Leave My Diagnosis Alone

I mean here’s the thing about the proposed reduction of autism diagnoses; it’s bullshit. Here’s the other thing; they’ve already done it.

Okay, allow me to explain; the UK NHS rolled out an idea the other week to reduce the number of autism diagnoses to only the most severe cases, which I only didn’t mention last week because I’m also grappling with one of my not-as-infrequent-as-I-would-like low mood episodes, brought on mostly by stuff outside my control. They’re citing stuff like ‘waiting times for diagnosis’ and ‘allocation of resources’ but the point is, it’s quite severely damaging for people like me and my peers who barely make the cut as it is, and have to fight for every additional resource we need because we have all the effects, but on paper we don’t qualify.

The problem I have, in all the outcry over this, is, in a lot of ways, it’s already happened.

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Allow me to explain further; clinically speaking (and drawing heavily on my lectures here), autistic spectrum disorders are split into four syndromes:

These are diagnosed by the DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistics Manual, published by the APA and is used worldwide for the diagnosis of psychiatric and developmental disorders. It’s also the research criteria used by academics and researchers, but that’s beside the point.

The most recent DSM – DSM-5, the fifth edition released in 2013 – made several revisions to autism and autism diagnoses; namely, the removal of Aspergers and PDD NOS to be replaced by the umbrella term of ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder.’ They’ve also tightened the criteria, in the name of making diagnostics fairer and more valid. What they don’t realise, as the ARI article points out, and that the NAS point out in the BBC article, is that this runs the risk of us ‘high functioning’ lot getting left out in the cold. Just because we have higher IQ’s and are better able to learn how to socially function, doesn’t mean we don’t need resources; extra tuition, more time in exams, specialist equipment. It’s tough enough getting that help, and without that all important piece of paper telling the Powers That Be that we are entitled to them, we’re not getting squat.

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Under the rules, I have never qualified for an official diagnosis of Asperger’s, despite showing all the classic traits, and it was like a kick in the gut when my lecturer, quite calmly, explained that a part of my identity no longer existed, consumed by an umbrella term that doesn’t necessarily describe me the same way as ‘dyspraxic Aspie’ does. What might happen within the NHS is far, far more drastic a shift and if that happens, hundreds of thousands of people like me face the same kick, but from the system that’s supposed to care for them, not throw them away. I love the NHS, but sometimes it can be a bit bloody stupid.

I’ve lived with this ‘borderline’ thing for 23 years, and I’m used to it. There are people out there who have never been diagnosed, and now, under these DSM-5 revisions, might never be. And under the new NHS plans, still more people could lose out. That cannot and should not happen.

Hopefully it doesn’t happen – the NHS plans are only plans right now – but the things rolling around in the news these days, like dementia taxes and the US President pulling out of the Paris Agreement (aka. the biggest and most comprehensive climate change deal ever), I’ve rather lost faith in the abilities of the people leading us to make sound choices. Hopefully all that changes in the next couple of weeks, but we’ll see.

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Anyway, I should put that out of my mind for a while. It’s my birthday this weekend, and I’m attempting to organise a party. This could either go splendidly or down like a lead balloon. Low mood brought on by consistent, niggling pokes the universe seems intent on giving me right now is not doing wonders for my state of mind.

Oh well, I’ll crank it out. I usually do.

Stay awesome, everyone.

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Snowflakes

The Abstract and the Concrete

Evening, Internet!

So what’s up this week? Well, I’m wrapping my head around prism therapy, getting my Irish on for Varsity, and trying to stop my dissertation from crumbling around my ears. I am also highly aware that the structure for this whole blog has gone a little out of the window. Bear with, I’m doing my best.

I’m also trying to get my head around philosophy, which is no mean feat. Fun fact about me – I don’t do abstract. Like, at all. And translating the abstract into the concrete is even worse. I remember having a huge row with my mum over the right approach to the theoretical foundations to clinical case formulation because I simply could not comprehend what she was on about.  And now I’ve decided to write an essay about epistemology (also known as the theory of knowledge) in qualitative research, and I’m wondering if I’ve officially lost it for good.

