Posts Tagged ‘struggle’


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.


After last Thursdays fourteen miler I’m feeling confident so decide to go for a run over the Calderdale Way Relay Leg 4, with runners from a local running club. Sunday morning comes round and I’m not feeling as confident.

Most of the runners who were going to run aren’t now because of the reputation of the guy leading the run as a hard and fast runner and it is bitterly cold with a layer of snow covering the high ground of Yorkshire.

My nerves aren’t helped when on arriving at the meeting point I am greeted by six runners who all look like they know what they are doing and I feel out of my depth and worry that I will be left behind in the middle of the moors somewhere!

We begin from Blackshaw Edge and immediately I am trailing behind the others. I am struggling badly on the downhills today which seem to be covered in either wet leaves or snow. Either way I’m not in a downhill mood today and this sets the theme for the rest of the run.

We go down and up some small climbs before we go through woods on narrow trails which connect the small villages around this area. We begin the big descent to the bottom of the valley and I am left behind struggling to get a decent pace going on the wet cobbles and leaves.

I get to the bottom and soon I am beginning the first major ascent a brutal climb of around 700ft to the top of the moors. On the climb I find some decent form at last and manage to keep the other runners in sight for a change!
At the top of the moors the landscape changes.

We go from paths covered in leaves and mud to a vast open expense of snow covered moorland. There is a trig point for us to aim for but the paths have disappeared under the snow and it is easy to take a wrong path as we find out a couple of times!

It is at once stunningly beautiful with a raw harshness and you know you could easily take a wrong turn or twist an ankle and nature would chew you up and leave you in no doubt who was in charge.

The only paths to follow are the occasional trail that pokes through the snow or the stream that run down to the valley below. After five minutes my feet have turned to blocks of ice. I have no feeling below my ankles, every step feels like I am running on bricks, jarring my shins and making it difficult to run. This is a new experience for me and one I may need to get used to.

Strange thoughts go through my mind, will I ever regain any feeling in my feet? Will they turn black? Will they fall off? Can I run 21 miles with this feeling in my feet if I need to?

This lack of feeling in my feet continues for around four miles. It’s a massive relief when we finally start to come off the moors and see green fields and know I will be warm again.

After another downhill on which I again struggle embarrassingly the final climb comes into view and I find my stride and manage to save some face.

All in all it’s been a very good days running with new running friends and a new route too. I’ve learnt a lot about myself, where I am strong and where I need to improve, but most of all despite struggling on the downhills and thinking my feet were going to drop off because they were so cold I’ve really enjoyed myself and hope to do it again soon.


This Wednesday 18th May saw the final race of the 2016 John Carr series for this year. This is the second time I have taken part and it is a series of 5k races that I look forward to more than enjoy taking part in!

The first race was more of a recce than a full blown, all out run. I was coming off some very good runs where I had been showing good pace on the flat and my climbing was improving to the point where I was passing people on the hills! This filled me with confidence and I decided to set a target of going under 25 minutes for the 5k at one of the races.

This may sound overly ambitious but the John Carr races have gained a reputation as races where you can set personal bests due to the course being set at Esholt Water Works and it is relatively flat which means fast times.

At the first race I was feeling good. My legs were a bit tired but nothing I wasn’t used to. I had a good warmup for the race although this was due to the fact that we parked about 2 miles away from the start which meant I had no choice but to run to the start and warmup.

The race went well. I felt good throughout the race and felt strong at the finish able to put in a sprint and beat some other runners to the line. My official time was 26:11, a new personal best, and I was happy with this. I felt it was a good indicator of my form and that a sub 25 was on.

The second race was a very different affair and brought me crashing back down to earth. I had, had a very stressful day at university finishing my final essay and then got back to my car to find my back window had dropped which meant a trip to the garage and no rest. This all added to the stress.

At the race I didn’t warmup as I should have done and set off far too fast passing one of my rivals within ½ k and continuing to pile on the speed. And then people started passing me and I had nothing left to respond with. My legs were moving but I felt I had no power or strength in them and I was going backwards. I looked at my watch and my pace had dropped to training pace and still I couldn’t go any faster. I wanted to stop there and then but pride and determination kept me going. The end couldn’t come quick enough and I managed to pick up speed and hold off some other runners but for me it had been a disaster. I still finished in a respectable 27:05 but everything that could go wrong had gone wrong and much of it was down to myself and how I approached the race.

For the final race I took a different approach. No stressing, it was only a race after all and do a warmup. I find a 5k difficult and you have to be on race pace from the off and for a well-built man like me it takes a while to warmup and get up to race pace. For distances such as 10k and ½ marathon this isn’t a problem, but for a 5k it is as you can soon find yourself being left behind and have nothing left to respond with as I did in race 2. You have to be on the pace from the off in a 5k and this is where the hard work comes in.

I set off at a comfortable pace, reminding myself to run my race and not someone else’s. I saw one of my rivals up ahead and decided to keep him in my sights rather than go after him and pass him early. I let myself get into the race and find my pace and soon I was steadily catching up to him and passed him around the 1mile mark.

