The Finishing Line

This is my final blog post for the foreseeable future.

That excellent hook is also a statement of fact. I will probably return at some point with some updates on my ‘journey’, but in terms of my general posts on autism and mental health that’s it for now.

I’d love to carry on writing this blog.  I’ve really enjoyed it, it’s been superb therapy and some of the comments and messages I’ve had have been really heart-warming. But I need to stop writing for now. And I need to explain why…

Over the last few months I’ve come to a few conclusions about myself and where I’ve been going wrong in life, why I suffer from depression and anxiety, and why my working life hasn’t been as successful as it can be. The good news is that it’s enabled me to realise what I can do to improve, be comfortable with who I am and thrive in the future.

The blog has played an important and unexpected role in that. I started it to just get a few thoughts out there, open up about what’s going on and pass on a few hopefully interesting nuggets of information. One of the most important things that has happened is that I’ve rediscovered my love of writing.  I’m not bad at it, it’s good for my mental health and it really suits the way my brain is wired.

I recently wrote about how my brain focuses intently on a few things, but struggles to concentrate on others.  Well, it turns out that writing, and in particular blog writing, is one of those things I do concentrate on and thrive at.  I’ve kind of suspected that for a while, and my jobs have always contained an element of writing blogs, copy and/or articles, but this ‘journey of self-discovery’ (apologies for the absurdly pretentious phrase that makes me sound like a reality TV contestant) has really hammered home that fact and help me understand why.

 

What am I going to do with this knowledge?

text on shelfClearly I’ve thought long and hard about this.  My life situation and responsibilities are the fundamental non-health related drivers, so quitting work to write a free WordPress blog about adult autism isn’t really a viable option!

What is a viable option is looking at ways I can earn a bit of additional money from writing and take it from there.  I’ve been looking at guest blogging options, and a few of you may have seen my speculative email pitch offering my services.

That’s all a bit low key though, and low key doesn’t often achieve much.  So I’ve decided to try and take it to the next level. I want to be a blogger and copywriter, either freelance or in-house, either where I currently work or elsewhere.  It’s the best option for my well-being and mental health, as far as work goes.

The end game is do it full time, but I’m sensible and realistic enough to know that may take some time, or indeed never happen.  I’ve signed up for a business start-up training course to further explore that side of it.  I’m in the process of putting business, marketing and budgeting plans together and I’m drafting up a website. I’m also looking at courses to improve my skills.

Initially I just want to get a few hours work per week to build up my skills, my network and my portfolio.  I need to nail down specifically what I want to offer and I need to spread the word.  As it stands, I’d love to write copy, blogs and run social media accounts for local businesses and charities.  That way I can see the impact my work is having and I’ll be helping my local area and/or worthy causes.

 

Why can’t I carry on with this blog?

silver and gold coins

Everything I’ve mentioned above will involve plenty of work and effort.  Having a full time day job and a family means free time is at a premium and finding enough minutes to write this blog now is tricky enough. Throw in jobs like creating a new website and writing plans will only further diminish my windows of opportunity. Plus…

I need to start writing more diverse articles, completely separate to this. To show that I can write on topics other than autism and mental health. I also need to write blogs that will connect with my desired audience and engage them.

It’s something I really want and need to focus on in order to make it work. I completely believe it can and it will make me happier, massively improve my well-being and allow me to thrive.

Now it’s just a case of doing it!

 

Epilogue

As I mentioned at the start, I will occasionally post stuff on here to let you know about my Adult Autism Adventure. I’m currently still awaiting the follow up appointment following my initial assessment.  I’ve no idea how long it will take or what it will involve, but I’ve become OK with that. I’ve accepted that regardless of a formal diagnosis I’ve got more than enough autistic traits to consider myself autistic.  I need to live and prosper with that knowledge.

Whilst it’s a big deal it’s not something that I want to hold me back. Indeed, it’s something that I can use to my advantage (No, I don’t mean I want to park closer to Morrisons!) and help improve my future and that of the people close to me.

There may also be the occasional post on her about my new work venture.  File those under ‘shameless self-promotion’, but only AFTER you’ve helped spread the word, visited my new site and had a think about potential clients for me!

