Autism, ADHD and Mental Health – Mental Health Awareness Week 2015

(TW Mental Illness, Trauma, Eating Disorders)

I was diagnosed with autism when I was four years old, and with ADHD when I was twenty. In between this, bouts of depression would send me through counselling, and then antidepressants.

Growing up, I’d have bouts of depression, especially in the summer holidays when my routine of school/college wasn’t there to keep me on track. I’d feel unmotivated, frustrated, hopeless and very alone. My foster mum would call this my ‘Summer Blues’, and would find me very difficult to be around, as I’d be irritable and snappy, in general, a nasty person. I do feel bad about those times when I’d get into a screaming match with her over the slightest thing that during term time wouldn’t have even fazed me.

I never had the best relationship with food either. When I first went into care, I’ve been told that I was a very fussy eater, only liking a couple of meals, and living mostly off of sweets. As my placement with the carers that would later see me at my very lowest ebb continued, I started to use food as the main thing that they couldn’t control in my life, something that I could have all to myself. When the opportunity would seize itself, I’d binge eat until I was physically sick. Then I’d carry on. I’d even shoplift in order to satisfy the monster within, as I never had money due to constant ‘docking’ of my pocket money when I did the slightest thing wrong.

As I got older, and left foster care, things didn’t get very much better on that front. As my relationship with my ex got worse, so did my mood at home. It didn’t help that I resented the carer because of the disapproval of me living an adult life, imposing curfews, prohibiting my use of internet past a certain hour. My coursework at college slipped, I stopped attempting to socialise with people outside my ex and his family, bar at my voluntary job at the museum (that turned out to be my saviour during that time).

It was only when I started at university, away from my hometown, meeting new people, establishing myself as my own person, leaving my ex, when things took another turn. My food control took another turn entirely. I stopped eating more than a few snacks a day. I just didn’t want to try to eat proper meals. I was tired, all the time. I barely slept properly (not that I’ve slept like a normal person). It was around this time that I was diagnosed with ADHD, and the waiting list to be seen for medication made me feel really hopeless, as now I knew why I struggled at university, but had to wait for the help I needed. It was out of my control. Though my diet was…

I dropped a lot of weight, quickly. My Mentor raised the alarm with Student Support, who booked me into the GP right away. I was tested for depression, and was put onto antidepressants for the first time in my life.  I’ve been on them ever since.

Things looked up for a while after that. I met Matt, finished all the back-dated coursework for the year, thus passing my first year, just. I got a job, I’d been accepted into the modules I’d wanted, I’d successfully gotten my paternal family back into my life.

Then I had my accident.

A new monster reared its head.

Everyone feels a small level of anxiety in their life time, be it exams, wedding day jitters, first day nerves. That’s part of being a human being.

But freezing by a road and being unable to cross for a good five minutes, that’s not normal.

In the months after my accident, I didn’t dare to cross any very busy road alone, even if there was a crossing. It started out being because on crutches I was too slow to get across without support. As the walking aids left, I still struggled. Breeze from cars driving past as I walk still freak me out, as does seeing other people amble across busy roads. On bad days I have to ask my best friend B to meet me and cross me over the road.

You know you have a problem with post-traumatic stress when the ADHD clinic insist you go off for counselling…

Of course, I’ve dealt with anxiety a lot, it just didn’t have a name. Being afraid that no one would ever want to be around me. That Matt will turn around and walk away. A change of routine at the last minute, travelling to a brand new location alone. That I’ll be a failure. That I haven’t done enough to make a positive change in the world.

So, what does this all have to do with autism and ADHD?

The National Autistic Society say:

‘Roughly 40% of people on the autism spectrum have anxiety problems compared with 15% of the general population’

‘Depression is common in individuals with Asperger syndrome with about 1 in 15 people with Asperger syndrome experiencing such symptoms (Tantam 1991)’

That’s a lot of people going through the motions in darkness.

A person with ADD/ADHD is six times more likely to have another mental health disorder than any other person. Six times more likely. The reason for this is debated, whether it’s due to the symptoms of ADHD causing frustration, hence depression, or if depression is a symptom of ADHD itself. I’m not sure myself, it could be both, for all I know.

The point is this, mental health is something that we should all think about keeping healthy. And with this week being Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d share this.

