Blogging Hiatus

Again I must apologise about my recent lack of posting. My mental health has been extremely variable recently and the mood swings in themselves have been exhausting.

A few things are going on for me at the moment:

  • I’ve met someone potentially quite wonderful. It is early days dating-wise which in many ways is lovely, but it has triggered euphoric episodes which are closely followed by crippling bouts of OCD. I find it difficult to cope with uncertainty and not knowing if my would-be partner feels the same way for me as I do for him. I read the words and wonder if it is merely politeness or over-statement, whether there is some hidden meaning I am not privy to and it rips me up. I want it to work out but tackling the early stages will be very tricky.
  • I’m now at the final stages of studying for some important upcoming professional exams. This in itself is very draining.
  • I’m trying my utmost to explore all reasonable ways of tackling my anxiety. The occupational health person suggested to me that my heavy usage of computers and tablets in the evening may be contributing to my anxiety and indeed maybe an avoidance tactic (potentially an OCD compulsion). My OCD mind tempts me to seek reassurance about many things that I am uncertain about – reassurance is like oxygen to OCD.

As such I will be avoiding internet usage in the evenings and instead reading fiction. This will be hard as I like to feel connected to my fellow bloggers and tweeters (I’m on Twitter as @RoseWiltshire).

I will also be putting this blog on a temporary hiatus until May. I feel that I need to make more progress with my recovery and I want to see this blog record that but I think a necessary short-term sacrifice needs to be made.

See you all in May

Rx

POEM: It’s Okay

It’s okay if you slept past the alarm,

If you lay there under the duvet an extra hour longer

It’s okay if you wake up and despite your best intentions 

For a good night sleep

You are reaping the seeds of a tattered night’s cycle

It’s okay if it takes all the energy you got

To punch and claw, to clench and stretch yourself vertical

Whilst your head hangs heavy on tired shoulders

It’s okay if the cereal bowl looks unappealing

If your stomach can’t handle a goddamn thing

It’s okay if you struggle through your morning tea

Sick, shakey and nauseous from the hammering heart in your chest

It’s okay if your clothes don’t fit right on an imperfect body

With lines, bumps, lumps in all the “wrong” places

It’s okay if the mirror shows you a monstrous freak

If your teeth don’t line up and your hair is starting to thin

It’s okay if you’ve checked the locks on your door not once, not twice

But fifteen times more

It’s okay if you drag your heels and the train leaves without you

It’s okay to be two minutes late for work, to arrive panicked, scared

It’s okay to forget a rule, overlook a number, to make a sloppy mistake

It’s okay when I leave work at 6pm instead of 5.30pm without a bulging 

To do list. 

It’s okay to order a takeaway when your body feels like a giant. 

It’s okay to give in to the binge.

It’s okay to go to collapse onto your bed driven half wild by exhaustion and anxious energy deep in my head

I look back on this day and I give my thanks

For tomorrow is a brand new day.

Taking Control of My Mental Health [PART THREE: My Treatment Plan]

TRIGGER WARNING: this blog post has some discussion of my disordered eating – as there are some details as to the disordered eating behaviours that I have engaged in there is a potential for those details to trigger readers struggling with eating disorders.

Here’s the treatment plan that I came up with having considered the factors mentioned in the previous post.

Its basically a list of guidelines and considerations for me to integrate into my daily life over the coming months. Note that I did not say rules - the wording is quite deliberate as rules encourage rigidity which is problematic for dealing with a fluctuating and unpredictable world.

Physical Health

Food

  • Eat satisfying balanced meals preferably three times a day to avoid excessive hunger which could trigger a binge-restriction cycle. (There will be times where my appetite is genuinely not there and I know from previous times that its not a good idea to “force” the issue if I’m really not hungry.
  • Try to get a routine established whereby the meals are approximately the same time each day and not too close to bedtime to avoid encouraging reflux symptoms.
  • Read books on mindful/intuitive eating.
  • Cook with fresh ingredients and in bulk at the weekends to avoid tiring myself out on weekday evenings.  It may be useful to have a meal plan to avoid situations which could encourage me to binge or restrict
  • Avoid having readily available binge trigger foods in the house – i.e. ice-cream, cakes, biscuits and crisps. One idea is to make cakes but then freeze them individual portions so that I have to plan ahead of time to eat them – not a good idea to bake if feeling in a low or particularly anxious mood.
  • Drink at least a litre of water a day

Sleep and rest

  • Start waking up at the same time every morning using the special sunrise simulation clock.
  • Avoid caffeine after midday. Reduce caffeine gradually aiming for caffeine free days during the week.
  • Only drink small amounts of alcohol very occasionally.
  • Do not focus on “trying to sleep” –  if I get disturbances I must be patient and practice breathing exercises.
  • Make sure the bedroom is at an appropriate temperature.
  • Switch off from technology an hour before going to bed – read a book instead!
  • Cultivate a morning and evening routine which involves a short yoga practice and deep breathing
  • Aim to get at least 15 minutes exposure to sunlight everyday
  • Aim to take a full hour’s lunch break every working day.

