Sunday, 15 February 2015

Of camels and straws

Life is a little delicate at the moment.

It's been a busy couple of months - I've moved, and am now living alone again instead of sharing with family.  I've ended up involved in some community theatre type stuff, which is going terribly well.  And I've started learning Auslan, because a) I flap ferociously when I talk anyway so I might as well do something productive with those movements, and b) given my ongoing sensory problems with noise and being able to hear and speak in loud environments, I reckon the basics of a non-verbal language would be a really useful addition to my personal toolkit.

But, this flurry of activity brings a problem:

There's only so much I can handle, and taking on extra stuff either means something has to give, or like the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back I'll collapse under the weight of it all and end up in an overwhelmed puddle of tears, pain and hopelessness.

In related news, I recently ended up in an overwhelmed puddle of tears, pain and hopelessness.

 I reckon there are a couple of issues at play here:

1.  Sensory stuff.  Because my brain doesn't filter stuff out like most do, I have to consciously handle a lot of noise, smells, textures and other inputs most people aren't even aware of unless they concentrate.  That takes energy.  It's why I'm done with a party or trip to the show a lot sooner than most people: it's just too much, and I'm exhausted.

2.  Focus!  While my many experiments in finding techniques and tools and systems to get myself organised are just about keeping my head above water, none of it comes naturally to me.  I'm easily distracted, I struggle to focus on anything (even my special interests, really) and generally the inside of my head looks a bit like this.  (Caution: autoplay video.)  That means it takes me longer to get things done than you'd expect, so sometimes I end up overwhelmed by what would be a normal workload for someone else.

3.  Depression.  It's a bitch, yo.

4.  I don't have the support network to back me up.  If I'm home late after an Auslan class or rehearsal there won't be dinner in the oven thanks to a helpful partner or housemate, there's nobody to help out with the extra housework that comes with living alone, there's nobody to hold me if I just need a damn good cry.  99% of the time I am completely OK with this.  I choose to live alone because not having anyone to split the chores with or come and see that hilarious cat video is a fair exchange for not having to deal with the inevitable interpersonal awkwardness and drama.  But I need to remember, when I'm comparing myself to other people, that they've probably got a network I don't.

5.  There are a whole bunch of life skills I've been slow to learn, because at the age I should have been learning them I was dealing with the whole depression, anxiety, undiagnosed Aspergers thing.  I don't just mean practical things (although I just learned the other day you can take the knobs off your stove to clean it.  Who knew?) but a lot of stuff related to focus, organisation, and emotional regulation and resilience too.  I'm learning.  But I'm freakin' slow.

When everything's going well, it's tempting to add one more straw to the camel and one more and one more. And it's tempting to get slack about the systems and supports that are keeping things going well.  I know it's really dangerous to be complacent - this isn't my first experience with overwhelmed puddlehood, and certainly not my worst - but it's very easy to be lulled into a false sense of security when your camel looks so sturdy.

Go easy on the straw.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

It's not just me

I'm really bad at people.  I can't strike up conversations or keep them going outside of specific scripted situations.  I can't tell who's friendly and safe and who's a potential rapist or murderer.  I can't make relationships happen, and if the other party makes them happen I struggle to hold up my end until it either crashes and burns or withers miserably away.  I take things literally and miss subtext, and am blind to the overarching narrative chain of which this present interaction is just one link.  I can't keep track of who's who in social networks.  I just can't do people.  

None of this is news. I have Aspergers.  I also have a tangle of other stuff, the most relevant to this discussion being the triple-headed blob of suck that is depression, anxiety and social phobia. I am clinically not good at people.

So it always comes as a surprise to me when I get a reminder that a lot of neurotypical people are just as bad at people as I am.

This wasn't what I was hoping to find when I searched for "awkward", but it's too good not to share

I think most people have some trouble with social stuff.  That google's first autocomplete for "I have no..." is "friends" suggests interpersonal relations are hard whatever your neurology.   (Other high ranking suggestions, in case you care, "idea what I'm doing", "energy" and "mouth and I must scream".)

Why?  We're social animals.  Functional relationships are not only something most of us yearn for, but come in handy for the continuation of the species.  You'd imagine we'd be putting a great deal of conscious and unconscious effort into getting it right.

But society's a giant blob of people who can't or won't get on.  Some of it's willful, but a very great deal of it is people who just can't do any better.

