Archive for the ‘Autism’ Category


The dreaded anxiety once again came out of the shadows and attacked me again this weekend. I could feel it coming but I chose to ignore it and then fight it believing I was bigger and stronger that it was and I could beat it. But in the end it beat me again and I had to succumb to its relentless onslaught, admit defeat and move on.

But it hurts why it happened and it’s beaten me again and I couldn’t do more to beat it.

On reflection, the signs were all there. Posting endless messages to friends, pushing myself hard at the gym, overthinking everything and a head full of thoughts swimming around going nowhere.

But I did nothing about them until it was too late risking friendships and my health in the process.

Today with the anxiety gone I have had time to think about this particular anxiety attack and why it happened. And instead of asking friends to accept me and understand me I’ve decided to write down my thoughts about it in the hope I can begin the fight back against anxiety and beat it once and for all.

As I have written about elsewhere on my blog I competed in a tough fell race, the Trigger Race on January 15th and despite having to retire after 15 miles I am still very proud of what I accomplished that day.

I had 3 potentially life threatening experiences in 4 ½ hours on the Trigger Race and they were the type of situations which put you off doing something like the Trigger Race ever again or make you want more.

I want more.

And that is part of the problem. How do you recreate situations where you’ve pushed yourself way beyond what you thought you were capable of, cheat death 3 times and learn that you are tougher and stronger, mentally and physically than you ever thought you was?

But it’s the buzz that gets you. The buzz of having been on the biggest adventure of your life and come through a far better person? The answer is you can’t even though you might try. The buzz lasted over a week for me, an amazing feeling I wish I had every day. However hard you try though you can’t recreate that situation with those feelings. They are unique to that day and that situation and will be forever. Time to move on, remember that day but create new situations that give me a different buzz.

On top of everything else I tore my right calf that day which has resulted in around 4 – 6 weeks with no running. It’s not a major injury nor is it a long time off, but when running gives you your buzz, makes you feel good and helps you control your stress and anxiety it’s a lifetime. I can still keep fit but lifting weights or going on the spin bike at the gym just doesn’t seem to give me the same buzz as running over open moorland, powering up hills and flying down the other side.   

So, my only option is to accept my situation and be grateful that it’s not as bad as some of my friends are going through and I can still go down the gym and keep fit.

And there’s the waiting for my masters course to start and other things to happen. All of a sudden I’ve caught up with pretty much everything and there’s only so much reading you can do in a day before your head starts to turn to mush and workouts at the gym become easier because you have more time to recover and time doesn’t matter. Friends have promised to meet up but they have their own busy lives to contend with so you have to wait until they are free. Boredom sets in as you begin to look for things to fill your day with and you try not to become an annoyance to friends and not bombard them with endless messages that they don’t have time to read. And you start thinking about anything and everything which quickly leads to overthinking which is not a good situation.

Try and relax and enjoy the downtime because it won’t last forever and quite soon you’ll be wondering how you can fit everything you want to do into the day, and respect your friends and the lives they lead because they are different to yours.

So all in all a series of events starting with the Trigger Race has snowballed and cumulated into sky high levels of anxiety and stress which have boiled over when they became insurmountable and lead to a mini breakdown.

There are lessons to be learnt in order to minimise the impact anxiety has on me the next time and maximise enjoying life and writing this blog is a big part of it.


One of the biggest problems I face in my daily life living with Asperger’s is not only understanding the facial expressions and non-verbal communications of others but understanding how my own facial and non-verbal expressions ae interpreted and understood by others. I spend a lot of time wondering and worrying if I come across to others the way I intend or if I’m misunderstood, misinterpreted and come across in a completely different way. This last one could be a possibility as I have been surprised and confused by the reactions of others when I have looked at them and they have responded completely differently to how I expected.


I believe you
When I stare in your face
And see a happy smile
Beaming back at me

I believe you
When you tell me you’re
Happy to see me
And kiss me gently

I believe you
When you hug me tightly
Squeezing me warmly
Feeling your skin on mine

I believe you
I believe every word you say to me
Every touch of your person
I take it literally

I believe you
Because I know no other way
And whether you truly mean it or not
I still believe you

 


My eyes do not see you, as you see me
I do not see the emotion and fire behind your gaze
nor the hopes and heartache that your eyes must conceal.
The fears for the future, the anguish of the past, are all lost to me.
I only see your eyes as they are,
two deep blue pools set
in a face full of familiar features,
a nose sloping down mountain like
ears leading to deep tunnels,
teeth like prehistoric monuments,
They are all the same to me.
And when I try to read the stories
that live behind those eyes,
the life they must hold,
how I wish I could read them
like I read the words in my books.
But I cannot know them.
For to know them I must be able to read them,
and that I cannot do.
So all I can do is to sit here and imagine,
imagine what sights those eyes have seen,
the places they have been,
the memories they hold.
But as I do that I wonder,
I wonder if you can read my eyes
and tell me the stories they hold?
Can you read me in ways I cannot read you?
Can you open the pages that my eyes hold behind them?
Can you see the fields, the mountains, the lakes,
the skies that I have seen just by looking at my eyes?
If you can then you are indeed a lucky man
and you are truly gifted.
At least in my eyes.


