Posted on December 22, 2018
If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I was in Iceland this last weekend. It’s somewhere that I’ve wanted to go for years and I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights so I was very excited when everything fell together and this trip became possible. Despite only being there for four days, we managed to pack in a lot and it was all just so, so special so I wanted to document it here.
By the time we got there and left our stuff in the hotel, there wasn’t time for much but we did have time to go to the whale museum. I’d read about it and really wanted to go and it was beautiful: a warehouse full of huge models of different species of whale and dolphin. The audio guide was super informative and I learned a lot.
The scenery in Iceland is stunning – that was probably my favourite thing about Iceland. When we – me and my Mum – started talking about this trip, I asked if we could go somewhere ‘new and beautiful’ and Iceland was certainly that. It was so, so beautiful. I kept having this weird anxiety that my brain wasn’t big enough to hold all of the beautiful things I was seeing.
We visited the Skogafoss waterfall – we actually ended up seeing it twice because the two tours we went on overlapped for certain sites – which was just amazing. You can walk right up to it and I got completely soaked but it was so worth it. I just stood there and soaked up the magnificence of it. It was so, so beautiful.
Down in Vik, in the south of Iceland, we went to the first live lava show in the world, which was incredible. They told us all about the volcanoes in Iceland and then we got to witness real flowing lava. That was so cool, one of the coolest experiences of my life.
From there, we went on to the beach, a black sand beach. I’d never seen black sand before and it was so surreal. I could’ve stayed there forever because it was just so beautiful and it was all feeding my soul in a way that I can’t really explain.
One of the other things I wanted to do was to walk on a glacier and visit the ice caves but when we went to make that happen, we learned that the hike involved was very physical and therefore more than I could handle. That was really hard to accept. I really, really wanted to go. But my energy and my stamina are so low at the moment that it just wasn’t possible. However, we did get to visit a glacier, which was amazing. It was all so breathtakingly beautiful.
Our first trip out to look for the Northern Lights was cancelled because of too much cloud but we went out the next night and we did in fact manage to see some of the Northern Lights, a green ribbon above the horizon. It looked different to all the photos I’d seen and it wasn’t as dramatic as you’re lead to believe but it was beautiful and it was a really special experience.
“Last night was surreal. We left the hotel at eight thirty and drove around the Icelandic countryside, looking for the Northern Lights. We had a fantastic (and hilarious) guide (shout out to Roman from @graylineiceland) who kept us entertained and informed and even though it took a while, we did find them. It wasn’t a ‘spectacular’ show but I don’t mind. Seeing them at all was so special and this photo, this record of that moment makes me smile so big. It might be faint, it might be grainy, but it’s proof that it happened and I’m so, so grateful for it.” (x)
One of the things I really, really wanted to see was the glacier lagoon, Jökulsárlón. One of my friends had been and her pictures blew my mind so it was first on my list when it came to planning this trip. And it was absolutely stunning. I could’ve stood there for hours, just drinking it all in. There weren’t enough words for all the colours, all the blues, and I was just fascinated by all the different textures in the ice.
And down from the glacier lagoon is The Diamond Beach, a stretch of black sand that’s littered with chunks of ice. Tiny icebergs! It was so surreal and so beautiful. Each one was different and beautiful and watching the waves rush up the beach, over and around them, was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
The last thing we did was go whale watching. I’ve been whale watching before (in Australia and New Zealand) but that was a long time ago and I love whales. We’d been told that we were unlikely to see anything at this time of year but we decided that we wanted to try anyway. It was freezing cold and incredibly windy but it was worth it: we spent about an hour with a humpback whale that was feeding near one of the islands and I also saw a dolphin. Plus the scenery was absolutely stunning. It was a great experience to end the trip on.
The thing that struck me most about Iceland was the space. And the quiet. It was good for my soul in a way that I don’t really understand and can’t really explain. Plus the mountains. There’s something about looking at mountains that is just so calming to me.
Having said that, I dealt with A LOT of anxiety while we were away. There was so much uncertainty: I didn’t know what we were going to do about food, I didn’t know how long we would be driving for each day, I didn’t know what I would be required to do, and so on and so on and so on. It was really hard and it was really exhausting. I’d forgotten how much uncertainty and anxiety comes with travelling. Having my Mum with me really helped but it was a real struggle, a moment to moment struggle. As much as I loved Iceland, it was a relief to come home and go back to certainty.
