rather than celebrate my accomplishments, I punished myself for every single bit of behaviour that wasn’t up to a high, high standard. Not only was I making sure all my time was consumed by some form of work, I was also exhausted from the energy I was putting into masking it all. So eventually I ended up trapped in this cycle where I felt extremely guilty every moment I wasn’t working in some way. I kept pushing my standards higher too, which meant constantly failing to meet my own expectations, adding to the huge amounts of stress.

At the start of this month, I got sick. Normally I just get a common cold and it’s over within a couple of days, but this one stuck around. I was coughing heavily and struggling to breathe. I had bronchitis- and one of the reasons it’s become so bad is because my immune system is a mess thanks to the extreme stress I’ve been repeatedly putting myself under. I’d been pushing aside my mental health, telling myself I was just being lazy, to the point it impacted my physical health. I really can’t ignore it any more.

So I’m trying to get back into the swing of things. Letting myself stim without punishing myself, or by fighting back against the guilty thoughts. By starting up my autism blogging spaces again and talking to people once more. By immersing myself in my special interests and enjoying them thoroughly. I need to do it, or I’ll end up very sick again.

When we talk about masking, we think about it as this kind of thing you consciously do for a short period of time. It can be that! However, when you’ve spent the majority of your life being expected to mask, it’s easy to fall back into those patterns. While I would’ve been stressed and overwhelmed anyway, forcing myself to mask has only heightened those anxious feelings. I intentionally stopped myself from doing things to calm down, and punished myself in roundabout ways for not acting neurotypical. It’s not healthy, and it only benefits people who dislike autistic people.

From here on out, I’m going to try hard to just let myself be.

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A Not-So-Short Break

It’s been a while since I updated this blog, hasn’t it?

A lot has happened since December, although it feels like none of it is particularly big. Apparently this is me downplaying my achievements though and is something I’m supposed to work on.

I have a part-time job now. I work in a store that’s related to a special interest, so I get to spend a lot of time talking to customers about that kind of thing. Being told I’m good at it is weird, but accepting compliments is another thing I need to learn to work on. I had another job before this one but it wasn’t an ideal situation for me. Luckily I’ve been able to make the changeover.

Due to feeling overwhelmed about a lot of things, I was concerned about the idea of staying in university. I thought I should maybe just focus on working and that I was too old to be there. It took a while to convince me otherwise, but my friends and partner all encouraged me to stay. I passed all my exams and I’m now in the second year of my degree.

I’m hoping to get back into blogging more so please stick around.

The Stress of Christmas

At this time of year, I go into near-isolation both online and offline. It’s a time of year I really don’t like, for one big reason- it’s Christmas. For many reasons it’s an extremely difficult time and it seems to drag on for longer each year. There’s no real escape either;  I end up having to acknowledge Christmas in some way or another. I’ve been incredibly snappy, had increasingly frequent meltdowns and everything just feels so muddled.

People are a lot louder at Christmas. When you go outside, everything is full of loud music (the same horrible songs repeatedly too) and adverts. There’s signs everywhere in loud colours. People are pushier, physically and verbally. Your routines end up disrupted because everyone is everywhere at all times, so you have to alter what you do because nobody wants to accommodate autistic people. There’s more children around, which irritates me because I can’t deal with families or children, and they stare or make rude comments whenever I’m chewing in public.

At home you don’t really get away from it either. At home, you have visitors over constantly- the worst being “surprise” visits you haven’t planned for. Your space for relaxation becomes non-existent and you end up having to spread yourself thin to accommodate other people. Then being told off for being “weird” or “not in the holiday spirit” when you just want to be left alone to do your usual thing.

Online your inbox is filled up with adverts screaming at you to buy things. That you need to buy things in order to be a good person to the people you care about. When your usual 8 emails a day bumps up to 20+ it’s very overwhelming. Nobody gets replies because the task of wading through so much junk is too much.

Then there’s the loneliness. Seeing people go back to their families or travelling around together when you don’t have that. I saw my parents for half an hour last week, but it’s not the same. I get jealous that people have traditions when that’s not really something we’ve done since my grampa passed away when I was 9.

