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?

filigree-divider-clipart-etc-4eerlo-clipart

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?

filigree-divider-clipart-etc-4eerlo-clipart

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.

filigree-divider-clipart-etc-4eerlo-clipart

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

Advertisements

Moments in Time

Happy Friday, everyone! And Happy St Patrick’s Day, to those of you so inclined!

I’ve always enjoyed St Patrick’s Day for one reason or another. One, it’s one of the biggest drinking holidays in the calendar, excluding Christmas and New Year, and I do like a pint with (or without) my friends every now and again. The other is, being an Irish dancer means plenty of opportunities for showing off your footwork (expended on more in a previous post). I think this year is going to be the first in about four years that I’ve not been doing some performance or another for St Patrick’s Day. Unless I get reeeeally drunk tonight, at which point all bets are off.

But, I’m still spending it in Sheffield, which kinda makes it all worth it.

celtic-shamrock-clip-art-zem2y8-clipart

I spent five years in Sheffield; my undergrad years, and then two years after that. I got off the train this morning and felt like I’d never left. I’ve always felt very at home in Sheffield, and I never realised until I went for a walk around it this afternoon just how much I’d missed it. (And the bus prices. Oh hell yeah, the bus prices). It’s not just the big things, like the poem above Sheaf Square or the Winter Gardens, or the Clock Tower on the City Hall. I went from Crookes around the Student Union, down through town and out towards Kelham Island and Hillsborough, and it’s funny how many tiny memories get activated just by revisiting some of these places after a long time. So many long minutes spent waiting at the lights at the Millsands roundabout on my bicycle – and avoiding all the tramlines on Infirmary Road (occasionally unsuccessfully). Wondering if I had the courage to go into the sex shop on Division Street (I never did haha). Salads from New Leaf. The office where I used to work. The best spot to cross the road on Crookes Road (which is a bitch, by the way). My old run route. The little spots on the pavement which mean nothing to anyone else and everything to you. All the tiny moments that make a life, not just an experience.

celtic-shamrock-clip-art-zem2y8-clipart

It’s funny, sometimes, how you don’t appreciate something until you’ve been away from it for a while. There were times, living in Sheffield, I felt like I was living in a straightjacket. It’s such a small city, and so centralised as well, which means that I spent so much time in certain times in certain areas they got too familiar. I don’t know. It was fun going around most of my old stomping grounds again though. Some things have changed – a coat of paint here, a resurfaced road there – but most things are still the same. Including the rain. But hey, it’s the north of England, if it isn’t raining something’s wrong. If you’re ever seen that British meme about Northerners ‘needing your big coat,’ they’re not wrong.

I wish I’d been able to take some pictures, but my phone died and I didn’t take my camera with me, so sorry; pictorial evidence will have to wait for some other time – not to mention it was pissing with rain.

celtic-shamrock-clip-art-zem2y8-clipart

I suppose the point is, you can be born somewhere, but it’s what you do with your everyday that makes your life. I was born in East Essex, and did nothing but schoolwork and horses. I was made in Sheffield, and did so much more than that. I call myself a Girl of Steel, not because I’m from Sheffield by birth, but I feel like I began there – that’s where the person who is me was born. It took a long time for me to start allowing myself to love myself, and it all started in Sheffield.

celtic-shamrock-clip-art-zem2y8-clipart

Two big decisions need to be made – every single day. What to do with your days, and who to come home to at night. Life is what happens in between those times. Tonight, for me, it’s ceilidh-time and then my best friend, who’s putting up with me – sorry, putting me up – for the weekend. Tomorrow, I have no idea. I’m planning for violins and oaty shit to be involved. More life moments.

Stay awesome, everyone.

winter_gardens_sheffield_aw170410_2

 

Shamrock

Winter Gardens

Scan Initiated

Good evening, one and all!

First up, a couple of announcements. The first is due a change in schedule, I’ll be changing the update day of this from Thursday to Friday – reason being we’ve just been slammed with a compulsory three-hour stats lab on Thursday afternoons, which is fine, but leaves me mentally a bit wiped out. Therefore, happy Friday!