Though occasionally I manage to surprise even myself, ’cause I wound up with a merit for the formulation essay. Who’da thunk it?

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It’s a bit like a lot of academic stuff, I think – a little bit harder for me, because my brain simply doesn’t urn that way. Most of the time, though, trying to grasp philosophy is more like  putting diesel in a petrol engine – *cough cough* and it’s dead. And I genuinely not sure why. Way back in undergrad, I just kind of accepted it (and took Dutch instead of a philosophy module because f*ck you). Can’t get away from it now, though. I deal in the concrete, the stuff I can measure, and analyse and then apply to previous knowledge, never mind the theory.

It might be a global picture thing. It’s a fairly well known facet of autism that we focus on the details first and the big picture second. Or maybe it’s just the fact I think along ‘tramlines’ according to my mum, which I think is a bit unfair, but not untrue. Anyway the long and short of it is, I might have screwed myself over with this one. Oh well. Just make it sound good, mm?

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On the other side, my organisational, people/social and general ‘cool’ are in the process of being pushed to the limits by my dissertation project. It’s just me – big contrast to last time. Which is simultaneously better and worse, I think. Yes, it’s more stressful, but ultimately, my really independent and narcissistic side would far rather be solely in charge. And here’s where I think the dyspraxia kicks in again – or rather, my coping mechanisms do. I have my own way of organising and my own ways of doing things (also known as three calendars, a spreadsheet and a decent mobile data connection). I don’t know why, but letting someone else into that tightly-run ship just puts my back up. It was a big problem back in undergrad – my partner had all the ideas and I felt like I was being swept along for the ride, and I had no idea at all what I was doing. It’s all so different now. I don’t know what happened in the two years between undergrad and postgrad, but I grew a backbone, that’s for damn sure.

Not helped by the tech that record the data screwing me around royally the other day and not actually recording anything, so I now have virtually nothing to work with. Joy of all joys.  And I have to deal with people. Wow. It’s so awkward. But I do have a script. A literal script.

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Anyway, as I said, dear audience, please bear with me while I sort out the whirlwind that is currently my life. I want to expend a bit more on small details vs big picture vision, and I’ll keep you updated on the dissertation research (without going into too much detail, obviously). It’s just all a bit much to juggle.

Have a good week, and stay awesome

Now trending – #ignorance

Hola!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Glasses

Needle

Newspapers

Paltering Along…

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Salut! Another week gone and another one still to come. It’s back to all systems go in the Land of Uni next week, but right now it’s really quiet, with everyone still waiting for term to restart. And in the gap, I find myself, in the manner of all great TV shows, with a filler episode.

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One of the things I’ve always been very bad at is lying. Not because I’m a bad actress, but because lying to me feels nasty and unnecessary. And for want of other things to talk about, there was an article that cropped up on the BPS research digest this week which was interesting – how misleading someone with the truth can do you more harm than good.

I’ll be honest (ha!), at first I looked at it and went, ‘Is that even a thing?’  But no, apparently it is a thing – paltering, which is telling a truth to mislead someone. The example given from the original study was attempting to sell a car that occasionally wouldn’t start to someone, without telling them that it occasionally wouldn’t start; “The car mostly runs very smoothly.” According to the researchers, misleading someone in this way – telling a truth but lying overall – may feel better in the short term, but costs more in terms in trust and in future associations in the long term as it’s viewed as unethical.

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From my own personal standpoint, that makes perfect sense. I’m quite an honest person, occasionally to the point of painful bluntness. This has cost me some friendship points in the past. Yes, it’s an autism thing, we’re really bad liars as standard, but I was also raised that way. I still got in trouble for breaking stuff but if I was honest about it, all I got was a ticking off rather than a lamping. But in return, I’d far rather the other person was completely honest with me. The truth can hurt, but it’s far easier to deal with than suddenly changing your whole viewpoint of a person or situation after finding out they’ve outright lied to you to spare your feelings. That hurts more than pure honesty.