So that Iceland. Beautiful, stunning, stressful Iceland.
I would like to dedicate this post and this adventure to Claire Wineland. She was part of the inspiration for this trip. I was already in the worst depressive episode I’ve ever experienced and her death hit me really hard. It was such a tragedy and I needed to know that there was more than just tragedy in the world. I needed to see that to help me keep going.
Since her death, I’ve been wearing a purple bracelet (the colour of Cystic Fibrosis awareness, I believe – please correct me if I’m wrong or if there is a more fitting colour) because I wanted a constant reminder of Claire and her words and because I wanted to carry her with me. It’s strange: I’ve never had any beliefs about what happens after death but recently I’ve just had this feeling that if I carry her with me, she gets to see the things I see and experience the things I experience. I don’t know why I feel like that or what I believe about life after death but I just have this feeling. I just have this feeling.
It was all so beautiful that I couldn’t just take photos. I took some video and I’ve put it together into a vlog of sorts:
Music by the wonderful heartsease.
Posted on December 15, 2018
So the year is drawing to a close and I wanted to do a round up of the media I have consumed and enjoyed. Last year, I wrote a post called 2017 in Songs and I’m working on the 2018 edition but I also wanted to do something more because I read and saw a lot of good stuff this year. So let’s go…
It was one of my new years resolutions to read more books this year and I set a very achievable goal of five. I didn’t want to end up stressing about it and I’ve actually managed to read about double that. So I’m very proud of myself. Most of them I enjoyed but here are the ones that really stood out:
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
The first book I read this year was Turtles All The Way Down by John Green. I could write pages and pages about this book (and I did) but I’ll keep it short. It follows sixteen-year-old Aza who struggles with OCD and anxiety as she juggles school and friends and investigating the disappearance of the local billionaire. I fell in love with this book from the first page; I loved the way Aza described her experience and I related to it so strongly. There’s something about the way John Green writes that really speaks to me and the story doesn’t rest on Aza’s mental health for the plot: it’s intertwined with several different storylines. I really liked that; it felt very true to life. Having felt very alienated by the books I had been reading previously, this was the total opposite. One of my favourite books ever.
“In some ways, pain is the opposite of language… And we’re such language based creatures that to some extent we cannot know what we cannot name. And so we assume it isn’t real. We refer to it with catch-all terms, like crazy or chronic pain, terms that both ostracize and minimize. The term chronic pain captures nothing of the grinding, constant, ceaseless, inescapable hurt. And the term crazy arrives at us with none of the terror and worry you live with. Nor do either of those terms connote the courage people in such pains exemplify.”
What We Buried by Caitlyn Siehl
I read several poetry books this year but this was easily my favourite. I loved it from the first poem. I love the way she writes – the language she uses and the way she punctuates the words – and the empowered feeling you get from reading the poems. I highlight my favourite passages in books and this one has a lot of highlighting!
“This is where we heal. This is where we hide. This is where we are found.”
Do No Harm by Henry Marsh
I’ve really struggled to read fiction this year (Turtles All The Way Down was the exception) so I delved into the world of non-fiction and ended up reading and loving this book. Henry Marsh is a neurosurgeon and the book is a collection of his patients and his experiences. He has a very gentle way of writing that I loved and when I finished it, I had this odd feeling that I understood my own brain a little bit better.
“…More than that, the operation involved the brain, the mysterious substrate of all thought and feeling, of all that was important in human life – a mystery, it seemed to me, as great as the stars at night and the universe around us. The operation was elegant, delicate, dangerous and full of profound meaning. What could be finer, I thought? I had the strange feeling that this was what I had wanted to do all my life, even though it was only now that I had realised it. It was love at first sight.”
I’m not much of a film watcher – for some reason, watching a film feels like more of a commitment than starting a TV show. But I made an effort this year to watch more films and watch more than just the things that I naturally gravitate towards. Having said that, my favourite films of the year are all pretty representative of my taste in films…
I grew up watching Justice League on television with my Dad and with my brother so those superhero stories are very important to me. I wasn’t ready to watch it right away but when I did, I loved it. And I feel like my Dad would’ve loved it as well. It looked beautiful and the acting was beautiful and I loved every second of it.
