Tag Archives: overload

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

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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?

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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

Autism and the Heatwave: Why I find the hot weather so hard.

As I am sure you are aware the UK has been in experiencing a heat wave for the past few weeks, as has most of Europe and North America. Temperatures have gone in to the early 30s in the UK on some days, and while it has been a bit cooler the last few days the temperature is set to rise again for the coming week. Some people have been enjoying the heat and some have been putting up with it without much complaint, but it has driven home to me just how hard I find the hot weather. At times when the heat is too much I find it hard to do even the most basic of things. Let me explain why the heat impacts me so much.

I talked in a blog a while ago about how a cold for me is worse than pain a lot of the time. A cold brings with it a whole host of sensory issues, and sensory issues more than pain make it hard for me to do things, and lead to overload. The heat is the same; I sweat, my clothes feel uncomfortable on me, my skin is hot and overall my body feels different to how it feels for most of the year. These feeling might not mean much if you are not autistic, but when you do have sensory issues having your whole body react and feel different to the way you are used to can have a big impact. It’s not just that I am overheated and sweaty, it’s that those feelings – the feeling of sweat on my skin, the heat of the sun, and so on – feel wrong. There is no basic state you can go back to when sensory impact becomes too much. On a normal day I might go outside and find things too noisy or overwhelming, and come home. After a few hours of rest on my own, controlling my own sensory input, I would be able to get back to my basic level. There would not be any unwelcome sensory input, and that would help me avoid overload.

But when it’s too hot I find I can not do that. How can I go back to a basic day to day normal level of sensory input when I am sweating just sitting at my desk, when even just doing nothing is causing a high level of sensory input I would not normally have? And it’s not just that: it’s the smell of sun-cream, the constant noise outside (playing, cutting grass) and all the sounds, smells etc. of people trying to make the most of the sun. It might not sound like a lot, but a large part of it is the fact that for nine months of the year there is none of that, and then it is all day, every day, and that sudden change makes it harder even though you know it’s coming. This year it has also been the sheer unrelenting nature of the heatwave.

The more sensory input the more overloaded I become, and the harder it becomes to do anything.

Along similar lines I find it impossible to get comfortable in the heat. I tend to like to wear the same things all year round, but even when I do make concessions to the heat and wear a T-shirt without a top over it I find even that sticks to me. If I want to go outside or I have something I have to go to it’s even worse as I have to put sun-cream on, and there is not much I hate more sensory-wise; the feel, the smell and the way you can feel it on your skin for days. Too hot, too sweaty, clothes too uncomfortable, and extra sensory input from all sides – it’s pretty hard to feel comfy or relaxed. Even taking a shower will not always help. I find that if it is too hot I start to sweat when I get out of the shower, and I always feel the need to be fully dry before I put any of my clothes back on so this can make it quite hard. I feel the benefit later in the day, but when I get out of the shower and start getting dry, and find myself unable to fully dry off due to sweat it can make me feel even worse!

There is also the fact that it becomes harder to stick to a routine. Partly because of the heat and partly because of other peoples reactions to it. I might have a plan for the week only to find that it is far too hot to do something I was planning to do. This might be saying that I will clean the house before lunch only for it to be 30 degrees. I start thinking “Well if I do that cleaning in this heat I am going to need a shower, I don’t have the energy to do all that now”. Little things like this can add up, and make it hard for me to know what to do and when. Things that are not normally hard to do become hard because of how badly I cope in the heat which means it takes longer to build up to them, which can throw my whole plan for the day off course.

Add to that the fact that other people might change the plans, “Do you really want to do that on a nice day like today?” “Would it not be better to do something outside?” As soon as the summer heat comes you will find people wanting to change their plans and routines, which in turn can mess up your plans and routines.

Of course it’s not only autistic people who do not enjoy the heat, and not all autistic people dislike hot weather, but speaking for myself I hate it. I do like the way things look: clear bright blue skies, bees buzzing around, and sunlight shining in through windows, but other than that there is nothing fun or nice about the heat for me. It always knocks me back somewhat, and it takes me a while to readjust to it, and be able to get back some kind of work routine, but this year has been much worse than normal. Partly due to the fact that I have been having a hard time making and sticking to a routine anyway (hence the lack of blogs) and partly due to the fact that it has been so much hotter than normal this year. I was hardly able to do anything for about two weeks with the heat. I have been able to do a lot more over the past week due to working out a new routine that works for me and sticking to it, but for a while there the heatwave pretty much stopped me from functioning. It looks as if summers like this are here to stay though due to climate change, so in the years to come I might have to work out more ways of dealing with the heat.

