The Authentically Autistic Health Files: Toni Boucher

The Authentically Autistic Health Files are a celebration of health and wellbeing practitioners who, like myself, are both autistic and working with clients who are autistic. As you might expect, our unique life experiences, understanding and skills give us particular insights into many of the challenges that our autistic clients may have.

Please do contact me if you would like me to send you a questionnaire so that you can be featured on this blog. You are welcome to remain anonymous and I will always get you, as the featured practitioner to approve copy before I post.

In her own words, here is Toni Boucher:

Toni Boucher

Autism Consultant, Writer, Speaker.

I work with autistic teens and adults around the world to help them reach their relationship, school and career goals. I also consult with families and companies to help create autism friendly environments and approaches.

I’m 47 years old and have been obsessed with autism since I first learned about it in high school. I’ve been working with autistic people since 1989. To learn about how I discovered my own neurodiversity you can read part of my story Confessions of a Closet Aspie.

Working with other people on the spectrum really helps me to function more effectively as a professional because my natural rhythms and patterns are very similar to the people I support. Traditional work hours and patterns have always been challenging for me to maintain but since my clients also are nocturnal, intensely focussed, obsessed, have sensory issues and require periods of recovery after being out in the world I can meet my own needs and accommodate my clients natural tendencies at the same time.

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The Authentically Autistic Health Files: Laura Z. Weldon

The Authentically Autistic Health Files are a celebration of health and wellbeing practitioners who, like myself, are both autistic and working with clients who are autistic. As you might expect, our unique life experiences, understanding and skills give us particular insights into many of the challenges that our autistic clients may have.

Please do contact me if you would like to me to send you a questionnaire so that you can be featured on this blog. You are welcome to remain anonymous and I will always get you, as the featured practitioner to approve copy before I post.

In her own words, here is Laura Z. Weldon:

Laura Z. Weldon

Health Coach, specializing in supporting clients with chronic mental and physical illness and people who identify as highly sensitive or neurodiverse. I am also a Pilates instructor and have completed Cranialsacral II and Reiki II trainings. I am halfway through my education to become a naturopathic physician (we are primary care doctors in 20 US states) with an additional masters in integrative mental health.

Laura Z. Weldon, business name Weldon Wellness, neurodiversity work under Autistic Empaths

Basic Biography

I grew up in Kentucky, a Southern state in the US. I was diagnosed as an adult, so I grew up being called “shy, sensitive, and gifted” rather than autistic, which I am both grateful for, as I was able to establish my identity outside of diagnosis, and regret, because I needed support in ways no one recognized.

My childhood memories are coloured by my sensory experiences – grade school was coarse pig hair carpeting, fluorescent lights and the smell of fluoride. My weekends in the country with my grandparents were spent reading books alone in trees and swimming in the river while never touching the bottom.

After high school, I moved to NYC to complete a BA in English Literature at Columbia University. I was always fascinated by how people thought, I suspect because I knew that my own experience was different from others’, and this is partly what drew me to literature – it offered a way to glimpse into the thought processes, interactions, and insights of others. I lived and worked in New York City for six years.

I was never someone who was certain about my path; as a child, when someone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say “5 feet 9 inches tall.” My vague intention after undergrad was to pursue a MFA in creative-nonfiction, but I waited because it didn’t feel like quite the right fit. In time, like many others who work in health, I came to this field through discovering what helped me heal myself. I attended a 2-year post-bac pre-med program at the University of Louisville in KY and then applied and was accepted to naturopathic medical school.

I moved across the country 3 years ago with my partner and our Doberman Huxley. My partner has been one of my best friends since middle school; he is not quite neurotypical, but not autistic. I call him my partner rather than my boyfriend to reflect both my queer identity and the fact that we share our lives together. We now live in Portland, OR while I attend the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM), the oldest naturopathic medicine program in the United States. I am pursuing both the ND degree and an additional master’s degree in integrative mental health.

I turn 30 this year. I first had a counsellor suggest I may be autistic 5 years ago, while discussing my difficulties in social situations at parties and other overstimulating environments, but I did not pursue a diagnosis at that time. After several years of gradually coming back into my body after a lifetime of what I call “functional disassociation,” the underlying sensory triggers became clearer.

