Image is of a lit candle

By Olivia Armstrong

I’ve always been an anxious person, long before my diagnosis. While I was always comfortable around my family, venturing beyond opened up a strange and closed-down version of myself that often unsettled people around me. I was prone to anxiety attacks, meltdowns and shutting down, which I felt worked for the time when I was confined to only socialising in school years. When the real world came into the picture, things got a lot more complicated.

My journey into mindfulness and calming techniques were a direct result of my mind reaching a breaking point and realising that the ways in which I handled stress needed to change. It began around the beginning of my university years, in which I was getting used to my newfound freedom in my studies and realising I would need some manner of financial support to get through my degree.

My experiences with service and retail work remain unpleasant memories, with one instance that included a full meltdown in the middle of my shift due to lack of support. This meltdown involved vomiting due to the intensity of my attack and being physically unable to move. This was shortly after I had received my official diagnosis and the management were apathetic concerning the incident. That was the breaking point for me and I knew this needed to stop.

This incident as well as my general lifestyle until that point promoted a sense of self-reflection. I realised that I was throwing myself into situations that I wasn’t equipped or capable of handling due to a stubborn desire to prove I was just as strong as I believed everyone around me was. I was so wrapped up in the idea of ‘proving everyone wrong’ that I never stopped to consider who that ‘everyone’ was and why I should be trying so hard to impress them. One of the biggest lessons I had and am still trying to unlearn is the idea that I have to ‘earn’ my place in the world and my autistic nature instilled a feeling that I was held to a higher standard than those around me. I was focusing so much on my outside performance that I rarely considered the effect of it was having on my state of mind.

I made an active decision to remove myself from seeking that kind of work and looked into lifestyle changes I could make to actively improve this part of myself. Throughout my group therapy and soul-searching I did after my diagnosis, I internalised the ideal of keeping other people’s standards as far away from my self-worth as possible. And I looked into the methods of self-care and connecting with my spiritual side that best suited needs I hadn’t realised I’d had.

I created several Spotify playlists to suit my mode of mindfulness for the day, with my reflection playlist consisting of soft music with introspective lyrics and my peace of mind playlist full of only instrumental pieces. My meditation takes place mainly in the bathroom, as I find it to be the most relaxing room in the house. I have specific rituals for the day and one of the main ones is showering and washing my hair every day and bathing often. Cleanliness is a time when I can say my mind is truly at peace. I added meditation to my daily ritual, always after a bath and sometimes a shower if I have time. I light up some candles, shuffle my playlist and set a timer between five and ten minutes. I make a resolution to completely empty my head during that time and refocus any negative energy from myself or others. I push out what I have internalised and come back with the desire to project my newfound positive energy upon myself and others, regardless of how strange or odd it may seem to them.

For me, mindfulness has become one of my techniques that allows me to make sense of the world around me. It allows me to take control of my thoughts and bring into context how frequently they are overstimulated. By nature, I have to be more self-aware than the average person because I have to measure how much of myself I can exert before my mind begins to enter an anxiety attack or meltdown.

Mindfulness is different for everyone. For someone like me, mindfulness was a part of the solution to my problems with anxiety and I still have a long way to go (changing my diet also had a massive effect upon my state of mind and as of 2020, I’ve taken it further by going vegetarian). The most important aspect of it no matter the technique is getting to know yourself, your limits and your strengths and organising your life to coincide with them. Once you can do that, the journey will not necessarily be easy but it will come a lot clearer in your mind’s eye.

Olivia Armstrong is a cautious optimist that writes a lot about film, journalism, autism and whatever stuck in her brain that day.

You can follow her on twitter @starcadet96 for her thoughts about life (and films) in general or read her free online magazine regarding autistic voices @MaskingMagazine.

Published by florence neville (she/her)

PhD student

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