Open Book

Hey there everyone!

Oh no, she’s back, what will we do? Well, exams are done with, I can stop panicking and begin thinking clearly again *rousing chorus of Hallelujah.* It also means I can get back to this with a bit more regularity – terrible as it feels skipping weeks, it’s either that or post something that makes no sense AND distract myself from my revision AND possibly have an all out meltdown. I hate the anxiety I get around my exams; I also genuinely need to give the rational thinking portion of my brain a pay rise – by this point it’s earned it.

free book clipart black and white image 73 open books clipart within open book clip art image 40 open book clip art image microsoft clip art

So this week, the plan was to talk about Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (which most of you ought to have seen, and I’d highly recommend it if you haven’t) and their autistic representation; however, World Mental Health Awareness Week was this week. Plenty of my friends have been doing cool things for it like webchats and articles and a favourite artist of mine released a music video based on recovery and relapse (here, if anyone’s interested –  I’m not taking any money for publicity, I just think it’s amazing), and to throw in my ten cents, I wanted to talk about books.

*Trigger warnings ahead for mention and discussion of self harm*

Trust me, it makes sense. I’ve been re-reading one of my favourite series this week to take my mind off the hideousness that is my research methods exam; Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead (Goodreads Link). Before you all roll your eyes at yet another vampire romance fan and completely switch off – it’s not Twilight, it will never be Twilight, it is not even in the same league as Twilight. Fun fact – one main character has depression. Another fun fact – another has bipolar disorder. The way it’s handled here is that their mental disorders are intrinsically tied to the kind of magic they wield – psychic powers. Firstly, I love this because it lends the idea that awesome telepathic and healing powers should have consequences, which isn’t something I see a lot in young adult fiction. Secondly, it brings up a couple of things about mental health which I feel should be pointed out.

free book clipart black and white image 73 open books clipart within open book clip art image 40 open book clip art image microsoft clip art

Like many illnesses, mental illnesses and psychological disorders are not asked for. We can argue genetics and environmental stressors all we like, this fact remains immutable. There was a very cool article a few years ago which argued that depression was an allergic reaction to the world; whether there’s any true scientific background to this apart from this one study, I’m not sure, but it’s a very interesting concept. Regardless, neither Lissa nor Adrian can control or change the consequences their magic has, expect by cutting themselves off from it altogether, and this is mirrored in the real world. Regrettably, pills are not the quick fix for us mere mortals that they are for these Moroi, but there are very, very few people that can get out of mental illnesses without help. If you are one of those people, I salute you. But neither of them asked for this, and neither does anyone else struggling with mental health.

The second is the way it’s handled in popular media. The first book of the series (and there are six in total) was made into a film a couple of years ago – Vampire Academy, starring Zoey Deutch and Lucy Fry (can be found on Netflix) and like so many of these things, was really rushed and badly cut and would have been so much better as a TV series – hey, I criticise because I love. I think the biggest bone I had to pick was to do with Lissa’s self-harming, an issue close to my heart as some of you will know. In the book, her harming was a conscious decision, borne of depression brought on by a rare form of magic. For the film it was the same – except they cut out the conscious decision part, and had the cuts simply appear on her arm after magic use. Do not ask me why, to me it makes far more sense the book’s way, but maybe they’re trying to water it down for the poor little kids. Which gets to me.

I’m sure there are disorders where it does happen, but I, personally, have never known anyone with depression who just woke up one day having done awful things to themselves. As a rule, self harm is a conscious decision – maybe not a healthy decision, but a conscious one nonetheless. And I think dumbing it down for the sake of a target audience of young teenagers (13-16), at exactly the age that this could be becoming a concern for them, is a terrible idea. Numbers of under-18s presenting at A&E with self-inflicted injuries are rising (as of NHS figures October 2016), and as with many things, the more we talk and encourage talking about such things, the less this is likely to happen. Painting it as an unexpected consequence isn’t the most helpful thing on the planet; neither is Lissa’s best friend terming her a ‘freak’ when this happens.

