*Please note this post is a hypothetical dialogue drawn from a combination of experiences and feelings.
When I began my blog back in April 2018 I didn’t think it would amount to much.
Most of my day revolves around sleep deprivation, trying to think up autism friendly snacks and meals, poo, wee, playing with my little pony and sighing heavily.
Not very news-worthy stuff.
I’m not very technical, I don’t have a background in advertising or any form of social media expertise aside from scrolling through Facebook. I didn’t even own a computer. Although I do now. Thanks Santa 🙂
I have huge self-esteem issues. I have a very negative outlook and think everyone else is better than me, more deserving and extremely competent. I am however trying to be a more positive person, resilient and hinged as I feel like I’ve spent the last five years of my life seriously unhinged, out of control and on autopilot.
On desperate nights and snatched moments in the day I have followed peoples blogs, mainly autism ones and they have really helped me to feel less alone and hopeful. On top of being an autism parent I have suffered with anxiety and depression since my teens. Not a good combination. I touch on this side of parenting too because it can make a difficult job seem impossible at times.
In the last year I have written over 20 posts predominantly on living with depression, self-doubt and anxiety whilst navigating parenting an autistic child. It has been quite a steep learning curve. Understatement. But, through writing it all down I have found it to be cathartic and have connected to lots of parents and other bloggers which has helped me feel better within myself. I have even learn how to do a bit of ‘stuff’ on social media.
I am a full time carer to my daughter but forever hopeful that I might find a very flexible part time position in the future. I am an 80’s child, broody for a puppy and love film and reading with a particular passion for psychology, horror and autobiography. I am sober curious, mindfulness curious and exercise curious and like to peek into these worlds occasionally.
Give me a Stephen King, a sun lounger and a low alcohol cocktail and I’m a happy soul.
Hi, I’m Becky by the way or ‘PDA bubble’.
As I got older identity came with achievements, learning to drive, jobs, relationships and amassing ‘stuff’. If I buy GHD straighteners as opposed to these cheaper ones then my hair will look better and I will be in the GHD club able to discuss their merits and marvel at their smooth sleekness. The fact that I couldn’t and still can’t use them properly was clearly not an issue back then!
When you lose a sense of your identity you are more susceptible to external influences such as the media and marketing. You seek reassurance from others and want to know their opinions before you trust yourself enough to make a decision. In ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’ Matt Haig explains;
‘Happiness is not good for the Economy. We are encouraged, continually, to be a little bit dissatisfied with ourselves.’
If you are already faltering with your sense of self then shiny empty promises are going to seem very appealing. This is part a generational issue, as the internet, covert marketing and social media have proliferated we have been the guinea pigs, present for all the technological advances and benefits but only in hindsight discovering the psychological and emotional effects. This week I keep seeing adverts for Cliniques newest product range ‘ID’ where you can customise their moisturiser to your specific identity. Being secure in your identity and deserving something tailor made to that uniqueness is clearly a strong selling point. Those lacking in identity or self are clearly ‘disadvantaged’.
In Lily Allen’s 2017 autobiography ‘My Words Exactly’ she refers to her different identities and losing and gaining new ones. There is the invisible young Lily living in the shadow of her famous parents and striking elder sister, Teenage Lily running with a close clique of friends whilst moving from School to School never settling and befriending an older crowd. ‘Cartoon Lily’ – the media caricature – drinking, smoking and taking drugs stumbling around Glastonbury. There is Lily Rose Cooper, her attempt at creating a settled, sorted ‘married with kids’ persona, then Lily on Tour where she works hard and plays hard to avoid difficulties at home and feelings swirling around once she becomes a mum.
I enjoyed the book and found it refreshing to hear someone like Lily, a complex and interesting character of a similar age to me talk in such depth about these feelings.
Being brutally honest with yourself is often the first step towards self awareness and changing habits for the better.
Then recently, James McAvoy has been promoting M. Night Shyamalan’s (2019) film ‘Glass’, part three of the Eastrail 177 trilogy. Returning to the role of Kevin Wendell Crumb, a disturbed man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) with 24 different personalities ranging from Hedwig a nine year old boy to Patricia a matriarchal figure to The Beast a superhuman killer.
At times I have struggled to identify one single personality within myself and from the outside looking in would imagine myself as an extra in a film or a shell of a human, real on the outside but empty on the inside. But then I thought about it some more and started to recognise personalities I have assumed over the years and these ranged through mum, daughter, child, teenager, friend, girlfriend, colleague, depressed, social media version, external and internal portrayals etc etc. Spookily I came up with 24 in total just like Kevin!
Essentially the personalities are created to protect Kevin who was abused by his mother as a child as seen in the second film (2016) Split. My identities over the years have existed to protect me, sometimes aiding me in a social situation sometimes at a cost emotionally or mentally. Autistic masking serves a purpose but the comedown and subsequent need to regroup can damage the person without them even realising.
So what can we do when we are feeling lost to help ourselves? From the reading I’ve done the last few weeks it seems identity isn’t so much the problem as this can be fairly fluid and will shift and change depending on who we are with, where we are and what we are being influenced by. One less thing to get hung up about! It is more our self esteem which needs the support and attention.
