LGBTQI Autism Group
Anxiety is often linked to autism. Often linked to something different from a stereotypical presentation. We might end up performing more routines. We might become more rigid. The reason is that we are often having to survive in and deal with a Neurotypical world. Dealing with discrimination and stigma. Dealing with uncertainty.
Shame. A lot of Neurodiverse and autistic people experience shame, which has been internalised from social stigma, childhood trauma and bullying. This is a common trait. Sometimes, to come across as apologetic and admit to being the "bad one" seems like the safest way to diffuse a charged situation. To acquiesce. Sometimes, it feels safer to not disclose certain aspects of your experience. Out of the fear that others might challenge and criticise those aspects. And to avoid putting yourself in a position where you are having to explain or justify yourself. Especially in situations where it does not feel safe or comfortable to do so, either by the nature of the audience listening or by the medium of communication, e.g., verbal, which requires an immediacy of response that is not thought through. Shame becomes pervasive. Because (as well as hiding it from others) we are giving ourselves an internal, damaging message. A negative spiral of self-blame.
Read More: Self Subjugation
Types of anxiety disorders. There are often more than one at play in a given situation.
CBT Model of Anxiety. Breaking anxiety down in terms of thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
Emotional regulation. Recognising when we feel anxious. Talking about patterns. Spikes. Suddenly becoming anxious quickly. We talked about meltdowns and shutdowns. These can often happen all together. Physical symptoms. Masking it and covering up. Not only masking Neurodiversity but also masking our feelings towards a situation. Anxiety iceberg and the idea of different levels.
It is helpful to have strategies. How do you cope?
Sometimes, our interests can be a massive saviour.
For me, personally, the challenges are:
Recognising when I am:
When you are anxious all of the time, it can become tricky to know when you are "more" or "less" anxious (again, the idea of levels). Your body becomes keyed up and it becomes difficult to know what is happening.
Checking in with your body.
How to learn more about anxiety.
There are apps to help you check your mood. Or various ways of seeing where you are at. There are apps that ping you a little message saying "how are you doing?" or simply "relax!" / "remember to breath!"
Example of journalling on my mobile phone. Salsa example (Read More: 15/10/2021). I knew that it was going to happen and maybe my fear manifested. Anyway, I was lacking in confidence to begin with. But as advised (by the beginner Cuban class tutor), I put on a false confidence. Inevitably, as predicted, a random woman (not a tutor, a regular punter) started barking numbers at me. She said that my timing was off and had no sense of rhythm. (Well that is helpful, no?) Initially, I smiled and sucked it up. But mentally, I thought that this is not a safe situation and I needed to get out of it. Quickly. I left her half-way through the song in the middle of the dance floor, high and dry. She came over and started lecturing me saying, "I was a beginner like you once". Well, I have been dancing salsa for 15 years. But would it help telling her this? No. That is not her concern. She was not interested. She did not know me or where I was coming from. She was not open enough to listen. She had her own agenda, her own narrative. She could not necessarily see beyond that. Or provide me with the space to easily articulate / create a situation where she might see beyond that (due to the immediacy and suddenness of the situation). I was alone, I did not have anyone else with whom to talk about it. I left the nightclub. I walked home from King's Cross to Vauxhall. I journaled every thought and feeling on Apple Notes. The result is that journal article on 15/10/2021.
Usually, I am at a computer 12/7 with TextEdit / Mail within easy reach. Whenever I want to, I can journal. The difficult point is recognising that distinction between should I journal this or can I "let it go"? Recognising that point where my thought cycles are affecting me enough that they are preventing me from getting on with my day (or sleeping, if the thoughts are happening at night - more on that topic below).
Sometimes, it is helpful to take the following steps:
On the notion of control, I exercised my freedom of choice with John DJ.
While there are various targets that might seem disjointed and scrambled in the mind, the over-arching themes are core. It is not necessarily about addressing specific situations. It is more about addressing the underlying core issues at play.
Example of making a list of why I am feeling negative. Last week (26/11/2021), I made a list of reasons why I was feeling negative in some way. Even if it was just a bullet point list (with the knowledge that I did not have the mental or emotional capacity to elaborate on any of those points) helped my mood tremendously. Simply because I transformed them into a quantifiable, contained format.
Sometimes, it is not necessarily a case of getting rid of / "getting over" the anxiety. There is an idea of "forward motion". Even if it is tiny. Having some sort of "forward motion" (the sense that I am doing something about how I am feeling) can be helpful to reduce the potency of the negative feeling. Because it functions as a simple reminder of how important it is to value myself, my thoughts and my feelings.
Understanding that emotion is an energy. People often try to shut it down. But in reality, you cannot shut it down. Sometimes, it is better to find a way of riding that wave of whatever it is and channel it into something else. Something positive. Something tangible. It becomes more trivialised, less mysterious and has less power over you.