This is at once disheartening and strangely reassuring.  It's disheartening because if people with all the cards stacked in their favour still screw up social stuff in the worst possible ways, what sort of hope do I have?  But it's reassuring because, if most people struggle with this stuff, I'm not an irredeemable freak if I struggle too.  (It does, however, lead to the bullshit line "but isn't everyone a little bit autistic?"  To which, to quote Stephen Fry, the short answer is "no" and the long answer is "fuck no".)

I like to think I've got some sort of advantage over a lot of the random social inepts, in that I know I'm crap and am trying, in my own barely competent way, to do better.  I know what I don't know and can't do, and when things do go wrong I often have at least a vague idea why.  That must give me a slight advantage over the shouty berk who's never got further than thinking they're right and the rest of the world's wrong.

Mustn't it?

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Is this diagnosis worth it?

Sometimes, through the haze of stereotypes and misinformation and clueless service providers and insensitive randoms and support groups that tell you to GTFO when they realise you're not ringing on behalf of a small child, I wonder whether this Aspergers diagnosis is more bother than it's worth.

There was a complicated reason I chose this pic, but I forget. Sorry.
That's a weird thing to say given all the rigmarole it took to get it.  And I still believe the self awareness and understanding it has brought to my life has made it one of the best things to happen to me.  Knowing I'm an Aspie is a valuable and important thing.

But in my day-to-day life, the diagnosis itself is at best irrelevant, and sometimes an active disadvantage.

It doesn't provide access to any services.  Most services are tailored to children, so I was already 20 years too old to be eligible when I was diagnosed.  The services that could help me - help with some effective coping strategies for dealing with executive dysfunction, an advocate to explain sensory sensitivity to employers who think I'm just a whiny bitch, or someone to walk me through the social shit that should have been explained to me when I was four - don't exist.  And because the sky high unemployment rate among adults on the spectrum means we're unlikely to have the sweet dolla dolla to pay for such help, there's no incentive for any entrepreneurial service provider to set up shop.  And if I ever fall on enough hard times to need the disability pension, God only knows what Centrelink hoops I'd have to jump through.

It can actively block you from other help you need.  Somehow having an ASD diagnosis seems to make you ineligible for mental health treatment.  Have I told you about the time I was turned away from a mental health unit while actively suicidal because, and I quote, "Aspergers isn't a mental health issue"?  Because that's a thing that happened.

It's assumed to be the root of your every problem and health concern.  Depression?  Aspergers.  Anxiety?  Aspergers.  Being bullied?  Aspergers.  Toothache?  Aspergers.  Menopause?  Aspergers.  Broken leg?  The guy putting the plaster on would probably find a way to make it about Aspergers.

It's all therapists ever want to talk about. The novelty of having a real live adult Aspie (and a female, too!) means I've paid good money for "therapy" that's been nothing but me explaining Aspergers to the alleged professional.  And not even complex, obscure details or things that are unique to me - basic stuff like "there's this thing called sensory sensitivity..." that they could find out about in three minutes on Wikipedia.  Note to counsellors, psychologists and talk-therapists of all kinds: a patient with Aspergers is NOT an opportunity for you to get some professional development while the meter's running.

Medical people don't believe each other.  Did I miss an awards ceremony where I was supposed to get a framed fucking certificate to prove my Aspergers?  Because I've seen a lot of different doctors (I've moved four times in the last six years, including twice interstate) and only ever had one believe me when I told her I had an existing Aspergers diagnosis.  The others were all "we'll see about that!" as if two psychologists, a psychiatrist, an EEG, an IQ test, and a diagnostic process that lasted six months was somehow worth less than the gut hunch of a random GP who'd known me for ten seconds.  I'm sick of reinventing the wheel every time I need a flu shot or something to counter the effects of a dodgy Chinese takeaway.  It's easier to just not mention that trifling detail about having a lifelong neurodevelopmental disability.

Aspergers diagnosis.  I'm really glad I've got one.  It changed my life.  But sometimes it's just a fucking nuisance.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Getting organised: sometimes low tech is the answer

My adventures in executive (dys)function continue as a new working year begins, bringing a very real need to knuckle down and get stuff done.  There's a lot to do this year and a lot of potential opportunities swirling around, but inertia and executive functioning shenanigans are threatening to knock the lot flying.

I have learned one very important thing about managing my own executive dysfunction in the last year: electronic doodads are largely useless.

Yes, there are calendars and diaries of various kinds and reminder apps and timers and all sorts of other digital goodies that are a great help to a lot of people.

