It’s an Autism thing


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The gym classes I go to have a nice predictable routine. There are set exercises to work your way through each week, for a six week stretch. At the beginning of the next term there’s a new routine to learn, but it’s an expected change and there’s support to ease you into the new exercises.

Yesterday was the last of a six-week stretch. The last predictable class before I had to adjust to change. And THEY CHANGED THE ROUTINE!!

It was no big deal. Where we usually do 50 minutes strength and 10 minutes conditioning, suddenly we were doing 25 strength, 5 conditioning, 25 strength, 5 conditioning. Not too hard. But it threw me a loop. To me it was a big deal. My brain was angry and panicking, and I couldn’t focus on the exercises. I had severe trouble transitioning from one set to another, even though I understood and remembered how the new session was supposed to go. I felt irrationally angry. I found myself stimming (which I usually clamp down on when in public ‘cos it was trained into me not to do it when I was young).

I’ve been learning how to deal with all my mental health stuff, so I stepped aside and sat down and covered my ears to reduce the external stimuli and started doing some calming techniques. It worked pretty well. It wasn’t a major meltdown by any means.
Anyway, the instructor notices what I’m doing and comes over to check on me.
The conversation goes as follows:

“Are you okay? Do you need some sugar?”

“No thanks, it’s an autism thing.”

“Ah, because we changed the routine? Take as long as you need.”

And that was it.
I was stunned.

I can understand if you don’t see why this was amazing to me, but I, like many others, have gone through life not knowing what was going wrong. We’ve been seen as “acting out” or “being rude” when situations overwhelm us beyond our ability to cope. I’ve never had the words to say “this is what’s wrong with me” and when I’ve tried to explain people often think I’m making excuses. Even if they do eventually understand it takes a lot of talking at a time when I’m not particularly up to talking. Dealing with meltdowns is hard. Dealing with people’s reactions to meltdowns is super-hard. And yesterday it was dealt with in four words.

This post is a celebration of the fact that people seem to be becoming more and more accepting and understanding of neurodiversity. This post is also a celebration of my diagnosis; without that I wouldn’t have had the words I needed.
Representation matters.
Education matters.
Diagnoses matter.
‘Cos sometimes it’s not a big deal. Sometimes it’s just an autism thing.


Do I want to?



I’m sitting here wondering if I want to go swimming tomorrow, and I’m finding it a very hard question to answer. It should be easy, right? Do I want to or not? Does it (to steal words from Marie Kondo) “spark joy”?

It’s not that easy.

The reason I find it so hard is because it’s not a question that I’m in the habit of asking. Instead, I generally ask “Should I?”
There are lots of reasons why I should go swimming tomorrow. It’s good for my joints. It’ll get me out of the house. It’s exercise. My occupational therapist thinks I should. My sister told me to.
I really should go swimming tomorrow.

Then there is the even trickier bit: There are also lots of reasons why I should want to go swimming tomorrow. I enjoy swimming. I’m often in a better mood after I’ve been swimming. And so on…

But do I actually want to do it? That’s not something I’m used to asking myself, and I think it’s something I need to ask myself more. But it’s going to be hard letting go of the should!

Ten more seconds


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Hi everyone!

I realise that I kinda fell off the face of the earth there for a while. A hell of a lot has happened to me since I last posted here. Most relevant to this blog is that I have been diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified). This basically puts me somewhere on the Autism Spectrum. So a lot of the stuff that I previously discussed here as being my experience as someone suffering from depression is actually my experience as someone suffering from depression and coping with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). I’m pretty confident that my advise is useful to people regardless, though, so really it’s just a “so you know”!

Anyway, the other new thing that’s happened lately is that I’ve signed up to gym classes. It’s too early to say yet whether I’ll feel fitter or get more energy or whatnot, but there have been a few things I’ve noticed during gym that I’ve been mulling over. One of them is how much easier it is to keep going when the instructor is standing in front of you saying “Ten seconds left. Five, four, three, two, one… stop!” It’s like one moment you can’t possibly go another step, and then suddenly you can keep going for ten whole seconds just to say you stayed the distance. It’s a powerful force.

“What has this to do with invisible illnesses?” I hear you say.

Well, the answer is that we don’t have this.
A chronic illness doesn’t have that last second push to get you through, because there is no through. If you’re sick with the flu or a broken leg you can generally get an idea of how long recovery will take, but for a chronic illness? Nothing.

So what can you do about it? All the trying in the world won’t give you a timetable for your mood swings or an end-date to your fibromyalgia pain. So you have to be your own instructor. Set your own times. Create your own home stretch to run down.

– Try doing chores and studying and other activities in 15min bursts, for example. At the end of a session move on to another activity, or take a 15min break, or stop for the day, or whatever. It’s weird how ten minutes into an hour long session your attention starts wandering, but at ten minutes out of fifteen things are so much more focused.

–  Set days off, and stick to them. Most people seem to have a mental countdown to the weekend. It helps them get through tough days at work. Often for people with invisible illnesses a working week is too much, so set your own days off and count down to those. Don’t give in to the temptation to fill every day if you don’t have the energy or ability. You’re health will only suffer from it. Instead set yourself schedules that allow you to fill whatever time you’ve allotted with the best you. Quality over quantity dear!

