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  • Be grateful for what I have?

    I’m told I should be grateful for what I have because many people would love to be in my situation. Apparently I have a wonderful life as seen from the outside, filled with all the things other people crave.

    I don’t understand the logic. I’m not happy so I want to change things to make my quality of life better. Does that make me a bad person? Should I just accept a life which has aggravated my mental health for the last 30 years just because other people are worse off than me? Should I continue to suffer quietly? Who is that going to benefit?

    I have a fantastic marriage with someone I love and who loves me deeply. I have an amazing son and my family is supportive and kind. I have a roof over my head, two old but functional cars and I can just about afford to put food on the table and pay the mortgage. Life is difficult but relatively comfortable.

    Personal suffering is just that, personal. I don’t think I should be made to feel guilty for wanting better than I have. I’m far from rich, I struggle to cope financially and I’m in a ton of debt. I’m not a greedy person, I merely want enough money to live comfortably without the dead weight of financial worries on my shoulders every waking (and sleeping) hour.

    I appreciate the things I do have in life like a stable marriage, a family who loves me unconditionally and my relatively good physical health. The problem is that these things don’t outweigh the negatives. Undoubtedly life would be much worse without those securities and support but the major issues in my life are still there and I want to improve them.

    I live in a constant state of desperation, hunting for that mythical happiness I seem unable to find. Others throw happiness around freely and it always stings as it glides past in my social media feed. Do they feel guilty for being happy when others are suffering? Are they selfish for not giving up their pleasure because it may offend others worse off than them?

    We should not question why someone feels the desire to improve their life even if from the outside it seems like paradise to us. We have no idea what’s happening in their lives behind the utopian curtain of social media or the false smiling mask. We are all frantically paddling away below the surface to keep our heads above water. Society requires a happy smiling face no matter what pain the trauma behind the surface causes. What is a positive to one person may well be seen as a negative to others and it’s ok to be honest about what isn’t working for us in our lives.

    If we could actually live a day in someone else’s shoes we’d understand.

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  • Live for now? How?

    For years some of the people closest to me have tirelessly pushed the theory that I could cure all my mental ills by ‘simply’ being mindful, more present in the moment and living for now. I’ve got myself into some quite emotional and often heated discussions about how I ‘simply’ cannot do that.

    I’ve tried, I really have. My shelves are filled with well read books by Ekhart Tolle and similar authors, all instisting that my life could be perfect if only I could stop worrying about the past and the future and focus on now. I read these books but they may as well be in a different language because my brain doesn’t seem capable of understanding the concept of how to live like this.

    I constantly worry about the past mistakes I’ve made. I worry more about the future and not making the same ones again. I analyse every decision to the nth degree, working out probabilities on the fly and being scared to take risks for fear of getting myself into another excrutiatingly awkward situation I can’t get out of. Now is a mythical place I just can’t seem to grasp. I pinch myself to snap my brain out of its never ending catastrophising loop and for a brief second the world snaps into sharp focus. Like sand slipping through my fingers, the moment is just that and it’s gone, replaced by the much louder voices of guilt, blame, lack of self esteem and negativity.

    Brain wired wrong

    I’m told to stop planning so far ahead and make the best of what I have now. What people don’t understand is that now isn’t a fun place to be. It’s a locked, damp, smelly basement with a tiny slit of a window looking out onto rest of the world enjoying the sunshine. I’m not happy with my life. The hope that I can dig myself out of this torment is the only thing keeping me going in the darkest of times. Planning ahead and dreaming are my coping strategies.

    Let’s put some context to this. I’m autistic, suffer with ADHD and OCD with a dollop of C-PTSD on top. For whatever reason I got the shitty end of the evolutionary stick. My brain wiring is a ‘Heath Robinson’ mismatch of hacked together components from the second hand parts bin. The sweepings off the floor, a second thought. My circuits are like a vintage hardwired synthesiser, they have the ability to make sweet music but only if conditions are perfect. If the temperature isn’t sixty eight degrees and the voltage from the wall socket isn’t a stable 240 volts then I’m a little out of tune. Functional but annoying to listen to. Discordant with the world. It’s coloured my whole life and left me with severe anxiety, depression and a desperate need to find a way to ‘fix’ myself.

