The Road to Recovery

I got to thinking about recovery the other day.

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I went out for a walk down to the river. I was having a good day, physically and mentally; I could step across the rocky shore with surety, I knew the exact amount of ‘flick’ to put on the slate shards to send them skipping merrily across the water, I leap onto the small rock in the path and know, not just in my head but in my muscles and bones too, that I would land and balance on it. For once I was unconcerned about the other people, and even if they were concerned about me, I knew how I would reply to whatever they asked me. Things came easily.

Not every day is like this.

One gets use to watching one’s step when it’s the norm to trip over a totally flat surface and then walk into a table you were deliberately trying to avoid. One gets used to watching one’s mouth when around strangers in case the words come out in a garbled mess. Some days are better than others. That day was a good day. Today, not so much. My fingers feel heavy and stiff and my words are sticking somewhat on the way out.

I redefine my normal every single day.

It’s exactly the same with depression.

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The recent sad news of the death of Chester Bennington got me thinking about a conversation I had with a friend of mine about four years ago about the cyclical nature of our depression; some days we’re up and good, some days we can feel ourselves falling and sometimes we sink so low we wonder if we’ll ever see the light of day again. I was a few months out of therapy at that point but still having a lot of very Bad days, while he was still very much in its grip (a grip he wouldn’t break for a good few more years). I remember him saying that he didn’t think we ever really recovered from something like this – we either dealt with it or we didn’t, but it would keep coming back.

I poo-pooed it somewhat at the time, because I wanted to be depression free, but when you think about stories like Chester’s or Robin Williams’, even the nature of my own ‘sticky patches,’ when I feel like I’m moving through treacle and which can last for weeks, made me think he may have had a point.

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The rate of relapse after completing CBT for depression can be up to 50%, which is a frighteningly high number. This doesn’t mean it’s an ineffective therapy, but I think there’s a view out there that therapy is a cure. It’s not; I see it as more of a toolkit.

Thing is, I think the people who develop these therapies may hold the same view.  For example, the end goal of CBT is to teach a person new ways of thinking so they no longer perceive themselves as useless or ‘bad’ or whatever else. The way each individual therapy does this changes according to whatever root philosophy it adheres to, but the ultimate goal, in the end, doesn’t differ significantly; change cognitions, avoid relapse. However, a toolkit isn’t a cure; it’s more of a functioning aid, like using transferable skills in several different jobs.

It applies across the spectrum of mental illnesses as well; ex-drug and alcohol addicts are always ‘recovering’ addicts; medically, they are never ‘recovered,’ which can be severely problematic in getting on with their lives. Having that label means there will be a lack of trust that follows them forever. It also implies that addiction never fades, that such personality traits are set in stone.

There’s no recovering from dyspraxia and autism, and anyone who says otherwise is deluding themselves (seriously, every time I hear about ‘finding a cure’ for these things I want to punch somebody). But I wasn’t born with depression the same way I was born autistic-dyspraxic. Personality is always mutable; I’m not the same person I was five years ago, the same way she wasn’t the person I was five years before that. So doesn’t that mean that people can recover in the same way?

Anecdotally, it would seem not. Something I recall reading about Robin Williams went something along the lines of, “Well, he was in therapy for years, he was in his sixties, why did he kill himself?” The response was, “Being in therapy for years is how you get into your sixties with something like this.” My own low moments, they cyclical nature and the way the Bad days just keep coming back…

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It depends on how stable you see personality traits. I think it also rolls back to how society sees mental illnesses and addictions, and whatever else as well. After all, we as humans take our cues from the world around us, and if the world around us thinks there’s always going to be something wrong with us because we have a mental illness, how how are we supposed to recover fully?

Chew on that.

Stay awesome, everyone.

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Both photographs were taken by me, please ask before reusing.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 😉

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Book

Teacup

 

 

Good Evening one and all!

My flipping beast of a laptop has decided to pick up the charming new habit of disconnecting from its battery if I pick it up wrong, so this might have to go up a couple of times…no matter.

Anyway, I’ve been stupidly busy over Easter, with both family and schoolwork, but it’s finally coming together and it’s all looking good.