– When you stop working, STOP WORKING. It doesn’t matter if it’s a job, or chores, or even just keeping up with the news. When you stop, stop. You can’t get the push you need for that last little bit if you know you won’t let yourself rest afterwards.

– Schedule treats for yourself. Half an hour more and I can stop for a nice cup of tea. One day more to that lovely massage. One more big push on my project and then I get to snuggle up and watch my favourite tv show. Just a little bit more, and then…

– And finally, accept that you can’t keep going all the time. Sometimes you just need to collapse (figuratively) and sleep for a week. So set yourself a little challenge. Just ten seconds more. And then make space for yourself to recover. You deserve it!

About Limits and Achievements


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Today has mostly been spent musing on the well meant advice “Tell yourself you have no stamina and you’ll have no stamina.”
Which is true, you know. If you tell yourself you can’t do something you’re highly unlikely to succeed at it.
But the thing is, telling yourself you *can* do something isn’t any kind of guarantee. And telling a fish that if they tell themselves they can’t walk then they’ll never be able to walk isn’t really very helpful to the fish… even if it *can* understand spoken english.
All my life I’ve been told I can do anything I want to do. And I have. I’ve done well at school. I’ve studied and graduated with honours in a massively male-dominated area (Engineering). I’ve gone from one hobby to another, and I’ve loved them all. I can fence, do judo, kayak, sew, knit, sculpt, ski, make chainmail, build a shelter, mix cement, carve wood, make clothes, make candles, forage food in the wild, hike across mountains, cut hair, work metal, speak fluent Irish, speak passable Spanish, make myself understood in French, and in Swedish, and in Irish sign language, paint, put up shelves, unblock drains, fix boilers, start campfires, put up tents, tie knots, build rafts, abseil, rock climb, tree climb, spin wool, cook, calm down a mob, talk down a criminal, comfort a friend, talk a stranger out of suicide, run an international fencing competition, write stories, tell stories in public, sing, write songs, take soil samples, care for a dog, care for a cat, tame a wild bird (without capture), paint a room, install a cooker, put out a fire, handle myself in an emergency, stand up for my beliefs, deal with bullying without becoming a bully, accept apologies from bullies years later and become good friends…
I have ridden horses, I have flown a plane, I have helped build a railway bridge, I’ve fed wild herons from my hand, I’ve owned my own business.
Sometimes, I say I can’t do something. I say my health is too bad, or my anxiety is too high.
I don’t mean I don’t believe I can do it.
I mean that I’ve considered my choices, what it would achieve, what I’d have to sacrifice, and I’ve chosen not to do it.
In the last year my health has been better than it has been for over a decade. Other than my chronic illnesses, I have had very few complaints. I’ve not had the permanent colds and coughs and stomach upsets that have plagued me for most of my adult life. And any time I *have* been ill it’s been from a clear source. More often than not that source has been over-exertion.
When I say I can’t do something, I mean that I choose not to pay what it would cost me.
And if the fact that I choose not to pay in pain for something upsets you, then so be it, but I’d rather that than another homily about how I’m setting my own limits. I’m not setting them. I’m respecting them.
I’m respecting *ME*.

Are you feeling better?


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“Are you feeling better” is a fascinating and complex question which, like “How are you” is often thrown out without much thought or much expectation of a detailed answer. When used among people without chronic conditions the general context is “Has the flu/stomach bug/broken ankle/hangover gone away yet? Are you back to being ‘well’?” As such it has three basic answers (“yes”, “no”, and “getting there”) and so is a good candidate for small talk and general niceties.
When it comes to sufferers of chronic conditions, however, there’s generally some level of acceptance that it’s never going to go away, and that they are never goint to be “well” again. In these situations the context is wildly different and the number of possible meanings and answers are huge. I will discuss some examples:
“Are you back to being well?”

This is the standard meaning for non sufferers, and so the one that many sufferers also assume from this question. It might be that the person asking doesn’t realise that their condition is chronic and is genuinely wondering if they’re better than they were. It could be that the person asking doesn’t *believe* that the condition is chronic and are asking in a “have you grown out of that yet”. It could be that the person has simply forgotten, or automatically used a stock pleasantry without thinking about the context.

This can be upsetting for people who have accepted that they will likely never be “well” again and that they will always have to deal with this pain/discomfort/mental difficulty/etc. It can also imply that people feel that they *should* be better, and that any failure to be well is a failing in themselves as a person.
It can also leave them with a massive internal debate on whether they should answer truthfully or whether they should just give the polite rote answer. Especially if the person asking is someone with whom they have not discussed their condition before. They may also worry that reminding someone who has been told before may come across as a slight or a barbed comment implying that they should have remembered.
It is important to note that this does not mean that the person asking the question has done a bad thing, or is a bad person. It’s just that an attempted good thing may result in a negative feeling in the person being asked. I am trying to explain *why* people react in unexpected ways, not say whether either party is good or bad!


“Are you feeling better than you usually are?”

