Social Isolation – Autistic Friend or Foe?

Hi everyone.

Today I’d like to invite you over to the blog I’ve just written for the non profit I work for ‘Aspie Trainers’.

Aspie Trainers are all Autistic adults with a passion for educating others. We receive incredible feedback for our training delivered from our unique first person perspective. But we are not only trainers, we are agents for positive change. Currently our reach is small but you can help us grow by heading over to our Facebook page to read and share our latest, highly topical blog.

Sincere thanks for your support

Lizzy – Aspie Trainer, Blogger, Autistic wife and parent and Cornish Rex slave 😊

The Secrets to a Long Marriage – an Autistic perspective

It’s our 11 year wedding anniversary today (16 years together). 11 years since we said ‘I do’ on beautiful Ashwem beach in Northern Goa.

I must confess we both forgot this year 😳 but Facebook compiled a lovely photo montage to remind us…. This included a rather apt picture of stormy seas taken on a diving holiday one Christmas in Tenerife! 😂 Thank you Facebook, we know, it’s not been an easy ride.

We have celebrated today with a family exercise session in the garden. Sunshine, sweat and H providing moral support by shouting ‘Mumma wants a pudding!!’ repeatedly whilst I wobbled through burpee tuck jumps…

So much has happened since I wore that impossibly tiny, impossibly beautiful dress. I can remember so clearly how wonderful it felt on my skin. I can remember looking into N’s eyes as the sun set around us and thinking he was the most handsome man I’d ever seen. I can remember the magical sitar players serenading us and feeling relief that we’d convinced our wedding planner to cancel the ‘surprise’ local wedding singer ‘performing all the favorites like Ronan Keating’ 😂

After the wedding we spent a week hanging out with our families. We hired mopeds and explored the coast. We drank cold Indian beers and messed around in the feisty sea. We ate deliciously fragrant curries and drank intoxicating palm and cashew Fenny. We hurriedly ate ice lollies already half melted in the sweltering heat.

A week later and we grabbed our backpacks and caught a flight further South to beautiful and exotic Kerala. It was wonderful to be alone again with two precious weeks of adventure stretching ahead. In true back packing style we weren’t sure where we were headed, we had no accommodation booked. It was only us and a copy of ‘Lonely Planet’ much like our original traveling adventures 4 years before. The highlight was 2 nights on a romantic wooden houseboat in Alleppey, travelling the backwaters, spotting wild kingfishers, meeting locals when we stopped off in tiny villages. It really was paradise.

It feels strange to remember our life back then, so self indulgent, no responsibilities. Just us two very much in love and excited for the future. The last 11 years seem to have raced by and I don’t quite understand how we’ve crammed so much living into that space.

We bought and sold our first flat (famed for the kitchen parties we held there) then bought our proper, family home by the sea.

We made 3 children including our Angel Pablo. The heartbreak of losing him during pregnancy forever changed me and put a strain on our marriage. L refers to himself as ‘your first son who lived’ and both boys talk about their brother in Heaven. Only N is quiet on the subject, preferring to live in the now, which is undoubtedly healthier but impossible for me.

We were both made redundant (at different times) and had to rethink our careers and financial obligations. Despite many years worked in HR management frequently being the bearer of bad news, nothing prepares you for the full on kick in the gut rejection of losing your job.

The June that L turned 3, I think we may have been the happiest we’d ever been. We were fit and healthy, we had a lovely home, we were enjoying trying for another baby. We excelled in our well paid jobs. My mental health was good following CBT and effective meds. I look at photos from L’s 3rd birthday and I look happy, young, pretty. I love those photos.

Two weeks later age 39, I found out I was pregnant with H. We were over the moon. Two weeks after that and I got my breast cancer diagnosis.

I’ve shared that journey with you, I don’t want to rehash it now. But what I want to say is that whilst I did recover from cancer from an oncologists perspective, I have never properly recovered ‘me’. My body and brain have aged significantly. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy physical age you and cause cognitive dulling. I’ve been thrown headfirst into a chemical menopause and all the joy that brings. And of course I’ve had several surgeries leaving my torso a patchwork of scars which are hard for me to look at even now. I don’t feel young, or pretty anymore. I feel lucky to be alive, but I don’t feel like a woman.

H was born healthy at 34 weeks and was a dream of a baby. My active cancer treatment finished and we agreed I would not go back to work in HR but would focus on our boys instead.

Then of course while H was a toddler, L and I discovered we are Autistic. Whilst this discovery in itself was a welcome relief and has brought many positive changes to our lives, the journey to diagnosis was messy and winding, so many hurdles to trip over and professionals to joust with. Now we are on that same path with H and although we are much better equipped for the fight it is exhausting trying to ensure our boys get the education they deserve.

People say Autism is an invisible disability but the truth is you do feel invisible because the Neurotypical majority who run schools and businesses and medical services don’t understand our needs. It’s easier to blame us and label us as difficult or demanding than make the reasonable adjustments we’re entitled to.

I wonder how I sound to you? Ungrateful? Negative? Miserable? I don’t want to sound like that. Because I am a fighter. I’m a survivor. I try so hard to be positive and I’ve had to be so resilient through my life. But I’m tired. And angry. And sad. I don’t think it’s fair that I’ve been tested so much, time and again. Most of all I don’t think it’s fair that I’m not the wife N deserves.

I’m not that slip of a girl who married him on that heavenly beach. I’ve lost my looks, my confidence. I adore being a mum and love my boys completely, but as my life responsibilities

have increased my attention on my husband has suffered.