Edge of Tomorrow
In a dystopian future, humans are fighting an alien race called Mimics. When one man starts to experience the same day over and over again, it gives him an unforeseen advantage in battle. I am a sucker for this kind of film (and a strong female character!) and I’ve watched it multiple times since my first viewing.
I read the book that this film was based on (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli) and loved it so I was really looking forward to the film. It follows Simon Spier, who is keeping a secret from everyone he knows: he’s gay. But when a classmate threatens to out him, everything changes and he is forced to choose between his friends and the anonymous classmate he’s fallen in love with over email.
It’s one of my favourite things to curl up with a good TV show and binge watch the whole thing in one day.
Is there anyone who doesn’t love Queer Eye? It wasn’t something I expected to love but the overflowing positivity just captured my heart. While the physical makeovers in these men might be the most obvious changes made, the emotional one is the most powerful. There is little (if any) media that encourages men to take care of themselves and be kind to themselves and so this show is a big deal. I have to admit that I haven’t finished it yet but that’s only because I don’t want to have no new episodes to watch.
If you love sci fi and police dramas (like me), then this is the show for you. After a freak lightning storm, police detective Raimy Sullivan is able to communicate with her father in the past via an old radio. An attempt to save his life causes devastating changes in the present and between them, they have to try and fix the timeline. It’s addictive and intense and I loved every second of it.
During some downtime (and some much needed rest time) in Nashville, my friend Richard introduced me to this show and I am so, so grateful. It’s a comedy about two English television writers – a married couple – going to the US to recreate their hit show. As you can imagine, it doesn’t go exactly as planned. Because of the blend of British humour and American humour, I feel like there’s something for everyone: it’s dry, it’s direct, it’s subtle, it’s not subtle, all at the same time. I love it so much that I’m in the process of watching again, with multiple different people because I know they’ll love it too.
Burden of Truth
So I watched all ten episodes in one day because it’s that good. A successful lawyer returns to her hometown to uncover the truth behind a group of teenage girls getting sick. It’s full of twists and turns, family secrets, and some great LGBT representation. I’d write more but I don’t want to give anything away!
Another legal drama, this one about a family firm that begins when the eldest daughter, Hannah, leaves to work for a rival firm. The six part series follows their cases and their relationships and the return of the father who has been absent for thirty years. It stars Nicola Walker who I have loved ever since I first saw her in Spooks (as Ruth Evershed) as well as Stephen Mangan, who stars in Episodes.
More Nicola Walker! I loved the first two series of Unforgotten so I was very excited to see the third and it absolutely lived up to my expectations. Each series features a handful of different characters and their lives are weaved together until we understand a historic crime and despite this format, each series has been different and surprising and heart wrenching. Nicola Walker in particular was fantastic and I really, really loved that they explored the toll that such a difficult job can take.
Agents of Shield Season 5
I have mentioned my love of Agents of Shield before and that was only strengthened by this latest season. Daisy Johnson is my hero and it was awesome to see her be even more interesting and amazing in this season. And it’s been renewed for a sixth and seventh season!
Another awesome recommendation from Richard. The devil decides to take a holiday from hell and takes over a nightclub in LA (and it turns out he’s hilarious). He teams up with a police detective and shenanigans ensue. I love it. It’s funny and smart and thought provoking: there are some great questions about god and religion and faith in there. All of the characters are interesting and complex and I don’t want to get to the end. Fortunately there’s a new season on the way.
So there you go. My books, films, and TV of 2018. Hopefully there’s something in here that appeals. What have you been reading and watching this year?
Posted on December 8, 2018
The other day, I was just browsing through YouTube (probably procrastinating something) when I came across this video.
“Autism is not a disease, it is a developmental disability. It’s about living our best possible lives with this condition.”
I am ridiculously excited that this video exists. Even a few years ago, when I was looking into Autism as an explanation for my struggles, I was still being told that women don’t have Autism or being dismissed because I didn’t fit into the stereotype for Autism (which has come from autistic boys and men). So the fact that this video even exists shows that some progress has been made. At this moment in time, it has just short of a million views. A million! That means that potentially a million people now have a better understanding of Autism in women. That’s completely amazing!
