Yay or nay for antidepressants?

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I am not writing this blog entry to firmly say that absolutely everyone who has any depressive symptom or indeed any shit in their life whatsoever should take antidepressants. Nor am I saying that anyone who has taken them and found that they haven’t worked should keep taking every single brand until they find the magic beans for them. From the tone of the blog thus far, as you’ll probably have guessed, I’m also certainly not saying that antidepressants are a croc of shit that don’t work! Guess what I am saying? That the effects of antidepressants are so individualistic that it’s impossible to make sweeping “one solution for all” assumptions about taking them.

My opinion is as simple as this….

YOUR BODY = YOUR CHOICE!! 

Thankfully (and about bloody time!) there’s a lot of coverage on mental health and stigma- including the stigmatisation of antidepressants, so I’ll only discuss that quite briefly. The thing that I then want to talk more about is the pro’s and con’s of antidepressants based on my own experiences and commonly cited experiences, and not on ill informed stereotypes of the people who take them, the doctors who prescribe them or the effects they have (placebo or otherwise).

It’s amazing how divided people are on the topic of antidepressants in a society that claims to be as liberal, open minded and empathetic as ours. The stigmatisers among us give a very firm nay with no room at all for manoeuvre, making me think that society is nowhere near as it should be on any of those fronts. Give yourself 5 points for each sentence that you’ve heard from team stigma:

  • “You don’t want to be taking them, you’ll become addicted”.
  • “I was brought up to just get on with things”.
  • “Life is a little bit stressful, deal with it!”
  • “They won’t do anything that exercise and a healthy diet can’t do”.
  • “If you just got up early and went to bed early, you’d feel so much better and wouldn’t need them”.
  • “They’re a massive money making con!”

How many of you have got the full 30 points? 25? 20? 10? I bet you’ll have come across at least 2 or 3, either directed at you or someone you know. I also bet that you’ll have heard some that I haven’t included. Please put them in the comments section. 

In response to some of these ill informed and hurtful opinions which make us feel even more isolated, even more inept and even more like we’re “getting all upset over nothing”, than we already feel (these comments make us realise that, yes, THAT IS POSSIBLE)…

  • “Addictive” claim… (For the scientist readers (or people who are just more scientifically skilled than me, without being scientists), please forgive me for being a bit amateur with this bullet point and feel free to comment any other information). New antidepressants and new chemical formulas are coming from the labs regularly, which means that the addictive substances (and other negative substances) are being more and more isolated, and subsequently removed, from the chemical formulas. Addictive substances tend to be benzodiazepine based tablets such as diazepam and triazepam, and doctors are hugely reluctant to prescribe these at all, and if they absolutely have to, they’ll monitor your intake very closely, and only give you small amounts to lessen the risk of addiction as much as possible. The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are serotonin uptakers (SSRI) antidepressants which enable the serotonin neutotransmitters in your brain to produce more serotonin (the ‘happy’, or should I say ‘balanced’ chemical in your brain), which your brain is not producing enough of either due to prolonged stress, a traumatic event (or several), or purely biological reasons. They do not give you an instant fix like benzodiazepine based tablets, sedatives, alcohol or recreational drugs – so you don’t crave that instant gratification. The effects are very gradual (often over several weeks), and so, in my opinion, very hard to get addicted to!
  • Weren’t we all just brought up to get on with things?! No one is brought up to think “when the going gets tough, hide under the duvet until you get severely dehydrated and have no choice but to move, and at all costs, avoid the terrifying world where everyone is out to get you; lose friends; cry everyday or feel too numb to cry; feel confused by even the smallest things; have crippling panic attacks where you can’t breathe or sleep; sleep constantly or don’t sleep at all for several days, and above all, make sure that you have suicidal thoughts!” This is what happens with depression, and just as you wouldn’t deny a severely diabetic person insulin, nor should you deny a severely depressed person antidepressants which, rather than making them bounce around like a delirious Tigger, will make them function.
  • Yes, life is a bit stressful, and at times in my life when I am well, I am very aware of this and am able to take the rough with the smooth far more resiliently- even if having AS makes my ability to tolerate stress lower than those without it. However, when the proverbial black dog strikes, you’re ability to do even the simplest things, leave alone handle stress, is severely damaged (but not beyond repair for those battling depression that are reading this).
  • Yes, exercise and a healthy diet do make you feel better- but believe me, when you’re so low that you feel as though you’re wading through treacle in big wellies, exercise and diets are the furthest from your mind. Nor do exercise and healthy dieting stop the paranoia, the panic attacks, the numbness or the worthlessness, and if they do, they only give momentary relief. They help if you have enough serotonin in your brain to fight the negative emotions, in which case, but not if you’re lower than rock bottom.
  • Some people are naturally nocturnal (like me) and some are naturally morning people. Don’t assume that what makes you happy makes someone else happy. Regardless of how my mental health is, when I get up early in a morning, I am so miserable and grumpy that people very wisely avoid me!
  • Who are they conning? Doctors? Patients? The NHS? People research these tablets just as they do tablets for physical illness, and you wouldn’t for one second think that tablets for, say, high blood pressure, heart disease, or other physical conditions were a con, would you? Come on folks, a bit of thought please!

Now onto the second part of the blog….

Antidepressants are, as far as I’m aware, divided into some of the following groups… SSRI and SNRI antidepressants which help your brain to boost its own serotonin levels, and tricyclic antidepressants (I don’t actually know how these differ from SSRI’s- anyone who knows, please comment below). I have tried lots of different types of antidepressants, some of which have worked better than others, and some of which have worked more effectively at different times in my life.

Commonly prescribed SSRI’s are fluoxetine (a type of prozac), sertraline (also known as zoloft) and citalopram. These work on the neurotransmitter in your brain that controls depressive symptoms or the neurotransmitter that controls anxiety, and not both simultaneously. SNRI antidepressants include Venlofaxine and Duloxetine, and these simultaneously work on both neurotransmitters . These differ from The tricyclics which I have heard of are dosuplin (very sedative based) and lofepramine. (Comment anymore that you know of).

