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Beneath the Mask lies …. who?

In November 2014, when I was forty eight years old, I was diagnosed with autism. Since then I have been trying to write something about being diagnosed so late on in life, but I seem to have a complete block these days when it comes to writing, even though writing is something I have done all my life. My adult autistic son keeps asking me to write something for his blog, and I have tried so many times, but I just seem to blurb out a load of nonsense and not have the energy to edit or try to make it make sense in any way, and so there is never anything for the blog from me.
I have not had time to process what an autism diagnosis means for me – if it is a good or a bad thing – and do I feel better or worse for having this diagnosis? I thought it would it be a good thing, and give some meaning, some explanation for my past, and that I could use it to move forward in my life, armed with the knowledge that I am not broken, or a failure, or that life is wasted on me as I have always thought, but that I am autistic, and that is who I am, what I am, what I have always been, and that I finally know and understand who and what I am. That I could claim autism, being autistic, as my identity.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
In all honesty the one thing that has become clear to me since being diagnosed as autistic is that I have no idea who I am, what I am, or where, or even if I fit in to the world.
Every day it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that I have masked and faked my way through my life, and that no one really knows me, and I don`t even know myself. I feel as though I don`t exist outside of what I do for other people.
This is not to say that I have not had genuine feelings for people, that I didn`t care about them or love them, and the things I have done for them didn`t mean anything to me. That`s not what I am trying to say.
I`ll try to explain, but I am not sure I can.
It`s like from a really young age, probably four or five, I just didn`t know what to do, how to be. It`s like I read the hand-book on how to be a good daughter, sister, friend, partner, Mum, human-being, and I followed it to the letter with no veering from it, no time to think about myself or my own needs. I think I have always been, or tried my damndest to be, exactly what my parents needed me to be, exactly what my siblings needed me to be, exactly what my ex-partner needed me to be, and the perfect Mum. I have always given a hundred percent to every person in my life, every job, every action, with no room for error, no room for mistakes, no room for me.
It is like putting make-up on each day before you can face the world, afraid to let the world see you, who you really are, what you really look like, because you don`t really know who you are, but you know that you can never measure up to other people. And to be honest you don`t know what the fuck you should be doing, or how you should be doing it, so you watch, you observe, you learn, you copy and you do, just to fit in. But you can`t copy and do everything your peers do, at whatever age and period in your life you happen to be, because you can`t get it wrong. Mistakes are not ok. You have to be the perfect daughter. You can never put your own needs, or feelings, or wants above what your parents need from you. And you have to be the perfect sister. You can`t be selfish or think of your own needs, and no matter how overwhelming or exhausting or damaging it is, you have to do what your siblings need you to do. And friends? Well you have to be there for them constantly don`t you? You have to follow their ideas, do what they want to do, put off what is important to you and ignore your own wants and needs and prioritise theirs don`t you? And in a relationship? Well you can`t argue or shout or hurt someone`s feelings. You have to absorb all the shit, but never dish any out. And being a Mum? There`s no room for mistakes, you have to be completely selfless and give everything you have got, and never, ever put your own needs above those of your child. And society at large? Well you always have to be polite, and kind, and caring and put yourself out, even for complete strangers. And when people: family, friends, partners, work colleagues, people in general treat you like dirt, well you just have to take it and never, ever retaliate because the idea or hurting someone`s feelings – even if they hurt yours on a daily basis – is just unbearable. And they are the un-written rules of the metaphorical `hand-book` on how to be a good human-being, except, they are not. They are the rules I imposed on myself because I didn`t know how to be me, how to look after me, as well as being a good daughter, sister etc. I didn`t know how to be a real person, what I was supposed to do, so I subconsciously developed a persona of trying to be the perfect everything to everyone, to make sure everyone else`s needs are met. I still do it. I don`t know how to not do it.
Am I making any sense? I guess what I am trying to say is that because I was so confused and bewildered by life, all my life, I kind of learned how to be the perfect daughter, sister, friend, partner, Mum, employee, student, citizen, always trying to do the right thing by everyone else, that I never really learned anything about who I am? And somehow I have reached the age of 52 feeling as bewildered and confused by life as I did when I was five. And somehow I have blundered through to reach this age without ever really doing anything I have wanted to do (or I`ve had short bursts of trying but never really succeeded with anything) and I have never really known or understood me, who I am, what I want. And I don`t think that anyone else knows me at all, apart from my son. I think my parents knew me pretty well as their testament to how I was as a child went pretty far to me being diagnosed as autistic. I have always been extremely close to my parents, but even with them I had to put on a front a lot of the time when they needed me to help my siblings, and I couldn`t say no. I could never say no to my parents, or `what about me?` I always did exactly what they needed me to do to support my siblings, and I never once complained, or told them how hard it was for me to push myself to do the things they needed me to do.
I know I am not painting a very good picture of myself here, but I just don`t know how else to explain it. I am not the perfect anything, but I have nearly killed myself trying to be.
I keep seeing hashtags about `taking the mask off ` on Twitter, and being your true, authentic, autistic self, but I have many masks, for many different situations, and although I feel they are slowly destroying me, if I take them off what then? How will I go to the shop to ask for something? Make a phone call? Have an electrician or a plumber in the house? Order a taxi? Get my haircut? Interact with my family, neighbours, and society in general? Make sure my son`s needs are met?
Without the masks I can`t function, and if I don`t function I can`t support my son, or even do anything.
I am all for autistic people getting on with being autistic, and not having to go through the stress of trying to fit in to society, not having to `mask`, but if I don`t have my masks then what do I have to present to the world? I can`t present `Me` because I have no idea who that is ….

