Monday 7th March 2022: Covid + Work + Addiction – The Terrible Trio!

Hi everyone,

Really sorry for the long absence. Two weeks ago, I was mainly busy with job applications and interviews. Good news: I got my second summer EAP job. It will be for Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. I was very happy when that came through. At this stage in my EAP teaching career, it’s a compliment to even be asked to interview, so doing 3 interviews in such a short time span was huge. I then had Covid for a week. It wasn’t great. I’m still slowly recuperating. I’ll talk about it in a bit.

The work stuff, specifically about HR and management, will be done at a later point, I promise. There’s also this, which I’m so angry about I need a bit longer to organise my thoughts on:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/mar/03/excluded-children-funds-bolton-bar-owners-social-life

Have a read. It’s not nice. We need to do something.

In other news, here’s my list of topics for the next few months. Do you have any further ideas? Let me know!

DateTopic
07/03/2022Autism and Addiction – 10 years sober!
14/03/2022We’re all neurodiverse, but not all neurodivergent!
21/03/2022Attracting, recruiting and retaining neurodivergent talent
28/03/2022Sex and relationships 1
04/04/2022Autistic and on Holiday 1 (I will take a break on the 11th to, y’know, actually go on holiday <3)
18/04/2022Autistic and on Holday 2
25/04/2022Holistic approach to workplace adjustments for neurodivergent colleagues + How to manage your neurodivergent staff when they are working remotely!
02/05/2022The legal framework around neurodiversity in the workplace.
09/05/2022How to understand intentional and unintentional barriers for neurodivergent colleagues
16/05/2022Autism and Learning Disabilities
23/05/2022Being Refused Care and Therapy because you’re autistic: It’s not just you!
30/05/2022Autistic and in mourning
06/06/2022Pride season:
13/06/2022SHORTER BLOG: Pride season:
20/06/2022SHORTER BLOG: Pride season:
27/06/2022SHORTER BLOG: Pride season:
04/07/2022SHORTER BLOG:
11/07/2022SHORTER BLOG
25/07/2022SHORTER BLOG:
01/08/2022SHORTER BLOG
08/08/2022SHORTER BLOG:
15/08/2022SHORTER BLOG
22/08/2022SHORTER BLOG:
29/08/2022END OF WORKING AT HERIOT-WATT!

Before we start, I’d like to share a message from ENDISC, at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, for who I will be teaching EAP this summer. Share this survey with any scientists you know – specifically environmental scientists, but any researchers can respond.

A CALLOUT!

We seek neurodivergent* environmental and natural scientists to respond to our survey. Our project, Enabling NeuroDiverse Inclusive Science Careers (ENDISC), focuses on improving the inclusion of disabled and neurodivergent researchers.

What do we mean by neurodivergent? *Neurodivergent individuals have neurocognitive differences, who may experience autism, including Asperger’s, ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and/or Tourette’s syndrome. This does not have to be clinically diagnosed.  If this sounds like you, we’d like you to complete this survey: https://hwsml.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_37MxopxhohY5mR0.

Thank you for your help with our project.

First: Covid! BAAAHHHH!!!

This last week wasn’t fun, at all. My brain was full of smog and snot. I was feeling horrendous, all the way through. My partner got it first, at one of his two jobs – the retail one. At the moment, in the UK, the government has slashed all Covid-measures to contain the spread of the disease, essentially letting it roam free in the population and not protecting anyone who gets sick. People are expected to “treat is as a common cold” and only not come in when they are too sick to work.

That is not inherently a bad thing, devoid of context. But in the context where many people are getting a nasty illness that can impede their capacity to be productive in the medium-to-long term. My partner wa pretty ill for about five days, having to go back on the fifth. He is always terrified of taking time off, so I had to kind of strong-arm him to send a message to his bosses that he was too unwell to work. I had the energy to take care of him, so I did. He mostly listened to music and played games while I kept things going.

Whenever he gets ill, he gets really sappy, in the best way possible. I’d be doing the washing up and he’d come up to hug me, say he’s ill and that he’s so grateful to me for being so wonderful. I will not share his name or pictures on this blog, but I’ve got one adorable photo from Friday, where he’s looking up at me in his chair, covered in a duvet, looking adorable. The moment he gets better, he starts teasing me again. That’s when I know he’s on the up-and-up.

By Monday, he was. I was starting to get ill in his stead. It started with being overly emotional the night before (I actually cried about not having been able to write the previous two weeks) then a dry cough and congested sinuses. Then, of course, positive tests. It was not nice. I cancelled a few of my lessons on Monday, though not all of them. I had a meeting I couldn’t cancel at noon, which went very well. I’ll hopefully be able to tell you more about it in a subsequent blog, if I get good news (it’s about physical exercise as preventative healthcare).