Upon taking ones that worked well for me, I remember having a miraculous moment of thinking “I feel like the bubbly, slightly crazy, fun loving girl who appreciates humour that I was before I was depressed”- and that wonderful feeling continuing for a long time. Sertraline and citalopram especially helped to regulate my sleep, feel less paranoid, feel motivated to get out of bed, feel like I have something to offer the world, have less panic attacks and have less suicidal thoughts- or ones that gradually became less and less frequent and less and less overpowering and intense. They also helped me to more adequately assert myself in situations where someone said something to annoy or upset me so that I could resolve things calmly and tackle them head on, rather than running away from my problems and crying or just quietly feeling worthless. They helped me to stop hiding from the world and to feel capable of being and inclined to be an active part of it.

However, they do not work in solitude. Talking therapies are also hugely important for understanding where your thoughts come from, for helping you to put traumatic events from the past behind you, and for realising your self worth. Tablets can’t give you coping mechanisms, nor can they tell you things like “you’ve achieved x, y and z, be proud of that”, “anyone who has bullied or underestimated you doesn’t dictate who you are or what you’re worth”, “you’ve overcome a lot”, “don’t worry about what you haven’t achieved yet, you still have time to achieve them”, and “your family and friends love you very much”. Sometimes antidepressants are needed to give you enough serotonin levels to be able to face talking therapies, but antidepressants won’t help you to overcome all of your barriers- only the ones that strip away your motivation, concentration and replace them with abject fear, despair and apathy.

Antidepressants also have side effects- different people report different ones. The side effects of fluoxetine and venlofexine were so severe that they stopped me from being able to feel the benefits. Fluoxetine made me feel as though I had severe flu. It was only when I wondered why I’d had “flu” for a whole month that I made the connection. Venlofexine made me feel extremely sick and dizzy.

Sertraline and Citalopram, however, had the benefits cited above, but did have some side effects. It was really a case of trading some feelings for others. Both made me feel a dramatic decrease in my sex drive. I remember someone else telling me this before I tried taking them, and me thinking “it’s impossible for that to happen to me”, but low and behold, it did! During times of being single, this has been a fantastic form of chemical castration, so to speak! During times of being in a relationship, I didn’t appreciate this side effect so much!

Sertraline made me feel very sleepy a lot of the time and massively increased my appetite. I also found it fantastic for soothing my anxiety and preventing panic attacks, but while the anxious part of my brain which tells me that DISASTER IS IMMINENT was silenced by sertraline, the depressive part which tells me that things are pointless, that people don’t like me, that I’m just too exhausted to even think, let alone do anything other than eat crap, get fat and hide from the world, was too strong for sertraline to shmite down!

Conversely, citalopram is hugely effective for disabling the depressive part of my brain, as well as making me notice that I am far less greedy with eating. I found that the very anxious part of my brain was still very much giving me grief, but that I feel more able to control it.

Times when I’ve been consistently low or consistently having panic attacks have been times when antidepressants made me remotely able to function. However, times when it is my difficulty in tolerating distress, going through a stressful time or trying to quash down negative emotions and embrace positive ones, I have not found them effective.

So, it very much depends on how well I’m functioning and what exactly I hope to feel or to achieve as to how well they’ll work.

Don’t think that side effects that I have will be the same for you. Everyone is so biochemically different that it’s impossible for one tablet to have the same effects on everyone. Whether or not antidepressants are for you is something that only you can decide. Don’t feel pressured either way.

Although this has never been an issue for me, make sure that you discuss with your doctor which antidepressant you can take with other medication so that they don’t clash, which ones you can still take if you’re pregnant, and how much to take (regardless of the previous factors). Also make sure that you have regular medication reviews with your doctor, and if you’re not satisfied with or feel dismissed by one doctor, see a different one. Don’t suffer alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Binge eating – a problem that you are not alone with, and one that society needs to stop dismissing

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I’ve maybe told a few close friends or therapists about this problem, but this is the first time that I have spoken about it so openly on a site where anyone who wants to see it can see it. Why have I decided to write a blog entry about it for the world to see? That’s an easy question to answer… because this is such a stigmatised and ill understood problem that many suffer with in silence. How many of you reading this have hidden biscuit, chocolate, takeaway and other junk food wrappers and containers in separate bins or in other secret places because you feel ashamed that  you’ve eaten more chocolate bars than you “should have”, a whole packet or several packets of biscuits, or lots of takeaways in a short space of time- just to name a few examples? How many of you who do so find that it is a consequence of feeling a compulsion to eat crap, or to eat and eat and eat until you are so full that you feel sick and can barely move? Note the word “compulsion”- ie: a feeling of having to do something. That’s right, binge eaters, like us, are not lazy, uneducated about what constitutes a healthy versus an unhealthy food, or greedy- we have a genuine problem that we need to feel able to seek help for without being dismissed and without being treated as though we’re just a bit dim!

I don’t claim to be an expert on drug or alcohol addiction, on compulsively avoiding food, or on how society treats these things; but it seems appropriate to draw a parallel since drug and alcohol addictions, and anorexia and bulimia or other compulsions to avoid calorie intake get far more media exposure than binge eating. Just as someone might feel a compulsion to snort a line, shoot up or drink a bottle of vodka because what they are feeling is too unbearable to face whilst sober; and just as a person who avoids food may feel too full to bursting with anxiety or stress to eat, or use it as a means of the only thing that they can control in their lives- people, like me, are prone to binge eating for precisely these reasons, plus a few more, which are as follows…

  • Craving the feeling of tiredness that being full to bursting brings, when otherwise your brain is too busy to be able to relax.
  • Eating so much that you feel queasy and so full that you can barely move as a way to focus on that physical discomfort rather than on your circumstances or emotions.
  • Feeling lonely- food is always available to keep you company, and it never judges or rejects you, unlike people.
  • Craving lots of saturated fats and copious amounts of sugar to give you much needed energy which you desperately need to get you through the day- after all, life is exhausting!
  • Craving lots of crappy food to recover from a hangover.
  • Rebelling against what society wants from you. A subconscious or indeed conscious “SCREW ALL OF YOU! I’m going to eat the foods that society tells me not to, and there isn’t a damn thing that you can do about it! You disapprove? Well that’s just tough!” When family, doctors or other people, tell you that your BMI is too big, that YOU are too big, that what you’re doing isn’t good for your health, that people don’t fancy you or clothes don’t look nice on you while you’re big, that you’re just being greedy and that you should substitute chocolate for an ‘oh so delicious’ stick of carrot; the inclination is to think “I don’t need to conform to who you think I should be” (nothing wrong with this- I’ll get back to it later), or to be upset by how you’re being treated and wallow in self pity.
  •  To subconsciously reinforce the cycle of self loathing- giving you yet another thing to feel ashamed of and unhappy with, and fear of breaking away from this familiar habit- however unhappy it makes you.