How does the heat affect you? And if you are autistic and find the heat hard what do you do to help yourself deal with it?

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?

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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

Autism and the stress of a simple walk

I have written a lot about sensory overload, and the impact this has on me and other autistic people, but there might be an idea that to get this overload I have to go somewhere busy, or noisy. This is not the case. In fact just the act of walking my dogs in the streets for fifteen minutes can be full of so much sensory and social stress that I become overloaded by the time I get back home. I would like to use this blog to explain how even something that sounds so small can be so full of stress. So let’s use the idea of walking the dogs as an example for now – the point being that I don’t have to go anywhere; I am not going shopping or to a meeting at the end of the walk, in fact I am just walking around and and then going home. So why is that stressful?

  1. Build up: There is still the build-up to going out even if I am only going on a small walk. I have to decide when to go, plan for it, get myself ready, and know that I will have to deal with all the stress that I encounter when I am out there. For some things you might be able to go out early in the morning, and get them over with, but other times you might have to wait and the longer you wait the more the anxiety about having to go at all builds up. It can get to a point, for me at least, where if I am not able to go out until the early evening – even if it’s for something I want to do and something I know will hardly take any time at all – I have had so long for the anxiety to build up that I would do almost anything not to have to go.
  2. Noise: The outside world is noisy: be it birds, cars, planes or people, almost anywhere you live someone or something is making noise. These are just the background noises of life, but sometimes, depending on how I feel, even they can be too much. In the course of walking down one road with my dogs I might have to contend with the sound of drilling, of a plane going over head, of people walking by talking, of music coming from cars and the sound of the cars themselves passing by. Because for non-autistic people these sounds just fade in to the background I think it’s easy for them to forget just how much noise there is outside on a normal day, and how quickly that can build up in terms of sensory input. It’s worth pointing out here that a lot of autistic people deal with this by using headphones, with or with out music playing.
  3. Crossing the roads: I have not had the chance to talk to a lot of other autistic people about this one, but I know that it is a real issue for me. Over the years I have known some autistic people who did not feel a sense of danger, and would just run out in to the road (some of whom have even been hit by cars/buses) but that is not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about the awkwardness of crossing a road. When I get to a road no longer can I walk with my head down, not looking at anyone. I can’t stay lost in my own thoughts, blocking out the world around me. No, I have to come fully back in to reality. I have to look up and be aware, stop blocking things out, look around me and try and pick out the sounds of cars approaching from the noise all around me. I have to think and make decisions on the spot; do I cross now or do I wait? But it’s not just making that call, it’s all the things going on around me as I make it. There might be other people waiting alongside me; are they crossing? No? Why not? Is it wrong of me to try and cross now? Yes, they are crossing? Should I go too, or wait here? Should I have gone then? If the road is busy do I just stand here and wait, or keep walking and cross later? What should I be doing now? Am I doing the right thing or not? OK, you might say that is being silly, that none of it matters, and that if you’re unsure what to do just wait till there are no cars and cross – staying safe is all that matters. Fine, but that’s not so easy when you have a brain that will overthink everything without giving you much say in the matter. Then when you do get to the point of crossing the road there is the interaction with the drivers. Cars come to a stop and you have to look at the driver and work out what they are trying to communicate to you. It’s hard enough to read what someone is saying via non-verbal communication when your face to face and have the time to think about it, but trying to do it from a few feet away through a pain of glass when you`re in a situation where you are expected to move quickly (at least by the waiting driver!) it becomes even harder. You have to work out if they are slowing down to let you go or not. Are you waiting too long when they are letting you go? Are you misreading what they mean and stepping out when you should not be? Again the main question for me is am I doing something wrong here? And again the answer comes back, who cares? It’s not like the interaction with the driver means anything; it comes and goes and everyone moves on with their lives. I don’t care in the long run what the people in the cars think of me, and I know that even if they did think anything it would be forgotten in the space of seconds. But that’s the point, it’s not what I know to be true in my head that has the impact, it’s the way my brain over thinks that brings on stress from even these seemingly meaningless interactions. Overthinking brings on more stress and anxiety, so much so that it can get to the point where the worry about crossing the road sets in before I even get to them, no matter how much I know on logical level that it is a silly thing to worry about.
  4. Walking past people: Another point that relates to overthinking is when you pass someone in the street. There is little to no interaction with them; perhaps they might smile or say hello as they pass, but that’s about it. But if like me your anxiety makes you over-think things you will find that as soon as you see someone walking down the road in your direction you will start to worry about what to do. Should you look at them? Will that seem as if you are staring at them? If you look away will it look as if you are avoiding looking at them? As if you think there is something wrong with them, or are passing some kind of judgement? If you look away then look back up will it look strange? At what point do you step aside to let them pass if need be? Does any of this matter? The answer to that last question at least is a simple one. No. The chances are if someone walking down the street notices you at all they think nothing of you, and if they do it’s not like you would ever know or be able to guess. But again I must go back to the fact that just understanding this on a logical level does not do anything to lessen the impact that it has. It’s all about what’s in your head, and the fact is that unlike noise from the outside world, you can’t do anything to shut it off.