I first went for an evaluation for sensory processing disorder, and then after reading memoirs by autistic authors and learning about the differences in the female phenotype I found myself resonating with other aspects of autism. I saw a psychologist who specializes in women on the spectrum last February, and after a few rounds of tests and interviews was diagnosed autistic (what would formerly have been Asperger’s). I felt that getting an official diagnosis was important for several reasons for me personally. As a future mental health professional, I wanted to know how mainstream practitioners would identify traits I found in myself.

I wanted to be open about my diagnosis to show that autistic people are not all one pattern of experiences and behaviors, and that even if I “do not look autistic” my experience is still similar to others who may fit a more stereotyped definition (typically the male phenotype). I wanted to be able to get the accommodations I needed at university to attend lectures remotely and wear sunglasses in conference rooms in the clinic. The bonus I did not expect to come with my diagnosis was finding community and connection around shared experiences, particularly through the #ActuallyAutistic community on Twitter.

Health Business and Specialism

I have worked as a health coach and Pilates instructor since 2012. My “special interest” has always been humans, our minds and emotions, and over time it has evolved from literature to psychology to medicine (and what a beautiful combination those fields are together; see narrative psychology/medicine in traditional or indigenous practices, for example).

I love working with people one-on-one, learning and exploring together how their thoughts and emotions impact their behavior and lifestyle choices. I strongly believe that there is a way for everyone (who is not in an acutely stressful situation, like extreme poverty or other traumatic contexts) to find a way to live a balanced, healthy, and enjoyable life. (Yes, even people with disabilities and chronic illness – health does not mean without challenge and there is no one “perfect” way to be healthy.)

My role is in supporting people to make these changes, gradually and experimentally, to improve self-awareness and discover what dietary choices, movement practices, and other forms of self-care work best for them as individuals. The fact that there is no one right answer for every person or even for a single person over a lifetime means that this work is always interesting and personalized, a journey of learning about another person’s way of being in the world.

Every suggestion I make to a client is an experiment. I offer an idea and if it fits for them they try it out. If they do not follow through, or find that they did not like it or for any other reason it wasn’t right for them, then that suggestion is either something they need greater support on OR it simply isn’t right for them and their lives, so we move on and try something new. Lifestyle changes should never be a question of willpower.

Specifically, I do a lot to support GI health and emotional balance. Many clients work with me to support them on elimination diets to discover underlying food sensitivities, do Candida protocols, or switch to therapeutic diets like low-fodmap for SIBO. When appropriate, I incorporate mindfulness practices (as they suit the client) and suggestions for maintaining an enjoyable movement practice (I don’t talk much about “exercise” because our bodies are made to move; it should not have to be a task on a to-do list.) I work with vitamins, minerals, and herbs as appropriate and in conjunction with clients’ physicians.

My decision to pursue a degree in alternative healthcare through naturopathic medicine, instead of allopathic or MD medical school, grew from a frustration with the medical system. I am in no way against pharmaceutical medicine or allopathic care; in acute situations it is truly a miracle of modern medicine. With chronic conditions and mental health, however, I found those approaches overly reductive and algorithmic, and I was frustrated by the lack of initiative to seek out true underlying causes of imbalance and disease. In addition, many doctors seem to have lost their role of “physician as teacher”; I hold this aspect in highest regard, as I believe it is our duty to help patients understand their bodies and how to care for them, even if it takes a little extra time.

As a result, much of my work with clients also involves some degree of patient advocacy. We talk through questions to ask their physicians, what symptoms are important to bring up and have addressed, and how to maintain a sense of agency in an interaction with such a strong power dynamic.

While in medical school I do not take on many clients at a time, but I love this way of working with people and find it powerful and educational for both client and myself, so I intend to continue working in this capacity part-time throughout my education and even once I am a physician.

How Being Autistic Impacts My Health Practice

I am still working out exactly what being autistic means to me and what aspects of my personality and thought process are attributable to being autistic and which are simply me. I know that I pick up on patterns easily and can think of “out-of-the-box” solutions, which is helpful when clients feel like they have tried everything and there is nothing left, and which will be helpful in diagnosing patients in the future.

I am less likely to make assumptions about someone else’s experience because I am very aware that how we seem on the outside and what we feel inside can be vastly different. Many practitioners are unfamiliar with or even judgmental about the idea that someone can be “highly sensitive,” whether that is a personality trait or as aspect of neurodiversity, so people who know that they are more reactive to their environments and even supplements and medications often feel relieved to have that recognized and addressed.

