Learning how to stop

My head is full, too full. Full to the extent that getting to sleep is getting harder and I’m struggling to process the day to day demands that I know I should manage. It’s full to the extent that things I would normally take in my stride are bothering me and I’m so tired I slept 13 hours last night, something I haven’t needed to do for a long time.

I also keep ‘writing’ things in my head. I don’t quite know how else to describe it when my head gets full or I have something going on that I’m struggling to process I basically start writing it down in my head, it’s half effective. When I write I always seem to address an imaginary audience. For as long as I can remember it has been how I think, as though, I’m talking to someone else, and having never discussed this with anyone before I have no idea if this is the same for other people too. But for me, it works. As for thought writing, it is a semi-effective method of organizing my thoughts until I am able to get them down properly.

I have been doing this for a while now, knowing I need to write but never quite finding the time or admitting to myself the urgency of it, I don’t always like the way I think or handle things, the way worrying and fretting and overthinking is an intrinsic part of my nature. I have been told to stop worrying a lot lately but I really don’t know how to. I stop worrying by rationalizing, by making myself take a step back and think things through, it’s not a particularly natural process, and a lot of effort goes into it. Especially when it involves interactions with other people as my source of worry. And when I’m tired I find it almost impossible.

And that’s been the problem, too much in my head and being too tired to deal with it properly. At the moment when I look at my wall calnader, it is FULL. Like the fullest it has ever been and in some ways this is exciting, I leave the country for 5 months in May, a trip that I have been planning for as long as I have felt able to plan things. And after 4 years of Chronic Fatigue being able to plan and trip like this is amazing, it’s also really scary.

For the past four and a half years my life has been within quite strict constraints. At times I have felt like a prisoner, unable to get away from an illness that is holding me back. There has been little to really excite me or celebrate, writing my novel being the biggest and best thing and finally being well enough to work again being the other. But now I am able to leave the cocoon of the last 4 years and do something I have been dreaming of forever it seems. I get to travel properly, on my own, doing what I want to do. And just the thought of it is amazing, but the compulsive planning, googling, budgeting and sleep stopping daydreaming is less so.

And when I’m not planning I’m working, 4 days a week for a long time has been fine, but I’m also coming up to my driving test and so have lessons on most of my days off, I have Doctors appointments to get the meds I need for traveling and suddenly it feels like all my days are running together with no chance to rest, and I need to rest.

I can feel myself flagging, My body needs a break for the hectic and exciting life I have been rejoicing in having. I may not feel like I am ill anymore but I’m not out of the woods just yet. I still need to listen when my body is screaming at me to stop, when I feel my ability to deal with the day to day start to slip, when my emotions start to take control and I find myself needing to go to bed at 10pm and sleep through till 11 the next morning. I may not feel ill anymore but I’m not 100% well either.

Admitting to myself that I need to stop is fucking hard. I have never been good at accepting weakness. I hate the fact I can’t keep up with my peers despite the fact I have spent the last 4 years ill. And I know it is silly. I know I can’t do everything I quite want to yet and I need to look after myself and what will happen if I don’t but I still resent it.

Admitting to myself that I need to rest is hard but admitting to someone else I need it is even harder. But for the past few days when I have been looking at my calender, my heart has been filling with dread, I honestly didn’t know how I was going to get through the next few weeks. I was getting irritable and easily upset at work. My head refused to see reason and the thought of forcing myself through the next few weeks was enough to make me want to cry. So I did something I HATE doing. I admitted I needed a break and asked my boss if I could have an extra day off.

I didn’t even quite get to the asking thing. As soon as I asked if we could look at the rota he just asked me if I needed a day off this week. I seem to be pretty easy to read most of the time and the last few days at work I haven’t been myself. So I got Thursday off. Which will give me three days in a row away from work and while two of them are pretty full one will be given over to resting. I could feel the relief seeping through me at the thought of it. I already was starting to feel in more control again.

I went to bed at 10 last night and slept through to 11 this morning. I have a driving lesson at 2 but I have been able to write all this down. My head is feeling clearer already. I may not like to admit I can’t keep up all the time. But finally, I’m learning to stop before I get to crisis point not when I’m falling headlong into it.

skiing

Whether this was worth reading or not it was worth writing.

If you bother to read all the way through cool, my next post is likely to be more enjoyable as it will be focusing to getting ready to leave the country for 5 months and then for the next 5 months this will turn into a bit more of a travel blog.

Anyway, this was what was important to me today!

With love,

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx

I will smile even when I cry

Two years ago I was finally diagnosed with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) after a year and a half of uncertainty. Normally when I have received a diagnose, whether it was diabetes, autism or dyslexia it has been a relief. But CFS wasn’t. I knew I had it, I had known for a while it was the only thing that made sense but that didn’t make it any better.