I hope that the points listed above give you some insight in to why even a short work with no big social interactions such as going to the shops, or going to work can be a stressful and anxiety provoking experience for autistic people. It’s not to say every walk will be like that, or that every autistic person feels the same things I do, but it might be that some of you out there understand how I feel. For me what can be so hard about the whole thing is knowing that apart from the noise, the rest of it is in my head. People are not judging me as I walk down the street or try to cross a road, and even if they were I would never know. But when your brain is pushing you in to thinking certain things and feeling anxiety and stress it can feel like there is not much you can do about it. When you add that to the noise that surrounds you as you walk down the street, and the stress and anxiety that is a part of the build-up to going out you can see how even a small walk can lead to a sensory and emotional overload.

It’s worth keeping in mind that an autistic person does not have to be in a room packed with people talking at the top of their voices to become overloaded. Something as small as walking the dog can be so full of anxiety and stress, and lead to so much overthinking that it can bring about an overload that might come as a surprise to the autistic person, and those around them. And yet when you break down what goes in to even a small trip outside you start to see that for a lot of autistic people it is not so small after all.

Let me know what you think in the comments, as how ever much I try, I can only really speak for myself.

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

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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

Sensory Overload – what triggers it and how it feels for me.

I am writing this at half seven in the evening of what has been a fairly productive Monday. I was unsure when I woke up just how productive I would be able to be today because once again I am coming down from an overload. This particular overload lasted two full days; two days where I was unable to do anything, hardly even watch TV. I want to use this blog to talk a bit about why I was overloaded, and how getting this overload each time I go out to try and do something outside of my routine makes me feel.

So what brought on this two day overload? As you may or may not know – depending on when this blog goes up, and how closely you follow my blog – I went to an autism-friendly Mayoral Hustings on Thursday of last week organised by the Greater Manchester Autism Consortium and the N.A.S , and that is what brought on my overload on Friday and Saturday. This blog will not go in to any of the politics of the event, nor is it in anyway trying to criticize the event itself. It was a well run event that I enjoyed, and was glad to have had an invite to. But the fact that it was an autism-friendly event and therefore much better for me than a normal hustings would have been, and yet it still left me feeling so overloaded, should serve to drive home the point of the blog.

What does an overload feel like?

If we are talking about the lasting feeling of being overloaded, not the short-term feelings I get right before a meltdown – and for the point of this blog we are – then I would say an overload feels somewhat like I imagine a frozen computer might feel like. I can`t do anything. This might sound over the top, but I can assure you it is not; I can’t think clearly, I can’t make up my mind about anything, I can’t focus on anything, I can’t enjoy anything, and I can’t even do mindless things such as watch TV to relax. I am stuck; frozen for a day or two just wishing the time away till my overload clears and I can go back to my life. In fact sometimes this frozen feeling can last for a week or more. Sometimes there will be physical pain too; my ears and head will hurt to the point where the smallest of noises can induce pain, and my body will ache and feel tired in the same way it might after a heavy work-out. I find myself stuck in a state of feeling the time pass; knowing the day is going to waste, with me doing nothing more than looking at the wall and wishing the time away, and yet being unable to bring myself to do anything. And this in turn leads only to more stress, more frustration and often to meltdowns.

What brings on an overload?

For me, and lots of other autistic people, an overload can be brought on by doing things outside of our routines, and an increase of sensory input, for example noises, sights or smells and social interaction. All these things are hard for us, and I know that for myself it only takes a small amount of one, or all of them to push me to the point of overload. If we take the autism-friendly Mayoral Hustings, and break-down what I did that day you can see how it led to an overload.

