Resources for sending the demon packing

And another very brief post from me today – since I wrote the other day about the demon Anxiety, I’ve come across a fabulous resource – Anxiety BC. It’s a website which is packed with all the info you need to understand the psychology and physiology of anxiety.

Here’s a couple of choice quotes:

“Most people do not recognize their anxiety for what it is, and instead think there is something “wrong” with them. Some people are preoccupied with the symptoms of anxiety (e.g. stomach aches, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, etc.).”

The Facts!
Myth:Reading, thinking, and learning about anxiety will make you even MORE anxious.
Fact: If you do not know what you are dealing with, how do you manage it? Having accurate information about anxiety can reduce confusion, fear, and shame. Anxiety is a common and normal experience, and it CAN be managed successfully!

Which I completely agree with – the first impulse can be to run and hide, but this knowledge is the key – and WILL help you see off the demon.

(Find more here.)

The website has info for adult sufferers, but also for parents of anxious kids. And there’s also this little book for kids which I’ve ordered but hasn’t arrived yet – From Worrier to Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Fears. I’ll review it once we’ve used it.

So there we go, onwards and upwards – or less politely, kick ass.

CG

 

 

 

 

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The Demon Returns – and is Seen Off

In the last week or so, I hit a writer’s block of sorts. I had thought writer’s block was a dearth of words (and ideas), but that’s not what I experienced; I just couldn’t get into the creative headspace in the time available. It was partly that my time that week was especially broken up, and its hard to be creative in bits. But also, the demon Anxiety returned.

I could shut up about it, but I feel that would make me the good little bitch again, and screw that. I would imagine that most people who the demon visits feel the same as myself; you don’t want to talk about it. So we don’t communicate. I know this is how it was for me, from my earliest childhood experiences. I lived in a big black hole for years as a child, and not even my parents knew, because I never told them. I couldn’t, because the threat of anxiety is that if you talk, things will get worse, way worse. Like an abuser. Creepy.

So I’m breaking the rules. The demon has been hanging around in the shadows for a few weeks I guess, and last night he leapt on me as the sun went down. I was backed into a corner and so I called on my old friend Jesus (though we hadn’t spoken in a while). My religious/spiritual journey has been long and winding, and is still a work in progress, as is everyone’s. But more recently, I had lost not just my religion, but my faith also. Last night I had nothing left I to pull out of the hat; I’ve taken my supplements, and was doing CBT techniques, but I was drowning. I’d had a conversation earlier in the day with my mother in which I’d queried the validity of calling on Jesus , as suggested by an auntie to another over-thinker who’d been a friend of my cousin, who killed himself earlier this year on account of the demons. I challenged it at the time, but that evening I had nothing to lose, and I’ll say my bacon was saved, and leave it at that.

Today life is good, better than it’s been for a while. The trees in my garden and the ones I can see over the road make me happy. There’s a world of leafy green out there. The sun is setting, but the starkness of the winter-bare branches of the liquid ambar against the silver sky raises my spirits.

There are labels for people like me, one of them being “highly sensitive”. Labels are complicated – they have their place; for one thing, I’ve appreciated their Google-ability. But for whatever reason, I’m reluctant to take on another label, or be defined by it. However, I am very sensitive, and that explains a lot. I wondered for years how a person with no trauma or abuse history could end up in such a black place at 8 years old. My family were no more dysfunctional than the next family, which is to say they were not perfect, but it was a loving home. Things were complicated by my lack of social ability. It was like every situation stood alone; I wasn’t able to bring any previous understanding, sparse as that was to begin with, to bear on any given subsequent circumstance. That sort of thinking does have advantages – if every situation is new and fresh, then there’s always a new way to approach it, and that means thinking outside the box, that is, creative thinking. But a child like that who has no support will be very vulnerable, and I was, and every blow to my self-esteem was felt way more deeply than it warranted.

I recently heard of a lesser known Romantic poet, John Clare (lesser known to me anyway, even with an English literature major), who went mad enough to spend the latter part of his life in an asylum when the common lands in the English countryside were fenced in during the Agricultural Revolution. That’s how I heard it, anyway. Of course there was a preamble to his eventual madness – but you could say it was as simple as his sensitivity. Why not? What makes a person mad? Psychologists label brain chemistry and wiring, but they’re just describing a thing that is, with or without whatever words they use to describe it. Sometimes I’m so aware of how barbaric some of our medical, and especially psychiatric, knowledge and practice still are.

In any case, I think the world does conspire to make sensitive people crazy, and I can understand how someone who had found healing for a troubled mind in wandering the countryside freely would be affected so profoundly by a restriction to that saving liberty in his lifetime.

