Be Mindful of your Thoughts…

Well, good evening, Internet. Seems like a while since I last posted – yes, I know it was only last week, but having a lot on your plate will do that to you. Also, the aim was to put this up last night, and then I felt so ill I couldn’t see straight, so I went to bed and stayed there. I still feel kinda rough, but at least the word isn’t one massive blur any more.

With this in mind (ha!), we had a talk on Mindfulness earlier in the week, which left me a little baffled and a little more intrigued.

I should add here, I am not pretending to be a fully-fledged Mindfulness practitioner, only an interested party, but a bit of background for those of you unfamiliar – Mindfulness is a form of therapy which enables the client to ‘live in the moment.’ It grounds, and centres, and basically gives a person more control over their emotions and actions. It’s been shown to be useful in anger management, stress, anxiety and chronic pain.


The confusing thing about it, in my view, is that it’s essentially meditation, and it uses meditation extensively, but it doesn’t call itself meditation – don’t ask me why. But there are quite a few different types of ‘practice’ that don’t necessarily involve sitting down quietly, like breathing space and mindful movement and yoga. Our lecturer made us do a short BodyScan, which is essentially sitting or lying still with your eyes closed and mentally moving up your body, becoming aware of the sensations in every part of it. It’s a weird experience (not least because I’ve worked out I’m almost totally dissociated from most of my left side – creeeeeepy), but it’s also a hell of a lot more focused than most of the other meditation methods I’ve tried. ‘Clear your mind and relax’ isn’t really my MO – it’s like ‘Lie back and think of England’ (what for, arsehole, I’ve lived there most of my life). Which is the point of Mindful Meditation, in the end – you don’t try and clear your mind. Your thoughts enter your head, they stay there, and you accept them. You exist somewhere between ‘being’ and ‘doing.’


“Yeah, alright then,” I said at the time. But I thought it was kind of cool, and it’s a really good way of bringing myself in when I feel like I’m flying in a hundred different directions at once. So, I thought to get my head around it, I’d get Rafferty to give me a hand with what Kabat-Zinn (the founder of Mindfulness) calls ‘The Seven Attitudinal Foundations of Mindfulness Practice.’ I think these are the closest things Mindfulness has to a ‘How To’ manual, and (no offense meant) they make a lot more sense than a lot of meditation books do.

I feel like I should have dressed him up as a Jedi for this, it’s very ‘Feel the Force, Luke,’ but I didn’t have any brown wool, so Rafferty is his usual self.

(Next time, b*tches…)


Non Judging essentially means not hating the thoughts going through your head, or not being hard on yourself for having them. You’re worried about your presentation, even though you’ve done it a hundred times before? Okay, that’s fine. Not speaking for anyone else, but when I have bad thoughts sometimes, I still hate myself for having them, because rationally I know they’re wrong. The non-judgemental attitude is designed to train you to accept those thoughts as ‘okay.’


Trust is the one I have the most conflicts about. The thing about Trust is it’s supposed to mean trusting yourself and your own thoughts and feelings as real and valid. It sounds a lot like instincts and ‘going with the flow’ – something that psychology, unfortunately, likes to train out of us. It’s probably the one bit of beef I have with my own field – we never go off gut instinct. In fact it was one of the first things my A-Level tutor taught us. Thing is, we have instincts and feelings for a reason; we shouldn’t just ignore them because they don’t have any any scientific basis. So, search your feelings, my young padawan…

(I’m a nerd, shuddup)


This is not the point I start singing, never fear. This essentially means letting things be as they are. The whole idea of Mindfulness is to live in the moment, and this is perhaps the best tool for doing this. It’s also, from personal experience, probably the heardest, which leads nicely into the next one…


Be patient with yourself. I think this applies to a lot of areas in life. Mindfulness practice doesn’t come overnight, but neither does anything. Accept the frustration and just keep going.


Why they call this ‘Beginner’s Mind,’ I don’t know…but essentially, this means not taking the ordinary stuff for granted. I think of it as retaining a childlike sense of wonder. Part of living in the moment is finding the beauty in it. I’ll admit, I found a bit of that in the walk I took while taking these pictures. We certainly caught the best of the weather.


I think this is the root of the whole practice. If anyone’s ever come across something called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), it’s kind of the same principle: to change your behaviour, you must accept it in the first place. So, in the same vein as ‘non-judging,’ accept thoughts and feelings for what they are. Almost like the exposure therapies you get in some practices of CBT, one gets used to feeling things like anxiety and thus gets better at processing them.