free book clipart black and white image 73 open books clipart within open book clip art image 40 open book clip art image microsoft clip art

Yeah, I know, the whole ‘talk about it’ thing again. I’ve said before, talking about it is not the easiest thing in the world to do for someone with a mental illness. And why do you think that is? Nobody else will. There’s been a lot of talk in the last few years about teaching mental health in schools as part of PSHE (or whatever they’re calling it these days), and I think the more that mentally healthy people talk about it, and the more educated they get, the more comfortable people will become talking about their own issues. All we’re asking sometimes is a listening ear; a recent review quoted in the BPS Research Digest stated that the biggest factor in stopping self harming is family support. So dumbing it down or changing it’s emphasis in books and TV shows and films is maybe not the most helpful thing in the world.

Saying that, I have no idea how Vampire Academy got a 12 rating; mental illnesses aside, torture of minors and dead animals all over the place, anyone? My mum barely let me watch Titanic at that age, never mind Lord of the Rings or similarly violent things. And that was a PG.

Anyway, /rant.

I hope everyone’s had a good couple of weeks, and continues to have a good couple of weeks. One chapter ends, another begins…exams finish, project kicks in for real. Wish me luck.

Stay awesome everybody 😉

fancy-teacup-clip-art-tea-clip-art-19

Book

Teacup

 

 

Review: A Boy Made of Blocks

*Will contain spoilers for the novel*

Evening everyone!

You know, there’s very little that’s more British than wishing for rain while the sun is shining in a clear blue sky. We are never happy with the weather.

Okay, there’s a good reason for it; we need to roll out the lumps in the horse’s fields and we can’t do it while the ground is like iron, which means I get to ride the quadbike, which is AWESOME. And I just realised how incredibly middle-class that sentence makes me sound. I am so sorry.

58103

It’s one of the many things you don’t have to worry about in Minecraft. The earth always breaks when you want it to, and it regularly rains like a bitch. If you don’t mind the odd zombie hanging around (or a skeleton, God I hate skeletons), it’s pretty idyllic. The very ground beneath your feet bends to your will, which is at least part of the appeal of it for Sam in Keith Stuart’s novel ‘A Boy Made of Blocks.’

Some scene setting; Sam is eight, and on the autistic spectrum. He’s fairly high-functioning, but he had his moments – a lot. Alex is his father, and is, to put it bluntly, a complete mess. Jody is his mother, and perpetually stuck in the middle. Sam likes to play Minecraft, and Alex eventually realises that it may be the only way he and his son can reliably communicate. There are some other characters which move in and out of the story as necessary, but I would say they are more central to Alex’s story arc than Sam’s.

58103

The book is based on the author’s experiences with his own son, and I think that real-world edge really shows through; it manages to be both very true-to-life and heartwarming novel. It’s told from Alex’s perspective, so we don’t get a lot of Sam’s psyche; nevertheless, despite the insider view, I spent the first half of it wanting to punch Alex in the face (sorry mate), and the second half of him yelling at him to sort his life out. I can’t really blame him, in some respects. We’ve all been there, on occasion – life falling to pieces, no idea what to do about it, and burying our heads rather than try. It isn’t an excuse for not trying, though. There comes a point, even when depressed, one has to say ‘enough,’ and I think Alex was long past that stage – to the point I felt sometimes it was being milked for dramatic effect, but mental health issues aren’t overcome in a day, so Mr Stuart is forgiven. For now.

But I got so furious every time Alex got angry with Sam, whenever he shouted rather than tried to understand, whenever he gave up and snapped rather than tried to get down to Sam’s level, or Jody’s for that matter. Like he’d rather cause an argument because that’s what he’s expecting. There was a lot in the family dynamic that reminded me of growing up in my own household; not so much in terms of character personality, but in their interactions. It’s even true today, though these days my parents won’t even mention one another unless made to. It hit me quite hard in that area.