This is the context that I’ve found most common among my supportive friends. They see that I suffer from bouts during which my condition worsens, and when they next see me out and about they want to know whether that particular storm cloud has passed. I try to answer these questions truthfully and accurately because if I only ever say “yes” or “no” it gives a far too simple view of a complex condition. It takes a long time and a lot of thought to answer though, as I need a lot of context as to why they’re asking. Am I better than I was when I made my last angsty facebook post? Am I better than when I couldn’t go to that party? Am I better than when they saw me yesterday? Am I better than that time they just found out about when I self harmed back in secondary school? Am I better than my average?

If you want to know if a sufferer is feeling better after a particular downswing it is very useful to put that context into the question or conversation. For example “Are you feeling better? You seemed to be having a hard time yesterday at the party.” It greatly speeds up the answer time, and reassures them that you don’t expect them to be somehow magically cured, you just want to know if they’ve improved from the deep lows.


“Are you recovered from that illness unrelated to your chronic condition?”

Often people will see me when I have a bad cold, and when next they meet me they’ll ask if I’m feeling better. That should be an easy enough one to answer, but again, I need to know what the context is! Often I’ll have had numerous twitching fits, bouts of suicidal ideation, temptations to self harm and other such downswings since I had the cold, and often the cold is a mere side concern for me amidst all my other issues. Again, putting the context in the question helps. For example “Is that cough any better?”
I do appreciate people caring about things other than my chronic condition, it just sometimes takes me by surprise when I’m so wrapped up in the problems that won’t go away.


“Have I helped you in any way by my company/support?”

In real life this one is usually pretty easy to spot. It generally comes at the end of talking to someone, and has a slight pleading edge to the tone. When it comes by text or on the internet, however, it is easy to mistake it for any of the other meanings, and this can result in an answer like “I’m still feeling pretty shit” which can make the helper feel like they’ve failed to help even if they have in fact massively reduced the badness from “I feel like the world is going to end”.
If this is what you mean when you’re asking if someone’s feeling better, then remember that it’s okay to ask outright. “Have I helped in any way?” will not only avoid the wrong message being gotten across, but will also give an opening for the sufferer to say what in particular was helpful that they might like you to do again. It’s also nice to know that you’re trying to help and not just considering the conversation to be random smalltalk about general health.


“Will you be up for doing <x> today?”

This is one that it’s important to be clear about. Sometimes I make plans with people who are very aware of my limitations and who don’t want to pressure me into sticking to those plans if I don’t feel up to it. This is great of them, and I count them among my truest friends. It’s common that these friends will, on the day of the plans, ask me how I’m feeling or if I’m feeling better. I totally get where they’re coming from. It’s just that sometimes I don’t click that that’s what they’re asking. This doesn’t cause any major problems for *me* but can result in them getting the distinct feeling that I’m going to cancel on them. It makes a lot more sense to me for them to ask “Are you still up for <x>” as I know exactly what I’m answering for.

An example conversation from this situation might go:

“Are you feeling better?”
“No. I slept awfully last night, and today I just want to tear my hair out for no reason I can tell.”
“That sounds terrible. Why couldn’t you sleep?”
“The brain gremlins kept getting at me. Telling me the world would be better off without me.”
“I guess you won’t be up to that trip to the zoo so.”
What? Oh Gods yes, I’m still totally up for that. I need to get out of this house and talk to some friends!”

See! You’re getting an honest answer to the question you asked, and it’s sending you entirely up the wrong tree for the question you meant! No harm done, like, but I feel it makes sense to explain why a chronic sufferer’s answers might be outside of your expected responses in a situation like this.


“So, were you really sick when you said you couldn’t come to my party?”

This one is not a fun one, but it happens sometimes and the brain gremlins would have me believe it happends a lot more often. Sometimes people don’t understand why sufferers of chronic conditions can’t live their lives like everyone else. Sometimes they see them as flakes, or see their inability to cope with social life as a direct slight. There’s not much I can say to help people with these attitudes in dealing with sufferers, other than that I, personally, would prefer to be asked outright and blatantly so I know how you’re feeling and can deal with it. (I might try to explain. I might not. It depends on my spoons and on how reasonable I think the complaint is).

What I *can* help with is to explain that the brain gremlins often translate genuine concern into this before it reaches my brain. If I seem defensive when you ask if I’m feeling better there’s a chance this is why. Please don’t take offence at this! I don’t do it by choice and it doesn’t have anything to do with what kind of person you are. It is purely my internal demons telling me that I’m useless and that people are right to be angry at me for being a broken human who can’t function the way they should.
There’s not much you can really do to help with this interpretation, really, other than to understand any defensiveness and accept that it isn’t irritation at you. Maybe saying something like “I was sorry to hear you were having trouble the other night.” I guess that might help give it context?


“<context irrelevant>”

The one remaining thing I’d like to cover is the fact that sometimes sufferers may get annoyed at the question regardless of the context. It could be that it reminds them that they’re going to have to deal with their condition for the rest of their lives, and in some cases that it’s only going to get worse. This isn’t your fault, nor is it any criticism on you for asking the question (although if someone responds like that to the question I would definitely advise avoiding that particular question around them in future if you can). Remember that it’s tough to deal with a chronic condition, and try to understand that someone can be annoyed or upset by feelings stirred by a question without necessarily being annoyed by the asker of said question. Give them space for their feelings, or offer a shoulder and an ear, or simply let them know you’re sympathetic.