I then cancelled all the next day’s lessons, then Wednesday’s and then until Sunday. It was a financial hit, as well as having to buy a brand new laptop for work purposes. But I can take the hit at the moment. It’s necessary to do the work that I do that:
a. I have a computer that doesn’t take the best part of a decade to set up and
b. I take the rest I need to take in order to not crumble.

These two are vital. I am still quite nervous about long covid, as it’s knocked a lot of people I know. They’re really struggling, still. I hope that more clinicians become aware of the potentially devastating consequences of viral infection to people’s health in the long term, due to the sheer amount of people whose lives are affected by this disease.

It took me a full week, but I’m finally getting better. I didn’t get any cute pictures of myself looking unwell. I mostly felt like a beached whale. Only on Saturday and Sunday did my brain start clearing up, slowly slowly. I did, strangely, manage to do quite a bit of reading and writing. I read 3 LRBs cover to cover, finished At Swim Two Boys by Jamie o’Neill (adored it) and two long chapters of Ulysses. I’m now in the final third of the book. My own book suddenly also started again. I had the time and space to write, so it happened.

Medication. What? Now?

Yes, of course now. This week I also started PreP again AND I started with a new asthma medication, which will stop me requiring ventolin. It’s really working, though it’s also affecting me quite a bit. I started both on Friday. I was quite vulnerable on Saturday. We walked past the Bath rugby stadium and I experienced overload at the jeering of the crowd. It’s weird that I could have been a stand-up comedian and not like cheering crowds. It’s the noise. It was just a bit much. We ended up walking to Larkhall. Good, I needed the exercise.

My breathing has cleared up, but on Saturday I felt empty – depressed kind of empty. That didn’t help my overall sense of feeling ok.

On Sunday, I was sick quite a few times. But now, knowing it’s a regular side effect of PreP, I paid it no mind. I still feel an irritation around my uvula, but at least I know it’s not something horrible. I ended up making an excellent Sri Lankan Curry from a cookbook my mum had sent me. Today, my brain’s actually feeling like a pleasant place to be. It may not be tomorrow, but that’s ok.

I always react weirdly to medication, I’ve written about it before. I was worried that the steroids in my new inhaler would harm my mood and I’d get depressed, gain weight or both (my weight is a lifelong issue, with complicated causes and various effects. I’ve also written about that before).

Paul Nicholas, here, talks about being misjudged as arrogant when you’re autistic. He makes a side-point about medication that I wanted to underline: in a study where there’s 99% efficacy of a certain intervention, he is worried that he might be that 1% for which the intervention doesn’t work. This is common for autistics, since our bodies are differently wired and the way we experience sensory input is therefore affected.

And now…

A Dick-tion: 10 years sober!!!

Content-warning: discussions of a sexual nature, trauma, trauma-responses, eating disorders and, of course, mentions of addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Finally, the real topic for today’s blog!

Yes, I’ve been sober for 10 years. On 5th March 2012, I had my final drink. I haven’t had one since. I didn’t need to. I had just started anti-depressants and I was using alcohol to numb myself so I could sleep. After starting SSRIs and, a month later, far, far more medication on top of that, my desire for alcohol dissipated. I was too busy being unwell to deal with my alcoholism. It may have been one of the reasons for how hard I fell after starting SSRIs.

As you know, I hated being autistic and I could not imagine even looking in to what I could do in order to make my life less sensorily and emotionally horrendous. Instead, I expected medication to “fix” me. What I craved was being normal. I didn’t want to feel any emotions that I deemed “unacceptable”- no anxiety, no depression, no anger – just clean, clear focus and robot-like productivity. I didn’t want to be whatever it was I was. I didn’t want to be mentally ill. I just wanted to function, no talkback, no questions. I didn’t want to be “happy” either. I just wanted an absence of “me”. Whatever the hell that was. I felt that I was a bug that needed squashing, so this body I inhabit could do things in the world.

That’s not a helpful way to think. And the hospital threw drugs at the problem. Lots and lots of drugs.

I essentially replaced alcoholism with benzodiazepines and seroquel. I was on benzos for over 3 years, on seroquel for nearly 9.

One of my best friends says I deserve to feel pride in myself for quitting alcohol ten years ago, that I never chose to get another drink, despite the social pressures and the not insignificant life events that warranted a stiff drink to deal with them. I don’t feel that yet. Mostly because I have two other addictions I’m still learning to deal with.