Ironically, I think that my high capacity for empathy is part of being neurodiverse; I experience some degree of mirror-touch synaesthesia or emotional and physical empathy which allows me to have a glimpse into other people’s internal experience and connect with them more intimately and authentically. (Just don’t ask me to talk to a group of people at the same time!) I am also frankly honest about myself, so when it will serve the client to hear something about me I share it without hesitation, which I find helps build trust and communication.

One of the practical ways being autistic has impacted my work is that I see the majority of my clients online, using video chat services. While I am in medical school I am expected to be out in the world more than my system finds ideal, so being able to work with clients from the comfort of my own home is immensely helpful. I also find it is helpful for my clients, as many of them deal with social anxiety, movement or transportation challenges, sensory overload, and other things that may it easier for them to communicate from their own homes. I suspect telemedicine will become more common in the future.

What Considerations I Take Into Account with Autistic Clients

While science is frustratingly lacking in explanations, there are many physical and neurological aspects to being autistic that are often ill-addressed. Common “co-morbidities” as they call them include anxiety, depression, migraines, digestive issues/IBS, epilepsy, connective tissue disorders and so much more.

I think that the connection between sensory overload and anxiety is incredibly important and better addressed when seen as a neurological response to a context the body does not feel safe or comfortable rather than a mental health issue (although simply being autistic in a neurotypical world can certainly have mental health repercussions).

My approach with an autistic client would be similar to all of my clients in that I always work in a personalized, individualized way (“If you’ve met one autistic, you’ve met one autistic), but it would certainly have more of an emphasis on GI health and the gut-brain connection, as well as managing sensory input and unique dietary challenges, including texture sensitivities, lack of appetite awareness, and executive function difficulties with preparing meals.

I think it is always easier to understand a shared experience, so being autistic myself I think helps both by being able to offer suggestions that have worked for me and to allow my clients to feel more comfortable to be their unmasked selves. For example, stimming during a session, not making eye contact, or preferring to have the session by chatting/typing instead of speaking would all be perfectly okay with me.

My Own Specific Health Challenges

After undergrad, the stress of the education and living and then working in such an incredible but overwhelming city took its toll. I became quite ill for several years with the early stages of a (still undiagnosed) autoimmune disease, and other symptoms that I now understand were autistic traits and processing challenges emerging because my body was under duress.

By discovering and eliminating my food sensitivities, healing my gut lining, and rebalancing my microflora I was able to enter remission. My primary challenges now are SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) which limits my diet considerably, migraines, and sensory dysregulation. I use my sensory toolkit and a lot of GABA supporting herbs to decrease my migraine frequency and intensity and keep the volume of the world at a reasonable level.

I have a primary care doctor who monitors my physical symptoms, but I work primarily with a Chinese medicine practitioner who uses acupuncture and tuning forks to improve my processing and help me stay grounded in my body. He thinks of digestive issues and sensory issues as one and the same – they are both challenges with taking in and integrating the outside world.

Health and Wellbeing Routines; and Non-Negotiables

I am not as attached to routine as many others in the autistic community, but there are certainly practices and boundaries that have helped me thrive. My strongest routine is that I stop working by 8pm every night to eat and relax on the couch with my partner and dog. I need this time to switch off my hyper-focused brain or else I will have difficulty sleeping.

I have switched almost entirely to online shopping and delivery, which eliminates the excessive sensory input and stress of shopping in stores. I go to a sweat lodge ceremony once a month to support myself spiritually. I take a few yoga classes a week, because they keep me flexible and strong while offering an hour of quiet and grounding movement. I eat only things that don’t aggravate my body, but don’t restrict anything else (translation: I eat a lot of chocolate).

Finally, I have realized that my periodic hypersomnia (needing to sleep more than 10, 11, or even 12 hours a night) is directly correlated to overstimulation and simply being out in the world more than I can tolerate, so I allow myself this sleep and recovery time without judgment or self-criticism. Also, herbs, herbs, herbs (see my toolkit).