To go back to the bullet point on rebelling briefly… Just to clarify, I’m not writing this blog entry as a means of joining the dreaded “blot out the dreaded obesity epidemic!” brigade, or to suggest that people who are big and happy with it shouldn’t be. Not all people are big because they binge eat, and not all big people are unhappy with their size or their eating habits, and not all big people eat a lot in order to comfort eat and handle distress- and that is none of anyone else’s business. .

Size definitely isn’t the focal point of this blog. Yes, I’ve put on a lot of weight over the last couple of years due to ill health and due to comfort eating, and yes, I feel self conscious about it and feel frustrated that nothing gets any smaller! However, I have still been asked on dates, and met my last partner whilst being the biggest that I’ve ever been- so take no notice of anyone who says that you stop being fanciable once you gain weight. I also know that berating myself because of my increased size, or having doctors and the media say “lose weight fatty!” will serve absolutely no purpose other than to make me feel sad, isolated and completely undeserving of self worth. Believe me, I am not spurred into action by being told that I ought to lose weight, or that my eating habits aren’t healthy… I will instead binge eat and binge drink even more because it upsets me; and I’m sure that everyone who has a problem with binge eating will identify with me on that one.

It will also do me no good at all if I manage to eat healthily and lose weight without addressing the underlying causes. Contrary to popular media portrayals, when I’m happier, I lose weight, and when I’m unhappy, I pile it on. So all that will happen if I lose weight during a happy period in my life, is that I’ll regain all of it AND MORE once I become unhappy with something, and during those binge eating, unhappy periods, I can honestly tell you that you don’t control it, IT CONTROLS YOU; and diets, exercise and other solutions which focus solely on the numeric weight loss or lifestyle change, are overly simplistic and ignore this critically important element of binge eating. More help and understanding for why we binge eat is needed. Instead, all we get it quick fix suggestions and judgemental remarks, and this is not fair, and solves absolutely nothing.

For those of you who struggle with binge eating, the charity BEAT are hugely helpful, knowledgeable on how it comes about in the first place, and are supportive. Don’t be put off by the term “eating disorder charity” and let you think that you’ll be turned away for not being underweight, or that you’ll be judged for having the opposite problem. One thing that I found hugely helpful about them is that they do not focus on the numeric value of numbers on a scale or BMI, they focus on regaining a healthy attitude towards eating- however much or however little, and focus on the reasons why you feel a compulsion to binge eat in the first place. They have a lot of resources, online peer support groups and volunteers that you can ring for support. You are not alone and you have nothing to be ashamed of.

The stereotypes of labels

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This blog entry is most fitting for my the new title of my blog “the girl who cannot fit into a box”. I wanted to replace the name of my blog with this title because, with diagnoses comes specific stereotypes, and when you are a unique individual who does not neatly tick every box of said diagnosis, this causes both professionals and general members of the public to say things such as, “you don’t have AS/BPD/anxiety”, “you’re not gay” etc etc; because you do not neatly fit their preconceived idea of what a person with Asperger’s is, what a person with a specific mental health problem is, and what a “gay” person is. These preconceived ideas include how we behave or have behaved in the past, what we’re capable of, what we enjoy, or even how we dress!

Little did I know that my alternation between the words “autistic” and “Asperger’s” could have such a difference in how people perceive them. Whenever I say that “when I was two and a half, I was diagnosed as autistic”, 9 times out of 10, people will say “No you can’t be! You definitely don’t come across as autistic!”

Their understandings of autism will more often than not be based on media portrayals with films such as the Rain man where the character’s brilliant talents are sharply contrasted with his struggles in more practical, and especially social situations; or even TV documentaries or newspaper articles where people on the autistic spectrum are portrayed as reclusive, aggressive or even violent. I’ll talk more about my diagnosis etc in another blog (or rather, anything that I haven’t already mentioned about my diagnosis). However, the point I am making is that any form of media highlights extraordinary cases rather than what is commonly true of all autistic people. Just as all human beings are unique individuals who vary greatly in personality, preferences, actions and past experiences which inform their character, so too do people on the autistic spectrum.

I find that understandings of AS tend to be less extreme, but still stereotyping. Whilst doing my first masters, I got chatting to a girl who was extremely adamant that “people with AS don’t want to socialise”. I kept pointing out that in actual fact, some people with AS do desperately want to socialise but feel isolated and rejected either through not knowing how to make friends or being excluded by the so called ones that they have made or want to make. However, as a good friend once said to me, in some cases, you can never argue with an idiot (this girl would certainly say the same thing about me!) so I was adamant in my opinions and she was adamant in hers (despite how stereotyping they were!), and so I had to leave it at that. At that point in my life, I didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone, let alone her, that I myself have AS, and it would have felt too personal to use my own experiences to argue against her only for her to critique them. That would have felt like a personal attack. Fast forward to several years later, and I say loud and clear that some people with AS do want to socialise and some don’t! Just as some people with AS like beer, and others don’t! You can’t form your opinion of how all AS people behave or what all people with AS’s preferences are based on only meeting one person. The more people with AS you meet, the more you’ll find that we vary in terms of how introvert or extrovert we are, our abilities to tolerate sensory exposure and our abilities to tolerate distress or control our emotions. (I would say that I have difficulty with all four of those things but the most detrimental to me in my everyday life is the latter three).