I felt good, not my best by a long way but good enough to keep up the pace I was going and add a bit more if I needed to. My next rival was now up ahead and I was coming up on him fast. I passed him just after the ½ way mark and injected a bit more pace into my run as I wanted to make sure my move stuck and I didn’t have to race him again.

Then I began to struggle. My legs were on fire and my breathing was heavy and once again the thought of stopping briefly crossed my mind. But I dug deep and kept going. Although the course is described as flat the small hills that were on the course felt like mountains at this point as I tried to go faster and leave the runner who had decided to keep me company behind!

I crested the final small hill and saw the bright yellow finish which seemed a lot further away than in the other races. I was running at my maximum and I had nothing left to put in a sprint. All I could do was to keep my pace up and not give in.

I crossed the line a second in front of the runner who had tried to beat me. Another couple of feet and she would have done. The time was 25:43 a new personal best if not the sub 25 I was aiming for. I felt good. I had nothing left in me to run anymore so I was happy in the knowledge that I had done my best and giving everything I had on the night.

Overall I enjoyed my second John Carr series and I learnt a lot from it too. Preparation is key to these races and a good warmup is essential. Pacing yourself is all important too so you can finish strongly and I know that I can go sub 25 one day. But the most important thing is to enjoy your running and make the most of it while you can.

 


I had a really good run today. Not fast nor a long distance but good just for the sake of running and getting out into the countryside away from civilisation and this world we live in that seemingly never stops and just goes on and on constantly. And this got me thinking about why I run. The inspiration for this line of thought came from a blog I read from Helen Mort who also wrote about why she runs.

There are many, many reasons why different people run and all of them are valid. Some people run to lose weight and get fit, others to race and be seen as a winner and for some it will be the chance to show they are the fastest in a race, over a distance or if they are on Strava over a particular segment.

But for me and I hope for many others it is the sure pleasure running gives you in getting away from the seemingly endless and constant barrage of images, noises, words and much more that bombard so many people every hour of every day. Running for me provides a means of escapism from a world in which the avenues of escape seem to be reducing all the time.

For myself too living with the condition Asperger’s Syndrome a form of autism, running gives me a chance to clear my mind of all the thoughts and ideas that conspire to overwhelm my mind all the time in addition to everything else the world throws at me. Running enables me to start afresh with a clear mind free from clutter.

Today was a very good example of this. I am lucky to live where I do on the doorstep so to speak of the countryside. The opportunities for me to go on a run and get away from it all are endless. The only limit is my imagination for thinking up routes and my body which is getting on a bit now!

So today I set off with a route in mind and for once followed it. along the main road then left down a long road, one half houses the other half fields. At the bottom of this road I turned right down a short road and then right again past a farmhouse and onto some nice single track trail heading down into the woods.

And it’s going down into the woods that my mind begins to clear, thoughts disappear as I concentrate on where I’m going looking out for loose stones, tree stumps and wet mud picking the best path down the trail, running as natural as can be, running for pleasure and no other reason.

For me it’s a very uplifting feeling running along paths made by nature under a canopy of green leaves and brown branches through which a strong sun tries to shine rays of light. This is where I feel at one with the world and with myself. No computers, no television, no radio and certainly no mobile phone. Nothing to distract me from the pleasure of running.

My mind is clear and free not overwhelmed by thoughts of what I should and should not be doing, who I should talk to and who I should not, who I should have in life and who I should not and so much more that occupies my mind in this every increasingly complex world I sometimes struggle with.

The Japanese have a phrase for this Shinrin-yoku which translates as forest bathing. This is the practice of wandering the trails of the forest, taking in the natural beauty and feeling at one with nature. This has a calming and relaxing effect on your whole wellbeing and this is why I run and why I ran today through the woods. To find peace with the world and myself until the next time I am overwhelmed and go for another calming and relaxing run through the woods.


This is a poem I wrote after reading about a man who had been made redundant and has only a tin of spaghetti to eat every day.

a tin sits on a table

alone

surrounded by nothing

a dull cylinder of aluminium

encased in a dull white cover

two ends poking out

trying to escape

but going nowhere

he stares at the tin

and the image burns in his eye

embedded in his memory

of what may be his last meal

a tin of brand less, tasteless spaghetti

given to him by a stranger

seeing his look of desperate hunger

the anguish of an empty stomach

picking up the tin-opener

tainted with the remains of

yesterday’s dull white label

he struggles to connect the

opener to the tin

weak with hunger

it clicks loudly and with a

clunk begins to remove the

lid, every turn a noisy struggle

and then it is off

edges jagged waiting to tear

apart unsuspecting flesh on

its sharp, uneven teeth

as the contents are revealed

grey processed worms concealed

in bright manmade orange fluid

he swallows the feeling of

revulsion, the tinge of nausea

because today this is

his one and only meal

the one bit of food he will

consume to keep him going until

tomorrow

when the process begins again……………………