The Connection Between Autism and The Gut

As you might have read in my previous post, I have ongoing bowel issues that have yet to be diagnosed. I have had them for years and I suppose I just got used to them. The doctors are probably going to check if it is IBD when I finally get an appointment with a gastroenterologist, and if that isn’t found then I will likely get an IBS diagnosis.

But why do I have these bowel issues? Normal people don’t have this sensitivity. There are actually people who don’t need to go to the toilet all the time? I have been a member of numerous autism groups and have realised that the one thing I have in common with most members is our bowel issues. Autism, a condition which wires your brain differently, is connected to your gut. So what is the connection exactly?

The gut is often referred to as your second brain. This is because how you feel can significantly impact your bowel health. Autistic people are much more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety than neurotypical people. We can also suffer from alexithymia, which means we don’t exactly know what emotion we are experiencing or why we feel that way. Sometimes, our gut is actually a better way to understand our emotions than our brain. When I get anxious, which is most of the time, my gut plays up significantly more than when I’m calm and level-headed.

I wish the brain-gut connection wasn’t as strong with me. Some people are very lucky in that they don’t have a strong connection and this means they never experience bowel problems when they’re feeling down. Imagine this: you already are depressed, hating life, and then your body decides to hate you as well. It literally causes you agonising pain and urgency and lots of horrible symptoms. And I’m autistic as well. Not only do I have to deal with my autistic brain always finding little things to be anxious about, but I also have to deal with my body joining teams with it. It’s really hard.

Autistic people in general seem to have a stronger connection between the brain and the gut. Like I said earlier, this is possibly because we are more likely to experience mental health issues. However, the exact cause isn’t completely definite or set in stone. There is probably some researchers out there analysing the connection but it’s another fact that isn’t complete. We can theorise about why we have a stronger connection but we don’t really know and, until we do, it is hard to treat the autistic gut problems. I mean, you can take medicines, but nothing will cure it until you work out why it is happening. So, I will continue to sit on the toilet, in the hope that someone will work out how to cut off the brain-gut connection so that I only have anxiety in my brain and not in the bowel as well.

What are your thoughts on why autistic people are more likely to experience bowel issues? Let me know!

The Autistic Panda

Why I Like Bath Bombs

I don’t really like baths, but I much prefer them to shower. I consider a bath to be a bit of a chore, rather than something to enjoy, but bath bombs do make the experience a lot more enjoyable. They’re a great sensory experience for me. They engage three different senses.

The first sense is obviously the visual element. When bath bombs fizz a lot, you get an explosion in the bath and it is great to watch. The colours are also interesting and sometimes there is even glitter.

The second sense is smell and, unfortunately for me, this can be the reason why I don’t like certain bath bombs. I don’t mind if their fizz isn’t great or whatever, but an overpowering perfume smell really isn’t nice for me. A lot of bath bombs do smell of perfume and I do not like the smell of perfume at all. I can be very fussy about this element but, unfortunately, you don’t really get the true scent until the bath bomb is in the water. I prefer scents like mint or orange, for example.

The third sense is hearing. The fizz of bath bombs makes a really nice sound. However, this isn’t the only sound you might hear. Sometimes, they add popping candy to bath bombs, and the sound of that is amazing.

I just love the overall sensory experience of bath bombs. It really comforts me, but they have to be just right for the experience to be enjoyable. It’s a way for me to enjoy something that I didn’t really enjoy before.

Do you like bath bombs?

The Autistic Panda

My Social Phobias

I have suffered with severe specific fears involving social situations since I was a kid. I have overcome some of them but others are harder to face.

My first social phobia is something I first remember experiencing when I was twelve. It probably started developing before that age but I have a very specific memory that makes me know I had it at twelve. This is the fear of looking at myself in public; for instance, looking into mirrors. I remember we were asked to draw self-portraits in art class and we were all given mirrors. I refused to use mine and did my portrait off of memory, though I was never a good artist so I doubt the mirror would have aided me to a better drawing. I remember a boy noticing I wasn’t using the mirror and he shoved it in my face. Never did I mask more effectively in that moment: I just tried to back away from it, silently, clenching myself as the pounding of my heart became more intense and my temperature rose. I just tried my best to not cry because if I had cried, that would have given him ammo, and I couldn’t do that.