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I guess because I could never quite conceive of someone lying to me, I can never tell if they are, even to this day. And yeah, I’d lie to my parents to get myself out of trouble (not that it ever worked), but apart from that I was always on the side of truth. And they were always fairly truthful with me, like when our cat got cancer or ‘they’re not monkeys, they’re Orang-utans.’ So the concept of using the truth to mislead at first was a total mystery to me – but think of any ad campaign you’ve ever seen. I always find myself wondering, ‘Well, what’s the catch?’ which, I suppose, is the one question they don’t want you to ask. There’s always a catch, that they gloss over with something like paltering. When I realised people did things like that was the point I started to become jaded. Fortunately I’m not so jaded that I can’t see the good in humanity any more – but nevertheless, consciously comprehending a concept that comes more naturally to neurotypical kids I think had more of an impact on me.

In any case; lying costs – financially, emotionally, and if you don’t tell your mum, sometimes physically as well. Lesson over.

I’ll try and think of something a bit more fleshed out next week. Dissertation proposal coming up, as well as a few more assignments, so everything’s gearing up to go ape again. Though not orang-utan. I think they’re quite happy where they are.

Stay Awesome!

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Original BPS post

PsychNet article

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Words Are All We Have

I HAVE INTERNET AGAIN, and it feels good. Hopefully everyone had a fabulous Christmas and is looking forward to an awesome New Year. We spent it very quietly at Dad’s, and surprisingly for us, had all the leftovers done with within two days, which has got to be some kind of record. Mum, unfortunately, is still making turkey pie,among other things – I am not complaining about this.

Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games – we heard the devastating news on Tuesday that the amazing Carrie Fisher had passed away following a heart attack on Christmas Eve. Not only a wonderful actress and an all-around amazing woman, Carrie was also a big favourite of mine because she never kept her mental illness quiet, and her service dog Gary was a feature at many of her public appearances. I recall – I think it might have been my Mum – well, someone I knew once, talking about Star Wars and how much I loved Princess Leia, and that other person just turning around and saying, ‘Well, you know Carrie Fisher’s a drug addict, don’t you?’ As if that negated every single one of her achievements. As if that was the sum of her life’s work. She lived all her life with bipolar disorder and everything that entailed, and she not only survived, but thrived. She wrote some incredibly funny, incredibly honest memoirs, she starred in one of the biggest blockbusters on the twentieth century, and don’t even get me started on her interview comments prior to ‘The Force Awakens.’ She was human. We’re all human. We all have our weaknesses. Let’s remember her as a woman who did not survive her mental illness – she lived with it, and my God, did she live.

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Carrie herself wrote a brilliant column for the Guardian, and in November she wrote one about living with bipolar disorder. She absolutely says it better than I ever could. The column can be found here.

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In other news, in my internet travels I came across another article – this time in the Telegraph – talking about a 2008 interview with Daniel Radcliffe (of eponymous Harry Potter fame) in which he discusses living with dyspraxia. I’ll admit to being quite surprised – I like Harry Potter but I’m not a rabid fan and the eighth film pretty much wrecked the entire franchise for me (Fantastic Beasts notwithstanding), so I don’t follow it that closely.  Also because dyspraxia is not usually a condition which makes the news – or anything else for that matter. More recently, Cara Delvingne of Suicide Squad and Paper Towns gave an interview in Vogue in June 2015 in which she talks about having depression and dyspraxia and being bisexual – a cocktail of conditions very close to my own experience. And it needs to happen more. I notice that, when I talk about my dyspraxia and my experience with it, barely anyone bats an eyelid – but the second I bring my autism into the mix, everybody wants to know.

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Regarding Daniel Radcliffe, his statement about living with dyspraxia was responded to by the Dyspraxia Foundation USA. It has its own page. Yet the corresponding foundation in the UK made almost no mention of it, and regrettably they don’t keep archives as far as I can tell.  I don’t believe that one condition is any more important than another, and autism is sometimes the more obvious of the two – nevertheless, learning that you have something wrong with you, no matter what that ‘wrong’ may be, is a very scary moment. You’re being suddenly thrown into this scary void that not everyone really understands, and the more people that come out and talk about these problems, the better. I have to sit down and explain what dyspraxia is every time it comes up, and it does get rather wearing. I have to explain to prospective employers when I go in for interviews, that I’m not being rude or nervous, I genuinely don’t like to make eye contact – and only about 50% of them are sympathetic to this.