First of all I had to go in to town which is not something I would normally do, so even the idea of the event itself started off the path to overload. There is also the fact that I don’t often go out on my own, and have hardly ever been to any kind of event with out my Mum or Dad with me. That in itself is a big change, and even though it was good to be able to go out by myself I am sure doing so for the first time still added to the stress. That day my morning routine had to change as I had to get myself ready to go out, meaning that even though I was used to the idea I had to put that idea in to practise – which, as I am sure you all know, is a whole different thing. In order to get to town I had to take a tram. Some days the trams are quiet, and some days they are noisy. The tram there was not too bad for most of the journey, but a few noisy football fans did get on around half way. This meant that before I had even got off the tram I had a lot of noise to contend with. I was early to the event as I try to be to most things, so I did not have to walk in to a busy room which was a plus. But as the room filled up it did become noisier, and it’s the build-up of noise that brings on an overload for me. A loud noise on its own might be unpleasant, but it won’t push me to be overloaded, but as the noises build-up: the talking, the moving of chairs, the scraping of shoes, coughing and such then it pushes me deeper and deeper in to an overloaded state. I was there for around two hours and there was something like seventy people in the room, so you can guess how much sensory input that was. There was also the matter of making small-talk with the people around my table. Now I did not have to do this; two of them knew me and would have been fine if I had not talked, but I wanted to. Talking and chatting might be hard for me, but I do enjoy it. I don’t want to go to events, and not have the chance to talk to people. But I am aware of the impact it has on me – as I said above social interactions play a large part in overload.

You can add to this the fact that I was meeting with and talking to political figures, and while I don’t feel intimidated by meeting people like that there was still the awareness that I was going to be on the spot talking to them, and asking them questions. It’s not a small event for anyone, but for someone with autism you can see how the day was full of things that can lead to overload, and there was no real way I was going to be able to do it without ending up with an overload.

Isn`t losing two days for one event too much of a price to pay?

This is what I found myself thinking on the Saturday. I enjoyed the event very much and loved having the chance to ask my questions, but after forty-eight hours of overload where I was unable to do anything I did begin to question if it was worth it. For one good event like that I will have two or three days where I have to do nothing, not even relax, just do nothing; drift around my house and wait for the hours to pass until I can get back to normal. It’s easy to ask myself should I go along to events like this? Should I give talks on autism as I sometimes do?, What’s the point of it all? But the question I always ask myself when I start to think like this is what would be the point of not doing it? Yes I would be avoiding the overload, but I can get overloads anyway from things I can’t get out of such as going to get my hair cut, or seeing family. I feel like if I were to give up the things that I enjoy, and that make good memories just to avoid overload I would regret it later in life. Yes it’s hard, and yes it’s not nice knowing that I won’t be able to blog about an event the day after I go to it, or have a nice relaxing day off after a day of hard work, but perhaps a better way to deal with this, than just stopping the things I enjoy, is to look at how I react to my overload.

Whenever I get an overload, and become frozen I always feel I should be doing something. “I cant just do nothing” I say. But as my Mum always says “Why not?” The idea of spending more time in bed on a day when I am overloaded never made sense to me. I get up at the same time, and sit around waiting for something to happen. But perhaps the key to all this could be something as small as training myself to do nothing; I don’t have to pick a film to watch, or a book to read if I can get myself in to a mindset where doing nothing is OK. In fact it’s needed.

I want to be a writer, and along with that a public speaker, and perhaps also a journalist and documentary film maker, and without trying to sound cocky I know I have what it takes to be all of these things. But I also know there will be a price to pay. I have to get used to the idea of paying that price, and try and work out how to lessen its impact rather than giving up on the idea of doing what I love. But on days when my overload is at its worst, thinking that way is hard to do. And I should also point out that I have cancelled a lot of stuff over the years due to overload, and I am sure I will cancel a lot more, but over all, and in answer to my own question, overload is bad, but yes it is a price worth paying for doing the things I enjoy – for me at least.

Let me know what you think in the comments, as how ever much I try, I can only really speak for myself.

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

How Sensory Overload Impacts on Autistic People Part two – The Impact on my Body.

In my last blog I talked a bit about how doing events/talks, and going to do any kind of work can have a negative impact on my mind. I explained how the build-up of anxiety, added to the lack of time to rest after an event, can leave me unable to think clearly, and how it can take me weeks to even be able to pick what film to watch and to rest, let alone be able to work or go out again. But the impact of a stress and anxiety build-up and overload is not just mental, and there is also a physical side to it. I want to use this blog to speak about that, and explain what happens and how bad the physical effects of stress, and anxiety can be.