Recognising when you need to do it is the time when it is most difficult. Such as knowing that you want to write but cannot. Or wanting to meditate but cannot. Recognising that this is a crisis point when there needs to be a stronger intervention. Link to the idea of having a Crisis Plan.
This goes back to the idea of energy. Feeling paralysed and unable to move. Feeling overwhelmed. Feeling "caught in it". Any energy or movement (no matter how slight or small) is effective. Even the smallest spark. I am going to write one small thing. Or even stand up. Sometimes, the simple act of standing and stretching can help massively. When you physically feel paralysed. Stretching your spine. Imagining a hook at the top of your head gently pulling you up. Putting your hand on your chest. That can be a soothing motion. Small physical movements can help break that tiny bit of paralysis.
Key word: intervention.
Recognising brain bomb.
Memory issues. Overthinking. Find it difficult to notice what is happening in your body. Noticing when you can become completely repetitive.
You want to grab anxiety and let it stop. But you cannot do so. There is an expectation (either socially imposed / internalised or culturally conditioned) to "let it go". But ironically and paradoxically, the more that you try to "let it go", the more that it comes back to bite you and you are chasing your tail.
It’s really too much and is having a go, at him. If he doesn’t seem to want to see you take it as a message that he’s not that into you, and don’t send confrontational messages. Just let it go if he doesn’t seem to want to be in touch. People generally try to drop us lightly if they are not interested. Is hard to drop someone heavily and there is no point in trying to control him.
"Let it go now. Focus on you. You cannot change anyone but yourself."
Telling someone to "let it go" is all very well and good. But "letting go" is easier said than done. Sometimes, telling someone to "let it go" is intended as helpful but it functions as the least helpful thing to say to someone. Simply through the twisted logic of knowing that in the first place. The act of saying "let it go" to someone is effectively denying someone the choice to talk about it, engage with it, process it and ultimately grow, learn and develop from it. At worst, it is a form of disengagement: imposing one's interest on someone else. I am talking along the lines of Sympathy Fatigue. Putting one's own narratives and personal interests above the needs of the person who is struggling.
Finding that middle ground with it. Each of us will have a different mid-point or a different journey. It is important to realise that and remain open-minded towards that. Finding how much we can navigate the limits / boundaries of how far we can push ourselves. Coming to terms with what we can or cannot do. Learning to recognise our limits. Putting life on hold if need be.
Another meaning of "let it go":
The main duty manager at the Mosaic Sanctuary, advised me to let myself go: that free-falling is actually a positive thing. If I am constantly putting my happiness in outside sources and the outside sources are falling inwards on me, it will only make me more unhappy. She explained that there are doors. If I try to force them open, I will be doing so in vain and dig myself into a deeper mire. But if I let myself be carried by the flow, the flow might deliver me somewhere and the doors will slide open naturally. She noted that there was a glimmer in me when I said that "I am on strike and voting with my feet". She encouraged that thought. She suggested that I see what life comes up with. She warned that there is no point in me repeatedly thrusting myself out on a limb for jobs, homes, relationships, musicians or anything if I have not sorted out myself first. Because the energy that I put out is the energy that I get back. It will not work. I am going to live by that. 😞
Example pot not forcing open doors and letting them slide open on their natural accord. When life became really bad, I felt like I was losing my job, my home, my family and friends. There was something reckless about the feeling of "crashing and burning out of life". My destructive, suicidal tendency felt vindictive and liberating like I was answerable to the universe. Sometimes, it is healthy to answer to that destruction and let it out. Many people might perceive that as an "unhealthy" mode of thinking. But there was a care worker at the Mosaic Sanctuary who actively encouraged that thought process. She advised me to let myself free fall and see where the current took me. Rather than trying to change or control my circumstances. I could let myself crash and burn and that this was perfectly OK. This was the best possible thing that she could have said to me. It was exactly the support and advice that I needed at the time. Instead of shutting down, she was actively listening to my thoughts and feelings. And providing a talking environment in which those thoughts and feelings were validated and accepted. The psychological effect that this simple act had on me was empowering and liberating.
This relates to being massively compassionate about myself. Not beating myself up because I am struggling / actively trying to "let it go" (which is an oxymoron). Not beating myself up for feeling unable to manage the things that I want to do. Not judging myself for feeling unable to handle a situation. Realising that this is actually a difficult and hard process. Acknowledging that it is OK to find life tough and not know how to handle a situation.
Worry tree. I really love this. It is a straightforward concept of realising:
Read More: Mindfulness
Impose realistic timeframes.