Might also mean I get it out a bit more regularly than I have been for the last couple of weeks! I’ll confess half of that is fatigue and half of that is my piece of crap laptop screwing me around again. The fix was, weirdly, removing my anti-virus software, so I’m feeling a bit virtually vulnerable right now. Is it going to stop me illegally streaming Yuri on Ice? Absolutely not.

But anyway, after the angst of a couple of weeks ago, and with blowing all your minds with cute on mindfulness, I want to talk about something cool that happened last week – namely, that I got to have a go in an fMRI scanner.

skullwithbrainvector

For anyone who’s not familiar with MRI (or Magnetic Resonance Imaging) technology, what a normal MRI scan does is take a picture of your brain or body in the state it’s in at a given moment, by aligning all the water cells in your body to a strong magnetic field and measuring the time it takes for them to realign themselves back into their natural state. Different tissues have different amounts of water in them, hence the multi-layered image. An fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) takes it one step further and, as the name would suggest, scans the brain as it functions, using the level of oxygen in the blood – the BOLD signal. Not in real-time, unfortunately, we’re not that good yet, but with enough spatial accuracy that we can pinpoint the areas which are active when performing a cognitive task. It’s not something many people will get to do outside of research or a clinical procedure – and even then it’s so expensive to run that even within research it’s not something which gets used a lot – and I consider myself quite lucky that I got to take part.

The scanner itself is, in its purest form, a huge spinning magnet, so before entering the scanner I had to take my hoodie off (metal eyelets), all my piercings out (for obvious reasons) and answer a bunch of questions about my dental history (though it turns out normal fillings are just fine). Getting stuck to the inside of this thing is, I imagine, not fun. There are some really funny videos somewhere of a bunch of research scientists mucking around with the magnetic field (because we’re serious academics doing serious academic things), and this thing is seriously strong. Like, 30,000 times the magnetic field of Earth kind of strong.

Not that I was worried about this, or anything.

Nah, that was fine. I was more worried about the fact that the hole my body was being inserted into was no more than a couple of feet across, if that. Which makes sense if you’re trying to take an image through someone’s skull. It’s the same principle as X-Rays – you have to get up close and personal before they can get a decent image. And two sets of ear plugs. Think of a pneumatic drill being used right outside your window and then turn the volume up a bit – that was what it would have sounded like without them. It was still loud as hell even with them in. So as I’m sitting on the ‘bed,’ if you like, the researcher makes me plug my ears with those soft foam plugs you get in nightclubs and on shooting ranges, and then put a pair of ear defenders over my ears as well. I had to yell “What?” a few times before I could hear whatever else he was trying to say; which was a good thing. Then I lay back into the headrest, which was like a scoop with a cushion inside, had my knees propped up by a triangular cushion, and was handed a button box and told, ‘Just relax.’

skullwithbrainvector

And then the scary part. So the hole through the scanner is a bit like a classic doughnut – it goes all the way through and out the other side. The screen where the task I’ll be doing is on the other side, but to see it, they had to fit a kind of mask or clamp over my head which had a mirror attached to it. It wasn’t flush with my head but it was close enough to be weird. It took a couple of tries to get it right – for some reason the attachment wouldn’t fit on the headrest – but a few minutes later it was fixed and I had a front seat view of the approaching back of the scanner as they rolled me into the tube. Remember how I said it was only a couple of feet across? I moved my arm to try and get comfortable and instantly whacked the side of it. Big incentive to keep still. (And you need to keep deathly still or the images come out fuzzy). I’m actually okay in confined spaces – at least, I prefer them over wide expanses, definitely – so once I was in there it wasn’t a big deal. The big deal comes next.

As with basically anyone who has autism or autistic traits, I have an absolute horror of sudden loud noises. If there’s one thing guaranteed about fMRI scanners, it’s sudden, loud noises. So the starting of the scanner was the most terrifying part. The headphones muffled the worst of it but there was a series of dull clicks and then a sudden, huge mechanical whirr, and I felt the thing shudder to life. But then, once that was over, I started to relax. It made a rhythmic series of loud clicks – and rhythmic is the key word here. I like rhythmic. It’s predictable and I can deal with it. That was the initial anatomical scan. The researcher can talk to you by intercom, so he comes over the airwaves and he says, “Okay, we’re gonna start the real scan now.”

skullwithbrainvector

I was expecting more of the same. Oh no. Louder and bleep-ier. But still rhythmic, so once I’d gotten used to it, it was easy to tune out. But this point was when I started to feel the magnet. Like weird sort of pulling pressure that started on my right and moved around me slowly as the scan kicked into life. Suddenly I was glad they made me take my piercings out.