Last Saturday 28th May I got an email for my sprint coach asking if I would like to represent Bradford and District in the Regional Finals of the Special Olympics on June 26th at Sheffield. I qualify for the Special Olympics because I have a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and have elected to run the 100m, 200m and possibly 400m.

To say I was surprised is an understatement as I have not done any track sessions in the past six weeks and as anyone who has run on the track will know it is very different to running on the road especially if you are running the short sprints as they are all about explosive power in short bursts with no second chances to redeem yourself if you have a bad start.

My shock soon turned into a feeling of pride at being asked and then apprehension at how I would approach the event mentally. I’m quite happy with my physical form at the moment and enter races knowing I won’t place but still with the intention of doing my best and enjoying myself.

With the sprint competition I have a chance of doing well as I will be competing against runners of a similar ability so much of my chances of doing well will rest on how I approach the event mentally.

Where to start though when you are looking for inspiration? Do you look on the net at the thousands of articles written by coaches and champions or do you look for something closer to home written by someone you have met and can relate to?

One person I have met through running is Ben Mounsey. Ben is a rising star on the fell and mountain running scene but someone who is down to earth with it and always willing to share his knowledge and experience of running and competing with everyone. Ben has written several blogs about his running experiences detailing his successes and failures and most importantly his approach to competing.

These blogs are extremely helpful as they give you an insight into the mind of an elite level runner who is a dedicated and determined winner and every runner of any ability can learn much from them if they have a desire to improve their personal performance and push themselves a little bit further.

One article had stuck in my mind that Ben had wrote called, ‘How to Become a Mountain Lion in 10 Easy Steps’. Here Ben details the changes he has made to his life in going from a top club runner to an international star. This includes tips on training, nutrition and equipment but importantly for me mental attitude.

This article is very useful as although it is written from the perspective of a fell runner it can be adopted to any form of running including sprinting.

Equipment is important and sprinters wear special spikes as many of you will know. I’ve never worn spikes so at this stage it is probably too late to change for this competition but in the future spikes will be on my list.

Nutrition is important in all forms of sport and for the next 3 weeks I will be following a high protein diet with plenty of fruit and veg. This is to ensure I have the muscle I need to maximise my explosive power off the line and be able to sustain that power all the way to the finish line. 200m is a long way when you’re going at full speed from the start!

And whilst I have lost a considerable amount of weight through running for this competition I need to strip away as much body fat as I can so all alcohol and fast food is out until after the event. If anyone needs a lift just ask! The leaner I am the faster and more efficient I will be.

How you train is important and as with Ben I will be running up hills to build muscle, power and endurance. I may not do as Ben does and storm up Trooper Lane but living in Queensbury I have plenty of hills to choose from to run up again and again and again.

I will also be on the track practising sprinting but also visualising what I am going to do on my run, where I will put the power down and where I expect to be going at full speed and pushing myself beyond my limits. Visualisation is another technique Ben recommends in order to maximise your run especially when you are competing.

I’m hoping that all this will enable me to perform at my very best on the day and whether I finish first or last I will know that I have done my best in my preparations and performed to the best of my ability and achieved more than I could ever dream about two years ago.

Whilst I will never reach the elite level Ben is at I can apply the techniques Ben has adopted in order to maximise my potential and be the best sprinter and runner I can be. And it is easier to be inspired by someone you have met and can relate to rather than someone who you only see on the TV every now and again.

Here is a link to Ben’s article if you want to read it: https://www.google.co.uk/#q=10+easy+steps+to+becoming+a+mountain+lion

 


watching people crossing
the bridge of life
going back and forth
so easily, so freely
and i stand here looking
for the path that will
lead me to that bridge
and onto the path i desire


Here’s a blog article  about my running journey up to the Queensbury Running Club Awards night 2015

Last Friday 27th, November 2015 was Queensbury Running Club (QRC) very first award night and in some ways a welcome reminder of just how far QRC have come in such a short space of time. QRC have been around for some time now but it was a small club of dedicated runners who had been running for many years who were at a high level of ability for club runners and as a result people such as myself never gave running or QRC a second thought because we simply didn’t believe we could run or attain any worthwhile standard.