I think Rafferty was a bit tired after schlepping up hill and down dale, posing for however many shots! Non-striving means almost what it says on the tin – letting things happen in their own time and not worrying about ‘not being where I should be.’ That said, it sounds like a good excuse for procrastination – do not use it as such, this is not what it says on the tin.

If anyone’s interested, these were the people giving the talk, and they have some free Mindfulness practices recorded. My personal favourites are the three-minute breathing spaces and some of the movement practices because I tend to get restless when I sit still for long periods of time.

Anyway, Rafferty and I are going to sit down for a nice cup of tea and some dissertation planning. Stay awesome, everyone!


Meditating person

All pictures of Rafferty are mine, ask if you want to reuse them 🙂



Now trending – #ignorance



Last week, I quoted an old opinion article from the Evening Standard, talking about how we need to stop giving kids diagnoses like dyslexia and dyspraxia, and dyscalculia and the like, blaming the failings of the education system and the willingness of teachers to believe these children have ‘brain diseases’ rather than bucking up their act and teaching them maths. You may also recall I got a Bit P*ssed Off about this.

It seems to be a trend.

Fessing up to my own ignorance first; until I did a Google search for autism a while back (for something else), I did not realise that there are people out there who do not believe the condition exists. I was moderately horrified (though I suppose, in the end, not really surprised) to find that this was the case across the board for learning disorders, and mental illnesses in general. Like this article from the Telegraph quoting a group of academics who want to drop the diagnosis of dyslexia because they fell there are no unifying characteristics for it. (To which my slightly incredulous response was, ‘Have you never heard of an umbrella term?). I had a fight with my flatmate’s boyfriend last week when he came out with the phrase ‘People with depression should just grow a backbone.’ (He apologised afterwards, but only after being shouted at for five minutes straight). This afternoon I was chatting to a bloke with an autism spectrum disorder, who apparently was made to attend a “special needs school” because nobody ever thought he’d amount to anything. Can’t vouch for its veracity, but all together it got me thinking about how we find out about learning disabilities and mental health.  I’ll tell you something – at school, when I was growing up in the 90’s/early 00’s, we were taught zip until A-Level, and then only because I took psychology.


We all ought to know about the whole ‘autism is caused by the MMR jab‘ debacle that went down in the early 90s. Essentially some idiot published a paper of (completely fabricated) data that established a ‘causal link’ between MMR and autism, and anyone who’s ever done scientific research will know that concrete causal links are something of a holy grail, especially in psychology. This particular link was, of course, pure bullshit: yet is still extensively quoted by the anti-vax movement even today – America’s very own President Fart included. Because obviously, your child dying of measles is preferable to them having autism :/sarcasm/. What really gets to me is the wilful lack of education that these people seem to display. It’s not like we’re blinding them to the benefits of vaccination: we’re giving them reams of information on why it’s good for them, and the health of the population as a whole. We’re practically shoving it in their faces. Are they listening? Big Fat Nope.

(I should add, my mother and father were some of the ones that listened; autistic or otherwise, I was vaccine-ed up to the gills. Five-year-old me was not impressed).

It’s the same, I think, with mental health disorders. It’s gotten better, there is no doubt about that at all, but the second (and I mean the second) someone who has a mental disorder gets a gun and shoots someone/gets shot by the cops, everyone with a mental disorder immediately feels the fallout. Sometimes I feel like no matter how much we try to teach people about these disorders, and how to manage and care for people, and treat people with these disorders, it falls completely on deaf ears – or that all ears turn conveniently deaf whenever someone with a mental disorder commits a crime. And when you have people who are supposed to be professionals coming out and saying that disorders such as anxiety and depression are nothing more than myths…it’s enough to make anyone despair.


It’s evident through history as well. One of the prevalent theories of autism through the 50s and 60s was that of the ‘refrigerator mother’ – the idea that autistic children are the way they are because their mothers are emotionally distant. This has thankfully been disproved a thousand times over, but the idea remains – as shown in this 2012 article arguing that children with autism are simply deprived of love. This, as we all know, is bullshit. I and people like me, react differently to the world; this does not mean we are neither capable nor deserving of love.

Thing is, as I said before, I never really expected to find the same case with dyspraxia as well – I guess because I grew up with a name for my difference, I simply took it for granted. Not to mention I study psychology, which probably colours my view somewhat. But then you get stuff like that Evening Standard article, and this book (the blurb actually makes me feel a bit ill). You note they both call learning difficulties ‘diseases’ as opposed to ‘disorders.’ Shoot me down if you will, but I think calling them diseases is a complete misnomer, and not for the reasons you might think. Yes, disease has a different stigma to it, but the word also implies that there is a ‘cure.’ And there isn’t. There is no cure for what I have, there is no cure for what my friends have, and in trying to cure us of autism, or ADHD, or dyspraxia, you’re more likely to destroy us. It’s like thinking you can cure someone of being gay, something else that makes me feel ill – the curing attempts, not the gay.