This memory is a sad one, of a girl who wasn’t even a teenager scared to look at herself. I have always hated the way I look and I saw looking in mirrors in public as some sign that I was vain, which is stupid and irrational, but it was how I felt. I struggle to even look at mirrors in private, but manage to just about. I still can’t look at a mirror in public, because I was bullied for years as a child and they told me I was ugly and that doesn’t leave you. This phobia is also low down on my priority list, as there are others which are more important to deal with, I think.

The second phobia is being scared to eat in public. I have had this since I was at school too. I am mostly over it now, but I do sometimes still have it in certain social situations. I remember I would throw my lunch away at school, because I knew I wouldn’t eat it. Even if I was alone, I was scared someone would walk past and see me eating. I realised this was a waste of food so I eventually asked my mum to stop giving me a packed lunch, and she obliged. We came to an agreement that I would make myself lunch when I came home from school, so quite late in the afternoon. This worked for me, even though I still got comments about not eating. One boy, quote, said “she never eats”. Nice way to remind me of my intense social phobia that I was embarrassed about. I figured these were better comments than¬†¬† the scary stuff I was imagining they would say or think when I did eat.

I’m really better at eating in public now; not being in a school environment has helped that. However, I have anxieties about other parts relating to eating now, that I’m still trying to come to terms with. I find it all really tricky to talk about, to be honest. My life certainly hasn’t been easy.

I also struggle with having my picture taken, due to the way I perceive myself physically. If I do have it taken, I will end up crying if it’s posted online because I feel like everyone can see how ugly I am and I hate the way I look. This is a self-esteem thing. I do let people take pictures sometimes to try and fit in and then instantly regret it when the picture is posted. I now usually won’t have my picture taken. It is really difficult for me. This has been the case since I was at school as well. I remember doing everything I could to avoid being a part of group photos. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do anything about my school photo being taken. It really cemented my anxiety when one of my teachers went through everyone’s school pictures in the middle of class, making jokey comments about them. I really wish she hadn’t done that.

I am hopefully getting a PA soon, who may be able to help with my next issue. This issue is around independence, mainly. I have a real fear of going into shops alone and buying something. This is an issue I did develop later in my school years. Earlier on, for instance when I was eight, I could go into a shop no problem. I think the anxiety just worsened as I got older and now I’m not independent at all.

A fear I have developed since leaving school is that of using public transport alone. This started I think when I was at college. There were numerous train strikes and the constant changing of rules, and being let down by people who I thought would help me with travelling, considering I was a vulnerable autistic girl; it really terrified me. I never wanted to be left like that again… not knowing how I was going to get from A to B or back from B to A. I stopped going to college eventually and managed to get only one a level. I am also scared of talking to people, so buses are even harder as I am scared I will freeze or not say the right thing. I am getting a disabled bus pass soon, which should assist in that as I don’t need to state where I am going with that.

My last social phobia is something I have talked about several times before. It’s the fear of communicating with people in certain situations… I never know what those situations are until I encounter them. It is selective mutism. I can’t control it and it is awful. I am scared of saying the wrong thing or not speaking at all. This makes my other fears worse because I never know if I’ll be able to speak up for myself.

So, yeah, I have a lot of social phobias which I am constantly trying to deal with. It is really tricky for me. They’re related to the fact I am autistic and the fact I have been through a lot in the past. I am getting a PA soon and will be trying an app that can help as well. I just really want to deal with them, but it might take a long time, and I might never deal with some of the issues.

I thought I’d share this post because, although I can outwardly look like someone who doesn’t struggle, I struggle a lot. On a piece of paper, I look fine. It’s once you dig deeper that you realise I have all these issues. I have a really hard time because of it and mental health really isn’t great. I have constant intrusive thoughts. I want to be different… but I have to start from the beginning, like I’m a child learning how to walk. I’ll mess up but maybe one day I’ll do it. Hoping is all I can do, right?

Thanks for reading,

The Autistic Panda

The Problem With Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is one of the hardest things I have to live with. It isn’t selective at all but there really isn’t a very good understanding of it.

Because I can speak, and have spoken before, people assume I am always capable of speaking. This is not true. My selective mutism decides when I’m capable of speaking and it is not a choice. I am not being rude.