58103

No wonder Sam wants to run away and hide in a sandbox world. I did the same thing with storybooks. The same ones, over and over and over again, because they were predictable and therefore safe. I could deal with them. And Minecraft itself isn’t just a ‘run wild and free’ kind of game, even though you can build basically anything you want to. There are rules for it; all your recipes have to be exact or they won’t work, you can only pick up certain blocks if you break them with certain kinds of tools, certain things only spawn in certain places or biomes, it’s actually quite formulaic. You know what to expect. But there’s just enough freedom to make your own mark on the game. And okay, I can only really understand things once I’ve experienced them, that’s just the way I work, but I think the way it brought Sam out of his shell is actually quite accurate. In the same way I related (hah, still do) a lot of the world to what I read and saw in stories and films, Sam relates the real world to the virtual blocks of Minecraft, and in that way he starts to understand it. And so he starts to understand his dad, who starts to understand him, and it’s that understanding which starts to draw the family back together, in the end.

It was really beautifully done. And I guess that’s the point – if we don’t understand,or even try to understand, nothing will ever get better.

58103

Yeah, I guess it was one of those books which hit me in all the right places, even if the protagonist spent a lot of it annoying the hell out of me. And it portrays autism in a realistic light, rather than the overly positive or negative skews you can find depending on which media you access. Yes, I think it made a bit of a meal of Alex’s issues to try and create some drama and sympathy, but in terms of its portrayal of Sam and the spectrum, I thought it did a wonderful job of showing both the beauty and the strain. 9/10 would recommend to someone who was lowkey interested in the subject, or to someone looking for a starting point to learn about autsim.

Thanks for reading, and stay awesome!

089b8abe0653d8fa3a7378f8093a72b3_minecraft-quiz-by-minecraft-alex-clipart_150-300

 

A Boy Made of Blocks (link to Amazon)

Minecraft (Mojang)

Diamond Pickaxe

Alex Skin

Broadcasting the Word

*raps* Guess who’s back, back again…

Yes, she’s back, she’s still alive (just about), and she’s having some pony therapy with her extended family down south. Just got back from a brief but lovely hack around the local farm; for those wondering, Josh is fine, but currently sporting the World’s Worst Haircut. Picture will not be forthcoming (yet, muahahaha…)

I’m still busy as hell, but I have got some good stuff stewing for when I have some more spare brain-space. So, what can we expect from the next few weeks? Well, I recently finished a book called “A Boy Made of Blocks,” about a boy with autism who learns to communicate with his family through playing Minecraft. As a borderline Aspie and a fellow player of Minecraft, I would highly recommend it, full review to come, probably later in the week. Still chipping away at that ‘Theory of Knowledge’ essay – I should not be complaining, I chose the title, I have nobody to blame but myself. Like I said in my last post, I’m not so good at abstract concepts, so there’ll be a bit on that, and why it’s so important for me to be able to fit things into boxes.

radio-microphone-clip-art-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-qwsbfh-clipart

But first things first – my stepmother listens to Radio 2 a lot, and I happened to catch the lunchtime’ Jeremy Vine’ show today while I was doing some work in the kitchen. It’s a show which covers relevant issues in the headlines, and invites both professional and viewer discussion, and it caught my ear this week because Paddy O’Connell (covering for Mr Vine) announced a special medical section on ‘dyspraxia.’

BBC iPlayer link (begins at 1:08:05)

radio-microphone-clip-art-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-qwsbfh-clipart

Paddy was talking to a medical professional, Dr Sarah Jarvis, and a woman called Charlotte who has dyspraxia herself (for the first section). On the whole, it was really lovely and quite respectful (aside from some unfortunate language use…’This dreadful condition of dyspraxia.’ Honestly, Paddy). I did also think Dr Jarvis took a bit of a patronising tone at times, but I’m looking at this from an informed insider’s perspective rather than a layperson who might know absolutely nothing, and she’s actually doing a very good job of explaining it in terms of someone who might never have heard of such a diagnosis. Let’s be fair here.