When it was just us two, he saw this career focused, successful, slim, sexy girl who he admired and he wanted to show me the world and heal my past hurts from a traumatic childhood. But I was just masking. Inside my head is chaos. My executive disfunction is my biggest weakness. I struggle hugely to plan, organize, execute. I stumble from one missed appointment to the next trying to keep the house clean and everyone fed, whilst earning £9 an hour as an Autism trainer, a job I love but don’t really have time for.

And I know N doesn’t get it. He wants to know where that driven, focused plate spinning career woman has gone? But she wasn’t real, the only reason I was so good at my job back then is that my life was my job, my job and N. Autistic people have a remarkable ability to hyper focus. So to do my job well I hyper focused on it. It had my full and complete attention and when I wasn’t at work, N had my full attention. But if you throw 2 other Autistic humans to care for into the mix, plus a life threatening illness and a bipolar diagnosis, is it any wonder I’m not keeping up?

I want to be that girl again. I want to have date nights, go running together, explore the world, just us and our backpacks. I want to have hungover Sundays on the sofa, binge watching tv series and eating takeaway. I want to travel to meet you in Lapland and Sweden. I want to camp in the freezing cold on the South Downs for Valentine’s Day. I’m sorry I can’t keep up. I’m sorry I’m a rubbish cook and that the boys always come first. I’m sorry I’m not dynamic or driven like I used to be. Executive disfunction is not a choice, its part of me, it’s my brain wiring. It’s why I try and keep life simple, limit people, places, choices. I don’t have the time to hyper focus on it anymore, I have too many competing responsibilities. And if you think back, even then, when I was pretending to be superwoman, my frequent meltdowns and reliance on alcohol were a huge red flag.

So what I want to say to my husband and to me, is thank you, congratulations, we made it to 11 years. I hope we make 11 more.

N, I hope I can find my lost sparkle so you admire me again. You deserve the best. The boys and I love you so much. And the cats of course! Last year we spent our wedding anniversary in a remote New Forest cabin with our own hot tub. This year we are in lockdown at home, waiting out this horrid virus. Regardless, I am grateful and I love you. Always and Forever. Your Neuro-Difficult Wife xxx

We four, 75% Neurodiverse, 100% loving each other.

Just. Keep. Breathing.

We went to the beach to blow away the cobwebs.

Blue sky and sunshine gave way to an ominous cluster of clouds, carrying rain.

Fortunately, the boys were already soaked through from leaping through rock pools.

I took some photos of the sun splintering through the darkening clouds and bouncing off sea.

When my brain hurts, taking photos helps me escape.

It lets in light when everything feels dark.

It shows me beautiful things when my thoughts are ugly.

I love my boys completely.

My children, my husband; they are my reason for existing.

But love is not enough when depression takes the steering wheel.

I’ve lived a lifetime wearing a heavy coat of anxiety, tied in knots by OCD, tormented by low mood that makes me irritable and angry.

With each wave of depression I withdraw into myself. I stop trusting others. I see danger all around. I am tortured by intrusive thoughts that I dare not share.

I become hypersensitive to noise; the shouting/teasing/arguing between my children feels like rock hammers slicing at my brain.

This is why I take photos. This is why I write. To escape from the clamor in my brain. These things connect with a part of me that I like, that I’m proud of. And trust me, there is very little I like about myself.

So why don’t I do it more? Why don’t I take more photos? Why can’t I commit to a regular blog?

Here’s what I think. I think that my current medication is smothering me. It has wrapped a cloak of fog around my brain. It makes me feel clumsy and confused. It’s slows my thoughts. It makes me forgetful. My medication stops me connecting with that creative part of me that I like. It suppresses my ideas. Suffocates my energy.

And it’s ironic because medication has kept me alive through the darkest times. Medication has helped me challenge my childhood trauma. It has enabled me to cope when my first marriage ended and when my first baby boy Pablo became an Angel. It kept me level whilst going through breast cancer treatment during pregnancy. It has helped me find my sanity all those times when I was deeply depressed FOR NO GOOD REASON except that’s what my brain does every few months. It folds in on itself. It is hateful and scared and angry. It is broken.

Do I have suicidal thoughts? Sometimes. But I don’t want to die. I just don’t want to live like this. I would never leave my boys. But I can’t bear to feel like I’m failing them. I can’t bear hearing me snap in irritation because H is having a meltdown over my failure to produce a Spider-Man suit that ‘really sticks to walls’ or because his strawberries are too seedy… meanwhile L is talking at me and over me at a million miles an hour about his special interest until I literally can’t think a single cohesive thought.

Will this ever end? I suspect not. I’ve been mad as a hatter since I was a child. You can’t fix what I am. I say that not to be negative, but because I’ve tried numerous psychotropic meds. I’ve had all sorts of talking therapies. I’ve slept through hypnotherapy and joined countless online support groups. I’ve stayed up all night reading and researching, hoping to stumble across the elusive cure for my poor mental health.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe. I’m waiting to see a new psychiatrist. I’m going to ask to come off my current meds. Maybe I’ll try some new cocktail of super drug that can help me stay happy for more than a few weeks at a time.

What I do know is, being Autistic is not what’s ‘wrong’ with me. Yes Autism makes me more prone to mental health issues but it also makes me passionate, committed, intelligent, creative. It enables me to hyper focus. It makes me honest. It makes me loyal. It makes me authentic.

What makes me mentally ill, is being an Autistic minority in a world designed to meet the needs of the neurotypical majority.