I think if you were to ask any sensitive type, almost every one would say that nature is soothing and healing, and living in an environment where nature is subdivided and caged and fenced off is a strain. We take the way we live today for granted as if it were ever thus, but obviously it wasn’t. In fact, for most of our history, the land on which we’ve lived has been open and unowned. We don’t tend to think much about it, because it was a long time ago in relation to an individual lifespan, but hunter-gathering is still our most long-running way of life as a species. A profession older than prostitution. I’m not saying that iteration of society was perfect, but it’s what our species is adapted to. We haven’t had long enough in evolutionary terms to have adapted to living in close quarters and away from the land. So it stands to reason that the most sensitive of us will suffer, and the more we struggle, the more demand on our serotonin, until it’s depleted, which then leads to depression and anxiety, and a host of other problems.

The approach we are taking in our family, which is stuffed with sensitive, over-thinking types, is that it’s not if or when, we will have to take care of ourselves always, taking a multi-pronged approach to mental well being; understanding the psychology and physiology of anxiety (edit: here‘s a great resource for exactly this), cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, diet, supplements, exercise, recreation, spirituality, are all going to have to be part of our long-term plan.

I’ve suspected for a while that an emotionally sensitive person is likely to be sensitive system-wide, in other words, gut, skin and brain will be sensitive as well. It’s my experience and it seems logical. Something to think about, anyway. Me, I avoid grains, and have drastically reduced my sugar intake in the past couple of weeks. I had been on an SSRI, and it did hold the anxiety at bay, but I was always exhausted and lacking in any go-forward. I never associated those symptoms with the SSRI until I came off it and felt my motivation and energy return. I am now taking St John’s Wort, and I am about to start 5-HTP, which has great reviews. I’m also going to try a liquid form of magnesium. I’ll let y’all know how it goes.

And I tell myself, to put things in perspective so this latest experience doesn’t set up neural pathways of distress, that anxiety feels like shit, but it’s a feeling not a reality, and it’s temporary; when you’re in it, it feels like you always have been and always will be, but that’s an illusion.

And now I’m off to read our nightly installment of Lord of the Rings to my family. It’s cosy, the curtains are drawn and the lights are warm; the night is banished. The kids are still munching dinner, the youngest making those disgusting slurping and chewing noises bad mannered children with negligent parents make. I’ll tell her off (again), and then we’ll be off to Middle Earth.

 

 

 

A Little Bird Told Me

little birdI call my older daughter my little bird, because she is small, and brown, and her mind flits around up in the clouds. At all of 7 she tells me her raison d’etre is to make people happy, and I believe she will. She is a gift-giver, always slipping people cards and bringing wild flowers. When our cousin died, he had among the bank cards in his wallet very few personal items, but one he did have was a love card she had made him once when he had been feeling low.

She’s also my middle child, and a hyperactive monkey, so I wear a lot of parental guilt over the amount of (positive) attention she is apportioned.

And she is prone to silent anxiety. Like me, she thinks too much, but I’m ahead of that little game, and I’m fearsome in preventing anxiety getting long-term accommodation in her head.

One of the most influential choices we make for sensitive kids is the school they go to, and we’re relatively new to the school we’re in now – my daughter only started there at the beginning of this year, after two years at another local school. But it is fantastic. I still have my ups and downs, but mostly this seems to be me worrying too much, and perhaps being prematurely fearsome.

And the proof is in the pudding, or the eating, or the eating of the pudding, and just the other day my little brown bird skipped out of school and commented what a shame it was that school had to end so soon! Well, dress me up and call me Sally. I myself never had such a thought in my life, but I think I dropped a thousand lead weights of worry right then. She’s happy at school! It doesn’t get much better than that.

 

Reflections on Special Needs

Adams Corner - Schulhaus 2
I went to another meeting at my kids’ school last night, this time a general information evening on programmes available through the school for kids with special needs of various sorts.

Sadly there weren’t many people there at all, but I wonder if the very fact of having special needs children also makes it harder to get out the door of an evening. In any case, being actually the only parent there (along with a couple of teacher aides) gave me the opportunity to ask a few questions informally. One of those was, what is ”normal”? My mother keeps asking me this, as everyone around us seems to ”have something”. Although it may be an unfair question in the context of our family, which is pretty much riddled with ADHD and Aspergers and other eccentricities. Maybe there’s just no “normal” in our family and circle of friends.

But my question is genuine and not loaded, though I think it was misunderstood that way, as the answer came back in reassuring words that included “no such thing as perfection”. No, I get that, but I am not asking if other kids also have ”imperfections”. I also get that people are all somewhere on a a theoretical bell curve of normality. But what is “normality” if you were to diagnose it? Does anyone have diagnosable normality?

