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2019 – A year of change

I’m bringing the blog out of cold storage for a one-off post. Why? Well, it’s Christmas and what’s more festive than a blog about mental health and depression?!

It’s been a pretty eventful year for me and I thought it’d be a good idea to reflect on my journey. I’ve discovered a huge amount about myself, I’ve done things I never imagined I’d do and I’ve finished the year in a very different position to how I started it.

photo of lighted christmas tree at night

Way back in late 2018, I was deeply unhappy.  I was doing a moribund, soul-destroying job, I was having regular bouts of depression and I was feeling utterly useless and directionless. I wasn’t much fun to be around and my relationships were suffering. Then I had a lightbulb moment.  Then lots of things changed (see my other posts).  Now I’m in a different place.

I’m getting there

Having the knowledge that I’ve got autism hasn’t solved all the problems of my world, but it has helped matters considerably.  In some ways it’s helped with major issues – I’m slowly establishing how to optimize the productivity, quality and enjoyment of my working life – see below. I’m also getting a better understanding of my depression and how to cope with bad periods. It’s also useful knowledge for people who know me and helps them understand how my brain works.

grocery cart with item

On a more trivial level, it’s helped me understand plenty of the small things in my life. Last week I was in the supermarket and (unbeknown to me) it was one of those ‘quiet hours’ designed to help people with dementia, autism and other health issues. I usually find shops stressful, chaotic and unnerving experiences. But the lack of checkout noise, the absence of muzak and a general lowering of the chatter levels made it a far more palatable trip for me. I commented as much to my wife, who THEN informed me it was quiet hour! It’s seemingly little changes like that, that can make a big difference to my well-being.

I’ve also developed a better understanding of what helps me ‘switch off’ from my anxiety and depression. My family and friends are fantastic in helping me forget myself and just enjoy the good times. Seeing my daughter start school, love it and learn so much has been the best bit of 2019. I think I’m getting better at being ‘in the moment’ and enjoying the many great things in my life, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

As ever, I find sport a great way of switching off. Watching NFL, cricket, football, snooker etc really helps me to (largely) forget my troubles for a while. I still need lots of time on my own to help me feel more relaxed and not have anything to distract me. I also find writing great for my mental health, which leads on nicely to…

 

I’ve started my own business

A short while ago, this would have seemed an utterly bonkers sentence for me to write, but here we are. I’m the proud owner of Simon Day Content – copywriting and blogging.

I’m not going to lie, it’s a seriously hard thing to do and my mental health isn’t always conducive to making it a success. I’m getting there, I’ve got a few clients and I’m slowly ‘learning my trade’. I’m still some way short of being comfortable financially and I still need to improve the scope and quality of my work. But overall, it’s really helped me feel better mentally and happier in my working life. I can take breaks when I need to and I can structure my day in a way that considerably helps my output.

I seem to have found myself pigeon-holed into writing business to business content, whereas I’d love to expand myself a bit more. If you are one of the few people who used to read my NFL blog, you’ll hopefully agree that I’m good at writing fun, friendly, passionate and even funny content.

It’d be remiss of me not to use this blog to make a sales pitch…if you or anyone you know would like somebody to help them with website writing, blog writing, email marketing or anything else listed HERE, then please put them in touch with me. You’d not only be doing them a favour, but you’d also be helping me immensely.

 

I’ve got a long way to go

Having said all that, I still find many aspects of life difficult. Anxiety, stress and depression are never far away. I have up days and down days. I have days when I just want to stay in bed or watch Netflix, and I have days when I feel pretty much fine. Talking about my problems is still something I find incredibly difficult and painful, getting it all down in writing is far easier.

I’m still attending counselling and I still take anti-depressants every day. I’m OK with that, and the fact they are long term elements of my life doesn’t bother me unduly.

I’m pretty sure that bouts of depression and constant anxiety will be a part of my life forever, but having coping strategies and circumstances in place will hopefully help minimise their negative impact.

 

Society has a long way to go

We’ve all seen social media posts aimed at raising awareness of mental health. We’ve all given ourselves pats on the back for retweeting them. You’ve probably been to a training course or two on mental health. You’ve no doubt read a few stories about minor celebs ‘opening up’ on their mental health problems. You may even have made a donation to a relevant charity.