What makes me ill is the stress and exhaustion from masking, so I can pretend I fit in.

What makes me ill is that honesty and openness are frowned upon.

What makes me ill is feeling like I’m a disappointment because I don’t want to socialize in groups and I don’t want to host big family gatherings. I love my family and friends, I’m just not like them.

What makes me ill is knowing that my OCD upsets people and makes them feel uncomfortable in my home. If only you could understand my conflict in wanting to be a relaxed and friendly host with the burning compulsion to line up your shoes or wipe up your crumbs whilst you’re still eating.

I know that I am complicated and difficult by neurotypical standards, but I’m not neurotypical. I dance to my own clumsy beat. Right now my music is muffled and my brain has invented new and destructive ways to cope.

I’m eating, eating, always eating. It doesn’t even matter what. The sensation of chewing and swallowing is like an addiction.

I am also compelled to pick holes in my face, actual holes. I know this is stupid. It hurts. It makes me feel ugly. I stay inside rather than let people see my face.

The old me would have drunk vodka to cope and lots of it. But I’m 6 months sober and safer/saner for it.

So for now binge eating and skin picking help me block out the brain noise while I wait to see whether my new shrink will understand neurodiversity or whether they will be as ill prepared, inappropriate and ambiguous as the last one…

If you got this far, thank you. I appreciate you listening.

Please don’t worry about me.

I’m too stubborn to give up.

And I have so much to be grateful for.

A husband who is strong, patient and kind. Who persists in loving me even though I’m a pain in the arse (his words!)

We share two beautiful neurodiverse sons. They make me laugh and shower me with love every day whilst teaching me how to parent uniquely complicated and challenging personalities like my own..

We are enslaved to our Cornish Rex cats. They are equal parts clever and naughty, gentle and loving. We four are besotted with these thieves of small objects and makers of bad smells.

And of course we have friends and family who I care deeply about and want to stick around for (even if I don’t always want to see them in person)

We also have family who don’t understand or support us. The scientific term for them is ‘Skeksis’. For these Skeksis I remain devoted to staying alive, simply to piss them off.

So what can you do?

If you want to help #bekind. Don’t judge. You haven’t walked in my shoes so don’t tell me how to wear them.

Look around you for there are many, many more people like me (neurodiverse and neurotypical) who are held captive by poor mental health. Don’t hide behind your embarrassment. They rarely ask for help. In fact they’ll tell you they are ‘fine’ and don’t need anything because we all mask sometimes.

Please look into their eyes. See what’s really going on. Offer specific, practical help. Take them shopping. Cook them a meal. Put on the radio and have a cleaning party in their kitchen. Accompany them to appointments. DON’T buy them a drink (it won’t help, trust me). Drive them somewhere beautiful for a walk. Take photos together of what you see….

Hopefully next time we meet in real life or in the pages of this blog, I will be in a better place.

Regardless, I will still be here. Still breathing. Still putting one foot in front of the other. Still tripping up along the way….

Alcohol Free Me – Why drinking didn’t solve my social communication challenges (and other embarrassing stories)

When you grow up feeling like an alien, like an outsider looking in, when you desperately want to belong, to be included…but no amount of masking can equip you to pass as a ‘normal’ human being – that’s where alcohol comes in.

I didn’t discover I was Autistic until I was 42. Had I known earlier, maybe I would have accepted myself more, have understood myself better and embraced my neurological differences. As it was, I grew up thinking I was mad, broken, bad and wrong. I longed to be cool and popular; my school friends seemed so much more real than me, more alive, more present. Then I discovered alcohol shortly after getting my first part time job at 17 and I thought I’d found my answer.

You’d think I would have steered clear of alcohol giving my upbringing. My dad was an alcoholic. He worked hard 6 days a week and drank hard to make up for it. Growing up I both feared and loathed him, but hated myself more for not loving him like I knew I was meant to. I didn’t understand him anymore than I understood myself. I used to think his aggression made him a bad man, but I don’t think that anymore. Alcohol was his coping mechanism, but alcohol brought out the worst in him. In that way I guess I am more like him than I realized.

Fast forward. I’m 17, working in a DIY store with a load of other students, male and female. Some had their own cars, their own money, they certainly had more freedom than I.

The first time they invited me along to the pub I was almost giddy with excitement. Someone ordered me a Martini Rosso (since I couldn’t tell them what I drank…I’d never tasted alcohol and only knew of beer and wine). There were more Martinis and I think some Bacardi. I didn’t have to pay for a single drink. I felt warm and fuzzy. Relaxed. Silly. Pretty. I talked non stop and people laughed at me. But in a good way. They thought I was funny! It was a revelation. I was bowled over by my own confidence and shocked to realize that boys found me attractive. The fact that I vomited several times when I got home, that my head felt like it was going to split open the next morning; that all seemed a fair price to pay for the new version of me that came out to play when I drank.

So drinking became part of my weekend routine. Go to work, go to the pub, get smashed, be sick, do it all again next week. I had a succession of short relationships with male co-workers which were largely innocent as I was ridiculously naive on the sex front and had no intention of giving myself away. Yet to an outsider looking in I guess it wasn’t pretty and my poor mum was tearing her hair out. I’d always been her good as gold little girl, wouldn’t say boo to a goose, a model student. I’d spend most of my free time in my bedroom reading or caring for my menagerie of pets. I listened to Billy Joel and wrote stories. I wasn’t like other teens. Until I was (in her eyes anyway).