I’m sure there are plenty more interpretations that I haven’t covered here, but I hope this is a good start in explaining why such a simple question as “Are you feeling better?” isn’t always so simple.

Are there other ways that you interpret this question? Is there anything you feel is obvious that I’ve missed? Do you disagree with an of my points? Let me know!

I had trouble getting out of bed this morning.


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I had trouble getting out of bed this morning.

“Don’t we all!” you think. “Who wouldn’t want to spend more time under the duvet than face the real world?”

The answer to that is: Me. This morning.

It’s 9am. The day is bright, my boyfriend is getting up and I feel awake. Some breakfast would be welcome right about now. I start to rise, but as soon as I lift my shoulders from the mattress I feel the tension press in and threaten to smother me. I let myself fall back again. This isn’t so unusual, and I can afford another hour in bed if it will make that horrible feeling go away. Maybe I just need some more sleep.

It’s 9.30. I haven’t managed that sleep thing yet. My thoughts won’t run clearly either, so I haven’t gotten anything out of this half an hour. I really do want to get up. I want breakfast. I want to not be stuck lying in this interminable loop of half formed thoughts and guilt. About once every minute I decide that I’m just going to get up right now. Just as often I make that half lift of the shoulders and face that tension.

It’s 10am. My extra hour is up. I need to get up now. But the lack of focus has become a drifting sense of unreality. I move in and out of awareness, like dozing, but without the benefits. Eventually I do doze. More time passes.

It’s 11.30. I can’t count how many times I’ve half woken and tried to get my muddled thoughts in order. I can’t count the number of aborted attempts I’ve made at getting my carcass out of bed. A carcass. That’s what it feels like. A lump of flesh that isn’t mine. I send the orders. “Move” I tell my muscles. “Get up” I tell my body. And it starts to respond. Like I’ve got some comand over it, but not enough. Control slips again and I drift into senselessness.

It’s midday. I’m starting to feel scared now. The hunger has only gotten worse over the hours, and my stomach feels like it’s trying to eat itself. There’s no milk downstairs, so cereal isn’t an option, but I have fruit pots for just such an emergency. I actually like those more than cereal, but they’re for emergencies only. Then, once I’ve eaten I can go to the corner shop and buy more milk.
My brain can work through all of this. It can step through every detail of the walk to the shop, the conversation with the cashier. My brain can’t focus any closer though. When I try to think through the steps of getting up the thoughts just slip away. It’s like trying to grab water. I can’t keep hold of enough of it to be coherent.

12.22 and still I can’t hold onto the thought of getting up. I’ve been trying. I’ve been focusing so hard it’s tiring, but I just can’t. Whenever I try to get myself to move I manage a toss or a turn, but I end up curled like a foetus, gripping myself or my blanket or my pillow like a lifeline. I don’t even notice the fingernails dug into my own flesh. My phone is on the bedside table, and I think of picking it up and ringing my boyfriend. He’s just downstairs. He’ll come up and save me. But I can’t do it. It’s not that I’m embarrassed, it’s literally that I can’t make myself reach for the phone. I think of shouting but my mouth doesn’t respond any more than the rest of my body. Sometimes I manage the voice equivalent of tossing and turning: I open my mouth and say weakly “help”. No one could possible hear it but me. It’s is a pathetic cry to an empty room.

12.30. I’ve managed to grab my phone. I did it in a quick burst before my body could shut down. I grabbed it angrily, desperately. I try to formulate the text I’ll send asking for help. I’ve done it before. He’ll come up and save me. I can imagine him coming up. I can imagine him being here. He won’t even have to do anything. Even his presence will be enough to break the spell. I can imagine it all… except for the actual making of the call or typing of the text. When it comes to that I find my brain whipping away again, trying desperately to think of anything else. I unlock my phone and try. I try to marshal my thoughts, I try to move, I try to act. After what seems like forever I hear a beep. My phone has locked itself again. After all, I wasn’t using it.

12.40. I’ve still not sent a text. After all, is it so much easier to send a text than to just swing my legs out of bed? If I have the energy to consider one then really I should be considering the simpler one. The one that doesn’t disturb anyone else. I know I can move. There’s nothing wrong with me. Hell, I’ve moved all over this bed in the past hours. I’ve been over the blankets and under them, I’ve been upside down, I’ve had my legs hanging out on one end and my arms clinging onto the other. I’ve gone from splayed to scrunched more often than I can count. Feet onto floor. That’s all I have to do. Why is it so hard.
Already I’m forgetting the concept of feet on the floor. Already it’s slipping.

12.55. I feel starving. I feel guilty. I feel weak. Is it just a lack of willpower? But willpower is the ability to do things you don’t want to do. I want to get out of bed so badly. Bravery is the ability to do things despite the fear, but it’s the bed that’s scaring me now, not the thought of being up. And the thought of *getting* up? Well that thought’s still not sticking in my mind. It fades like light snowfall, leaving no trace that it was ever there. I begin to twitch: a reaction to the stress, a physical sign of my depression. I hate twitching. I hate how it start and keeps going until I’m tired and crying and my muscles ache from the effort. I unfold from my crumpled ball in a burst of anger, and I see the split second of opportunity. I carry on that explosive motion in one fluid sweep until I’m sitting on the edge of the bed, my feet flat on the cool floor.