So thank you for reading this blog and hopefully you’ll be reading a lot more of my content in the future.

thank you text on black and brown board

The Neverending Story

So there’s this 12-year-old kid, and he’s doing his homework in his bedroom one night.  Suddenly he notices that there’s a light on in the house opposite.  But that’s impossible, the couple who live there are on holiday.  He runs downstairs to tell his parents. They are good friends with the couple and have the spare key.  They go over to the house and discover that the doors are all locked.  The light is now off and there’s no trace of anybody or any disturbance.

Sorry, I better explain that bizarre into.  That paragraph is the beginning of a story I formed in my head a few years ago.  When I, as is frequently the case, have trouble getting to sleep or are daydreaming, my mind turns to it. Over time I’ve gradually added more and more to it.  I’ve almost reached a point when I’ve got the outline of a pretty solid story.

On a few occasions I’ve started to jot down my idea, I’ve got character and setting descriptions and my desired plot structure.  But I’ve never taken it further. ‘Why not?’ you might think, I clearly enjoy writing and have a modicum of ability.

There are three answers to that question; two of them merit a lengthy explanation.  The one that doesn’t is the simple fact that perhaps it’s not a great idea! But that’s pretty irrelevant to a blog about adult autism, so we’ll concentrate on the other two factors:

Confidence

It might be a preference to the habitual voyeur of what is known as Parklife, but it’s not something I’m blessed with.  I’ve touched on this issue before, when talking about my sporting ‘career’ and my working life, but I’ll now try and explain it more succinctly…

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It’s all to do with having a brain that is ‘wired differently’.  A neurotypical person with a bit of writing ability and a half-decent concept would do everything they could to run with their idea. I’m pretty sure JK Rowling didn’t know she’d be swimming in bottomless pits of money when she penned the first paragraph of Harry Potter. But she committed to the idea, followed it through and now lives like Scrooge McDuck.

My neurodiverse brain constantly overthinks everything.  And when you overthink, you end up focussing on the negatives.  Look hard enough for a problem and you’ll find one.  I don’t see the glass as being half empty, I think the glass is half full, but almost certainly poisonous, so I’m not going to drink it.

I’m not for a second suggesting that my idea would make a great book.  It serves as an example of an issue that applies to the majority of my life.  Deep down I know I’m not stupid and I know I’ve got a lot to offer, but having the confidence to make that leap of faith deserts me.

Concentration

The ‘mystery light’ idea is by no means my only half-baked writing concept.  Over the years I’ve had ideas and started writing about (amongst other things) the history of the NFL in the UK, an NFL guide for beginners, a mystery about a couple finding a dead body in their walk-in wardrobe and a diary about completely changing the football team you support. I could talk at great length about any of those topics, but I’ve never fully developed any of them.

Aside from the confidence issue, my main problem is that I often struggle to concentrate for long periods. As I’ve mentioned before, if I’m passionate about a topic then I can concentrate for hours on end.  But if I’m not, or I don’t feel like I’m being listened to, or I don’t see it as being important, then my mind wanders and I can’t focus.

That’s by no means an issue exclusive to my writing ideas. Ask my wife about my efforts at cleaning a room or doing the shopping. I’ll have the best intentions in the world, but more often than not my brain will wander off and I’ll end up doing half a job.

photo of head bust print artwork

I don’t know for certain whether I’ve got ADHD, but when the doctors eventually get round to diagnosing me, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover that I have. ADHD is extremely common among people on the autistic spectrum and I display plenty of the symptoms. I have problems focussing, I have a low frustration tolerance, my boredom threshold is very low and I am often restless.

 

In conclusion

The biggest takeaway from this is that whilst I haven’t invested enough effort or had confidence in the ideas I’ve mentioned in this post, I HAVE fully committed to this blog. Churning out a post every week hasn’t been a problem at all, it’s a pleasure.  I often write more than that, but don’t want to bombard people with too many posts.  Instead, I’ve stockpiled a fair few for times when I’m too busy to write something new.  The best conclusion I can draw is that this blog is a far better and more interesting concept than any of the others I’ve mentioned.

Through writing this blog, doing my day job and discovering more and more about my brain and disability, I’ve concluded that the best way of improving my mental well-being, happiness and working life is to concentrate more and more on writing. I’ve loved writing this blog and my favourite elements of my working life involve writing. It’s great for my mental health and acts as a kind of therapy when I’m not feeling great.