The more Mum tried to control me the more I rebelled with my trusty friend alcohol steadfast in my corner. She didn’t want me to ruin my life and I just wanted to have fun. And I did have fun. Throughout my teens and twenties. I laughed and danced. I kissed boys. I went to gigs. I shared secrets with my girlfriends. I was sick a LOT, sometimes over other people. I once woke up with nettle rash all over my backside having passed out whilst having a wee in the pitch black woods. I once let my best friend pierce my ear with nothing more than a needle, cork and frozen brussel sprout! I recall very clearly laying on the floor at a party in London with the whole room spinning and thinking, it’s ok, my boyfriend will come and get me soon. Then I spied him across the room, laying on the floor, in his own spinning world, waving at me. Oh the panic I felt then!

As brutal as the hangovers were and as much as I loathed being sick, what was worse was how difficult my sober Monday to Friday became. Because without alcohol, my social anxiety, my sense of isolation, that nagging sense of not being connected to anything, it was all a thousand times worse. Still, I held down really good jobs, I was recognized and rewarded, I grew my career and I got married. We bought a house. All the things you’re ‘meant’ to do when you’re a normal human being (which of course I was pretending to be). But behind the scenes my mental health was in tatters. I lived in a constant state of high stress (which I now know is very common for Autistic people). My emotions were all over the place. I struggled with uncontrollable rages, deep depression and acute fear of being judged and rejected. I had friends and family who loved me but they didn’t know me. I didn’t know me. I felt utterly alone.

Of course I can’t blame alcohol for all that. I was Autistic and rapidly spiraling into the land of bipolar which is a one way ticket. Had I known about my neurodiversity and mental health then, I hope I’d have cared for myself more and made better choices. What alcohol did though was temporarily make the bad thoughts and feelings go away. It gave me confidence to socialise, to be a louder, more colourful, entertaining version of myself. Then of course it just exacerbated my depression and made me feel hopeless. That’s not a good place to be.

My first marriage ended because I had a breakdown and I did what I always do when I’m broken. I retreat, I push people away, I reject them before they can hurt me. He was one of life’s good guys and and I’m eternally grateful for our time together. But I’m sure on reflection he thinks he had a lucky escape from me!

In my late twenties I met my second (hopefully forever) husband. N was younger than me but he seemed more grown up. He had a strong work ethic. He adored his family. He also loved to party. We had a fabulous first 5 years of working hard in our respective careers and partying hard all weekend. During that time we travelled the world together then came back and bought our first flat. Did it cause arguments that I would get paralytically drunk on a regular basis? Yes! Was my erratic behavior affecting my husband’s own mental well-being? Undoubtedly. Fortunately for me, his enduring love and the fun part of the fun times kept us together. When I think of us sharing Thai whisky buckets under the stars on Koh Phi Phi I smile; when I remember laying on the jetty the next day unable to get on the boat we had tickets for, I feel a bit stupid. When I remember us drinking cocktails with some rather gangster like Russians in Goa I remember the beauty of Ashwem beach and then the worry of how we would make our escape from them.

In 2010 we decided to start a family. Within 2 weeks I was pregnant with our sweet Angel Pablo. By that point I’d be drinking regularly and often heavily for well over 15 years. But the second I found out I was pregnant at 2 weeks, I stopped drinking. Completely. I also cut our caffeine. And it was easy! It was easy because my baby needed me, I had a role to fulfill, to grow our child and I guess it became my special interest. It was all I could focus on. If you’ve read my earlier blogs you’ll know that we lost Pablo during pregnancy to a rare lethal chromosome disorder. I’m yet to find the words to tell his story but suffice to say for now, that when he died a part of me died and I was utterly bereft. The hospital allocated me a bereavement counselor. Whilst kind, she only confused me. Her sessions were very abstract (arranging toys in a sand tray or selecting postcards from a pile that resonated with me). Autistic people tend to like facts and truths. We are very literal. Ambiguity confuses us. So when the counseling didn’t help I turned back to my old friend alcohol of course.

Vodka was my drink of choice back then and I had a remarkably high tolerance to it so I would free pour with whatever available mixer. Sometimes Diet Coke or soda and lime, but I’ve also been known to use orange squash or even powdered diet iced tea that my sister in law brought over from America! Fortunately I fell pregnant again with our beautiful rainbow L just a few months later. Again, I cut out alcohol and caffeine completely and it was an easy choice to make.

8 months pregnant with L

I maintained sobriety throughout my pregnancy and for 1 year and 13 days after his birth which is the length of time I was breast feeding him. In truth I did enjoy a few rare nights out with N that first year such as going to his work Christmas meal. But I stuck to two drinks and I maniacally pumped and dumped my milk when I got home as I didn’t want his precious body contaminated with alcohol.

When my breastfeeding ended (L got chickenpox and couldn’t nurse) I was delighted to welcome alcohol back in my life but my drinking pattern had to change. The clean, work hard weeks followed by the heavy duty partying weekends was not conducive to family life so we started drinking little and often. Just one or two vodkas once L was in bed but for five, sometimes six nights a week. It was a strange transition. Because I was never drunk, yet I’d never felt so dependent on alcohol. Now it wasn’t about making me more confident and sociable, it was about helping me relax and unwind from the intense stress of looking after a very demanding and unsettled baby (who would not be diagnosed Autistic until he was almost 6) and working part time as a Manager in a large international financial services firm where I felt constant pressure to prove I could still deliver and be committed to my career, despite now being a mum.

