It’s a strange time of the year this year. The U.K. and the entire world still in the grips of the pandemic. For many that’s going to create an odd and lonely Christmas.
I consider myself fortune in so far as I am living with my partner and therefore, whilst I miss seeing friends, I don’t actually feel that I ‘need’ anyone else. Working in the social care sector means that work and life have gone on as much as is possible; activities have changed, hygiene has taken on a level best described as paranoid and paramount.
My anxiety and stress has fluctuated a lot, which resulted in burn out and hence the reason I haven’t felt like writing much on here. Burning out leaves me expended of all non-vital energy and I need to make choices as to what requires my mental strength and the things which are less crucial at that point in time.
I remain optimistic for next year, races as planned, coaching sessions as well and my fitness is good for the off season. Motivation is currently good and I just need to avoid distractions in the form of a glass of wine instead of training. (ASD means that negative behaviour and compulsions are as likely as any other obsession, we are addictive personalities).
Anyway, I wish you all a happy Christmas and here’s hoping that 2021 will be a lot better.
As I’ve stated previously, amongst the traits which people on the autistic spectrum have, reliance on a routine or plan is one of them. Myself included; that said, I have full comprehension of the fact that the current situation vis a vis Covid-19 has meant that things are rather different to a pre-civid world. I’m conscious of the need to maintain social distancing and limit travel, not really see friends or family etc. All fine, I can cope with this, whilst I like some people, I don’t want or need to be around the vast majority of them, I would much rather be in a small group than a large one, probably why house parties are my personal idea of hell, whilst a dinner party seems like a jolly good idea (plus, I like food!)
Now, I’m really good with plans, I build one for most things, I can build one very quickly. Without it, I admit that things either don’t get done, I get a lot less pleasure from them or they cause me huge amounts of anxiety. I am also reasonably good at what my employers refer to as a ‘dynamic risk assessment’, which means that I am able to assess risk as it might occur and plan around it to limit or reduce harm or incident: this is a vital skill when supporting people on the spectrum. It has on occasion meant that ‘I have seen the ‘stupid’ before I did it’ (not always, but hey, everyone one of us is a work in progress!) .
Anyway, Cv-19 has changed the world, at least for the moment; for how long, we have yet to determine and on this forum, I will refrain from comment on the political handling, or mishandling of a crisis. For me, I personally find queuing incredibly stressful, and now, we have to queue for everything. Apparently all shops are due to open in the coming fortnight and the public are being encouraged, or rather pressured to spend money in order to “kickstart the economy”. My thoughts on this are, ‘Great, more queues to buy shit I can get online without the queues.’ Ergo, I will simply shop online; we won’t be able to browse in the way we could before lockdown; nor for those of us who are sensory, will we be able to touch fabrics. We won’t be able try on items of clothing in store and I can’t be appeased with the promise of a pint or lunch somewhere for enduring the queues and crowds of people all waiting two hours to buy something awful from Primark.
The mountain biking bit: –
So, moving onto my own plans and training. As I have previously stated, I had Covid and frankly it kicked the crap out of me. I’m not fully recovered; I have occasional inexplicable breathless bouts on occasion. I am, however, doing well. My Vo2Max is pretty much back to where it was, my heart rate is good and I’m training and working hard. I had planned three races for this season: all endurance races, Hammers8, Exposure Twenty-four:12, and Torqinyoursleep. All of these were planned on the basis that I had fairly decent endurance and stamina and that I think that I can do at least reasonably well in these multi-hour races.
My training has largely been using a turbo trainer at home, my race bike has been having some repairs done (coinciding with me being sick) and is not being serviced and rebuilt. The turbo trainer seems to be producing decent results, although it’s generally hot and uncomfortable. It does mean, that living in a one bedroom flat without a tumble dryer, there seems to a constant cycle of bib shorts either in the wash or drying.
I had managed to arrange shifts to allow for me to do the Hammers8, an 8 hour race up in Hamsterly Forest, in County Durham. However, the event was postponed until the end of October and I’m not quite sure if I want to camp in the North East of England in practically November, it’s also a little too far for me to drive there and back in a day with racing for 8 hours, pre-rides, warm ups and all of the usual preparation and what is commonly referred to as ‘fannying about’.
I have arranged annual leave for a week at the end of July for the Twenty-four:12. This was going to be my first 12 hour race. Yes, 12 hours (ish) of racing a mountain bike. It was also a chance to see family who live in Devon and Cornwall and for my partner and I we were very much treating it as our main holiday this year; we’d brought a new tent, various camping equipment was being replaced etc., I have also invested in a new and very shiny new bar light (I may do a review in a few weeks, once I’ve had chance to try it out).
As such we were both very much looking forward to a few days and a change of scenery. For her, it would allow her a chance to escape from the working from home ritual, meet some of my family (who I don’t see often, if they still speak to me, but all of which live at least a hundred miles away) whilst for me, a change and chance to do what I enjoy, hang around with other mountain bikers, see some family members, go camping and race. Which is pretty much as good as it gets in my mind, at least whilst staying in the U.K.