There’s so much good stuff in this video – you really should watch the whole thing. But here are some of main points and some quotes that stuck out to me:
1. Autism covers a wide spectrum.
- “Autism is an internal thing, not an external thing. No one looks autistic.”
- “Autism isn’t a linear spectrum of high or low. It’s a whole bunch of different traits that are on their own spectrums. It’s kind of a 3D, weird mess.”
- “Autism is simply a different way of thinking, seeing, and interacting with one’s world.”
2. We have emotions.
- “I would definitely disagree with the idea that we’re not emotional. I think we’re actually highly emotional. I think that we just… many times we don’t express it the way people expect… We’re feeling it. It’s there. But it just might not come out. And then, at other times, it might be overly expressed.”
- “We can’t filter them out because we feel them so strongly so we shut down as a way of processing all those emotions.”
3. Social interactions can be challenging.
- “It takes a lot of effort to appear [like anybody else, like someone not on the spectrum]. Like, it takes a lot of conscious awareness. Social skills are like a muscle for us.”
- “It’s very, very draining. Even with people that I care for and enjoy being around, I have to psych myself up to be around them.”
- “All the little things that everyone does unconsciously, autistic people do manually. So that adds up. What I’m doing with every part of my body, I am to some degree aware of and trying to do.”
4. Diagnoses can happen at any age.
- “A lot of women, women that I know who are autistic, are not diagnosed until their twenties, thirties, or even beyond. A large part of this is because the way that we diagnose Autism is by using criteria that were created by observing boys and Autism looks different in girls and women than it does in boys.”
- “I feel like, ‘okay, I know why I’m this way, I know why other people are the way they are, so I can bridge this gap.'”
5. The nuances of dating can be challenging… but we do have sex lives.
- “We just may need more support in order to learn how to make [relationships and sex] happen. We don’t naturally understand the nuances that are involved and there are a lot of nuances.”
- “People on the Autism spectrum, especially women, are more likely to experience sexual assault or some sort of violent incident than the neurotypical, non autistic population. We are very vulnerable. We definitely can be more trusting because we are very honest and upfront people so we don’t think that other people might not be so honest and might be trying to hurt us.”
- “One of the traits of Autism is not reading between the lines in social interactions and so much of dating and sexually is supposed to be indirect and subtle and that it’s inappropriate to talk about sex in a direct way, even when you’re teaching it as sex ed.”
- “No one is teaching the social aspects [of dating and sex]. And honestly, this is where autistic people are the canaries in the coal mine. Teaching the social aspects of sexuality would help everyone. Autistic people need it but it also benefits everyone.”
6. We have lots of different interests.
- “There is a stereotype that everyone with Autism is into science and math and stuff, like Rain Man. But a lot of people with Autism… women actually, especially… a lot of us are into the arts.”
- “In my experience, autistic girls are also just as obsessive autistic boys. They’re just obsessed with, you know, fantasy novels or their favourite band or whatever. Not planes, trains, and automobiles.”
7. Bullying sucks.
- “You know, it’s like somebody making fun of a blind person only in this case you’re blind socially.”
- “We all start from somewhere but that isn’t necessarily where we’re going to end up and you have to believe that there is going to be a future.”
- “There’s enough misfits in the world, like, people who got picked on. There’s so many of us. So you do find your tribe.”
8. It’s getting better.
- “I think things are going to be a lot better for the next generation.”
- “You know, your kid might be behind their peers but it doesn’t mean they’re gonna be behind forever. Your kid is a full human being who will grow and change just like everyone else.”
As I said, it’s amazing that this video exists and that autistic women are being seen and that people are finally understanding that autism in women looks different than it does in men, and that it can look different from woman to woman. I agree with all of these points but there’s still so much to it, to living with this everyday. So, in addition to these points, this is what I, as an autistic woman, want you to know:
- I have no idea either – Just because these behaviours and reactions are coming out of my brain and my body, that doesn’t mean I necessarily understand them. I’ve done a lot of reading about Autism and mental health but it’s just different in real life. I’m learning everyday and I hope that you’ll keep learning with me.