Exercise

  • Make sure I have at least one day a week’s rest from exercise. DO NOT exercise more than once a day as that is part of the binge-restriction cycle we are looking to break.
  • Do a mix of weights and running three times a week. Go back to dance class once or twice a week.

General self-care

  • Start showering at least 3x a week (yes, I’m cringing as I type this but a lot of depression/fatigue sufferers can relate to how difficult this actually is.
  • Only allow 15 minutes each day to put on make-up (make sure there is a timer – this should halt any OCD  and dermatillomania temptations)
  • Have a weekly relaxation/film evening.
  • Ensure that the flat is cleaned once a week (30 mins no more)
  • Restrict social media use to three days a week (not because its bad for me as such, but because I need to find time to prioritise other things)
  • Write blog posts every day
  • Keep a mood diary.
  • Meet a friend once a week (or at least call them if going out is not possible).
  • Set up a direct debit into a savings account – save as much as possible to create financial safety net.
  • Every week reassess to do list.

Anxiety/OCD exposures

  • MUST do an an exposure exercise on a daily basis. Start with the “milder” obsessions.
  • Everyday I should do the most uncomfortable task first or as early as practically possible.

I must also honour my Core Values which, I’ve decided, are as follows:

  1. Integrity
  2. Generosity
  3. Courage
  4. Autonomy
  5. Self-development
  6. Activism
  7. Compassion

The measure of a good day will be how far I manage to incorporate these values.

I will have to accept that there may be multiple relapses and that it is likely that I will need to remain vigilant against the encroachment of mental health problems in my day to day life.

I may be able to have periods in my life when I am feeling relatively well, but the pattern is clearly that it comes back again and again. I need to ensure that I don’t take on too much – my life has been a history of broken promises, mostly because I have over-committed myself.

Hopefully this time round I have learnt valuable lessons which I can take forward with me.

Taking Control of My Mental Health [PART TWO: My Mental Health Assessment]

Today’s post involves me trying to assess my own mental health in way which I would find more complete and satisfactory than the standard PHQ-9 forms*

In trying to assess my own mental health challenges it was tempting to go back to the past and try to find all the things that went wrong in my life, the abuse, the bullying, the trauma and loss.

However although I believe it may well have contributed to some issues I have (possibly post-traumatic stress symptoms) I know of some people who have gone through what I consider to be worse hardships and have been able to cope with everyday life much better than I can.

Equally I know of people who have grown up in loving households who have developed much more debilitating mental health problems than the ones I have.

I am focussing on how the symptoms and challenges are at the moment and on activities that might alleviate and help me cope.

Strengths

Writing this was very hard as I my self-esteem is currently low. (Special thanks are due to friends on-line and off-line for helping me to compile this list.)

  • Verbose
  • Intelligent
  • Passionate
  • Self-aware
  • Loyal
  • Assertive
  • Good sense of humour
  • Compassionate
  • Self-aware
  • Conscientious**
  • Attention to Detail**

Weaknesses

  • Over-sensitive
  • Easily overwhelmed
  • Procrastinator
  • Worrier
  • Impatient
  • Perfectionist
  • Rigid
  • Timid
  • Awkward
  • Hyper-vigilance

Challenges

  1. Physical Health –
    Acid Reflux, Fatigue, Insomnia, Alopecia, Acne, Pruritis, Hormonal Imbalance***
  2. Emotional Health –
    Panic attacks, Misophonia***, sensory issues, Binge-restriction cycles, OCD, anxiety, body dysmorphia, mood swings, depression, dermatillomania

