Max's shop of horrors

Warning: imagination testing site. Enter at own risk

Month: April, 2017

Stimulants and Stress

For a lot of people on the spectrum, myself included, the experience of autism can be described as “life with the contrast turned up”. The highs are like a tsunami of molten chocolate, the lows like skinny dipping in the Antarctic, and the transitions between like one of those amusement park rides that where you shoot up in the air then drop back down.

What I didn’t realize until relatively recently, though, was that something I was doing was making this emotional seesawing far more intense than it needed to be; my intake of sugar and caffeine.

Because I often felt sad or tired, I’d been trying to give myself a boost with unhealthy food and an excessive amount of coffee. Then, when I overhauled my diet in 2014, I noticed something; I was getting to sleep more easily, my panic attacks were less frequent and intense, and I was experiencing less stress in general. The things I’d been consuming to try to improve my mood had actually been making me feel worse.

Those of us on the spectrum are often susceptible to over-stimulation; as a result, chugging energy drinks can be like chucking petrol on a flame. It can easily become a vicious cycle; we feel down, so we consume sugar/caffeine, which makes us feel worse, which leads us consume more, and so on and so forth. I myself was stuck in this cycle for many years before becoming aware of it; I now place guidelines on my intake, and I feel significantly better as a result.

As always, I should point out that I am not a dietitian or a doctor, and this is all based solely on personal experience. I still drink coffee in moderation, and on occasion I’ll even treat myself to a bit of sucrose, I just know now to be mindful of its potential to cause stress. Life on the spectrum is already a roller coaster; there’s no need to grease the tracks!

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Fright of Flight

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Ah, aeroplanes. We’ve all heard the statistics, that they’re one of the safest ways to travel, but somehow that doesn’t always reassure a brain that hasn’t changed significantly since the Pleistocene and considers being 10 kilometers up in the air about as safe as tickling a Sabre Toothed Tiger.

My first experience with air travel was when I flew to and from Japan as a 17/18 year old, and as I’ve detailed in a previous entry, that trip went about as smoothly as a square snowball rolled down the side of Mount Doom. I left so shell-shocked that for the next decade, I avoided flying like the plague.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was invited to speak at a conference on autism… in Tasmania. My plane ticket was paid for as part of the deal, and I really wanted to go, but at the same time, I was terrified. Painful memories of my experiences ten years prior resurfaced with a vengeance. But at the same time, I wanted to face and overcome this fear that I’d been running from for so long.

Buoyed by a flood of support and encouragement from my friends, family, and colleagues, I decided to grit my teeth and give it a go. In the days and hours leading my up to my flight, my anxiety writhed inside me like a live octopus. But then, when I finally got on the plane, and took off, it detached and fell away, left behind on the tarmac. For ten years I’d built up flying to be this horrific thing, but when I actually did it, the glass tiger my mind had fashioned shattered against the hard rock of reality.

And I’m so glad I didn’t let my fears stop me, because I really enjoyed Tasmania. Hobart is a beautiful city, the conference went well, and I met some really lovely people. But perhaps more importantly, I broke free of shackles that had bound me to the earth my entire adult life. From here on out, the sky is no longer the limit.

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