While it’s good to gather as much information as you can on AS, please don’t reduce people with AS to text books and bullet points because, as I have experienced myself, making people feel as though “they can’t have AS because they don’t do X, Y and Z” despite their previous diagnosis saying otherwise, is extremely hurtful and makes us feel even further isolated.

As the girl who doesn’t fit into any particular box because I don’t tick every box of the ones that do apply to me, I don’t just encounter and feel isolated by stereotypes pertaining to AS, I also encounter ones that pertain to being gay. Such examples of things that people have said to me in the past include;

  • “You can’t be a lesbian! You said Kurt Cobain was good looking!” (Needless to say, I’m not in touch with that person anymore!)
  • “You don’t look like a lesbian, you look really girly” (even some lesbians have and sometimes still do tell me that I don’t look like a lesbian, so the LGBT community aren’t immune from stereotyping and hostility!)
  • “You can’t be a lesbian! You’ve had both men and women in your life!” (This is also common both outside of and within the LGBT community. I’ve experienced a lot of hostility for this reason by the lesbian scene, as have a lot of other lesbian and bisexual women who I have spoken to.)

I’m sure that a lot of you will identify with at least one of these stereotypes, and/or look at them and see how ridiculous they are; yet they are still very much alive both within and outside of the LGBT community. It’s very unfair of the LGBT community to be so hostile in this respect because they have spent years fighting for their right to have the freedom to love who they want to love, and yet some of them still criticise others for their lifestyle choices and choice of partner. Come on ladies and gents and everything in between- sort it out!

Another reaction that I have had from women in the past when disclosing my sexuality is “I don’t have a problem with it as long as you don’t try it on with me!” Would you think that I’d try it on with every single guy if I was straight? No! So why then would I try it on with someone just because they’re a woman? I’m actually very choosy, and indeed very shy even when I do like someone!

In response to these common stereotypes of lesbians… Guess what….

  • Not all lesbians are butch;
  • Not all feminine lesbians date butch women, or vice versa.
  • Some women who identify as lesbian have had relationships with men in the past, and some have only ever had women. Either way is fine!
  • Some lesbians know that they are lesbian right from the word go, while others take a lot of time, experimentation and mistakes to realise what they truly want. Again, either way is fine!
  • A person can appreciate someone as good looking without fancying them.
  • Some lesbians are male to female transsexuals (a lesbian female born into a body that they do not feel represents their true gender).
  • Just as a straight person does not try it on with every single person of the opposite sex, a gay person doesn’t try it on with every single person of the same sex, and bisexuals aren’t the danger to society that this stereotype would have us believe in this context! They certainly don’t just try it on with anything with a pulse! A lot of bisexuals are every bit as monogamous as gay or straight people.

Hopefully you’ve learned something from this blog, or you can identify with being at the receiving end of these stereotypes. Until next time…

🙂

 

 

 

 

“What if there was a blank in my memory where I did this terrible thing?”

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The above title is a classic example of what I now know as an intrusive thought. I did not know what “intrusive thoughts” were until very recently. Being heavily prone to these thoughts myself (mainly when I am at my most unwell in terms of my mental health) I am much more able to dismiss them now that I know and recognise them for what they are… intrusive thoughts- not evidence of how evil and abnormal I am, as I have previously thought. Hopefully after reading this blog entry, you too will be able to dismiss these distressing and disorientating thoughts as precisely that, and not as evidence of deformations of your character. One thing that you will certainly know by the time you finish reading this blog is that you are certainly not the only person who experiences these thoughts, you are not abnormal or a freak for experiencing them, and you do not have to battle with them alone. There are other people experiencing them too, so please don’t feel isolated by them, and please don’t bottle them up for fear of being locked up and having the key thrown away! That fear always prevented me from opening up about those thoughts to professionals who could have helped me to deal with them and to see them for what they really were. I could have dealt with them a lot sooner and got help much more quickly if I hadn’t let my fear of being locked up as a danger to society get in the way. Don’t let that fear get in the way of you getting help. Believe me, intrusive thoughts are not grounds for being sectioned or imprisoned.

This is a difficult blog entry for me to write, as it brings back distressing thoughts and memories, but I feel it is crucially important to write it because there is so little awareness of intrusive thoughts even though other people besides me suffer with them (I am unsure of precise statistics). They are so isolating and so distressing, so it’s so important to show any of you who do suffer with them that you’re not alone, and to raise awareness on just how dark, distressing and overwhelming mental health problems are, to those who think we should “just get on with it”.

Intrusive thoughts are borne of anxiety, and are commonly, but not always, accompanied by or exacerbated by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I do not always know what trigger these thoughts during a phase of my life when I have them, but some times in my life when they have been most dominant and over powering have been times of significant change, times of feeling different to everyone else, times of being bullied, times of struggling with my own identity in one way or another and times of significant unhappiness.

The first phase of my intrusive thoughts started when I was 10 years old (at this age I moved schools- from one mainstream school to another; I started my periods at this very young age and so again felt singled out and different from my peers… just to name a few significant changes that were going on at that time). I remember having an overwhelming sense that I was evil and that I’d done something terrible. So much so that I remember watching the news, and the end credits would come up so that you could see the newsreaders talking to each other but not hear what they were saying. I remember feeling a blind panic that they were talking about how evil I was and how terrible this thing was that I’d done… even though I had no idea what it was I’d done! I rushed into the kitchen to tell my mum, and she reassured me that they’d simply be talking about what they were going to have for tea or where they were going to go on holiday! My mum was always one of the only people in the world who could TEMPORARILY reassure me. Despite her telling me this, I could not shake the feeling that I was evil on a long term basis…

I remember another time of there being a school assembly at the primary school that I was at, and the headmistress reprimanding the whole school because someone had deliberately attempted to flood the girls toilets by stuffing paper towels into the plugs. Even though I had no recollection of doing any such thing (and nor would it ever have occurred to me to do so),  I became frantic with worry that it had been me who had done it, and that everyone could have died from the flood because of me, and what if I was so evil that that was precisely what I was aiming to do? I had a fantastic relationship with my learning support assistant of that time, and she sensed that I was in distress. After much persuasion, she managed to get me to tell her what was wrong; and she said “I know for a fact that you would never do something like that”. It still brings a tear to my eye and means just as much to me now as it did all those years ago that she had such faith in me and felt she knew me well enough to know what I was and wasn’t capable of morally. However, if one worry would dissipate, another would take its place and would render me just as powerless.