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Carrie Fisher was spoken of as being incredibly brave in talking about her mental illness. I’m not sure brave is the right word. Gutsy, yes. But also absolutely the right thing to do. We need to talk about these things, and to coin a feminist shout that echoes through the inter-web at various points, “Representation Matters!” Be that on the big screen, small screen, or real-life celebrities talking about what makes them human – their flaws and foibles. They make all of us human, as much as we’d like to ignore it.

Talk. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

Stay awesome everybody.

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Picture Credits:

Carrie Fisher

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Cara Delevingne

 

 

Christmas Crackers

First off, I’m a bit annoyed with myself. This was supposed to be going up earlier in the week. Regrettably, I then went to my Dad’s, who turned out to have no internet. Oh well, it’s forcing me out of room and into being social, which I guess is the point of having a family Christmas.

For a long time, Christmas has been a bit of a weird time for me. Up until the age of about 16, it was me, my Mum, and my Dad in a mildly stressful but ultimately happy dynamic. That fell to pieces at 17, and at 18 I outright refused to come home. Ever since, Christmas has been a mixture of the weird and the wonderful. More weird than wonderful, to be honest.

See, now my Dad has a whole new family (and cat). Josh is still in the picture, obviously, and my sort-of-stepmother has a mother, and three kids of her own, two of whom have long-term partners. Christmas Day rocketed from three people to about nine in the space of a very short time. New house, new town, new people, new baby this year…for an awkward dyspraxic-autistic kid it was like being thrown into the seventh circle of Hell. All my little Christmas traditions went completely out of the window, along with my comfort zone. Which incidentaly, I’ve never found since.

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I’ll be honest, I spent the first year of it all drinking steadily. I think I drank about half a bottle of Amaretto, plus some bubbly with dinner. Worked for me, since Amaretto I can drink pretty well without being too ill. My boyfriend and I, however, agreed that it wasn’t a very healthy comping strategy and I abstained last year. Big mistake. Massive anxiety attack slap-bang in the middle of dinner.

If there’s one day you don;t want to be having an anxiety attack, it’s Christmas, made worse when Dad wanted some help and then got pissed when I couldn’t give it to him and accused me of throwing a tantrum just to be awkward. Anyone who knows me knows I grew out of that phase aged about 15. Would he or my stepmum listen to me? Absolutely not. And ever year since, something about Christmas has devolved into some kind of massive argument. Needless to say, I’m not looking forward to it this year.

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Well, that’s a lie. I still love the spirit of Christmas; the pretty lights, the good food, and the crap telly. The one time of the year the family really comes together in the season of forgiveness n’ all that. Thing is, I feel more and more like a guest in my own family a lot of the time these days. Mum’s got her lot, Dad’s got his lot, and I’m left somewhere in the middle, drifting from one to the other as time and money allow. I’d stop; but Josh IS my Christmas tradition now. I’m not sure I could ever really stop seeing him, even if the rest of the visit is awkward as hell. My Dad’s partner’s family are lovely people, but occasionally I’m not convinced of how much they understand about a condition like mine – nothing obviously wrong, just a different view of the world that they’re not necessarily expecting.

It harks back to a point made by by our old friend in this post here – If you misunderstand something, it’s Your Fault. It’s not the nicest feeling in the world, misunderstanding something and then being told off because you misinterpreted it. This applies to all the times of year, not just Christmas. And I’m not throwing a tantrum – I’m being overwhelmed. Anxiety attached to autism is not restricted to small children in supermarkets – it occurs in adults to, even adults who are borderline. Dyspraxia itself comes with its own dose of social awkwardness, and I find, especially with me, it’s often this that creates the anxiety; they aren’t mutually exclusive. You screw up in public, you aren’t sure why or how, and nobody will explain it to you.

So think about your family neuroatypical this Christmas. If they’re scared, or triggered, or down, try talking to them. We exist, we’re valid, and it’s not just up to us to make Christmas amazing for the whole family.

Stay awesome, and have a Merry Christmas/Happy Holiday, one and all. I’ll finish on a word from Tiny Tim (A Christmas Carol)

“Bless us, every one.”

