Borderline Blues

It’s getting cold again. It’s definitely hat weather up here – even Rafferty, my adorable giraffe, is getting in on the action.

p1010134

Hello, Rafferty.

 

But I’ve had something of a rough day today and I wanted to talk about something.

Being borderline is painful.

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

I should explain I’m dyspraxic. I may have mentioned this before. A few facts here. Dyspraxia, also known as Developmental Co-ordination Disorder, is at it’s heart a motor development disorder, which often goes hand in hand with mental difficulties as well, like organisation difficulties, speech and perception, and planning; I call it a lack of processing power. There are days a person will say a simple sentence to me, in perfect English. I will hear that sentence, and will have to spend a good couple of minutes to work out what the hell that person meant. I am no less intelligent than anyone else on a Masters Course, but I look at things differently and sometimes more slowly than the rest.

I am also borderline autistic. Borderline meaning I have all the major traits; delayed speech, delayed social development, stereotypic hand movements and a real aversion to eye contact and intense stimuli like bright lights and sudden loud noises – just not enough of them to warrant the full diagnosis. The way they teach it, and the way that a lot of publications write (academic and otherwise) focus a lot on early development and autism in young children, because this is when it’s most salient. It’s pervasive, though, and continues into adulthood. But I don’t get why every autistic person portrayed in the media, especially documentaries and the like, is either a genius, or in need of permanent home care. It is a spectrum, and a long one at that.

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

The nice part of it is that I’m seeing more and more news crop about about shops and airports and cinemas becoming more autism-friendly. Autism friendly cinema viewings, for examples, have lowered lights and loud noises to stop sensory overload. The music and announcements are turned off in certain Asda and Toys R Us stores to allow children and adults with autism to shop in comfort. And I’m happy for them, if that’s the right phrase. Delirious, in fact. I’m only borderline, and every time the fire alarm goes off, I have a little panic attack (especially in the case of our halls fire alarm, which includes not only a siren, but flashing lights and an announcement declaring there is a fire in the building. Well no shit). It’s like a stimulus sensitive person’s nightmare. I can’t imagine what it must be like for those further along the spectrum.

It’s irritating as all-get-out, because as much as the dyspraxia diagnosis felt like it fit me (and it does, it fits me like a glove), every time someone talks about autism as a condition or their personal experiences of high-functioning autism, I feel like that fits me too, especially when I was younger. I’m autistic but I’m not. I’m dyspraxic, but sometimes I don’t know where the line is.

About this time last year, there was a fantastic blog post (which you can read here) which cropped up on my Facebook about having mild autism/Asperger’s Syndrome. This is essentially how I feel a lot of the time, diagnosis or otherwise. And there’s a lot of hate out there about it being ‘just an excuse for shitty parenting’ and a fake diagnosis. It isn’t. I made the massive mistake of clicking that option on a Google search earlier, and now I honestly feel physically sick. Later ranty blog post alert. Blogs like the one above, and a hundred thousand others will tell you it’s not like that. These are real people with real experiences.

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

In some ways, I’m not really qualified to talk. I’m sort-of autistic, not absolutely autistic, and either way I’d be high-functioning. High-functioning autism is defined as having an IQ of over 70 (which is the average for people on the spectrum). This basically means that people with HFA have a greater capacity to learn things like social skills and ‘scripts’ (even if I’m still reeeeally bad at new situations. Seriously, new situations; I lurk like a creepy lurker). Still autistic. And dyspraxic. And a trainee psychologist, and a horse lover and a knitter and a walker and a consummate nerd who like Rooster Teeth way more than she should, who is head over heels for her boyfriend and want to go inter-railing next summer.

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

Not being Aspie enough for the full diagnosis, and yet experiencing everything a person with Aspergers does, is not easy. Plus dyspraxia means I spend most of my days walking into doors. It’s a crazy-weird thing. And I’m not sure I’d change the way I think. I just want to be able to manage it right.

I am capable. But sometimes I feel no-one seems to think I am.

Stay awesome!

thumbs-up-right

For more about dyspraxia: The Dyspraxia Foundation

For more about Autism and Aspeger’s Syndrome: The National Autistic Society

A short note here; for the love of God, don’t go via Autism Speaks. They do not speak for us. Trust me.

Also a brilliant friend of mine works for the NAS and she’s quite frankly amazing, so; cheeky plug.

Thumbs up source

Filigree Divider source

 

Advertisements

Destroy The Stigma Around Mental Illness

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

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

Definitions according to Cambridge Dictionaries Online (source link)

 Picture source

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is utter bollocks.

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

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

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

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

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

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