Those thoughts were by no means the darkest or the most distressing of my intrusive thoughts. I remember being in the bathroom of a relatives house at the age of 11 when the baby had been put to sleep. The baby was crying, and then suddenly stopped crying as it fell asleep. I was just coming out of the bathroom minding my own business when suddenly the thought hit me! BAM!! “What if the baby stopped crying because you smothered it with a pillow until it died?!” (Again, I had no recollection of such a thing and would never have any desire to do something like that.) I was so full of panic and distress at this concept, I kept going back and forth between the landing and the baby’s room, looking in and leaning in to check that the baby was breathing. Again and again I would find the baby breathing and fine, but again and again I kept having to check, check, and check again, with my panic getting worse and worse each time. Something inside me told me that I was dangerous and evil (not a voice or any other type of hallucinatory informant, just an overwhelming sense).

At this time, I also found comfort in repetition (and still do to a much lesser extent). For example, I had to switch the light on and off five times and tug and push the door after locking it five times just to make sure that it was definitely locked! Repetition in actions and numbers  was a blessing and a curse. On the one hand the repetition gave me security and comfort, but on the other hand it would give me something else to worry about!

Somehow, the thoughts did stop when I went to secondary school, even though I would have a far worse time at secondary school than I did at any point in my life prior to that. My next set of intrusive thoughts came when I was 16, had Generalised Anxiety Disorder and had a complete nervous breakdown as a result of no longer being able to handle the bullying, the underestimating and dumbing down of my abilities or the teachers inability to handle or blatant indifference towards the bullying. By that age, I was more aware of humans moral depravity thanks to greater access to the media and less censorship once you passed the age of childhood. At this age, I was aware of far greater evils than I had been as a ten/eleven year old, so along with that knowledge came far darker and thus far more distressing thoughts. You name it, if it was in the media, I agonised over the intrusive thought of being capable of it. Cases of hurting children, old people, any vulnerable people that were in the news, I initially felt deeply sad that these sick and evil people had done such atrocities, how could they? Then I’d think, ‘what makes a person capable of these things?’, and then I’d be hit with the intrusive thought… ‘What if there was a time in your life that you’ve blotted from your memory that you did something like that?’  Or, if ever I was alone with someone, I’d have to echo every single event in my head so that there would be no supposed ‘blanks’ for me to think that I’d hurt them (for example, ‘I am now lifting the coffee cup up to drink it, taking a sip and now I’m putting it back on the table’ every small detail logged into my head), and even then, sometimes I’d think ‘what if I missed a bit?’ (so to speak) and then, an intrusive thought such as ‘what if I poisoned their food and no one will know about it until it’s too late?’, or ‘what if I hurt them and they won’t tell anyone? If I did hurt them I’d want them to tell on me so that I could be punished’; but then ‘what if I ‘owned up’ but didn’t hurt them after all, and then got punished and ostracised for something that I did not do?’ (I think I knew deep down that I did not hurt anyone and nor would I have the inclination to do so, but that still didn’t stop me from worrying incessantly about every horrific supposed ‘eventuality’) . However, I often found that logging every single minute detail of what I did at each point of each time I felt particularly worried in my head and then, if necessary, on paper, helped me to distract myself from any intrusive thoughts and to leave no room for them to get in. Gradually, my need to do this became less and less and so did the intrusive thoughts.

My next set of intrusive thoughts came back when I was 20 and continued in varying degrees of severity until I was about 23. They got worse when I was drunk. I recall several particularly bad episodes where I’d worry that I’d had a blank in which I’d ‘revealed’ how evil I was and that ‘everyone knew my secret’ (despite the fact that I myself was still completely unaware of what this ‘secret’ was and what specifically it was about me that was so ‘evil’!)  When this happened, I eventually got enough control over my thoughts and feelings to be able to think ‘is this person treating me any differently?’, the answer would always be ‘no’, and ‘surely they would be treating me VERY differently if I was as evil as my thoughts are making out, and if they knew this’!

Another thought I had (which based on what I’ve read, is actually quite common among OCD or anxiety sufferers) when I passed my driving test was ‘what if I ran over a child or a dog?’ Once upon a time when I was younger, I would have felt the need to drive around the same route that I had driven in order to check. However, since being better educated on where these thoughts come from (anxiety), I am better able to dismiss them.

My ability to be able to recognise that they are just thoughts with no facts supporting them did not come on its own. It came through the difficult decision to talk them through with various therapists. All of whom told me that they are borne of anxiety, and that they are borne of thinking ‘that act caused that person immeasurable pain. I would hate to cause someone that amount of pain’, and then instead of stopping there, the thought goes on to ‘what if I could cause someone that amount of pain?’ and then lingers in your mind for too long. I also found it helpful to read literature on the subject (sorry I can’t recall specific titles off the top of my head). By doing so, I managed to find out that, rather than them being affirmations of your propensity for moral depravity or of how ‘psychopathic’ you are; they actually contradict your true intentions and your true sense of morality. Rather than the intrusive thoughts being indicative of your true ‘evil’ self, the thoughts themselves are polar opposite to your true self, which is actually moral; and your distress and repugnance at these thoughts is actually indicative of your strong sense of conscience, strong sense of empathy and strong moral compass. I was especially able to believe this when I read about and watched programmes about the pathology of a psychopath- namely, a lack of conscience, a lack of empathy and an arrogant perception that moral rules don’t apply to them. This is not what people with intrusive thoughts think. People with intrusive thoughts are deeply distressed by the mere notion that these atrocities happen in the world, leave alone that they could be capable of them (which, as their distress proves, they are not).