I have been told I need to communicate better, I need to speak when spoken to, I need to stop being so rude. I can’t help it and that’s the problem really. The problem is that because I have verbal capabilities, it is assumed that I can choose when to speak.

If I were completely nonverbal, there would not be this same expectation on me to speak, as people would know I cannot speak. But when you can speak… but some block you can’t explain decides you shouldn’t speak, then it gets tricky.

I try my best to speak but sometimes no words come out. I cry over it. I want to speak. My selective mutism decides that I shouldn’t speak. Certain situations, or people, are seen as ‘scary’ to my mind, which makes me unable to navigate them with words. Sometimes this affects typing too, as I want to send them a message — I even write out a full paragraph, but then I delete it before I hit send. It is one of my biggest struggles and it’s really difficult when no one seems to understand it. Unless you have it, it can be seen as refusing to speak. It is not a choice I make.

It is a physical embodiment of years of anxiety. This does not mean I have anxiety at the time of the selective mutism, but selective mutism is caused by anxiety. I have selective mutism most of the time when I meet new people but this does not mean I do not like them or that I am very anxious. I usually am anxious but after a nice interaction with someone, I will open up and begin to speak. It is a physical thing so I cannot choose whether my selective mutism will affect me that day. I just don’t know.

I first got it at school, after years of constantly putting my hand up to answer questions that I didn’t even know the answer to. I just had an urge to answer and to validate myself, though obviously my self esteem was knocked when I was wrong. After years of this, I realised my answering questions had not gained me any friends and often resulted in me getting bullied, so I stopped putting my hand up as much. Eventually, I became quiet, reserved, and became extremely anxious when a teacher would ask me a question. A part of me thought this would result in students not liking me again. I developed selective mutism.

The initial reasons I developed it have nothing to do with why I might not talk now. They just lit the fire, I suppose, they didn’t keep it burning. I still get anxious about people not liking me but I have also realised I have to accept that people might not always like me. It’s okay to not be liked all the time. My selective mutism will be a part of me until it decided not to be, and that may be never. I don’t have a choice in that. I have to accept that too and I hope others accept that I may be silent at times, or I may not be at all. That’s the joy of selective mutism.

Thanks for reading,

The Autistic Panda

Mainstream vs Specialist Schools

Note that I’ve referred to schools for disabled children as specialist schools in this post. I don’t like calling them special schools, as is their usual name, or special ed schools. These names have bad connotations for me. Therefore, I choose to refer to them as specialist schools, which might not seem that different, but works better for me.

I went to a mainstream school. I know some people that went to specialist schools and also some who went to mainstream schools and the experience is vastly different. In general, lessons were less strict at specialist schools and not focused so much on academic performance. The students did not have to mask as much as students who attended mainstream schools did. We had to mask to survive the harsh judgement of our peers.

I was diagnosed too late for a specialist school to have been an option for me, at 15. I know that I may not have had the chance to get higher grades if I had gone to a specialist school, but I feel like I would have been happier. I would have been able to be myself, around like-minded individuals. I have very negative memories of my time at school; I don’t like thinking about it because it was so awful. Those who went to specialist schools that I have spoken to generally like to talk about their experiences more, and talk about events with a smile. It makes me yearn for those memories… for that feeling.

I understand that this isn’t the case for where child who went to a specialist school but those that I know who avoided mainstream school had a happier time. One person even told me how their cousin was forced into mainstream school and had an awful time. Eventually, he was transferred to a specialist school, but by then, the damage was too late.

I was diagnosed with autism at 15 and I so wish I had an earlier diagnosis, a chance to not have the depression and anxiety caused by years of bullying, and to go to a school where I at least wouldn’t be considered any different to the other kids. I noticed that they mask a lot less, and I don’t know how to do that. I mask all the time and it is so exhausting. It is from years of conditioning that I need to mask in order to fit in. When I drop the mask, people ask me questions. My dad asked me why I was shaking when I dropped the mask for a second. I don’t like being asked questions about why I’m exhibiting certain behaviours. I want to just do them and not be judged.

