Menopause

Going through menopause when you are autistic just amplifies the fun of both scenarios. I did not know I was autistic when I went through menopause. Trying to dig myself out of the hole menopause left me in was part of my journey to diagnosis.

I have several autistic friends going through menopause at the moment. They are experiencing some of what I remember going through. They are seeking advice and support and I think many autistic women would be. There isn’t much research out there on females and autism or menopause and if you combine the two my research friend has only be able to find one study and that had about 20 participants so I doubt it could be called comprehensive.

I have no medical training so I will only be writing from my personal experience and observations.

Menopause lasts several years. It can be a grueling marathon. For those women who go through it without any adverse effect (and their loved ones agree), consider yourself lucky and do not dismiss the journeys of others. Be supportive, this is a time we need each other more than ever.

Menopause typically involves disrupted sleep patterns. Hot sweats wake you up. There is just basic insomnia. There is altered moods. Be prepared to spend several years sleep deprived and all of the extra fun that can bring.

There will be changes to your body, including your skin. Skin can become drier, more sensitive. You can have phantom itches all over. My husband resting his hand gently on my thigh gave me physical pain. The heat and pressure from his touch was overwhelming (and not in a good way). I could not bear to be touched, but felt so lost and alone I just wanted to be held tight, but don’t touch me, let me go I am too hot, I am flushing again.

There is the well known hot flushes. Nothing really prepared me for these. its like being embarrassed and blushing, all over your body, with the power amped up to full, for several minutes. I remember flushing so hot I had to lie down on the cold tile floor, rolling over so that the cold tiles could cool me. When the flush had passed my husband came into the room and walked on the tiles. ‘What happen here? The tiles are radiating heat’. ‘Just a hot flush’.

Those are the three main things I remember, any one of which by itself would be bad enough. All together you are going to experience several years of pretty much constant sensory overload. My dark sense of humour wonders at the correlation of average life expectancy for autistic persons being 54 and the fact most women hit menopause in their early 50s.

My recommendations for menopause:

  • Have a good support network. Not something an autistic person can establish on the fly while in sensory overload. If you have a support network, use it, ask for help, accept help.
  • Find good medical practitioners. When you tell your doctor your husband touching your thigh causes you physical pain, and he dismisses it, find another doctor. A lot of women go the HRT route and swear by how good it was for them. After all of the issues I had with hormonal birth control I was not willing to risk the side effects of synthetic hormones again.
  • Un-mask. Masking takes effort. It uses spoons you don’t have, spoons you can’t spare. This is a marathon, get rid of baggage you don’t need to carry. Stim as much as you need to.
  • Practice self care. Take time for yourself. As much time as you need.
  • Get gentle exercise (as a minimum) during daylight hours. Walking has always helped me stabalise. A 30 minute walk somewhere with positive input for you, as brisk as you are comfortable. You have a holy trifecta there. Exercise can help tire you in a positive way to help you sleep. Sunlight can help with the production of the happy hormones and can help with your circadian rhythm, which helps you sleep and wake. Somewhere with positive input helps with the happy hormones. For me it was in more natural environments where I could hear birds and water and feel the breeze on my skin. All happy stims for me.

For anyone currently going through menopause, I wish you well. I wish you a speeding, safe journey but advise you to pack for a marathon. And just remember, on your dark days (or nights), there is life on the other side. It will be different, you will have been changed by your journey. The thought that kept me going was knowing so many other women had been through this and survived, and the fact that I would no longer have periods again (that was my happy place).

Taking Off the Training Wheels

At my psychologist appointment last week my psychologist told me that she thinks I am doing well and that she doesn’t need to see me on a regular basis. She will still be available for emergency appointments or if I need her. While logical me is fine with this, she is very in demand and has a waiting list, others should get a turn etc. There is a very large part of me that has the same sensation as the first time you realise your Dad is no longer holding on to the back of the bike seat, and I’m really not sure how the brakes work.

There is the whole exhilaration of doing it by myself, of growing up and getting more freedoms, there is also the screaming terror that someone has taken away one of my safety nets and advice on demand.

I have felt a change in myself in the last few days though. Someone believes in me. They believe that I can make it in this world that was not designed for me, that I can succeed all by myself (will a little help from family and friends). I feel that I am becoming more of me again. The me that I can remember that used to be able to do stuff, that could go to the shops and get myself fed when hungry. The me that could function. The me before I burnt out so badly.

