Saturday, 19 July 2014

You can only do what you can do

Guess what I found jumbled up with my tax paperwork?  The sensory profile I had done a couple of years ago:
example of a sensory profile report
example of a sensory profile report
I'm going to hang onto it, and when I've got enough space for a big noticeboard, it's going up on it.  Not because I need to refer to it or because it has any particular sentimental value, but because it's a tangible, professional report that quantifies how my sensory processing differs from the norm. 

I keep it for the days when I feel down about my ability to get stuff done.  For the days when I wonder if I was just a bit smarter or worked a bit harder or tried another productivity technique or got up earlier or took different vitamins or got over myself, I'd be normal.

That's a thing that happens when your disability's invisible, I think, especially if like me you weren't diagnosed until adulthood.  When I was a kid the narrative I lived was that I was fairly bright and destined for a certain kind of life.  Then I grew up, and between Aspergers and depression that life didn't happen.  Bits of it did, and bits of it still might, but the overall narrative is very different.  And, irrational as I know it is, I feel I've rather let the side down.

That's where this thing comes in.  It's a reminder that I haven't just failed to launch, I'm not lazy or fussy and I'm not wasting my life.  I'm doing the best I can with what I have.  It's just that what I have is quite different from what most other people have, and different from what I thought I had when I set out on the journey.  At the first flat tyre, I opened the boot and instead of a wheel brace and a jack, I had an oud.

It's worth remembering that.  Because I still spend a lot of time blaming myself for not changing the tyre, even though I know I don't have the best set of tools for the job.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

That dangerous moment when everything's going well

Life is great.

Yay! Things are great! Don't screw it up
No, really, right now things are going exceptionally well.  I've got a meaningful job with enough hours a week to earn a living, but not so many that I don't have any energy or mental resources for a life outside it.  I'm writing and arting and have a tiny but slowly growing bit of community involvement going on.  I'm fat and I spend too much time online, but I'm active and I have some worthwhile physical-world stuff going on too.

This is a critical point.  It's here, if I'm not careful, that it all turns to shit.

When things are going as well as they are now, it's very tempting to take on a bit more.  Maybe find a bit of weekend work to supplement my income, or make a genuine effort to pick up some freelancing on the side.  Move out of the house I'm sharing with family into my own place.  Launch a substantial creative project, get involved in a club or a community group, sign up for a class.

But the reason I'm doing so well right now is that there's about as much on my plate as I can handle.  Adding a bit more - an extra job, an extra commitment, maintaining a whole place by myself rather than just my bit of a shared load - means scraping a bit of something else off, or the whole plate will overbalance, fall down the front of my white shirt and land in an inedible mess on the carpet.  That's what happened when I left full-time work a year and a bit ago.  I was producing good enough work and being productive and all the rest of it, but the job plus living alone and being a long way from my family plus the various other stuff I had on didn't leave any energy for anything else, and I was getting more and more burnt out until I reached a point where I couldn't do it any more.

Just because someone's coping really well with n days a week of work or school or other things doesn't mean they'll be able to handle n+1.  Maybe the whole reason they're coping so well is because n is their sweet spot for getting stuff done without burning out.

The other risk is that you're doing so well you forget about the importance of your support structures and coping mechanisms.  So you get lazy about your diet or your health care or your relationships or you physical activity (which I do actually do, for all that I talk smack about how much I hate sport) when those are the very things that are making it possible for you to do as well as you're doing.  Those start to crumble, and the whole lot comes crashing down.  Yes, going for a walk sucks when for nine months of the year it's so hot the water out of the hose will scald you, and the other three it's perfect weather to lie in the sun with a good book.  Yes, it sucks to be making a constant effort to eat enough vegetables when you live with people who do just fine on a diet of soft drink and heat-and-eat spring rolls.

But life's a series of trade-offs and negotiations.  There's no weakness in knowing your limits, or having to make extra effort at things other people don't have to, in order to deal with issues other people don't have.  The balancing act often wobbles.  Life changes, and this sweet spot won't last forever.  But with a bit of maintenance, I can enjoy it while it lasts.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Who are these people, and why do they all look the same?

I love my TV, and a lot of my obsessions relate to TV shows. But my taste in programs is a bit odd and very specific, for reasons I've never entirely been able to work out.  Now, I think I might have cracked it: it comes down to a mix of things like not relating to theoretically relateable characters and situations, but a big part of it is sheer faceblindness.

Photo by Pacian on Wikimedia Commons
I have a list of specific programs I enjoy and can watch over and over again, shows like The Goodies, Top Gear, Doctor Who, QI, and Dangermouse. Also the Marx Brothers' films and The Beatles' Yellow Submarine, which aren't TV shows but I've only ever watched them on TV or computer so I'm counting them. Then there's Jonathan Creek, which I simultaneously love and hate; I can watch it over and again, but find myself skipping over the long Jonathan-less scenes and the more cringey One Foot In The Grave style humour, which isn't really my thing at all.

Then there's the stuff that just doesn't interest me at all: drama and crime in particular, most sitcoms, and absolutely every soap opera ever.

Part of that is because soapies are largely about relationships.  Even though I understand and can navigate relationships a lot better now than I used to, I still find them hard work and kind of baffling.  So me watching a show full of people emoting confusingly about a series of complicated interpersonal matters is a bit like expecting an NT person to relax with a nice sheet of quadratic equations or some complex legal arguments to untangle.  Possibly while the paper's on fire.  It's just not fun.