Impact

  1. Relationships –
    Afraid of emotional and physical intimacy, difficulties in leaving the house (OCD/BDD), a sense of shame caused by secretive eating, restriction and other OCD rituals. Fear of stigma. Low self-esteem means that dating is very difficult. Sensory difficulties cause unfavourable first impressions.
  2. Community –
    Isolated, estranged from most family members with uneasy relationship with remainder (potential for triggers high), lacking own transport (severe OCD prevents driving), reticence in talking to new people face to face. Fear of neighbours. Friends live far away and can’t visit very often.
  3. Finances –
    No safety net, procrastination and disorganisation partly caused by fatigue. Spending inappropriately on food items for binges.
  4. Work –
    Precarious employment situation, fear of stigma, fatigue, insomnia and preoccupation with OCD thoughts negatively affecting concentration and energy levels, social skill deficit leads to negative judgements from employers and failure to navigate office politics. Commuting involves navigating multiple triggers and can be extremely tiring.
  5. Household Maintenance –
    Difficulty keeping up with everyday chores, cooking , cleaning, washing self. Often resorting to highly processed ready meals and takeaway food when fatigued.
  6. Leisure –
    Excessive fatigue and shame from dermatillomania is a barrier to full enjoyment of physical activities. Fatigue also negatively impacts on concentration and even reading books and watching films can be difficult at times.

PART THREE will discuss my own ideas for intervention and coping strategies.

*I have often repeated my disdain for those forms but I accept the possibility that for some individuals with, perhaps less complex needs, may find them useful for monitoring and evaluating symptoms.

**These attributes can be negative in excess as they can contribute to OCD.

***I have not been formally diagnosed with misophonia or any autism spectrum related conditions. The role of hormonal disturbances (sex hormones) in my mood disturbances is purely hypothetical at this stage.

 

 

 

 

Taking Control of My Mental Health [PART ONE: I am My Own Psychologist]


Photo credit: pasukaru76 / Foter / CC BY

I had been meaning to write this particular post for quite some time. I feel I need to in order to make sense of the latest plummet in my mental health and to get some sense of my identity moving through time.

I have been suffering from mental health problems from as far back as I can recall. It comes and goes in waves:

  • At “High Tide” despite some residual social difficulties, I am energetic, healthy, functional, happy and confident that I have some value and competence in this world. I make plans for the future which extends into an exciting infinity.
  • At “Low Tide” my physical body starts to break down, my mind gets locked into endless loops of misery and fear. My mental horizons close down. I feel imprisoned, weighed down, cursed.

I sense that things have changed at this Low Tide and I am starting to see the connections between the previous ebbs and flows in my mental health. I need to compile this information and see if there are clues which will help me to determine the best ways of managing my mental health.

Formulation

From what I’ve read in psychotherapy literature, compiling such a hypothesis is known as making use of a “formulation”. It appears to be posited as an alternative to diagnosis – i.e. a mental health professional saying what condition you have based on the different challenges and traits you present.

It should be said here that I have no formal training whatsoever in medicine or psychology – I am trying this method out for myself, not as a means to supplanting my diagnoses, but purely to see if it will help me in the process of self-management of my mental health.

Why Don’t I Get Help?

Yes, I am aware that I should “get help”.

My GP has done a thorough job in investigating possible physical problems which might exacerbate or contribute towards my mental health difficulties. He reviews the use of my anti-depressant medication on a regular basis.* However he does not have much control over what services are available to refer me to. He cannot help the lengthy waiting lists for accessing those services nor the quality of such services.

I have found it impossible to gain access to satisfactory talking therapies through the NHS. I have had CBT which had some promise but the time between appointments (on average between three to four weeks) was far too long to help me successfully sustain any useful practices or insights. I also felt that my difficulties relating to my transport issues and the unpredictability of appointment availability were being trivialised. The sessions turned into arguments over the utility of the popular PHQ-9 questionnaire as a tool for being able to accurately capture the nature of my difficulties and distress.

Eventually I gave up with the entire process as I felt that rather than alleviate my distress, it had become a significant contributory factor to it.

I have used the private sector before and whilst I am in the fortunate financial position of being able to consider this, the therapists that I paid for were, without exception, patronising and determined to impose their erroneous cultural judgements on me to the detriment of both my finances and mental health.

I do not see any other way than to write my own psychotherapeutic intervention plan and to get the support available through my peers in the mental health community.**

PART TWO will explore my formulation a.k.a. my mental health story

*It is a moot point as to whether the anti-depressants that I am taking are actually helping me or not but I must stress here that this does not translate into an assertion that anti-depressants are unhelpful for other people suffering from depression.

**I have to refer readers to the disclaimer on my site.  I am aware that by choosing to self-manage I am taking risks which may result in unsuitable outcomes for my mental health.

[Clarification: 7/3/2015] I have to mention the notable exception to the bad therapy experiences were the two counsellors (who I accessed through Employer Assistance) who have helped me make sense of a couple of bereavements in my life.  Unfortunately, they were not available for general therapy sessions.

Speed Dating For The Neuro-divergent (Post-Script)

I have only envisaged writing three parts to the Speed Dating event (Go back to read the posts starting here if interested) but I have had a number of responses and questions which have cropped up which deserve a post of their own to answer.