Another thing I never expected was the warmth. It’s a huge piece of electrical equipment, not to mention the magnet inside is spinning at stupid-RPM and kicking off a vast amount of heat. Never heard the air-con come on though, even though it must have because I never broke a sweat. The task itself wasn’t all that interesting – just looking for duplicates of pictures and whacking a button on the button box – so between the two of them I almost dozed off. Four blocks of that separated by another anatomical scan – by which point the cushion on the headrest had developed a ridge that was digging into the back of my skull. Never moved my head though – ‘remarkably still,’ he said afterwards, so score one for my pain tolerance!

skullwithbrainvector

Just goes to show, I suppose – there are some situations where you just gotta relax and let it all happen. This does not ring true for 95% of my life, but for the moments it does, I do cherish them.

Though maybe not so much when I got out of the scanner and my head refused to stop spinning, from being lying down for so long. You win some, you lose some. At least I didn’t actually faint.

So, yes, an experience. One I would recommend to anyone who is neither claustrophobic nor scared of loud noises. But they all do their best to make sure you’re comfortable, and the panic button is always there if you need it.

And I get a cool picture of my brain to yell at whenever it starts messing me around.

Stay awesome, everybody.

10991180205_ed6d2d76eb

 

Scanner picture

Skull and Brain

 

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.

2f51f23ab597036f881f2ea47788562c_52f33b88a9fda0e601e7e736b9f10a-man-meditation-clipart_1280-1280

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.’

2f51f23ab597036f881f2ea47788562c_52f33b88a9fda0e601e7e736b9f10a-man-meditation-clipart_1280-1280

“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…)

p1010379

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.’

p1010384

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)

p1010390

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…

p1010403

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.

p1010409

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.

p1010416

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.

p1010412

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!

p1010411

Meditating person

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

 

Guess Who’s Back?

Salutations!

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.

ephipany-clipart-dance-clip-art1

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.

ephipany-clipart-dance-clip-art1

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!

ephipany-clipart-dance-clip-art1

Yeah, I got annoyed.

ephipany-clipart-dance-clip-art1

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.

Dancer

 

 

Odd Socks

Good evening, fellow browsers of the Interweb!

First off, I must apologise for saying there was nothing going on last week and moaning about it. I take it all back. I’ve just had four separate assignment dropped on my head, all in within a week of each other. Not to mention, my motivation has been wrapped in a straight-jacket that someone has locked up, pocketed the key, and wandered off. Please, take me back to last week…

a0b7f288fe1f04d9b27c270f7631c206_socks-clipart-free-clip-art-socks_425-381

So on that cheerful note, and before I go away and sink into a pit of work-related agony, I want to give you my five top ways of getting myself organised.

The thing about dyspraxia, or at least the way I have it, is that I find keeping myself on track with all the things I have to do is occasionally impossible. It’s worse the less I have to do, weirdly, but I can find juggling even one or two things a nightmare. Unless it’s something I do regularly, like dance class or going to lectures, I’m a bit useless.

So, as presented by Rafferty, here are my top five ways of Getting All My Shit in One Sock.

  1. Diarise Everything. 

20170126_131333

And by everything, I mean everything. Times and dates, the right bus to catch and at what time, provisional things, concrete things, when to go shopping, deadlines…I never go anywhere without my diary (which, incidentally, is from PaperChase). Having everything written down in one easy place where I can access it quickly has saved my bacon on a lot of occasions. On the days I’m feeling lazy, I set alarms on my phone, which is synced up to my Outlook calendar. It works.

The only downside is I no longer have any excuses if I do screw up. I remember writing down the wrong time for a nurse’s appointment once and turning up an hour late. Fortunately they thought it was funny and let me re-schedule, but that isn’t the point. Get it right the first time, and keep it all in one place. Sorted.