It leads back to the idea of self care which I often talk about in this blog and which seems central to the reduction of negative thought processes. In order to help bolster our self esteem and be more accepting of ourselves we need to focus on the now. Letting go of past identities, curbing future projections of what we should/could be and using today, this moment to be fully present. This could be as small as spending 5 minutes on your own, lying or sitting down if possible and just breathing, reading a book or practising self compassion and starting to challenge some of those negative thoughts and self talk.
So who am I now?
I’m finding out a bit more each day.
Thoughts are powerful.
If you think about something often it might happen.
If you think about someone they might appear in a dream.
If your thinking assumes a specific mindset then its hard to adapt that mindset.
But thoughts are not facts.
Thoughts can be fluid.
This week I got to cross off another fear on my list. The broken limb fear experienced back in May was just about dulling in my sub-conscious and even though it was every bit as stressful as I had imagined and I do not want a repeat any time soon…
we got through it.
This time the fear was smaller but no less petrifying. Nits. Nits and a PDA-er who routinely refuses to brush, wash and dry her hair. It was stressful and time-consuming and never-ending at times but…
we got through it.
A strange thing happens when you manage to overcome a fear. Your resilience is bolstered and after the initial low can give way to feelings of euphoria and invincibility. When you suffer enough setbacks, fear tends to lose some of its shock value and instead of crumbling each time you find yourself just dealing with it. A place you never thought you’d get to.
I have lived most of my adult years in fear of the ‘what ifs’ whilst simultaneously indulging, obsessing and inviting them into my thoughts each and every day. If the time I have spent worrying about broken arms and nits over the last five years had been condensed down into a drama series it would include at least six hour long episodes (no adverts).
Nits came and went (fingers crossed) and took up a 36 hour period.
Then life moved on.
For me, SEN parents and a lot of our children with ASD and anxiety it is the all consuming fear of the ‘what if’ and the ‘unknown’ that causes so many problems.
I’m in my 30’s and can honestly say that until L was diagnosed, and I started to try to unpick some of her behaviours and worries which then instigated some of my own thought analysis, I didn’t realise the extent to which I struggled with the whats ifs and not knowing. I just thought that everyone worried a lot, like everyone has a mobile phone and likes Pringles.
I’m still trying to get my head around why I think the way I do and consciously choose behaviours which help instead of hinder but yet I still have the audacity at times to feel frustrated with L at just five years old when she can’t ‘deal’ with her own worries. If I’m being completely honest with myself my attitude and behaviours do impact on L. The moment my stress levels start to climb, her behaviours start to deteriorate. Sleep is more disrupted. Reassurance is needed in greater amounts.
L is a work in progress and although I know that I have the experience to help her in the future should she have some of the same problems I have had she may not want my help. Hopefully she may not need it. So I’ve come to the conclusion that in order for L to be able to cope with the hand she’s been dealt and for me to take control of my depression I really need to sort myself out first. I’m her biggest role model and corner-stone and so far when times get tough I model;
STRESS – Snapping, head in hands, ferocious displacement cleaning
PANIC – ‘I can’t cope!!’ ‘I can’t do it;
ANXIETY – taking 2 hours to get to sleep worrying about the ‘what ifs’
COPING MECHANISIMS – Sleeping, alcohol and unhealthy food.
Not a great model. Has it got me very far? No, not really. It enables me to keep functioning but functioning isn’t the same as living.
Clearly if you are predisposed to negativity and anxiety it takes a long time for change to set in and healthier habits to be adopted. But…
I know alcohol makes my anxiety worse.
I know hiding at home and crawling into bed just prolongs the anxiety.
I know that taking care of myself, exercising and eating well improves my mood.
However, left to my own devices I have the bottle of wine, I lie in the bed and I eat the Hula Hoops. I’m referring to longer term depression and anxiety in adults here not short one or two off episodes. The type of depression which hangs around like an old coat at the back of the cupboard which may be required one day but could also do with disappearing from your life completely.
How many times do you keep hitting the brick wall before you decide to change your approach to it?
The adage ‘If you do what you’ve always done you get what you’ve always got’ echoes through my mind over the weeks. It might be enough to motivate me to ‘start a healthy week’ on a Monday, or not drink until the weekend but as soon as the what ifs and a faint trace of drama shimmers on the horizon the emotional crutches are well and truly out out.
If you are lucky enough to actually get Mental Health support via the NHS, talking therapies or a local charity it is usually beneficial however you cannot lean or rely on these services. They aren’t about at 3am when you are having a panic attack over whether you will make it to work in the morning. They are short-term solutions to help ground and redirect you.
Essentially YOU are responsible. They can give you tools and suggestions but there has to be a concerted effort on your part to facilitate the change.
Weigh up what is worth putting more effort into. Buying new super springy trainers to help you run harder into the brick wall or do a bit of background work and find another way round? I do love buying a new piece of gym kit for it to stay safely un-creased and sweat free in my bottom drawer.
Things to help me.