Other things that I have been told that could be helpful as a distraction from these intrusive thoughts is reciting times tables, adding up in multiples of 21 (or another obscure number) writing stories (this is something that I find very helpful), drawing, knitting, running between certain points a certain number of times… anything that requires you to use your brain or has repetition involved will serve as a welcome distraction from the intrusive thoughts and wear off some mental and physical energy so that there is no mental or physical energy left for them to creep in, or at least for you to give them as much attention as you otherwise would.

Above all, remember that you are not alone, these thoughts do not make you ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ and you will not be thought of in this way for talking them through. It does get better and you will eventually get better control over it. It just takes time and effort. The first step to recovery is recognising them for what they are, thus stripping away some of their power. I hope that this blog entry has helped you to begin to do that.

 

To tell or not to tell partners about Aspergers, that is the question…

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Now, before you all start shouting at the screen saying “it’s on your blog you silly cow! Of course they’re going to find out!” Hold fire….

The reason that I am writing this blog is because, prior to starting this blog, the mere mention of telling dates or partners about my Asperger’s sent me into a cold sweat! After all, saying “I have Asperger’s Syndrome” is not the biggest aphrodisiac in the world in my mind!

However, soon after starting this blog, I started seeing my ex girlfriend and, like a complete genius, I’d completely forgotten that the link to my blog was on my Facebook page. It was not until I got a text from her saying that she’d been reading my blog and found it really interesting that I remembered. When I read the first part of the text, I felt my heart thudding at the realisation that she knew and the unknown question of how it would affect her perception of me. Then as I went onto read the text, I realised that she didn’t (or was at least hiding it very well if she did) think any of me for it because she was in fact finding my blog interesting. However, through hindsight, I’m not too impressed that she also said “don’t worry, I study psychology”. Hang on a minute…. why should I be worried? What had made her think that I’d have anything to be worry about? She meant well. She meant that she studied Psychology and so had come across Asperger’s in her BA, and that’s how I interpreted it, but the phrase “trust me I’m a doctor” also came to mind!

When I tell partners that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, I fear two things.

Firstly, I fear that they will not want to go out with me because they will assume that I will have far too much ‘baggage’ for them to handle. I don’t want to be seen by them as someone with ‘problems’, I want to be seen as a fun, intelligent sex goddess! Ha!

Secondly, I fear that they will assume that they know all about Asperger’s Syndrome just because they’ve met one or more people with Asperger’s Syndrome who do a, b and c, or because of their field of study. Sometimes people’s education on Asperger’s can actually be a hindrance rather than a help because they can be so easily seduced by stereotypes and assume that certain ways of helping people with AS will suit that person just because they have AS. We’re not clones of each other, we are all individuals who have been influenced by our own upbringings, past experiences and geographical locations, so certain traits will be more prominent for some than for others. So, I fear that they’re going to think that they know what’s best for me or think that they know all about me based on a mere diagnosis which is, ultimately, only about a 10th of my full character. However, if she did start to make out that she knew all about me and if she started to try to tell me what is best for me based on my diagnosis, believe me, she’d get shown the door faster than you can say “ASD”! So I should really give myself a bit more credit where that fear is concerned!

When you’ve been bullied at school, the jibes and digs stick by you for life. So, being teased for things such as flapping my hands when excited (I haven’t done this for quite a number of years) and other things which made me different from others, still makes me cautious about making new friends and getting into relationships. I feel self conscious about the fact that I have something that they don’t have, and thoughts of being different still plague me. I am also still scared of how partners will react or perceive me when they find out. I know my fears are completely blown out of proportion and irrational, but they are there niggling away at me nonetheless. However, they are not as prominent as they used to be. Through extensive counselling and talking to various other people with AS, I have managed to come to terms with my diagnosis (coming to terms with it took YEARS by the way) and am now much more willing to disclose it to people and to talk about it.

I don’t know if any of you share my worries or fears when it comes to telling your partner you have AS. I’d be interested to know….

Can a bisexual ever “make up their mind”?

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Now don’t fret! Before I start writing this, let me clarify that I still stand by everything that I said in the last blog about bisexuality. I still think that bisexuality is a perfectly legitimate, healthy and sincere form of sexuality which people do not need to feel threatened by. I still think that when a bisexual finds ‘the one’, it won’t be a case of them having “made up their minds” about which gender to pick, it’ll be a case of them finding the person, irrespective of their gender, who is right for them. I still also think that bisexuality does not equate to being greedy, promiscuity or infidelity.

Firstly, let me start by saying that society has far too narrow a perception of the nature of sexuality, and by society, I mean that a lot of people within the LGBT community and outside of the LGBT scene have too narrow a perception. I have heard it said so many times that “you’re one or the other!” Well, I think that based on my own experiences and the experiences of many people who I have met or read about, that is just not true! People are also too quick to say that if you’re going out with a person of the opposite sex you’re “straight” and if you’re going out with a person of the same sex you’re “gay”. There are so many variations of sexuality that are not accounted for with views like these. Whether or not you agree with the Kinsey Scale is entirely up to you, but you only have to look at various social, psychological and scientific studies to realise that sexuality is just not that black and white. I wish it was, because then that would have saved me a lot of confusion and heartache! However, life is complicated, and that extends to sexuality. For example, I know plenty of straight folk who have had casual sex with one or more people of their own gender, and I know plenty of people who identify as gay or lesbian who have had sex with one or more people of the opposite gender. Some people are exclusively attracted to one gender and stick to that, while others take a while, and a lot of experimenting, to figure out who and what they want, and how and why they want it. Just because someone has slept with an equal amount of men and women, that does not automatically mean that they’re bisexual. They may, for example, have slept with or dated people of the opposite gender due to them being lonely and there being more availability of straight folk than there are gay/lesbian folk; or because they feel reluctant to come out, just to name a couple of possible reasons! Nor are they necessarily bisexual if they have mostly had relationships with one gender, but then as an exception to the rule, they meet a person of the other gender who they feel a romantic chemistry with, and have a relationship with them. For example, I know of at least two people who have ordinarily led heterosexual lives and identified as heterosexual, but then met someone of their own sex and had a relationship with them for a while, and then after that relationship ended, they resumed their heterosexual identity. If you don’t believe me when I say that this is possible, watch the ‘Bette and Tina’ storyline on the L Word, or google the characters of Marcus and Todd Grimshaw on Coronation Street, both of whom identify as gay on the programme, and both of whom have previously fallen in love with one woman as an exception to the rule. Do I know why these things can happen? No. Am I trying to explain why they happen? No. Am I trying to say that it’s possible for absolutely everyone to, at different points in their lives, be attracted to both genders? No. I am simply saying that every individual is different, and that sexuality is not as black and white, (or black, white and grey if you’re inclined to give people 3 options of heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual instead of just 2 options), as society leads us to believe. As soon as someone declares their relationship with someone of the opposite or same gender, I don’t think, “are they gay or are they bi?” or “have they turned straight now?”, I just think “OK, they’ve found someone they like. Good for them”. In other words, if someone deviates from their usual norm when it comes to who they choose to have a relationship with, so bloody what!