So QRC continued for many years with this dedicated and hardcore bunch of runners turning up week in and week out for training and races. But all that changed last year when they decided to create a Beginners Club and see what happened. As far as I remember the Beginners Club was to run for 10 weeks and the aim was just to get people interested and see if anyone wanted to join the club.

However such was the amount of interest in joining the Beginners Club that it carried on for months afterwards and was only dissolved when it was decided to just have one club QRC that catered for all runners of all abilities. The membership of the club has gone from 18 to around 107 and continues to grow. All of this in around 18 months.

I joined the Beginners Club on the second week and was the first male to join. There I was one lonely male surrounded by 30 females! I soon learnt my place! And there I was lumbering around the roads and trails that lie around me and just having fun. I weighed 19st 10lbs then and I didn’t want to get any heavier. I couldn’t afford a new wardrobe! I ran through the spring, summer and early part of autumn and then stopped because I didn’t want to run in the wind and rain.

This was a big mistake as I learnt to my cost. Come spring 2015 and with new reasons to lose weight and improve my fitness I returned to QRC and I hardly knew anyone. There was a few familiar faces but most people were strangers to me although by now some more males had joined so I didn’t feel quite as outnumbered as before!

But something had changed at QRC during my time away. It wasn’t just a club anymore it was a family with a special family feeling surrounding it. Within a few weeks I was back going off at a pace that would frighten Usain Bolt only to be out of breath and shattered within ½ mile! However this time I stuck at it and steadily I began to improve. I can still remember the times I ran my first mile, my first Old Guy Road, my first 5k and discovered I could run uphill non stop.

What a difference this made to me physically and mentally. My confidence began to build, the weight dropped off (I’m down to 15st 7lbs now) and most important for me my running ability just went up and up and up. I entered races and ran parkruns and saw improvements week after week after week. I was proud to wear the vest of QRC and represent my club and my home village.

And then September 2015 I got my first and hopefully last major injury the dreaded pulled Achilles tendon. At first I tried to run it off and carried on even running a race the Kirkstall 7 with it and finishing in 1hr 12 minutes. Not bad when you consider that I felt like stopping after 2 ½ miles but then remembered who I was representing and soldiered on. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea looking back but I’m proud to run for QRC and I wasn’t going to quit just yet.

But the next day I could hardly walk so I knew it was time to take some time away from running and rest and recuperate my Achilles or it would never get better and I may never run again. So I rested it but it didn’t get better. Some mornings it was so sore I could barely walk down the stairs, trips to the local supermarket where made in pain and walking to and from places had to be planned because they took so long. In the end I made the decision to go and have physio knowing that if that didn’t work nothing would.

At first the physio was more painful than walking, one time I went I couldn’t bear for it to be touched but my physio identified that I had a muscle imbalance in my ankles and gave me some exercises to do. My left ankle was considerably stronger than my right one and this was causing me all sorts of problems. I started doing my exercises and slowly the strength in my legs began to return. I went down the gym to maintain a level of fitness and looked at other ways I could improve my fitness.

In the meantime I stayed on touch with my fellow runners from QRC. I went and supported them at races cheering and taking photos. I went and volunteered at parkruns and this helped me keep in touch with the running community in general too. This helped me maintain the feeling that I was part of a family, a family that understands how painful and crushing having an injury can be but are there to help you through the dark days of injury and give you very good advice as many of them have been injured too and gone through what you are going through.

And around 3 weeks ago I got the all clear to resume running. I’m taking it steady and building up my distance and pace slowly. But I’m getting better with every run, I can feel it in my body and mentally I feel a lot stronger too. In fact I went out today in the wind and rain. No more am I a fair weather runner. I’m enjoying running again and taking care of my legs. I need them more than they need me!

And so to the awards night. I was asked if I would take some photos of the night which I felt both honoured and privileged to do. I enjoy taking photos but I’m no professional so the result will be interesting to say the least! But at least QRC and all the runners who attended have something to remember the evening by.

And I won Most Improved Male Runner 2015! I was shocked and surprised at winning this. There are so many very good runners there now that it is hard to single out one individual as being better than another individual. Every week runners of all abilities are putting in better and better performances, coming back from injury and showing they haven’t lost anything that for people to recognise my running journey truly means a lot to me. To vote for me as the most improved male runner is very special and something I will never forget. I’m still in shock now and have to check that it’s my name on the trophy and I haven’t picked up someone else’s trophy by mistake!