As I said in my last blog I did three events in November, all of which included talking to an audience, one-on-one chats, and busy rooms. There were build-ups of stress beforehand, and not much time to recover afterwards. But before I talk too much about these events and their impact I would like to go back, and talk about my book launch. On the night of the launch itself I was fine. I felt good and fully expected to feel fine the next day as well. And when I woke up I did feel fine, but as the day went on I started to feel worse and worse. By around eight at night my stomach felt as if it was being pulled and twisted from the inside. It felt as if it were piled with stones, and I could not even stay in one place for more than a few seconds before I needed to move to try and stop the pain building up too much. I knew full-well that I was going to be sick, and sure enough I was. In fact I was up till after three in the morning throwing up. The next day I was fine, I ate plenty and did not feel ill in the least. At the time I knew, or at least thought, that it must be some kind of physical release of all the stress that had built up before and during the event. As I said in my last blog I was not aware of feeling stressed before events, but I guess it must have been there inside – impacting on me whether I felt it or not.

I did not feel anything of the sort after the first event of last month, or the second, but the morning after the third event there it was again. That feeling of carrying around a pile of bricks in my gut. Pain and discomfort, but more than that. There was a sense of hopelessness. I knew then that the feeling was without any doubt due to the stress of the work I had been doing. It was a direct result of me going out and selling my books and doing talks. It’s hard to explain my feelings, perhaps pain most of all, to people in a way that they can understand, so you might think I am making a big deal out of a bit of stomach ache. But I have been sick and had a bad stomach plenty of times in the past, and I can tell you that this stress induced stomach pain was much, much worse than any I have ever had before.

There was a point, when I was bent over in pain the morning after the third event, where I began to wonder if I would be able to keep on doing that kind of work. Would I be able to commit to planning for an event knowing how I would be left feeling the day after? And more than that, was it worth it? I was in a huge amount of pain and I felt miserable. I should point out that despite what you might think I don’t often complain of pain. For me to react to pain at all it has to get to a point that most others would find hard to cope with. More than once in my life I have gone to see a doctor with an infection in my foot, or ear after weeks of saying only that “It’s a bit sore” to be told that it’s one of the worst they have seen, and they are shocked that I could even stand the pain of putting my shoe on, and walking in to the building. The point being that when pain is bad enough to make me feel miserable you know it must be bad.   So I have to admit I spent that morning feeling sorry for myself. But as time passed the pain began to grow less and less. By that afternoon I was able to relax and watch a film.

I realised after this that I would have to plan events better, and try to do something to stop the onset of pain like this again. I am sure that it is due to a build-up of stress. The stress builds up before the events without me feeling it, and once they are over and done with I feel the full force of the stress in a physical as well as mental form.

I know now that I need to make plans before events to try and stop this from happening, but I don’t know what will work, and the only way to find out will be to test things out. And that means that I might have to try a few things that do not work, and find myself in pain once again.

Because pain, or at least physical discomfort, is nothing new to me – I would say I feel uncomfortable much more often than I feel comfortable, at least when I am outside anyway – If I know I am going out, even if it’s to do something I enjoy, I will have pain in my gut, feel hot and sweaty, and have a tight chest sometimes for hours. And it’s not something that I ever get used to. When I used to go to Judo I would feel like that for an hour or so before going out, then after a few months of going, when most people would be getting used to it, I would start feeling that way in the afternoons, then in the mornings, and in the end I felt that way from the morning of the day before I was due to go out! In my head I wanted to go, I knew I would enjoy it, and as soon as I got there and got going I did enjoy it. But still I could spend up to twenty four hours in physical discomfort just because I was due to go out.  And for this reason I no longer go to judo.

So I don’t know what will work to rid myself of the pain and discomfort that stress, anxiety and sensory overload, can cause, but I want to do all I can to deal with this issue so that I can get out there and do my talks, and sell my book without feeling again like it might not be worth it.

Do any of you suffer from the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety?  Or the physical or emotional impact of sensory overload? If so do you have any tips or hints as to how to deal with them?

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

If you need any more help or advice about 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

 

How Sensory Overload Impacts on Autistic People Part One – The Impact on my Mind.

It has been quite a while since I wrote a blog, and now that I am writing one it is about something that happened at the end of last month. Now part of that might be due to the fact that this month is December, and as I am sure most of you will know this can be a hard month for autistic people. It is all change, and routine and normal life can go somewhat out of the window. But we are still only in early December, and the bulk of why I have not been writing much, if anything, this month is to do with the events of November. The best thing for me to do is to explain what I did in November, and why that is still impacting on me now.