What’s more, it’s what I’m best at.  I know that, so what I’d love to do is to ‘take the plunge’ and commit to writing for a living.  Either as an employee or self-employed,  but just writing blogs, books and web content and copy.  Maybe part-time at first, but eventually I’d love to work full time helping small businesses and/or charities with their content (web, social media etc).

I know I could be great at it and I know I’d enjoy it and be passionate.  The problem is having the confidence and faith to make the leap, instead of just seeing the potential hurdles such as money and time.  But I have at least got a goal now and something I can focus on.

And maybe one day everyone will find out why the light was on in the house across the street!

16 phrases you should never say to people with mental health issues

Here’s a slightly tongue in cheek post about how you can best help people with mental health problems…

Autism isn’t a mental health issue, many autistic people are perfectly healthy mentally and physically. However, as I’ve discussed before, there is a strong correlation between autism and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.  It’s great that more and more people have sympathy for that and want to help. If you’re one of those people then keep doing it, but be mindful of how you go about it.

Here to help you is my list of 16 things you should never say to people with mental health issues. (Oh and if you read my previous post you’ll know that sarcasm is one of my flaws!)…

  1. ‘It’s all in your head’ – Well, err yes. Where else is it going to be?
  2. ‘You don’t look depressed’ – Sorry, I promise never to laugh so it’s easier for you to comprehend.
  3. ‘Try and cheer up’ – Oh yeah, I never thought of that. There was me thinking that being miserable was the best way to go. Thanks for interrupting your MENSA application to put me right!woman holding a smiley balloon
  4. ‘You could do with a drink’ – That’s probably true on most days regardless of my mental health, but that’s because I like beer! It doesn’t improve my mental health or solve anything. Please note: buy me a beer.
  5. ‘It could be worse’ – Undeniably true, but I’m not sure how that helps. Would thinking about a blind and deaf paraplegic with terminal cancer be somehow beneficial?!
  6. ‘Just forget about it’ – Right, so you’d say the same if I had a broken leg would you?
  7. ‘It’s just a bad day’ – Now, I DO sometimes try and tell myself this when I’m having a bad spell. Just as a way of reminding myself that I will have better times and it’s not permanent. But there is something a bit condescending about being told that a serious health issue is just a ‘bad day’.
  8. ‘You’ve got a lot to be happy about’ – I’m fully aware of that.
  9. ‘Man up’ – What does that even mean? Is it more ‘manly’ to not have an illness or disability?
  10. ‘Stop focussing on the bad stuff’ – See point 3. Nobody wants to feel down or miserable. Trust me, it’s not fun.
  11. ‘You need to snap out of it’ – That would be a brilliant solution…so how do you suggest I do that?
  12. ‘Keep yourself busy’ – I’ve tried this many a time. But the idea that giving your brain a distraction solves anything is just wrong; if I’m feeling low then it’s always there. And autism means that the ‘distraction’ is that something else to stress about.
  13. ‘But you always seem happy’ – See masking.  Plus maybe I’m scared of what people will think if I show weakness. Or maybe I don’t want it to define me.
  14. ‘You just worry too much’ – Yes I do, that’s called anxiety. What’s your answer?
  15. ‘Don’t do anything stupid’ – I’m lucky in that I’ve never had suicidal thoughts, but plenty of depressed people frequently do. The idea that suicide or self-harm is ‘stupid’ is particularly unhelpful.
  16. ‘I never would have guessed’ – See point 13. Note to self: Do a blog on ‘high functioning’.

Of course, I’m talking personally and hopefully with a sprinkling of humour, but there is a serious underlying point. The overall message is that it’s great that people want to help and long may it continue.  Just be careful to consider what you’re saying and how you’re offering to give help.

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Consider the recipient of your words.  Maybe they would benefit from hearing phrases like the 16 above.  Maybe you need to adopt a softer approach, maybe you need to just be a soundboard, or perhaps you should just talk about something else completely and provide a welcome distraction.

My personal experience is those welcome distractions are just as valuable as advice. Escapism is great therapy and diverting some of my anxieties is priceless. Feeling a bit anxious about the result of a sports fixture is infinitely preferable to the majority of my worries.

So carry on offering sympathy and support, but make sure that it’s bespoke to the recipient of it.