But it just goes to show what a great running family QRC are. They understand the frustration of injury and how difficult it can be to maintain belief in yourself that you will get over the injury and comeback, that you are a member of the QRC family and being a member means more than just running to you and that you have achieved far more than you ever thought you could and not only are you a better runner than before but a better person too.

So thank you to all the people at QRC and in the wider running community who have helped me on my running journey and been there for me. Thanks also to all the ones who have put up with my moods, bad jokes and general weirdness from time to time! Without any of you I wouldn’t be the person I am today and my life would be all the poorer for it.

 


This is an article I have written about my experiences with Mental Health Services and Learning Disabilities in England. The article is going to be used to help healthcare professionals in their training for people on the autistic spectrum. All comments are welcome.

The Autistic Impressionist

Andrew Smith

Sunday, 20 September 2015

I was at a meeting recently with some healthcare professionals from various backgrounds, but all with an interest in autism. The meeting is held every three months at Halifax, West Yorkshire. It is always interesting to hear the views and opinions of the professionals that attend with regards to developments in local and central government policy that affect both the professionals and people on the autistic spectrum.

One of the topics that came up was the diagnosis of autism and Asperger’s Syndrome and which local services a person with high functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome comes under. For myself and many others this was a choice between Learning Disabilities (LD) or Mental Health (MH). This is a topic that is often discussed because it affects nearly everybody who is involved with is on the autistic spectrum.

I recounted the story of when I was visited in my home by LD and MH services as they tried to determine which service I fell under and who would pay for any services I may require. This was of course far more important than anything else that may or may not decide I needed. What seemed to surprise some of the professionals at the meeting was the extraordinary lengths I went to, to ensure my house and myself were clean and well presented. What they didn’t and couldn’t know was how this also took over my life in the lead up to the meeting.

The advice I had been given by some support workers at a local autism charity was to present myself and my home environment in as natural and normal a way as possible for the meeting. This was to ensure that the professionals visiting me got an honest impression of how I lived and coped. This is to ensure that I or anybody else in the same position gets the right amount of support based on their circumstances and not based on false impressions.

However having Asperger’s Syndrome and quite possibly a touch of OCD as well this was something I just could not do. I had to tidy my house and prepare it as if it was a royal visit! And this was my problem. Despite knowing that this would go against all the advice I had been given and create the wrong impression, I still could not bring myself to leave my house as it was. The feeling to tidy up was intensely overwhelming and all consuming.

In the weeks and days leading up to the meeting getting and keeping my house tidy was all that occupied my every waking moment. There was nothing else on my mind, nor anything else I wanted to do. I had always been brought up to believe that you could live in whatever squalor you chose to do, but if you had people coming to visit you your house had to be a palace. And being on the autistic spectrum I took this literally and to extremes.

This was what, on reflection made my behaviour different to that of a neurotypical person. A neurotypical person would know when to stop and would not let the situation take over their lives in the way I did or at the very least have far more control over the situation than I did. In addition they would I believe take the advice of the charity and leave their home as it was.

But I am not neurotypical and I didn’t know when to stop cleaning. In the weeks leading up to the meeting I kept thinking that although things were clean they would get dirty again. But then I thought that unless I cleaned them they would be dirty on the day of the visit wouldn’t they? This cycle of thinking, cleaning and reflecting dominated my life over this period of time.

All these thoughts were going round and round my mind 24/7 in the days and weeks leading up to the meeting and they took over my life and overwhelmed my daily existence. However looking back I believe I needn’t have worried as much as I did. Nobody seemed that bothered by how clean or unclean my house was.

All they were bothered about was me and I hadn’t prepared myself for that either mentally or appearance wise. Again I got the impression that this didn’t really matter too much at the end of the day to anybody there. In the end Mental Health was selected as the service that would have responsibility for me and I had more in-depth meetings with people afterwards.

What I hope this story illustrates is how the desire to put on a false impression for people can takeover and overwhelm a person’s life to such an extent that is their life and the sole reason for existence. They may give the impression of being tidy, clean and in control but in reality they are untidy, dirty and have no control.

But the desire to create the right impression is all that matters to them and they will go to any lengths and endure all forms of mental and physical torture to do so.

What this also illustrates is the constant fear many people on the spectrum live in of being judged by others. This has an effect on an individual’s personality and impacts on their identity as a human being living in a social world they have tremendous difficulty understanding. As a result some people and especially people on the spectrum will do even more to be accepted and judged in a positive way even if this is detrimental to their actual situation and health.

I will add that this is my own personal experience and others on the spectrum may react to the same situation very differently and exhibit very different behavioural traits.

