Thursdays are hard for me at the moment because I finally started attending an autism support group. Not a carers group, a post diagnosis group for myself, to help with aspects of living with aspergers.
For me, and indeed many people with ASD diagnosis, autism comes with a high level of anxiety, that feeds into bouts of clinical depression. Understanding myself, developing techniques to handle the anxiety I wrestle with on a daily basis are key to me. And one of the techniques we’re exploring is mindfulness.
A defence mechanism many people employ to cope with anxiety is avoidance. If I run away from this conversation/don’t go to this event/spend the day playing 2048 (see also obsessional behaviours, I may write on this another time) I won’t feel anxious. By the way, I’m not talking about a mild twinge of anxiety – did I remember to lock the door? Oh yes – I’m talking about the kind of anxiety that turns your insides into a pretzel, relocates your shoulders somewhere near your ears, feels like you’ve swallowed a rock that’s lodged in your throat and sets you sweating with racing heart. All at once. The kind of thing that you really do want to avoid.
The problem with avoidance is that all it does is put the problem off, whatever the problem happens to be. And very often, putting the problem off, increases it. Fail to deal with your bills? Red bill, followed by threatening letters, probably with extra charges. Anxiety exponentially increased. So the trick here is to learn to manage the anxiety sufficiently to be able to deal with whatever the issue at hand is. I have been failing at this for years, so any and all tips gratefully accepted.
This morning (before group) in a moment of anxiety, I turned to look out of the window, caught sight of some gorgeous blossom in the morning light, took a deep breath and calmed. Which echoed beautifully the mindfulness technique that we tried in group today, where we were each given an object and talked through looking at it.
It turns out that my photography and drawing give me a huge reservoir of mindfulness to draw on. Looking for light, being in that moment of beauty, taking a step outside myself to really see the world around me, all of this helps. Learning to look, setting aside the flight reaction, focussing on the light is a technique that I can apply at pretty much any point. You can spend a long, or as short a time as you need gazing at whatever item you choose, until your body gets over that physiological response, you’ve gathered your energy and you can have another crack at whatever it was set you off in the first place.
Recurring unmanageable anxiety was a large part of my motivation for seeking an ASD diagnosis. I hoped that understanding where it all came from might give me more successful strategies than bouncing on and off medication. (I am fully aware that medication helps many people. I don’t criticise that, if anything I’m slightly jealous. Nothing I’ve tried over the years since I was first prescribed tablets when I was about 15? has ever been particularly successful, probably at least partly because the people prescribing weren’t getting to the bottom of what causes the anxiety for me. Which is pretty much everything.)
The picture above is of a flower I found just outside the room we met in. Not perfect, bent and folded by life. Aren’t we all? The light was glorious, creating hard, almost tangible edges to the shadows. And this moment is added to my memories, to sustain me when I need it.
Today’s session felt practical and positive. It may have taken me a year to take the leap, but I’m glad I’m finally taking part in the group support.
The most recent instalment of my experience of autism past diagnosis “Getting up, going on” You can find everything I’ve written on autism by checking out the autism tag, linked below the post.
Previous book reviews on related topics.