It isn’t just neurotypical people who need help and support with this. No one should feel the darkness, no matter who they are. If you know an autistic person, or someone with ADHD, take the time to ask them how they are this week. If anything, they may feel relieved that they can talk to someone about how they are feeling!

Autism and ADHD can feel isolating, especially if the person is the only one in the peer group to be going through it. Reach out, and let them know you’re there to talk. You’re aware. You’ll never truly understand what their world is like, but you’re ready to try.

You never truly know what the person next to you is experiencing.

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How To Write a Novel in 30 Days #1

Day #1 is here!

I’m in Portsmouth staying with my aunt and uncle for a week or so, so I’m using the change of scenery to help me focus in the initial stages of the project.

So, my aunt woke me up at half seven, and I rolled out of bed at eight, and started writing at nine. I had a mug of very sweet coffee, a couple of biscuits, some notes and my laptop, and got down to business.

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By ten, I had about half and a bit of the day’s target total, 1035.

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My initial aim was to have it all down by eleven, but it was about half past eleven when I hit gold…

With 83 extra words to the chapter! Huzzah!

I feel really good at this point. I’ve noticed how much easier it has been today after taking my ADHD medication first thing before sitting down to write. Starting a routine of writing a chapter a day will also probably help, as will writing a summery of each chapter down in my notes to remind me of where I’m at in the story so I don’t get side tracked. I can also write a quick line of how I want to work the next chapter, so I have an idea of where I’d like the story to go, but allowing the opportunity for my imagination to run wild and add other parts. It’s nice to be focused, and do things in manageable chunks. Says me on Day #1. By the end of the week I may feel differently, but who knows? At the moment I’m feeling pretty darn good about everything.

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I’m looking happy at the moment, though how long that’ll last, I haven’t a clue. Milly had better behave herself in the next few weeks, otherwise we might just fall out. Writing an ADHD character as someone with ADHD is proving to be an interesting experience. As I’m handing parts of the book in for university work, I won’t be sharing excerpts until I’ve had my marks back, just to be on the safe side of not self plagerising, yay?

The story was initially going to be a chic lit style novel, although already in the first chapter I feel the genre is going in a whole new direction, probably just a comedy, to be honest. Even though ADHD isn’t always fun to live with, you can get an awful lot of material from personal experience for both stand up and general comedic writing. I really need to hone my comedy writing skills, so I’m hoping this novel will be very good practice!

So, Day #1 is done, bring on Day #2!

Stats

Starting Word-Count = 0

Target Word-Count of the Day = 2000

Word-Count Total = 2083

Total Words Written Today = 2083

Minimum Word-Count Target for Tomorrow = 1917

It’s Been a While…

It’s been ages since I wrote a post for this blog.

I’ve been terrible at keeping you all updated in everything I’ve been up to. Catching up with a load of backlogged coursework, running Pagan Society, writing a novel and general living. But I thought I’d give you a run-down on how it’s been.

I did get one book for Christmas, from M, an anthology of love poetry, which was cute! Other than that, I got some nice presents from my aunt and paternal family. It was amazing to spend Christmas with my own biological family, which I hadn’t really done since before I was put into care. But the past is in the past, and we move on.

So, things are progressing with my ADHD life. I’m now on maximum dose of my medication, and it is actually making the world of difference. I can now, once it has properly kicked in, sit down and blitz a load of words down. I’ve even been able to start a novel!

Tonight I’m off to help out to prepare with stuff for tomorrow, as I’m taking part in my first ever Reclaim the Night! Can’t wait! I’ll write more about it tomorrow, as it’s going to be amazing! I’ll write it from a neurodiverse point of view, so it should be informative!

I should be posting a lot more often than I have been, I’ve missed you all!

Grey Hearts and Dancing Minds

(Although this is actually a performance poem, it is set out as prose poetry, experimental, just like the inspiration of the piece, Allen Ginsburg’s Howl. This poem does have a bit of bad language, and has trigger warnings of talking about mental health and disability, as well as ableism.)

I saw the best minds of my generation, beaten down and abused by their own minds, they would cry and cry as they held their heads, reaching out, questioning why their own bodies could treat them in such a way that they fell into despair.

I saw them crippled, suffering by the boundaries that they were given, drowning in a sea of cider and pills, cider and pills, pills.

A rainbow of emotions would smother them, choking their passion and destroying their dreams. They wondered why they ought to get out of bed to attend a lecture, or a seminar.