Sensory toolkit

I never leave the house without a valerian root tincture. Valerian is a GABA (inhibitory neurotransmitter) supporting herb that is traditionally used for sleep, but I find that if I take it before entering an overstimulating environment my tolerance is considerably higher and my anxiety much less (and, interestingly, I don’t get sleepy). I take several other less intense herbs that support GABA as well, including gotu kola, damiana, and skullcap.

My noise-cancelling headphones have literally changed my life, especially for air travel. I keep sunglasses in my bag for fluorescent lighting, and an earthy essential oil blend that helps me feel more grounded and can block out unpleasant smells. I wear very soft clothing, down to wire and clasp-free bras. I wear a puzzle ring when I leave the house that I use for discrete stimming. At home, I have a weighted blanket that helps during meltdowns. I’m also hoping for some special earplugs for Christmas that reduce background noise rather than block sound!

Meltdowns and Shutdowns

Shutdowns for me are almost entirely sensory and show up in very graded ways. Some days, after too much input/processing the day before, I feel this “veil” sensation that makes me feel like everything I am interacting with is far away, as though behind plexiglass. True shutdowns, when speech becomes more challenging and my face becomes less expressive, are rarer now that I know and respect my limits most of the time, but are common when shopping, after being in a fluorescently lit clinic for several hours, and during the holidays when I am in a home with 20+ family members.

The only way to come out of a shutdown for me is to check out of the world temporarily, either by staying home for a day or two or preferably going camping. Meltdowns for me are a result of an overtaxed system (again, usually sensory, but can also be too much social interaction) with the addition of an emotional stimulus, even a small one that would not normally upset me very much. This then implodes into a rush of overwhelming feeling and tears. Not much can be done during a meltdown other than wait it out, but I do really like deep pressure from either a weighted blanket or a hug from someone very close to me.

Future Plans

My primary focus of research is on sensory processing sensitivity. As a personality trait this can be called “high sensitivity” or “HSPs (highly sensitive people),” and I believe it overlaps with emerging diagnoses like sensory processing disorder and many people on the autism spectrum, myself included. I have a survey up on my website where anyone (they don’t have to be neurodiverse!) can explain what their sensory experience is like that I am using to guide my research into areas that will be directly applicable to clients and patients.

For now, while in medical school, I am not trying to expand my business so much as the people I work with. I would love to have more neurodiverse clients so I can continue to learn how best to support our community.

After I graduate, my intention is to return to my home region and practice as a natural/integrative psychiatrist and bodyworker. I would love to have half of my practice online as it is now, working as a health coach or naturopathic consultant for highly sensitive and neurodiverse clients, and have the other half be an in-person practice supporting the local community. The region where I am from deals with high rates of opioid addiction and poor rural mental health services that I feel would greatly benefit from an integrative mind/body/spirit approach.

Within the scope of bodywork, I am also learning how trauma shows up in our bodies and our disconnection from our physical experience, and how bodywork can be used (gradually and safely) to help re-establish a safe and healthy connection to ourselves and our inner experience.

My Health Inspirations       

I’m afraid this list is too long to go into! (I’ll start with you Flo, for taking steps to change your career and help in this way!) I have a goodreads list of books I recommend you can see here: https://www.weldonwellness.com/laura/. If anyone wants a suggestion about a specific condition or topic I’d be happy to offer them by email.

This past year I found Aspergirls by Rudy Simone very reassuring and full of useful information.

General Advice and Closing Words (Prompted by my question: What advice do you wish you had been given? What advice do you give yourself? What one great piece of advice would you like to give readers of this post?)

Be unapologetically, authentically you, because only you can offer that to the world.

Autism South West 2017 and A Shameful Tale

Yesterday I got to speak about “Sugar, Stress and the Spectrum” at the Autism South West conference. Specifically I was building on Dr. Luke Beardon’s excellent equation: 

Autism + Environment = Outcome

to explain how internal stressors (internal environment,) such as high or erratic cortisol levels, change the outcome for any autistic person. 

Let me explain. Now it’s pretty well known that being in a supermarket (an external environment stressor) is highly stressful for autistic people (maybe for you too, but definitely if you are autistic.) When somebody is stressed their adrenals ramp up production of the hormone cortisol which raises blood sugar levels in order to deal with threats. (If you have to run away from a lion – you need glucose in your bloodstream to fuel that race for your life.) But unfortunately your body doesn’t distinguish between real or perceived threats. It just acts without question. 