In my opinion, I think specialist schools are a much better option for autistic children, as long as they do not perform ABA, which is luckily banned in my country (though I am sure there are loopholes). Although you are less likely to succeed academically in these schools, due to their attention to other needs and only having foundation exams, I think it is a happier and safer place to be. Grades aren’t everything and I think I would have sacrificed those for a happier school time. Mainstream education does not understand children with additional needs, hence my lack of diagnosis until I was an older child. Specialist schools have a better understanding, though they only teach children who already have a diagnosis. I wish I had that diagnosis ten years earlier.

What are your thoughts? Do you think mainstream education is better or specialist schools?

Familiar (Poem)

Familiar like the feet on my legs,
the hair on my head,
the breaths I take every day,
like my birthday in May,
the sweet scent on grass,
of flowers sneezing on me,
As known as all of those I know,
the ones who are too fond to see
the familiar scent is fading
and new habits are forming.

Toxic Friendships

I’ve been reminiscing on people I was once friends with, who betrayed me in ways that really hurt. I’ve been used a lot by people in my life; just as I think I find someone I really connect with, they do something that makes me realise they didn’t care about me as much as I cared about them.

I guess it’s my personality; I’m never anyone’s first choice of friend because I’m an anxious mess. I have taken to assuming the worst of people because of past experiences of people treating me badly. It happened my entire life. The worst people were the people who I thought were my friends. They betrayed my trust and pushed me to the sidelines.

I have recently been at college, trying so hard to make friends, but I cannot make friends because I can’t speak up for myself. People have knocked the confidence out of me so much that I’m just the quiet person who only goes in once a week due to her high anxiety. I did go in two days but I had to stop going in on one of the days due to anxiety after an incident that made me cry.

I really wish I had more confidence but toxic people in the past have made it hard for me to pick myself up. My selective mutism is worse than ever and I struggle with going on public transport alone. I have bad experiences to blame for a lot of my negative emotions.

I just really want a friend who I can talk to about anything who messages me often and puts me first, but unfortunately, most people have friends who they prefer to me and, thus, I am pushed away in favour of those friends.

It just really sucks to never be anyone’s best friend. I wish I didn’t go through those negative experiences so I could have more confidence with talking to people and making friends.

P.S: I’m totally using an Animal Crossing picture as an example of what friendship should be. I’m great friends with my villagers! Wish I could take that charm to real life.

Thanks for reading,

The Autistic Panda

Why I Hate Lights

I hate lights. More specifically, ones with the bulb showing. I am better if the bulb is completely hidden from view. I have four very good reasons why I hate lights.

  • I am autistic.

Autism is a pretty good reason for disliking lights. It can cause sensory issues around lights. Bright lights, especially with the bulb showing, are very overwhelming for me.

  • I am dyspraxic.

This one is a bit harder to understand as most people think dyspraxia is just clumsiness but it isn’t. It can also cause sensory issues. I know people who don’t have autism that have dyspraxia who have sensory issues. I think my combination of the two gives me greater sensory issues and I get overwhelmed very easily because of it.

  • I have blue eyes.

I found out a while back that having lighter eyes (blue usually) can make you more sensitive to lights. Blue eyes reflect light instead of absorbing it like brown eyes. They also have less melanin which protects the eyes. Blue-eyed people are also more likely to get sun-related eye problems. Wear your sunglasses!

  • I have astigmatism.

Astigmatism is basically when your eyeball isn’t completely round as it’s supposed to be. When you have astigmatism, your eye is shaped more like a rugby ball. I have to say that I despise astigmatism a lot. My dad had it but apparently got it fixed as a kid. I didn’t. The astigmatism causes another world of annoyance when it comes to lights. I used to think how I saw lights was normal until I realised it was related to my astigmatism. Lights aren’t just lights anymore for me; there are long strings of light that go away from the light as well. It is terrible to live with. It also causes me headaches a lot. This is my norm though; I have had it since birth. This, combined with my other reasons, makes lights really infuriating sometimes.

These are the reasons lights annoy me so much. I wish that lights were always very dim and shaded. That’s the only way I’d ever be able to cope with them.

Thanks for reading,

The Autistic Panda

Christmas: Anxieties Starting Early

I have anxiety about pretty much everything so it isn’t surprising that I’d be anxious about Christmas. I’m anxious about seeing my dad’s family because my mum doesn’t want to go. I like her being around at things and, because she doesn’t want to go, I have to deal with that anxiety as well. I understand why but it still makes me sad.