    I love a good self help book. Even though I know I’ll never be able to implement the advice within its pages, I still get a surge of excitment when I pick one up. Maybe this one will answer all my questions and furnish me with the missing link? It hasn’t happened so far so it’s unlikely.

    I’m an intelligent person. I read the information within the pages of these books and understand the theory behind the advice but there’s a deep disconnect between that and putting them into action. I feel like everyone else has been born with extra abilities that I missed out on. It’s like all the good stuff requires a special key and I’m not allowed to use it.
    Meditation has never been easy. Silencing the noise in my head enough to actually have a chance of relaxing has for ever eluded me. When I close my eyes the darkness is filled with a technicolour 3D surround sound movie of all worst problems in my life playing at full volume. Meditation is actually painful and it makes things worse because if focuses all the problems to the point of claustrophobia.

    Mindfulness is slightly easier and I have managed this for a minute or so here and there but it’s difficult to maintain. I quickly slip back into the same destructive pattern of why and what if? How do people do this? I honestly don’t think it’s something that can be learned. If your brain is hard wired a certain way then you have no hope of changing that permanently. Am I just not trying hard enough? I berate myself constantly for the inability to make this work.
    Distraction is my meditation. Constant stimulation of my mind, forcing it to concentrate on something else just enough to push those intrusive thoughts back into their dark stinking closet. It’s not ideal but it’s the only hack I’ve ever found to make life more bearable some of the time.

    The authors of these books are either completely different to me, much stronger mentally or simply pedalling false information. To read their stories, they seem to have dragged themselves out of challenging and damaging mental traumas and be living the perfect life. I doubt that’s really true but it obviously sells books.

    My own lack of success implementing these mental practices has done nothing but make me hate myself even more. I’d go as far as to say that these books have damaged me. I may as well be reading books on how to high jump - as a 5ft 4 48 year old unfit man. I’ll never be able to reach those heights, mentally or physically.

    As the years roll by and I approach the final third of my life I am becoming more pragmatic. I do think perhaps I should use whatever energy I still have left to find ways to mould my surroundings to suit me instead of bending myself out of shape to fit. Maybe I’m reaching the part of life where the past isn’t that important because the sharp tang of finality is biting at my heels.

  • Mental or physical – which came first?

    Candida has ruined my life

    I’ve had a constant battle between mind and body ailments for what seems like my whole life, never knowing which came first. Every medical test imaginable came up blank and all my doctors pronounced me generally very healthy except for ‘IBS’, the catch-all term for, ‘Sorry we have no idea what’s wrong with you.’

    I took the only option available to me and started my own research. For 25 years I’ve read constantly about anything which matches my symptoms and tried many alternative therapies and herbal medications to no avail. I came to the conclusion that an overgrowth of yeast (Candida) in my system after a childhood of constant antibiotics for recurrent chest infections coupled with endless anxiety and depression have been the causes of all my phsyical and mental issues. I’m definitely autistic and suffer with ADHD and those are the reason my body has been in fight or flight mode since I was born, trying to cope with existing in a world which feels wrong.

    The constant struggle to survive has left me burned out and susceptible to the internal invasion of the normally friendly yeast called Candida. As my adrenal system burned out, it lowered my immune response and allowed the candida to thrive, taking over first my digestive system and eventually my whole body. My digestive issues have been constant since I was a child and over the years, new problems were added to the ever growing list including, joint pain, severe IBS, crippling anxiety, depression, sinus infections and much more.

    In the UK, Candida overgrowth is not recognised by the medical profession. It’s not tested for on the NHS and I was even told that only women can suffer with Candida problems by one uneducated GP. It’s frustrating that I’m left to do my own research, trying to pick my way through endless contradicting articles and diet plans, herbal remedies and alternative treatments. I’ve wasted thousands of pounds on these useless procedures and in the meantime, my illness has only got worse.