What else happens when your cortisol is raised? Here’s one of my slides:

Now, think how difficult navigating a simple supermarket shop might be when your brain is affected like that… (This is why my shopping gets done online!) Imagine living in a world where a great deal of your environment causes the outcome of reduced abilities to remember, to regulate your mood and behaviour, to organise yourself and make good judgements?

Next in my talk we discussed how consuming excess carbohydrates quickly raises blood sugar levels, causing the body to employ insulin in order to reduce potentially dangerous levels. And then, because your body likes balance, it fires up our friend cortisol again, because low blood sugar is also a threat! The low blood sugar is an internal environment stressor. 

As far as autistic anxiety is concerned: being hunted by a lion = going to the supermarket = low blood sugar!

Anyway, we covered some other useful stuff too but, in the interest of brevity, that’s probably enough for you to understand my shameful behaviour yesterday evening. Shameful because I am a nutrition and health coach. Please don’t judge…

So the conference was fab! Well organised and with brilliant key-note speeches (Sarah Hendrickx and Dean Beadle) that made me both laugh and cry. But, you know, a conference is still a difficult environment for an autistic to navigate. And so my cortisol levels were pretty high…

Now I knew I had a fridge full of delicious and nutritious organic veg and meat at home. I could have rustled something nourishing up in 30 minutes flat. But my memory and good judgement failed me and I demanded we stop off at tesco for ready made pizza (the shame.) And I looked at those huge, insipid, crappy pizzas and could not for the life of me work out how many we’d need and which types we, as a family, would like. My husband found me crying in the chilled aisle and took over. At which point I wandered off and filled the basket with packets of biscuits. I had acted out my own talk perfectly! My high cortisol response had perfectly reflected my slide’s bulletpoints! Oh the irony…

A few things:

  1. If you’d like me to come and talk about diet and autism please contact me here. (Rest assured that I will prepare my evening meal in advance for future talks.)
  2. I didn’t actually eat the biscuits. I was asleep soon after the pizza!
  3. I’m not really ashamed of my choices yesterday. I’ve learned not to blame myself in those situations and am taking care to rest my adrenals today.  

On Owning our Strengths

I had a text yesterday from a friend, “focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t.”

That’s not in my nature. Is it in yours? It makes sense though doesn’t it. Sure, you need to acknowledge those areas in which you could either improve on, get some help with or just write off; but why do we dwell on what we can’t do to the detriment of what we are, actually, pretty damn good at?

For years dwelling on the things I can’t do has held me back from offering what I can do for the world. Real issues with executive function stopped me from persuing academia; limited social skills meant I lacked confidence to push my business forward; and others mistaking holes in my knowledge for a lack of intelligence began to rub off on me. There’s nothing like others seeing you as crazy or lazy for you to start believing the hype!

I’ve watched friends take huge risks with their careers, living arrangements and long term plans over the last twenty or so years and by-and-large these risks have massively paid off. When I asked,  “Why?” they confidently replied, “Why not?” Meanwhile I’ve always played it safe with the sneaking suspicion that I could-do-better but an unwillingness to risk failure and be laughed at. 

But here’s the thing. More recently I have made some exceptional friends. Off the scale artists and wordsmiths with depths of intelligence and insight that have blown me away. But I couldn’t understand why they didn’t have the glittering careers that they deserved. I would sell my right arm for their talents. 

But. Three things…

1) Each of them is also autistic.

2) Each of them is dismissive of their own gifts. 

3) Each of them is equally in awe of the abilities I have that I had dismissed!

If you have had a lifetime having your flaws and inabilities being pointed out to you – Just be friendly! Smile! Concentrate! Stop doing weird things with your hands! You’re so disorganised? You’re too old for temper tantrums! Why would you even say that? You’re so bad with money? Why won’t you answer me? Oh stop crying! What do you mean it’s too bright/noisy/busy/smelly? Just eat it! Just wear it! Just make the phone call! Stop fussing! I thought you were supposed to be clever? I thought women were supposed to be able to multitask! Everybody else can manage that – why can’t you? – then it is incredibly hard not to focus purely on the things you can’t do.

I am in no way dismissive of the similar trials that allistics (non-autistics) go through. Confidence is often an elusive thing for many, many people. But this theme seems to run considerably stronger through the autistic women I have come across than for most others. 