I’m anxious about gifts, though not so much anymore because I came to an arrangement with my dad. I am so scared of all the expectations that come with Christmas and I don’t think I could get gifts for everyone by myself so I am glad my dad and I are doing it together now.

I am anxious about the roast because I ordered it but it hasn’t dispatched yet and it has been a week. So hoping it will come soon and my worries will go away.

I’m generally anxious about seeing my dad’s family because it is so hard masking around them. It makes me very tired but I have to do it because I am still very raw about my parent’s separation and seeing them brings up some emotions about that. I also don’t want to have meltdowns in front of them. I want to see them but I don’t at the same time. I have new anxieties about seeing them that I didn’t have a year ago. I know it is still a while until Christmas but my anxieties start early.

I am very sad that my mum doesn’t want to go. She doesn’t feel like it’s her place anymore. She is still my cousins’ aunt though, she is still my mum. I just have to go with my dad without her which is tough these days. I mask around my dad a lot these days too.

It’s always been a nice celebration for me before but recently, I’ve had more negative emotions than positive around it. I think it is going to be a different Christmas to the one I am used to. We didn’t even go to my aunt’s house for Chrisrmas last year because of covid so I didn’t have to worry. Now, my anxieties are back and bigger than ever.

Anyone else already anxious about Christmas?

Thanks for reading,

The Autistic Panda

Autism and Privilege

I feel privileged to live in a country where healthcare is paid for by taxes, so you don’t have to worry about health insurance or whether you can afford a simple doctor visit. Regardless of your income, you will still be entitled to healthcare.

As a fourteen year-old, we began the diagnostic process for autism, after years of mental health issues and struggling to fit in at school. I was still classed as a child so got to go through CAMHS, the child mental health service in the UK. I will say I had quite a nice team of people who diagnosed me. As an adult, I have found adult mental health services to be lacking compared to child mental health services. There is a lot of help I am not entitled to simply because I am autistic and they don’t know how to help autistic people. It took a year long waiting list before I was diagnosed, which I thought was pretty long as I was a child and ever closer to ending school life. The length of the waiting list meant I wasn’t able to get as much help for my final exams at school as I wanted. However, others getting diagnosed can have even longer waiting lists.

I feel because of the waiting list, lots of people choose to go private when seeking an autism diagnosis. This is, of course, if they can afford it. I had already missed out on the chance to go to a school that better understood my needs, so the diagnosis was a means to get help with my exams, but even then it was too late to get most of the help I needed. I was only given a separate room which wasn’t that separate as they put all the kids who needed a separate room in the same room. I think I would have done better completely by myself. I didn’t get the computer I asked for to complete my exams, which meant that I had to battle with the anxiety inside my head telling me that the examiners wouldn’t be able to read my awful handwriting. My handwriting was pretty bad and I already had a dyspraxia diagnosis so I don’t know why they couldn’t get me a computer in time.

I feel thankful that my mum could advocate for me at the time because, without her, I may not have gotten the diagnosis at all. She advocated for me even though she was going through cancer treatment at the time. She kept telling the GP to refer me, even when they told her they didn’t think I was autistic (despite having no experience with autism). As soon as CAMHS saw me, they could tell I was autistic.

I have been thinking about all the people that are told they can’t be autistic, that self-diagnosis isn’t valid, and I remember my own story. People live in countries where healthcare is expensive and so many of them can’t afford it. People live in countries where women having autism is still not recognised. People live in countries without the privilege I have: the privilege of accessible diagnosis, the privilege of being white, the privilege of a supportive mother who advocated for me. Not everyone has that. Not everyone has an advocate. I lack a lot of privilege in other areas but I remember where I have privilege and why I am so privileged to be acknowledged by my own healthcare system, the wonderful NHS, as being autistic.

Before you doubt someone’s autism, remember that you don’t know how hard it might have been for them to get a diagnosis, or how they may not have been able to get one at all. No one wants to be autistic, it is not a trend. It is a reality for so many people and just because someone doesn’t look autistic or seem autistic doesn’t mean they aren’t. Autism is such a colourful spectrum full of beautiful shades and hues, but we shouldn’t forget the shades of it that aren’t so pretty. They’re there and they’re real.

Thanks for reading,

The Autistic Panda

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