Jane Donlan

You can find my  sons book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

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Is this illness or stress?

Autistic people tend to get quite stressed with sensory issues, changes in routine, the need to plan, anxiety build-up, and social communication all playing a part. Stress can and often will have a physical impact: this might be stomach pains, headaches, sickness and more extreme symptoms. I have found this out myself on more that one occasion. Headaches, feeling sick or having pains in my stomach is far from uncommon, and I know by now that they are all signs of an overload. When I was around five or six, before I was home-educated, I would have awful pains in my stomach and feel as if I were going to throw-up knowing that I would have to go to school the next morning. If anyone had seen me they would have thought I was ill, but this was something I felt every night and every morning before school. It was not an illness, it was stress and anxiety brought on by my hatred of school. In more recent years there have been two times when after a big event, for example, a talk or my book launch I have found myself racked with stomach cramps that have led to me being unable to anything, but lie down and wait for them to pass. These have not come on an hour or two after though; the first lot came the night after my book launch, and the second lot came the morning after my talk. I have not had anything like them at any other time, and despite how bad my stomach can get, this was much worse. The first time this came on after my book launch I knew I was going to be sick; it was around eight when I first started feeling the pain, and I was up till after four in the morning, throwing up four times. The next morning I was fine – they were gone as soon as they’d arrived. The second time I was not sick, but again the pain started when I woke up and I could do nothing but ride it out. By the end of the day I was almost back to normal.

It is my belief that these pains and the sickness were brought on by the build-up of anxiety and stress that led up to each event. Add to that the social pressure and sensory impact of the two events, and you can see why the stress and overload might be so great it has a physical impact on my body.

In fact sometimes it can be all too easy to put something down to stress or anxiety or overload. On Monday night I started to feel pain in my side and stomach again, not as bad as the two times talked about before, but the same kind of pain. I had been to two quite stressful and overwhelming appointments in the week leading up to this after months of not doing much at all, so I put it down to that. I had been trying to get back to normal after a long time of not doing anything and I had been doing well, but now my body was telling me not to push it. So when I woke up the next morning and the pain was still there I cancelled the appointment I had for that day, and decided to rest. In fact the pain lasted most of the week. I am free of it today, but it’s been there to greater or lesser degrees since Monday.

On one hand the fact that I was able to see when things were too much, and take a step back with out pushing myself too far is a good thing. In the past I have not always been able to do this, and although I was in pain this time there was no throwing-up, and the pain was not anywhere near as bad as it has been in the past. But it made me think; as soon as I felt that pain and the feeling of sickness that came with it in the first day or two my mind instantly said “stress and overload”. On the third day I thought about the idea that it might be a strain of some kind, but that would not make sense as I felt it in two places, and as I say it also came with a feeling of sickness. But I do wonder how do you tell normal pain and feelings of sickness from pain and sickness brought on by stress? I knew what I had been doing in the week leading up to getting the pain for the first time so I guess it makes sense that my mind would jump to that. But in doing so I run the risk of ignoring a real physical illness that could get worse the longer it’s left. It’s a hard call to make; you do not want to go running of to the doctors every time you have a bit of pain, and it is often good to let things resolve themselves on their own, but even if leaving something will not cause any harm and it does fix itself, I am still left with the question – am I feeling pain as a result of stress, or is there something else wrong?

The pain induced by stress can come in all forms, and sometimes last for days so at what point do I say there might be something else going on? When you add to that my high pain threshold, and the way I tend to get used to feeling a certain way it’s hard to find that point. When I talk about getting used to feelings what I mean is (and this might apply to other autistic people) I mean that I find myself getting used to feeling a certain way very quickly. This has often led to things going unnoticed for a long time in the past. I have talked in blogs before about the infection I got in my foot at one point. When I first began to feel the pain I brought it up, but then within days I was just used to feeling pain in that toe, to wincing every time it touched my bed covers, or I had to put my shoes on. As strange as it might sound I did not think about the pain in-between those moments; I was aware of it and aware that it had not always been that way, but it was weeks or perhaps even a month after first bringing it up that I thought to tell anyone that it was still causing me a lot of pain. Now of course that was nothing to do with stress, and I did not think for one moment at the time that it was. But you can see how it might lead to issues at some point; a pain starts and I put it down to stress, it stays for a few days but stress pains can do that so I leave it, and it would be easy for me to just adapt and not think too much about it from that point. I do know that this might not make any sense at all to some of you, but perhaps some other autistic people might understand what I am talking about.

I have no idea when I start to feel pain if I have hurt myself some how, if there is something else going on, or if it’s due to stress. So I have a day or two of relaxing to try and de-stress and the pain goes away, but who knows, perhaps that is just coincidence? Anyone could feel stress-related pains from time to time, but when you are autistic they happen – at least in my case – quite a lot, and to make things more complicated they do not always feel the same. Sometimes it’s feeling sick, sometimes it’s headaches, and sometimes it’s feeling dizzy or faint, and much more. In the worst case scenario this could lead to me putting something down to stress that is in fact a symptom of something physical. But even if that never happens it is still very irritating to never know the source of any pain that I might feel, to have to make a guess and hope that it is right.

Does anyone else find this hard? Do you know when something is down to stress, and when it’s physical?

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

Why I have always hated getting my hair cut.