Occasionally one of the grandmas would look after L and we’d throw a house party. I’ve always preferred house parties to going out. I feel much more relaxed and safe in my own space with a handful of trusted friends than in a nightclub or pub full of strangers. Of course house parties brought their own anxiety because I have terrible OCD (for which I’m now medicated) so the mess and disruption caused by welcoming people into our home was a massive source of stress for me).

In 2014 I fell pregnant with our darling H. Our joy was short lived because 2 weeks later I was diagnosed with breast cancer. If you missed that story please read ‘The Baby Bump and the Bad Lump’ one of my earliest blogs. Anyway, long story short I was determined to protect H and deliver him safely whilst having treatment to kick cancer’s butt. Once again I kissed goodbye to alcohol and caffeine as well as (for a few months) sugar because I read it feeds cancer. It was such a surreal and terrifying time and arguably one where I could really have done with a stiff drink. But I was on a mission for my body to be the perfect safe haven to grow H whilst simultaneously fighting off cancer.

Me after my first chemo. 16 weeks pregnant.

So I smashed through a mastectomy, chemo and (post birth) radiotherapy all alcohol free. I remember for my 40th birthday we rented a gorgeous house in Deal and all our closest family came to be with us. It was 3 days after my final chemo and 4 weeks before H would be delivered. I sat in the village pub on a long table, having a celebration meal the night before. Everyone else was drinking. I felt dog tired and so wrung out from chemo I just wanted to sleep. The drunken behavior of my brothers was irritating me, the loud voices of everyone, the conflicting smells of people’s meals. I made my excuses and escaped to bed. When I woke up on my 40th birthday, most of my eyebrows and eyelashes had fallen out! Just like that!! I was horrified. Throughout chemo I’d been plastering them with a protective gel and was grateful to have held onto them. So waking up fat, bare faced and post-chemo grey on my special day was a bit of a kick in the balls. If I had balls that is. I think I ate a whole 2 tier box of Milk Tray chocolates that morning by way of coping.

I breastfed H from my one breast for 3 months before I was forced to start Tamoxifen and Zoladex injections (my post cancer medication regime). I was desperately sad about this and felt like my heart was breaking. So of course I turned to my old friend vodka. Again our drinking pattern was little and often (too often), it was part of our evening routine and I felt cheated if I didn’t have a drink. I noticed that N was always more sensible than me, he’d stick to one or none if he had an early start. I’m not going to lie, this irritated me. Because I felt like the bad guy for wanting more. Drinking relaxed me, it smoothed away the stress of the day, made me more chatty, hell – it helped with my libido if I’m honest because it’s hard to feel sexy when your body is a map of scars, your reconstructed breast is monstrous and you feel aged 10 years by cancer treatment.

And so it continued. By and large life was good. I was physically healthy (if not mentally), our boys were thriving and N’s career was going strength to strength. My Autism diagnosis which came 6 months after L’s brought overwhelming relief and answers to so many questions about my past and my present. I finally knew who I was, I started to meet others from my tribe and I even got a job working as an Autism trainer using my past experience in learning and development. The trouble was, my mental health continued to be a massive problem. I cycled rapidly in and out of deep depression and had dark periods of hopelessness and paranoia. Drinking absolutely made these feelings worse but it was also my go to response when I felt stressed.

My second significant diagnosis (Bipolar 2) set me on the path to better mental health management. I began taking lithium which did a great job of balancing my erratic moods and I started to feel in control of my life. However I discovered on a family holiday to Spain that lithium and alcohol don’t mix. A few cocktails whilst listening to music with the children and their cousins ended in me barely able to walk and being carried home by my sister in law and 12 year old niece! Waking up after that night, feeling absolutely awful but also deeply fearful because there were huge gaps in my memory of what happened…that was a wake up call. ‘You can’t allow yourself to get like that ever again’ I told myself and I had all the best intentions. But it was well over a year later at my brother in laws 40th that I finally found it in me to just STOP. Unfortunately the stop button didn’t kick in until I’d drunk three quarters of a liter of vodka, insulted several strangers, kicked N’s Uncle in the crotch (I have no idea why) and passed out on their couch by 7.30pm! 14th September 2019 will forever more be known as the day I went out with a bang.

In 5 days time on 14th November I will have been alcohol free for 2 months. This is the longest I’ve been AF in my life other than of course during my pregnancies. There have been fleeting moments when I’ve felt tempted like when the boys were fighting in the supermarket in front of a huge stack of pink G&T cans. But I know in my heart that I cannot drink alcohol anymore. That’s just me. People say ‘everything in moderation’. But I don’t do moderation. I am intense and full on. I don’t know when to stop. It’s why I’m so overweight right now because my binge eating is so difficult to repress. But I’ll crack it. Just like I’ve cracked this. Right now I’m just proud to be alcohol free. My lovely husband N is on the same bandwagon. Annoyingly he is super fit and has the body of a Greek God but hey ho. The boys have commented that it’s good I don’t drink alcohol anymore. From a ‘post cancer’ perspective, it is definitely wise for me to abstain. But most of all I just want to be me. The real authentic me without alcohol jazzing up my personality or numbing my fears and worries. Alcohol can’t solve my social communication challenges and anyway, who says they need solving. I’m authentic, Autistic, mental me and for all the dark times when I haven’t wanted to live I can honestly now say I’m glad to be alive.

My family

Back from the Brink

Hello again 🙂

So I think I’m finally getting my mojo back 💖 After many weeks wrestling with my bipolar, lost in clouds of black and unable to get any pleasure out of photography or writing, I can finally feel my passion and confidence creeping back. This week I took my sons to Petworth Park in Sussex. We spent a few happy hours tracking the wild deer, getting muddy, imagining fairy folk living under the colourful toadstools and delivering Halloween party invitations on behalf of Fangus the Bat as part of a Halloween trail.
I should have known that nature and our great outdoors would lead me back to sanity but when you’re in the grip of manic depression all you want to do is hide from the World.

Goodbye to Vodka

Usually when I’m struggling with my mental health I prop myself up with a bottle of vodka, literally. Vodka and I go way back. Vodka has seen me through a succession of traumas and has been a loyal companion at parties which (being Autistic) I tend to hate unless I’m wearing my trusty vodka jacket. But during my most recent bout of depression I attended my brother in laws 40th (under duress) and was passed out on the coach by 7.30pm having offended a great many people and kneed my husband’s very lovely uncle in his nether regions (I do not remember this and I’m still cringing about it even as I write). So after a night sleeping in the bathtub while my husband looked after the boys I realized Vodka had to go. For good. In part because of the humiliation I felt after the party but mostly because I had a realization that I have to start respecting my body more, especially as my body has fought cancer and should be nurtured not pickled if I want to stop it coming back.

Fresh start

So here I am almost 7 weeks stone cold sober. That’s the longest I’ve been sober since I was pregnant with H. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it. I wish I could say I felt healthier for it…I’m sure that bit is still to come. The truth is I’m spotty, in constant pain with my dodgy knees and overweight from comfort eating. But I feel really proud of myself for breaking the reliance on alcohol, which started when I was 17 and began drinking to cope with social situations.
I can’t emphasize enough how healing it can be to connect with nature and I’ve definitely felt my ‘selfness’ coming back during a few sunset visits to the beach and my recent expedition to Petworth. I’ve also got a new psychiatrist and some increased medication to thank for getting me back on the straight and narrow. But most of all, I want to thank my lovely husband for his love and support and for bringing me back from bipolar land. N, these photos are for you. xxxxxxx

Nine Years an Angel – A poem for Pablo

A Gift

From the moment we had the idea of you, we wanted you.

You came to us in India, our happy place, on our first wedding anniversary.

Finding out you were growing inside of me was one of the best days of my life.

Finding out you wouldn’t survive, was the worst.

Just because no one met you doesn’t mean you didn’t matter; you did & you do.

You were our first son, a first grandson, a nephew, a cousin.

In those weeks I carried you we loved you enough for a lifetime.

We dreamed so many dreams of you and planned a future filled with you.

We called you Pablo, ‘little one’ believing we had precious months to choose your name.


We saw you kicking in my belly,

We heard your heartbeat strong and true…

But it wasn’t meant to be sweet boy, so God took us away from you.

They told us you were broken, that you never could survive.

They told us ‘try again’ while my heart shattered inside.

Then we held your tiny body as you embraced forever sleep,

A coffin rather than a crib, whilst all I did was weep.

Saying goodbye was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Father George said we gave you wings, I pray that is true.

Many (most) don’t understand the magnitude of our loss,

Think that pregnancy can be replaced with no emotional cost, Some told us we were lucky to find out early on,

That you were made for Heaven & not Earth, our little one.

Why must I apologize for feeling so much pain?

Why should I hide my grief and pretend I’m whole again?

A Garden:

Is it strange that your garden is a happy place for me?

A place where I can care for you and show you Mummy loves you.

Not with cuddles and stories, but flowers and trinkets, pruning and weeding, creating a safe space as beautiful as you.

I have breast fed your brothers and changed their nappies beside your garden,

They have taken their first wobbly steps in front of your resting place.

So many picnics eaten next to you over the years,

Each Easter, birthday, Christmas celebrated with new decorations for you.


Today I will make extra room for remembering & look at your photos & remember your tiny face, your hands, your feet.

My mind races with questions; are you still a baby in Heaven even though you are 9 years an Angel today? Or are you growing up like your brothers under the watchful eye of the other Angels?

My tears sting but I am glad and I am grateful Pablo,

Losing you meant that I did not doubt for one second that I should fight to continue my pregnancy with Henry, despite my cancer diagnosis. Would I have been as brave if I had not experienced losing you? I don’t think so.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sending us your brothers Leo & Henry, for making us whole again, for shining your light on us, our Guardian Angel.

God bless you baby boy, our Pablo, our first born.

Until we see you again

25 June 2010 – Forever carried in our hearts


Autism and Angel’s

Today I attended a conference at a local University to participate in a panel discussion and deliver a workshop on ‘Autism & Neurodiversity’ with my colleague Alex. The theme of the conference was mental health and well-being, a subject close to my heart. So despite my irrational fear and suspicion of academic types and a bad case of nerves, I was looking forward to the event.

As it turned out, it was a real treat to hear the other speakers and meet so many interesting people keen to learn more about life on the Autistic Spectrum. We had some lively discussion on the 5 D’s (difference, diagnosis, disorder, disease, disability) and how the Autistic community is divided in it’s definition of Autism. We also talked about the importance of changing the environment to fit your child rather than changing your child to fit the environment.

I am a strong advocate for the Neurodiversity movement and the social model of disability. I believe I am different, not less. I’m not broken, I don’t need fixing. My genetic make up is as natural and important to human evolution as the next persons. Yet I am still Autistic. My brain in wired in such a way that I struggle in social situations. I find the dialogue exhausting, new environments and new people overwhelm me. Today, my adrenaline was through the roof, I’d frankly sweated buckets, my eyes felt hot and fuzzy from the bright lights, my face hurt from smiling. All I wanted to do was get home, have a cuddle with my boys and be silent for several hours.

However, me being me I got hopelessly lost driving in the wrong direction (thanks for that google maps) before realizing I was close to the cemetery where our first son Pablo is buried. Since we moved away from Brighton I only visit his grave a few times a year on birthdays and Christmas; this weighs heavy on my heart. The first year after he died I visited him every day without fail, even when I was heavily pregnant. When L was born exactly 1 year and 4 days after Pablo grew his wings, our visits took place on weekends when my husband was around too so we could juggle tending Pablo’s garden with L’s nappy changes and feeds. Eventually just before H was born we moved further along the coast to afford a family home with a garden. Only 15 miles but it sometimes felt like 150 because at the time I didn’t drive.

So back to today and there I was stuck on a roundabout trying to work out which way to go when I realised I had a sudden and rare opportunity to visit our Angel at the cemetery. And there I spent a happy hour getting muddy and wet in the rain, talking to our first boy and pulling up handfuls of weeds with my bare hands to restore his overgrown garden. It was wonderful.

Right now? I’m cross legged on the armchair, comfortably full from dinner, the house is blissfully quiet as the boys are asleep and I don’t feel stressed! I’m not craving vodka. Or chocolate (well maybe just a tiny bit of a craving). But usually after a large and demanding event like today I’m a bit of a wreck. Usually I’m tired but I’m also irritable, unsettled, weighed down by the replay of conversations and whether I said anything stupid or embarrassing (over sharing is my speciality much to my husband’s horror).

But my visit to Pablo and a bit of rainy, muddy manual work has done me the world of good. It’s cleared my head, reminded me what’s important. Because as much as I want to change the world, and help others appreciate and accept Autism and mental health, nothing is more important than what I’m doing right here with my lovely, loyal and patient hubby. Raising our precious sons. Because if anyone is going to change the world they will…..and if you think I’m blunt, gobby and overshare wait until you meet them!

Brothers 💖

We’re All Mad Here!

Have you noticed the universal joy that comes from playing with bubbles, balloons or fancy dress? This is L, my fellow Aspie and ‘first son who lived’ (his words not mine). L is deliciously complicated, super clever, highly emotional (like his Mumma) and he is joyful. So joyful. I have thousands of photos I’ve taken like this. Of him popping bubbles, bouncing balloons, scooting, skating, speeding on his bike, wild swimming, tree climbing and of course parading around in different fancy dress outfits because who doesn’t like dressing up?

L is 8 at the end of this month and while I was flicking through old photos today trying to pick out some favorites for his birthday collage (a tradition of mine) I was struck how much happiness radiates from him when he’s doing these things. It’s like he’s giving off his own magical energy and if you could bottle it, we could save the planet.

Guilty pleasures

Now I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed I reach for a big bar of chocolate. Or a box of cakes. Or maybe both. And vodka. I just love to self soothe with vodka! Hubby and I have been trying to avoid buying spirits in an effort to be more healthy. But you just can’t beat an ice cold vodka can you? Or can you?…. Because now I’m looking at these photos and I’m thinking. I’m thinking ‘Wow! What would happen if instead of stuffing my face with comfort food and poisoning my liver with vodka, what would happen if I went outside and blew some bubbles? Or had a bounce on the trampoline?

Healthy healing

One of my favorite past times is rockpooling on the beach.I can do it for hours and never get bored. Or wading through streams and rivers with a fishing net catching tiddlers. These things heal me, just like writing heals me or taking photographs heals me.

It’s so easy in a stressful moment to want instant gratification, a deliciously chocolatey snog with a bar of galaxy or a soothing alcoholic cuddle with your favorite beverage. But the benefit is so fleeting and you’re left wanting more which is bad for your waistline and your wallet. Even worse, when I’ve resorted to binging, boozing, or both, I feel rotten afterwards. I don’t mean hangover rotten. I mean depressed, unattractive, guilty, greedy. Because I know it’s bad for me.

Embrace your inner Buzz

Let me be clear I’m not trying to guilt trip you into clearing up your act. This is all about me. Manic depressives and cancer survivors should most definitely limit their alcohol intake and eat healthily. This is a fact.

So if you should venture down to the park or the beach this weekend and see a rotund yet energetic blonde woman dressed as Buzz Lightyear, blowing bubbles and brandishing a fishing net, with a camera swinging round her neck, don’t be afraid. It’ll just be me living my best life. Do come and say hi. I’m not dangerous, just bonkers in the very best way. But as the Cheshire Cat says ‘We’re All Mad Here’!

Send Help! When your Executive Function is dysfunctional

Autism comes with a lot of gifts. It also comes with some significant challenges. One thing I really struggle with, is Executive Function. The diagram attached (credit: http/ – Dr Brown) provides a good summary of the skills that make up our Executive Function such as organization and planning, emotional regulation and working memory.

Introducing OM

How I describe it to people when I’m training them is that it’s like having a dedicated Office Manager in your head. Someone who organizes your thoughts and responsibilities, reminds you what needs to be done, helps you switch focus between priorities, they even make you a metaphorical coffee when you’re stressed and help you practice mindfulness to manage your frustrations. Your Office Manager (lets call them OM from now on) is invaluable.

Except in someone with Autism, your OM is on strike. They’ve downed tools. Left the building. No handover. No temporary replacement. Certainly no coffee.