There is still a lot of processing to happen around this. It is very scary because it was also the me that did the things that led to me being so badly burnt out.

But I have friends now, real friends, ones that truly get me, because they are autistic too. And even though no two of us are the same, we are alike enough in needs and deeds and life experience to know how to support each other.

Having friends you know you can trust is a truly amazing thing. We are actually planning a girls weekend away. How’s that for blasting away a whole heap of stereotypes on autism. We have criteria / rules. We must get a bedroom each (our safe / quiet space) and we must do it autistically. We can say no to group activities, we can do stuff by ourselves, we do what we need to do as individuals, but we will be doing it together. Now we just need the latest rolling lockdowns to be over so that we can put our plans into action.

Mental Health Days

Today is one of those days when you just wake up in the morning and you just don’t want to. Nothing in specific, you just don’t want to anything. You want the world to go away and leave you alone. No demands, no requirements, no requests. No have to’s.

Any suggestions just feel like being told. You feel uncomfortable in your skin. Your body doesn’t fit right. You feel constrained, pushed, pulled and manipulated. You want it all to go away and just leave you alone.

You are sick of the rules you must obey. You are intolerant of the needs of others. You just don’t want to have to care. It’s not that you don’t care, its that you don’t want to.

Today is a day that you just want to focus on you. What you want, what you need. You don’t want any of the constraints of politeness, or manners or expectations or rules.

The consensus is that you want to be selfish. You want to put yourself first. Ignore the needs of other. Put aside your responsibilities, your duties, your cares.

And you should. Your should phone in sick to work. Feel the weight of that duty leave your shoulders, even if for just one day.

You should eat what you want, when you want. The others are perfectly capable of feeding themselves a couple of meals. Today it does not have to be your responsibility.

You should walk away from all of the little things. All the things that will still be there tomorrow if they don’t get done today. All the things that someone else could do if you weren’t there to do them. All the things that only seem important to you.

Today, you should center yourself in your universe. Today everything should revolve around you. You are today’s priority.

Today you do everything you need to recharge. You take all of the self care you can give. You take all of the care on offer.

Your thoughts are of you. Your actions are for you.

You have a day. A day of care, of love, of healing.

Tomorrow is another day, we can go back to reality then.

Getting My Intuition Back Again

One of the changes I have noted of late is that I seem to be getting my intuition back again. Instead of being frustrated about things not being the way I think I want them, I am getting more of a feeling for the way things are, even before they are quite that way.

I am starting to feel more grounded in the present, rather than reliving and lamenting the past and dreading and planning the future. The present is quite a peaceful place, I don’t feel like I am constantly fighting the current to be somewhere else.

My current mantra (It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine) has been getting quite a work out. It gives me an awful lot of peace though. Things end, things change, but not all endings or changes are bad. The ending of something leads to the beginning of something else. In order to progress, and get to a place I want to be, I need things to change. Things need to end, new things need to begin. I will be fine. I will be better than fine, my intuition tells me so.

It’s The End of the World As We Know It

Two nights ago I had a dream that the world was ending. Everything was in ruins and debris cascading down around me. And even though the world was ending in my dream, my dream self knew that if I could just survive the end of the world it would be ok. It would not be easy, but there would be a new beginning afterwards. If I could survive, things would go on.

The end of the world was terrifying. I did not feel like I would survive. It is the sort of dream you would normally wake up from feeling an impending sense of dread. The thing about this dream though, was it had a great sound track (Yep, my dreams have sound tracks, and are in colour, but that will have to be another day). I woke up with R.E.M.’s It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine) on constant replay in my head. I have to admit, after 2 days of constant replay it is starting to get annoying.

But here’s the thing. If you have any belief that dreams are messages, from the universe or your subconscious or whatever, then dreaming of the end of the world would have to be a pretty big message of some pretty major changes going down. Normally changes would freak me out, but there was a double message in this dream that if I can make it through these changes then I will be fine. And that message is being reinforced by the fact the song is stuck in my head.

Consciously I have no idea of a change currently happening in my life that would be represented by the end of the world and I am really wondering on what signs and signals my subconscious may be picking up on. But whatever the signs are, and whatever the change is, I am excited by the prospect. My subconscious is also picking up that I will be fine.