I have always hated having my hair cut. I have no memories of ever going to have it cut without having to be talked in to it, and spending the whole time wishing it was over. This is far from uncommon with autistic people, and there are a few good reasons for that. I thought I would talk a little bit about what makes getting my hair cut so hard for me – as always bear in mind these will not apply to ever autistic person, and there might be things you find hard that I have not thought of.

The sensory impact: I have talked a lot on this blog about sensory overload and the impact it can have on me and other autistic people, and I realise more and more as I get older quite how much of an impact it has on me day to day. When you go for a hair cut you have someone touching your head and hair. They might be doing this for ten minutes or forty minutes, but in my case at least it’s much more contact than I would ever normally have with a stranger. I do not like to be touched by strangers, nor do a lot of other autistic people, so having my head pushed and pulled, my hair touched, pulled and so on is much more touch than I am used to.

This is why I never have my hair washed before I have it cut – I do that at home before I go out. There is more than enough touching and moving of my head going on without washing it too!

Having to sit there and let someone mess about with your head and hair can be very stressful, and easily lead to sensory overload. On its own the touching is more than enough to bring on an overload, but that is not the only sensory input that comes with a hair cut. There is background noise and often lots of it: talking, hair-dryers, phones going off, and people coming in and out the whole time. More often than not when you are sat having your hair cut this will be coming at you from three sides at once. So when you think about being sat in a busy, noisy environment with someone touching you, and pulling your head this way and that it’s no wonder that, for me at least, hair cuts lead to overload.

Talking: I have been quite lucky the last few times I have gone to get my hair cut as no-one has tried to talk directly to me too much. But it is not uncommon for a hairdresser or barber to start making small talk. “Where have you been on holiday?” is a classic. I understand why they try this small talk; a lot of people do enjoy it, and it can be seen as friendly and therefore encourage people to come back. Add to that the fact that the person cutting your hair works with the same people every day, and might have been working in the same room doing the same task for hours before you come along – it’s not that I do not understand why they might want a chat it’s just that I hate small talk as the best of times. As I have already said having my hair cut can be an overwhelming experience anyway, so the last thing I want to do in the middle of it is start talking. But as I am sure you all know it’s so hard to get out of small talk without being seen as rude. I have never quite understood this; if I were to say that I did not want to talk that would be seen as rude, but chatting on at someone who is basically a captive audience for twenty minutes about inane nonsense when it is clear they do not want to talk is not viewed as rude? Perhaps it’s just me, but that seems a bit strange. Sadly even if no-one is talking to you there still tends to be a lot of talking going on between other people. A lot of people do see going to get their hair cut as a chance for a good chat so even on days when I do not have to try and make small talk I tend to find that there are others all around me making small talk that I can not help but hear, and which only adds to the sensory overload.

Change: We all know change can be hard for autistic people, and the whole point of a hair cut is to change something about yourself. Even if it’s only getting it trimmed back down to its normal length there is still going to be a change in how you look. It might not be a change that we think about very often, but for most of us it’s one of the few things that we do where we actively change something about ourselves. The worry about this change might not even be something we are aware of feeling. For me I do not worry about what I will look like after my hair cut, but I do have a hard time asking for what I want. I know I want to change something about my hair, but I never know quite how to say it “Like it is now but shorter” is about as good as it gets for me, but they always seem to need to know more. As it’s not something I care about or spend any time thinking about I never know what to say when asked for more detail (I forget between hair cuts what I asked for, or what was done). This can mean that although I am not worried about the idea of a change on the outside, when I am confronted very clearly about what I want to change and how, I often find I have no clue and basically just want to keep my hair as close as I can to the way it was when I went in.

Not being able to fade in to the background: This one is a bit more vague than the rest, and at least two of the other points can be tied in with it. When someone is cutting your hair, working on your head, you can not just fade in to the background, and not be noticed. People will keep touching you, they will keep talking to you, you will be asked what you want, and shown how it looks at the end, and asked to say something about it. However quiet you stay you will still have to deal with all those things. Often when I become overloaded I will just stay quiet and kind of fade out, trying to stay in the background and not worry too much about what is going on. But when the focus of an event, or room is on me I can not do that. Even for something as small as a hair cut that power is taken away leaving me to deal with the full impact of what is going on without the option to bow out of it. When I feel I am at the point where I just want to close my eyes, not talk, and not have anyone talk to me there is still someone standing right behind me pulling at my hair, talking to me, and asking me to pass judgement on the haircut.

So overall as you can tell hair cuts are not fun for me, and as I said at the start I know that this is true for quite a lot of autistic people. I keep my hair longer now, and while that means my hair cuts can take longer they are also a lot less frequent. But even when my hair was short, and a cut did not take long at all I still hated them. I know that I need them, and I am willing to have them (although I do put them off for as long as I can) but that does not mean I have to like them.

How do you feel about hair cuts? Is there anything you dislike about them that I have not put in this blog?

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

Why my anxiety levels rise when people come to do work in the house.

Over the past few weeks we have had to have quite a few jobs done around the house. As these are jobs we cant do ourselves this has meant having to have tradespeople around such as joiners,and electricians. You might think that having people in the house and the noise they make when working would be the worst part of this, and for some autistic people it might well be, but for myself – and I am sure for some other autistic people – the worst part by far is waiting for them to come. I don’t just mean waiting for a few hours for them to arrive on the day either. Let me explain what I mean.

