Posts Tagged ‘journey’


This is a short piece I have written in response to a think tanks proposal to raise the pension age to 75 by 2035.

I left school, at 16. Started working, paid into my state pension, believed I would work until I was 65 and then retire and be free to do what I wanted. But it didn’t work out like that. I worked and worked all my life, but they the ones in power kept moving my retirement further and further away, 66, 67, 70, 75. It became an unreachable goal, the ultimate carrot and donkey. I went from being the apprentice, the learner to the one taking orders from people young enough to be my grandchildren. The questions never stop going round and round in my head, why? How? Why I am I in this place? How did it come to this? Is this all that life is? One continuous conveyor belt of never-ending work until one day you go to sleep and never wake up? People younger and younger telling you what to do and how to live your life as if you haven’t lived and gained experience? The politicians and business owners claim they work hard and that they deserve their big houses, long holidays, big pensions and early retirement. But it’s you that’s enabled them to be in the position they’re in. You are working every single day until you drop and the ready-made conveyor belt of people waiting to take your place until they follow in your footsteps and work until they die too. In my 50s I realised I would never retire. I would never enjoy days spent chatting with other human beings about the old days in the pub. Instead it’s stolen chats on our breaks before it’s back to work, work, work. They told us work was good for us, for our mental and physical health. But my body and mind are broken, I can’t take anymore. The ones who told us work was good for us retired at 50 on big fat pensions, cut taxes for the rich, increased working lives for the poor. If work is so good, why did they retire as soon as they could? Time moves forward but life goes backwards, retirement is not an option anymore.


Alexithymia. A new word for me. A new word to get my tongue round and to understand in different ways. Alexithymia is the name for a condition that means people affected by it are dysfunctional regarding emotional awareness, social attachment and interpersonal relating. It is a condition that co-occurs with autism but does not share the same symptoms. Researchers are constantly debating which symptoms are related to autism and which are related to alexithymia. More can be read about autism and alexithymia and how they co-exist with each other by following the link: https://sites.google.com/site/geoffbirdlab/home.

In layman’s terms you have no words for anything, no emotions, nothing to say and nothing to talk about. It can be as if you are a shell just existing and literally going through the motions until you die. You have no life and spend most of your time alone wondering why you are the way you are and why people shun you. It drains you constantly wondering why people avoid you, don’t talk to you, cross the road to avoid you. You have no energy left to deal with day to day life. All you do is exist for reasons unknown to you and to anyone around you. You have no purpose in life, no reason to exist. All you can do is wonder why…

Dr Rachel Moseley from the University of Bournemouth describes alexithymia as: difficulty identifying what you’re feeling, difficulty describing what you’re feeling, and an externally-orientated, ‘stimulus-driven’ thinking style (which means that people with alexithymia don’t tend to be introspective about their feelings and emotions or spend a lot of time thinking about how others might be feeling – because emotions are very confusing to them. They therefore tend to think more ‘concretely’ about things that are going on (i.e. EXTERNAL stimuli in the outside world rather than INTERNAL feelings). And adds that this is the most common view but not the only view. This is a view I can relate to from my own personal experiences.

In my personal experiences I have been shunned by people at work and in social situations. In relationships I just sit there at the most wondering what to say or do, usually just staring blankly at a wall ignoring the person I’m with. It’s no wonder I’m single. How am I supposed to respond to questions of how I feel when I cannot interpret any feelings I have? And what happens when you don’t feel anything? How do you answer someone who asks you how you’re feeling when you’re feeling nothing at all?

Conversation does not come easy to me. I struggle to keep up with what is being talked about and quickly lose interest preferring to do anything but converse. If someone has a baby it’s so what, people buy a new car and I’m wondering why they are so excited, they got a new job or a promotion and I’m wondering if they will be so excited in a year’s time. I’m not interested right now.
Even if people are ill, injured or dying there’s barely a flicker of an emotion. Life goes on and these things happen. At funerals there’s no tears. I go because I know it’s expected, a social norm and because I know it means something to my friends. This could be seen as pragmatism and stoicism at an extreme most people cannot comprehend.

And yes I’ve felt lonely, isolated, anxious, stressed, depressed and suicidal all because I did not understand why some people wouldn’t talk to me, why some people shunned me, why I found social situations difficult, why I didn’t behave and express myself the same way other people did naturally, why no-one wanted a relationship with me, why I felt different and not in step with the rest of society. This is when you’re at your lowest, everything is too much to cope with and ending it all seems the only way out.