I just hope I don’t have too long to wait for this change to start happening. I can feel myself becoming hyper-vigilant looking for signs, and hypervigilance can not be sustained, and will bring forth change I don’t want if it is.

So, here I am, waiting for my world to end because I know I will be fine.

A Little Bit of Burn Out

For the last two weeks I have been able to do stuff all. My brain had no enthusiasm and my body decided to play sick. I had (at various times) a dull head, sneezes, snuffles, a sore throat, a pathetic cough and various aches and pains. nothing definitive but every time I thought I might be getting over it and be able to start doing stuff again, it came back and knocked me off my feet again.

Apparently because I don’t listen to the subtle signs my body gives me that it needs to rest, it now resorts to playing sick so that I do rest. It has probably been doing this for a while, its just that now I am learning what is going on and not trying to ‘push through’. I just need to pay more attention to the earlier stages, and act on it.

I am just starting to get myself going again. I went to work last night (two weeks without pay certainly hits hard). I was totally exhausted by the end of my shift but felt good for doing it. Trying to keep my plans to a minimum and take on things as think I am able. Luckily it is a long weekend coming up so I get an extra day of recuperation time and one day less of work next week.

So, still kicking, just in high self care mode.

Even Happy Ants Have Days Off

I have been having a good week, I have been doing lots of happy stuff. Meeting with autistic friends, doing things things I love that make me happy. So I had no idea why, when I got home from work last night, I sat in my car and howled. This morning I didn’t get out of bed, it was 12.02 when I finally managed to pull back the covers.

I thought if I could do things autistically, do things I love, that my ability to function would sky rocket and I could be like a normal person, just an autistic behaving one. Apparently it doesn’t work that way.

Even if my ants are happy, and working together and getting stuff done, they still get days off. I had all of my ants rostered on together on those happy days. Last night the ant union came in and called them all off site. I can feel a few showing up for work now, but I think I will be on a skeleton crew for the next couple of days.

So, now that I realise (probably again) that I don’t have unlimited ants, I need to look at my ant rostering system. Living autistically takes less ants than constantly masking, so I can do more autistic stuff than I can do masked stuff, but there are still limits to what can be done.

And, I’m out of ants again.

My Life as a Musical

Without meaning to upset people I need to start this post by saying I don’t normally like musicals. They don’t make sense to me (one of many things). People are doing normal things and then suddenly burst into song (and dance) which doesn’t seem to relate. I find it distracting from the story.

Having said that I am discovering that when I am happy and functioning autistically my echolalia tends towards the musical side. Someone will say something quite in context but my brain automatically picks anything that is remotely like a song lyric I have heard and then it is off and singing the rest of the song, totally oblivious to rest of the conversation. If I am really happy then the words just have to fit the rhythm of a song and I am humming or singing. And, of course, anything that is a mondegreen is fair game.

At this point I have to put in the disclaimer. I have no idea if I can sing or keep a tune. I haven’t yet been so happy in random public places that I have burst into song, but the shower gets regular performances, as does the garden, and my regular walks. A couple of times at work I have noticed I have been humming. I think that is a good thing. It means I have happiness at work.

I would like to know if I can sing. It is something I have often wondered. Well, any idiot can sing, I wonder if I can do it to a standard that people would enjoy listening to. Not that I have any desire to stand up in front of people and sing. So, I guess that explains why I have never pursued a professional opinion of my singing. Maybe some day I will have enough unallocated money to pursue this purely for fun’s sake.

My husband notices me randomly singing or humming. He doesn’t bring attention to it at the time because he knows it means I am happy. If anyone points out that I seem to be exhibiting signs of happiness then I stop and analyse myself to work out if I am happy, and why I am happy, and then I stop the being of the happy, because that is spontaneous. My husband tells me later, so that I can remember that I was happy, and just enjoy the fact.

Random singing and humming is so much more enjoyable as a mental pastime than the cyclic thinking or over analysing that happens when I am not balanced. I think I will enjoy my life as a musical, even though I don’t like musicals.

I Need a Writing Routine

So many mornings I wake up with a great subject in my head to write about, but then the day happens and the writing doesn’t. I even had a list next to my computer of these great subjects, so that when I had the right frame of mind I was good to go.