And who suffers for this ignorance? The academics in their ivory towers, the titled professionals and the opinionated parents? No – it’s us. The labelled ones. Parents will scour blog-sites and newspapers for confirmation that this scary thing their child has is curable, and meanwhile I feel like nobody wants to understand why I am the way I am. Until my diagnosis, I’d never heard of dyspraxia. Nobody ever talks about this stuff, and it’s a crying shame. Because until we do, this culture of ignorance and fear of the unknown, or the different, or the extraordinary, is only going to grow, and prevail and I do not want to know where it may lead us.

So can we get the #ignorance trend out of society, please?

Stay awesome, everyone.





Guess Who’s Back?


My God, what a week! First, I am so sorry there was no update last week – my Wifi decided to kill itself, and it didn’t come back until halfway through the weekend. It chose the worst time to do it, I have so many assignments to get in. Combine that with the lack of motivation I was experiencing a couple of weeks back, and academically I’m in the shit. I’m getting no sleep this weekend, I can feel it in my bones.

So, I’m a week late, and I feel like crap about that, but hey ho. On with the content.


What I was going to put up last week was based on this wonderful article that was posted in the Guardian back in October 2012, and cropped up on my Facebook newsfeed the other week courtesy of a friend of mine. You don’t see dyspraxia in the news a lot, and I always love it when you do.

Anyway, the author of the article is about living with a slightly worse case of dyspraxia than I have, but much of it rings very true across the board, particularly the part about maths and statistics. Numbers give me a headache; trying to manipulate them is even worse. I feel like I could have passed the statistics portion of my dissertation if I’d had someone looking over my shoulder and telling me what I was looking at, maybe I’d have done it right. The author makes a very important point about verbal IQ and non-verbal IQ – while her verbal comprehension is extremely high, parts of her non-verbal are ‘subnormal.’ It was the same case with me – when I was assessed, I had a verbal comprehension score of something like 99.98, but couldn’t recite a string of six numbers backwards. This isn’t uncommon – maths troubles can be found in many developmental disorders. Dyscalculia is perhaps the most obvious is terms of mathematical disability, but across dyspraxia and dyslexia as well, troubles will be found. I recall trying to perform a task in which I had to arrange cubes with different sides into the pattern shown on the sheet in front of me. I got through 3 or 4  in the time allowed. I think the average is about 9 or 10.


The other important point I think the article makes is the one about hearing people and remembering clearly what they’ve said. A person can say words to me, in plain, slow, clear English, and my brain will just say ‘What?’ I call it a lack of processing power. I can  multitask, but only on a good day; lecture slides for me are a godsend because it summarises what my lecturers are saying if I can’t make it make sense in my head. Now, I know what you’re thinking – “If her verbal IQ is so high, what’s with the lack of comprehension?” The answer is; I have no idea, and neither, it seems does science.

And that’s the sad part, I think. Dyspraxia’s called the condition that too many people shy away from, and it’s largely ignored in favour of the more noticeable, better understood and more easily diagnosed dyslexia, or autism, or ADHD, or dyscalculia. One article I came across while researching this was this one from The London Evening Standard in 2004 which genuinely pissed me off. For one, dypraxia isn’t overdiagnosed, it’s underdiagnosed if you ask me. Yes, diagnosis wasn’t always as sensitive as it is today, and diagnostic systems have changed and improved vastly over the years since this article was written, but that isn’t the point. If you don’t diagnose something at all, there is no getting help for those who can’t afford it privately (as these people obviously can). For another thing, it’s not another ‘excuse for academic underacheivement.’ I think the phrase that pissed me off the most was ‘brain defect.’ Bollocks. If I have a brain defect, it’s one that I love; it’s one that allows me to see the world in a poetry that nobody else does. And if I – an MSc student at one of the best universities in the country – am an academic underachiever, I would love to see your definition of an over-achiever!


Yeah, I got annoyed.


I have said it before and I will say again, and I will keep on saying it until I am blue in the face; the only way to get around this silence is to break it. I find it so interesting that the posts I make tagged as ‘autism’ get exponentially more views and likes than those tagged simply ‘dyspraxia.’ One disorder is not more important than the other, of course not, but ignoring something doesn’t make it go away.

Like my dissertation proposal. Though I wish it did – this weekend’s going to be tough. Think of me while you relax?

And, as always, stay awesome.