And suddenly…

It’s broken.

I’m dressed and ready before I even know I’m doing it. My hair is brushed, I’m already on my way to the bathroom. Already the memory of what was holding me back is fading as fast as the thought of getting up faded earlier. Within minutes I can’t remember why I had so much trouble unless I force my mind to think about it, and forcing myself to think about it is hard and unpleasant. I make it downstairs and the closest I can get to describing the horror to my boyfriend is to announce:
“I made it! I didn’t think I would!”

He’s beside me in an instant. He didn’t realise that I was having one of those mornings, and now he’s sorry that he wasn’t able to help, even though there was no way he *could* have known. He hugs me close, and tells me I did good.
He knows it’s more than just another few hours under a duvet.

I am not always like this


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Sometimes, especially in the winter when the days get short and dark, I can barely think for the depression. Every little thing is an uphill battle. Every little criticism is doom from above. But I am not always like this.
This part of my life I have come to accept. I know that sometimes I can’t remember what “happy” feels like. I know that all I have to do is hold on, and that I will find it again in the future.

When I am at my lowest, things are constant and unchanging. I know that I’m not fit for work. I know that I am suffering from a chronic illness that affects every aspect of my life. I know that it is not my fault. I can feel the effects of the depression through every nerve and vein and tendon. I AM NOT WELL.

But I am not always like this.

Sometime during the spring the ice grip of constant depression fades from my being. I begin to think again. To hope again. To live again. The sun comes in my window and I smile. So long since I last smiled unbidden. So long.

When I start to leave the lowest point things are volatile and uncertain. There is joy, but also a deep fear of losing that joy. My depression is at its worst in winter, but it is present all year around. Now I must face the fact that although I feel well one moment it may be taken away in the next. And I am still not well. The tiredness still haunts me, the thoughts still come hard, the suicidal ideation doesn’t go away. I am better, but I am not BETTER. My mood is changeable, and plans I make one day may not be possible for me the next.

But I am not always like this.

Sometimes there are weeks or months of joyous normality. Long stretches of time pass without thoughts of pain or death. The colours of the world can be enjoyed without the endless grey shroud of depression damping them. These times are the best… but they are also the worst.

When I am in my deepest depression I cannot imagine ever not being depressed, but when I am high I can’t quite remember what it was like when I was low. I do things that I could never have done mere days or weeks or months ago, and I wonder why I couldn’t do them. The self blame sets in. The hatred. Why couldn’t I have done that when I *needed* to?! Why did I let things get in such a state when the fix is so… easy!? Why was I so useless? Why am I always so useless.
And always, although I can’t quite imagine it, I still sense the depression hanging over me, waiting, and I know that at any moment I could be useless again.

But I am not always like this.

I think that’s one of the things that makes it hardest.
What support is there for a part time invalid?
I can’t take on a permanent job. I know that as soon as the depression hits I won’t be able to cope. And justifiably. Medically justifiably.
And there’s no way I can pick and choose when I can work, and when I can’t. Society seems quite clear on that. Either you’re employed… or you’re not.

I’m trying to meet it half way. I’m trying to make and build and create in my own time, and to contribute when I can, and to accept help when I can’t. But it’s so difficult. And no matter whether I am on a high or on a low, I always find myself judging me by my worst points. No matter what help I can give my brain always tots up what I have failed at and needed help with. No matter what I produce my brain only focuses on what I have consumed. No matter how much I achieve, my brain only tells me that I cannot achieve like that all the time. I am inconsistent. I cannot be depended on. Because I am not always like this.

What do you do when you can’t face food?


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I have a very fraught relationship with food. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I can’t stand the very thought of it. However I feel about it, though, it’s important to eat regularly and well. Which is hard, when even looking at food makes you want to be sick.

When I’m on a good run with eating everything happens the way it “should”: I do stuff… I get hungry… I eat… I do more stuff. These are the good times, but they’re also the times when I let things slip, because with food, as with everything in life, habits are important.

Here are some of the important habits I’ve picked up to help me with food:

Notice what you eat!
When I’m on a good run I can eat pretty much anything that’s put in front of me. When I start feeling shit about food, though, what whets my appetite gets a lot sparser. For a long time I just took it as a blanket “I don’t want to eat as much” but when I started paying attention I noticed that my appetite for some foods dropped quicker than for others.
For me, starchy foods are the first to go, with dry starchy foods in the lead. If I’m having trouble eating then I almost certainly won’t want a sandwich, and pasta will last a bit longer but soon I won’t be able to face that.
The last things to go are usually fresh fruit. I can generally stomach an orange or some grapes no matter how bad I feel.

Knowing the order that you lose interest in things can help in more than one way. Firstly it can help you keep a stock of the things you can almost always eat for emergency situations, and secondly it can help give you warning when you’re starting to slip. If I turn up my nose at a nice pasta, for example, I know I’d better fill myself up with salads before I get bad enough that I won’t touch *anything*.

