Posts Tagged ‘stress’


The black dog returned this weekend in one of its most violent and ferocious attacks for a long time. I sit here writing this as I feel the black dog going back to where he came from but not knowing if or when he will come back to attack me again.

It started Friday a day that now seems a long time ago. Friday a day with so many thoughts racing along the neural connections in my mind going too fast to process, smashing into each other at terrifying speed and taking my world into a cold, dark place I didn’t want to go to but had no choice as I was handcuffed to the back of the black dog and dragged along behind it for mile after mile of mental and physical torture.

All I could do was get a bottle of the sickly-sweet brown liquid that dulled the pain and destroyed my sense of reality, sent my world spinning and confused what was real and what was not in my mind. It tasted good, at first, as the black dog lapped it up and left me to enjoy life briefly albeit through an ever-thickening fog that clouded my vision and mind and sent me to a place I cannot remember.

Saturday comes and I pray for the planned night out to be cancelled so that I can stay at home, alone with the black dog and feed him the brown liquid he loves. But no-one cancels and I force myself to go out wondering how I will pull on my mask and get through the night.

Before the evening I had gone out for a run in an attempt to chase the black dog away, but this black dog is fast and strong and not only keeps up with me but fights me as well draining every ounce of energy from my body. My legs feel like two small trees struggling to stand up in the face of a devastating wind that wants to destroy everything in its path.

All strength and motivation have gone and even the simple action of putting one leg in front of the other hurts my muscles. I finish my run, but it finishes me too. I have nothing left yet I must go out and pretend everything is ok, everything is good, and I am in a good place not in the jaws of the black dog.
So out I go drinking pint after pint to satisfy the thirst of the black dog and eventually it allows me a brief respite from its attack but only after I have more of the sickly brown liquid at home. The fog is getting thicker now, and it is more difficult to see. Everything becomes a blur until the black dog consumes me for the night and I wake up the next morning aching and confused.

Now it’s Sunday and the thoughts the black dog wants me to think enter my mind. Why am I here? What is the point of living? I would be better off dead. I go for another run in the vain hope that the black dog will leave me alone now having had his fun, but he stays with me and once again I cannot run, my legs are heavy and weak, and I struggle to move lacking motivation and power.

I carry on fighting the black dog and go to the club to see my friends and play dominoes. My mind is foggy, struggling to string two thoughts together yet I mask my depression well, winning at dominoes and drinking till the black dog is happy and goes to sleep. I come home and once again drink more of the brown sickly liquid that has quickly become my best friend.

Oblivion comes once again and now it is Monday morning. I am lucky because I don’t have to go to work, but I need to do something and carry on fighting the black dog. My body is aching now from a weekend of abuse, I still feel weak but I force myself to go down Halifax and have a walk about as I know if I stop in the suicidal feelings that are now getting louder and louder may become too difficult to ignore.

I go down and walk around for a couple of hours treating myself to fish and chips and some window shopping. At home I have another microwave meal unable to find the strength to cook a proper meal and taking the only option I have left in my mind.

Evening comes and the black dog is consuming every part of my mind, body and soul. I want it to end and can think of only one way out, to end it all once and for all. I cannot let the black dog win and from somewhere deep inside my very being I find the strength to fight back and say no to the black dog. I want to write about it there and then, what it’s like to be in the eye of the storm when you’re in a fight with the black dog but I’m not ready just yet to write about it. I’m still feeling weak mentally and physically and need rest. I consume another bottle of the brown, sickly liquid hoping that it will be the last for a while.

I wake up early today, Tuesday morning unable to sleep, mouth dry from a lack of life-giving water. I go downstairs even though it is early and play some games on the computer hoping they will tire me out and allow me to sleep. I go back to bed at a time when I’m normally waking up and lie there wondering if I’ll be able to go to my meeting, wondering if I be up to it physically and mentally and eventually, I drift off to sleep.

I wake up again feeling so much better than I have all weekend. I can feel that the black dog has gone home back to where he lives, back to where he belongs. I feel well enough to go to my meeting, so I do, and I have a great time. I go for another walk around Halifax mainly to see my friend who owns a shop there. I come home and start to get jobs done, jobs I haven’t been able to do because of the black dog. I want to drink water not the brown sickly liquid, I cook a proper meal for the first time in days and I write this blog post my first in a long time.

I start to think about what I can do to make things better, the little things like going out to the cinema or to see a show that might just make a difference to my wellbeing and keep the black dog locked up in his kennel where he belongs. I am starting to feel stronger mentally and physically. Not strong enough to run but strong enough to write this and think of the future with a positive outlook, a future that I want to be a part of. After the black dog there is hope.


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.


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.