Q1. Did you get any matches from the Speed Dating event?

Nope. Not even as friends.

Q2. Have you tried on-line dating before? What did you think? What are the pitfalls you encountered due to your mental health difficulties?

Yes. I have tried OKCupid, Plenty of Fish and Match. I also tried to sign up for e-Harmony but I got rejected at the application stage!

I started off by being polite in rejection to those persons who were too far outside my criteria. I was utterly horrified to get back extremely abusive messages in response to polite replies from myself wishing them eventual success. “Whore”, “slag”, “ugly” and “fat” were common retorts which were the mild end of what I received.

The onslaught was such that after a time I stopped replying to anyone outside of my criteria. However this did not stop determined characters who would deluge my in-box if I so much as failed to respond to their email within an hour.

Some communications which were initially acceptable turned into demands for me to do sexual acts via webcam. I think this is fine where both parties are up for this sort of activity and I was not offended that I was asked but only that the my refusal was rarely taken seriously.

I found that I got fewer messages of abuse from Match.com which is a pay-for site although messages of abuse still occurred. I accepted dates from a couple of men (Match does not allow for multi-gender searching) and on the advice of a friend reluctantly decided to accept offers from outside my normal criteria.

  • One man seemed generally pleasant but I felt nervous about his insistence on paying for an expensive meal on a first date. I presented a series of questions and topics but his views were were quite opposite to mine and he declared me to be ” a bit bohemian” for his tastes.
  • Another man was fifteen years older than me. I have never been into the “older man” fantasy and I felt very uncomfortable throughout the date as he kept referring to me as “young lady” and “Miss”. The worst thing that occurred was that when the date was over, without warning, he grabbed me to kiss me on the cheek to which I responded by swinging at him and planting a fist in his face. I don’t know who out of us was the most surprised at this happening but obviously neither of us wanted to see each other again.
  • On the other end of the age spectrum was a young man who was probably young enough to be my son.  I am not interested in a large age gap from that point of view either and whilst he was an amusing companion I just could not see a viable partnership.

Being that some of my interests are considered “alternative” (i.e. the Science Fiction fixation) I found that I got the highest hit rate from OKCupid. I did come across a couple of people who seemed genuine, kind and a reasonable personality match but the vagaries of chance determined that they lived too far away from me for a viable dating arrangement to work out.

Q3. How do you experience the dating scene specifically as a bisexual person?

OKCupid “allows” you to record yourself as bisexual. The crowd there are fairly cosmopolitan with a lot of representation for non-heterosexual people and (for want of a better word – forgive me!) “alternative” people.

Sadly bisexual myths and stereotypes are still persistent. I’ve yet to meet a bisexual person who states that they have “twice the fun”.

As a bisexual woman who presents as physically “feminine” I was a popular choice for heterosexual couples looking for “threesomes” and for bi-curious women looking for a one off experience in order to explore their sexuality. I am respectful to all sexual choices that are between consenting adults, but I found it was very tiresome to have to field through these types of requests when I had specifically stated in my profile that I was only interested in monogamy. (yes, it is a myth that all bisexuals are unable to commit).

If you are a bisexual female interested in on-line dating, one article I recommend you read is this. It explains the bisexual on-line dating issues better than I can!

Q4. Is dating a triggering activity for you?

Yes. There are a number of issues for me.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a survivor of childhood physical abuse from my mother. It has made me hyper-vigilant in respect of both genders for traits which I believe might signify a tendency towards violence and controlling behaviour.

I look out for the following:

  • People who exhibit homophobia, transphobia, ableism and prejudiced remarks towards the homeless and people on low incomes.
  • People who are too excessive early on in lavishing praise or trying to spend monies on me.
  • People who do not tolerate my friends or the fact that I am on platonic terms with my ex-partners.
  • People who do not respect my need for mental and physical space.
  • People who are cruel about my phobias and sensory issues.
  • People who try to “exoticise” me on the basis of my multi-racial heritage.
  • People who trivialise my experiences and accomplishments

I am also diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

Unfortunately, particularly for women, much of the advice on dating is based around looking as physically attractive as possible.  When you have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder which causes you to feel extreme shame and stress about your appearance, the prospect of dating puts your body image concerns very much back in the spotlight. Every date is a terrifying prospect of having these fears confirmed.

I found it extremely hard on my mental health to endure the tirade of abuse about my appearance as indicated above.