For some people, they can feel romantically attracted to one gender and sexually attracted to the other, as I did. For others, they are equally attracted (romantically and sexually) to both genders. Other people are predominantly heterosexual but have the odd same sex crush. How many girls do you see on Facebook referring to people such as Beyonce as their “girl crush”? Sexuality is fluid and sexuality is individual. Some people could never ever in a million years be attracted to someone of the other gender to their preference, while others identify as straight or homosexual with the occasional ‘opposite sex crush’, and some fancy both equally at all times in their life. For some people, sexuality is fixed, while for others, it is malleable. Live and let live, and think outside of the box! Things make so much more sense once you start to take away the labels and boxes!

So, why am I writing this blog, and why have I chosen that title? Well, let me tell you. For a long time, I identified as bisexual for several reasons. Firstly, I thought that coming out as exclusively lesbian was a HUGE step and something that I had to be 100% positive about before doing so. Secondly, I thought that I must be bisexual if, in my life, I have thought about and felt deep affection for both men and women. So, what changed?

In terms of my orientation, nothing changed, much… I have felt strong sexual attraction and sexual preference for women since I was 11 years old. However, “lesbian” was an insult in the playground, and I was, quite frankly, being bullied enough as it was thank you! So I bloody well suppressed my feelings as much as humanly possible! Even when I got to university, although there was no homophobic bullying or hostility, it was still clear that same sex relationships or attraction was not considered to be the norm, so I was afraid to acknowledge these feelings to myself. Especially when I have always wanted children. You’d need a man for them, right? Well, that was (naively) what I thought at the time. So, given that I wanted children, marriage, the whole caboodle, I thought that a man was therefore what I wanted! I thought that men were for relationships and companionship and women were for sex!

When I was 14, I even thought that I was in love with a boy! I was infatuated with him and I wanted to be someone special and different from the other girls in his eyes. However, I’ll never forget how, on several occasions, he would try it on with me in private, and indeed show me something very private, and how utterly repulsed and sick to my stomach I felt by it! I thought “Oh my God! Is that what I have to contend with for my whole life?” Looking back on that, I realise that I was not only very young at the time, but I also vividly recall how, when I was 12 or 13, he used to always ask me out, and I used to always say no because I did not find him attractive in the slightest! However, when I was 14, he was suddenly not chasing after me quite so much and was chasing after about a million other girls! Now hang on a minute! Why was I no longer the chosen one? I obviously didn’t realise that that was how I was feeling at the time, it is only in hindsight that I realise that he suddenly became of interest to me because he was no longer vying for my affections!

Until I was 20, I had romantic feelings towards men, but did not find them physically attractive, and had sexual feelings towards women, but couldn’t imagine having a relationship with one! It was not until I was 20 and my relationship with my boyfriend of the time ended, that I realised that I really could have my cake AND eat it by having a loving, as well as HOT relationship with a woman, when I met the woman who would change my life and open my eyes to what I really wanted! That is a whole different story though….

So, why do I just know that, although I have the occasional man crush (which abruptly ends as soon as I think about their lack of boobs and their additional downstairs bit!) I know I am meant to be with a woman? For precisely that reason… In my relationships with men, despite them being very nice to me and absolutely ideal for lots of straight women out there, I just always felt that something was missing, and felt frustrated and trapped in a heterosexual relationship. Since coming out of the closet and well and truly leaving men behind, I feel so much happier.

It’s OK if you take a while, and a rather bendy detour, before figuring out what you really want. Don’t let anyone define you as bisexual just because of your past experiences.

Also, don’t feel pressured to “choose” if you are bisexual. I didn’t choose. I didn’t flip a coin or weigh up the pros and cons of being with either gender! My body and heart simply made the choice for me. This may or may not happen to you. You may find one day that you have a preference, or you may still remain liking both genders equally. Either outcome is perfectly fine. Don’t feel pressured into conforming to how you think you should identify. Also, don’t get too wrapped up in labels. There’s more to you than your sexual and romantic preference. If a prospective partner won’t accept you for being bi, or won’t accept you for being lesbian/gay but having formerly had opposite sex relations, then they are not right for you, and it is their loss.

Is society really as tolerant of LGBT people as it likes to think it is?

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Without sounding like a bull dog that’s accidentally chewed a bee, I’m inclined to answer ‘no’ to this question.

Don’t worry straights, it’s not just you who I’m directing this at, there is also a lot of hostility and prejudice within the LGBT community too.

If I go out on the gay scene, yes I’ll meet some like minded people, yes there will be women there who I’ll have more of a chance of pulling, and yes it’s a more liberal and alternative atmosphere. However, there is also a lot of bitchiness in the lesbian world. God forbid if you’re a lesbian who’s even eaten a phallic shaped fruit, let alone fornicated with a man, and hell hath no fury if you identify as bisexual! Throughout my life, I have identified as both bisexual and lesbian at different points, so I have received prejudice at both ends of the spectrum. Just to clarify, until recently, I identified as bisexual, and now I feel that ‘lesbian’ is more fitting. Don’t frown in confusion, I’ll get onto that in a later blog….