Because while we can do some things that very few other people can do, we can’t do a lot of things that nearly everybody else can. 

So what’s the answer?

I’m not entirely sure. On a personal level it takes a major shift in thinking to flip the can’t do: can do ratio to something more positive. But we can also all remember in our transactions with others to remind them both of their strengths and of our own. And we all need to all see beyond someone’s more obvious achievements, recognising that the playing field is not always level. A lack of achievement is not always down to a lack of talent. (And, while you’re at it can I please recommend you read this rather brilliant post from Luke Beardon?)

I’m out of words! Tell me yours. What do you think?

 

 

Lost in Paris

I was all fired up to write either a recipe or a detox post today, but then I got sidetracked editing this blogs categories for a drop down menu, and I haven’t got the time now. Bother. But I did promise myself that I’d write something so I’m going to give you a memory post.

Back in the mid-90s, while I was a music teacher, I joined a friend’s band called Movietone for a couple of years (I think that link should take you to album tracks etc. I’m playing on the Day and Night and The Blossom Filled Streets albums) During that time we also did two sessions for John Peel, played some gigs (Bristol, London and Brighton) and did a mini tour in Paris! In case you are wondering, I mostly played viola but also doubled up on piano, glockenspiel, guitar and bass (the last two of which I had to learn specially.)

Now, a thing I have noticed about us Autistic people is that our personal risk assessment processes are not generally in line with those of the rest of the population. Make a phone call? Panic. Try to leave the house? Panic. Cross the road? Panic. Walk the streets of Paris alone late at night with minimal grasp of the language, a poor ability for map reading, and no working mobile phone? Meh! Which is why, when we had a night off and I found out that another friend of mine was also playing in town that night I figured I’d try and find him to say hello. How hard could that be?

It took me nearly two hours. My map skills sucked more than I can explain. I found myself in various dead ends and alleyways (some with suspicious looking deals going on), and I realised that I had completely misjudged the scale of the map. I retraced my steps several times and I finally realised that setting off on this quest was not, in retrospect, a smart move. I kept ending up the wrong side of the river and I couldn’t work out safe places to cross some of the busier roads. And I didn’t know how to ask for help! A few times I considered turning back but figured that I should see this through. I didn’t want to admit defeat.

Eventually I found the venue but by this time the doors were closed and the queues were building up outside. So now the question – how do you blag your way into a well attended Courtney Pine gig with no language skills? I pushed my way through the throng of fans to the door and, with a highly apologetic tone and some poor miming repeated the two poxy phrases I’d practised to myself before leaving – Er, mon amie? Un bassiste? Seriously, that was all I’d learnt! But you know what? Those crowds of fans, patiently waiting for the doors to open, they worked out the deal and yelled at the security guys to let me in. And, when he tried to argue, pretty much opened the doors and shoved me through as I shouted Merci!! Merci!! What lovely people!

Sadly I only had about half an hour to see my friend before he had to disappear and then I figured that I should probably find my way back to the apartment rather than stay for the gig. But as I left the building my heart sank and my knees buckled with the realisation that it was now about 10.30pm and I still didn’t really know where I was. I sat on the steps, stared at the map and wondered how the hell I was going to hold my shit together. And then the rain started. And when I say rain? It was that freak kind of rain that runs down your neck and soaks you to the skin within minutes. What the hell to do? I couldn’t even clearly see a few meters ahead of me the rain was that heavy. The only upside was that nobody would have been able to see the tears.

Now this next bit was pretty crazy. I took a deep breath, somehow went into some kind of hyperfocus and saw the route back in my head, by which I mean that all the side roads and distractions kind of fell away from my vision and I started to run like I was following a satnav. I think it took me less than half an hour to run my way back without any mistakes and in torrential rain, with a map that was so wet it completely disintegrated. As I got to an area I actually recognised I started laughing out loud and sprinted the last bit.

My friends opened the door to me laughing hysterically while pouring the rainwater from my shoes. I couldn’t get the words out I was laughing so hard.

I wanted to think of a witty and snappy way to round this post off but I can’t. Au revoir!

 

Celebrating Christmas


Here’s the thing. I love Christmas. Truly, truly love it. But maybe not in the way that others do. While we don’t celebrate the day in a religious context my family (my husband and two daughters) and I mark this time with rituals and symbolism that have meaning and significance to ourselves.