In my mind when I make a plan it’s a set thing; if I have to be somewhere I want to know the day and the time I need to be there, and the chances are I will be early. If I can’t make it I will get in touch and give as much notice as I can. You might put that down to my autism and you may well be right, but I also think it’s just basic courtesy. If you are going around to someone’s house you should at least tell them when you plan to arrive! Yet this basic information is almost impossible to prise from most people who do come around; want someone to come around and do a basic job in the house? They will be with you some time early next week. Well what day is that? Monday, Tuesday at the latest? Unless they get busy with something else then it might be Wednesday. OK, and would that be morning or afternoon? Morning, unless they run late then, afternoon.

Ah, OK, cool, just let me put three days aside for a half hour job then. Due to my autism it is almost impossible for me to focus on doing anything if I know I have someone coming to the house. As strange as it might sound to non-autistic people on a day when I have workmen around even though I am doing nothing, and they are doing all the work just having them come around and do the job takes up all my energy for that day. The waiting in, the knowing I will have to have some level of social contact, the not knowing how long the work will go on for, the noise, the disruption of having people in my house and what that does to my routine. Having to set one day aside to deal with this is bad enough, but it must be done in order to get things done around the house. But if this goes on for three or four days as it will if people are not clear on when they are coming, then you can end up wasting half the week being sat round feeling anxious not knowing if someone is coming around or not!

I am not quite sure why people find it so hard to look at a diary and see what day they are free before making plans instead of putting aside big blocks of time where they may or may not come around if they feel like it. It means instead of the anxiety building up over one day, and then being able to get back in to the swing of my routine the next day, you end up having two or three days of build up and if you’re lucky then having someone come to do a job. Which brings me on to the next issue…..

If you commit to being somewhere at a set date and time and you can’t make it you have to get in touch and explain that right? I think we can all – autistic or not – agree on that. But if you just say you might be somewhere that seems to be some kind of get-out clause. If you said you might come around at six and you realise you can’t you don’t have to ring up and tell the people whose anxiety has been building up all day because you only said you might be there. Never mind the fact that they may well have changed plans for you, changed their routine, waited in and are going to be on edge for the evening in case you turn up. It takes a few seconds to send a text saying “Can’t make it, call tomorrow to rearrange.” And yet the amount of times someone has just not turned up without any form of contact is, for me at least, shocking. Again this is not just about the impact on my autism, though that can be huge. Waiting in all day unable to do anything only for the person not to turn up without any contact to let us know of this change of plans does add to my levels of stress and anxiety, but it also means the day ends with me knowing I have to do it all again. Not only do I have to do it all again, but when I do there will be even more anxiety because now who ever it is has a track-record of not turning up. So I will half expect them not to turn up again which just adds a whole new level to things. But as I say it’s not just that. Again it goes back to common place courtesy: make a plan, make it clear and then stick to it. If you can’t then have the decency to let who ever you made the plan with know.

And when I say make a plan I don’t mean text the night before and ask if you can come around and do a job. The answer will always be no. I need notice, not a few hours notice, but a few days notice at least. This should not be too hard to understand or to give. I do understand that for most non-autistic people this would not be as big a deal as it is for me, but still people have work or university; they do things with their lives’s so you would think that a few days notice would be important for most people. Again it comes back to the fact that making a real plan, showing that you will take the time to plan things out, and then stick to them is always better than doing things on the spur of the moment.

It is hard to get someone who is not autistic to fully understand how disruptive and stressful having someone come to the house to do jobs can be. The levels of anxiety and the change in routine make it very hard, but I honestly believe that if it were more clear and well arranged the stress would not be half what it is. If I knew someone was coming at seven on a Wednesday evening then yes it would still be hard to focus that day, yes I might still feel overloaded once they had gone, but at least it would then be over. A plan would have been made, I would have be able to make plans for that day knowing that work was going to be happening, and how that would make me feel and from the next morning I could be back to my routine.

But if I have to put aside two or three days in case someone comes around only for them not to come around, and then I have to go through the same act the next week just to get one small job done I can lose the best part of two weeks just for an hours work. As well as driving my stress levels up this makes it much harder to get the jobs done on the house that need doing. If it takes two weeks of stress to get one job done I want the next few weeks to catch up on work I missed due to the change in my routine, plus the last thing I want to think about is trying to make more plans to get jobs done. This means other jobs that need doing get left because I just can’t put up with another two or three weeks of messing around just to get someone to come round and do them.

I understand that not everyone knows about autism and even if they do they don’t know I am autistic, but again I think what I am saying should be true in most cases. No one wants to wait three days to find out if someone is coming only for them not to turn up, no one wants to be told someone will be there some time between ten and seven, and no one wants someone to cancel or change plans without notice. The difference is for most people it’s a minor irritation, but for myself and other autistic people it can be a massive disruption and cause of stress/anxiety; something that takes an already stressful event and makes it ten times harder than it needs to be. I can do work around dealing with the stress of knowing someone is coming, and I can try and get myself to a point where I can do other things instead of just wait. But it can’t all be me, at some point I need people to meet me half-way, and at least let me know what day it is I will have to prepare myself for!

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

The sensory impact of a cold.

I have talked in the past about how in the days before coming down with some kind of illness I can be prone to meltdowns, almost as if I am reacting to the illness before I even know I am ill. When I say illness this can apply to anything, even a simple cold like the one I woke up with this morning. But I have not had any meltdowns for some time now, and I felt fine in the days leading up to this, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about in this blog. As I say I don’t always have a meltdown before I come down with something, but having a meltdown or being stressed-out/ grumpy with those around me can be a sign I am coming down with something. But what I noticed this time that I have not thought too much about in the past, is how much worse my sensory issues tend to get when I have a cold.

