Tag Archives: emotions

Partially empty Christmas table

It’s ok–Christmas hasn’t been cancelled!

Across the world many will be experiencing a different kind of Christmas this year. The Covid-19 pandemic has shocked the world. In the UK, it’s been announced that many cannot spend it with anyone outside their household. I’ve heard people say “Christmas is cancelled” so I’ve felt moved to respond.

This year, people have been hit with loss beyond anything anyone expected, we’re beginning to try and pick up the pieces, hoping Christmas will help, then we’ve been told, a week before Christmas that we need to change our plans. Some will be feeling frustrated about the guidelines “constantly changing” or anxiety about spending Christmas in an unplanned way, some will be annoyed at the Big Brother treatment or overwhelmed with managing last minute changes. Personally, I’m angry and sad at people who’re incapable at following simple guidance, it’s the small minority spoiling it for the majority who’re now having to follow more stringent rules.

What’s important is, whatever you’re feeling, it’s valid and you give yourself space to feel what you’re feeling, while also understanding what you can and can’t control.

Let me explain

Your feelings are your feelings and no one can tell you what you’re feeling. You might even be feeling relieved—sometimes it can help to write down how you’re feeling or talk about them with a trusted friend.

Problems come when you deny your feelings, push them down or try to swallow them, they’ll come out eventually; you or those around you will suffer. We can’t control the virus or the guidelines set out by the government. What we can control is how we respond and keeping a positive attitude helps makes it easier to cope. A positive attitude doesn’t mean, pretending everything is fine!

Perhaps this year, we can learn from the first Christ-mas…

During her last trimester, the government ordered Jesus’ mum to take a long journey. How unsettling would this have felt?! But she didn’t complain, she just did as she was told. Does this remind you of anything?

Joseph considers leaving Mary as he thought she’d been unfaithful but he didn’t, he trusted God. How many people are angry at God, just now? Blaming him and asking “how”? Or “why”? Perhaps, instead, we can say, “please be with us in our troubles”? For he will be there in a heart beat, as soon as we reach out.

There was no room for Mary and Joseph but an inn keeper let them stay in his cattle shed. This year, how will you help the homeless or those less fortunate?

Jesus was born and laid in an animal’s feeding trough. At this time of year, it’s usually a time of plenty where food and materialism takes centre stage. Some people, this year won’t have enough food, How great would it be if our children grew up appreciating the smaller things in life instead of ‘needing’ the lasting gadget due to FOMO?

Mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows and ginger bread biscuit

Christmas isn’t about presents, decorations or even about friends and family. This year, some people won’t be able to afford presents, may have lost their home and may not be spending it with anyone they choose but Christmas can be what you make it. Perhaps a lie-in, a spot of yoga, a walk and a Christmas movie while enjoying a some cheese and crackers will be what works this year? Perhaps you’d rather play an album of heavy rock a full volume while head banging and playing air guitar is your thing? This year is about doing what works!

It may not be possible to be with our loved ones this year but technology may bring us together. A short zoom call could bring some important connectivity.

Some thing good that occurred when the church building doors shut in March this year. Many churches are continuing the live stream all of the services. Perhaps this Christmas you could check out one of these? You’ll be able to find the Arch Bishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on Facebook by using this link. My local church St Mark’s will be live on YouTube with all the links accessible from the website.

Family decorating Christmas tree

But what about all those traditions?! Maybe this is the year you re-evaluate whether you really want to continue all those traditions, is it time for new traditions? This is a great time to have a good think about what’s really important, have you been doing things the same every year just because that’s what you’ve always done? If you come to the conclusion that you really want to stick with everything you’ve always done, there’s always next year; but maybe you’ll see things with fresh eyes and realise that you don’t have to do things the same every year!

Remember this is just one year, one day, don’t put so much pressure on it that it’s spoilt. Be honest with yourself and those around you about how you’re feeling but don’t let those feelings control you. You can chose how you respond.

Lady eating grapes

Eating disorders and autism–what’s the link?

From the outside looking in, perhaps eating disorders and autism couldn’t look more different. Supposedly, people with autism aren’t attuned to their emotions, whereas people with eating disorders are highly sensitive and turn to food/eating behaviours to cope. But an eminent psychiatrist says:

Strip off the misconceptions, and the two conditions are far more similar than anyone believed.

Janet Treasure, director, eating disorders, Maudsley Hospital, London

It is therefore unsurprising that research has found that in groups of people with long standing eating disorders more than 20% had undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder.

Similarities include fixating on small details, with difficulty seeing the bigger picture and the need for rules, routines and rituals.

On a personal note, well before I was making sense of my life through the lens of autism, it was clear my eating disordered behaviours began as I struggled with changes at puberty. I couldn’t cope with hormones causing bodily and emotional changes that I didn’t understand. I remember specifically thinking I wanted to try and keep everything the same.

An autistic person may develop an eating disorder due to the following:

  • Not being able to sense hunger, this is due to impaired interception.
  • Sensory problems with food e.g. texture, smell, taste, leading to limitations in food tolerances.
  • An intense/restricted interest of counting calories or other specific food related activities – these routine and rules become very difficult to change.
  • High levels of anxiety.
  • Unintentional lying related to food intake or exercise activities.