In November I went to three autism events. Twice as a speaker, and once just to man a stall selling copies of my new book. Now I should say before I go on that I enjoyed all three events, and was happy to go to them. Nothing in this blog is meant to be a comment on those events themselves. But it is worth looking at why I, and other autistic people, can find events like these so hard. And some of the particular after-effects that I have had to deal with.

 

  • Build up: I don’t feel nervous or worried about the events beforehand, or at least not that I am aware of. But I know the feelings must be there somewhere. I find it hard to focus on doing work or even doing something relaxing like watching a film if I know I am going to have to go to a busy event in the next few days. Even though I might not be aware of this build-up of stress and anxiety, it can take its toll.
  • Overload: Events such as the ones I went to, full of stalls and guest speakers, tend to draw quite a lot of people in. They are noisy, full of people moving around, and all in all very difficult places to spend much time in if you have sensory issues. Perhaps I must take my share of the blame for not going outside and having a break from time to time, but once I get started on something I find hard I like to just get it all done. If I take a break to go somewhere quiet there is a high risk that I might not be able to go back in, and get on with the work I need to do. So I end up spending anywhere from two to five hours in a busy, noisy, and overwhelming environment. Again this leads to a build-up of stress and anxiety.
  • One-on-one talking: When I am at an event, be it on a stall for ASK-PERGERS? or doing a talk, I end up with people chatting to me. Now this is a good thing: it gives me a chance to sell my book, and also to make contacts. Plus the whole point of what we do is to help other autistic people, or their families by giving advice, so a chance to talk is good. But it does take it out of me. It’s fair to say that in a normal month I might chat one-on-one with five people at most. Now this is partly due to me not being at university at the moment, and if I were it might be more. But five is about average for this year. But at an event like this I might talk one-on-one to fifteen people in the space of a few hours. If I do two or three events in a month it might be something like fifty people over the space of those events. All that one-on-one talking wears me out, and pushes me more and more in to overload.
  • Not much time to recover: If I do a few events in a month then I don’t have any real time to come down from one before I have to start planning for the next. It might take me a week or more to fully get back to normal after something like this, but of course I do not have that time if I have more events to go to.

So what does this all mean? Well it leads to a build-up of stress and anxiety that can only truly come out when I am done with all the events I have planned. Not that it does not affect me in-between events. It does. Last month I was so overloaded that I found it hard to do anything other than the events I went to. When I talk about that a lot of non-autistic people nod their head and say something like “Oh yes I will need to crash out for a bit too.” Or “I get tired as well.” They do not, nor could they fully understand what an overload is. If your lap top overheats and shuts down because it cannot cope with the overload to its system it can’t do anything. It just crashes and goes blank. And I find it to be very much the same for myself. If I am overloaded I can’t do anything, not even things that relax me. I can’t pick which film to watch, and in fact I don’t even want to watch anything. I can’t sit and read, or do anything else fun that might relax me. I spend most of the day just walking from room to room not knowing what to do, and doing nothing. It’s not a case of going “I am tired now, better just watch some TV then I will feel fine.” I might be unable to do anything, and I do mean anything, for days, or if it’s really bad even weeks. The truth is November was such a comparatively busy month for me that it took me quite a long time to come back from the overload. It’s really only this past week that I have been able to start doing things of any real worth, and like I say this is the first writing I have done this month.

I do want to do more work, and my hope is as I do it I will become more used to it, but also work out ways to minimize the impact of the overload. But I wanted to take the time to try and explain to you how even though I might be more than able to stand up on a stage for twenty minutes and do a talk, or man a stall for five hours, the unseen impact of this can last for days, or even weeks.

I also wanted to take the time to write about the physical impact the build-up of anxiety can have, but I feel that should be a full blog on its own. So that should be out later this week, or early next week.

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 more help or advice about 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

AUTISM: when you are so overloaded that you can`t even do your favourite thing …

In the past month I have done three talks about my book. One at the launch for the book, and two more for other events where I talked about my book, and autism. Unlike a lot of people I enjoy doing public speaking, and I had fun doing the talks and selling my books afterwards.  I knew even as I was doing them that it would take a lot of out me. But I have to admit I underestimated quite how long it would take me to recover. I had thought that a few days of rest might be OK, and that I could be back to normal after that, but the truth is it’s taken me about two weeks to feel like I can get back to any kind of normal routine. So why is this?  And what kind of impact has it had on me?