Life is going well, I am still working on balance. It would be so much easier if we didn’t need money. Jobs are usually to other people’s schedules. I could do so much more if I could just randomly do it when the head space allowed, and then I could do what I wanted. Not in a goof off and get nothing done sort of way, I think I would be way more productive if I could do tasks when I have the headspace for them, rather than spending so much effort on having the right headspace for when the task is scheduled to be done.

Working evenings is good, in that the place where I work is more casual in the evening space, less regimented. Oh, no, you are autistic, you like routine, you should prefer the more regimented times. Well, the more regimented times also have a lot more people there and a lot more things going on, so more noise, more distractions and more things I don’t like. Also, I refute the assumption that autistic people like routine and things to be the same. I like to know what is happening and what is going to happen. If I am in charge of me then I know both of those things because they are what I will choose them to be. If someone else is in charge, then I lose that knowledge and the only way to know what should be happening now, and what will be happening next is if they are always the same or someone is constantly updating me. The latter would be a nightmare of information overload, so boring routine it is.

My workplace has an autism support group, I discovered this last week (after being there over six months). I am in the process of making contact with this group to see if I will feel supported by it. It was a big scary step telling my bosses boss that I was autistic and finding out what the organisation might have by means of support. I hope my boss doesn’t feel slighted by me going over their head. I was working on the assumption that if there was going to be a bad reaction to me asking about autism support that I would rather it be from someone I didn’t have to deal with every day.

Major, major thing that has happened. In the last fortnight I have cooked at least four times. Once was reheating a casserole and cooking some vegies to go with it, another was choc chip Anzac cookies, another was damper and there were two versions of apple crumble, but still, I COOKED, voluntarily, with no prompting, nagging or even subtle hints. You mightn’t think it is a major thing but that would be four more times than I have cooked in the four years before that (microwave reheating does not count). And the really amazing things was that I did it because I wanted to and doing it made me feel happy. And I didn’t get sick afterwards. Not in a ‘my food is so bad you get food poisoning’ way but usually me being domesticated happens just before I shut down massively.

So, I think my life is heading in a generally positive direction. I am trying to make haste slowly. I think I may actually be able to make it as a functioning human being, and really hoping I can be a super happy neuro divergent one.

Taking Control of My Life

In the past week I have said ‘no’ TWICE. Not just a ‘no thank you I don’t want a coffee’ but BIG LIFE NO’s.

I was going to apply for a permanent position where I work. Kind of feel there is an expectation that we casuals are supposed to want to better ourselves. While I would love a day shift position with guaranteed hours, they are highly customer focused roles. I was told that the way to get to the non customer focused roles is to do one of these jobs and keep applying for transfers. Doesn’t seem like an efficient way to do things to me. Anyway, did the rough draft of my resume and answers for the selection criteria and got my supervisor to look at them for me. Over the weekend I came to the realisation that I REALLY DON’T WANT the roles that are on offer. And the ‘maybe’ of getting a job that I might like at some stage in the future is just so wrong. So I decided ‘no’. Just not worth it to me. The risk to reward ration just isn’t in my favour. I would rather go and dig in my garden, it will make me much happier.

The real kicker is that after applications closed for the positions our supervisors informed us of how we could go about submitting expressions of interest for acting higher duties. That is the non customer focused roles. Not permanent or ongoing but in my mind it is a better foot in the door for getting one of these permanent roles than is dealing with customers.

The other ‘no’ concerned one of my volunteering roles. The positions had been put on hiatus due to Covid restrictions and are due to come back next month (restrictions permitting). I was going to go back but realised that with paid work, other volunteering positions that are feeding my happiness and allocated time for my puppy and family, I just didn’t have time left for another customer focused role that, while it was a worthwhile position that aids the community, did not bring me personal joy. I am still going to do the part of my role that organised stuff (very much a happy place for me) but I will not be dealing with the public or committing myself to a time or place to do things. It will be done when it needs to be done, but not with a set time slot. I can flex to suit my other commitments and do it at a time that suits me.

So, I have said ‘no’ twice. The world did not end. I have not destroyed all chances of ever doing something worthwhile. AND I FEEL HAPPIER ABOUT IT. It feels good to prioritise me and my wants and needs. There is still this little voice in the back of my head that is saying ‘but you are letting people down’, but it has to learn that I am just as important as everyone else. I know there is more for it to learn after that but we are taking baby steps here and I don’t want it freaking out by the size of the task ahead.

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