Might as well get it over and done with, here’s a list of what we don’t do and why!

  • Cards (massive drain on the environment, finances and executive function.)
  • Increased sugar intake (and thus increased anxiety, irritability, insomnia, acne and weight gain.)
  • Parties (social interaction when our emotional energies are at their lowest of the year? Nope.)
  • Flashing Christmas lights (headaches and anxiety.)
  • Christmas crackers at home (I really can’t justify buying plastic tat produced by severely underpaid and mistreated factory workers and destined for the bin.)
  • Presents for the sake of obligation (honestly, we don’t need anything. Nothing worse than having to smile and gush over yet another item produced by those poor factory workers and using up the earth’s resources.)

But here’s what I love, love, love!!

  • Getting to spend time around my precious husband and daughters. They are my favourite company. I know we may only have a few years left before our girls create their own traditions so we’re making the most of eating good food and snuggling with them while we still can.
  • Food. Easy, simple, delicious. We do the same every year: Nigella Lawson’s cranberry and orange Christmas muffins for breakfast with orange juice and prosecco. (And coffee. Lots of coffee.) Then a mid-afternoon, fully organic roast dinner which I prepare on the day while they watch some Christmas movie. Nuts, a bit of chocolate, a bottle of organic beer or a glass of port will feature at some point but not heavily. And then Christmas pudding with custard or cream for supper. Delicious, filling and minimal food coma!
  • Decorations! Every year a real tree, and foraged mistletoe, holly and ivy. Tiny static fairy lights and decorations made from wood, metal, ceramic or glass. Also pine cones and dried orange slices. And lots of beeswax or organic soya candles.
  • We also have a range of Christmas CDs ranging from pop to jazz, classical and soul. Something for every mood.
  • And time. Time away from school and jobs is precious. So we share the housework and spend our time, resentment free, in cooking, eating, watching movies, walking the dog, reading, playing board games or just chatting and catching up – checking in with each other.

That’s the magic for us. Wishing all of you your own magical festive period, and sending you huge love 💜

Grief

It’s been a helluva year! While the storms of political egomania, brewed from ignorance and fear have raged around the world; tidal waves of very real threats to the marginalised, the environment and to any hopes of a more peaceful existence have been triggered. The collective grief to these metaphoric event hazards has been overwhelming. 

And, on a more personal level, grief is very much a part of me at the moment. Six months ago I found out that I was autistic. An explanation as to why social interaction has been so, so difficult for me over the years. 

Through this new information and self-understanding, I’ve finally been able to piece together why so many of my relationships have been dysfunctional and have ended so badly; why breakdowns, shutdowns and meltdowns have been such frequent intrusions in my life; and why I’ve never been able to match up to either my own or other people’s expectations. 

And so I’m grieving for missed opportunities, failed friendships, and for years spent wasted in beating myself up for not scoring higher on a set of values that were not, after all, appropriate for me. I was hoping to have finished and done with the introspection by now. Enough already! Get over it!

But I remembered this week that we, in the Northern hemisphere, are currently in the season ruled by the Chinese Five Element of Metal, that of Autumn. Metal governs grief, personal and metaphysical boundaries, the lungs (I’m finally recovering from a month long chest infection) and large intestine. 

The Metal element describes the final leaves falling from the trees and rotting down in time for Winter’s period of stillness and restoration. Metal is the element of of pure blue skies and clean air, of the final harvesting of crops and of fields to be ploughed and picked over by the birds. Metal governs old age – a time of reflection; questioning and refining core beliefs and of purifying and eliminating anything that is no longer useful, whether stale air, waste material, ideas, beliefs or emotions. If there were ever a good time to grieve, that time is now. 

But grief is not a comfortable emotion. And it’s hard to control its outward flow. Like adjusting a pressure valve it can be a delicate act to find the balance between stomping grief down and becoming all consumed by it. But the process of letting go is, particularly right now, vital to being able to greet the stillness of Winter with a clear heart and a calm mind. 

We cannot stop the destruction of hurricanes created by climate or politicians but by honouring time-honoured spiritual rhythms we have a better chance of refining and fortifying our personal resolve and conviction to create those micro-eddies of love, humour, warmth and kindness that help return humanity to a place of balance.