Part 34: Steep Curve

Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer.

The UK has moved a step along the roadmap leading out of the pandemic lockdown. This means that, among other things, the gyms are open again. I’ve been getting increasingly concerned about my physical fitness. Rehab from the problem with a spinal disc that had me hospitalised in December has been slow, and there’s only so much that walking around the park at lunchtimes can do for your fitness. Anyway, I signed up at PureGym, and had my first session on Monday, following up with a second on Wednesday. As expected, my muscle strength had deteriorated significantly, and even a slow run on the treadmill was difficult.

I once got very fit when I was regularly playing football, but then gained a lot of weight when I had to give up that sport due to my knees being worn out. The weight gain scared me, and that was why I first started going to the gym regularly. Whilst football was out because of all the twisting and turning on the pitch, running in a straight line on a treadmill worked for me, as did weight training. The fat came back off, and over time I achieved a level of fitness and strength that surpassed anything I’d had before. It wasn’t to last.

My health suffered terribly over many years due to a series of mysterious chest infections that pretty much ruined my life for an extended time. No sooner did one infection clear up, than another hit me. I couldn’t breathe properly. My breathing at night was so loud it kept my wife awake. I was in agony. I would lose my breath walking. Twice, I was rushed into hospital with blue flashing lights due to chest pain. The second time was so severe, I genuinely thought I was dying. My GP was flummoxed. I had antibiotics on speed-dial. I was unable to get any regular exercise done, and my weight ballooned again. Then, by a stroke of luck, an article from a medical journal tipped me off about a potential underlying cause. It turned out a lot of people were having the same problem as me, and they were all taking a specific, commonly prescribed medicine. I’d been taking it for about 15 years at that point. Long story short; I stopped those meds in February of 2017, and I’ve never had a chest infection, cold, flu, or anything remotely respiratory since. Looking at what’s happening with covid now, I’m feeling pretty lucky I sorted it out when I did.

Even though the chest infections cleared up, I still wasn’t able to get straight back into fitness the way I wanted. As I’ve blogged about previously, I was undergoing a prolonged mental health crisis that led to me realising I was autistic, which in turn led to me writing this blog about my somewhat steep learning curve with autism, and wanting to bring people on that journey of discovery with me.

Just now, my levels of depression and anxiety are as good as they’ve been in a long time. I still have peaks and troughs and I’m trying to mitigate certain anxiety triggers, but it feels like I’m entering a levelling-off period. Some of this is due to me learning about autism and understanding how being autistic has shaped my life and my mental health. There’s still plenty of learning to do, and hopefully more improvement ahead.

Physical fitness is important to my mental health, too. I have issues with my appearance. Those issues are complex and deep-rooted; it’s not just about vanity, although I cannot honestly say there is no vanity involved – there must be at some level. If my body doesn’t look how I want it to look, it makes me very unhappy. I know that if my actual physical health holds up – no injuries or illnesses – and my mental health continues to stabilise, I’ve got a great chance of making real improvements to my fitness and physical appearance. But I know it’s going to be a steep curve. One challenge I will have to face is managing my anxiety when going to the gym. Even when I was at my fittest, and doing intense workouts five days a week, I was anxious about going to the gym. At one point, I even set up a home gym to avoid experiencing the anxiety. Back in the day, I handled gym anxiety the same way I handled all anxiety-inducing situations; by masking so aggressively that people would have thought I behaved as though I owned the gym, sometimes. I’ve blogged about masking and burnout previously, so all I will say here is that such behaviour is not sustainable. My gym anxiety has been so bad over the last couple of years that it has prevented me from going anything like regularly. Hopefully, as I continue to improve and to understand my mental processes, I will be able to achieve the required consistency in exercising.

As far as my steep learning curve with autism goes, I had a penny-drop moment this week. I’ve talked previously on this blog about how Big Industry makes money out of exploiting autistic people. I’ve also argued against viewing autism as an illness / disease / disorder. Well, this week, someone on Twitter used the term “medical paradigm” in relation to autism, and I asked for clarification. What I learned as a result kind of tied together the two issues of the problematic portrayal of autism as an illness, and the equally problematic financial exploitation of autism and autistic people. It should have been more obvious to me, but it hadn’t really sunk in before now: There is a significant element within society’s portrayal of autism as an illness that is purposefully and cynically directed toward making money. It’s not just a case of misguided people whose ignorance leads them to believe autism is an illness that they want to help cure / treat / eradicate; there is a cynical effort to promote autism as an illness in order to make money. Let me make this clear: It is not an unusual, fringe, or controversial statement to say that autism is not an illness or disease. This is the standard medical position.

Despite the standard medical view that autism is not an illness, we still have a section of society that sees the poor, little autistic people as having an “illness” or “disorder” or “condition” that needs to be dealt with medically. That creates demand. This demand is filled by businesses that peddle “treatments”, “cures”, “therapies” and “interventions”. This has proven to be highly profitable; it’s a multi-billion-dollar worldwide industry. This means it is in the interest of the people getting rich from the profits to continue to promote the medical paradigm of autism.

It gets more complicated. I have been diagnosed as autistic. Diagnosis is something that people naturally associate with illness. And my diagnosis came via the NHS, which, as we have seen, correctly explains that autism is not an illness! You can see how people who have not looked carefully into the issues around autism can get easily confused and misled by cynical big business. Should we stop talking about autism in terms of diagnosis altogether? The tweet that set me thinking about this actually said that every time we talk about diagnosis of autism, we perpetuate the medical paradigm. Before thinking all this through, I had the hashtag #DiagnosedAutistic on my Twitter profile. I’ve now removed it. I still have a long way to go on this steep autism learning curve. I will probably make further mistakes as I go along. But it’s certainly interesting.

Before I sign off for this week, I just want to mention the progress on my novel, Aberrations. This is my third full-length novel, and I’m getting close to finishing the second draft now, having completed chapter 47 out of a planned 57. However, it’s almost certain that the planned chapter count will change. The last couple of chapters basically form an epilogue, but that part still needs a lot of work, and that might result in the novel gaining or losing a chapter at the end. Also, I’m now planning on inserting a whole new multi-scene chapter in the final third of the book. I’ve been undecided about including this flashback chapter for a while. Aberrations is closely linked to my previous novel, Abominations, although I don’t see it as a direct sequel because the story completely works on its own, and has different protagonists. However, the link between the two books is significant, and having given it some thought, I want to make sure anyone reading this novel who hasn’t previously read Abominations understands a certain part of the background. So, the flashback chapter is going in. This planning and fine-tuning is fun stuff that I really enjoy. (Incidentally, Abominations is currently not available to purchase, but it will be back on sale – with a new cover – before Aberrations is released.)

That’s all for this time. Until next week, stay safe and well.


Why do I write this blog?

When I first found out I was autistic, I was a middle-aged adult and I knew nothing about autism.  I quickly learned that there was a serious shortage of information and resources for adults in my situation.  With this blog, I aim to inform about autism and autism-related issues as I learn, hopefully helping people who are on a similar journey of discovery.  Like anyone who writes a blog, I want to reach as many readers as possible; if you like what I’m doing, please share it with your friends and followers.  I will never hide this blog behind a paywall, but if you want to chip in, feel free to make a small contribution at BuyMeACoffee.Com.

You might also be interested in David Scothern’s blog, Mortgage Advisor on FIRE, which covers a range of topics including mental health issues and financial independence.

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