This could be the perfect storm for developing a restrictive eating disorder (anorexia) but some autistic people could turn towards food and binging/purging behaviours in order to manage their emotions.

When compared to neurotypical counterparts research shows that weight and body shape are less important for autistic people.

Clinicians have managed patients of this kind (girls and women on the spectrum with/without a diagnosis) by increasing therapy that wasn’t working, but they’re now seeing that they have different recovery needs due to their autism:

“We always had this subset of patients who didn’t do very well in group therapy, and our response was, ‘Well, let’s put them in more groups,’ It just alienated them even more; now we know better. Providing a small range of food choices, as well as clarifying rules and expectations, also tends to help people with autism and eating disorders recover successfully.

Craig Johnson, Clinical Director, Eating Recovery Centre, Denver

I, too, have often heard clinicians make similar comments. I can understand the thought process, if patients struggle with group therapy, it can be an incredibly helpful process; noticing and understanding one’s impact on others is important and powerful in society as a whole.

However, an autistic person, struggling with an eating disorder, isn’t struggling with their relationships with others, they’re struggling with understanding internal processes, emotions and, the need for routine and the resistance to change isn’t just a preference it’s a neurotype.

It’s all too common for women to get struck in the mental health system, to be diagnosed with depression, bi-polar affective disorder, borderline personality disorder or eating disorders and only in their 20s, 30s or 40s find out that they actually have autism.

For some, when they receive a diagnosis of autism and appropriate support, their eating disorder disappears, read about Savannah’s experience here. For others, understanding that their “autistic brain [is] obsessing about numbers, patterns and sensations” helps them have a better relationship with themselves, read about Carrie’s experience here.

Therapy

For me, autism has helped me make sense of so much! My anorexia was a desperate attempt to keep things the same, it was a way to (try and) escape a very confusing world where I don’t understand how to fit in and it’s now making sense as to why it was so hard for me to recovery (every time I did, my mental wellbeing would deteriorate) and why I needed so much personal therapy from someone who threw the rule book out the window.

The sad fact is that anorexia has the highest mortality rate, 1/5 people with anorexia will die early, from suicide or malnutrition. However, there is hope, by raising awareness of autism, management of the eating disorder is possible and could set someone free. Combination of specialist therapy and medication to aid with the high levels of anxiety will most likely be required.

Please don’t judge how I eat my bread

How often are we reminded “not all disabilities are visible”? Yet I’ve heard too many stories of people who need to use the accessible toilet being tutted at as they exit. You can’t see a stoma, you can’t see urinary urgency, you can’t see menorrhagia – it’s none of your business why someone needs to use the accessible toilet.

Have you ever given the person stepping out of their car in the “blue badge” car parking space a sideways glance? You can’t see COPD, you can’t see autism, you can’t see chronic fatigue. There are plenty of people who need to use the disabled spaces who don’t use a wheelchair, it’s not your place to police of the blue badge scheme.

I felt mortified as I nibbled the inner soft section of my bread roll when in a posh restaurant. I repositioned the crusty portions back together because I felt embarrassed I couldn’t finish the beautiful handmade roll. I don’t know what the chef thought when the waitress took my plate back to the kitchen. They probably thought I was just another fussy customer, I doubt they guessed I had a fractured jaw! Sucking the soft inner portion of the bread caused excruciating pain, there was no way I could chew the crust! (I didn’t know I had a fractured jaw at the time – I wouldn’t have gone to a posh restaurant if I’d known!)

Do you feel frustrated with your grumpy colleague?

Did you think the lady in front of you at the checkout overreacted when the cashier made a mistake?

Do you wonder why that person never joins in at your hobby group?

Perhaps you think your neighbour is a bit odd? You maybe fed up of them not cutting their hedge/parking their car in an awkward position/being loud late at night etc…

Maybe you think there’s no excuse for rudeness but my point is that we can never truly know what’s going on for someone else. All sorts of things can make someone act in a particular way but who are we to judge someone else?

You know what I really hate?! People who tailgate! But you know what? I’ve stopped judging them. I don’t know what’s happened to make them try to push me along the road faster than the speed limit. Maybe they’re trying to get a labouring woman to hospital? Maybe their dog threw-up before they left for work and made them late and their boss will unreasonably fire them for being late once? I could curse and get angry but why waste my energy?

I’m often asked why I’m so quiet. It’s because I’m listening. Everyone has a unique story to tell. I’m fed up of being judged. Listening to each other leads to understand, understanding leads to compassion. How much nicer is to have compassion for one another rather than judgment? All we need to do is listen!

Perhaps you could ask your colleague if there’s anything you could do to lighten their load? They might open up about why they’re feeling grumpy, they might just tell you to ***off but the fact that you tried but be the best thing that happened to them that day!

Instead of tightening you clique at your hobby group, invite the shy attendee in, they might not say much so what’s the harm? Inclusion rather than exclusion is so much kinder.

That awkward neighbour?! I think it’s safe to say, most people have at least one tricky neighbour! Sometimes you need to think outside the box! Perhaps take round a bottle of wine or invite them for a BBQ? At some point, try to talk about the tricky issue but remember, until you hear their story, try not to make assumptions, you don’t know why they’re behaving the way they do!