I guess it’s the outliers on the bell curve, and specifically the ones who struggle with life, who are labeled with things like autism, ADHD, etc, because by nature, diagnoses measure dysfunction, and those who function well, or ok – or seem to – within the system are considered “normal”.

But what strikes me, and it’s heartbreaking, that it’s very, very hard for most of those outliers to be ok. Even with the knowledge and personal experience I have as a parent, and the support of a wonderful school, it’s still hard for my kids to be ok, so for those people who grow up without understanding parents and schools, the result can be disastrous. These are bright kids, with amazing, out-of-the-box minds, who are very vulnerable.

One hurdle to receiving what help is available is that vulnerable kids are not always obviously vulnerable. A child can be unobtrusive and obedient, and be quietly crumbling inside. Or they may be acting out and causing havoc, but this behaviour is in itself a communication that all is not right. And sometimes, ironically, the parents may be doing such a good job that it appears that strategies and accommodations are unnecessary.

However, the information coming out of the talk was reassuring. There is now, unlike when my generation was at school, an emphasis on inclusive education for special needs kids, and our school especially, as well as apparently the Ministry of Education itself finally, is stepping up to take care of individual needs. One concern would still be whether kids like mine, whose needs are not ‘severe’, will slip through the cracks. I think this is still an issue in the Ministry in general, but at this school, they are definitely learning to cater for higher functioning kids as well, and that is a relief, especially as we face high school in the near future.

 

IEP – Follow Up

Emily Shanks Newcomer at School

So the IEP the other day went super well. I was vaguely anxious beforehand and wondering if I had prepared enough, but on the whole I didn’t think I could do much more – the rest would be down to how the school would choose to work with it and us. Having said that, I was fairly confident, since last year’s meeting was very productive, and conducted with a brilliant attitude and heaps of understanding on their part.

New teacher and Senco this year, but once again, I felt very much in caring and competent hands. And they start their meetings with prayer – this is a school which does what it says on the side of the box when it comes to pastoral care and the spirit of Jesus’ teachings, and starting with prayer is committing the outcome to upholding those standards, and I really appreciate that.

And the Prof’s teacher actually had a great report on him – far better than I’d anticipated. According to her, over the course of the first term, he has become more relaxed and happy, he smiles more, and is coping relatively well with interactions with other students. (He even has some girls who consider him their ‘friend’ – oh, that is so awkward, cringe! I don’t think he reciprocates. He’s so anti-social even imaginary friends would be unwelcome.) His organisation and time management are also good (which is not much short of miraculous for a kid I had to dress for school until he was at least 6, just to get to there on time! Although it does concern me that his driver is anxiety.) His pace is another issue altogether. That is a big concern, but at least there are strategies in place around that to work with.

All in all, it was great to just sit down and communicate with the teacher. What I find most difficult generally is that although home and teacher are supposed to work together, I’m not there, so I don’t have a clear picture of what structures and expectations are in class, and of course they only have a superficial picture of him. But having the opportunity to turn all those issues over between us was such a relief.

 

 

IEP Day

Emily Shanks Newcomer at School

Biggish day today. We have this year’s IEP meeting this afternoon. I’m relatively unprepared, because that’s just how I roll in life. Although when I say unprepared, I have my background of courses, reading, and personal knowledge and experience. What I don’t have are recent OT reports or professional recommendations. Still and all, when I’ve presented them before, they haven’t been of essential value.

So off I will go into the fray once more. And what an ongoing fray it is. It feels like Groundhog Day sometimes, but in what specific ways I don’t even have the energy to describe. I have a very bad case of the brain fade, and it’s not going away any time soon I fear. I feel like a shadow of my true self, and that will have to suffice to excuse my vagueness.

We’ve decided, though to go the route of describing his gifts and difficulties specifically rather than even attempting to go into labels like “Aspergers”. They know he has Aspergers, whatever picture that conjures to them. So yes, he has social difficulties. His own personal way of dealing with not understanding social interactions is to remain permanently in defense mode; disengagement and avoidance are his tools, and anyone attempting an approach is swiftly shot down. He has no friends. None. No – wait – he has one, and sadly she moved down country.

But he has other difficulties as well. Even though he is gifted, he is dyslexic, has ADD, probably dyspraxia, and dysgraphia, which is a specific handwriting disability, and anxiety due to all of the above. His fine and gross motor co-ordination difficulties lead to physical handicap in written (and typed) work, but furthermore, processing ideas through his hand, as it were, to the page, is like a barrier, tripping up the flow of thought. Asked questions orally, he will give detailed (usually far more detail than required, which is a different kind of problem) answers, but having to write the same answers will always lead to only a fraction of the thought being committed to paper.