While you may be bored of hearing the old phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” there is still some truth to it.
I don’t eat particularly *good* breakfasts, but I do make sure I eat breakfast every day without fail. It’s a good meal to turn into your anchor point because there’s so little stigma attached to *what* you eat for breakfast. I eat choco hoops, because they’re cheap and I’ve never yet felt like I couldn’t possibly face them. But there are lots of other options, such as fruit, yoghurt, sausage rolls… the list goes on and on. As in the point above, pay attention to what you can always eat and what you can only eat when you’re on a good day. Make plans for a constant supply of an ‘always good’ option for your breakfast so at least you don’t have to worry about that one meal. Quick to make also helps make it less likely that you’ll skip it, which is another reason that I like cereal. So long as I have milk and cereal I can have breakfast ready and eaten before I’m even fully awake.

Lunch and Dinner:
It’s traditional to think of meals in terms of Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, or at least in some variation of three meals a day. If you’re trying this and it’s not working for you, however, it can be worth trying a different tack. Do you find it easier to eat in small portions rather than large? perhaps four of five smaller meals might be worth more than the traditional three if you can fit them into your schedule. It also means you don’t have to pay attention to every single meal being balanced. If you have a small carb heavy meal at noon to keep you going until a more vitamin filled salad at 3 then that’s fine. No meat at 3 but chicken wings and sausages for a later snack? That’s cool too.

Alternatively, if you prefer to do your eating in big portions there’s nothing wrong with a big breakfast and then fruit juices or suchlike until a kind of ‘High Tea’ in the late evening… if your body works with that then go with it.

Food and Sleep:
When you’ve missed meals your body sometimes runs out of energy, and tries to solve this by getting sleepy and using less energy. If you have a history of missing meals then be very wary when you feel like you need a nap when you wouldn’t normally. Have you eaten recently? If not, then make sure you eat *before* you nap. Napping reduces the demands on the body’s energy supply, but doesn’t do anything to refuel you. If you give in to the urge to nap without eating first you can find yourself waking feeling even worse, and it will be even harder to get yourself up and moving to find food then!
Food alternatives:
You can get meal replacement drinks or supplement drinks fairly easily these days. I don’t advise replacing meals with them, but I do find it very worthwhile to keep some in storage for those days when you just can’t face food but know you should get something into you. Likewise multivitamin fruit juices or just varied juices can fill in on vitamins if you’re doing okay with eating your meat and fibre but aren’t up to facing veg.

Ready meals and processed food:
Fresh homemade food is better for you than ready meals… but do you know what’s worse for you than processed food? No food at all!
If quick and ready meals make it easier for you to eat regularly then do it. Simple as.

Treat foods:
Is there something you absolutely love? A favourite restaurant, or a particular ice cream? Remember it. Even if it isn’t “good for you” it can help to jump start your interest in eating when you can’t really face the thought otherwise.

Healthy snacks are so useful if you have trouble bringing yourself to eat. I personally like munching on cherry tomatoes or grapes, with raisins or other dried fruit if I’m going to be out and about. It makes a world of difference to have things like that to hand. If fruit’s not your thing then crackers, popcorn, little cheeses, nuts… find something and make it yours!

Thinking Positive


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A piece of advice that I come across fairly often is “you decide how you feel about things, whether to be sad or happy, whether to look on the bright side or to see the worst. Life is too short to be miserable. Choose to be happy.”

This advice, like many pieces of advice, is useful… to an extent.
You can, to a certain extent, decide how to feel about things.
You can, through forming new habits, learn to see the world in a different light.
A positive attitude can help a lot.

Imagine it as if life is a hot-dog and emotions are the sauces you put on it. You can choose to add mustard, or ketchup, or sweet chilli sauce, or… I don’t actually know what people put on hot-dogs… something else.

But the problem with this as a catch-all solution is that is assumes that people are like this:

emotions - myth

And they’re not. People have so much variety. What works for one might not work for another, or might work, but not change their life as profoundly.
In reality, people look a lot more like THIS:

emotions - reality

No two people are the same, and no problem is simple. Especially not a mental health problem. What works a charm for one peson may be a struggle for another. Some people just don’t have much ketchup. Their ketchup bottle is tiny. They can choose to put ketchup on their hot-dog right now, but that means that later they may not have ketchup. Some people have ketchup with a wonky nozzle, so sometimes when they try to pour it out it just won’t come. Some people have those annoying bottles that you can’t see what’s inside, so maybe it’s empty and they just don’t realise yet, or maybe some prankster filled the brown sauce bottle up with mustard so as to catch people by surprise.

I suffer from depression, and anxiety, and probably more stuff to one extent or another. This is what *my* condiment shelf looks like:my emotions

Some of those are very close together aren’t they? That’s because a lot of my emotions are intertwined. Sadness and joy are very near to each other in my life, and sometimes when I reach for one I get the other. Sometimes when I’ve had the best day I can imagine I feel sad that my mother wasn’t there to experience it with me. Sometimes when I skin my knee I feel happy that I’m still alive to feel pain.