Being Honest with myself
Am I happy with how things sit with me at present? Are my moods impacting on the family? Is part of the problem the way I deal with things? This isn’t an opportunity to blame its an opportunity to help improve things mentally and emotionally which will then impact positively on the rest of the family and your mindset.
Being kinder to myself.
If like me your internal voice talks to you like a condescending, mean and sarcastic bitch. Get a new one. I’ve read many self-help books and they consistently feature this idea of self-love, talking to yourself like you would a friend or being more compassionate. I’m extremely guilty of walking around whilst mentally assaulting myself. Self love seems so cheesy and pretentious but replacing 15 years of ‘get up you useless, lazy waster’ with ‘ok, now we’ve had a nice rest haven’t we?, let’s get up slowly, take a few deep breaths and focus on one thing at a time’ is infinitely better for your long-term self-esteem.
No, these things don’t just happen to you. They happen to everyone but because you are only you, you only get to see them close up happening to you. The universe doesn’t have time to pick and choose who ‘these things’ happen to it is random so don’t waste time playing the ‘poor me’ card. It doesn’t get you anywhere faster or make you feel any better.
Why can she/he do it?
Why can she do it when I cant? Her life must be easier than mine, she must be richer or have people helping her. Although it seems ridiculous to say, being anxious or depressed is sometimes easier than changing negative behaviours. It can become part of your personal narrative and you become type cast as ‘the depressed one’. Negative behaviours take a lot of time and effort to re-work. If you continue to follow the path of least resistance then you will remain on that path. She can do it because she worked hard to get off that path and found a different one.
I recently got into a massive downer about how ‘I’m obviously not good at having children’ ‘was doomed to have problems in my pregnancy’ ‘had a hard time when my baby was born’. The catalyst of this was reading a handful of magazines on a Saturday evening which was ironically supposed to make me feel better and seeing an interview with Sophie Ellis Bextor explaining how she is having her 5th child next year. Fifth! I skimmed over the article and just used it as ammo to fuel my ‘you’re no good’ fire. Plus she looked gorgeous. Urghhhh.
I probably returned to that conversation with myself ten times over the course of the next day until part of me wanted to know the names of her children admittedly for reasons of ridicule to make myself feel better and googled her. I then uncovered the fact that her two first-born sons had actually been very premature and she was now involved in a campaign with Pampers to provide preemie nappies for hospitals and supermarkets. I completely changed my mindset about her and could see that it wasn’t ‘just me’ who had these problems, other people experienced them too. I keep reminding myself to look outside my self when I’m on a negative self talk trajectory because you can’t judge a book by its cover so to speak.
A lot of celebrities have depression and anxiety -why? when they have everything they could possibly want? Because mental health conditions affect everyone, because mental and emotional health are caused by a number of contributing factors and no-one is immune. Prince Harry, Ruby Wax or Stephen Fry have access to all forms of treatment with no monetary or time constraints but they still suffer. To the outside world their lives couldn’t look any better but long-term depression and anxiety exert a strong grip and although 50% of tackling the problem is the support and the services the other 50% is the individuals personal struggle to make sense and navigate around it. It has to come from the person – maybe more so. Sadly people do succumb to depression and the recent examples of Robin Williams, Gary Speed and Dolores O’Riordan show that it can be hidden from view yet very much impossible to live with in extreme cases.
When it comes to exercise I am particularly demand avoidant. Lots of people are but I know that this is the key to helping me move round the brick wall. However I have a great card to play, the ‘I’m too busy/stressed/bogged down in autism’ card which validates my no exercise situation. But I’m not really being honest with myself here. I do have some time. I have scrolling through social media time, I have reading books time, I have watching Lorraine and Homes under the Hammer time. So what I’m saying really is that I don’t think exercise is important enough… to make time for. But I know deep down that I don’t feel that way. I would very much like to exercise. My excuses are starting to look a bit cheap and flimsy now.
Some people can drink and the benefits outweigh the negatives. Mine don’t unfortunately. This is another key to getting round the brick wall. Like the exercise excuses I use alcohol as a treat to validate ‘tough days’, everyone does it. Its quite a big thing in this country. I’ve spent twenty years ‘doing it’ its been so successful that’s why I need to carry on. But has it? No, it hasn’t. The time wasted due to epic hangovers and anxiety from alcohol must surely be measured in years by now?! Alcohol is a good temporary fix but to get over the wall perhaps it needs to be replaced with something else? Or at the very least reduced.
The procrastinator within keeps goading me to wait until 1st January to start using these keys because its a nice starting date, its fresh, it’s what everyone else does. But change doesn’t have to attach itself to a date or a day to be significant it just needs to start and now. Everyone else isn’t me and frankly I don’t care about everyone else anymore.
I know this has been a bit of a self-indulgent post but I’ve really been thinking hard lately about the future. Do I want to be this person in another 5 years, another 10 or do I want to go around the brick wall and start living. There is time to grieve for what didn’t quite measure up to expectation and there is time to be angry and time to be sad but if I’m going to keep going I really need to start being braver. Being scared isn’t the same thing as being unable to do it.
Basically, I don’t want to waste anymore time being HERE.