I also have OCD, anxiety and depression. Dating is also scary from the point of view that there is a lot of stigma behind these conditions and sadly self-stigma kicks in when I anxiously rack my brain trying to think of ways to “hide” these conditions. NOT easy to do for very long.

Q5. What does the word Neuro-divergent mean? Are you actually diagnosed with Autism?

Here‘s a useful article defining this term.

I choose to use the word neuro-divergent to catalogue a number of sensory and communication deficits for which I do not yet have an official diagnosis for. I know that these traits and features are unusual and disadvantageous relative to the general population and hence the reason why I choose to catalogue them in this way.

I have been referred for autism diagnosis and have completed the first stage but completion of the remaining stages is contingent on input from my family on my early childhood behaviours. Given issues around my childhood abuse it makes parental involvement of questionable value and certainly detrimental to my current mental health.

As such, I am at a “stand-still” for the moment.

I recognise that some people choose to “self-diagnose”, however I think it would be unhelpful in my case as many of my sensory issues could be attributed to Post Traumatic Stress as a result of the abuse.

It would take a very good expert in the area of autism to distinguish  abuse from autism and from that point of view I can understand why the requirement to get evidence from early childhood would be a very important clue. They would need to find evidence from before the abuse started (aged four approximately) but even assuming that my parents were willing to participate my mother’s memory would likely be blocked out due to psychosis and my father’s memory be decimated through the trauma caused by sustained domestic violence that he suffered at the time.

I have issues with:

  • misophonia – there are certain types of sound which are very painful to me.
  • touch – unexpected touch makes me extremely fearful and panicky.
  • eye contact – I have become better at this over the years but it does not come naturally to me.
  • body language – flirting and detecting signs of interest and disinterest also do not come naturally to me.
  • communication – my range of interests are a lot broader than the AS diagnostic standard, however I have a tendency towards monologuing and treating subjects in a dense and academic manner.
  • last-minute changes – I do not do well with unexpected situations. Although I  exhibit some flexibility and try new things I like to be able to plan things at least several weeks in advance.

These may or may not indicate autism or may indicate having autistic traits but be considered insufficiently disabling to merit an autism diagnosis.

Speed Dating For The Neuro-divergent (Part THREE)


Photo credit: Epheterson / Foter / Public Domain Mark 1.0

If you haven’t already done so please go back and read PART ONE and PART TWO first – it will make more sense that way!

Here follows the rest of my adventure/ordeal:

7. Brian

Brian seemed genial with pleasant manners although perhaps rather young even for my tastes (for unknown reasons my previous partners have all been younger than me although not by a large margin).

We talked about music for the most part and he seemed pleased at my knowledge of suitable venues for opera and the “alternative” music scene.

He was a games developer and we excitedly discussed the retro-gaming scene and old ZX Spectrum favourites along with jokes about certain issues with game-play.

Although I felt that the age gap would not be appropriate, nonetheless I enjoyed this session the most.

8. Gilberto

This was another uncomfortable session. It wasn’t Gilberto’s fault though. In fact although I could not discern a single thing in common with him, I had to admire his gutsiness in turning up alone with limited English.

9. Jake

Physically speaking probably the closest to what I go for – rounded features with large eyes not necessarily conventionally attractive but with a gentle demeanour. Sadly he did not seem very interested in any of the topics that I offered, admitting that he was not really into sports of any kind and that he only liked plain simple foods.

My nerves started kicking in again which was not very pleasant.

10. Max

My agitation was not calmed by the next man, Max. He wore a shirt in a very painful shade of orange which actually made me quite nauseous.

I did not wish to be prejudiced due to his clothing choices but I found that it distracted me the entire time.

He asked me about what my “hobbies” were and when I proceeded to list them he moved back rather abruptly and folded his arms. I had learnt that this was an extremely bad sign so I stopped talking.

We sat in silence until the bell finally rang again.

11. Gary

I could tell that Gary liked to go to the gym a lot. He had noticeably well-developed arms and was wearing a tight t-shirt that showed off a toned torso.

He seemed pleasingly thoughtful and non aggressive. After he learnt that I had taken a qualification in personal training we spent the rest of the time discussing training protocol and mocking some of the unscientific and questionable methods that we had recently heard about.

12. Liam

Liam appeared stylishly and expensively dressed. He startled me by giving me a hug before sitting back down. It took all the amount of self-control I had not to lash out from the fright of it.

I was also surprised by the his initial opener where he enquired as to whether I believed in “Love At First Sight”. I explained that this was quite an interesting psychological and philosophical question. I proceeded to talk about an interesting article that I had recently read on how the Ancient Greeks had many different words to categorise the various types of “love” out there. I said that for me I felt that true love was a sense of perfect intellectual affinity, compassion, altruism and respect for the other person. I did not regard “Love at First Sight” to be true love as I felt it more accurately described sexual craving which I felt to be ephemeral once the initial curiosity was satisfied.