Only allow yourself a certain amount of time to worry about something or panic. If you force yourself to keep a lid on it indefinitely, it can explode. Panic needs room! Very often with panic, you experience peaks and troughs. The anxiety oscillates between up and down. It is horrible. It is also quite "normal" (I use the word "normal" with a pinch of salt) and natural. But you can ride it and it will end. Again, this relates to what the care worker said about free falling and seeing where the current takes me. That is the crucial thing about anything to do with panic: your body will calm down. Having that thought process in your mind. Running a commentary. An internal dialogue. Knowing that it is going to end. At some point. Literally, talking yourself through it. And performing the physical motions, like:
If you find yourself really anxious, try some of these movements. Rocking, swaying, pacing, doing something with a yoga ball. Switching off your body. Particularly if you are Neurodiverse and hypersensory.
As human beings, we are habitual people (creatures of habit). Neurodiverse people especially. We can fall into habits of Black & White thinking, catastrophising, discounting the positives and comparing ourselves to others. Labelling it when we are doing it. can be helpful. That can be extremely powerful. One example of a label is "comparing and despairing". Labelling a thought cycle. Putting it in a jar.
It is also helpful to think of people who do something (e.g., catastrophise) in a way that annoys me. So that I do not do it myself. Telling myself that this sounds like my friend / family member. I do not wish to "end up" like that person.
Sorry to play Devil's advocate, but there are risks of going into self-critical mode again, either through the guilty conscience of judging people for doing something or a self-awareness of manifesting something in your own behaviour. Yes, there certainly risks. But it is finding a way that works. Indeed, it is a tricky balance. It is important to practise Mindfulness with regards to working out that mid-point when Self Regulation becomes Self Criticism.
Loads of compassion for the self is important. Noticing when you are doing it all the time. Everything must come with a shed load of non-critical judgement. You have to remember that being alive is difficult! Existing is not easy! Most people are bumbling along not really knowing what they are doing. No one truly has the answers. We are all doing well. Having that thought as your foundation. "I am actually doing well". And lowering the bar [expectation]! No one truly has the answers. And if they think that they do, that is indicative of a much bigger problem. It relates to the notion of the 4 stages and wanting to aim for that sweet 3rd stage:
[23/10/2019, 17:12:59] Rory Duffy: So it’s like a consciousness
A while ago, LV taught me the importance of "moving ourselves into the conscious". Again, this links to the idea of Self Regulation and Mindfulness. By regularly checking in with ourselves, we are training ourselves to mentally "walk" and providing ourselves with a framework / psychological "zimmer frame". Using our conscious minds to teach our subconscious choices. Idea of the ego driving the car and the inner child in the back seat of the car (Read More: 05/08/2020).
Existentialism. This is something that the facilitators believe in and something that I believe in, too. The overarching theme is (personal) CHOICE. The freedom to choose within our own limits. The benefits of developing self awareness / reflexivity is about making it easier for ourselves to notice the choices that we have at our disposal. Consciously, the more that we notice, the easier that it is for us to make those choices. That includes being aware of when we do not have a choice, i.e., when conspiring circumstances are out of our control and we must regulate our responses (rather than the event that is occurring / unfolding).
From: Rory Duffy
Often self-reflection is not necessarily about changing our choices. It can be understanding why we have made those choices in the first place and developing compassion for those choices. Often, it is about reaching the same conclusions through retrospective / measured thought as you have already reached through the act of responding to it in the heat of the moment. A form of consolidation. Helping yourself to feel at peace with a situation and how you responded.
2. Sensory & Low Arousal
What can help you on a sensory level?
Do you have any emergency stuff at your fingertips? Aromatherapy? Or a song? Or a stress ball? You would like to get a stress ball. Or a lavender spray.
I find that it is helpful to recognise when I actually need a good cry. Listening to James Blunt - Back To Bedlam. Sometimes, I need to cry (Read More: Nathan). Listening to that album helps me "let out" / purge my emotions (the inevitable). It might be painful. Afterwards, everything will be fine. There is nothing wrong with needing to do that. It is finding ways that help. Curling up in a ball. Or a weighted blanket. Also having my childhood toy. Perfect texture. It is helpful to have a "chill out item" or a collection of stuff. It is useful to have those things in your bag or a place in your room. When you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it can be difficult to think straight and you need to have those things within easy reach. Whether it is running a bath, the James Blunt album or cooking something delicious. Having a "go to" - a visual, auditory or sensory reminder at your fingertips - can help. Relaxing playlists on Spotify. Such as Tibetan singing ball or Zen meditation playlists. Turning off the lights and playing the Tibetan chanting music. You cannot beat that!
If you find activities that work. Do them regularly. Do them every day. Do something physical to help yourself feel comfortable. Allow yourself time to prioritise that. Apportion half an hour out of your day. This is not being lazy or selfish. This actually helps you. There is nothing wrong with that.