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That’s all great and it’s undeniable that mental health awareness is better than ever. But, I still think we’re a long long way away from where we need to be. I still think it’s treated differently to physical problems and I still think public understanding is not where it needs to be.

Consider this: think about anyone you know who has depression, anxiety, or any other mental health problems. How often do you ask them how they are feeling? How often do you proactively help them? Do you fully understand their condition? 

Now consider the same questions but apply them to anyone you know who has a broken bone, a heavy cold or some other physical illness or problem. Do you treat both situations in the same way?

By the way, I am writing this as a complete hypocrite. I know people who have mental health problems and I do nowhere near enough very little to help them. My only (feeble) mitigating circumstances are that my autism make it hard for me to emotionally engage in some situations. I get flustered and uncomfortable very easily and that makes it very tricky to be ‘there’ for someone. But I need to improve on that and will try my best to do so.

 

2020 is going to be good

Being positive really isn’t my forte. However, I need to try my utmost to be positive as being in the right mindset is a huge part of the solution. I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions, but I do think it’s important to have targets and goals. With that in mind, my goals for 2020 include:

  • Growing my business – I want to get more clients, improve the quality of my work and establish myself as a respected writer of content for charities and small businesses.
  • Being a better person – I don’t think I’m terrible, but I can be better. As mentioned above, my autism can get in the way, but I need to work at that because ultimately that’s good not just for me, but for everyone else in my life.
  • Do more exercise – playing sport and keeping fit makes me feel better. The boring reason is that it releases endorphins that help your mood, but personally, I just love doing anything that’s competitive. I play rounders once a week, it’adventure athlete athletic daylights not exactly Test Match cricket, but it is competitive, fun and the team I play for is very good. I need to do more of that and play a couple of other sports, as well as keeping myself fit by having more gym visits and going for runs and walks.

 

Do all of that and I can carry on moving in the right direction! I might even write the odd blog post…

 

 

 

 

Burning issues

What is autistic burnout and how does it affect me?

When I started this adult autism blog I made three promises to myself:

  1. Don’t be preachy – I’m no autism guru, there are plenty of those out there. I’m aiming to just inform people about what it’s like to be autistic and how it’s affected me. I’m not aiming to dish out advice.
  2. Don’t bang on about depression – See above. I’ve got depression and anxiety, and it is related to my autism, but it’s just one aspect of it. I’ve written a post covering that off already.
  3. Don’t be too downbeat – I want this blog to be positive for me, as well as being a fantastic read that will lead to people thinking I’m amazing! I don’t want it to be just me whining about how shite things.

I’m having a really crappy time at the minute with my depression.  Earlier this week I drafted a post in which I preached about depression and was really downbeat about it. I’m NOT going to be posting that article today, as I don’t want to break the promises I made myself – who knows, I might release it as some kind of bonus post for Christmas or a special personal post for my millionth visitor!

Instead, I’m going to try and approach my current situation by looking at the issue of autistic burnout.  I’ve previously touched upon the issue of autistic adults suffering from burnout and that leading to depression, but given as that’s what I’m experiencing at present, it seems like a good time to go more in-depth on the topic…

 

What causes my burnout?

Masking – I talked about this in my last post. The effort involved in being ‘normal’ is draining. Suppressing the things my brain wants me to do is tough.

Stress  – As adults, we have far more responsibility than children. Bills, maintaining a home, having a career et al are all constant issues.  There’s always something going on to occupy the mind and that can lead to an overload.

Ageing – To compound the above issue is the sad fact that as we get older we have less energy.  We need more downtime to function effectively. Perversely, the older you get the less downtime you seem to have.

Changes in life – You know, stuff like discovering you’re probably an autistic adult and going through the whole diagnosis process. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it somewhere. Yes, I am trying to see it as a positive, but it’s a lot to take in and is a massive change in my life.

It’s worth mentioning here that the above is what causes MY burnout.  There are a few other causes that impact upon on autistic adults – illness, sleep deprivation, sensory overload.

 

How does my burnout manifest?