I find it so much harder to be around others (I have spent most of today in my room) and I think this has quite a bit to do with the sensory impact of a cold. Most colds don’t come with any pain (if you are unlucky you might get a headache) but they do hit your senses. Take the one I have today – no pain at all to speak of, but a blocked nose, a fuzzy feeling in my ears, and a constant strange taste in my mouth. At times I find myself getting hot and starting to sweat, and at other times my eyes start to water. I have noticed today more than ever before how stressful those things can be. It feels as if I can only spend a few minutes around other people before I have had enough, and I start to snap at them, or just have to go and be on my own again. That’s not because of how bad I feel, as I say it is only a cold, in fact if I were in pain I know that I would cope much better. I have a high pain threshold and can keep quite calm when in pain. But I think the key thing about a cold is how it hits all your senses.

It’s hard to explain, but it’s as if my body is having such a hard time processing all this extra sensory input that I hardly have any space left for any more sensory input, such as people talking to me.

I tend to find that pain is much more easy to deal with; it might be bad but it tends to stay in one place, and it’s easier to cut off from the rest of my body. Even when I have been in the worst pain of my life I have been much more able to sit and talk with people, and process what they have to say to me than I am when I have a pretty normal cold. So it’s not just a case of me feeling sorry for myself. But when all your senses are working overtime, thrown off balance and struggling to keep up with what is going on it’s hard to have any space/ability left to cope with other day to day sensory inputs. This is something I have never thought much about before, but when I talked to my Mum about it she said that she often feels the same thing. Because I am autistic I do not process sensory input in a passive way, and therefore the more inputs I have to deal with the harder my mind has to work to process them all. Processing what someone is saying to me takes a lot more active engagement for me than it would for someone who was not autistic, and when I am thrown off balance by strange sensory input (such as feeling suddenly very hot, or having a blocked nose and the strange feelings that come with that) it seems to have very little energy left to engage with, and process anything else.

You could make the argument that if you feel ill, even if it’s only with a cold, then you are going to be more irritable and less able to focus anyway, but as I say this is something I have noticed specifically in relation to colds.

As soon as my nose starts to clear, and my ears no longer feel as fuzzy I can get on with much more normal stuff again and spend time around people, but when I am fully in the grip of a cold I can barely even be around others for a few minutes before I am overloaded, and need to get away from them. I find myself much more able to keep working through pain than I am to work with a cold, and overall colds are much more disruptive to me than just about anything else. I do think there is a link between the sensory effect of a cold on the body, and my lack of ability to deal with day to day sensory issues such as people talking to me when I have one.

I wonder if any of you have noticed the same thing? Does a common cold have more of an impact on you than feeling real pain would? And if so do you think that impact is due to the sensory impact of a cold?

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

Writing aims for 2018.

Last year was a bad year for me writing-wise. I put up at least two blogs where I talked about what a strange year it was, and how little I had got done so I wont go over that too much here. I just want to write a bit about what my aims for 2018 are, and why it matters for me to get back in to my writing.

First of all blog-wise I want to put out at least one blog per week. I am already on track with that with this blog, and the one I have already posted this year. Of course keeping that up for a full year is a bigger task, but that’s why I want to write blogs in advance, and plan out when I am going to be putting them up instead of just writing them when ideas come in to my mind. It’s also why I am open to ideas relating to what you might want to see me write about on here this year. If you have any ideas feel free to comment below, or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter. Last year I did write a bit on why blogging was important to me, how it helps me get my ideas out there without having to worry about them meeting somebody else’s standards. And I do feel that is one of the great things about blogs; autistic people can put our ideas and advice out there for each other (and non- autistic people wishing to learn more) to read and learn from. Sometimes if I am having a hard day just coming a across a blog that puts in to words something I have been dealing with can be a huge help, and I know from comments left on my blogs that my writing can also have that effect. I enjoy putting up blogs, and I also like the fact that at times what I write can help other people.

When it comes to books that’s a bit more open. I know I would like to write at least one book relating to autism in some way in 2018, but I am not quite sure what that will be. There is a lot around that subject that interests me so it’s a case of working out what I feel able to talk about and what I want to talk about first, and getting something together. That being said I would also like to do more work on my non-autism related books this year – as some of you know I do write horror/crime books, and I would like to make sure I put the time in to edit the draft of the work I have already done, and write the first draft for another book.

That’s really it when it comes to writing goals for the year, but the main point underlying it all is I want to get back to enjoying writing, and thinking of myself as a writer. Being a writer should be the easiest thing in the world – all you have to do after all is sit down and type. I am not talking about getting to the stage of being a published author or even being a good writer to the point where other would enjoy your work, I am just talking about being a writer. If you write regularly and finish your projects (it does not count if you leave everything half way through!) then you’re a writer. Odd then that there are such a lot of people out there saying they wish they could be writers. Perhaps what they mean is they wish they could be published because as I say to be a writer all you have to do is decide to write, and get on with it. Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of that though, easy to drift off and leave weeks between spells of writing, to fall in to that trap of waiting for the right moment to write, and that’s when you stop thinking of yourself as a writer and start thinking of yourself as someone who would love to be able to write. I feel like 2017 was like that for me; I did not write anywhere near enough to call myself a writer last year, and I want 2018 to be different.