My feeling was that Liam would have made an amusing companion to “hang out” with, but I felt that it was unlikely that he would make a faithful partner.

BREAK

Due to the disparity in numbers each woman would have a five minute break from the sessions I found myself looking around to observe what was going on around me and felt a pang as I noticed a few other women displaying a total sense of ease. I saw fingers gliding through hair, light touches on the arms of their companions and plenty of laughter.

I sensed that I was unlikely to garner much interest with such superior competition.

13. Daniel

I felt sorry for Daniel in that his fear was probably more palpable than my own. This was a shame as I felt that he had a pleasant demeanour.

I did ask him to choose the topic of conversation that he was most comfortable with so he started talking about his four children. He obviously doted on all of them and I felt sad when he spoke of the impact of his divorce.

Apart from that I wasn’t sure what kind of a person he was and felt that I had gone into “therapist” mode.

I was exhausted and relieved when the final bell went to signal the end of the event.

Departure

The host gathered us together to thank us for coming and to remind us to tick the boxes to indicate any interest.

Afterwards I noticed that my friend was surrounded by a few of the men who implored her to stay for more drinks. I think she had picked up on my level of exhaustion so she made her excuses and we trundled to her home.

I laughed about the event and commented that at least it was something that I had tried now. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t get away from the fact that we were all going to be emailed our results the following afternoon. I felt quite certain that I would be considered a hopeless failure.

 

Speed Dating For The Neuro-divergent (Part TWO)


Photo credit: seyed mostafa zamani / Foter / CC BY

Please read Part One first if you have not already done so, otherwise pour yourself a nice beverage and here follows Part Two of my Speed Dating experience:

On your marks, get set…

The woman hosting the event rounds us up and splits us off according to gender. We are then given instructions as  group. The women are all designated a particular table where we are to sit for the remainder of the evening (aside from a short break in the middle of the event).

We are given cards where we are to populate the name and number of the male participants.

There is a section where we can make notes and tick boxes stating “Yes” (if you would like to date this man) “Friend” (if you wish to continue your acquaintance as friends) “No” (if you have no desire to contact that person again).

A bell will ring signifying the start of the Speed Dating event. We have five minutes with each man and when the time elapses the bell will sound again, at which point the man has to move to the next table in numerical order.

I start to feel sick but then fixate on the jar in the middle of the table which is filled with Swizzels Love Hearts and Parma Violets.

Go!*

1. Liam.

Liam joins me at the table. I am pleased and relieved that he does not attempt to touch me in any way. I remember to smile and attempt an approximation of “normal” eye contact.

He seems shy which reduces my stress levels slightly. He looks like fairly young, perhaps a good decade younger than me. A young Tim Burgess with a beard perhaps.

It might be good to talk about about music. I have an inexhaustible supply of trivia so that would certainly avoid the awkward silence.

He speaks and I note a broad Yorkshire accent. Sheffield. He’s from Sheffield. I ask him to comment on the Sheffield music scene and to make some recommendations which he obliges me with.

Pleasingly the topic moves onto snooker. I can’t remember how but I feel pleased that it is another area that I have knowledge in and I decide to talk about the famous 1985 Steve Davis versus Dennis Taylor match. I remembered how my Dad let me stay up to watch the end of the match and the tremendous excitement of seeing the last black being potted.

2. Glenn

Glenn is well dressed and attractive in a Billy Zane kind of way. I can’t imagine that he would want to be seen dead with a woman like me.

He goes to shake my hand (Breathe Rose, breathe. Its okay, you’ve done this in job interviews without losing your composure. You can wash your hands at the break. Its okay.)

It turns out that Glenn grew up in the same neighbourhood as I did. We make observations on the startling improvement of the area in terms of cultural offerings. In the meantime I start to worry as to whether I am monologuing. This is okay, I reasoned. Stereotypically women are meant to be the “talkers” and I’m talking, to a stranger. I’m winning. This is okay.

3. Darren

Darren sits himself down announcing that he is a psychic and specialises in Palmistry.

“That’s nice”, I said, sceptically.

“Allow me to demonstrate”, he says “Give me your hand”.

“No”, I said.

The rest of the session is spent with me stuffing Parma Violets down my mouth and shuffling about awkwardly as he glares at me in silence.

4. Giovanni

Giovanni was Italian. I must admit I am a sucker for certain accents and I thought, if nothing else it would be rather pleasant to hear him talk.