When you google CFS and look for advice one of the first thing that comes up is from the ME Association. It’s hardly positive, they disagree with most of the treatment options given by the medical professionals and when you read their literature you can’t help but think if you try anything you will make yourself worse.

This time two years ago I was hardly hopeful of getting better. I tried to be but I believed that if I tried anything I would get worse and I was coping as I was. I was scared of losing what little I had and so if you had told me in two years time I would be working three days a week, have finished writing my novel and was able to have the best social life I had had in years I would have said you where dreaming. But here I am.

For the past 6 months, everything has worked out. Everything I have tried to do I have managed. I’ve been riding on a massive high and it has felt like nothing could bring me down again. I haven’t felt ill. I haven’t felt like I’m trying to balance my life and my CFS because it is so much better and I can do so much more.

With that in mind, I decided that I was well enough to go on the whitewater kayaking trip with Westminster boating base to France. I have wanted to go for the past few years but known my body wouldn’t be able to handle it. This year though was different. I was so much better and doing so much more. I expected to have to take a bit of time off compared to the kids but I thought I would manage.

In May I went on a 12 day trip through the Baltic states and Finland and managed really well. This trip I assumed would be about the same.

I got to the base on the Monday morning having had my most intense week at work since I had started. Packing up the trailer took us from 11 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon. The sun was beating down and even with the excitement keeping me awake I was quite tired when we finally squashed into the car to start the overnight drive to the south of France.

By the time we reached Calais, it was almost midnight and I should have been trying to get to sleep but I was wide awake and hyper so took my turn as co-pilot in the front seat of the car. I finally got calm enough to doze off at about half three in the morning and we got to the campsite at about half 8. We were ahead of the minibus with the kids by quite a long way so pitched the tents and had a nap before they arrived.

Things didn’t quite work out for the minibus and so me and the other over 18 with no responsibility, Freddy, got a relaxing if bazaar night alone on the campsite while the rest of the adults went to spend a night with the kids who were stranded two and a half hours away.

The next day the kids arrived and we got into the full swing of things. Despite the heat and two days of not enough sleep I was doing really well and enjoying being in a nice place with nice people. That evening we all went down to the lake to help the kids who didn’t have great rolls improve and cool down in the water. At this point I felt full of hope and expectation. Tomorrow we would be getting on the course and I would get my first proper go at whitewater and in the meantime, we had a really nice dinner and I got an early night.

I had thought that getting up at 8 would be hard but by half 7 the sun was beating down so hard that the tent turned into an oven so I was awake anyway. We ate breakfast and then with a fair amount of faff (there were 14 kids aged between 10 and 17 plus the adults so nothing was going to happen at the peak of efficiency) we got down to the lake for the first session of the trip.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have only really kayaked on the Thames. We started with flat water skills, how many rolls can you do in 30 seconds (8), how long can you hold your breath for (54 seconds above water 45 below). It was fun but quite hard work. From the lake, we paddled round to the bottom of the course to practice safe whitewater swimming and using throw lines. I enjoyed it but was knackered by the time we finished. This is as much as I would normally do in a day and there was still the afternoon session to go.

After lunch, I was tired but determined to get back on the water with the rest, we were here to kayaking after all and my initial plan was to paddle 3/4 of the sessions. I got on the water and tried to keep up with the kids but my body was exhausted. After a few attempts of ferry gliding across the river I messed one up and ended up underwater with only one hand on my paddle. I managed to get up again but this failure had me beat. I didn’t think I was going to find it this hard and I was frustrated and tired. I knew I needed to go again but I all I could do was cry. My body was screaming at me to stop but giving up now felt like failing.

I sat in my boat watching the kids feeling like I should be anywhere but where I was. I was here to kayak but all I felt was sheer exhaustion and frustration at my lack of energy. I could have stayed there a long time, silently beating myself up at my lack of willpower but Isobel, my first friend in London who has had endless patience with me ever since we met and has only known me since I’ve had the CFS, came and talked some sense into me. If I was this tired the best thing to do was get off the water and rest. Take a nap with the hope of being better by tomorrow.

I dozed for the rest of the afternoon, laying in a hammock with First Aid Kit in my ears to help me relax and push away the frustration and anxiety that was trying to settle in my stomach. Once I had rested and the others were off the water I tried to keep busy and with people to avoid any untoward emotions from invading. We were all here on holiday and I didn’t want my feelings to bubble over and affect anyone but me.

