Autism Awareness months continues … 2 days to go!
Anxiety and stress disorders are one of the primary health concerns in our country. I think this is evident when you talk to people. Other mothers like me in the Autism community often joke about the fact that it’s easier to name the mothers not medicated for anxiety than it is to name those who are. It’s a big and concerning problem. Children diagnosed with ASD are far more susceptible to anxiety disorders, stress and feelings of anger. Changes in routine, changes in their environment and issues with sleeping are some of the key contributors to high anxiety levels amongst those on the autistic spectrum.
If you are parent of a child with autism you are at a significantly increased risk of developing disorders of anxiety, stress and/or other psychiatric and mental health issues. This is a concerning situation and one, unfortunately, that I’ve had personal experience with (Here I refer to the anxiety part … we all know the ‘eccentricity’ part was stamped on me before my birth!)
When James was about 18 months old, I came into Toowoomba from St George to visit Mum and Dad. On this particular morning, Mum and Dad were both out and about. I was sitting in a chair giving James a bottle and looking out into their beautiful backyard. Suddenly, I felt very unwell. I felt nauseous, I felt light headed and my heart took off at a great rate leaving me breathless. I believe it’s the chemistry of this kind of thing, but I felt a sense of overwhelming doom, like something really terrible was going to happen to me. Those of you who know me, know I’ve never fainted in my life, I’m repulsed by any kind of ‘shrinking violet’ behaviour and I’m generally cool, calm and collected … unless someone sasses me! On this occasion, I was worried though. I rang the ambulance and spoke to a lovely lady, and within probably five minutes of talking with her, my heart rate began to come down and I felt much improved. I cancelled the ambulance. The whole situation was made more stressful because I was with James on my own and I knew that if something happened to me he wouldn’t be safe. He’d escape or he’d get into something he shouldn’t.
So I rang my personal, quality medico … Dad … and he told me that I really needed to go up to Emergency at St Vincent’s and have an ECG and a cardiology consult. Mum arrived home shortly after this and I went off to St Vincent’s and left Mum at home with James. Mum soon came up to check on me. I had warned Mum that it probably wasn’t wise to bring James into an ED but her desire to check in on me meant she simply had to come. Well … mum and I were in hysterics laughing within perhaps ten minutes of their arrival. Mum was sweating – and we all know how fit she is!!! There is nowhere that kid didn’t touch, lick, crawl under/over, switch on/off, screaming all the while. Mum finally admitted defeat and they went home. I remember thinking that lying in that bed was absolute heaven!
They diagnosed me with Supraventricular tachycardia which in essence means that your heart rate accelerates due to a looping of electrical current in the heart. I had an echocardiogram and a rigorous appointment with the cardiologist. She told me that at worst if it happened again, I might pass out but that it wasn’t life threatening, and that it was probably due to stress. Well!!! I thought this was absolutely ridiculous! I honestly thought it was some kind of underlying medical issue.
I had a number of these episodes (varying in severity) between 2006 and 2011. In between times, I had lots of palpitations and heart beat irregularities, and there was some discussion about atrial fibrillation but despite completing 24 hour holter monitor observations, nothing significant was detected.
Then last year 2011, Chris was away for work and my parents were also away. For some reason, complicated medical stuff always seems to happen when Dad is away! All of us seem to have a radar for it … poor Dad! Anyway, I went to bed not feeling well, and then I worried because Mum and Dad were away and Chris was too. What would I do with the boys if I got into trouble? So I berated myself for being so melodramatic, had a long soak in the bath, and took myself off to bed.
I awoke at around 2am feeling awful. I sat up in bed and straight away, off my heart went. I was puffing and gasping for air this time. I sat down, tried to calm myself, I performed the valsalva manoeuvre (holding the nose, and blowing forcefully into the ears), coughed, tried all the things I’d been told to do to get my heart back into the correct rhythm. Nothing seemed to work. I phoned 13-HEALTH who were just awesome! I spoke to a wonderful nurse who got all my history, my address and talked me through everything. Things seemed to improve. I got my breath back and felt quite well. Then suddenly, off my heart went again. The nurse said that she was ringing the ambulance for me, to switch the lights on, unlock the front door and call someone to come and look after the kids.
My ‘someone’ was my 8 month pregnant sister, Joanna! She arrived at my house to the sounds of the paramedic’s equipment beeping in fury at my high blood pressure and racing heart. The paramedics were most amused that she was my support person! Bless her socks! The paramedics brought in a stretcher which I refused … how ridiculous … seriously … and off I went to hospital. It took some hours for my heart rate to slow down but it eventually did.
So while I was lying for some hours in the ED I finally started to contemplate the possibility that this whole situation was stress and anxiety induced. I really thought hard back over the last few years of my life and whilst I could see that it was certainly challenging, I just couldn’t attach the feelings of stress to it. I asked myself lots of seemingly ludicrous questions like … “Am I stressed? I don’t think I’m stressed. I feel OK and I know the nurse’s entire life story but my body seems to be cracking up! Is my body telling me I’m stressed?” I was getting nowhere! More to follow tomorrow …