AWEgust day four: Alex lives here. Alex who? Alexithymia

You may wonder why my blog title is ‘AWEgust Day 4′. The reason for this is that I’m undertaking a challenge to raise money to train more mentors for the I CAN Network. I will be writing a blog post every day between now and the 31 August. So far some good people have donated $18.50 and I’ve had a promise of $93, which is good but I am hoping the raise a little more than that. Here is the link for donations if you feel the need:

https://awegust.everydayhero.com/au/jeanettepurkis

I entered an international poetry competition earlier this year (I didn’t win but I was a finalist). I had to write thirty poems during the month of April and they all had to be on a theme. The theme I chose was Autism month so I got to write thirty Autism poems. Some were great, some were good, some i regretted including. I sent them all to my parents because apparently writing published things and speaking at conferences garner a fair few parental pride points for an adult daughter. I called my mum on the phone, as I tend to do of an evening. She told me that she loved the poems and ‘what is that wonderful word?’ I had used the word ‘alexithymia’ in one of the poems and my mum, who loves words, was curious to know what it means having not encountered it in her literary travels.

So what is Alexithymia? I don’t have a clinical definition but my understanding is that it is when one is unable to connect with emotions. A lot of people on the Autism spectrum experience alexithymia but it is not exclusive to Autists. I have a mental illness as well as begin Autistic which can provide me with some rather complex emotions but I often struggle to know how I am feeling. I remember when I was in hospital once, talking to a psychologist about my mental health. I was crying and looking at the ground but I couldn’t believe her when she told me that I was very depressed. I had absolutely no idea that I was depressed. I had no concept of how to distinguished the ‘depressed’ experience from all the other things going on in my mind.

When I am experiencing illness symptoms I experience lots of things at once. It’s like a particularly unappetising soup with the ingredients of depression, anxiety, anger, fear and a bunch of other nameless nasties. I can usually manage to identify that I a ‘unwell’ but that’s as far as it gets. I also experience crises and meltdowns on top of these things. When I was younger I would be so overwhelmed by unidentified horrors that I would have a meltdown but I didn’t understand what was going on. I was sacred and confused and had about 1000 emotions, experiences and fears demanding my attention at the same time. As a result I would be aggressive or self-destructive. This resulted in a lot of institutional care (and sometimes ‘care’) but I didn’t find that anyone cold help me. Psychologists would ask ‘how are you feeling?’ and I honestly couldn’t answer.

I sometimes have no sensation of emotions at all, even when a lot of emotions should be happening. Today was one of these days. I have been having a lot of low-level mental illness symptoms lately: hallucinations, strange thoughts, altered perception. I have not identified feeling sad or anxious or anything else. I had a period of three weeks of elevated mood (i made my bed every morning – a sure sign something was wrong!). I had a couple of days of anger, which is quite unusual for me. Today I went to work. We had a meeting and I got really upset with one of my colleagues, Things he said triggered off a whole load of identity issues. Then I had someone call me and ask for assistance. He was an anxious somebody and called a few times. This made me so stressed that I asked a colleague to talk to him. At this point I realised that something was wrong. I could’t identify any particular issue but my eyes felt teary so I figured I was probably depressed. Once I have worked out that something is wrong I can start to address the issues and either get help from an external source like my psychiatrist or put in place some of my own strategies.

So Alex most definitely lives here. She is a constant companion but not a friend. I just have to learn how to live with her and discover her secrets. She makes life difficult at times but she can be challenged. Managing the difficulties associated with having a mental illness and being unable to identify or immediately address what is going on for me emotionally is part of the life that is mine. This is what I have and I shall live within it and learn to master it. What more can I do?

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