2.  Keep it Clean

20170126_190614

Clean and tidy rooms make for clean and tidy minds, as I’ve found. I’ve never been able to comprehend people who live a floor-drobe (although one them is my best friend and I love her dearly). When I feel myself getting cluttered and confused in my head, I clean my room. It’s also healthy procrastination – as in procrastination that isn’t watching Achievement Hunter Let’s Play highlight videos for the fortieth time. Washing up and cleaning as I go also lets me keep track of things like pens and cutlery, which have a nasty tendency to wander off if I don’t. It also stops fruit flies accumulating in my room via my many discarded apple cores. My boyfriend did that once. I’ve still not quite forgiven him (don’t tell him).

On that note, put something somewhere and leave it there. If stuff keeps moving, it will get lost, it’s like a Law of the Universe.

3. Labelling is your Friend

20170126_213055

I thought I had two lots of one kind of bolognase in the fridge the other day. I was wrong. I had one lot each of two different kinds, and I didn’t know, because I couldn’t be bothered to label them before they went into sandwich bags and into the freezer. I still have trouble remembering which folder is which of Important Documents, because neither of them are labelled. Seriously, put labels on everything. I have all my course notes in a bit of an odd system that nobody but me would get, which is fine cause I’m the only one that uses them. On an even stranger note, before my gran was put in care we used to label everything for her – the only trouble was she refused to use her glasses so she couldn’t read any of them.

So, find a system and use it. As long as you know where it all is, and you can find it, it’ll work.

4. Lists

20170126_190341

I sometimes try to do my weekly shop with a mental list. It never ends well. Even with a list, I forget things. It’s irritating as anything, especially when I only forget one thing, and it was the one thing I actually needed. Make a list, make it comprehensive. And not just for your shopping; it works for everything. If I had a lot of jobs to do at work, I’d list them and then sort them in order of priority, so they were out of my head and quit taking up so much space. I physically cross them off when I’ve done them. If you need it, list it – jobs, travel packing, revision topics, shopping, meal plans…the list goes on.

(Ha, get it? Geddit? Okay…)

The most annoying lists are the long ones that keep growing, but there’s nothing more satisfying than physically crossing the last item off a really sodding long list.

5. The Writing’s on the Wall(chart)

20170126_203105

I tend not to use wallcharts and calendars so much, because I use my diary, but occasionally, having something written in massive f*ck-off letters on the wall can be the slap in the face you really need – good for urgent reminders. And it’s right in front of you as well, no flipping pages to get to where you need to be. Cross the days off as you complete them – also really satisfying, and it gives you a chance to make sure you’ve properly prepared.

Get one you don’t mind looking at every day as well – if you use a calendar you don’t like, you’ve got that picture for a whole month and the same theme for the whole year. I like horses or landscapes, maybe films if I feel like it.

a0b7f288fe1f04d9b27c270f7631c206_socks-clipart-free-clip-art-socks_425-381

My constant, and best piece of advice, is use this as a starting point and find what works for you. And if you like living in a floor-drobe, well fair enough. You are very strange, but fair enough.

Have a good week, and stay awesome!

5ced4eb002768e88ce097adabcd1b94c

 

Socks

Books

All pictures of Rafferty are mine.

Paltering Along…

20170119_213958

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.

simple-question-mark-clipart-1

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.

simple-question-mark-clipart-1

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.

simple-question-mark-clipart-1

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!

orangutan-clip-art-ape-3

Original BPS post

PsychNet article

Cookies

Question Mark

Orang-utan

What’s in Your Head?

Good evening Internet!

11,teapot

So this week’s post is going to focus a little bit on what’s happening in the brain when someone on the autistic spectrum meets the world at large. I should also mention I’m fresh out of an exam on this kind of thing, so forgive me if I get a little technical.

I should also mention being inspired by this post here; an article on “Meta-Culture” written by a good friend of mine. I think Meta-Culture is a really good phrase to describe someone’s mental landscape, so I’ll continue to use it here (no infringement intended, except possibly on the good name of psychology). Like me, he’s a bit on the spectrum, and a lot of our personal experiences in society line up.