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Picture credits:

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Driven to Distraction

Joy of joys, I passed my driving test on the third try last week. Considering some of the ridiculous driving you see out on the roads in this day and age, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’d be easier.

I do get asked, occasionally, “So, if you’ve got dyspraxia, how can you drive?” Same way everyone else does, mate; one foot on the gas, two eyes on the road. Oh, yeah, and a pair of these on my hands.

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There’s a very interesting book about the anatomical and cultural constructs of left and right – Right Hand Left Hand by Chris McManus. Left and right – working out which is which, anyway – are an issue for a lot of people. I’ll bet there’s a lot of times you’ve had to think twice about left and right. It’s a spatial thing.

Dyspraxia’s the same; it’s not just motor co-ordination, it’s spatial awareness as well. I can’t follow spoken instructions for the life of me, or give them out – I need a map. I navigate by landmarks, not left and right. The amount of times I hit the kerb trying to parallel park or do a turn in the road is outstanding.  An old instructor of mine seemed to think it was a given that I would know where my wheels were based on the angle of the steering wheel while I was learning how to reverse – erm, no. And even if I could, I’m more interested in not hitting that nice BMW than I am in working out where my wheels are pointing.

It’s also how I failed my first test; I though I had a good foot or so between the wall and the car – my examiner informed me afterwards, very succinctly, that it was only a few inches. Add the fact I missed a sign for a hairpin turn and took it at around 35 miles per hour, and you get a big fat fail.

(Second test wasn’t as exciting – just a car in a blind spot that I forgot to check. Irritating but ultimately boring. I call it ‘foiled by the invisible car’).

But the biggest struggle for me isn’t clutch control or steering, it’s having to work out left and right on the go. I require at lest a couple of seconds to remember which is which. I was pulling out of a car park on the day of my test; my instructor told me to turn left. I very calmly flipped the indicator to the right and then got confused when she said, “No, left.” It took me a full 10 seconds to work out I was going the wrong way. God help me if I ever try driving in Europe, or the US. I mean, driving on the left can be complicated enough, then flip the car around AND all the traffic signals and I think it would end very badly. Hence the L and R inked on my hands. It’s not cheating, it’s a safety net. I checked it at least three or four times on my test. Sometimes it’s not so bad and I don’t have to think as much. Then there are days like that.

This is not to say I’m not a good driver. I’m a very good driver, actually. I may be a bit shoddy on the clutch every now and again but I think ahead, I plan, I observe (most of the time, hehe). And I passed my test within a year of taking my first, so I must be doing something right. I’m looking forward to getting out there as a licensed driver with my own wheels, learning how to drive properly. But the L and R aren’t going away any time soon, I think. It’s a useful strategy – even more so now that I can drive without supervision.  There’s not always going to be someone in the passenger seat to tell me I’m turning the wrong way.

But still.

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On a different note, the mountains outside my window looked like an alien planet the other day.

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I really love wintertime in the countryside.

Stay awesome everybody.

 

NOTE: All pictures are for once mine, please don’t reproduce without permission =D

Happy Hallowe’en!

Yes, it’s that time of year again – every kid dresses up as either a zombie, a witch, or Batman and starts combing the streets for sweets. Their parents desperately try and get them to sleep afterwards. The shops begin filling with Christmas things. Fake cobwebs reign supreme and that spider on the table is (hopefully) plastic.

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All kidding aside though, I love Hallowe’en, despite it’s commercialisation. I love this time of year as well – everything turns a really nice, warm colour which is comforting despite the drop in temperature. I get to break out my scarf collection the sunlight turns everything buttery and lovely.

So some things about Hallowe’en you might not already know.

It’s not actually called Hallowe’en. The word Hallowe’en itself is a corruption of All Hallow’s Eve; which unsurprisingly occurs the day before All Hallows. This is a Christian holiday that takes place on November 1st and may also be known as All Saints Day. Traditionally the dead are honoured, graves are attended to and tidied, a special Mass is said.

All Hallow’s Eve itself was another of the Christian Church’s way of imposing their religion on the masses way back when in the Middle Ages. All Hallows replaced Samhain (pronounced So-wen), which is a pagan holiday about – guess what- honouring the dead. It’s a Greater Sabbat, and it’s the night when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest. A good time for divination and for honouring the ancestors that came before us.