The other part, and one that perhaps plays a much bigger role than I've ever realised in what telly I like, is faceblindness.  I've known for a while that I sometimes get guests on panel games mixed up, even when they don't really look alike at all except in the general sense of being adult human males.  Now I'm realising that a common thread through all the shows I like is characters that are very easy to tell apart.

Tim, Graeme and Bill of The Goodies not only look very different from one another by nature, but wore very different costumes as well.  The Top Gear guys each have a distinctive look. The Marx Brothers looked very similar out of costume, but in character are unmistakeable.  (Except Zeppo.  That poor guy could be anyone.)  Jonathan Creek stars Alan Davies' hair. 

Compare that to the sort of thing you get in crime shows or gritty modern dramas, which tend to feature a series of dark suits, police uniforms, white coats and little black dresses.  Is that guy on screen now that one guy from before?  Is he cheating on his wife, or is that the same woman in a different top?  Who the hell are these people?

In a discussion of standup comedy on Reddit, someone described open mic nights as "a generic mass of sweaty 20-something white male, telling dick jokes and fumbling with the microphone stand".  (That's paraphrasing, because of course now that I want to use that quote I can't find it, but that's the general idea.)   That's kind of how this feels - given that there are mobile phones out there with better facial recognition capabilities than I have, a lot of TV just starts to blur together into a big samey ball of anonymous humanity.

True stories of televisual faceblindness: in an episode of Jonathan Creek, the plot hinged around the physical similarity of two characters.  I didn't really think they looked that alike.  I still don't, even though I now know they were played by the same actor.  And when Bill Oddie shaved his beard off halfway through Earthanasia, I genuinely didn't recognise him and had no idea who this random dude was who'd just walked onto the set.  And I'm a really big fan of Bill...

...when I can recognise him.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

It's OK to be an ugly duck

The story of the ugly duckling has been solace for generations of late bloomers and picked-on nerdlings.  It’s an 1843-vintage “it gets better” for the awkward, the spotty, the wearers of dated hand-me-downs and those consistently called on last for team sports.  But when you stop to think about the message behind the story, it’s really pretty depressing.

At the end of the story the ugly duckling leaves behind its past as a gangly avian lint-bunny, and moults into an adult swan to take its true place in society. All the various barnyard animals that made its cygnethood miserable are left with swan egg on their faces as the lumpen little thing they mocked transforms into something regal and glorious.

But the duckling having been a misplaced swan all along means the message isn't...

Be kind to others, because everyone deserves respect regardless of their looks or abilities

...but...

Be kind to others, in case they turn out to be posh, pretty or powerful 

What if the ugly duckling had just grown up into an ugly duck?  One of those hybrid things perhaps, that are part Mallard, part Muscovy, and all wrong?  Would picking on it have been totally OK then, because it didn't grow up to be anything special?

Of course not: every creature deserves kindness, regardless of how pretty it is. 

But there's this lingering idea that if you have a disability or illness or difference, you have to be extraordinary in some way to 'earn' your humanity.  You need some metaphorical swan's feathers to offset the inconvenience of your presence or the cost of your care.  For Aspies, it might be the assumption that we all have savant skills or academic brilliance to make up for our sensory or social struggles.  Bipolar-type conditions seem to come with expectation of creativity or genius or both, and some people talk up schizophrenia as a spiritual experience.

Some people on the spectrum do have amazing abilities, conferred either by their neurology or through hard work and dedication.  And some of us don't.  Some of us are just chilling in the middle of the bell curve.  We're doing our best, but our best just happens to be unremarkable, ordinary and average.  Just like most other people's best.

And that's OK.  Because everyone matters, and everyone deserves respect and kindness.  Even the ones who don't grow up to be swans, or have a fairy godmother to shower them with nice stuff, or turn out to be a long-lost member of the royal family.

Even those of us who are just ugly ducks.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Observations on people walking in public

You're walking down the street, arms a-swinging, feet a-stepping, and all's right with the world.

Oh Gods, not this again
Then you see, up ahead, someone walking slightly but noticeably slower than your natural pace.  Probably a group of them, walking three abreast. Soon enough you've caught up to them, likely as not right where the footpath narrows and you're stuck behind them as they able along at a pace just slow enough to feel uncomfortable and unnatural.

What do you do?

Maybe you can see a potential overtaking space up ahead, so you speed up so you're close enough to be able to shoot through when the space appears, without getting so close you're right up behind them like some sort of creeping creeper who creeps.

Maybe you put on your Busy Person With Places To Be face, cough an 'excuse me', elbow through and get on your way.  Protip: this works well if you're in a suit or the sort of thing people wear while carrying briefcases.  It's a much harder move to pull off in scruffy jeans and a tour t-shirt for a band that split up in 2003.

Or maybe you pull a leaf from the book of what to do when someone else is standing in front of the supermarket shelf you want to look at.  That's the point when you feign deep interest in something on another shelf and wait for them to move so you can get to what you're after.  So, you stop for a bit to admire the display in an empty shop window or count some marigolds on a roundabout, to put some space between you and them.  Then you set off again, catch up again, stall again, set off again.

And then run into them, because while you've been scheming how to get past them you didn't notice they'd stopped to have a chat in the middle of the path.