Thoughts on neurodivergent people and physical health

When I went to school physical education was my least favourite subject. I think I have dyspraxia so was considered clumsy. My cousin had a nickname for me which was ‘unco’ (for uncoordinated). I was always picked last for sports teams and my PE teacher gave me such unhelpful advice as ‘don’t throw like a girl!’. Because of this I associated physical activity with misery and as soon as I no longer had to do any PE subjects I stopped doing any organised physical activity at all.

Weight was never a problem for me as a kid. I could eat lollies and chocolate as much as I liked and didn’t put on a pound. If anything I was underweight. When I was 21 I had a big issue with illicit drugs and found myself weighing 45kg! My bum was so small it hurt to sit on a couch. I had no boobs at all – which I actually liked as I am transgender and would prefer not to have boobs! I have a belt that I wore then and it doesn’t even go half way around me now! It is hard to believe I was so tiny. However being thin doesn’t always equate to being healthy and I was definitely not healthy – mentally or physically. 

I got unwell with schizophrenia at around that time and was self destructive and very troubled. I started taking anti-psychotic medication which caused major weight gain. People would look at me like I had intentionally let myself go and judge me but the reason I was overweight was actually because I was looking after my health rather than the opposite! People would be very judgmental about my weight.

I got put on a new medication in 2014 and it contributed to more weight gain. I was also quite depressed and was comfort eating, which didn’t help. My weight got as high as it ever had. I got tired just walking down the street and carrying shopping was so challenging that I started ordering my groceries online. I resigned myself to being overweight and in poor physical health for the rest of my life. I worried that I would die young as a result and felt like I couldn’t do anything to address that.

What saved me was underwear. I accidentally bought some undies which were a size too small. Because you can’t take undies back I tried them on and was amazed that they fitted. I realised that I actually could lose weight. I went to the doctor and got a referral to see a dietitian. In the past I had gone to the gym and absolutely hated it. It was anxiety-provoking being around earnest, exercising people and having to change in front of others. I really didn’t want to go back to the gym but I was willing to change my diet. 

The dietitian was really helpful. She set me up with an app for my phone which counted calories and gave me advice on what sorts of things I should eat. The first week was stressful with me constantly feeling hungry but a Yennski is not a Yennski without resolve and determination so I forced myself to change my eating habits. I lost weight steadily over the months and years. In just over two years I have lost 40kg – almost a third of Yennski at my heaviest weight! I am on a new anti-psychotic medication which has a reputation for being the worst culprit for weight gain of any of the mental health medications but that has thankfully not been my experience of it. 

Someone on my Facebook criticised me for posting about my weight loss and said weight is not a clear indicator of health and you can be overweight and healthy. While I agree with that I also know that for me I feel much healthier at a lighter weight and more energetic. Also there is a lot of research saying weight loss is generally a good thing for your physical health.  

I do some physical activity – mostly walking to the bus because I don’t drive. I could probably do more physical activity so that is something to work on. It is difficult for people who have bad experiences of poor treatment in sport classes at school. I think we need to change how we teach physical activity to kids. This change should start with banning the practice of getting kids to pick members of teams. It baffles me that this practice still happens in 2021! I think competitive team sports are not for everyone and almost always not for autistic kids. This is sad because it means we associate sport and physical activity for unpleasantness rather than enjoyment. I think alternatives to competitive team sports can be really good –  martial arts can be enjoyable as can individual activities. I wish I had a positive experience of physical activity as a kid as I think it would have made me more likely to be active as an adult. 

Diet can be a challenge for autistic kids. I think we need to remember – when thinking about kids with a limited diet – that some cultures (such as Inuit peoples) have a limited diet and they do OK. While it is probably preferable for people to eat a variety of foods it isn’t the end of the world if they don’t.

It is essential to support both physical and mental health and for us neurodivergent folks it is absolutely critical. There is a clear connection between physical and mental health so let’s hope we can promote physical health for neurodivergent people in a way which includes and engages us.

One thought on “Thoughts on neurodivergent people and physical health

  1. I can relate to so much of your story, and was told the same thing in sports. I remember feeling annoyed when I had asthma as a 12 year old and the doctor pushed me to exercise. I was also skinny-shamed by my mother.

    Like

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