© Andrew Smith 2015


This is me reading a poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley. I’ve decided to upload a reading as I’m frequently being told I have a very good voice for reading poetry and more. Personally I hate my voice but again this is very common amongst many people, so I have decided to put my voice out there and let the world decide! Follow the link to my Tumblr blog: http://andyqby19.tumblr.com/ to hear my reading.


It’s been a while since I did a blog but I do have what people will see as a good reason. As part of my dissertation at university I have to do a literature review of any relevant literature and it’s not as easy as it sounds! Reading through pages and pages of academic literature takes its toll on your brain and your sanity. Making endless notes and re-reading to make sure you haven’t missed the all-important word that could make a difference strains not only your brain but your eyes too. But having said all that it is very interesting and rewarding on many levels.

For many students the word dissertation strikes fear into them. It is the same for many employees who are asked to compile a report on their competitor’s latest product or last week’s sales figures. Where do I start! At the beginning. Sounds easy enough and for some reports it is. You will have a start point already made for you. For other reports and for a dissertation it is not so easy. My advice is to find a significant point in time to focus on and to remember that you can go back before this point as well as forwards after it too. The point provides a reference for you to focus on and to start your dissertation or report from.

As part of my dissertation I have to apply a sociological theory to my work. This is because I am studying sociology and my dissertation needs to reflect that. The theory I have chosen is that of habitus and capital from the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. I have chosen Bourdieu’s work because I am interested in how power is controlled and maintained within society and within certain groups. Some groups appear to have a lot of power, others none at all. But who decides who has the power and how it is distributed amongst society? How do the powerful maintain their power? What are the subtle signs within society that many of us are exposed to from an early age that influence our perceptions of power? There are many signs that influence our decision on who are powerful and why. Bourdieu classed them as Social Capital, Cultural Capital, Economic Capital and Symbolic Capital. We are exposed to these forms of Capital from the day we are born and continue to be exposed to them till the day we die.

Many of them are so familiar to us that we don’t even notice them anymore. Statues looking down at us from on high signifying power in one form or another. If you do as well as me you may too get a statue made of you they seem to tell us as we walk by. This signifies power and who has it. If you read the plinth it may tell you why they earnt this power, in battle, in politics or maybe for writing or painting. Either way it signifies what constitutes power in society and why. Are we meant to bow down to this form of power, aspire to it or both? Either way it tells us who are the powerful and why on a daily basis.

Every day we are exposed to Economic Capital with endless news reports of sporting superstars earning vast amounts of money, companies making billions of billions of pounds of profit while still increasing prices but telling us that we should be grateful to them for providing us with energy, housing, food and other commodities at vastly inflated prices. We get told that these sporting superstars are worth every penny but is that for their talent or for the immense revenue and profits they generate from companies around the world?

Speaking of brands they enter into our Symbolic and Cultural capital unnoticed. Just think of McDonalds, Adidas, Ford and Apple to name a few. They and many others have entered into our Symbolic and Cultural society naturally and now all we have to do is see a product of theirs and we immediately know who made it, how much it cost, where it was made and based on this information we make assumptions about people. If we take the example of Ford we may assume that this person is at the lower end of the economic scale and so doesn’t have much spare cash. Compared to someone who is driving a Porsche or a Ferrari we would assume that they are at the other end of the economic scale and are very wealthy. Both examples could be wrong. The Ford driver could be rich but likes to save his pennies whilst the Porsche driver could have hired it for the day just to experience what it is like to own one.

But the point still stands that we give these products such Symbolic and Cultural capital and this is so ingrained within our natural psyche that we don’t even register the assumptions we are making about the people who use these products. We have subconsciously given these products and by association the people who use them Symbolic and Cultural capital and therefore power. With regards to this power we may position ourselves above them if we feel we have more power than them or below them if we feel we have less power than them.

This power is then transferred into where we stand within society. Someone viewed with low power will have a low social standing within society and viewed as not making much of a contribution to the running of society. On the other hand someone viewed as having high power will have a high social standing within society and viewed as having made a greater contribution to the running of that society. High power also brings more opportunities to maintain and exploit this power to the full. Once people have this power they do not want to give it up and will keep it for themselves only transferring it to their next of kin. This then maintains the status quo of the elite and any new members must have sufficient Social, Cultural, Symbolic and Economic capital of their own in order for them to join the club.

I will stress now that these are my thoughts and I am probably repeating the thoughts and ideas of many who have gone before me. This is also a very complex branch of sociology to get to grips with and a blog such as this does not have the space or scope needed to explore Bourdieu in sufficient depth and breadth. I just hope I’ve given you something to think about next time you look around at all the cultural symbols that surround you in your life.

Thanks for reading and take care 🙂