Allowances have been put in place for this; he is able to use voice recording apps on his iPad to do whatever schoolwork is suitable, and if we could find effective voice to text software or apps, he would be able to use that also.

Ironically, his current ambition is to be a writer. This is because, contrary to the common belief that aspies lack imagination, stories pour out of him, faster than he can get them down in fact. Anyway, in a few years, technology will probably have progressed enough that he could write his stories without having to write, or type.

But for now we have to survive school. He goes to an exceptionally accommodating and forward-thinking school. But as I’ve touched on before, even there, it’s not straightforward. For example, the last meeting I had with the Senco, a few strategies were promised, of which none that I am aware of have been actioned, although I could be wrong about some of them. I have had success in negotiating directly with teachers, but then substitutes are always a problem.

It’s not that I want life to bend to accommodate my children. I fully accept that life bends for no man, woman or child. I will, however, fight injustice and for the equal rights to education we’ve all been promised, and that without forgetting that my children are not in fact the only children in their teachers’ classes. What we want is for our children to be given the opportunities to adapt functionally in the system they have, perforce, to operate within. As far as I’m concerned, school is not a natural environment. It mimics real life in some ways; specifically, inflexibility. But it doesn’t otherwise resemble the real world. So my aim is for the children to survive the brutalities of school in one piece, and then find a niche in adulthood where they can find relative comfort and peace. I personally believe this is achievable – if they can avoid picking up mental health problems during the rough early years, and can learn life strategies for survival, they can find a career which suits their personality and talents, and hopefully gather people around them with whom they resonate. At least, that would be a successful outcome.

 

 

Beating Anxiety

Girl suffering form anxiety
I mentioned a while back that though I have been anxiety’s bitch for many years, I’m in remission. Anxiety is common in those who don’t fit neatly on the bell curve, whether because simply being different creates anxiety, or because people who are different are very often also sensitive sorts by nature.

It’s been a long journey to recovery – anxiety took me in its teeth very early on, and though I’ve never let it make decisions for me, it has inevitably shaped a lot of my life. I’d spoken to psychologists and counselors and been to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), but the turning point was meeting someone who made sense of the physiological processes of anxiety in the body; the autonomic nervous system and the hormones that regulate it.

Everyone knows about adrenaline, the fight or flight hormone, but noradrenaline is the second part of the picture. Whereas an adrenaline rush lasts about 20 minutes, noradrenaline can be produced in the system pretty much indefinitely. Adrenaline functions to give your body the boost to fight a danger or flee it, while noradrenaline follows up to keep the body alert for further danger.

However, the symptoms of these hormones in the system – sweating, palpitations, increased heart and breathing rate, pins and needles, paranoia, sleeplessness, etc – when there is no discernible physical cause, can be distressing by themselves. People naturally search for a reason for their symptoms, and as the symptoms mimic life-threatening physical conditions, the experience can be terrifying. It becomes a circular, self-feeding situation, where noradrenaline makes a person hypervigilant to the very symptoms the hormone itself is causing, which are appraised as a present danger, and in turn causes noradrenaline to be released in response to the perceived threat.

Emmanuel Benner - Prehistoric Man Hunting Bears

But noradrenaline and adrenaline have well-regulated functions, and will not kill us – their function is to keep us alive. In primal times, after a fight for water or food, noradrenaline released in large amounts (noradrenaline in smaller quantities is used by the body for normal autonomic function) would be the hormone to keep tribal members awake and vigilant, peripheral vision and hearing hyper alert for surprise attacks, the body’s way of ensuring survival during the exhaustion following a fight, when the adrenaline had worn off. This is their function, and it’s a successful strategy, evidenced by how successful our species is.

The way to crack the cycle is to observe it scientifically. Know what adrenaline and noradrenaline are, and their functions – adrenaline causes pins and needles, tingling, etc, in simple terms by causing the body to become over-oxygenated. This can occur from hyperventilation, but not necessarily. In preparation for danger, the arteries open and allow increased blood flow, the heart rate increases, blood flow to the digestive system decreases, and the bowels may be evacuated. Noradrenaline keeps the body alert through high arousal of the senses, attention to the peripheral vision and hyper vigilance towards any sign of potential danger, including attention to physical symptoms.

Then, with this knowledge, step into the third person and observe and identify their effects on your body when you experience them, knowing that while unpleasant, the symptoms will not harm you. Noradrenaline is released when the body is unsure whether danger might still be lurking, so merely understanding the physical process your body is experiencing will give the answer that no clear and present danger exists.