We didn’t decorate our house but we are having a few friends over tomorrow. The bedroom is the escape room, for when socialising gets too much. Our food is things I can eat, and we’ve avoided things with strong scents that will overwhelm me since I’m at a higher risk of meltdowns right now. I hope it’ll all go okay. Anxiety, irritation, being overwhelmed and loneliness are not nice things to feel- especially all at once.

That Time of Year

It’s been two weeks since my last blog here. I’d like to say it’s simply because I’ve been busy but it’s not been just that. With the weather becoming cold rapidly, the days getting shorter, deadlines coming up and exams looming, I’m feeling incredibly overwhelmed.

I struggle a lot with these things called intrusive thoughts. They’re nasty thoughts that pop up without warning, and they spiral really badly. It means I can’t do anything aside from focus on them which makes getting on with daily life difficult. The louder they get, the more anxious I get. Right now I’m getting a lot of them about university; that my work is inadequate, that I will fail assessments, and if I fail I won’t be offered resits or fail those so I’ll be kicked out. I often feel like I’m an impostor and I’m not able to accept my own achievements, which means I’m constantly on edge about failure while also seeing it as inevitable. It’s difficult to cope with.

Combined with this is seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Alongside the intrusive thoughts, winter makes me struggle to be able to do anything. I feel sad and angry all the time, with no energy. I struggle to wash and eat daily.

There’s no cure for any of this. I just have to press on; the NHS also refused me for help as my needs are too specialist, and there’s nothing available for adults. So I’m having to save up to be able to see a private psychiatrist. In the meantime I just need to try hard and keep myself safe.

Seeing Clearly

I’ve needed new glasses for about a year. As I’ve gotten older I’ve needed to spend more time in front of screens, so my prescription has become stronger. Part of my frames chipped off at a festival last year, the lenses have been popping out for a couple of years, the nose pads were squint, then around the start of the year one of the temples snapped off completely. Instead of getting new ones I kept trying to fix all the breakages. However, in lectures I couldn’t see the screens properly and I realised I couldn’t read timetables at stations. My anxiety kept getting worse, fuelled by the fact a UK opticians chain was running a huge campaign about eye health that essentially said “if your eyesight is getting worse you’re probably seriously ill”. Combined with the increased headaches I was getting from eye strain I was really scared.

Appointments fill me with anxiety. It doesn’t matter what they’re for, the word “appointment” fills me with a horrible fear. This means I usually avoid making them until I have the courage, and make them for as soon as possible- if they can be done within the hour, I’ll aim for that. Unfortunately there’s very few things where you can be seen immediately, so I tend to avoid more than I do. Since September I’ve been checking all the local optician’s websites to see if I could make any on-the-day appointments. Today, out of luck, one place had an appointment within half an hour. Out of courage and another impending headache I chose it.

The opticians is overwhelming for me. I already have a lot of fear towards anything medical, because I had a lot of invasive (and unnecessary) ones as a child. Years of rude, dismissive and uncaring professionals who’ve caused me traumatic experiences have made me scared. Opticians are always very bright, and you have to talk a lot to strangers while they examine you without explaining much, which scares me. So I was really scared by the time I got there- the assistant had to fill in the form for me because my hands were shaking so much. I told them communication might be difficult, but she was really nice. She made sure to talk me through everything she was doing which made me a lot less anxious. It was also just in a little room, not one set up to look clinical, so I wasn’t as anxious as I expected. There were a couple of bright lights flashed in my eyes which were a little overwhelming but I didn’t feel like I wanted to run as much.

After the assessment I had to go into the optician room. That part spooked me. It didn’t look as clinical as I expected, but it was still way more clinical than anywhere else I’d been. It was also very bright which is usually overwhelming for me. Luckily, the optician was really nice. Instead of using really in-depth terms he asked me how long I’d had my glasses for, before talking to me about my interests. He actually didn’t mention anything related to my eyes at all other than to tell me when he was changing something. I didn’t feel anywhere near as anxious as I had before. I must’ve kept babbling, the whole thing was over way faster than I expected. It didn’t cause me the sensory overload I expected either. Rather than being loud with flashing lights it was just pretty simple and I didn’t have to talk too much. Then I picked my new glasses (plain black ones with thick frames) and it was done! I have to go back a week tomorrow but that’s just to pick them up.