Pictures of items. Neck pillow. It is soft, soothing and weighted. It has a "hugging" effect around my neck. It is filled with granules. Not only are they stimulating to feel but they also make a satisfying, grinding "white noise" sound in my ears.
3) Structure, Routine & Balance
Very often, we become anxious if we are not in a good structure routine or not in a good balance with what we are doing. Very often, the simple awareness of this deficiency is a good way of structuring and containing anxiety. What is the structure, routine and balance of your life? Do you have enough positive energy-boosting stuff in your day? How much draining tiring stuff is going on in your day? Generally speaking, the more anxious we become, the more helpful it is to have visual clear reminders of what we are doing and why we are doing them.
When I am more anxious, I struggle to get myself back into routines, or write down my thoughts and feelings. This is indicative that I need to do it more. Because the recognition of not doing it enough is a trigger. The simple, effective act of getting myself back into that routine is extremely healing. It is macrocosmic to the idea of the thoughts meandering / wandering during mindfulness meditation and gently returning your thoughts to the breath. The breath symbolises structure and routine. It is a useful mirror of how you are feeling. By observing the breath in tandem with the thoughts and emotions, both parts of the self are helping and reenforcing one another. Again, the ego and the inner child.
Even the idea of drinking enough water / feeling dehydrated and needing to get up out of my chair (for example, if I am working) is an albeit minor trigger. It can sometimes be effective to consciously overcome that trigger by gently forcing ourselves to get out of our chair and do something about it. To carry out one little act, by myself, for myself. This is the same for me, but instead of water, it is with coffee! And I am not sure if that is a good or a bad thing. Who am I to judge?
At work, preparing for meetings (or arriving in the office early) can help me. Buying myself time. Getting ahead of everyone else. Setting up my stall in a structured way. Allowing myself 5 minutes to top up my coffee, go to the bathroom, send an email, grab some tissues and move my laptop over to the booth table. Or whatever I wish to do to help me feel comfortable and prepared. Making a mental list and keeping myself "ahead of the game". This can help me to feel "on top of things". Even if it is simply accepting that I might be one minute late for this morning's staff meeting. I took that extra minute. And I made use of it.
When anxious, it is useful to prepare a structure (in advance) around situations like when I am attending a social event.
4) Communication & Talking About Emotions
This is something that we are already doing: finding safe spaces to talk about topics. Creating short hand ways of saying something that might be more complex in our minds and hard to verbalise. Like "I am feeling blue". Or relate it to their anime characters. Or articulate it in a computer game character. Draw it. Write it down. Even just saying a number between 1 and 10 to describe how you are feeling on a spectrum. Talking about the illustrative spectrum can sometimes be easier than talking about the underlying reason for why you are feeling a certain way.
5) Exercise & Health
It is helpful with anxiety. Playing around with breathing techniques can be helpful. Breathing can help instantly switch the body into a different state of being. Noticing your breathing. Not necessarily changing it. Notice your breathing is the first step to regulating it (however gradual - there is this idea of "forward motion" = progress). There are lots of ideas online. I can email the facilitator who can send some ideas. Exercising, stretching or going for a walk. Grounding techniques. Stroking a cat.
[4:25 pm, 04/08/2021] Rory Duffy: She is in touch again, I can understand her frustration but I think that it’s important to investigate the root of where all of this started, which I think you & I both agree on.
Example of Lily's messages. Nothing that she said was wrong or unfriendly. But I needed time and space to purge and process my response to them.
This simple physical rush helped me. Adrenaline helps us connect with our bodies. Connecting with bodies. Helping us to sleep.
What is my sleep like? For lots of Neurodiverse people, sleep can be an issue, especially when it comes to our circadian rhythms. Sometimes, I find it useful to mentally run through a few things that are preventing me from sleeping.
Topics for future sessions:
On another note, I forgot to update my journal with the outcomes of my conversations with El Grande (Read More: 15/10/2021). Basically, while both promoters showed sympathy, empathy and solidarity with my predicament, neither of them could recommend / suggest a positive response. Which indicates that:
At the moment, this leaves me with no alternative but to vote with my feet. Temporarily park my salsa dancing. Talk about it with a few other aficionados. Work out my truth. And return to it armed with a planned response. The only other option would be to risk offending / upsetting someone and feeling questionable about my response / left doubting myself. Which is a less attractive option.
This applies to any activity that I undertake in life: I must make it safe for me to partake in. If I am putting myself in an unsafe environment, the best thing that I can do is to take a temporary step back and return to it when things are clearer and less ambiguous.
16 OCT, 11:59
16 OCT, 11:59
Rory spent the first few years of his life in an ice cave, carving out his palace of wonder. He's a bit of a love doll, but he who melts the ice shall have his reward.
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I have been recommended to acknowledge and process all that I have been though, where it all started from how it has affected me.