In a lesbian crowd, the majority of them will firstly not even realise that I am gay. When I tell them that I am, in fact, a very firm friend of Dorothy’s, they exclaim in utter shock horror “are you a lesbian?” as though I’ve told them that I single handedly orchestrated the genocide of 10 million, or as though I single handedly fed the five thousand. I can’t quite decide which type of disbelief they express! Why are they so shocked? Presumably because I don’t look butch? What an outdated stereotype! I’m feminine but there are plenty of lesbians who are far more feminine than me! Plus, since when did being attracted to women equate to wanting to dress and act like a man? That is not to criticise butch women, it’s just to point out that sexual orientation does not pertain to fashion sense, it is mere sexual and romantic attraction!

So… what happens when I respond to their question. In the past, I have said “I’m bisexual”, and have received delightful replies such as “bisexual? What’s that all about?”, “how can you be committed to both?” and “I don’t have that equipment!” Well ladies…. if “that equipment” was so vitally important to me, don’t you think I’d just stick to men rather than put myself through the difficult process of admitting that I like women?

In actual fact, it is precisely that equipment that puts me off men in the first place. Now let’s go onto what happens when I identify as a lesbian… From a friend who is now no longer a friend, I got the ever so supportive response of “you’re not a lesbian!” then the Spanish inquisition of “but how can you be a lesbian if you’ve said before that Kurt Cobain was good looking and you’ve had a relationship with a man before?”
Well Sir, surely I can say that a person is good looking, just as I can say that a landscape is extremely picturesque or a painting is stunning, without it meaning that I want to shag the arse off it!
Plus, there’s such thing as romantic orientation and sexual orientation, and while I have felt very romantically fond of a couple of men, the winky has left a lot to be desired! I’ll spare you the gory details, but as much as I tried to have relationships with a couple of men which were unsuccessful, there came a point where I thought to myself that I had to either learn to love the winky, because, am I right in thinking that man bits are a pretty important part of a man? Or, I’d just have to accept that I don’t like the winky and stay loyal to her vajesty! So, as I will speak more about in another blog, I decided that it was time to cut my losses and admit that I’m much further up the Kinsey scale than I’d initially though!

Was it easy to make the transition from bisexual to lesbian? Hell no! I’ve not only experienced animosity from straight men, but also from a couple of ex girlfriends. Based on some of the condescending and cutting remarks that I had from one girlfriend, I learnt that it’s important not to reveal too much too soon. I’m actually being very reserved whilst writing this blog, believe it or not! For I was confronted with delightful remarks such as “You MUST be bisexual!” Oh sorry, I didn’t realise that your expert opinion on MY preferences is far more valid and accurate than mine! Yes I’ve reached the point of no more winky in a slightly less orthodox way than some lesbians, but still…
I also had to contend with her dropping my past into the conversation at any given moment. I’ve moved on and, based on my experiences, now know exactly what I want, accept it! Ladies, if your girlfriend identifies as lesbian even though she has had a man or men in the past, take her word for it, chances are, she’s battled a lot of confusion, trauma and negativity to get to a point in her life where she feels comfortable enough to come to terms with what she truly wants, the last thing she needs is for you, the woman who she REALLY likes, to niggle away at her self confidence by bringing up her past all the time. You needn’t feel threatened by her past, because she’s with you because she likes you, and she can finally move on from the confusion and mistakes of her past. Let her move on, and allow for you both to be happy together without letting the past get in the way of an amazing future together.

As well as the prejudice of some ex girlfriends, I’ve also been at the mercy of straight men, and even some straight women! “Don’t you miss man bits?” I commonly get asked! Well, if we missed it that much, surely we’d just go for it. After all, there are far more heterosexual men at our disposal than there are lesbian or bisexual women. So if we found ourselves at a loss without the man bit in the bedroom, surely we’d just opt for the easier life and go in pursuit of the testosterone fuelled, penis owning man! I’ve also lost count of the amount of times that I’ve been asked “how does lesbian sex count as proper sex?” Well, I’m not going to go into crude details, but sex counts as different things for different people. If sex was merely about penetration and nothing else, then that wouldn’t be much fun at all for heterosexual or homosexual couples! Yes, some people do equate sex with penetration, and for them sex without it just wouldn’t cut the mustard. Fair enough! While for others, penetration would spoil an otherwise fun, erotic, intimate and romantic encounter. There’s no such thing as “proper sex” when it comes to sex, no matter what your orientation is.

The next question I get from lecherous men is “Awesome! Have you got a video?” Oh yes Sir, it’s a youtube sensation! Haven’t you seen it? After all, two women would only ever get intimate with each other to turn men on, they’d NEVER be attracted to each other or have sex to express how much they really like each other, would they? Get a grip gentlemen! Of course I and every other lesbian couple hasn’t got a video for your voyeuristic pleasure, and no you cannot watch!

I could be wrong, but I sometimes get the impression that some heterosexual men feel threatened by lesbians. They think that, with women openly being attracted to each other, the male species might become extinct, or a mere zoo attraction, no longer needed for sexual or romantic fulfillment! Well fear not! Just because homosexual relationships are more openly talked about and acknowledged, that doesn’t mean that we’re taking over the world and that there’ll be no women left who are attracted to men, or vice versa! There isn’t more of us in quantity, we’re just being more open about who we are and what we want because we’re finally at a point in society where we feel safe to do so. Believe me, I know from first hand experience that there is still TONNES MORE straight women than there are lesbian and bisexual ones, so you, gents, still have the upper hand on me when it comes to choice! Also, why see us as a threat when you could see us as allies? After all, a lot of straight women find gay men to be great friends because, like them, they are attracted to men, and in addition to that, they are able to give them boyfriend advice from the perspective of a man who likes men. You can do the same with lesbian women. We share commonality in who we are attracted to, and we can give you girlfriend advice from not only a female perspective, but also from the perspective of a woman who likes women. Now that is a useful friend to have!

So, in summary, although I can see marked improvements in people’s attitudes towards same sex relationships and I am pleased to see it being more normalised than before, there are still prejudices and hostilities still floating around that need to be addressed before we are the liberal and accepting society that we want to be.