They would look in the mirror and see nothing but ugly hags staring back; fat, terrifying creatures that would seek to destroy their self-esteem.

I watched helplessly as they fell, deeper and deeper into their own thoughts, thoughts of self-destruction, loathing and fear.

They were too busy falling, with me attempting to catch them, for them to notice that I too was falling, into the depths of my soul, a soul that didn’t want to be discovered, or questioned, let alone fallen into.

Sometimes I would lie in bed, my inner demons arguing in my head, battling with the thoughts of other things, getting louder and louder, shouting, screaming, never relenting, never stopping.

I walked from A to B, my mind would be running a marathon, exhausting me by the time I sat down to attempt to study.

Everything and anything would distract me, anything from the rare bit of sun coming through the clouds out of the window, or the rustling of an illicit sweet wrapper.

My mind just would dance through the lecture, picking out words and tossing them far, far away. Words stopped being words and became nasal sounds, quietly knocking at me, at the soul that didn’t want to be knocked.

I saw the best minds of my generation flail, and struggle to survive. I watched helplessly on, without realising that I was barely living.

I ended up sitting in a room, a small box office, crammed with a psychologist, asking me probing questions about whether I climbed trees when I was a child and whether my mind was dancing, which even then it was, everlasting, never relenting.

I was soon diagnosed, and put on a list for medication.

Pills, that would stop my mind from dancing, just like Marilyn Monroe.

For the meantime, I would have to carry on surviving, and attempt to pin down my mind, my soul, and stop them in their tango of self-destruction, prescribed special glasses to stop me from falling over my own feet, stop me falling into my own despair.

I would sit with the angelheaded hipsters in my seminars: feeling like I was drawn in with multi-coloured ink, with a grey heart beating, whilst they stayed black and white, wondering what it would be like to just be that guy in the corner, able to sit and read from a white piece of paper without any bother, and churn out essay after essay, pulling all-nighters at the flick of the wrist, his mind letting him have control of his own thoughts.

We passed through the university semester, just about submitting reasonably written academia, fuelled with drugs, alcohol and literature, We were a movement of minds, all dancing whilst the other minds carried on walking by, oblivious to the creation that we so longed to reveal to them, whilst they ignored us, and carried on walking.

We dreamed fire in small study bedrooms cluttered with laundry and lost ideas, as we planned our futures, our revolutionary poetry, challenging and defying the status quo, to remember that we were OK, because we were already writing.

We would cower at our desks as we fought with our passions and ideals all whilst attempting to lead deceptively ordinary lives, lives blighted by the grey in our souls, souls that didn’t want to be discovered, questioned or fallen into, but ended up accidently showing themselves in our writing, writing that we would be expected to have read out loud and criticised.

So, with a blood-curdling howl of indignation, I started rebelling, writing obscene rhymes in order to attempt to change the world, to throw a spanner in the works, demanding change, demanding that one day, we should be able to rebel in the hope of changing the view on the rainbow minds that would never stop dancing, the grey souls that didn’t want to be hurt by the souls that were always on show, a shimmering gold as the sun shining out of their hearts.

I longed, hungry and lonesome for something to inspire me, to perhaps change the colour of my soul, as I wandered aimlessly through the streets where Austen walked, as doors to writing dens closed one by one, sending me on my way, as I attempted to scribble on the back of receipts in the charity shop where, on lazy Sunday afternoons I’d sit and hope that customers would arrive, and purchase some books searching for their forever-shelf in the homes of middle class elderly women or under the beds of students, collecting dust, among the memories, too bright post-it notes and stale bottles of beer.

Yet I listened, as I was told that I wasn’t allowed to let my mind do all the dancing, that it wasn’t OK to reach out, gasping, flailing, screaming, begging for the help that I needed from those that I thought were my friends, one by one they showed their true darkness, abandoning me, gossiping about how they didn’t like the person that I had become, I’d been suddenly gripped by an illness that I was becoming, suddenly I wasn’t someone worth respecting anymore, hypocritical fly-by-night motherfuckers, who were not even worth the ink on the page, the letters in the words that I write.

As the words flow through my fingers and onto the screen, with the cursor flashing mockingly at me as I wonder whether it’s really alright to tell all those people with false sympathy to fuck right off, that it’s not cool to be one thing in front of me, and then be something else, telling me that I’m being two-faced because I have to be two different people in order for them to accept me as a human being, that is something that I have to accept, is it?