But none of that 'sticks' for me.  I forget to set reminders or put appointments in my Outlook diary, or forget to check it.  I do up elaborate Gantt charts for project management, and forget to check them as well. Or the reminders go off, I click 'OK', and then immediately forget about them and go on with what I was doing. None of it really penetrates the ADD-scented Aspie fog surrounding my brain.

For that, I need something physical.

Physical diaries and to-do lists work much better for me than digital ones, for at least two reasons.

The first is that I can't just ignore them.  A diary on top of my keyboard that has to be picked up before I can get sucked into farting around online can't be ignored as easily as browser tab.  Having to physically pick it up and move it makes more of an impression on me than just clicking 'dismiss'.  Once I've picked it up, I realise what I'm supposed to do with it, and flip it open and get to work.

The other is that the physical act of writing also make more of an impression on me than typing.  Something committed to paper feels more concrete and important than something typed into a checklist app.  Crossing off completed items is also much more satisfying than clicking a box or deleting a line.

For longer-term projects and more complicated stuff, I've become a big fan of whiteboards.  I've currently got five in circulation, which sounds ridiculous but three of those are at work, and they were already there when I started so I thought I might as well use them.  That turned out to be a great idea.  All my big, long-term stuff is on one board, slowly getting crossed off and amended as things happen, while a smaller board is dedicated to another project and another keeps track of repeating tasks like fortnightly reports.

At home, I've got a big one for messing about, making lists and whatever I happen to be working on at the time (at the moment it's being used to work out the running order of acts for a variety show, because don't ask) and another marked up as a calendar.  I'm quite pleased with it.  I've used washi tape to mark it up into columns and rows, added the days of the week in permanent pen at the top, so at the start of the month I just have to write in the new dates.  I can mark which days I'm working, regular stuff like pay day and when the bins go out, and any other appointments, events and things I have to do.

Again, having a big physical thing I can't help but see is a useful tool for reminding me stuff has to be done.  But the act of updating things, crossing things out, updating the calendar at the start of a new month, also helps me get clear in my mind what I'm doing and how I'm going to do it.

It's terribly unfashionable to need a paper diary, two notebooks and a series of boards to plan your life in the age of smartphones and cloudy devices.  But the physical acts of writing and crossing out and drawing arrows and changing the numbers around when I realise the tasks should be done in a different order just works for my brain in the way that digital doodads just don't.

It might look like an old-fashioned and inefficient system, but it's helping me be far more productive than anything the 21st century has to offer so far.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Want to do a guest post for Letters from Aspergia?

Happy new year, chickadees.

I've been thinking about how to spruce the blog up for 2015, to keep it interesting and cover new ground.  I'm also very aware that my perspective is only my own.  The spectrum is so very wide, and my place on it so unremarkable, that there's a lot of autism-related stuff that doesn't get covered here because I just don't have anything to say about it.

The logical answer is that it's time to get other people involved, with different experiences and stories to share.

So, for the first time, I'm opening Letters from Aspergia up to guest posts.  To find out how to get involved, read on...

What I'm looking for:
  • Personal stories, experiences or insight
  • Practical advice and tips
  • Explanations of a particular issue or of activism/advocacy you're involved in
  • Different perspectives: people who can talk about being on the spectrum while living in the bush or in a major city, being an immigrant or refugee, Indigenous, gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or non-binary-gendered, having kids or being pregnant, belonging to a subculture or religious group, or whatever experience you have that others don't

What I'm not looking for:
  • Stuff that's already been published elsewhere - it'll bugger up the SEO for both our sites
  • Sales pitches and affiliate links
  • Talk of us being burdens, tragedies, soulless or otherwise wretched
  • Snake oil and quackery
  • Manifestos about the Aspergian master race 
  • Defamation or anything else legally problematic

People on the spectrum will get first preference, but family members, researchers, and other people with something interesting to share will be considered. Australians will get first preference, but people from other countries will be considered.  Indigenous Australians are very welcome.

I'm happy to attribute your post to either your real name or whatever pseudonym you usually go by online, and link back to your own site/social media/wherever you hang out.

Posts can be up to 1500 words, and you can either provide an image or I can find one.  Video or audio posts are welcome as long as you're OK to upload it to Youtube, Soundcloud or wherever it'll live before it's embedded.

Want to get involved?  There's no deadline, so just drop me a line when you're ready, letting me know what you'd like to post about, and a link to your own blog/site/wherever I can find out a little about you if we don't already know each other.