- It’s exhausting – As these women said, it’s draining, even when it comes to things that you enjoy. It’s like you have to consciously process everything you do, everything around you, and that takes up so much energy. I cannot manage as much as everyone else and I find that so difficult to get my head around.
- I’m doing my best – I promise.
Posted on December 1, 2018
I’m not quite sure how to describe the last few weeks. Intense, maybe. There’s been a lot going on and I’ve done things and felt things that I’ve wanted to write about but couldn’t figure out how. So I’m writing this, with the good, the bad, and the weird of the last few weeks.
So first, I got to take part in a research study for the Centre for Research in Autism and Education at University College London. I’ve written about my experience with research studies before (here) so I won’t ramble on but I love doing them. It often feels like Autism takes opportunities away from me but this allows me to do something I’d never expected and that’s really exciting. I got to put the EEG cap back on and have my brain waves monitored while I did some computer tasks. It was investigating perceptual capacity in Autism (which I’ve written more about here) and it was really fun, like a Windows computer game from the nineties. And apart from trying to get the saline gel out of my hair, it was a really great experience.
I also went and gave blood for the first time. That was very exciting! I’ve wanted to give blood for years but up until now I haven’t been well enough or I was on medication that disqualified me. So getting to do it was really exciting and a really cool experience. Everyone was really lovely and I’ve since had a text telling me where my donated blood has gone. So the whole thing was really special and I will definitely do it again.
Despite these cool and inspiring experiences, my mental health has been pretty bad: I reached a new low with my depression. I feel like I’m always saying that the current period of depression is the worst it’s ever been but for me, there are real differences: new thought patterns, new emotional states, new lines, new fears. Each period of depression has a different colour. Anyway. It’s been really bad and really hard and I’ve had some desperate moments.
Medication wise, it’s been a rollercoaster. As per usual. I got myself all but off the Amitriptyline a while ago but I just wasn’t ready to try another medication straight away. It’s a tough process and I just needed some time to feel steady, even if that was steadily bad. Maybe not the most logical decision I’ve made but it made sense to me at the time. And ultimately it doesn’t matter now. I’ve started the Clomipramine, which is what everyone wanted me to do. Finding the right medication and the right dosage can be pretty gruelling and I just needed to be in the right mental headspace. I’m not sure how I feel about the Clomipramine but it’s still early days.
And on this last Monday, I went to see Maren Morris play an amazing, intimate show at OMEARA in London. The staff were great about making it accessible and I was let in without having to queue and there was a chair reserved for me – I really, really miss the days where I could stand for hours without a problem. And the show was fantastic. Maren is one of my all time favourite artists/songwriters and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to.
“When this wonderful world gets heavy and I need to find my escape… yeah, I guess that’s my church.” // @marenmorris was a complete dream tonight. Beautiful, beautiful songs, singing, and stories. My little songwriter soul is so happy. (x)
It might be blurry but I love this photo of me and @richardmarcmusic after the @marenmorris show tonight. We had SUCH a good time. We’re constantly listening to her music, whether we’re in a songwriting session or just chilling out and playing Mariokart. So we were two happy beans tonight. (x)
And now it’s December. Most of my family have birthdays in December and January and of course there’s Christmas and New Year. So that’s a lot of fun things but it also means a lot of high emotion and stress. It’s a tricky time. I’ve found Christmas difficult for the last few years so I’m going to have to be careful to manage my physical and mental health throughout this period. I’m going back to the post I wrote last year about managing Christmas with anxiety and Autism – if that sounds like it might be helpful, you can find it here.
Posted on November 24, 2018
Knowing me and my affinity for words, it should come as no great surprise that the quotes of other people have always played a big part in my life. I’ve collected them, filled notebooks and blogs, written them on my body… Sometimes you can’t put exactly what you’re feeling – or the encouragement you need to hear – into words but fortunately, those words are often already out there. So I thought I’d post some of the quotes that have helped me in the hope that they might help you too.
When I started pulling these together, I realised just how many I’ve collected in the past few years alone. I have more than five thousand saved on a Tumblr blog, for example. So this may become a series. These quotes are ones that have encouraged me and motivated and there is a distinct memory attached to each one, a time in my life where I saw it and it spurred me on in a way nothing else had been able to. So these ones are pretty special.