I have been mostly abstinent from pornography and binge eating since November 2021. Those were damaging me an awful lot and, while abstinence is the goal, I have not been able to kick those completely. Another one of my best friends says that’s understandable – alcohol was never fundamental to my personality. My sexuality is and food is, well, it’s food. It’s kind of vital.

I relapsed 3 times on binge eating since November 27th 2021. With porn, I relapsed 13 times since October 17th. That’s only 13 times in 127 days. It doesn’t seem like all that much. But it feels it. I have had periods of total abstinence, but it’s still not good enough. I just want to be rid of it completely. Why?

Because when I watch porn, I enter a self-harm state. I dissociate, making my body feel like an empty husk, a slab of wet flesh, occasionally rushed with electricity. I get dopamine and adrenaline injected into my brain. All I’m feeling is a circle around my sternum, stinging with needles and my heart pounding. It feels like an ice pick slowly pushing through the centre of my chest, goring me. Time ends. My chest feels like it’s being clawed, torn and cracked open. I feel like I’m not in my body anymore. When it ends, I am freezing cold, shivering and I feel like I need to die.

Actually, I had to take a break in writing that piece. My legs and hands are shaking, even after a long break for lunch. I’ll probably need to do some resting after work today.

The problem with porn, for me, is that I don’t do it out of sexual needs. It is self-hatred, made manifest. It allows me to claw away at my insides. It is clearly not a normal way to engage with adult content, not even for other autistics. It is due to trauma that I’ll hopefully be working on in the future. If that latter option is not available, then I’ll just have to continue taking care of myself, locking away devices when I’m tired or depressed.

So? Why do I do it then? Because that’s how addiction works. Forms of addiction that do not include imbibing a certain chemical (ethanol, morphine, cocaine, etc) work to trigger a dopamine response in the brain. For me, that is grown around my body and sexuality. It happens when I’m totally exhausted. It’s an act of self-punishment. If I have no more energy, the only thing that matters is to just keep moving. A shot of adrenaline and dopamine will do it. “Just one drink before I set off,” or “Just one more game.”

Autistic people are very vulnerable to addiction. That includes, for instance, gambling. We know that gambling is damaging to us. We also know that we don’t have the funds to invest in a rigged game of chance. Why do we still do it? Because our tired brains make choices impelled by fear, exhaustion and overridden by shonky impulse control. That’s why gacha games are so vicious. I have always been very frightened of gambling. The closest I get is playing Pokémon Shuffle on my 3DS, a game designed as a money sink from top to bottom, from the colours to the soundtrack. Luckily, my 3DS can no longer connect to the Nintendo eShop. I’ve never spent any money on microtransactions, but I do have quite a few friends who do, to their detriment.

For me, binge eating does that too. I just cannot stop eating beyond a certain point. My body doesn’t tell me it has enough and I become the black ghost monster from Spirited Away. I become absent. My body just eats and grows fatter, with me barely there. Sometimes I would purge, sometimes I didn’t, because the punishment (getting fat) was what I deserved.

I don’t binge eat or watch porn when I’m well or have energy. Each of the 13 relapses over the past 127 days I can pinpoint to being exhausted, burnt out, ill or a combination of all three.

But understanding it is harder. My partner and I were watching the second series of the Sopranos when Davey Scatino appeared, a compulsive gambler. My partner would express frustration at this man, who threw away all he had just to lose in a high stakes game with mobsters. I said I knew exactly what he was coping with. “But why?” There is no why. There’s just the urge. Our brains change when addiction is involved. Moving away from something that we know hurts us – even something that we hate! – requires lifelong vigilance. In my case, ironically, it requires kindness, empathy and self-care, when all I seem to want is punishment.

I don’t yet feel proud of being 10 years sober from alcohol. I’ve never taken any recreational drugs in my life. Just prescribed ones, to the letter of the prescription note. I’ll feel better once I’m 1 month free of porn and still feeling stable and rested. I’m not very good at that last one, since I also place such a high need on myself to be productive. The difference between 10 years ago and now is that I am now surrounded by an autistic found family which gets me. They are kind and see why I have these trauma responses. They treat me with the kindness with which I treat them. Instead of fuelling my self-hatred, they give me space and breathing room. They make allowances for me that I never would for myself. Finally, I’m no longer alone. That’s the greatest victory after 10 years of challenging my addictions.

Phew! That was a big one. I hope you at least enjoyed some of it. There’s good news in here, right? Lots of love, I’ll see you next week.

xxx

Jorik

Categories Autistic at Work/Covid-19/Healthcare/Medication/On Resilience/Uncategorized/Writing

Post Author: jorikmol

Professionally Autistic

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