220px-lightsaber_silver_hilt_blue_blade

The defining feature of any Autism Spectrum Disorder is social impairment. Whether high-functioning, profound, Aspergers, or somewhere in the middle, we are born without this innate ability to…I suppose ‘read somebody’s mind.’ To be able to tell what somebody means without asking for clarification, or to read the subtext without needing a prompt. It’s not an upraising thing either, so you can dispense with the whole ‘cold mother’ argument right here and now. Children on the spectrum show changes at the most basic building blocks of brain structure – we’re talking the neuronal level. We are literally wired differently to neurotypicals, like Jedi and their midi-chlorian counts.

And as you might expect, a lots of these differences are found in the ‘social’ areas of the brain; Frontal lobe, temporal lobe, facial processing, language areas…there’s even been a psychologist try and show mentalising abilities are linked to issues with ‘mirror neurons,’ which stop us from imitating other people. I can tell you right now that’s not true for everyone, but interesting nonetheless.

220px-lightsaber_silver_hilt_blue_blade

Definition: Mentalising, to mentalise (v)The ability to understand the mental states of oneself and others that underlie overt behaviour.  So not quite Derren Brown, for those of you who were wondering.

220px-lightsaber_silver_hilt_blue_blade

So, it’s hardly surprising that we’re not sure from the outset what these funny little creatures trying to interact with us are really trying to achieve, if anything. I don’t have a lot of explicit memories of primary school but my overarching ones include a lot of being lectured by my classmates whenever I’d done something ‘weird.’ Not a nice feeling.You spend a lot of time messing up on the playground or in class and nobody will explain to you how, or why you messed up. It’s deeply confusing. Claire Sainsbury, in her wonderful book ‘Martian in the Playground‘ said “It was like everyone around me was playing some elaborate game, and I was the only one who hadn’t been taught the rules.” At eight years old, with only the vaguest concept of what autism was, having someone put it into words for the first time was a real eye-opener, and that quote has sat with me ever since. After that I started forgiving myself a bit for all those social screw-ups that made me so unpopular at both primary and secondary school. It was me, but it wasn’t really my fault. It wasn’t like I asked to be born like this.

220px-lightsaber_silver_hilt_blue_blade

In terms of emotional development and in some areas of higher functioning, I’m about 3 years behind everyone else in my peer group (my own estimate, not a clinical opinion). As I mentioned last week, I’ve only just worked out higher education exams. Yes, everyone has to learn some social scripts, like eating in restaurants or going to the cinema, but not everyone has to learn them all; like the correct greeting, or when to greet, or knowing when to talk to someone and when to leave them alone. The correct protocol when seeing someone you might recognise in the street. When to pet the dog and when not to (that is so difficult. So many nice dogs, so little time).

Even today, walking into a new cafe and ordering a coffee can be fraught with difficulty, even fear, especially if I’m not having a ‘good words’ day. Did you know that anxiety disorders have a prevalence of around 40% in children on the spectrum? A lot of the symptoms are often mistaken for the characteristics of ASD, though, like hand-wringing, and social withdrawal, and insistence on sameness, so some will go untreated. Ultimately, anxiety disorders are a lot more common in neuroatypicals than in others – and it honestly makes logical sense. I don’t even have to cite the science. If you grew up knowing that there was a high chance that every time you went up to speak to someone – be in your best friend or the barista – there is a higher than average chance of f*cking up massively, wouldn’t you develop some anxieties?  As I’ve said before, social awkwardness and anxiety are not mutually exclusive, whether in a disorder or other wise.

I eventually grew over a lot of those, mostly through some good friends, sheer grit and the knowledge that hiding wasn’t going to solve anything. Trying to act like my favourite book characters helped, because I got thoughts and scripts and a lot of confidence from them. The internet helps as well, through mediums like this; people sharing their stories. We’ve all got a lot more in common than we like to  admit. As Sherlock Holmes said last week in The Lying Detective, “I have this terrible feeling from time to time that all of us might just be human.”