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To bust a couple of myths that annoy me while I’m here;

  • Blacks cats were believed to be witch’s familiars (a demon in a benign form that aided the witch in her evil spells and midnight demonic rendezvous). Hence unlucky.
  • 13 is the perfect number for a witch’s coven – again, hence unlucky thirteen. For this reason I consider thirteen a lucky number. It’s amazing what a shift in perception can do.
  •  Sacrifices do not mean live sacrifices. Usually it’s flowers or food. We’re not complete psychopaths.

It’s simple, then, to see where the whole ghost/witch/skulls/general spooky theme comes from. No matter which belief system you ascribe to, this time of year is certainly the time of the dead, with rites of some form or another going on right across the world. Though why the spiders have to get involved I just don’t know. I hate spiders. Even the plastic ones.

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It’s not even so much about celebrating death. It’s about celebrating the cycle of things. Our ancestors may leave us, but they also leave their lessons, and if we listen to them, I don’t believe they’re ever truly gone. And honestly, death is a very natural part of life. It has it’s place in the cycle just the same as the Beltane fertility rites in May or the return of light into the world at Imbolc (Candlemas in mid- February).

So, yeah, I love this time of year. It’s a quiet time of year. I outgrew trick-or-treating a while ago. While I was an undergraduate it was a Hallowe’en Corp night out in Sheffield wearing as much fake blood as was tasteful (or not…). These days it’s brownies or traybake, my Samhain rites and bed. And wine. Makes me sound like an old woman (which I’m not, how dare you), but there are other ways to enjoy Hallowe’en. Pumpkin carving, baking, stressing over assignments (this year anyway).

And hey, any excuse for sweets.

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Be nice to black cats should one cross your path. They’re not unlucky, most of them are quite friendly. If you see one being hurt at this time of year, please do something about it!

Stay awesome, and Happy Hallowe’en!

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Pumpkin

Cat on Broomstick

Witch Hat

Skull

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Mental Health Top Tips – What’s Top and What’s Not

NEWSFLASH: Today (10/10/2016) is World Mental Health Day. I’m ashamed to say that Facebook had to inform me and it almost completely blew past me.

You may have noticed the mental health is very close to my heart. Today, 1 in 4 people in the UK have been diagnosed with some kind of mental health problem.  I personally have never been shy or retiring about the fact that I am one of those people. I have been through CBT, I feel far more in control of my low moments; but from personal experience, the truly bad days never really go away.

This is not the case for everyone. I know people who have been in therapy for years and it has done nothing for them. I know people who believe there is no help for them and therefore refuse to seek help altogether. Around a year ago I wrote an article regarding the crash of Germanwings flight 4U9525 and the stigma surrounding depression (to be found here), so I won’t return to those issues in as much detail here.

The other thing that cropped up on my Facebook was The World Mental Health Foundation (who sponsor World Mental Health Day) stating 10 Top Tips for looking after your mental health. These tips appear to be ubiquitous; most of them are listed in every single self help book, mental health leaflet, motivational poster and God knows what else that one can find in any relevant charity or GP office. However, this doesn’t mean they should be discounted.

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Because I can rattle for England and in the interests of keeping this post both readable and digestible, I’ll post five tonight and five tomorrow.So, let’s have a look at the first five:

  1. Talk about your feelings

The oldest one in the book, but nonetheless a goodie. Talking can be massively cathartic, and ‘guided talking’ (which is how I like to think of counselling) can lead you down mental pathways which are very illuminating.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. There is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ in mental health therapy – which is a good thing – but not everyone responds to them, not to mention that a significant proportion of people relapse following completion of treatment. Add this to the fact that most people don’t want to talk about their feelings. In spite of the advent of the internet,(where any idiot can post their opinion – case in point; me), we live in a very insular society.

Do not get me wrong: talking about your feelings is healthy, particularly in those feeling isolated and scared. It’s up to the individual, however, to decide whether, and indeed when, to talk and when to stay silent. You shouldn’t push someone into talking if they don’t want to; it helps nobody.