Let me start by saying this. No one who is not autistic can understand sensory and emotional overload. People try, and they do mean well, but saying things like “I will be pretty tired too.” Or “You will just need to crash out in front of the telly tonight.” just show how little they do understand. When you have an overload sometimes you’re so worn out you can’t even rest. You can’t watch anything, you can’t read and you can’t even make a basic decision – sometimes for days on end. I love watching films, and when I can I watch a film a day. So when I can’t watch films that is a sign that I am overloaded, and need to give up on the idea of doing anything.

This was taken to something of an extreme with my last overload. Each year since I was around fourteen I have been to a horror film festival. For the first few years I only went to see a few films, but for the last five years or so I have gone to watch every film over the four days of the festival. It’s one of the few things in the year that I do look forward to doing, and one of the few time I can bring myself to go out four days on the run. Even though I always have a good time I always feel overloaded by the end, and need at least a week to relax, and do nothing after having been out and about so much.

Normally I would make sure I was not going out the week before the festival starts, but this year I decided to go and do a talk just two days before it was meant to start. I can’t say for sure why I thought this would be a good idea. I think I just got so caught up in the fun of doing talks, and selling books that I did not stop to think too much about the after-effect. But then on the day the festival was due to start the last thing I wanted to do was to go out. All I wanted to do was stay inside and do nothing. But I forced myself to go out for the first night, and watched three good films. Even though I enjoyed the films, I knew when I got home that I was feeling much more overloaded than I normally would at this point in the festival. And when I got up the next morning I knew that going back out would not be a good idea. I don’t want to make things sound over dramatic, and it’s not the worst thing in the world by any means – I missed watching a few films, that’s all. But the point is that I was unable to do something that I enjoy doing, and something that I actively make sure I do each year.

And this is where people not understanding overload comes in. How to explain to someone something you can’t fully understand, or find the words for yourself? How do you explain that going out and doing something you enjoy, something you would even find fun when you`re there, would in fact be bad for you?

When you`re  overloaded, or at least when I am (I can’t speak for everyone with autism) it’s a case of not being able to do anything, and almost drifting around all day just waiting for time to pass so that the overload will fade, and I can get back on with my life. It might take me all day just to decide to watch a film then another hour to pick one to put on. And the likelihood is even if I did I would not be able to get in to it.  It’s as if your mind stops working as it should; you can’t think clearly, or even decide anything for yourself.  And as I say this can last for up to a week normally.

On top of that I felt angry at myself for not planning as I should have done. I ended up not going to the festival and staying at home over the weekend instead. This was the right thing to do, and I am glad that I decided to do it, but I still feel as if I should have known better than to end up in that situation. Doing a talk and then dealing with all the one-on-one interactions that come with selling books took a lot out of me. More than I thought it would do.  And hopefully I can use the mistakes I made to learn more about myself, overload, and how to plan my work in future.

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 more help or advice about 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

A Book Launch, A Thunderstorm, and an Overload.

There has not been a blog up on here for quite some time, and I feel I should explain why.  As some of you know it’s been a pretty busy few weeks. I had the launch for my new book last week and my time has been taken up with planning for that, and dealing with the overload after the event.

A book launch in itself is an odd thing; you write the book, send it off to the publisher, and then spend months waiting, and then editing, and then you are told it`s going to come out, and you just wait some more. A few months later there is the book. And more than a year after you started working on it, and almost a year from when you knew it was coming out, you have an event to mark the beginning of something.

We never had a launch event for any of our other books, but the publisher got in contact with us and told us we could set one up for my new book if we wanted. Even though we were unsure of what to do we said yes, and went about trying to set up our first ever book launch.  And all things considered it went very well. We of course were unsure what to do, but we managed to book a room, get flyers printed out and sort out food and drinks. Even though we ended up with a lot of food left over! We ordered books from the publisher, and advertised the event on twitter and Facebook. I can’t say we got everything right, as I say there was far too much food. But we got things as right as we were able. Yet on the night it still looked as if the launch was going to be a failure. We got there two hours before it was due to start to get everything set up, and about half an hour later, as we were setting up the food tables it started to rain. Within half an hour it was pouring down with rain, and a short while after that the thunder and lightning started. It just so happened that the worst storm to hit Manchester for a long time happened to hit on that night. We carried on setting up, but we all felt that the weather was bound to put some people off. We found out later that some of the trams had stopped running and some roads where so full of water they were impassable.  The weather calmed down somewhat in the twenty minutes or so before we opened the doors, but it was still a bit of a surprise to see over thirty people crowd in to the room. Thinking about how bad the weather was, and how easy it would have been for them to stay indoors, I am very glad they came out, and ensured that the launch was not a failure.