    I once dreamed of finding a cure and living a normal life. Since discovering I’m autistic and suffer with ADHD, a lot of my physical symptoms have begun to make sense when related to the overgrowth of Candida in my body all these years. Sadly, my hopes of normality are slipping away as I realise that the way I deal with the world is broken due to my neurodivergent brain and I’m struggling to figure out a way to make that right.

    In my opinion the order of problems started with being born autistic and with ADHD. Childhood was challenging. I was ill all the time from birth till around nine years old with asthma and chest infections and labelled ‘shy’ because I hated school, having to deal with other children, teachers and being pushed constantly way past my comfort zone. This all started the process of daily anxiety and started to weaken my already compromised immune system. Serious digestive issues started around the age of 11 and became debilitating by 18, severely effecting my life at that point, sending me into a spiral of anxiety and depression. I suffered a number of mental breakdowns which I now understand were autistic burnout. I was suicidal and off sick from work for almost a year until I started the ‘candida cleanse’ diet and totally changed what I was putting into my body. In 2014 I cut out alcohol, sugar, yeast, gluten, grains and have since only eaten whole foods with no additives or preservatives. I’ve managed to maintain a bearable existence with milder episodes of anxiety and digestive flare ups and I put that down to the fact that by not feeding the candida with sugar and carbs, I’m at least stopping it from taking over completely.

    My most recent discovery is that stress and anxiety actually feed the candida without the addition of any sugary foods. Stress causes the liver to pump out stored glucose to boost the fight or flight response and this is gobbled up instantly by the yeast, perpetuating the cycle; anxiety – sugar – candida growth anxiety and so on.

    My one and only hope now is to somehow modify my life to lower my overall stress levels, react to life’s challenges in a different and calmer way and control the candida this way. This will not be easy.

  • Is life one big test?

    When I look back on my 48 years on this earth, I can count on one hand when I had things easy; when things fell perfectly into place with no drama. I’m not sure if it has something to do with age related responsibility but as I’ve got older, things just seem to have got more difficult.

    Maybe I’m just worn out by the weight of all my past bad decisions, making me ever more cautious about deciding on anything new. Where I used to just do things without much thought for the consequences, now I agonise over everything to the tiniest degree and tie myself in mental knots.

    It’s hard to find the strength to battle through life when there seems to be an insurmountable wall in front of every new challenge. The only way I manage to keep going is by telling myself – convincing myself – that life is one big test; almost like a video game where you have to battle the scary boss on each level to get to the next one. I’m not sure where the game ends and what happens once I defeat the BIG boss on the final level but without that tiny slither of light encouraging me onwards, I think I’d just give up.

    There are no guarantees in life but hope drives me onwards.

  • Hope

    Losing it

    Hope has kept me going all these years. Battling through mental and physical problems, I’ve always had hope that there was a way I could fix myself; something I was doing wrong but could change and miraculously improve my quality of life.

    Recently, since discovering that I’m almost certainly autistic and suffering with ADHD, my hope has dwindled to nothing. My lofty dreams of some day living a ‘normal’ life (compared to everyone else I know) has evaporated, leaving me wondering what to do next. Hope has allowed me to dig deep into my reserves and pull myself out of the darkest times but now it’s gone, where do I go next?

    Knowing that this is my life and it’s never going to change has been frankly devastating. I can never be normal in the neurotypical sense. Everyday chores will never get any easier, socialising has become a feared experience and seeing everyone else’s life experiences in the infinite shop window of social media is awful.

    Speaking from my own personal experiences, life has been hard. Yes, I know there will always be other people worse off than me but that doesn’t make my life easier to cope with. I realised the other day that at almost 50 years old, I’ve wasted around two thirds of my life expectancy just struggling to exist. In my 20s I dreamed of thriving in my 30s. Once I reached 40 I was more realistic about my life expectations but still thought I could move mountains and be the best I can be. I feel stupid now, having these ridiculous and unrealistic dreams. In a way I wish I’d known about my autism and ADHD in my teens and then maybe I could have tackled life differently or at least have some assistance. I feel like I’ve just thrown my life away trying to change something that could never be altered. My brain is simply wired this way and no amount of neurolinguistic programming can rewire that to make my life better.

