Back in the water

I had a reminder that it’s been nearly three years since I last wrote anything here! I know the site still works, as I still get enquiries from time to time from people looking for a hand-hold. I’m always glad to give it, or to support a project.

Paper Lifeboat was doing its job quite well by simply sitting in the station and giving advice to any visitors that passed by. The world of autism acceptance has moved on a lot since last I wrote – and so have I. So, what’s been going on?

New openings through lockdown

Through COVID I’ve worked my socks off for a number of organisations working in mental health, disability, accessibility, and public engagement. I’ve learned a lot about creating media and trainings online. I even became a radio DJ at one point!

Em sits at a radio DJ mixing desk smiling and holding a pair of headphones. Across the desk two guests smile and talk into their microphones.
Hosting a radio show for Living Options Devon

The huge surprise for me was how much better I do at virtual events than in-person ones. There’s so much less sensory and social information to digest. Lockdown was good for me, my career, and my family. The kids enjoyed homeschooling and thrived with social pressures taken off them. Simply wearing comfy clothes each day has been liberating. My whole system has resisted the return to normal. This has shown up as better clarity in what I will and won’t take on. I welcome it.

Due to a very shocking and sad bereavement (a kind friend and boss) I was acting CEO at one job for a while while I helped them find their new lead. They wanted me to carry the torch, but it didn’t feel quite right to me for a number of reasons. I was content to help out during the initial shock and recovery, and make space for someone new when the time was right. I’ve been bereaved by violence or suicide several times in my life, so I had a different kind of lived experience to bring. It’s been sad, and often lonely. I’ll remember it as a deeply humbling time.

My daily work has centred less on autism awareness and advocacy, but I still managed a couple of events – a chat with the fantastic Autistic on Wheels in 2021 about what it’s like to be autistic in the workplace. For this year’s Autism Acceptance Month I hosted an online drop-in about autism and mental health, which was brilliantly attended and caught the attention of our local Adult Autism and ADHD service.

Cartoon of Planet Earth and the circular Recovery Devon logo inside a rainbow "infinity" loop. "World Autism Acceptance Day - Autistic Mental Health Matters."

The event was a mixture of celebration of ourselves and a call to change; I reported on two recent pieces of research around autistic suicide and mis-diagnosis of adults. You can read the write-up here. Something that really touched me was trying to hold a minute’s silence for all the autistic people who did not get the help they needed in time, and finding that everyone in my group was deeply appreciative, and moved by it. It needs marking; there are too many.

Somatic studies

At the end of 2019 I took a huge, heartfelt leap and signed up for a module of training with the Institute for Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy. I’d been following the tide of interest in the soma with my own explorations of bodywork and movement over the last 15 years. All the classic somatic books lined up on my shelves; The Body Keeps the Score, When The Body Says No, The Body Remembers. Then I started this incredibly deep dive with IBMT and my appetite (and bookshelf) just grew, and grew, and grew! I discovered the work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen (and was lucky to attend a couple of her seasonal series of teachings). I gobbled up Linda Hartley’s books on body wisdom and somatic psychotherapy. I discovered new thinkers and writers on the deep mystery and mechanics of human form. I embraced learnings on human gestation, birth, anatomy, and the development of movement as a framework for the manifestation of our will in the world.

IBMT logo of a cell "Institute for Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy." Ten people stand in a gym hall in a circle with their arms outstretched to each other in preparation for an Authentic Movement session.
Authentic movement circle with IBMT

I ended up completing the full training over 3 years and am now completing my case study hours, working slowly towards Registered Somatic Movement Therapist. My second year essay was on somatic approches to ASC1. I am deeply touched by how being in movement, accompanied by a compassionate witness, can allow expression of deep personal truths and traumas, and bring potential for choice and repatterning. It has worked magic for me and my peers, who have become friends for life. I’ve managed to weave these teachings into my work. I see huge applications for neurodivergent folk, but I want to take things responsibly and carefully. This is why I opted for a longer training that leads to registration. Too many have-a-go heroes out there – and we can celebrate that, too – but I owe it to the people I want to serve to get this right. And so, it takes time, and care.

Anything else?

Well… yes! I’ve learned a great deal about loving and being loved (such a privilege and responsibility), relationships, neurology, nutrition. I’m reading Internal Family Systems theory. I’ve become a peer trainer with the NHS and bring somatic learnings to the management of anxiety, depression, and PTSD. I’ve gone back to the piano and am almost back to playing as well as I could when a teenager. Markmaking has formed part of my course, which has given me a new love of pastels and painting. I’ve watched my two amazing kids grow into a teenager and adult, so able to express their feelings, ask for help, and advocate for themselves. I’ve embraced open water swimming and last summer I co-facilitated 30 folk for their first try in the water to support their mental health. Being in wetsuit and swimming boots makes me feel invincible!

Scene of a picnic blanket on a flat sandy bleach on a sunny day. The sea is calm in the background. In the foreground is a book called "wisdom of the body moving" with a stone on top to stop the pages blowing in the wind.
Reading after a swim!

I’ve also often been overwhelmed, and desperate. Autistic people don’t enjoy change or ambiguity, and the world has served up hefty doses each day. Being so god damned interested in the world, quick to take in information but slow to integrate it, means I often get saturated. The pores of my sponge-system get logged, blocked, and heavy, and since I didn’t come equipped with a “tank full” cutoff or an overflow valve, I often need some time to integrate. It happens to us all, but when you’re autistic it can be stealthier and faster. I love that I know this about myself, and see it (mostly!) as a difference that needs adjustment, and planning, and care. Gratitude for our collecting learning (and unlearning) abounds. It’s such an interesting time to be alive.

So, there we have it. I managed to blog before 3 years was up! I’d love to hear how you are, what you’re up to. Drop me a line.

Warm wishes – Em

One thought on “Back in the water”

  1. Great to see Paper Lifeboat again. I used to love reading your emails before Em.

    Love your energy and your honesty in all you do and your inner strength in dealing with change (something that I have never been good at!) I am not going to make out I understand what you are talking about with your studies but I do know that I have a great deal of respect and admiration for you as a person and friend.

    As you know I really enjoy being in the sea. It’s there I can completely let go of everything that I find overwhelming and I find inner peace and calm. Once in I just don’t want to get out.

    Hopefully one day very soon we will go on that dip together Em.

    Best wishes to you all

    Julie xxx


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