I’m pretty proud of myself for today. Usually I put things off a lot so they don’t get done and I end up more upset. Since I’m an adult who’s considered “not severe” (I hate those labels) I don’t get any help with these sorts of things. It’s up to me to do them myself. When I came home I rewarded myself with chicken nuggets for dinner and watched a whole load of Star Trek. Best of all, I’ll be able to see better as of next Tuesday!

What’s in the Bag?

I don’t like going places without a backpack. I’ve taken one wherever I go for as long as I can remember, because they ensure I can keep my security objects as close to me as possible.

bag1
This is the one I use daily. My bag has to be a backpack. One-shoulder bags cause me a lot of strain, and I don’t like how they feel across my body. Backpacks are also easier to decorate with badges, patches and keyrings. My favourite thing to put on them are activism, fandom and animal badges. My Pusheen keyring is also very squishy, so good for nervous situations.

What do I keep inside my bag?

bag2

First of all, a small Beanie Baby. This is something I’ve done since I was 9. Beanie Babies are one of my special interests. They’re also weighted with PVC pellets so they’re good for helping me calm down. This particular Beanie is called Dumpycat and he is my favourite, because he reminds me of one of my pet cats.

Secondly, and just as important, is a pouch of stim toys. I usually wear a chewable so I just keep the fidget in the bag until it’s needed. If I’m staying somewhere overnight then I’ll bring a bigger chew too. My wearable chew usually matches my outfit. The bigger chew depends on where I’m going and how long I’ll be there for. The little pouch keeps them clean, rather than sitting on the bottom of my bag.

When I have the energy, I enjoy writing or drawing so I always have a pencil case and notebook with me. Sometimes these are necessities because of university (I’ve colour-coded all my subjects) but other times it’s just for fun which means smaller notebooks. It can also be useful for making lists, as I have a really bad memory when it comes to daily chores and have a habit of forgetting what I’m supposed to do if I get too caught up in something else. If I have space, I’ll take a book to read too. Usually it’ll be factual but there’s a couple of fiction authors I like.

The iPad and 3DS are also really good for helping ground me in uncomfortable situations, particularly if I’m alone. I put as many of my study books on my iPad as possible so I’ll always have something to read and work to focus on, but when I have wifi it also means I can tune out the world around me for a bit if I need to be alone. I’m not a huge video game fan but the games I like are playable on the 3DS. It’s my favourite for travel because it doesn’t need wifi but gives me enough stimulation to immerse myself without worrying about the outside world. It’s particularly good for flying. Headphones aren’t just good for listening to these things, they’re good for blocking out overwhelming outside noise.

My Gaston water bottle is to encourage me to stay hydrated. I forget to eat and drink when I get too involved with something, so having water with me stops me from having to stop and buy something. Plus, Beauty & the Beast is one of my favourite movies so having something related to the film in my favourite colour makes me want to take it places. The wallet and keys are self-explanatory. I keep my keys on a lanyard so I can tie them to the inside of the backpack’s front pouch, meaning I’m less likely to shove them in my pocket and lose them. If I don’t keep my keys and wallet in the front pouch it’s likely I’ll go outside and forget them which can cause all sorts of problems throughout the day.

Taking things like these around with me helps avoid meltdowns and unnecessary stress. It’s even more helpful when people understand my need to have a bag like this with me whenever I can.

An Introduction of Sorts

First blog posts are always sort of weird, aren’t they? I’m never sure what to talk about. My about me page is separate, so there’s no need for that, but jumping straight in to topical posts also seems odd. So really I guess a quick rundown of what I’m actually going to use this space for seems in order.

I’m aiming to use this space as a sort of combination of all aspects of my life where being autistic plays a part. Sometimes that’ll be reviewing things that help me manage in daily situations, sometimes it’ll be a look at my everyday experiences, sometimes it’ll be me talking about relevant news. If I manage to get enough regular readers I might do Q&As or advice blogs sometimes!

Also, why did I pick rabbits? They’re my favourite animal! I’ve been obsessed with them since I was very small. I used to write lots of things about rabbits, and always looked at rabbits whenever I could. They’re central to my life, and I’ve always thought I might like to be one, so it made sense to combine the two. If you came here from my Instagram you’ll also know that my favourite plush toy who goes everywhere with me is a rabbit. They’re just very much me.