They focus a lot on the motor aspects of the condition, but I was very pleased that they included a section on how tough exams can be for us, because we have so much trouble organising our thoughts as well as ourselves. Charlotte told quite a humorous story about not being allowed to climb ladders because she couldn’t get down them again; I hate climbing on stepladders, I simply do not feel I can balance. Eating soup as well; Good Lord, it can be a struggle. Bread is such a saving grace when it comes to mopping up spills. She also spoke at length about always being picked last for sports teams. I never really cared all that much about sports, but I always thought that was because everyone thought I was weird, and it was quite distressing, on a personal level.

It’s so nice, so so nice, to know that these experiences are basically universal. We are a small but interesting community.

radio-microphone-clip-art-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-qwsbfh-clipart

We’re still focusing on the negative though; plenty of the people calling in were talking about losing jobs, being considered weird, never learning to drive a car or ride a bike. What happened to the rest of it? The differences in how we see people, and the world, the creativity and diversity of our voices? The doctor, the presenter, even some of the guest callers took a very negative view of the condition, focusing on its limitations and the negative impact it can have on children and adults, how hard it can be for us.

This isn’t to do down the people who do find it very difficult – there are people out there who are more profoundly affected than I am. I was lucky in that I was a very physical child and did a lot of physical activities including bike-riding and horse-riding, which let me practice co-ordination. Horse-riding is used as a therapy technique for children with conditions such as cerebral palsy, it’s amazing for co-ordination skills. But I recall saying to someone, long before I even knew dyspraxia was a word, that while I could balance perfectly on a horse (I have a very good seat and I’m very hard to dislodge, even when the horse is corkscrew-bucking), I could not do the same on the ground. Slow, careful, and fumbling on the ground, absolutely unstoppable in the saddle. Funny, that.

radio-microphone-clip-art-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-qwsbfh-clipart

 I suppose the point Dr Jarvis is trying to make is, it’s a lot easier with a diagnosis. Dyspraxia is one of the most underdiagnosed developmental conditions there is, and being teased for just being ‘clumsy,’ or ‘weird’ or ‘disorganised’ or ‘stupid’ (I heard that one a lot) can make it a very negative experience. As a young and confused child, it is very distressing and can very much colour your view of your condition. I was diagnosed at 21, some people aren’t diagnosed until 35, some get lucky and are diagnosed at 5. With a diagnosis, one has a new awareness of why this is happening, and we can start developing coping strategies for dealing with these difficulties, no matter what age we are. And this is true of any condition; dyslexia, autism, dyscalculia, even things like depression and anxiety as well.

Of course, if we don’t have an awareness, we can’t give the diagnosis.

“Aren’t I lucky that I don’t [have dyspraxia]?” is also a really unhelpful phrase, doctor. Let’s try and promote understanding, rather than creating an ‘us and them’ mentality, yeah?

radio-microphone-clip-art-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-qwsbfh-clipart

So, we’ll finish with a word from Mr O’Connell himself:

“Dyspraxia; learn what it is, and stop taking the mickey!”

Stay awesome, Internet!

woman-riding-horse-silhouette

 

Microphone

Horse and rider

 

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 🙂

 

Now trending – #ignorance

Hola!

black-glasses-clipart-black-glasses-hi

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.

hypodermic-clipart-eps-images-289-hypodermic-clip-art-vector-tcgn8w-clipart

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.

hypodermic-clipart-eps-images-289-hypodermic-clip-art-vector-tcgn8w-clipart

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.

hypodermic-clipart-eps-images-289-hypodermic-clip-art-vector-tcgn8w-clipart

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.

newspaper-clipart-newspaper-clipart-6

Glasses

Needle

Newspapers

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.

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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.

winter-clip-art-3266

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.

winter-clip-art-3266

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.”

winter-clip-art-3266

Picture credits:

Trees in snow

Snowflake

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.

20161205_13220320161205_132234

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

20161205_210444

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

p1010252p1010333

p1010325

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really love wintertime in the countryside.

Stay awesome everybody.

 

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