Last week saw the third anniversary of my ‘medical discharge’ from my 12 year sea going career and the start of my adjustment to life as a land lover. I feel like I have changed a lot over the course of the last three years as I have tried to learn more about myself and how my brain works.
The first part of this was figuring out I was autistic, before going on to be formally diagnosed which I have written about in previous posts, though the debate regarding which of my behaviours I can blame on being autistic and which are down to my frequent bad decisions continues.
Since then, it has occurred to me that having strategies to cope with stress would be helpful to lessen potential meltdown situations, sleep better and just be a better person. This time last year I got a telephone assessment with talking therapies, it took me weeks to pluck up the courage and I was surprised by how quickly they got back to me with an appointment once I finally asked (only a few days). However, in those few days, lockdown was announced, I lost my job and as a result had to move house. Basically, I was too stressed to complete the stress prevention course.
Over the last year I (like everyone else) have had a lot of spare time, so I have undertaken a lot of free online courses (sometimes three a week), these have included:
- Big Data and the Environment
- An Introduction to Children’s Visual Culture
- How To Read a Novel
- The Tudors
- Fashion In A Changing World
- Content Management
Looking back over the eclectic list of completed courses on my account, I am struck by how I have forgotten most of them. One I recently signed up to was Mindfulness. This is a term I have never previously understood but I learned from the course it is a series of techniques to better connect to our surroundings. After week one, I discovered it is a lot of sitting quietly and breathing. While I am sure it is great for many people, I realised I am quite happy not knowing what is going on around me. It seems like the more aware of my surroundings I am, the more there is to be stressed about so perhaps that for me, ignorance is bliss.
What has been more useful has been learning about CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). This is a way of becoming aware of negative thoughts so they can be dealt with. It doesn’t stop the thoughts from appearing, but it stops them becoming overwhelming. An example would be somebody with arachnophobia. Doing CBT would not stop them hating spiders but would let them get on with their day rather than quivering in a corner.
For me, I want to use it to sleep better. I have spent many midnight hours getting annoyed about minor incidents that happened twenty or thirty years ago. CBT is showing me that I need to recognise that it is not useful to keep going over all these things everyone else has forgotten. So when something pops into my mind at 3am, I must find something else to focus on so the destructive thoughts don’t ruin my whole night.
Of course, it is taking quite a lot of practice but I feel it is starting to work, I am sleeping better and it is now rare for me to have a terrible night of sleep. Although is that because of the CBT or is that because my life is currently relatively stress free? Also, it is true to say that I might be doing it completely wrong. After all, I haven’t formally done any CBT, I just read about it on the internet…
Let’s see how that goes…