Loneliness and Solitude at Christmas

Though I live on my own, I do have some family and very good friends. I will be seeing a lot of family and friends over the next two weeks, and that helps me get through this festive period.

Others though, aren’t so lucky. We see a lot of adverts on TV and on trains about loneliness. This time of year magnifies that feeling of solitude and helplessness and some people just cannot buy into the Christmas spirit at all. I also think that Christmas has become too commercialised, money and presents coming before health and well being. People who are less fortunate than ourselves can get forgotten about.

But it’s supposed to be a happy time, right? Well, if you believe all the hype, then everyone should be happy, smiling, full of Christmas cheer and bonhomie. The reality though is that some cannot be that way, they cannot pretend. I allow Christmas to pass me by, and as the years go on, this becomes more of the case for me. I cannot pretend to be happy. I am what I am. If I’m unhappy, I’ll be unhappy, and I won’t put on an act. There’s so much pressure and all for what? 24 hours in the year when we over indulge and before we know it, it’s all over again.

So, if there’s anyone that you know that is on their own, try dropping them a message or popping round to see them. That may give them a lift at this pressurised time of year. Always remember those that are less fortunate. I’m ok, I do have family and friends. I can just about tolerate Christmas. Keeping busy and forgetting about it can work wonders and stop me from feeling down. But it isn’t always easy of course. Bear that in mind as you tuck in to another lorry load of Brussels sprouts, after unwrapping another load of socks and watching some mediocre Christmas TV. Keep an eye out for those who want to shut themselves away.

Allen Brooks xx

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Having a Plan A…and a Plan B – Dealing with My Autism

Plans eh? They say never to plan or have a set routine because it’s bound to go wrong. Well when you’re on the Autistic Spectrum Disorder like myself, it’s important to have some kind of routine or regimented order as that is a trait of ASD.

I don’t like change very much, and certainly when routine is disrupted like last week, it can cause a downturn in mood and well being. I can be flexible with changing plans – up to a point. I’m not the best with lateness or sheer incompetence, especially from service providers, in whatever field. Last week I was almost going out of my mind, it was that bad.

Again, it’s all about understanding. I like order and it’s almost my daily life is on rails or tramlines. When the path is smooth, life is all fine and dandy. When an unexpected development is introduced, the train of thought or action is derailed and severe anxiety becomes the prevailing mood. I suddenly become derailed and vulnerable. I don’t think enough is understood about this trait of ASD that affects one in 700,000 people in the UK.

To summarise, if people around me do things properly, are punctual and are nice to me, then I’m happy. If none of that criteria is met, it’s best to steer clear of me for a few days, as the steam will be coming out of my ears. I do have some patience, but that patience wears thin if the above pattern is not conformed to on a regular basis. That was what last week was like. Hell on Earth, and no joke.

I hope that helps some of the misconceptions around the traits of ASD.

Thanks for listening.

Allen Brooks xx

Scaring people….

Not absolutely sure about the timeframe on this, but all I remember was that I wasn’t in a good place. I was having all sorts of dark thoughts, my self esteem was through the floor, and I’d taken to Facebook to express how I was feeling. Thinking back, it was the middle of summer, but can’t pinpoint a year. My memory playing tricks, now that is unusual!

As I said, it wasn’t a good time. One night, it must have been around 1 or 2 in the morning I suppose, my emotions overflowed. I got my phone, went on to Facebook and gave full vent to my spleen. It was pretty graphic, pretty horrifying and I was so low that I couldn’t muster any shred of self respect.

I eventually got to bed, and received a text message the following morning from an acquaintance of mine who saw the message. She was horrified that I could write in such graphic and revealing detail, and was worried for my well being. Along with her daughter, she invited me out for a meal that afternoon. I was still in a bad place, but the empathy she showed will always stay with me. I came home from the meal feeling a little bit better.

Was the graphic posting on Facebook a cry for help? I suppose it was. I needed some people to see what was going on. My life was heading nowhere fast and this was my way of expressing this frustration and anger. It wasn’t clever, it wasn’t very smart to do this. But when your mind has gone, rationality goes out of the window.

I like to think that I’ve calmed down on the social media front, and I have other avenues where to express my feelings, like peer support group, and my CBT counsellor. Going off the handle like that wasn’t me; and I do think before I act now. That horrible evening, I wasn’t thinking. That’s how screwed up I was. Facebook is a tool I only use now to communicate about sport and social activities, and not to vent my spleen about my private life. It can cause problems.

Older, wiser? Don’t you believe it!

Thanks for dropping by

Allen Brooks xx

Been here before…

Many times. Let me explain. On the blog, I allude to the fact that I am on the Autistic Spectrum Disorder scale. I’m at the mild end of the scale, but I am on the scale. It is classed as a disability under the UK Disabilities Act 2010.

Autism is still a much misunderstood condition. What annoys me more than anything is so called “experts” thinking they understand what goes on, pretending they understand the person with ASD, and then doing something completely the opposite.

One of the traits of ASD is seeing things through tunnel vision. Black or white, no grey areas. For example, if somebody says they will want to see me at, say 9 a.m. for an appointment, I expect some kind of prior message or email to tell me this is going to happen. What really puts me out is the person turning up without any prior notification. In this 21st Century world, we all have means of communication. Except it seems, to the person involved. I had this today where someone showed up, for an appointment, at 9 a.m. without any prior notification. I had just woken up and my mental equilibrium wasn’t at it’s best.