Is that something that I should endure, just like all the other bullshit that I go through, with my mind ever tapping its feet and thoughts ever screaming at me to the point where I’ve run out of energy to scream right back?

Is that really acceptable?

Is that really OK?

Guess what, it’s not, and will never be.

So as I’m reaching out to catch those minds, that are plummeting to the ground, howling at the loss of their dreams to the minds that are eating their souls alive, I stop.

Think.

Maybe I should let someone catch me, just for a change.

 

 

 

I Work All Night, I Work All Day…

*hums ‘Money, Money, Money’ under breath*

Oh, didn’t see you there!

Sorry I haven’t posted anything long and decent for a while. I’ve just properly settled back into university life, getting into the swing of things. And I still have SO MUCH to catch up on before I can properly relax…

But I thought, for the moment, that I would live dangerously, and blog for a bit, catch up with my lovely readers, and remind everyone that I am alive and well (just…)

So, this past week…

Last Monday I had my second stand-up gig ever, with the Idle Playthings endorsed event Proving Grounds, so that was very exciting. I really felt a lot more confident this time around, having confidence in my material, the time slot and with talking to an audience. Some shameless ADHD/pansexual gags later, it became a pretty smooth night. I’m really pleased that I kind of swallowed my nerves to get that stuff done, especially as I’d had a serious hay-fever attack that day, causing me to look and feel disgusting, but it was so worth battling through it to get it done.

We also had a May the Forth Be With You party, involving Cards Against Humanity, alcohol and lightsaber fights in the university grounds in pitch black at 1am. I fell over during a weird rap-battle-esque duel with my friends, and really did in my toe, with gore all over the place (I’m being over dramatic, there was blood, but only destroying my socks), so had to limp back and get seen to. I guess it just reminded me of all the amazing friends that I’ve made since coming to university, as well as the fact that even that night I made a couple more friends, which is always brilliant!

The new academic building opened last week for student’s use. I had a seminar in their for the first time, and it did feel rather odd at first. But then I found the Starbucks (we have a freaking STARBUCKS!!!!!), learned that I like Caramel Macchiato (1 shot of espresso please, not two, that would be ghastly), and that I could spend all day working/procrastinating at tables with BUILT IN PLUG SOCKETS!!!! Welcome home, H, welcome home….

I’m gradually handing work in at the moment, at least one piece a week I’m aiming for at the moment. I’ve had extra study sessions booked in with the study tutor, and my mentor, they are happy with my progress, although I’m being nagged to work more outside of the sessions, so I am attempting to, but life always seems to get in the way…

So, I went to the Sleep Clinic in Bristol for my consultation a couple of weeks ago, and they’ve basically rooted the problem down to Sleep Pattern Delay Insomnia. Which, they explained, is probably either caused by my ADHD, or the ADHD is making it considerably worse. The only downside is that they don’t know how to treat me for the sleep issues until I’m finally being treated for the ADHD, which sucks. A lot. So I had to ring the ADHD clinic on Friday, and they said that even though my paperwork was faxed to them a month ago, that they’d only received it that day, and would meet on Monday to discuss whether I’ll be put on the waiting list for treatment…

So, looks like I’ll have to carry on muddling through then…

But on Wednesday I’m reading some poetry. I think I’ll read my edited version of Grey Hearts and Dancing Minds, a poem originally written as a prose piece, but seems to work better as a long performance poem. I’ll share it on the blog today, as I think I should start sharing more of my creative work on here, as not many people like to read on dA very much. So if you get spammed with lots of poetry in the next few days, that’s why. I’m nervous, as it’s a poem that’s angry, sad, passionate, everything that I’ve never allowed myself to be as a writer. But angry writing suits me, so I’m going to stick at it… 

I’ve also finally gotten my Irlen Syndrome glasses. I’m wearing them right now, and the world looks different… nowhere near as bright as I’m used to, it feels like someone has finally turned down the brightness levels of the world, so I can function without feeling blinded by everything. I can sit and write longer blog posts, stay outside longer, and generally enjoy myself without walking into things, or injuring myself…

Life is looking up, although it doesn’t feel like it right now. Damn studying…

So…

I finally had my ADHD assessment yesterday. It was after social services finally sent the information to my psychologist, who then sat me down and did the assessment interview. It took place in a tiny poky office with bright, white walls. It felt very surreal, and didn’t help that it was first thing in the morning when the event took place. I finished my bottle of water very early on, and needed the toilet for a while.