I do not normally care much for New Year’s resolutions, but there is something to be said for looking back on the past year and seeing if it was well spent. If not then when you turn to look at the next twelve months stretching ahead you have to think to yourself “How can I make sure when I am looking back on 2018 I am going to feel it was worth while?”

For me a year full of writing would be a huge step in the right direction in terms of what I want to go on to achieve in my life, and as I say when you bring it down to its most simple form nothing should be more easy to stick to than doing more writing.

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

The transition in to January: Why it can be so hard and what can help with it.

I have written quite a bit about how hard Christmas and New Year can be for autistic people, but it’s also worth saying how hard January can be. December is full of change and we all know how hard that can be, but by the time you have started to get used to it, it all changes back again. What you eat, what time you go to bed, your routine, the decorations everything goes back to normal pretty quickly. Because it’s going back to normal it might not seem like as big a change, but it is, and it can in fact be even worse. At least with Christmas you get time off or nice food – the change might be hard, but for a lot of people it at least comes with positives. But January is an almost universally hated month to begin with; nothing much happens in it for most people, the fun of the holidays is over, and everything changes back to normal within a day or two.

For autistic people there is also the fact that January can be spent dealing with the build-up of sensory overload that can come with Christmas. It’s not uncommon for a meltdown to occur days, or even weeks after the event that trigged it. There have been times where I have become overloaded due to going out, but have seemed to be doing quite well for three or four days after only to have a meltdown the next week. In December you have a month full of change and things that can lead to a build-up of overload, and the knock-on effect of that can be felt well in to January.

So when you put those things together you have a month that can be pretty dull and grim anyway, starts with a big change all of its own, and is more than likely still being impacted by the events of December.

What can you do about this?

The first and most important thing is just to be aware of it. That might sound strange or not specific enough, but it is extremely easy to forget all about how hard January can be. December is over and that is the month that draws attention to itself; the changes are very clear, and it’s easy to see what impact they might have. But everything changes back so fast it’s easy to forget how long that impact can last, and also to forget that the change back to normal life is a huge change all on its own. Add that to the fact that the year is literally changing, and you can see why you should be aware of how hard January can be, but also why it often gets forgotten about. Just being aware of the issues that might arise will help. If you’re feeling overloaded or stressed-out remember why that might be, and perhaps be on the look-out for signs of a meltdown, or just keep in mind that just because the year changes the build-up of overload will not go away.

Another idea might be writing down how things will change, and if these changes will be good or bad. This is something worth doing at the start of December too, and it might be that you do it all in one go – talking about how things will change for Christmas and New Year, and how they will change back. Or you might do another chart for January talking about how things will change back, how this makes you feel and what the impact will be, for example less time around the house, different food, and the fact that that might make you feel more stressed or overloaded. (If you want to find out more about our strategies for dealing with transition check out our book on the topic https://www.jkp.com/uk/helping-children-with-autism-spectrum-conditions-through-everyday-transitions.html )

If you can you might also ease yourself back in to things slowly. So plan things out: What day are you taking your decorations down? When are you going to change your diet? Perhaps don’t plan one day to switch everything back, spread it out over the first week or so of the year so that it is not so overwhelming. If you have work or school then you will have a set day you need to be back at that, but perhaps don’t change everything on that date. So you could take you decorations down the day before or the day after so that the change does not happen all at once.

It might also be worth planning a few nice things to do in January. It’s a month most people dislike and it can be made better by having something positive in it. This will not work for everyone as making plans to do things outside the norm can sometimes just create more stress and change. For me a positive plan might be to try and get out for a few walks in the park. So nothing with any real social interaction or travelling, just something to help ease the tension in a house containing two overloaded, autistic people!

It might be that your plans are small and specific like mine, or it might be than having a few bigger plans works for you. Nothing will work for everyone, and everyone is different so just find what works for you and stick with it.

December and January can be hard months – fun at times, but also hard – and one key thing that you have to bear in mind is some, not all but some, of the change you can opt out of. You don’t have any control over school, college being closed, but perhaps if there are shifts on at work you could take them. You can’t stop everyone else putting up Christmas decorations, going out or having a party for New Years, but you don’t have to make a fuss about any of it. You don’t have to change what you eat, what time you go to bed, you don’t have to stay up till midnight, and if you work from home you don’t have to stop working or change your routine over the holidays. I am not suggesting that you don’t get in to the holiday spirit as lots of autistic people (like myself) love doing so even if it comes with some challenges. But what I am saying is that for some people not making those changes, and therefore having less to change back in January, might make this time of year a bit easier. And if that’s the case then my point is that you should do what works best for you regardless of any pressure from family, or society as a whole. That might be more of a tip for the coming December, but I just thought it was worth putting in.

With all that being said I don’t want to sound like I am being wholly negative about this time of year. It can be nice to start a new year and look forward to the year ahead. It’s just that I know from my own experience that it can also be a hard time of year. Hopefully you all had a good Christmas and New Year, and January is not proving to be too difficult for you.

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

Why the frustration of planning for Christmas is worth it for autistic people.

For most people the idea of getting time off school, work, or college for Christmas is a good thing, and something to look forward to, but for some autistic people that is not the case. Change of any kind can be hard to deal with, and Christmas is a very strange time of year how ever you look at it. It’s a huge change of routine; breaking up for Christmas is in itself a big change as the normal day- to-day routine no longer applies. You are not going to the same place each day, or doing the same things, and that might mean having to put aside a routine you have spent months working on, and getting used to. Added to that is all the other changes that come with this time of year – some bad and some good, but all change. Places look different if they are done up for Christmas, the food you eat will be different, what’s on TV will change, you might have to spend more time with family, and of course there will be the buying and receiving of gifts. It’s worth pointing out that just because you are autistic does not mean you can’t enjoy Christmas, it just means that all the change might lead to things like overload or outbursts related to sensory overload and meltdowns, it definitely has for me in the past.