Yet I’m still here. The suicide attempts failed and after years of trying to find a purpose in life I did, study and research. I started an access course at college and now I have just started a PhD the highest qualification you can get. I have found something I enjoy doing and something I feel that I am good at and is worthwhile.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 41 in October 2008. This answered many questions, filled in gaps and helped me to move on and understand myself and others better. There still seemed to be something missing but I assumed it was my Asperger’s being unique to me and got on with life still wondering about some things and still making some mistakes the same.
Then in March this year I was diagnosed with dyspraxia and this helped move things on a little bit. A lot of it crosses over with Asperger’s but there was still something missing, one more gap to fill. Then the lead researcher on a study I had taken part in Dr Rachel Mosely emailed me the results of some research I had taken part in about autistics and self-harm and here was a new word alexithymia.

I read about it and I recognised myself in the description. All of a sudden it made sense why I was the way I perceive myself to be. Why I find social situations difficult, why I feel emotionally detached and why I find it difficult relating interpersonally. The final gap in my personal identity had been filled and I had a name, a label to attach to my feelings and identity. I could call them something, read about them and understand them. It’s how my mind works.

I felt that all the anxiety, stress and pressure had been lifted from my shoulders. No longer did I need to try to fit in and try and be someone else because I could not and cannot be that person. I can only be me. I don’t need to try anymore I can relax and let the things I cannot control go and concentrate on the things I can do.

I understand now why I struggle in relationships and social situations and why I don’t feel emotions the same way others do and I’m fine with that. I get why my supervisor at university says they want to see some enthusiasm from me and then stare at me wondering why I’m just sat there staring back at them blankly. I now understand so much more about myself, people and life and all because of one word.

On a daily basis this means I struggle to understand why some people seem to get on with others and make progress effortlessly , talking to others, making friends, making contacts whereas I struggle to do these natural, normal interactions and are quite often left at the edges of discussions and meetings looking on, wondering what I need to do to get my voice heard and feel involved in society. This includes my autistic friends too. Many of them have social skills that I am envious of and I can only stand and wonder at their ability to start and hold a conversation with others.

One skill I do have is that I can write. I can write about how I feel and what I see going on in society far more effectively than I can talk about it. I don’t know why this is, it’s just the way I am and I’ve long got past the point where I would lay awake all night worrying about it. I can read theories, apply them to autism and write about them. Once I’ve written about them I can talk about them all day long, until the topic changes and then I’m lost.

I am lucky too in that I have a good and varied circle of friends and I look at them differently now. I see them in a new light and realise how lucky I am to have them in my life. I am also very lucky in that I am studying for a PhD and if I’m having an off day I can stay at home and do nothing or go for a run over the moors and get back to being myself.

I understand and appreciate that not everyone would feel the same way I do. I know people who don’t like labels and are always trying to fit into society in as unobtrusive a way as possible and all they want to do is to feel accepted and that they belong. And I have been there too fighting a constant battle to be accepted and understood but it was a battle that drained me of everything and nearly destroyed me.

Now I’m just myself and if people like me they do, if they don’t they don’t. I understand myself now and understand why some people like me and some don’t. I feel so much better now and I’m sure people are noticing because more people are saying hello to me and smiling at me. It’s amazing how one word can change everything in your world.


Why I run is a question I’m often asked and a question I ask other runners too. I find it fascinating and intriguing to discover the many and sometimes complex reasons why people run. In today’s increasingly time consuming and fast moving society why anyone would want to run with an already crowded social and work calendar when it is easier to get home, switch on the television and watch others running round a track can be hard to comprehend.

I can only speak for myself why I run but like many others my reasons are various, complex and intertwined. What I get from running mentally and emotionally has changed too as my journey has continued and may even change again.

The best place for me to start is with some background information on my life and my running journey. This is my story of why I run.

Growing up I was never sporty. I played football, rugby, cricket and ran round a field at school but I was always the runt of the class, one of the last to be picked and usually the last to finish. My childhood memories of running are of setting off far too fast and fading quickly before being caught and swallowed by the rest of the kids and finishing at the back as usual. It’s a habit I still have today although I have made changes to curb it and ensure I have enough energy to finish the race!

Through my teens, twenties and thirties I would play 5-a-side with work colleagues but that was it as far as sport and running was concerned. Running was not for me. I did try it a few times but found what should be one of the most natural things for a human to do difficult. Having no co-ordination, no stamina and no patience meant I gave up very easily on running back then.