“Do it or don’t do it – you will regret both.” – Søren Kierkegaard
“The bravest thing I ever did was continuing my life when I wanted to die.” – Juliette Lewis
“The poison leaves bit by bit, not all at one. Be patient. You are healing.” – Yasmin Mogahed
“Recovery does not mean losing what makes being you special. Recovery means losing what makes being you painful.” – Unknown
“Take a shower, wash off the day. Drink a glass of water. Make the room dark. Lie down and close your eyes. Notice the silence. Notice your heart. Still beating. Still fighting. You made it, after all. You made it another day. And you can make it one more. You’re doing just fine.” – Charlotte Eriksson
“Let it hurt. Let it bleed. Let it heal. And let it go.” – Nikita Gill
“How much can you change and get away with it, before you turn into someone else, before it’s some kind of murder?” – Richard Siken
“Start now. Start where you are. Start with fear. Start with pain. Start with doubt. Start with hands shaking. Start with voice trembling, but start. Start and don’t stop. Start where you are, with what you have. Just… start.” – Ijeoma Umebinyuo
“It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.” – E. E. Cummings
“I closed the box and put it in a closet. There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.” – Joan Didion
“What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.” – Haruki Murakami
“But if these years have taught me anything it is this: you can never run away. Not ever. The only way out is in.” – Junot Díaz
“There is so much stubborn hope in the human heart.” – Albert Camus
“Thinking is my fighting.” – Virginia Woolf
“Every time we attend a therapy session, take our prescribed medication, get out of bed, shower, eat a healthy meal, spend time with other people, exercise, or ask for help, we are fighting. Each step in recovery is an act of defiance toward our mental illness leading us to hope.” – Michelle Stepp
“I must endure, and endure, and still endure.” – Tennessee Williams
“You are not going nowhere just because you haven’t arrived at your final destination.” – Taylor Swift
“What did you do today?
Existed quietly within myself.
What will you do tomorrow.
Exist with some degree of force.” – Trista Mateer
“Hang on. It gets easier, and then it gets okay, and then it feels like freedom.” – Taylor Swift
“You are not what happened to you. You are what you chose to become after what happened to you.” – Selena Gomez
“Life is tough, my darling, but so are you.” – Stephanie Bennett-Henry
“I rise from my worst disasters, I turn, I change.” – Virginia Woolf
“My life has changed, and I’m changing with it.” – Sophie Kinsella
“You know who’s going to give you everything? Yourself.” – Diane Von Furstenberg
“Be as fearless as the women whose stories you have applauded.” – Hillary Clinton
“I can’t abandon
the person I used to be
so I carry her.” – Unknown
“Today, just like yesterday, I woke up, picked up my pen and notebook and kept on writing.” – Laura Jane Grace
“I’ve had the wind knocked out of me, but never the hurricane.” – Jeffrey McDaniel
I’m always adding to my collection so if you guys have any quotes that have inspired you, please let me know. We could probably all do with a little more inspiration in our lives.
Posted on November 17, 2018
In the middle of my recent bout of depression – the worst one I’ve had – at my lowest point, an Anna Akana video appeared in my YouTube subscriptions. It was called ‘the voice’ and it was about her new short film that was being released the next day.
She talks about how, while 2017 was the best year of her life, her depression was also at its worst. There was a voice – that felt like it was in the room with her – telling her to kill herself. And it got to the point where she had a plan for how she was going to go through with it, which is a major red flag.
“I was just so in pain and I just felt like I had nothing and like I was nobody and I wasn’t worth anything at all and I literally… I have this big whiteboard on my wall and I wrote out DO NOT KILL YOURSELF, like all across it. I put it on post it notes and I put it on my bathroom mirror and like… everyday when the voice came and I would be like ‘SHUT THE FUCK UP!’”
While she still struggles with depression, she says she’s out the other side of that particular battle and she credits getting through to all the mental health education that’s out there and all the things you have to do everyday, hoping that they add up. She also made this new short film, pouring everything into it because she needed something to remind herself of why she’s here. It’s about the moments she wanted to die and all the things she had to live for. I would include it in the post but I just really want to focus on this introduction video (but you can find the short film here). Maybe I’ll write a full post about it when I’ve sorted out all my feelings about it.