The session went by pleasantly enough, although sadly he admitted to not being a particularly good cook and my Gino D’Acampo fantasies were flushed down the metaphorical drain.

5. Z

I can’t recall the exact spelling of Z’s name although it was Eastern European and I think I surprised him by guessing immediately where Z came from. He asked me how I “knew” and whether I had friends from the same country. This led to a detailed conversation about linguistics and etymological roots of words.

The trouble with me is that I know that people are usually put off at my dense treatment of subjects and my preference for obscure subject, but I often find it difficult to stop once I’ve started the train of thought.

Also apart from the crossing arms gesture I am unable to detect “bored”body language. I guessed that he might have been bored.

6. Andrew

No sooner had I started relaxing again this man came along and sat down. He stared at me for an extended time.

“This seat is very uncomfortable”, he complained.

He then got up and without his gaze leaving me he sat him self next to me his feet just a whisker from touching mine. He proceeded to move closer before I panicked and placed my large handbag (aka. Tardis) in front of me to create a barrier and shuffled back to the very edge of my seat.

He began to talk again. I don’t recall what about. I answered in monosyllables and felt relieved when the bell went again to indicate a twenty minute break

PART THREE will follow soon!

*Please note that the names have been changed to respect the privacy and dignity of the participants in question.

Speed Dating For The Neuro-divergent (Part ONE)


Photo credit: jDevaun / Foter / CC BY-ND

If you suffer from anxiety, as I do, one recommended course of action is to challenge yourself to do things which scare you. Stretch the comfort zone. The theory is that on repeat exposure that anxiety lessens until hopefully it recedes to tolerable levels.

To this end I was convinced to try out speed-dating. Dating is a common source of anxiety for people all across the neurological spectrum, but it is a particular source of anxiety for me for a number of reasons.

I have suspected for a long time that I am on the autism spectrum. Social interactions do not come naturally to me and I have had a history of significant failures in this area. I am not sure the extent to which I can learn to overcome my problems, but it would be helpful either way if I were to at least become more comfortable in social situations even if there is nothing I can do about my deficits.

Here follows an account of my evening (as it would otherwise be an extremely long post I have split it into three posts):

Preparations

I spend a pleasant time in the early part of the evening “getting ready” with my friend.

The body dysmorphia voices are still there but I try to fight them off by reminding myself that at five foot seven inches and being able to fit in to a UK size 8, I am considerably slimmer and somewhat taller than the average women (not that that ought to be any badge of honour – my body size is of no discernible advantage to me as I will later demonstrate).

I remind myself that I like my shoulders, strong with definition. I rise onto my tip toes whilst checking myself out in the mirror. My calf muscles have a pleasing tone to them and taper into strong, nicely defined ankles.

I insert green coloured contact lenses into my eyes. I like the juxtaposition against my multi-racial features. In my head I’m thinking of Vanessa Williams.

Body dysmorphia will not allow me to be completely pleased with the image in the mirror, but I try hard to ignore the bad feelings I get looking at the rest of my body.

My monochrome shift dress suits me and I am very pleased that it makes a good backdrop for my David Bowie Aladdin Sane necklace.

“Of course you will get some ticks in the boxes” says my friend reassuring me. “They would be mad not to”.

Enchiladas

In an attempt to inject some “Dutch courage” into me, we stop off at a bar for cocktails. I order a couple of Pina Coladas. I have a sweet tooth and the creamy pineapple dream floats down easily into my stomach.

I try enchiladas for the first time. A real pleasure which is marred slightly by the growing sense of anxiety about the speed dating event.

“Just remember Rose, no talking about religion or politics. Other than that just relax and be yourself”.

I glumly reflect that “being myself” has been a cause of tremendous disadvantage and distress over the years. I bite my tongue. It will be okay. I will still be alive by the end of the evening.

Arrival

We make good time for Registration for the event.

There is a large table in the middle of the room with a number of giggling gregarious women talking amongst themselves. I shuffle along nervously as my friend coaxes me along.

There is a curvy red-haired woman in a green dress who looks deliriously attractive as she laughs and bares her perfect white teeth. I silently curse the fact that this is a heterosexual-only event and that she will not be on the tick box menu tonight.

I do not laugh.

My friend is already engaged in conversation with a couple of the other women, whilst I am overwhelmed at the numerous new pairs of eyes that I need to take in. My legs begin to shake involuntarily as my friend removes my coat and instructs me to get some more alcoholic drinks from the bar.

I want Diazapam but I know that it is a dangerous mix with alcohol.