The book launch only ran for an hour and a half and felt like it was over in no time. I talked about the book and my reasons for writing it, and then sat behind a table selling and signing books. I was happy to see how well the book sold, and I hope it will be of use to everyone who bought a copy. As I said in my talk that is the main aim of the book; to help both the professionals who read it, and the autistic people they work with.

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Even though it went well I was very overloaded from it, and still am to some degree. This is why I am only now sitting down to write about the event. I am sure most of you know how hard an overload can be. It’s not the same as being tired, and I think it must be hard for anyone who is not autistic to fully understand how much an event like this can impact on someone who is. Not just standing up and giving the talk, but also all the one-on-one talking that came after.

Seeing as this was our first book launch and the weather was against us I feel it went as well as it could have. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. I had fun and sold quite a few books so all-in-all it could not have gone much better.  I don’t know if or when there will be a new book, and a new launch, but hopefully there will be another one sometime soon.  But with it being over at least for now I plan to get back to my normal writing and blogging.

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

9781849057080

If you need any more help or advice about 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

Overloads, Meltdowns, and a missed Appointment ….

I have spoken a lot in the past about how overload can affect people with autism, including myself.  And how important rest days are.  But I have to admit, even though I understand in principle how to avoid feeling overloaded, or what I need to do when I am in a state of overload, it has been very hard for me over the past few weeks to put these in to practise.  Even just looking at the past week as an example, I feel like I have been in a near-constant state of overload.  I have been walking from room to room unable to do anything, simply lacking the focus and motivation to even sit down and watch a film.  I have had an outburst, brought on by this stress.  Because it is stressful.  Imagine being imprisoned in your own home.  But one of the terms of your imprisonment is that you can`t use anything in your own house.  You are surrounded by the things you like, the things you enjoy doing, and yet you can`t do any of them.  The hours must be spent instead doing, well, doing what?  Sitting?  Standing?  Walking from room to room?  Going upstairs, looking round and coming back down?  And so on, for hours or even days upon end.  You can`t go to bed and sleep through it because your mind is far too active to sleep.

So what brought this on?  The roots of this overload, and the stress and outbursts that came as a result of it, come from going out at the weekend.   Not going out clubbing, just going in to town the same as anybody else would.  Not something I would normally do, but still not something I thought would result in eight days of overload.  Now that may be a bit of a simplistic way of phrasing it.  The past year has been full of stressful events that have of course left a mark, and I did go out again on the Wednesday for something relating to work.  But I guess that`s the thing; it`s hard to tell recently where one overload stops and the next one starts.  It seems that instead of having an overload every now and then and most days being spent working on my writing, or getting on with whatever I choose to, I am overloaded most days and the days that I can actually work, or function at all, are the rare days.  But it is getting to a point where I feel my overloads are starting to incur in to my life more than they ever have before.  Let`s take yesterday as an example.  What I was supposed to do was to travel to my university via tram and talk with one of my lecturers about help and support for my upcoming second year at university.  I got half way to the tram stop before I had to turn around and come back home.  I knew that I was too overloaded to be able to function properly or contribute anything useful to this meeting.  All that would result from it was yet more sensory overload, and in all likelihood another outburst.  In a way it is positive that I was able to recognise that there was nothing to gain from forcing myself to go to something I was too overloaded for.  And I certainly wouldn’t be getting any work done today if I had of forced myself to go to the meeting yesterday.

You might have noticed that this isn’t a blog full of tips of how to get out of a situation like this.  If I had them I would be using them and there would be no blog to begin with.  I am unsure whether this is a positive or a negative blog.  On one hand I am telling you that I am finding it hard to function, to get things done and that I am near-constantly overloaded, but on the other hadn`t I was able to recognise the overload yesterday, minimise its effects for the coming week, and avert a probable outburst.  It may well be that what I have to do is change the way I think and the way I structure my time., the commitments I take on and the pressures I put on myself.  As I have said before, many times on my blog, there is no point in forcing yourself to work, or to try to get more out of yourself once you are overloaded.  Perhaps what I need to do is pull back even more than I already have, let myself rest, and build up again slowly.  And the note that I would like to end on is that this is ok.  Overload is a very real thing, and if you have not experienced one then I don`t think you can ever really understand how it feels.  Add to that the issue of delayed overloads, and you can see how difficult it is for me to even go out once or twice, and the impact that this can have on me.  I feel like I need to change the way I do things, and try to understand the impact of my overloads more than I already do.  And even though the reasons for me having to do so are negative, the impact of doing so on my future will hopefully be positive.

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