I tried to go to bed early, hopefully, that if I got 11 hours sleep I would feel better in the morning and be able to paddle. I dozed to the sound of running water and crickets trying to shut my mind off, trying to relax enough to sleep but the feelings that I had been keeping at bay by staying busy started to push into me. I lay in my tent wanting to cry and talk to a friend. If I was at home I would be on the phone with one of my friends but here I felt alone. Isobel was only 5 meters away and if I was at home I would have called her but she was on holiday and I didn’t want to disturb her evening with my troubles.

After agonizing over what the right thing to do was, the sensible part of my brain took control and pointed out that if one of my friends was feeling how I was and I was only 5 meters away I would want them to talk to me so I got up and cried into Isobel’s shoulder and felt much better for it. I finally go to sleep at about half 11.

The next morning I try to have a lie in but the heat gets me up at just a little after the kids. I avoid the busy breakfast tent and go and play with my new friend, a 10-month-old baby, who is camping on the pitch next to ours. We spend and enjoy 45 minutes making whale noise at each other and playing the ‘I’m going to drop something on the floor so you can pick it up for me’ game that all babies love to play.

I join the others on the water, full of hope that today will be better. I try to stay positive and push away the feeling of frustration and exhaustion that are threatening once again to overwhelm me, I manage to break into the eddy behind the rock that we are aiming at. There is a brief sense of euphoria but it’s quickly overtaken by tiredness. Isobel gives me some pointers about how to do it better next time and I smile but I’m so tired I’m almost crying. I give it another go in an effort to look like I’m enjoying myself but all I want to do is sleep. After getting it again and having a go at the next stage I get off the water to go and rest feeling like an utter failure.

At this point, luck intervenes. I feel like curling up in a small ball and crying. I want to be coping and enjoying this but all I feel is tired. I’m trying to keep a smile on my face for the sake of the people around me and the effort is using energy I don’t have. I could have gone and found somewhere quite to cry but I see my little friend in her travel cot while her parents pack up the campsite so I go and play with her instead. There is something about a baby wanting to be with you that I find immensely calming. Making funny noises with my little friend and have her cuddle into me make everything feel better, even just for a little while. I push the knot of anxiety away and just enjoy feeling wanted.

After lunch I catch Isobel and am able to talk to her about how I’m really feeling. Tears quickly make their appearance and I know I can’t do this for much longer. Everything feels impossible and I want to go home, well I don’t want to but I don’t know what else I can do.

I call my mum, immediately she knows something is wrong, I don’t call unless something really isn’t working. I cry and she comes up with an idea, maybe if I had somewhere else to stay that is cooler and I could sleep longer I would feel well enough to paddle in a day or so. I want this to be the case so badly I jump on the idea and within the hour I have somewhere else to stay with the hope that it will allow me to rest and recover.

For the rest of the day I feel better. I nap and then get coffee while watching the kids have a go on a big wave. When Freddy tells me they are going to conga line it and do I want to join I grab my bouncy aid and helmet and quickly find a spot. Now there is a plan I feel in control again and so am able to enjoy myself.

It doesn’t work, while my new surroundings feel rather luxurious compared to the campsite the cabin is still insanely hot and I feel really far away from everyone else. I try to sleep that night but end up sick with anxiety, I know the only thing I can do to make this better is going home. The CFS has meant that things that normally don’t bother me are stressing me out. My autistic brain is fighting for control and can’t find any so is panicking and making me super stressed using energy I don’t have and leaving me even more tired. The two of them are fighting each other and I feel so out of control and exhausted and I know all I can do is get somewhere I feel safe and in control and this is my bedroom back in London.

I walk over to the campsite rehearsing what I will say in my head. I get there, grab Isobel and end up crying to her again as I explain that I need to go home and am waiting till I can call my mum. By lunchtime, I have a flight the next day and am feeling in control again.

It would be easy to say I wasted my time, that perhaps I should have known that it would be too much and maybe I was naive. But I have learned too much in the past few years to say that. Yes, it didn’t work out how I wanted it to but had it been 15 degrees cooler it most likely would have been a success. I enjoyed the camping, there is something magical about falling asleep to the sound of water and crickets. I enjoyed the company of the kids and watching them improve over the time I was there to watch them. And even though I hardly paddled it has made me determined to have a proper go on whitewater (the other day I booked myself on to a 6-week course at Lee Valley which I think will be a little less intense and so manageable).

It was one of those experiences where even though it didn’t work out I felt exceptionally lucky. All the kids were incredibly supportive of my struggles. Everything that could have been done to make my life easier was done and at no point did anyone make me feel like I was wasting their time by being there and not paddling. I felt bad and like I was being really inconvenient but no one made me feel that way. And Isobel was the best friend I could have asked for.