As I traipse off to look for the bar, I instinctively start looking for the fire exits in case I need to make a quick escape. A sign says “This door is alarmed”.

My head starts running through a number of possible scripts and topics for the evenings. And “Dos and Don’t s”.

  • Eye Contact – Remember not to look at them for longer than two seconds at a time. I must look at the eyes. Not the mouth as that’s sexual, unless I want to be sexual. But there has to be some eye contact and I must try this when answering questions even though it is very difficult. They will think me untrustworthy if I don’t do this. I must remember to do this. I am NOT untrustworthy.
  • Body Contact - There is a convention amongst many men that they must greet women in this situation by touching them. Touching hands. Kissing cheek. I tremble thinking of the shock to my senses that this would induce. Saliva and sweat from an unfamiliar source. I feel nauseous. I mustn’t flinch, I mustn’t hit. REPEAT – MUSTN’T HIT. My hands start shaking again. Pretend it’s a job interview. Shake hands and then when its break-time I can always run to the toilet to discreetly disinfect.
  • Body Language – Crossed arms is a bad sign. Change topics if the arms cross. Fidgeting with collars and brushing of noses is a sign of deceit. Be sure to look out for that. Make sure I don’t cross arms. Don’t stim. DEFINITELY DON’T STIM*. Unless its a “good” stim like playing with your hair. Men like that, it is part of the courtship ritual. Play with your hair. Don’t peel at the sweet wrappers on the table. Don’t pick at the callouses on your fingers. DEFINITELY DON’T do that!
  • Variation of subject matter – I am verbose with an extensive vocabulary. Don’t use it. Use simple language. No one likes a smart-ass. No one will want to date you on the strength of your vocabulary. NO RELIGION, NO POLITICS. But I LIKE those subjects… Nope, demz The Rules. This isn’t a f**king sci-fi convention. On no account are you to speak of Leonard Nimoy, Dr Who, Babylon Five, Star Wars, Lego etc. You must not spend too long on one subject nor talk about in it in overly complex language. Make sure not to tell any jokes – your dry sense of humour escapes the uninitiated.

I forget how I even end up with two large glasses of Sauvignon Blanc as I find myself going back upstairs to the event. I feel sad watching the other women converse with ease and marvel at the fluidity of their conversation and gestures.

I feel like a different species entirely.

(PART TWO coming up after a short break!)

*In case you don’t know what a stim is, here is the definition according to Wikipedia. It is often an indicator for autism but you do not have to be on the autism spectrum to stim.

 

Letting Go


Photo credit: alibree / Foter / CC BY

 

In recent weeks, my mental health has taken a further downturn. This was exacerbated by a couple of mishaps at work which triggered a particularly bad episode of OCD over the last few days.

Somewhere in a parallel universe there is a version of me who lives happily without mental health problems. She has bundles of energy, she is a polymath and is an all-round extraordinary success. Meanwhile in this universe there’s the original version – trying to run the same software on stuttering, faulty hardware.

Reality hurts.

Successive upgrades have only been partially successful. I am riddled with bugs and  fragments.

Perhaps it is time for me  to uninstall the old software which doesn’t work, which is no longer compatible – that which makes my system slow and prone to crashing.

It’s time I rid myself from the clutter which weighs me down:

  • Think carefully about whose opinions of me really matter (i.e. people who have my best interests at heart) and forget about everybody else’s.
  • Fight my battles carefully. I am ridiculously over-sensitive to conflict and differences of opinion (even on trivial matters). I need to carefully choose the key topics over which it is worth me risking a spike in anxiety to defend.
  • Stop spending money on binge foods and material objects which serve no purpose other than to take up space in my stomach or home.
  • Stop spending so much time aimlessly surfing the internet. I seem to do this as a “soothing” activity but it doesn’t help me that much – it drains a lot of time which I could spend doing other more useful things.
  • Also much as I love Twitter I should prioritise my time on there to focus on the dozen or so people who regularly take the time to check in with me and spend less time on frivolous “hash-tag hunting”. I also need to take care that I don’t allow Twitter to feed my OCD compulsion to seek reassurance (this, I recently discovered, can be a form of “checking”).
  • Continue fighting against OCD so that I can reclaim all those hours which are normally lost to compulsions.
  • Give away or sell those items which I don’t use on a regular basis (except for seasonal items).
  • Develop more useful habits such as cooking in advance.
  • Think about what my true values are and discard any behaviours which deviate from those.
  • Spend time everyday on activities which recharge my mental and physical self.
  • Recognise that I’ll probably only be able to get one or two really important things done everyday.

I imagine the feeling of the load feeling lighter.

It feels good