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      2. Keep Active

This is one I am a big fan of. I know not everyone is into fitness, but I love going for a run or a cycle if I’m feeling down or stressed. There is a literal stack of evidence that exercise improves mental health; it releases endorphins (the brain’s internal pleasure hormone) which promote general wellbeing, not to mention the physical health benefits. I could sit here spouting them all day (but I won’t, because that’s not why I’m here).

It’s not an alternative to therapy, mark you. At the height of my depression I was cycling and riding almost every day and I still felt like hell – in fact, it shut my background noise up so that I had more time to focus on the crappy thoughts – which arguably made it a lot worse. However, walks can help on a down day (or night, but if you’re going to go out walking at night, please be careful). Runs as well, if you are that way inclined. But for serious mental health issues, therapies (both pharmaceutical and psychological) are recommended. Exercise is not a cure-all.

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      3. Eat Well

I think this one is a little bit nebulous, to be honest. Laying aside the fact that people on special diets such as coeliacs or lactose-free are perfectly capable of living on these diets and being perfectly fancy-free, it’s a very under-researched area. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some merit – logically speaking, if eating the right diet is an aid to weight loss/gain, healthy skin, the improvement of general body functioning – why not improved brain function as well? An article written by Nutritionist Resource (here) links food consumption habits to conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease. As with all mental health issues, however, it is never this simple; for example, there is evidence to suggest that most psychological disorders have some kind of genetic component. Don’t panic – these gene variations are small and not particular heritable, but their presence alone is enough to complicate matters when it comes to predicting and managing mental health issues.

I think that eating the right diet is important anyway, but when it comes to staving off or preventing mental disorders, I think that there is too much going on in the brain to ascribe a major significance to this approach – yet. As for the future…who knows?

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      4. Drink Sensibly

The World Mental Health Foundation classes this particular tip under ‘Don’t drown your sorrows in alcohol.’ Not arguing with this at all. They’re right – alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant, no matter how crazy and alive it might make you feel when you’re out with your friends, dancing on the table with your shoes on your head or something equally odd (I maintain to this day, the video does not exist). Alcohol dependence is not a fantastic coping mechanism and adds a whole new dimension to treatment. Unfortunately, it does tend to co-occur with issues such as depression – keep a sharp eye.

I’d like to add a another dimension to this tip myself however – drink enough water. The average human needs up to 2.5 litres per day to maintain a good level of functionality (link and link). This is surprisingly hard to achieve (or maybe I’m just lazy), but it does make a difference – it aids digestion, brain function, cell function…it’s an all around good idea. Personally, I feel much better in the morning if I’ve drunk enough the day before, and like sh*t if I haven’t.

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      5. Keep in Touch

I would really like to class this under ‘talk about your feelings,’ but I feel this pertains more to having a social life than to talking to a professional or having good ol’ rant to your best friend. It’s also about maintaining good relationships, and being able to recognise if someone is toxic for your mental health. I’ve had to back away from friends sometimes for a good long while because they’re simply not good for my state of mind at a given point in time. There is nothing wrong with this. If they care, they should understand. If they don’t, they’re not worth your time.

Humans are inherently social animals; no matter how much of a misanthrope you might make yourself out to be, as a species we don’t react well to being alone. There have been studies which have shown that social isolation (real and perceived) activates the same region of the brain that processes physical pain; the cortex begins producing a painkiller. Being left out literally hurts. It therefore makes sense that keeping in touch with friends should help with mental health issues. It’s often not easy, however; on a bad day, the idea of being in the same room as someone else can be the worst thing in the world. It’s made worse if you live alone or with people who you don’t know terribly well (like a house-share or a student flat), or if you have to go into work when the last thing you want to do is be social. Having the support network certainly helps, but that same support network should understand if you need some alone time as well.

Okay, that’s it for this half. I hope that’s been at least partly interesting an informative, and I’ll see you tomorrow for the rest.

Stay awesome!