I may have not paddle much and it really wasn’t what I had been hoping for but I’m glad I went. And I want to say thank you to everyone who was on the trip, especially to Mike, Steffie (for the amazing food) and Isobel because I know I couldn’t have been all that easy that week but you put up with me anyway.

Milou!!

me with my little friend

Thank you for reading, I know it has been a long one!

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx

Those pesky things called feelings

CFS isn’t an easy thing to live with. I guess that’s not really all that much of a surprise. Having a body that doesn’t seem to want to function in the way it should is never going to make things easier. Losing my independence wasn’t easy either. I had always thought that when I left home it would be for good. The idea of going back was never considered, even when I got ill in Canada I knew I would be able to cope on my own.

Leaving home gave me the space I needed to come to terms with a lot of things. It allowed me to stop being angry and start to understand why somethings had happened the way they had. I’m autistic. It’s not a big deal, not anymore. I’ve learnt to understand what it means for me and for other people around me. It’s all I know and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but that doesn’t mean it made growing up easy.

Misunderstandings made me fiercely independent at quite a young age. For a long time, I believed the only person who could look after me or understand me or even like me was me. Growing up feeling different, wishing that for just one day I could be like everyone else, hating myself for not being able to understand other people took its toll. It’s hardly a surprise I have had depression for over half my life.

I don’t want to dwell too much on the past. Those things happened a long time ago. I’ve come to understand why they happened, and I don’t blame anyone, not anymore. Shit happens, it’s a fact of life. There is no point trying to find someone to blame or holding on to anger from the past.

I do sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I never got ill. If I had been able to run as far away as I wanted too and not look back. Would I be happy? Would I have forgiven my past? Would I be in contact with home? I don’t know, but as harsh as it sounds I don’t I would be.

I don’t believe in fate, or that things happen for a reason or anything like that. I believe in people and in making the best of things. I believe in not giving up and looking for the good in every situation. And I think I have got quite good at that. Sometimes I worry that I have got too good.

Since getting CFS I have perfected my ability to smile when I really want to scream. I have become an expert at telling people I am fine and wittering on about all the good things because I know that’s what they want to hear. I don’t like to admit when I’m struggling. I don’t want to pick up the phone and just cry because life isn’t fair and I’m fed up. It doesn’t seem fair to subject anyone else to that.

And often getting overly upset about things doesn’t help me either. I know it’s important to allow emotions to come and be felt, but I also know dwelling on them just makes things worse. As much as I don’t want to subject other people to me when I’m upset, I don’t want to let myself feel that negativity either.

I hate the feeling of falling apart, of not being able to cope. I have always been proud of my ability to cope with shit. I have always seen it as a strength but maybe it’s not. Remaining positive is one thing, forgetting that it’s ok to not be ok is another. And recently I think I have been forgetting.

I know why, I’m scared my depression will come back. I have been able to enjoy almost two years of feeling good and being happy. Something at one point I didn’t believe would ever happen. And when I tell myself I’m happy, things feel ok. When I push aside the uneasy feelings and paste on a smile, I can kid myself into believing things are good.

But sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I do need to cry. Sometimes I need to let myself no be ok for a few hours. Sometimes I need to pick up the phone and cry. I need to remind myself it’s ok to not be ok.

It’s not an easy thing to do. I have to psych myself up for it. One of the things about being autistic is emotions come all at once. I’m either fine or totally overwhelmed. And the feeling when too many emotions are coursing through me is horrible. There is often a physical pain. I feel like I am drowning in feelings and I just want to push them out. This is why autistic meltdowns often are loud and violent. It’s also one of the reasons I’m so keen on being fine all the time.

But recently, I was able to get it right. I knew the feelings where coming, I had that uneasy feeling in my stomach which is my early warning system. A red light was flashing and I knew unless I did something soon I was going to implode.

So I did the thing I hate to do. I picked up the phone and I cried. I talked to one of my best friends about how I felt and she listened. I put my pride to one side and admitted that it’s sometimes necessary to let those pesky emotions come out. And I felt better for it. We talked and I cried until we talked and we laughed. I knew what I needed but I have always been scared of reaching out and asking for it.

I knew what I needed but I have always been scared of reaching out and asking for it. I don’t really know why. If one of my friends was upset and needed to talk to me I would want to be there. But for some reason, I feel bad about asking it of them, even though I know they don’t mind.

It’s something I’m working on. Something I know I need to do. CFS has taught me a lot but also made me forget a few things. Now I’m getting better I need to start remembering them again.

sarah and the rest

sarah

Sarah, who will always make me laugh even when I’m crying

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Me and Naomi whos one of my oldest friends

I hope this makes sence, it made sence to me when I was writing it!

With love,

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx