Mental Health Awareness Week ! You are having a laugh.

Oh gosh, so where do I begin ? This has been one of those weeks ! Sometimes I can ease the stress of my harder weeks with a large bar of chocolate and a glass of wine. This is not one of them…

I have two teenage daughters, both of whom suffer from social anxiety but with varying levels. The eldest daughter is nearly 17 and I am fully aware that she experiences anxiety when dealing with certain situations, for example she recently had a job interview and she felt very anxious about it. That’s normal right? I think it is and she understands that it is too. She knows that if she has to attend several interviews that the anxiety will ease and she will know what is to come and what to expect. I am not down playing her anxiety, it’s not easy. When I was in a high powered role at work I often used to get very anxious about meetings. How would I get there? What if I got lost? What if I was late? Who would be there? However, for both of us we understand that these feelings of anxiety are normal and also that some level of anxiety is good for you. As a family we were recently able to have a tour of some African elephants and we were told that they too needed some level of anxiety or they became bored. So anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing, you just need to understand it.

I am also aware that I need to respect her boundaries, she is at that age when she is becoming an adult and she needs some privacy and so I only get involved when she asks for my advice or needs my help. I try to get the balance right but I am sure that at times she wants me to interject more often but sometimes I miss the signs. I know I don’t always get it right, I know because she tells me. Ultimately though I feel that she has enough people around her that she can turn to to ensure that she is safe.

The other teen in my life Bonnie is soon to be 14 and she is also experiencing anxiety but because she is home schooled and autistic we spend a lot of time talking about her anxieties. Some of them seem to be crazy (some drive me crazy), but they are real big issues to her. The things that I find hardest about her anxieties are that they seem to have really bad physical effects on her. For example if she is worried about something, even ever so tiny like the length of her hair, she obsesses and obsesses about the problem until she feels faint, her heart races, she sweats and has a headache. She also can experience psychological feelings and because I am not a professional, I really worry that I am not giving her enough.

So this week we visited the local GP. Bonnie explained how she was feeling and the doctor suggested that she be referred to CAMHS. As you may have discovered from reading previous blogs, Bonnie and I are not big fans of CAMHS. I still have yet to find anyone with a positive experience of CAMHS so for Bonnie this was not an option. We did ask for advice on private autistic counsellors but the doctor was unable to suggest anyone. In this day and age ? (big sigh). We talked about medication to help but due to the fact she is under 18 he could not prescribe this and that she would need medication from a consultant. As Bonnie’s intelligence levels are very high she is aware of the downsides of such medication, having researched this area thoroughly, and she is therefore very wary and would only use medication as a last resort but she feels that she is at that last train station and where does she go from here. It seems to her as though all avenues have been shut down and that she is left alone.

So we talked more about counselling to the GP and Bonnie explained her fears that she felt that counsellors would twist her words and not understand what she was trying to explain. The GP then asked her “Are you suicidal ?” “No” she replied. “But what if you were, would you know where to get help from?” “But I’m not ” she replied “Can you talk to mum? if you can’t, then you can text her from another room” Oh seriously this dude was pressing every button for me. Bonnie replied “I can talk to my mum and once again I am not suicidal”. We took his couple of cards with suggested online counselling, which by the way Bonnie tried the minute we got home, but that they were hopeless, with no understanding of autism and just left her feeling more isolated. What Bonnie found unbelievable though was that she had told this GP that counsellors would twist what she was saying and not really listen to her and here was a prime example of that. She was flabbergasted that he continually asked her about suicide. By the way GP top marks for putting the thought into her head, you did a great job there, really helpful (yes that is my sarcastic voice).

I know what he was trying to do was cover himself. He had no time to discuss these issues with her, he could not provide a clear path for her to follow to get help, he was clutching at straws and trying to cover himself by saying that he had discussed what she should do if she was suicidal. Oh that’s great for him if the sh@t hits the fan and she does try to kill herself but what about her ! To top it off we are in Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, with programmes about the help you can get etc. Well where is that help ??? The programmes that have been shown highlight the long waits that people have to see the counsellors, they quoted 14 months in one programme for CBT counselling https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cognitive-behavioural-therapy-cbt/how-it-works/. 14 months wait for a
mental health issue is disgusting, no wonder the GP is talking about suicide and no I am not being sarcastic now, I am angry that we are still failing those in society that need help.

So there we go, that’s my week. It’s been a pretty horrible one for me but an even more horrible for her. I would like to end on a positive note though so any suggestions that you have on coping strategies for her would be really appreciated. We have tried herbal remedies, writing in a diary, yoga, exercise, diet, talking etc and these all help slightly but not enough so I am open to any comments that you may have. As Einstein said ” Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new“.

When your daughter takes over your blog….

This blog is not my usual blog, today’s blog is written by my daughter Bonnie.

Hey, my name is Bonnie. I am 13 years old and I have Asperger’s syndrome. Today with help from my mum I would like to blog about my obsessions and how they make me feel.

I understand that most people have obsessions but for me the obsessions are much more intense. I have recently recognised that some of these obsessions are unhealthy for me, despite the fact that from the outside they may appear to be good for my physical and mental well being.

Take for example my obsession with ‘Exercise and Diet’. Everyone knows that in order to be healthy we must take regular exercise and watch what we eat and drink. I started to work out to you tube videos because I wanted to feel better about myself. It wasn’t my plan to become a gym freak but I just wanted to spend some time working on my body, maybe toning up a bit and feeling those endorphins flow. My sisters get regular exercise at school but because I am home schooled I am aware that I need to motivate myself to exercise. The problem for me is that I became obsessed with the workouts.

What started as a 10 minute easy work out once a day progressed to 30 minutes of intensive exercise that is meant for more experienced people that have spent months building up to these exercises. I went from the 10 minute workouts to the 30 minute workouts in a week. When I look back I don’t know what I was thinking. You see for 13 I am pretty switched on to the downsides of having Asperger’s and one of those is that I get really tired. I understand that for most people working out for 30 minutes a day would not be that hard but for me the knock on effect is huge. The other major issue though was the anxiety that this obsession created. For me I was caught in a catch 22 situation. I wanted to work out but my body was too tired, my brain wanted me to full fill the desire to work out but the anxiety of not being able to do so made me feel extremely stressed. I’m literally tired just thinking about it.

At the same time I was increasing the amount of water that I was drinking as this too was something that went hand in hand with the exercise, and so was my diet. Let me explain. So I needed to drink more water, but there is only so much water that your body can physically handle. My obsession meant that I was caught up in inner turmoil with what I wanted to do and yet what I physically should not do. I used to say to myself “I need to drink more water, but I can’t”. It had been brought to my attention that you could drown from drinking too much water. I know that I was not at that point but you must understand that for me my obsession could have taken me to that place.

I had a similar situation going on with food. I cut out all the processed food, sugar, fat etc but that meant that I left myself on a diet with very few calories. This did not help with the tiredness or give me enough energy to work out. I didn’t need to become this obsessive about food, I already have a healthy vegetarian diet.

On the other hand I have some obsessions that I class as healthy. One of the obsessions that I have had for about the last 18 months has been Kanye West.

Obsession makes it sound rather stalker(ish) when you are talking about a person but that is not the case. My interest in Kanye is something that I feel I can control much more easier, and if I spend more time on social media reading his tweets then the consequences are not life threatening in the way that the Exercise/ Diet Obsession is.

He too has mental health issues that mean that some of his tweets cause controversy but I find some of his tweets refreshing and at times inspirational. I find that we think in a very similar way and that we have similarities. For example Kanye went on the Ellen Show and I felt that when Kanye went off on a tangent, talking about his passion for making the world a better place, Ellen gave him a look as though he was crazy. I face those looks too. I’m not saying that Ellen did not understand him or that people do not try to understand how I feel but they do not share the same connection.

It’s hard to explain but when I spend time looking at his tweet’s and watching documentaries about him etc it makes me feel happy. I find that the world has very few icons who talk about their mental health issues. I find it refreshing that with all that he has to deal with he still manages to be a successful rapper and fashion designer. That gives me hope that I too can overcome my issues to become something. It may be harder for us to achieve things in life but I still have hopes and dreams and it may take me longer and I may have to work harder but I will make something of myself.