But the brain is designed to run as automatically as possible, so that conscious thought can be directed to the most relevant issues. This means that initially your thoughts will tend to the same fearful patterns, but these pathways can be rewritten by conscious effort and practice. For myself, even knowing the science, it took a while for the knowledge to filter through and become my own. One way I made it my own was by observing my inner dialogue; how I saw my symptoms, and by extension, my body, as hostile to “me” (very dualistic). In simple but effective fashion, I deliberately changed the conversation to one of encouragement, acceptance, self-love and gratitude. Because the intention is to reach the subconscious and make new living arrangements with it, so to speak, it doesn’t matter what words are used or how silly they sound, as long as they resonate with your conscious mind.

Distressingly, I noticed that after many years in vexatious living circumstances, the physical symptoms of anxiety increased after I found my bliss. I was frankly disappointed. Why would I feel worse when my situation was so much better?

Then I realised that even though my former circumstances had not been the genesis of my relationship with anxiety, while I was in them, my stress had had a physical situation to refer to, but when I was out of it and happy I still had old physiological habits which hadn’t been kicked, thus I had free-floating anxiety that didn’t have anything to refer to, and this latched on to anything going, whether it be driving my kids to school or watching a movie.

I think this was another part of what my mentor had been trying to explain. Certain events, experiences, neurotypes, will bring about particular responses in the brain and body. Understanding that our reactions and responses are logical results to experiences and events is the beginning of healing and self-acceptance.

More info:

What’s the difference between adrenaline and noradrenaline?

New research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case…. Kelly McGonigal talks about it at TED.

For anxious kids – From Worrier to Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Fears by Daniel B. Peters, Ph.D. “From Worrier to Warrior will teach you how to create your very own “toolbox” of ways to combat fear and anxiety to carry with you and conquer the Worry Monster at any time.”

 

Treading on Thin Ice here, About the ‘Greatly Hated Debate’: Is Autism a Disease, and Do We Need to ‘Cure’ it?

Polls for parents of autistic kids, and for adults on the spectrum – the more people who participate, the more valuable will be the results.

My Puzzling Piece: A Glance Into MY Puzzling Existance

Treading on Thin Ice here, About the ‘Greatly Hated Debate’: Is Autism a Disease, and Do We Need to ‘Cure’ it?


Dearest Autism Community:

If you feel anything like me, April has come and gone, and if you are even remotely involved with the online autism community, you are probably tired of “the argument.”  There is one very hot topic that has ravaged through the autism community over the past few weeks leaving us all exhausted, exasperated and frustrated.

photo 5

And I’m not even talking about vaccines!

Chances are, you already know what I’m about to mention, and as such, you know that I’m treading on thin ice here.  This is an incredibly touchy subject for all of us, no matter where you stand, regarding what I call “The Greatly Hated Debate.”  It is “Greatly Hated,” because we’ve all spent way too much time arguing and debating it.  

It is important…

View original post 1,292 more words

The Little Things

the little thingsThere are days when I look around, and chaos has defeated me.

At this particular point in my life, me and chaos, we have a working relationship. A truce of sorts, at least in the physical realm if not mental. Usually. But some days, with all of us in this little space, I let my guard down and bam! bedlam reigns. And I’m paralysed. I don’t know where to begin, and all I feel like doing is crawling back into bed to hide.

Sadly this is not an option and I could very easily give in to gloom. But I have learned that when paralysis sets in, it just takes the first step, doesn’t matter where or how small – just that first toy back in its place – and the cogs start turning again, until eventually, I’ve wrestled chaos to the ground. Well that’s how I tell the story.

I guess with a lot of things, it takes small steps to make a big difference.

 

 

We are NOT helicopter parents

treading very lightly

treading very lightly

 We are NOT helicopter parents: An article in the HuffPost by WP blogger Cate at The Clear Parent which I think sooo many of us could relate to.

This is exactly what I want to say to teachers, even when they’re not arguing or condescending, just being very polite while I try to walk the line between looking after my child’s needs and getting all up in their faces.

And I really do try. But there’s that first day at a new school where you know your child’s anxiety is through the roof, but no one else can see it, because they sit where they’re supposed to, and do what they’re told without a fuss, and keep still and quiet, and don’t cry, but you can see it because it’s in their eyes like shards of glass, so you stand outside the class where they can see you and tell them you’ll be on campus for a while, because you know that once they get over the initial shock, they’ll be fine, and no one will ever know there was a trainwreck on the cards, because you prevented it by reading your child’s eyes when no one else could.