Easily overwhelmed – Everything seems overwhelming and ‘too much’ for my brain or body to cope with.

photo of bonfire

Easily agitated – I’m not a big shouter and I’m certainly not violent, but when I’m burnt out I get put on edge at the drop of a hat. Even the smallest, insignificant issue can cause me to lose the ability to think straight or make decisions. I regularly ‘meltdown’ and regress.

My masking skills diminishI pick my fingers more, I find it harder to concentrate or pretend I’m interested in something. I don’t have the energy to put my mask on.

Lack of motivation – I know that doing the things I enjoy is beneficial to my well-being, but I find it hard to muster the enthusiasm or desire to do them.

In short, I’m not very happy and I’m not much fun to be around.

Other manifestations that I don’t suffer from include – loss of speech, loss of memory, digestive issues and lack of self-care.

 

How do I cope?

Exercise – I sometimes jog.  I’m no gym rat, and I’ve no aspiration to be a fitness freak. For a start the gym is largely non-competitive; if I’m exerting myself I want to beat someone. I play for a local rounders team (!) and it’s really good fun, but more importantly, I’m pretty competent at it and there’s a competitive element to it.

I do go for a run 2 or 3 times a week, and I make it less tedious by listening to music or a podcast or book. It helps me ‘escape’ and take my mind off the fact that I’m running around for no competitive purpose! But I can’t claim that I enjoy running.

I prefer long walks. Aside from the audio benefits, I can enjoy the scenery and give myself a bigger window to relax. I recently did a 13-mile charity walk, it’s not exactly Bear Grylls stuff, although it was very hilly and had about 50 stiles, so feel free to call me Bear!  It gave me a sense of accomplishment and made me feel good. I’m definitely going to do more of that later in the year.

Similarly, I had a lovely day out at a park with my wife and daughter at the weekend. The venue was beautiful, we had a picnic, got lost in a maze and generally had a really good time.  For a while, I could forget my troubles.

I need a lot of ‘me time’ when I’m feeling down.  A time when nothing of consequence matters and I can at least try and switch my brain off. It doesn’t solve a thing, but it does at least give me a break.

app entertainment ipad mockup

I do like to ‘Netflix and chill’. Or even Amazon Prime and chill or ‘other’ streaming methods and chill!  But while I do watch plenty of shows I enjoy, I find it hard to find a series I can completely ‘lose myself in.  Previously I’ve got obsessed with series like The Wire, Veronica Mars and Harper’s Island (I don’t know anybody who’s watched Harper’s Island. It’s probably the most enjoyable trash whodunnit I’ve ever watched). I love a good mystery, especially if it’s a series-long arc. I am open to recommendations by the way.  The Cricket World Cup is on at present, and while I’m not losing myself in it as much as I’d like (it’s not quite enabling me to switch my brain off completely) it is providing some downtime for my brain.

I have a similar view of books. I love immersing myself in a good mystery, but often find it hard to find a really good one.  I’ve recently read a load of books by a US writer called Chris Carter. They’re quite good (6-7/10), but not mind-blowing or the sort of thing I’d drop everything to read.   I am open to recommendations by the way.

Time off work is something I find necessary and beneficial. I have previously tried to avoid it even when others have told me I need it.  I feel bad that unlike most other ‘time off work’ illnesses, mental health issues take longer. But there comes a time when presenteeism is just no good to anyone and ends of making me feel a lot worse.  Some people have multiple months off work after burnout, some have to quit their jobs. I don’t want to do any of those things, I want to go back and thrive and contribute positively.

Trying to concentrate on the niche interests that make me happy and I can get passionate about is my best coping strategy.  At the minute, writing this blog is a great positive. Perversely, even though I’m writing about a largely negative situation, it’s making me feel more positive.

Again there are other strategies that autistic adults can deploy such as massages or diets. As with everything in this blog, I’m just talking about me. All autistic people are different.

 

So there you go, hopefully that wasn’t too downbeat. It certainly hasn’t made me feel any more downbeat. It’s good to write about these things and share my experiences. Hopefully, it’s improving your understanding of what it means to be an autistic adult and how that impacts people’s lives. Promise!