So, in this installment of ‘What’s going on in Hannah’s head’ this week, I was thinking a bit about boxes. Mental boxes, not physical boxes. I just about finished my abstract philosophy essay this morning, and I’m pretty proud of myself for it. Maybe it is just a question of familiarity. But the thing about mental boxes, or labels, or whatever you want to call them, is that they’re quite a contentious thing these days. I spend a lot of time on Tumblr, when I get the chance, and when I’m not browsing my fandom tags (don’t judge me, okay) I’m skimming through the social activist posts that inevitably crop up on my dashboard. And most of them are on the same wavelength – “Let People Be Who They Are.”

Which is fantastic, but then you get into the argument of just where the boundaries lie, and that’s where you get problems. It’s like a sociological border skirmish.

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Here’s the thing about human beings – we like to put things in boxes. We like to label stuff – there’s evidence to suggest that we form impressions seven seconds after meeting a person, and stereotypes become formed by age 7. It’s probably a defence mechanism – we like to know what we’re dealing with. Ingroup/outgroup, and all that jazz.

Something that came up during my last ‘Philosophy of Psychology’ essay (let’s call it that for now) was that I can’t deal with abstract concepts, like theories with no scientific basis. Which is the whole basis of philosophy, as I see it – it’s all speculation based on either observation or one too many snifters (for further information, please see Monty Python’s ‘The Philosopher’s Song.’). Hence I finally grasped what the hell I was meant to be doing and promptly went, “Ah, f*ck this.” (The same is happening now, except I have more of an idea of how these people think, so it’s no so much of a holy mystery). But, anyway, something that came up between me and my mum was that I don’t do abstract. Like, at all. Stuff that I can’t put away under a label, or in a box, blows my mind.

Realising this was a good thing. I was able to tell him, “Be precise!” when I was doing some DIY on the farm over Easter with my Dad, rather than getting yelled at for getting confused (and then yelling back at him for being confusing) . Usually, I’m quite good at DIY, and at working with Dad cause we’ve had a lot of practice; but sometimes he trails off in the middle of an instruction, and then I can’t read his mind and get confused. Maybe a neurotypical could, depending on level of experience, but I can’t. Please, be precise, I don’t know what you’re thinking. I can’t extrapolate what you want.

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I think, as an Aspie, that’s why I like mental boxes so much. I like to have a category, I like to have a prescribed set of drills, I like to know what I’m supposed to be doing. I think maybe that’s why there’s such a lot of overlap between autism and OCD – it’s not just about the sensory stimulation, the tic-ing, the love of routine et al., et al…it’s about knowing what, or who I’m dealing with, which social scripts to access. The need to have everything where it should be so I can sort through it both mentally and physically.

It’s made more complex by the fact that my dyspraxia means I can’t always make my body or my words do what I want them to. Knowing who or what to expect makes it easier because I have time to activate the right script and practice it. You hear me talking to myself? That’s probably me doing just that.

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So, I see all these people on the internet, arguing about what constitutes a particular label, or what’s the best way of talking to people who identify with a particular group. And different names for the same thing, or different ways of referring to the same thing. Its like wading through a bramble patch. Hence I don’t really engage because I know I’ll slip up, so I stick to what I know.

Yeah, I’m aware of how closed minded I sound. But bear in mind this is the girl who didn’t engage in class discussion from the age of about 12 to 18, who had her first curry at 17 and thought she was brave for trying a korma (I still hate overly spicy food), who found it easier to lie about the fact she was in a same-sex relationship because it was preferable than facing the questions. Who had a complete sexuality crisis when she was in that relationship because she was changing boxes – from a girl who thought her bisexuality was a phase to embracing it fully (and loving every second, might I add).

I want to step outside the box, but it isn’t easy for me. I’m trying, but outside the boxes, I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know where the paths are, and I don’t want to get lost.

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As a species, we love boxes, and putting labels on them. For the people that don’t fit in a specific box, it’s tough. Hell, I don’t even fully fit into the Aspie box, but here I am. But labels can be empowering as well as stigmatising, so we shouldn’t throw them out altogether.

I suppose the end message is this: Box things up, but make sure you put them in the right place.

Stay awesome, everyone!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Shamrock

Winter Gardens

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.

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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.’

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“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…)

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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.’

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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)

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Yeah, I got annoyed.

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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…

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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. 

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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.

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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!

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Socks

Books

All pictures of Rafferty are mine.

What’s in Your Head?

Good evening Internet!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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!

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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.’

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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.

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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…’

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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.

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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.

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Pen clip art

Books

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

Driven to Distraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But still.

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

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I really love wintertime in the countryside.

Stay awesome everybody.

 

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