See the way the some of them are tucked away at the back there? That makes them hard to get to. I have to work my way past the worry and the excitement and the uncertainty before I can reach them.

As well as that the nozzles on my bottles are a bit wonky. The one on my happiness is smaller than it should be, so sometimes I have to squeeze it extra hard to get any out. The lid on my sadness doesn’t fit properly, so sometimes it falls off and the tears get everywhere. My anger tends to glob up and come out as huge lumps or not at all.

And that ketchup. It’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with the bottle. But some people have Chef ketchup instead of Heinz ketchup. They seem to like it better. I don’t know if I’d like it better, or if it’s just the same really, or if Heinz is actually more my thing. I’ll never know. I don’t get to have Chef ketchup. This is all I’ve got.

Choosing the right condiment for your hot-dog is a good and important step, but it’s not the only one.

The first, and most important, step is to make sure that you have a hot-dog in the first place. Take care of yourself. Take care of your head and your health and your support networks. In time you can work out how you like your life seasoned, but you don’t have to do it right away.

After that, pay attention to what happens when you season your life. Notice what emotions get confused, and which ones are linked to others. Learn how to handle them to get the best results. Maybe a tap on the bottom is all it takes to get the calm flowing. Maybe not. But you won’t know if you don’t try.

Treatments such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can help. They can teach you to organise your shelf space. They can teach you ways of figuring out when you need to buy more soy sauce before you run out in the middle of cooking.

Medication can help. It’s the only way I’ve found of testing out Chef ketchup. It changes things at a chemical level, and that can be scary, but it doesn’t change you. It just gives things a different flavour.

And finally, you need variety in your life. Trying to live your life only being happy can rob you of the moments of fear and excitement and achievment and bittersweet tears. Too much of anything can be as bad as none at all.
Like this metaphor… which has been going on far too long.
So goodbye for now, and remember: You are not alone!

My Depression through the years

I have had depression for as long as I can remember. I remember suffering from it when I was in primary school, all the way back to playschool. I’ve always had these brain-gremlins.
At the begining of this year I sorted through a load of old papers, and found some old notes of mine… some very depressed writings. I typed them up onto my computer and threw away the originals, because I felt they needed to be remembered, but not to be held onto. I have enough troubles now without holding on to the ones from the past.

(I found other things in my old paperwork too. Birthday cards from friends, letters from penpals. I did hold onto those. You can never have too much joy in your life.)

Anyway, I thought I’d share my old writings here so that people who are interested can see what goes through my mind when I’m low. Please remember that these are just snippets from a life that is wonderful and has many ridiculously happy times and memories. And remember that, even when you feel like you’ll never be happy again, this too will pass. Things always get better.

– In secondary school:

Who? Her! I know her, yes.
Her name is… Well we call her…
I can’t quite remember
It’ll come, just wait and see.
I ought to know, she’s in my class,
In Geography, and Spanish, French
and science, Irish, Maths.
I’ve heard her name, so many times,
But now it seems it’s slipped my mind.
I know she’s quiet during class,
(And mostly after class as well)
She likes to draw, and hates to write
She also likes… well I can’t quite,
Seem to remember, not right now,
We never talked, at least not much,
About things we both liked and such,
I’m sure she’s very nice and all,
But her name I can’t recall,
I barely knew her. As a rule
We never met outside of school.
Only once, or maybe twice.
When we talked she seemed quite nice
But I must say, I don’t quite see,
How all of this relates to me.
She was just another girl,
Someone I met but never knew.
We talked sometimes, that much is true,
But beyond that she was not my friend,
Just a girl I knew from school.

– college years:

Free writing. I’m just going to write without any plan and hope that it can help me sort through some of these emotions. I know that I’m making progress. My mind is clearer than it was and I’m not feeling so… unfeeling anymore. I’m still having a lot of problems, especially with my low self esteem. Now that I have a boyfriend it’s really becoming obvious. It keeps telling me that it’s only a matter of time before he figures out that I’m not worth it. It’s strange to think about that. I have trouble with the fact that I believe I’m worthless, yet it’s behind everything I do. My life is built around the fact that I have to prove myself. Every day I prove to myself that I’m a good sister, that I deserve my place at home, that it’s ok for me to have friends. Then the next day I have to prove it all over again. If I stop trying then there’s only the worthless me left. I feel like only my actions have any meaning.
I know that I’m a good person, I know that I’m a good friend, that I’m caring, friendly, kind. I prove these all to myself all the time. I know I do good things because I make sure I do. I need to to earn my place, to deserve what I have in life. At home I prove myself through housework. I don’t know how else to do it. I feel I have to protect Aisling, to give her guidance and comfort and love, but I don’t know how to do it. So instead I clean and clear and tidy. I want to have a nice home. I want my family to have a nice home. I want them to be able to come back here and feel that they can relax here. I want a home where the worries don’t come crowding as soon as you come in the door. I want a home where the bills are paid and the paperwork dealt with as soon as it comes in the door. I want a home where we have what we need and don’t need to panic when something unexpected comes up. I want to help but I don’t know how, so I clean instead. A clean house means to me that I’ve done enough. That I haven’t failed, or messed up. It means that I’ve done something to help. It means that I’m worth something.