Into my forties and I stopped playing 5-a-side and the weight piled on. I soon went from around 14st when I turned forty to 19st 10lbs aged 45. I didn’t think anything of it. I was getting older and getting fatter was part of the process. Everybody went through the same thing and I was no different. This was life as I knew it.

But before all the weight piled on I had been diagnosed with depression in April 2001. For months before this I hadn’t been feeling well mentally, emotionally and physically. I was tired and disinterested in many things. The only respite I had was drinking with my mates at the weekends. Long term this didn’t solve anything but you don’t think long term when you get that short term fix of drinking yourself into oblivion so you can forget everything that you perceive as bad about your life. Your problems seemed solved because you can’t remember them. Until you come round the next day to realise that they’re still there, they haven’t gone away and all you can think about is the next weekend and going through the same routine.

So off to the doctors I went and with his usual abrupt manner told me I had depression, I had to ‘man up’ and get a grip and put me on anti-depressants to help lift my mood so I could ‘man up’ and carry on with life as if nothing was wrong.

Except it was. The anti-depressants are in my opinion like state sanctioned alcohol tablets in that they mask the problems causing you to be depressed because they make you drowsy, dull your senses and you are not fully aware of what is going on around you. This is my own opinion and others will have a different experience depending on what tablets they were prescribed and the dosage. I ended up on 40mg of Citalopram a day which made life bearable and forgettable. I tried Prozac for a while but not being able to stop inside because all four walls were closing in on you is not a good experience.

So I went through the new millennium living my life like this. Drugged up to the eyeballs on anti-depressants, the new sweets for a new generation and solving none of my underlying problems. Many of my problems back then centred around money of a lack of it. The ironic thing looking back is that I spent too much many at the weekend in order to try and forget that I had a lack of money. It can be difficult and frustrating for people looking in as they can see your problem and how easy it would be to fix it. For that individual though it is like being the eye at the centre of a storm. Everything is going on around you and you are largely oblivious to it and oblivious to how your problem can be resolved. Occasionally something comes and hits you right between the eyes but by and large you just carry on hoping that the storm will pass and everything will be alright. This for me was especially so when I was on anti-depressants.

But the storm doesn’t always pass and things keep hitting you, harder and harder and harder. Life was spiralling out of control even though at the time I couldn’t see it. Money and work problems were causing my stress and anxiety levels to increase and this was having a negative effect on my sleeping which led to increased levels of tiredness and increased depression, stress, and anxiety. Life was in a downward, uncontrollable spiral and there seemed to be no way of stopping it.

The depression, stress and anxiety continued to get worse despite the anti-depressants as my problems mounted up. I was reluctant to ask my doctor for an increase in dosage because I was already on 40mg a day and having problems functioning fully day to day. I was also fearful of becoming addicted to them and then asking for higher and higher dosages to ensure that I got the same hit.

So during the mid 2000’s I found myself dependent on anti-depressants to get through the day, stress and anxiety levels increasing all the time, problems with alcohol, problems with money and in a job I hated. I could see no way out. I didn’t know who to turn to or where to go. This is the loneliest place to be. I decided that the only way to solve everything would be to take my own life. I mean who would miss a loser like me? So I made my first suicide attempt sometime in 2005. I took around 25 Nytol one-a-night sleeping tablets. I remember falling asleep and waking up the next morning drowsy but alive. I phoned in sick to work and was in work the next day as if nothing had happened. I told no-one about this. What could anyone do to help me?

But life carries on regardless. I was alive and I had no choice but to regather my thoughts and get on with life so I did. Things got more and more intense and overwhelming for me though and I was in a desperate cycle of depression, anxiety and stress with no way out. This carried on for years and during the latter part of this period of my life I was somehow surviving on one hours sleep a night and constantly have suicidal thoughts all through the day. This was not good for me or anyone around me and is not the way to live your life. Something needed to change.

And change it did. For many years, I had felt different and slightly out of touch with the rest of society. I didn’t know why, I couldn’t put my finger on anything and no-one around me seemed to know either. And then my best friend Jill suggested I may have Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. I did some research into Asperger’s and for the first time ever I could identify personality traits in myself with the characteristics of Asperger’s. it was like a light switch coming on in my head. I began to understand myself in a different way and look at society and life in a different way too.

However, this was only the start of a very long and tortuous journey through the minefield of getting a diagnosis which I eventually got in October 2008 after 18 months of battling a system that was seemingly more interested in money than the wellbeing of the patients it was supposed to be serving. I didn’t give in though and I got the diagnosis I felt I needed to move on with my life.