I had to turn the person away, partly because of the shock of them turning up and the fact I’m still under the weather. Luckily I’m not bed ridden with a real bad dose of flu, that would have been extremely worrying. Just a little notification by phone or message at the end of last week would have saved embarrassment for me and the person that turned up.

That single track trait I was talking about? No deviation at all. But how difficult is it for others to understand? To be honest, very few people do. I just go on, in my own sweet way, with most people unaware of what my everyday existence entails. They don’t have to live with ASD. I do. I thought by being diagnosed with this in January of this year, life would be easier. In fact, it’s a lot harder. A lot harder to convince people that I struggle with certain life skills, a lot harder to convince people that ASD is an underlying cause of my occasional depression and anxiety.

I felt I need to get this off my chest. I don’t think people understand, or they don’t want to. It’s all a bit of a game to some. Not to me it isn’t. I’m just bitterly disappointed that supposed people in authority don’t recognise what it’s like to live with an everyday condition, and then make other’s lives difficult. At times, ASD is in the background. Now, it’s back in the foreground again. To say I’m not happy today would be understating the case. Add to that the fact I’ve got a bug, and Monday is already a write off.

Sorry, but these things need to be said.

Allen Brooks xx

Laudable…but is it too little, too late?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-42194524

I found this story on the BBC News website this morning and it brings home a subject very close to my heart.

I’ve spent some of the last couple of years visiting local schools and performing presentations on mental health. One of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. To me, it’s important to start early and impress on youngsters why it is important to have good mental health. The workshops we performed brought in fantastic testimonies from the schools and one or two disclosures. The youngsters felt they could disclose in us.

Disclosures. A service should be available NOW in all schools for children who may think they have the beginnings of mental illness. They then could be signposted onto professional services for further help. Making that first step is always the most difficult.

So the article above details a Government plan to have some kind of assistance put in 25% of schools by 2022. Why then? Why not now? And 25%? It should be in all schools, but as we all know, finance and resources are always a stumbling block.

I would go a stage further and have mental health on the national curriculum for say an hour a week for all pupils. These sessions could see local people come in, people with lived experience, and maybe some professionals too, to detail what goes on with mental illness. What are the signs? Who do we turn to? and other such questions.

I’m all for schemes to improve the lives of those about to become adults. I’m all for Governments of whatever persuasion to pour in money to help those in need. But is it too little, too late? We need to stop the rate of suicides in people between the ages of 13-18. Any life that you or I can save is a real fillip to those in need. I would like to see more done, and for people like me who are still under secondary mental health services, I would like to give back some more to the stars of tomorrow.

Thanks for dropping by,

Allen Brooks xx

Former employers and mental health…

After last night’s meeting, some thoughts crossed my mind about previous employers of mine in relation to their attitudes to mental health.

I first started going downhill in 2007. I’d been in full time work since the end of the 1990s, start of the millennium. There were no hints of what was to come in 2007. There was no diagnosis, no medication and no awareness from me about the perils that lay ahead.

If I had my time over again and I started going downhill much earlier, what would have been the attitudes towards me? I can tell you that I wasn’t treated very well in most of the full time employment I undertook, and if I took time off due to mental illness, I think I would have a much shorter CV than now. The employers had a rigid and tablet of stone attitude to illness, you dare not have time off, it was a crime close to treason. So long as productivity wasn’t affected, they couldn’t give a stuff.

I would like to see if any of those companies have changed their attitudes. Are there procedures in place to deal with mental health issues? Are employees treated with respect and given appropriate time off to deal with their problems? Are the employers sympathetic. I wish I could answer an emphatic yes to all three. There is much work to be done to convince the naysayers that taking time off for genuine illness isn’t a crime. Treat people with respect. But as I said yesterday, talking about mental illness is still difficult for some in society.

What I will say is that having moved into volunteering and the mental health field in 2012, I haven’t looked back. I’ve met and engaged with some fabulous people, professionals and service users, and been totally rewarded with insight and perspective into how we live our lives. I didn’t have that insight back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, and neither did the employers. I’ve changed, I doubt the employers have.

Thanks for dropping by

Allen Brooks xx

Enlightenment…

I’ve just spent a very worthwhile two hours at a meeting of minds at City Hall in London. It was a meeting about mental health and how to improve access for people in this great city. Unfortunately, depending on where you live in the UK, access to mental health services can best be described as a lottery. Some areas are good, some bad, some indifferent.

So how can we change this? By improving access to services, stopping the taboo about talking about mental illness as though it’s something bad, putting more emphasis on “social inclusion” rather than a doctor just prescribing another round of anti depressant medication. Getting people to engage in their local community, irrespective of creed and colour, would be a start.

Making a difference to those who most need it. I’m still engaging in local mental health services and want to give back to those who feel they need to engage, to get involved, to talk about their issues. What is so bad or wrong to talk about mental health? Changing attitudes and making ok to share your feelings and fears. This social model has more mileage than straightforward NHS services. In fact, this social model can complement, but not take the place of medical services.

I love to help others and to give back what I am still taking from mental health services. It was an extremely productive meeting tonight and there was a huge pool of ideas, a starting point to get out there and make a difference. So much so in fact that a fellow attendee wanted to know how I deal with autism. Making a difference already!

Very optimistic and excited about this new venture, and I hope to be part of it.

Thanks for dropping by.

Allen Brooks xx