*Please note that I wrote this article roughly a week ago. Since resting and choosing to take a break from Seeing Double things have greatly improved*
During the past few weeks my physical and mental health has started to decline. There could be lots of reasons for this, including the stress of starting a new job, the grieving process (my mother passed away in October), stress, over indulgence in alcohol and caffeine, weight gain and the general sense of numbing panic that seems to envelope every twenty something year old when they realise they’re technically an adult, but still feel like a child. But for the purposes of this article, those reasons aren’t all that important. What’s important is learning to recognise when your health is deteriorating, and preventing it from going any further down hill.
The following is a list of the symptoms I’m dealing with. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms for the first time, I strongly recommend that you arrange an appointment with your GP, who may prescribe you with medication or refer you to another service.
Feeling like a metal vice is tightening around my chest (panic)
Dizziness (usually caused by poor balance and body awareness)
Poor performance at work (coming in late, forgetting things etc)
I’ve experienced this kind of thing before and know that if I continue down this path I’ll end up unable to leave the house, under the care of the mental health crisis team. I will NOT let that happen a second time. My friends and family don’t deserve to have to deal with that shit all over again, and neither do I.
The following options are available to me:
Increasing my medication
I’ve been on 20 mg of citralopram (an anti depressant from the prozac family) for a few years now. I used to take 25mg of quetiapine, an anti psychotic that was very effective at calming me down during autism related meltdowns. However, this drug was so effective that 30 minutes after taking it I could do nothing but lie down and drool. Not an option now that I’m working more and can’t afford to spend half my life in bed. I could increase my daily dosage of citralopram, but while this would help with my low mood and anxiety it’s likely to leave me feeling more even more disorientated and wiped out.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
This has worked well for me before. However, with current waiting lists for NHS therapy being 6-8 months and private therapy costing more than I can afford, it’s not really a viable option. Perhaps I’ll contact my GP and look at putting my name down on the list. In the meantime, there’s lots of therapeutic activities that I can do at home, such as journal writing, art therapy and mindful breathing exercises. Nowhere near as effective as talking to a real therapist, but it’s a start.
Talking to a social worker
Unfortunately, I recently lost my social worker because I started a new job, and she doesn’t work Mondays or Fridays. I declined the offer of a replacement, which probably makes no sense to anyone else but was the best thing for me under the circumstances. My Asperger’s Syndrome means meeting new people can be extremely challenging to me. Although I can manage basic communication with someone I’ve just met it takes me a long time to get to know someone well enough to allow them to help me out with sensitive issues. Lately the staff involved in my care have been changed around so often their presence has been more of a hindrance than a help. I’ve had to get used to dozens of new faces and (since no one seems to keep my records on file) describe the same traumatic life experiences over and over, which can cause more melt downs. Enough is enough. However well intentioned, I am simply unable to deal with another new face.
The only option left then, is self care. This involves taking positive steps to improve my own health, even if those steps mean I come across as lazy or self indulgent to others. With self care I think it’s important to remember two things: 1) it’s not always about treats, and 2) the little things can make a huge difference.
I’m starting out by making sure I get roughly ten hours of sleep a night, and cutting down on alcohol and caffeine. I think it’s pretty common to rely on booze and stimulants when your stressed, whether it’s several cups of coffee to help you stay up to finish that report or a bottle of wine to help you unwind after a stressful day at work. These things may seem like a good idea at the time, but long term, they just create more issues. (Too much caffeine increases my anxiety at night, while hangovers make it harder to be productive during the day). I’m cutting down to maximum of four caffeinated drinks a day, and just one cup of wine on evenings when I have work in the morning.
I’m also going to make more time for exercise (swimming is the only sport I’m any good at) and healthy cooking, since a healthy body supposedly helps to form a healthy mind. But where will I find time for more sleep, swimming and cooking when I have such a busy work schedule? That brings me to my most drastic act of self care… as of today, I’m taking a two month break from Seeing Double.
This wasn’t any easy decision for me to come to, as the Seeing Double project is extremely important to me and I feel privileged to be bringing in a small amount of money through freelance writing, blogging and autism awareness. However, I’ve come to the realisation that I simply cannot juggle three part time jobs. And that’s nothing to do with my autism or mental health issues. Few people could. During my two month break from Seeing Double I intend to focus on enjoying my roles at Bradford Autism Support and Specialist Autism Services. At the end of March I’ll be made redundant from BAS (I’ve known this was going to happen for a while now) and that’s when I’ll return to Seeing Double.
So yep… this is going to be my last blog entry for a while. I’m going to miss blogging and poetry, but I promise to return to the Seeing Double blog healthy, happy and with lots of new experiences to share with you all.
Until then, good bye
… and remember: NEVER feel guilty for taking care of yourself.