And move on I did. In 2009 I returned to college and got my O and A Levels. This enabled me to study for a degree in sociology at the University of Huddersfield. I began writing and performing poetry which fulfilled a need I had in me to be creative and express myself. But there was still something missing and this is when I discovered running.

I was chronically overweight and unfit due to an unhealthy diet and drinking too much alcohol. I had tried going to the gym but didn’t stick at it. Lifting weights in a room just wasn’t doing it for me and I got bored easily. Then on one of the Queensbury Facebook pages I saw an advertisement for people who wanted to start running to join a new beginners group at Queensbury Running Club. The guy who was running it was someone I had worked with many years before so I decided to give it a go.

That first session was hard but I enjoyed it. It was a nice pace with some walking in-between. I coped with it and didn’t feel it was beyond me. This was around April 2014 and I carried on going all through the summer. And then autumn came, it got colder, wet and windy and I didn’t want to go out running anymore. Without realising it I had become a fair weather runner.

Over the autumn and winter of 2014 I stayed in and didn’t do any running. The weight stayed on and I was still searching for that missing something that would give my life more meaning and plug a hole in it.

March 2015 and I went to London for a professional voice acting recording. I was told I have a very good voice for recording but found it difficult to breath correctly due to weighing so much. I knew I needed to change if I was to make anything of my voice and so I went back to the running club at the first opportunity.

I soon got back into running, even more so than before. The club had expanded since my last visit and a lot more people had joined but after a couple of weeks it was as if I’d never been away. I was struggling especially with getting my breathing right but I was enjoying it and looked forward to running every Thursday night with the Queensbury Running Club gang.

I started slowly, from memory my first parkrun at Lister Park, Bradford was around 45 minutes and most of that was walking. I went to Shroggs Park, Halifax and I ran 40 minutes. I had knocked 5 minutes off my time but I was still walking part of the course. This was my next aim, to be able to run a full 5k with no stopping for hills or was I felt tired. I was determined that nothing would stop me achieving this target.

This was a major breakthrough for me. Rather than giving in and telling myself I couldn’t do it I told myself I could do it. And I did it. One summers day I laced up my running shoes and ran down one of the local roads. This was a good tactic as it allowed me to warm up without the added pressure of running uphill and get my legs ready for the long journey ahead of them.

I went down the hill and felt good. This is a nice road and at about a mile long is perfect for a warm up. Right and up a small hill before down again. Before I knew it I had run 2 miles non-stop for the first time and I was running into uncharted territory. Would I manage 3 miles or would I collapse in a heap waiting for some dog walker to come by and rescue me?

I needn’t have worried. I carried on and on and on. All of a sudden I was running very slowly uphill but I was still moving and I passed the magical 3 mile mark according to my watch. I was so happy. I had achieved my running dream and run 3 miles without stopping. I felt like a Olympic superstar.

And from that point on running became fun as well as a way of losing weight and getting fit. I started running 3 miles and more on a regular basis and hills that had previously defeated me I conquered. It wasn’t easy and I would never pretend it was but the sense of achievement I felt was like nothing I had experienced before. I proved to myself I could do something, that it was not beyond me and most of all I enjoyed the experience.

And this continued. I entered races which whilst I knew I had no chance of winning I derived pleasure from by pushing myself to my limits and beyond. I found that was capable of far more than I thought I was, I could do things I never believed I could and I discovered a new me, a better me that had more self-belief, more ability and more confidence.

This has gone over into other areas of my life. I now have more confidence in everyday life and I have learnt to be more patient. Running is a good analogy of life. It’s hard work, the results don’t come quickly but if you stick with it and persevere you do see an improvement in your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

And now over two years since I started running I’ve been to places I would never have been otherwise, I’ve met people I would never have met and had some of the most amazing experiences all through running. My mental, emotional, and physical health has improved immensely. I’m eating better, sleeping better, and living life to the full and I’ve got running to thank for it.

a second

Posted: November 4, 2016 in Poems, poetry, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

here for a second
we can do so much
yet all we want is more

 


searching for a key
yet to be cut
to fit a lock
rusted by time
to open a door
that leads nowhere


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.


does the key to life, to living
come not from the concrete
maze encasing society
in a man made prison
but from wide open spaces
of grass, heather, trees, mud,
rolling hills that go on forever
and release humanity
from the mad made
shackles of modern life
if only for a short time


anticipation builds
excitement intense
grains of sand
pass through hands
nothing left
but faded faces

poem for today

Posted: September 23, 2016 in poem, poetry, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

furtive glances
lives in eyes
tell stories
without words
no more is said


conversation goes
words flow
voices stop
silent world