That can sometimes be the most difficult part of planning for an event like Christmas – balancing the feelings of looking forward to it with the practicalities of having to plan for it. Ways of planning for the changes that come with Christmas are talked about in more detail in some of my other blogs (which I will be posting links to in the coming weeks) but I just wanted to use this blog to talk about how strange/hard it can be sometimes to put them in to place.

It might be that you love Christmas, that it’s your favourite time of year, and you start looking forward to it months in advance. You might love the changes that come with it: time off school, different food, and presents. But that does not mean that all the change of routine won’t lead to overload and outbursts, and yet even if you know that on a practical level thinking about it might still feel like it’s making Christmas more serious and negative than it needs to be. If you have to draw up charts, and sit and talk/plan everything fun, for example holidays, Christmas or going out then it’s easy to grow frustrated, and to feel like doing that is stopping you from being able to relax and enjoy yourself. It’s hard enough sometimes to have to plan for things you don’t want to do, but having to remind yourself that even fun things can come at a cost can be even harder. But that being said it’s worth keeping in mind that however hard it might be, or however frustrated you feel at having to plan and prepare again, anything that helps prevent outbursts or meltdowns ahead of time is worth persisting with. It might be that you find yourself at a point where you have to make decisions about what you do over Christmas based on past experience, and that might lead to you cutting out things you enjoy. For example you might like the idea of staying up late, but realise that in the past if you didn’t stick to your bedtime routine you tended to have outbursts and be left feeling worse. So you might have to make the call of not doing something you enjoy in order to try and prevent overload and outbursts. Again this might not feel good, and you might end up resenting having to do that, but it’s worth recalling how bad overload and the aftermath of an outburst/meltdown feel. Having to face up to your own limitations is never an easy thing to do, but I have found that at times it is necessary. After all, even though that might sound like quite a serious thing it’s really just about trying to make sure you have a good time, and not doing things that are going to bring you down in the long run.

The other side of this are people who hate Christmas and the holidays, and just try their best to stick to their normal lives, and not get drawn in to it. That’s fine to a point, but it can also be hard to do. If you work you might be able to work over Christmas, but if you are at school/college you will have time off whether you want it or not. You might not decorate your house for Christmas, but you won’t be able to stop everywhere else looking festive; in short you can only block it out and stick to your normal routine up to a point. So even if you don’t want to engage with Christmas, and plan not to think about it too much you might still find that if you don’t plan for it then it will leave you overloaded. Just because you don’t want to be part of a change does not mean you can stop change happening, so it would be worth planning for it anyway – perhaps it would be worth drawing up a chart looking at how things will change, and when they will start to change back. Working out in advance anything you might be doing in terms of going out, and thinking about how where you are going might be different than it normally is, and how this might impact on you.

Whether you enjoy Christmas or not there are two things that can not be denied: one, Christmas is a big change from our normal lives and routines, and two, despite how fun it can be it can also be a very overwhelming time for autistic people. That’s why it’s always worth taking the time to plan for. There are numerous reasons why you might not want to sit down and plan for Christmas, be it that you are worried about taking the joy out of it or that you would rather just ignore it, but in the end it is always best to be prepared, and to try and head-off overloads and meltdowns before they happen. Taking the time to plan and prepare might not make everything perfect, and prevent all overloads or outbursts, but it will go some way to making Christmas time that little bit easier.

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

Why I have not been writing.

As you might have noticed I have not been blogging much over the last few months. I did write a post about this a while ago talking about why I had not been writing, how low my mood was and saying I was going to try my best to get back in to writing and blogging, but as you can see things have not quite gone to plan. There is no point going over those issues again too much, but I thought it worth addressing as I am trying once more to start blogging.

As you will know if you have been keeping up to date with my blog I have been finding it hard to write, or in fact hard to do much of anything for quite a while now. This has been due to a mix of overload, depression and family issues. Back in August when I first wrote about these issues I did mean to start blogging again, once a week if I was able, but it did not work out that way. I have been finding it hard to get rid of my overload, and have been overloaded almost constantly, to the point of not being able to do anything. I will write about this as an issue on its own as it’s still on-going, and there is quite a lot to be said about it. But I am sure you can understand that if I am so overloaded I cannot even think straight, or sit down to relax, that writing,editing and posting a blog has been beyond me for quite sometime.

It is something of a vicious circle as not being able to write has only added to my low mood. For years I was sure that I wanted to be a writer, that writing was something I enjoyed and would always want to do. But when my mood dipped, and I was so overloaded I could not even think about trying to write without feeling worn-out, and fuzzy-headed, some of that belief started to leave me. It’s hard to make a living out of writing. I don’t do that now and I never have done, but my hope has always been to one day be able to make enough money from my writing to live off. Even though that’s hard when you are getting up early every morning and writing two thousand words a day, posting blogs every week, editing one novel while writing another, and having articles published in newspapers and magazines, it is easier to imagine. When you get to the point where you are hardly writing, you are not posting your work, and you are not even thinking of good ideas – or if you do think of an idea you do nothing with it – then it becomes harder and harder to think that you will ever make a living off it.