Three hours, and an awful lot of questions later, my life changed forever. ‘Yes, that’s a positive diagnosis for ADHD, more on the attention deficit part than the hyperactive, but you definitely have ADHD.”

It was a strange moment in my life, when my questions about my life were answered, when I realised why I wasn’t a typical autistic woman, why I struggled so much as I got older, why I couldn’t cope at college or when I started university. It was a mix of relief, as well as dread, as it means that the way I live my life will be completely different. I’ll have to create new strategies, potentially change my diet/go on medication to manage my condition.

But now I know why I find lectures and seminars difficult, and why I can’t seem to follow routines, as well as explaining the anger that I feel sometimes, and the feelings that I have that swing from one to the other at the drop of a hat. I know now why I struggle to sleep properly at night, and why I spend every day exhausted by life.

I’ll hopefully be seen by someone in Bristol soon, to discuss options for potential treatment of the condition. But for now, I guess I have to get some actual work done…

Autism and Education

There has been a big debate about education for autistic children in the UK recently. Lots of parents feel like the education system is unable to look at their children’s needs and allow the parents to decide whether their child needs to be in special needs education or mainstream education. As an autistic person still in the education system of Great Britain I feel that it is important from me to add my two penny piece to the discussion.

Primary school was okay, as my needs were a lot greater than they are now. I had a lot more difficulties with socialising with my peers than I do now and I really did struggle in the academic environment of a mainstream school. I remember being transferred to a mainstream primary school at the age of seven, and I only lasted two terms because the teachers were not trained in how to deal with my anger issues or how to engage me in the classroom. This is where the special needs education system really shone to me in my life, as it made me feel more confident to pursue my dreams and ideas, and I remember leaving primary school feeling excited about the next stage of education and learning.

However, the special needs secondary school I that was then transfer to was awful. I was put in with students who were very much less able than me and was expected to be at that same intelligence level. When I completed the very basic work that we were set, and I asked the something a little bit harder something that would actually test me, they were unable to give me the work that I asked for. I actually started feeling very stupid because I was talked to as if I was stupid. I was treated like somebody who wasn’t intelligent, someone who wasn’t passionate about learning and education and wanting to better myself, like someone who didn’t have dreams and someone who couldn’t achieve. I started hating going to school, the bullying was rife, because I try to read harder books than the other kids, because I tried to beg students from the local comprehensive school next door to give me copies of their homework as they walked past the gates. I longed for history lessons that didn’t involve colouring pages, English lessons that didn’t involves cross words or word searches and maths classes with real textbooks, just like the ones I saw the children in the mainstream school carrying into school.

Not only this, I went to school in fear. We had a kid in our class who had severe ADHD, severe anger problems, which caused him to become violent at the drop of a hat. Every lesson involved being evacuated from our classroom, as if it were a war zone because he got an angry and started throwing things, chairs, tables, books. There was one time when he could beat me up, because the teacher had left us alone in a classroom, and I’d accidentally said something angered him, to the point where he was about to slam a table into my back, and potentially kill me. If a friend hadn’t gone to get the teacher (who had gone into the staffroom to get a cup of tea), I wouldn’t be here now talking to you. I was lucky, that my foster mum managed to get me out, got me into that school where I would never have to beg the kids for homework. I got high grades in my GCSEs and was lucky that I got into a good college are now into the good University, where I get a lot of support from my autism and other conditions which have since been diagnosed with.

The special needs system is excellent in this country for those with severe learning difficulties, and severe autism. For the brighter kids, the kids that dream, the ones that you yearn to have just as good an education as their mainstream counterparts, however a lot needs to be done. It is hard to come to a middle ground, simply because every autistic person is completely different, there is no such thing as too autistic people who are completely alike. Even if the more able students were put together and actually taught to the curriculum, and the less able students being kept together and being taught the things that they need to learn, that would probably make secondary special needs education a lot better. All you need is common sense, and a gut feeling to make sure that your autistic child gets the education they deserve, because they do, deserve the best education they can get regardless of their ability.

(Please note that this was my personal experience of the special needs education system. There are some wonderful schools out there that cater excellently to the needs of autistic students, my friends and I were just highly unfortunate with the provision in my area.)