    So back to hope. I need something to grasp onto to give me the strength to carry on to the end of my life. Is there a way I can make the best of a bad job and at least find a speck of joy before I die? Perhaps it’s time to throw off the shackles of hopes and dreams and just live as a authentic me, not worrying about what others think and whether or not I’m successful. Perhaps being a complete disaster is the way I was meant to live this life, jumping from one bad decision to another until it no longer matters because I’m gone.

    My only real purpose in life now is to be there to help my son who is also autistic and suffers with ADHD. If I can help him see the realities of life wired as we both are, then perhaps he can miss out all the uncertainty and anxiety I suffered for the last 48 years and find a way to crack the system and live a happier life.

  • On a knife edge

    Mental stability is elusive

    I really wish my mental state wasn’t on such a knife edge all the time. It only takes the slightest bump in the road of life to knock me off course and allow the black dog to come sniffing around.

    It’s been so long now since I’ve felt happy and content that I’m not sure I’d recognise it if it actually happened. I’d be suspicious and guarded with my emotions and probably ruin any chance of a well needed boost of serotonin. I’d almost certainly convince myself it was a trick and someone or something trying to lure me into relaxing for once so it could swoop in and stamp on my positivity with a deafening thud. I simply cannot even allow myself to be happy – just in case. The good old self preservation technique of expecting the worst to lessen the blow when the inevitable happens. Not a good way to live I admit.

    I used to dream of winning the lottery. I still do of course, but most of all now I dream of waking one day feeling like everything is under control and life is good. If one day I could sit back, relax and actually enjoy absolutely anything that would be like winning all the money in the world; which is ironic because by winning enough money to clear my debts and provide for my family, many of my anxieties and most of my stress would evaporate instantly.

    I wish that everything in life wasn’t such a struggle, from doing the daily chores to running my business to supporting my (also) autistic son as he reaches adulthood and being a present, loving husband to my wife. I want so much for someone to come along and take some of the burden so I can just not have to think about it all but there is no-one. It’s all on me and I’m burned out, all my enthusiasm for life disappearing like the smoke from a snuffed out candle.

  • A lack of confidence

    Why do I feel less?

    Whenever I’ve tried throughout my life to join in with something, be part of a group and add my skills to a project, my self confidence has crashed. I’m instantly in competition with everyone else and feel like an imposter as their input is always (in my mind) better. I have the skills and the quality of my work is plain for all to see. I’ve been praised on my abilities and sold thousands of handmade products over the last eleven years yet I still feel like a fraud.

    I gave up trying to be part of anything many years ago and have been exclusively working on my own ever since. I don’t look at other artists’ work because when I do, I feel crushed. My work feels so inferior and I cannot understand why.

    I’ve never been the ‘alpha’ male of any group. At school I was the quiet one who did as he was told and didn’t question anything. I slipped through my education practically unnoticed and I’ve been doing that in life ever since. In an attempt to break free of this crippling lack of confidence I created a new persona for my work. I never show my face on social media so it was easy to invent the person who heads up my creative business and make him everything I’m not. Ironically, my attempts to build confidence have only served to make me feel like even more of a fraud.

    I really wish I had the confidence to be myself on camera and present my work to the world but I can’t get past the fear of being ridiculed by my audience. My confidence is paper thin and the slightest negative remark would ruin me mentally. Oh to be one of those people who has the confidence to shout their message to the world regardless of the response.

    I wonder if one day I’ll wake up and realise that it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks; realise it’s impossible to please everyone and let their negativity bounce off into the ether never allowing it to stick?

    I can hope.

  • Goodbye old self

    Hello new me

    Life goes on. It’s different to what it once was but totally manageable.

    I can’t go into shops but I can enjoy the open countryside. That’s a win for me.