220px-lightsaber_silver_hilt_blue_blade

We don’t all have the best understanding of other people’s meta-cultures, but it’s not an excuse to be an arsehole – on either side of the table – and it’s not an excuse to bully or belittle. While a lot of us will learn how to talk to people – how to be ‘earthlings’ if you like, rather than the martian in the corner, some of us need a bit of understanding every once in a while, be it our own space and permission to do what we want to do to calm down, or an out in an emergency.

We’re doing our best, and we love you.

Stay awesome, people.

cocktail-glass-wine-glass-mug-beer-different-glasses-drinks-67509838

Lightsaber

Wine and Beer

Teapot and Teacup

If anyone’s interested, this is the paper which demonstrated lack of connectivity to mirror neurons in the brains of autistic adults

 

 

 

 

Examine This!

20161221_150954

Happy New Year! So Rafferty and I have finally quit country-hopping and are safely back at Uni. And that means we’re gearing up for exam season. Again.

The one thing I didn’t miss during two years in work was university exams. Before anyone starts jumping down my throat, I am deeply aware it is one of the biggest cliches in education – the age old student of adage of ‘F*ck My Exams.’

2014-clipartpanda-com-about-terms-iu5a1x-clipart

Thing is, it never used to be like that. Up until the age of around 17 I was completely neutral about exams, to the point where I would just not study and still come top of the class. I only revised for my GCSEs because my mum would have strung me up otherwise.

Then I failed a couple of A-Levels because Holy Hell, I was not expecting that jump. And After that very rude wake-up call, I joined the ranks of the other students, filing into the exam hall with the sharp tang of terror in my mouth.

Hands up who out there was considered ‘Gifted and Talented’ at school? Hands up who then also failed to make that big jump/a similar big jump and ever since then has been struggling with academic self-esteem issues? Yeah.

2014-clipartpanda-com-about-terms-iu5a1x-clipart

It’s not a knowledge thing; I could spit out any amount of facts for these exams just off the top of my head. It’s a technique thing. I know that I know it, it’s just proving that I know it. Whether that’s a dyspraxia thing or just a me thing, I don’t know, I just know that even when I plan an answer out, what comes out onto the paper bears no resemblance to the answer in my head. I recently did a 48-hour take-home exam (which was awesome by the way) but I took one look at the first draft of my answer and just went, ‘Well, sh*t. Is that how all my exam answers read? Now I understand why I nearly failed my second year…’

2014-clipartpanda-com-about-terms-iu5a1x-clipart

The thing about uni is, most of the support systems that eventually pulled my grades up and got me in the door in the first place got pulled away. I couldn’t get my lecturers to look at my practice exam questions (trust me, I asked, the answer was an unequivocal no). Even with an official diagnosis of a learning disability, I found it really difficult to access the support I needed. All I got was extra time in exams, and general help with the rest of my coursework, which I really felt I didn’t need. Fortunately I have a much better idea of what is supposed to be happening in exam answers now (I read a book about Critical Thinking and constructing arguments and a lightbulb came on), but for a while I was absolutely lost at sea. At 23 I’ve had to learn how to revise, because I never bothered all the way through school.

A word to the wise – bother. Don’t get complacent, sat on your intelligence, because A-Level and undergraduate level truly screwed with me, is still truly screwing with me, and it will truly screw with you as well. I’d love to know if I could have come top of the year every year if I’d put a bit of effort in, or at least felt like I needed to.

2014-clipartpanda-com-about-terms-iu5a1x-clipart

I can’t change the past, and I can’t stop it screwing up my future, but I think that a lesson learned late is still a lesson learned. And with any luck, I can used this degree as a springboard to get into my chosen field. It might take me a bit more time, but I’ll get there.

Stay awesome, everyone.

book-clipart-black-and-white-5

Pen clip art

Books

The picture of Rafferty is mine, please don’t reuse without permission.

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.

carrie-fisher-1

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.

description-fireworks-2-png-xhmmvy-clipart

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.

tk

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.

description-fireworks-2-png-xhmmvy-clipart

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.

description-fireworks-2-png-xhmmvy-clipart

 

Picture Credits:

Carrie Fisher

Fireworks

Cara Delevingne