I am so grateful for this video. Talking about this stuff is so hard and so to have this raw and uncut video where she talks about this experience but also how she got through it was and is so important to me. It’s helped me in this incredibly hard period and so I wanted to share it here.
“Please don’t kill yourself if you’re also suicidal… just don’t do it. There’s a lot… there’s a lot of great things to live for.”
Posted on November 3, 2018
One of the most common pieces of advice with anything mental health or mental illness related is to exercise. And while that’s not bad advice, it’s not necessarily good advice in the practical sense. It’s about as helpful as saying, ‘eat healthy’ or ‘get enough sleep.’ It’s something that has to be tailored to you. Specific types of exercise will help where others may make you feel worse. So you need to find the one for you.
For example, I hate running. I would love to love it but I hate it. I find it at best uncomfortable and at worst painful: it’s like my bones are rattling inside my body. I’ve heard this from others with Autism but I don’t know if it’s specific to that or whether it’s a coincidence. But anyway, running is not the thing for me. Swimming however…
I have always loved to swim. I love the feeling of moving through water and when I was a kid, I loved the silence that comes from being underwater. I would’ve given anything to be able to breathe underwater so that I could stay in that silence. That’s pretty ironic given that I would grow up to develop anxiety that is triggered by a lack of noise and distraction.
I got back into swimming a couple of months ago. At the beginning, my anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t even swim: the lack of stimulation for my brain meant that I just spiralled and my anxiety became completely overwhelming. So me and my Mum would walk and talk, planning the day or talking through whatever thing was on my mind that morning. Eventually my anxiety mutated into a different state and I was able to swim. It’s had such an impact on my life so I really wanted to write about it.
Swimming pools have the potential to be very difficult for me, from a sensory perspective. When it’s busy, the sound bounces around and around, making it one big fog of noise, which makes me very anxious. And the fact that I’m so short sighted I can barely see without my glasses makes that anxiety even worse: I can’t see anything and the sound feels like it’s coming from everywhere and that causes me paralyzing anxiety. It’s how I imagine it would feel to be on a carousel but if the carousel was going at ten times the normal speed. It’s scary. The best times to get in a quiet swim seem to be first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I’ve been sticking to the morning; it makes for a more productive day for me.
Knowing that this is the time that allows for the best swimming experience, I’ve been getting up early and getting to the gym for about seven forty five (sometimes I even get the pool to myself, which is glorious). And knowing that I have to get up that early, I’m going to bed at a sensible time, rather than accidentally staying up until three in the morning. So a routine sort of formed by accident and that has been so good for me. My relationship with sleep has never been so good.
Exercise has always been difficult for me given my historic struggle with energy but also because ‘weight bearing’ exercise often feels very jarring. As I’ve already said, it makes me feel like my bones are rattling inside my body and each impact makes it worse. Sometimes it’s not that bad and I can be distracted by whatever I’m doing but sometimes it can actually be painful. So swimming is perfect. It takes that whole aspect out of the equation and makes exercise actually enjoyable. It reminds me of my arthritic dog: he goes for hydrotherapy and as soon as he’s in the water, chasing tennis balls, he’s like a puppy again. He loves it and I can totally relate.
The best thing about swimming is that it’s something that makes sense and that’s something I really need at the moment. The world feels hard and unfair and this is something that I can control. The more I swim, the stronger I get. I can see the results. I’ve been swimming most days for the last three months and I see my own progress: I’m swimming further; I’m swimming faster; I can see my body changing. It makes sense. That grounds me.
The one thing I do have to be careful of is my tendency to obsess: about the number of laps, getting to the next ten, getting to a hundred… Once it’s in my head that I ‘have’ to get to a particular number, there’s not much I can do to change my own mind and it causes me serious anxiety if I don’t reach the number I’ve ‘decided on.’ So I have to be aware of that. Sometimes I can avoid it by distracting myself or by deciding on exactly how long I’m going to spend in the pool but sometimes I just have to manage it. Sometimes that’s all you can do.
But overall, rediscovering swimming has been one of the major highlights of this year. It’s helped my physical health and my mental health, as well as my day to day life. So I feel very grateful to have found it again.
And since I can’t take my phone into the pool with me, here’s a photo of my dog, enjoying his fortnightly swim.