– Later in my college life:

I’ve been lying to myself. I’ve been pretending that everything’s ok when it’s not. We don’t have enough money for me to go to Seattle. Even if I get a summer job i still won’t be able to go. Even worse we don’t have enough money for me to repeat a year if I fail my exams. I’m not even studying for them and if I fail I’m out of college. Forever. I need to get a job. I need to start studying. I need to act as if something really matters not just the now. But I just can’t focus. I’m feeling resentful towards dad. I’m feeling constantly tired and I’m getting short tempered with my friends. If I go on like this I’ll lose eveything. I’m so afraid of messing up. I’m afraid of losing my friends, of going back to life like it was before college, alone, no enemies, but no friends either. Only this time I won’t even have mum there for me when I go home. And I’m losing Dad too. I’m losing him and he’s losing me. We never talk about how we feel. I don’t think he even sees how much I hurt and I never mention it. I’m silent til I snap. I never talk about how I feel and when I do it’s not with Dad. Colin, Cathal, Lowery, Aine… I’m closer to them than I am to my family now. They keep me sane. They hold me back from the edge. If it wasn’t for them I’d be lost. I can hardly remember what it felt like to sit alone because I feel more comfortable that way. I used to. I would avoid others. I didn’t feel comfortable in company. Since coming to college I’ve worked hard to make friends. I’ve had to build up my trust until I can believe that the people I know really want to know me. That I mean as much to them as they do to me. It has been hard but I’ve come so far. Maybe things aren’t so bad after all. I’ve come this far. I can go further. Whatever comes I can make it, as long as I never believe that I’m done. there is always more to come.

just over a year after leaving college:

“I’m an unemployed bum. I’m a drain on the system. I’ve been unemployed for over a year now and there is still no sign of me getting a job. Hell, all I’ve done in that time is decide that I don’t like my chosen profession. Maybe it’s all my fault. I know I could try harder. I know I could be better. But then, you can always try harder and be better. When can you have enough? When can you just sit down and relax and not have to feel guilty.

What if I’m no use?
What if I’m no good to anybody?

– When I started looking at my depression more from an outside point of view:

*about Horace*

I don’t remember when I first became aware of the voice in my head. I certainly know it existed for a long time before I gave it a name.
“I’m calling it Horace” I announced to my friends on facebook “So when it argues with me I can retort with ‘Yeah? Well you’re named after a cheese’ ”
And argue it did. Horace’s favourite phrase was “shut up shut up shut up!” and he seemed to use it as often as possible.

I’d be lying in bed, telling myself I should really get up soon.
“Shut up!”
I’d be budgetting; wondering if I could afford a weekend away.
“Shut Up!”
I’d be trying to get up the energy to work on a project, knowing it would be good for me.
“SHUT UP!!!”
At first I assumed that Horace was the sulky brat part of me. The bit that shouted at anything that wasn’t going his way. Gradually, though, I noticed something:
When I lay in bed in the late morning there was a voice in my head telling me I should get up and do things. There was another voice that insisted that there was no need to get up, and nothing to do. Neither of these voices was Horace… In fact, Horace wouldn’t make his appearance until the debate had been going on for a while. “Shtupshutupshutup” he’d say, or sometimes when he got particularly talkative “Fuck off world!”
But what was he getting so emotional about? He sould never say!

Slowly the realisation dawned. Horace was the childish part of me, but he wasn’t a spoiled brat. Instead he was hurt, alone, confused… and wishing that his parents would please, PLEASE, stop fighting.
Horace didn’t care if I stayed in bed.
Horace didn’t care if I got up.
Horace only cared about endless hours spent arguing with myself; neither of me listening to what the other had to say. Horace only shouted because it was the only way he knew how to communicate. The only way I’d ever shown him.

I’ve always been good with kids. I treat them with respect, and I listen to what they have to say, and they appreciate that. Now, after all these years, I’m learning to treat myself that way too. It’s a long lesson to learn, but it’s amazing how much of a difference a little respect can make!

– About 2013 (this one was tough to transcribe ‘cos it was in mind-map form)

Can I do it?
No ->
because? ->

I’m too lazy
–action or inaction is a choice not a state
–seriously, have you seen the things I can do if I’m motivated?

people wouldn’t belive I can
–people believe many things that aren’t true.

I have no idea what I’m doing
–So What?
–You don’t need to know everything
–Running training, teaching crafts, Captain of DUFC

I’m afraid of responsibility
–only because I take it seriously. That’s good.
–I’m also scared of people, noise, and water. When has that ever stopped me?

I can’t do it all myself and I have trouble letting others help
–Don’t “let”. “Ask”. Your terms, not theirs.
–You’ve been practicing being a leader. Now use it!

I suffer from depression
–NO! I *cope with* depression. I *live with* depression. I beat depression on a daily basis!

Anyway, I know this was a long post, and I hope if you read it all you feel like you’ve gotten something from it. I guess the only point I’m really trying to make here is that you are not alone. Other people feel like this. I feel like this. And it’s shit, but it’s not wrong. We are still good and worthwhile people. We just have to deal with some brain-gremlins that like to tell us that we’re not.