    I used to struggle in social situations and suffered burnout from constant masking but I no longer need to do that because I continue to socially distance and avoid people now. This has had a positive effect on my mental state.

    For the first 47 years of my life I was judging the way I live by other peoples’ standards. Now I accept that I’m different and need accomodations to navigate this world not designed for neurodivergent folk. Another win.

    Different used to equal scary in my head. Familiarity was my comfort blanket. The last two years has forced me out of that comfort zone and allowed me to be myself. Looking back I see a totally different person.

    Onwards.

  • At odds with the world

    Say my piece or keep quiet?

    Do you ever have those moods where you feel really argumentative? I should really step away from the internet at these times but sometimes I just can’t let things pass me by without gifting the world my opinion on something. I’m extremely passionate about the things which matter most to me and will defend my right to freely give my opnion but it does come at a cost.

    I can be impulsive but this is usually tempered by my fear of what may happen if I say something to offend. On the occasions where my filter is weak and I steam into a conversation with my absolute insistance that everyone must know my opnion, the exhilaration and the initial burst of passion quickly fades leaving guilt, embarassment and regret.

    I go from gung-ho defender of my opinion to regretful, meek and apologetic mouse in the blink of an eye. If there’s a way to delete my comment, I will, hoping that not too many people will have read it. If replies have already been made and I’ve inadvertently offended anyone, the devastation in my mind starts to build, often crippling me mentally and allowing me to think of nothing else.

    Why did I comment? Why didn’t I just swipe past and not get involved? What will everyone think of me now? I’m a terrible human being and I’ve gone too far and now people will hate me…the long list of emotions and self doubt starts rolling on.

    Days or weeks after, I’ll still be thinking about it, worrying that my comment has destabilised the space time continuum or something equally as ridiculous.

    Empathy is hard work.

  • Intrusive thoughts

    How to ruin a perfectly good day

    I’ll be coasting along on any given day, not thinking about anything except the task at hand and then out of nowhere my mind wanders onto something which wrecks my mood. It’s usually a memory of something embarassing I did or said ten years ago which makes me squirm. I often physically shudder because I’m right back there actually reliving the moment in all its technicolour self esteem shredding awfulness.

    If I allow the thought to really take hold I can play back the event like a scene in a movie from multiple angles. Every word spoken is burned into my memory as an eternal reminder of how bad I felt at the time. I begin to repeat the visuals in my mind along with the soundtrack; I may even try to change some of the events and muse over what would have happened had I said or done something different. Of course nothing can change the past and that stark realisation saps all the joy out of my day and I feel miserable at best, extremely anxious at worst.

    Intrusive thoughts aren’t limited to actual memories of past events I’ve experienced. They can also be purely fictional, relating to something I may be about to do. I become lost in a vivid torrent of possibilties, all of which are catastrophic. Like the tendrils of a creeping vine, my thoughts spread, analysing all the horrible outcomes which could potentially happen. Before I know it my entire focus in on the ‘what if,’ and the whole world is blanked out around me.

    If I’m not being mindful of my actions, quite often an intrusive though process will manifest around the possibility that I may have unknowlingly done something which may have caused someone harm. Did I run a red light there? Was that bump in the road someone stepping out and did I hit them? If I can quickly turn around and retrace my steps to prove to myself that nothing actually happened and it was all in my imagination then I can quell the panic. Sometimes that’s not possible and the thought attaches itself like a heavy black shadow to everything I think about for days. Eventually the anxiety subsides, maybe my attention is taken up by something positive but usually it’s just another intrusive thought which has weighed in to overpower the one before.

    I’ve noticed a pattern of how these intrusive thoughts tend to become more frequent a few days before my anxiety will randomly ramp up. These days I use them as an early warning to an impending low mood and usually I can prepare myself, lessening the duration and allowing me more control over my mental processes.

    It’s a slow process but I do feel like I’m winning the battle as I get older. I’m acutely aware of my mood cycle now and that helps massively with not immediately slipping onto the downward spiral to a major episode of anxiety.