For me personally, this makes my life rather difficult. It makes it chaotic at best and a shambles at worst. It’s why I’m late for everything no matter how early I get up or how much I prepare before hand. It’s why my short term memory has more holes than a ring donut factory. It’s why I can hyper focus on one topic quite beautifully but if required to switch tasks at short notice I freak. It’s why I’m hot headed, prone to tears, my passion can inspire but it also intimidates. My forgetfulness and poor planning can frustrate and infuriate others. It’s why I take on too much too easily then panic because I feel like I’m drowning.

Why June is scaring me!

This month is a particularly bad month for me when it comes to my executive function and my missing OM. I’ve agreed to run three training courses (one is a full days conference) and as usual I’m scrabbling around last minute to get ready. I’m still writing materials for OM’s sake! Now I’m a perfectionist and have no fear; those course will be brilliant and I’ll pull them off like a pro. But it will mean late nights (think 3am finishes) and lost sleep to get me there. It will also leave my social energy completely drained because spending time with other people, especially lots of new people, is very hard for me.

Then there are my gorgeous boys. In between juggling H’s transition meetings to infant school, and L’s rehearsals for the school play and spelling bee, I’m trying to convince the local authority to contribute funding to L’s promised place at a fantastic local independent school – my superstar has been offered a scholarship but it doesn’t cover the full fees and we simply can’t afford to pay the rest. So I’m stressing because term ends in July and I need to have this sorted by then.

It’s also Fathers Day and I want to make it special for my much loved and somewhat overlooked hubby!

Then it’s L’s 8th birthday. Now to hear him talk you’d think he was planning his wedding! His expectations are sky high (my fault, I set a ridiculous benchmark in previous years when we had more time and more money!)

It’s also our Angel’s birthday this month. Pablo will be 9 years in Heaven on 25th June. 9 years! And it’s not just about finding him a suitable gift and planning a visit to the cemetery. It’s the inevitable pain of remembering. His loss never leaves me but in June it’s so much worse. I can recall so clearly every conversation from that time, every smell, ever physical sensation. And it hurts to remember. It’s draining, exhausting. It makes me want to hide from everyone.

And then of course there’s this blog. Because I feel so compelled to write and the process is so cathartic but I have no time! In fact I’m using up time blogging when I should be planning for all the other priorities I’ve been telling you about.

The moral of the story

So back to my missing OM. Back to the point of this blog. I guess what I want to say is, the chaos, the lateness, the forgetting, the losing things, the poor emotional regulation….all those things that may irritate you about me or the Autistic person(s) in your life; it’s not deliberate, we really are trying and we just need you to be patient. Be kind. Help, don’t judge. You can advise but don’t preach. Because I guarantee if you were inside my brain for even one day you’d run screaming back to your own and would give your OM the biggest bear hug when you get there 🙂

When you can’t see the wood for the trees…

Send help! Her OM’s gone on strike!!

Let’s talk Rainbows

Today I was at the hospital with my youngest who is undergoing assessment for autism. Everyone’s kind of sitting on the fence about it because our lovely H is highly sensitive, highly anxious, resists change and has sensory processing issues. However when he feels comfortable he is an articulate and engaging communicator and he has a phenomenal imagination which doesn’t sit comfortably with the ASC diagnostic criteria.

We agreed to continue monitoring him and to review his progress once he starts school in September – all well and good. Then the Doctor made a statement that made me catch my breath…’I usually find that people diagnosed later in life are diagnosed late because their presentation and traits are milder than those diagnosed when they are young.’

My heart: NO NO NO! Are you going to let her get away with that massively unfair and inaccurate generalization?

My head: Keep your cool Lizzy, don’t alienate this perfectly nice and respected Doctor!

Fortunately I stayed calm and replied ‘In my experience the people diagnosed later in life appear to have milder traits because they have become experts at masking and camouflaging those traits in order to fit in with the neurotypical world around them. In actual fact their difficulties may be severe but they have kept these hidden for fear of being judged.’

To be fair to the Doctor she did listen to my comments and I appreciate that professionals involved in diagnosis, work with frameworks, checklists, criteria, they work in black & white. But Autism isn’t black and white, it’s a RAINBOW 🌈. Each one of us is unique and whilst of course there are central common traits we have vastly different strengths and challenges.

I honestly don’t know if H is autistic. Some days I’m positive, others I’m not. What I do know is I don’t want him to become a ‘lost child’ like me. Undiagnosed for 42 years, confused, angry, awkward, misunderstood. Probably my greatest hurt over the years has been that feeling that no one understands me. People have misread my behavior, misread my intentions, judged me against their neurotypical rules which are not my rules! My brain is wired differently. I have my own ‘normal’ and it’s not the same as a neurotypical persons.

My life and my self esteem has improved immeasurably since my Autism diagnosis and to a lesser extent my bipolar diagnosis as I now have effective medication to manage my recurring cycles of depression. I don’t want to label H or force a diagnosis on him when he’s so little. Neither do I want to play down his difficulties and miss the chance to get him the support he needs for school.

So I will continue to love and nurture him, play with him, teach him and hopefully someday soon we’ll be able to reach a consensus on his neurotype.

In the meantime, please try not to see in black & white. Remember Autism is a rainbow, that all behavior is communication and that the child/adult/co-worker/employee you find awkward, weird, angry, blunt/rude, shy, may not understand your expectations and rules. So please don’t try and mould them to ‘fit in’. Follow their rainbow, it will be colorful, exciting and fun. Who knows, you may even find a pot of gold at the end of it !