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Note; if anything discussed above has affected you, or you feel like you need to talk to someone, below are some links to sites which can take you further or give you more information. These will be specific to the UK (as I know most about this system) but there will be similar sites for people living in different countries and continents. Help is out there somewhere, promise. 

http://www.iapt.nhs.uk/about-iapt/

http://www.mind.org.uk/

Brain and heart picture source

 Yin-Yang picture source

 

 

 

Destroy The Stigma Around Mental Illness

Stigma: a strong feeling of disapproval that most people in a society have about something, especially when this is unfair

To Stigmatise: to treat someone or something unfairly by disapproving of him, her, or it

Definitions according to Cambridge Dictionaries Online (source link)

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Speaking as an almost-ex-depressive (as in, I’m three years out of therapy but the bad days never quite go away), stigmata and stereotypes around mental illness do exist, and I’m willing to bet they are one of the most popular reasons people will not seek help for the condition they have. It was certainly one of mine.

Speaking as a psychology grad, if it hits you, it hits you very idiosyncratically which, as with most mental illnesses, makes it hard to pinpoint. I’m not going to go into massive amounts of detail about what depression is; suffice it to say, it can hit anybody and whether or not you get it generally comes down an unlucky hand of cards – I ascribe to the idea that it’s a combination of family history and the way one reacts to the world.

By this time, many of you will have heard of the crash of Germanwings flight 4U9525 in the French Alps on March 24th, tragically killing everyone aboard. It’s since come out in investigations that the co-pilot sent the plane into its fatal descent deliberately. The latest report from the crash investigation states that the co-pilot had been suffering from depression for some years, and had ‘hid this from his employers.’

And with the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses, I almost don’t blame him.

There are careers that require you to be mental illness free for upwards of two years – mostly in high risk occupations such as careers in the Army and the police force. This is not the result of stigma – this is in the interests of personal safety. Anyone seen the bathroom scene of Full Metal Jacket? In careers where they teach you to fire guns for a living, they don’t want the insurance nightmare. Which to be perfectly fair, is understandable (if annoying to be on the other end of – been there, done that, but that’s a story best left out).

Inferring in part from the report, flying is another one of those careers where they like you to undergo some kind of psychological evaluation before letting you fly a plane. Again, understandable if they’re going to let you control a massive metal tube flying 38,0000 feet in the air with hundreds of people on board, supervised or otherwise. But these tests are far from standardised, and because of this, there are calls now for more rigorous, standardised testing.

Which is utter bollocks.

Talk to anyone who’s done a psychology base degree – hell, even a psychology A-Level (or equivalent). They will tell you that there is no such thing as a reliable standardised test, because there is no such thing as a standard mind. As a point of interest, among the first standardised IQ tests were a set of tests created to “scientifically” prove that some people were of substandard intelligence – as in, specifically designed to make them look stupid (see here and here). In the same way, accidents occur, or crimes are perpetuated, in which a mentally ill person is involved. And suddenly everyone with a diagnosis, or the same symptoms becomes dangerous, or incapable, and generally substandard.

A fantastic post by a writer for the Guardian throws it into sharp perspective. I, personally, haven’t noticed any outright condemnation of people with depression in the media – but we wouldn’t, because wouldn’t that cause a public outcry. What we see instead is a very subtle chain of association. The German newspaper Bild calling it ‘his madness.’ The BBC releasing editorials examining screening process for pilots, asking how pilots with mental illnesses slip the system. Talking about his lifestyle and hobbies as though the condition he had was some dark and twisted secret.

As a species, we are hardwired to put people in boxes – it’s a survival thing. It’s when we begin to put people in the wrong boxes, or assign them boxes they don’t fit in, that problems begin to occur. This stigma around mental health issues makes asking for help something of a minefield, and it shouldn’t be. We should spend less time worrying about screening procedures and more time worrying about supporting these vulnerable people through the bad times and out into the better.

I’ll finish on a word from the mental health charity Mind:

“Clearly assessment of all pilots’ physical and mental health is entirely appropriate – but assumptions about risk shouldn’t be made across the board for people with depression, or any other illness. There will be pilots with experience of depression who have flown safely for decades, and assessments should be made on a case by case basis.

Today’s headlines risk adding to the stigma surrounding mental health problems, which millions of people experience each year, and we would encourage the media to report this issue responsibly.”