As we both have the leave booked and the hire car and cat-sitter, new tent etc., we may still try and find a campsite and go and visit, but it’s uncertain whether any will be open or not and whilst I am happy riding on my own, it’s less fun when you don’t have a clue where you’re going or having to stop every five minutes in order to navigate.
*Yes, I realise that staying home and staying safe is crucial, but the reality is that my partner and I haven’t left the house other than as sanctioned by the government since lockdown started, which frankly is showing more respect for the rules than the Government and it’s own advisers have done.
The third race, The Torqinyoursleep, is in Hampshire, near Guildford, which is not an insurmountable distance away, but still warranting a hire car and a Saturday – Monday. It’s on a Sunday and whilst the initial plan had been to do the 6 hour race, if there’s nothing else on for the foreseeable, I might as well put my neck on the line and do the 12 hour.
However, here’s the but, the event clashes with someone else on my team being on annual leave. Therefore, I can’t get leave. I have requested that my shifts are based so as to allow me to still get the Saturday, Sunday and Monday, but rotas aren’t arranged this far in advance and I’ve yet to receive any word on whether it is possible. Therefore, I am unsure whether I can race or not. I think that I will simply have to explain this all to my line manager and see if something can be arranged; obviously things such a hire car, cat sitter and such all need to be factored into the equation.
Of course, all of this assumes that any event happens and there isn’t a second spike in the transmission and mortality rate.
This is something which I feel is worthy of discussion, because at some point, anyone around a person with autism is going to encounter ‘behaviour which challenges’; i.e. meltdowns.
Meltdowns can take many forms, frequently the can be aggressive or appear to be a ‘temper tantrum’. Quite simply the person simply cannot process something; now this might be a major thing or a minor thing. This might result in violent behaviour, such as banging their heads or punching themselves, throwing things or what would appear to be wilful acts of destruction.
The main difference between a meltdown and a tantrum is that a tantrum is wilful behaviour: ‘I’m not getting my way, so I will respond in a fashion which punishes or embarrasses, so as to get my own way in future, or to get my own way now, to avoid continuation of the behaviour’.
Meltdowns put quite simply aren’t something we have a great deal of control over. I’m personally high-functioning and I don’t tend to throw things, kick things and so for. I do, however inter alia scratch my skin, rub my head and generally get incredibly irritable.
Now a meltdown is physically and mentally exhausting.
Research identifies 6 stages in a meltdown: –
Everything is normally happening.
Something will trigger the start over a sensory overload. This can be a great many things, again, we’re all different.
The individual will show signs of distress, this may include ‘visually stimming’ and any self-soothing behaviour or repetitive movement (rocking, banging their head, flapping of hands etc.).
This takes various forms, but in all examples the individual will display signs of extreme agitation and distress.
Essentially ‘coming down’ and normalising your senses. Sometimes a dark space or generally a quiet and safe space will help with this process.
Normalising behaviour. This in some cases can be the point at which fatigue can hit.
At times of extreme stress, I go into ‘shut down’ at which point, I almost fail to do or say anything and any actions taken by me are generally controlled by my auto-pilot system. This will be done in silence.
So, how do we, or those around us avoid or solve these incidents?
This is an incredibly difficult question to answer as anyone living with a person on the spectrum needs to remember, the condition is very ‘person specific’; what helps me, may not help another person*.
If I am going into what I know to be a stressful environment, I find wearing compression clothing can help me; something tight pressing against my chest or legs has a comforting feeling for me.
Likewise, a heavy blanket can be a comforting thing to have at home. Personally, I’ve always favoured a heavy quilt as it helps me sleep, even though I will, if hot have appendages sticking out at random.
For those people who like sensory distraction, there are various things that can be created at home, from simple craft materials which may help the individual to feel less overwhelmed. I recommend Barbara Sher’s excellent book Everyday Games for Sensory Processing Disorder for ideas on this.
I also keep some kind of fidget toy in my pocket, or something else I can click. If this has more than one purpose, this suits me in even better. With the weather turning bad and street lighting becoming equally abysmal as part of some Government policy, presumably to kill off the poor, sick, disabled and anyone not funding the Conservative Party I have taken to carrying a small torch in my pocket. I can click this on and off in my pocket if I’m anxious and it also serves it’s primary purpose; plus, I’m a torch and penknife geek (it’s just almost impossible to legally justify carrying a penknife whilst, say, going to the supermarket, in the U.K., unlike in Switzerland, where everyone does and they manage to not go around stabbing each other!)
*I am not a clinician, doctor, nurse or other expert in the field of treating autism. I am simply, an expert on being me. I am a person with autism, who reads a lot and tries to offer advice and assistance where I can.