When I decided not to go back to university it was so that I would have more time to write. At the time it was a good idea; after all, I wanted to be a writer so what was the point in using the time I could be writing to do something else? But then when I became unable to write confusion set in; if I was not using this time to write had I made the right call? I had made a choice, uni or work, and I had chosen work only to find I was not doing either! Now on a logical level I can say to myself that knowing the way I have been feeling the past year or so that university would not have worked for me. As I say I have been too overloaded and depressed to even pick up a book or watch a film a lot of days, let alone go to university. So whatever I had chosen I would not have ended up doing due to my mood.

But even so doubt starts to set in. The more I think about it every job I would want to do involves writing, and I have been writing in some form or another since I was six years old. I have a book published, have co-written two other published books, and have written over one hundred articles so most of my life – certainly any part of it involving work – has been centred around writing, and being a writer. So when I suddenly stop being able to write what am I meant to put in its place? What am I meant to work on? To aim for? It puts me in a place of uncertainty, and casts doubt on plans I have been working on for years. And we all know that change and uncertainty are not good for autistic people. That’s not the only impact – writing is like everything else; if you want to be good at it you have to work at it and do so often. You can not just write once every few months, and expect what you write to be good. Even looking at my writing here I can tell it’s not my best. That being said I do not judge myself too much on my writing in blogs. I feel they are less formal and I tend to worry less about the style of my writing. But the point still stands – if you want to be good at something, at anything, you have to do it as much as you can. Taking breaks for months at a time is never going to have a good impact on your writing skills.

So I can’t write because of my low mood and the less I write the worse I feel.

I have been working on lifting my mood and cutting down on my overload quite a bit over the past few weeks, and I will write more about how I have been doing that, and how it has been helping. You can see of course that what I have been trying has been working somewhat as I am writing this now. Although it is only one blog that in some ways is just going over issues I have already blogged about, or setting up blogs I plan on writing, but have not written yet, I am still glad that I was able to sit here and type it out. It might not be a lot when compared to what I used to do, but compared to what I have been doing most days for, well for most of this year, which is absolutely nothing, it is a lot. But how ever much it is I am just happy I have been able to write something, and I plan on keeping it going. My aim now is to write something, even if it’s only a few lines every day, from now until the end of the year, and then take stock in the New Year and see where I go from there. Things are still hard in lots of ways, but I feel more upbeat about them now than I have done for the last few months.

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

100 BLOGS!

I recently posted my 100th blog on ASK-PERGERS. I am writing this after the fact so it should be around post number 102 now. There is not a massive amount to say about this, but I wanted to make some acknowledgement of the milestone. A lot of hours of writing and editing have gone in to getting to one hundred posts, and I am glad that I have been able to stick with it and keep thinking of things to write about. I have been giving some thought lately to why I started the blog, and if I feel it is accomplishing what I wanted it to when I started out. So why did I start the blog?

  1. I wanted somewhere I could write what I wanted to write without having to pitch the idea to someone, or have an editor change it. It’s not that writing for other people is bad, it’s just nice to have a place where I can put down my ideas without having to run them past someone who can reject them. People might not read what I write, or they might not care about it, but there is nothing and no one stopping me from writing it. It would be kind of hard not to accomplish this as that is the very nature of a blog, so just by using my blog and writing with freedom, I am accomplishing this goal.

  2. I wanted to help educate people about autism. I can’t speak for all autistic people, and I don’t claim to be able to, but I do hold the firm belief that autistic people are the best experts on autism, and we are the ones who should be listened to by those wishing to learn more about autism. Have I been able to educate people? The feedback I have received leads me to think that I have. Parents often tell me that they feel they understand more about their autistic child after reading one of my blogs. This is great on two levels; one, it makes me feel good about what I am writing, but also it means that parents are listening to me as an autistic person, and realising that the best way to understand autistic people is just to listen to us when we explain something.

  3. I wanted to see how much other autistic people would be able to identify with what I was writing about. Often when I read other blogs or tweets, or even look at memes made by autistic people, I can instantly identify with what they are saying. They might be saying something that I have never heard anyone else say before, that I realise applies to me. I learn more about myself and about autism from reading the writings and tweets of fellow autistic people than I do reading any books written by so-called experts on the subject. I read something another autistic person has put out there, and realise they have given words to something I have always felt but have never been able to sum-up. So part of me wanting to write about autism – and especially any of the blogs that relate to my personal life/feelings – was in the hopes of being able to do that for someone else. Have I managed to do that? Once again by looking at the feedback I have had over the years I can say yes. Often when I post one of the more personal blogs I will have autistic people reply to me and tell me they are happy I wrote it, and that I summed it up perfectly. This works two ways; I get to write down something that I find hard, or write about something that impacts my life without knowing if anyone else out there is going to feel the same, and put it out there, and someone else gets to find it, and we both get to recognize that there are others out there who feel the same as we do.

Those are the key aims I had when I started to blog, and as you can see I feel that each one of them has been a success. There have been other benefits of blogging too of course: I have met and talked to a lot of new people, got better as a writer, and also found that when writing is hard I can often still get some done by working on a blog rather than having everything be a big project like a novel. But those are the three main reasons I started blogging, and I feel that with those three being accomplished – as well as all the other benefits – blogging has been well-worth starting, and is definitely something I want to keep working at. At times it can be hard to think what to say; I feel that I need to make some important point in each blog or educate people all the time, but the truth is it all goes back to that first point – if it’s your blog you can put anything you like in it, and that is what is so good about blogging.

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762