Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Heal thyself

Many books, like Louise L Hay's You Can Heal Your Life, posit that poor physical health is caused by one's psychological outlook.  They even go as far to give a definitive list of physical complaints from acne to heart disease and the corresponding emotional blockages and disordered thinking which cause them.  It's the basis for a whole industry dedicated to generating shiny thoughts for health-giving purposes, like the medical arm of The Secret.

There's just one slight problem.

It has the potential to cause far more suffering than it alleviates.

Union Hospital in New Ulm, Minnesota, Has Five Up-To-Date Intensive Care Units Such as the One Shown...
Didn't think enough happy thoughts
 
I'm in a position to know this because over the years I've been subjected to an array of woo and wild speculation dressed up as fact in relation to my own health issues.  I think the actual problems might have been diagnosed a few years earlier without the interference of well-meaning but ill-informed folk trying to realign my chakras, teach me EFT tapping, and lecturing me to stop and smell the roses.

A positive outlook can influence one's health, but its influence plays in with the influences of diet, physical activity, financial and geographic situation, genetics and proper medical care.  If there's a problem with any of those other factors, all the sunny dispositions in the world can't be expected to paper over the cracks unless all the other elements are brought in to help.  It's much like reciting affirmations - they can help, but they're not a magic wand that can fix all your problems with no effort outside saying the words.

If there is a genuine health concern which requires medical attention, then advising someone to instead heal themselves with the power of their mind is irresponsible.  It has the potential to delay medical treatment, so something which could have been treated easily in its early stages is left to fester and worsen until complications arise.  

For conditions which already have baggage, like mental illnesses, it also adds another layer of blame and guilt and unnecessary angst for those affected to wade through before they seek help.  There's still a real stigma attached to needing something as simple as antidepressants.  If you've never experienced it, you've never had someone lucky enough to be born with perfectly balanced neurological chemicals lecturing you about 'big pharma' brainwashing.

And the final problem?  It's an insult.  It assumes that people living with disability, with chronic pain, little children with cancer and grandmas with dementia, somehow brought this on themselves through some fault or incompetence of their own.

Does a positive attitude have a role to play in physical and mental health?

Yes.

Is it the foundation and source of all physical and mental health?

No.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

10 things I've never done

One of the things that suck about growing up Aspie is you miss out on things that should become formative experiences, so when you grow up there's always something of a lack of shared cultural knowledge between you and your peers.  This can be just as big a problem as the actual social skills deficit - even if you are able to interact with others, you don't have the shared history that helps you connect.

For instance, I was very late to develop an interest in popular music, TV and films, because I was too busy navigating through a confusing and painful maze of bullying, sensory dysfunction and nonexistent body awareness to have much energy left for Beverley Hills 90210.  This meant even if I did somehow find myself in a conversation with another kid in my year seven class we'd have nothing to talk about, because from memory they talked about nothing but 90210. Music probably came into it too, but I've just googled what did well in Australia's charts that year and the only ones I'd even heard of were The Proclaimers' 500 Miles and Four Non Blondes' What's Up, and I don't remember either of those taking St Mary's North Rockhampton by storm.  Not that I'd probably noticed if they had, I suppose.

This follows you through life.  There are a lot of things I haven't done which most of my cohort have.  These things, or rather this lack of expected experience, continues to mark you as an outsider years after you've got your proprioception under some sort of control and learned to fake eye contact.

So, by way of illustration...

10 things I've never done (that most people my age have)

A lion tamer at Bertram Mills Touring Circus, Ascot

Travelled overseas.  When I had the inclination, I didn't have the money.  Now I have the money, but I know my limits (in terms of organisation, fatigue, and ability to navigate the unknown) better than to set off alone.

Asked someone out on a date.

Had a housewarming.

Got a phone call at an odd hour from a drunk, stoned or otherwise high friend, or been asked to assist said friend in any way.  I did once help a drunk acquaintance take her high heels off and tuck her into bed, but that's a long story and one best not told to protect the innocent.

Supported a friend through a breakup.  Not that I wouldn't if the need arose, but I've never known anyone well enough to be in that position.

Asked for someone's phone number for a non-work reason.  I do a lot of asking for numbers for work, but outside work I'd rather try to convert those lions to veganism than hit up a stranger for their phone number.

Seen Back to the Future or Star Wars.  Of course there are an infinite number of other films and TV shows I haven't seen, music I haven't heard, and books I haven't read, but unless you've tried to navigate the 21st century as a person who doesn't particularly know about those two film series, you wouldn't believe just how often they pop up.  There's a PhD thesis in there somewhere, about their role as modern myths and cultural shorthand.

Done an assignment the night before it's due, or not done it at all.

Been in a wedding party.  Until last year, that could have read 'been to a wedding'.

Been to a music festival.  Work once shoved me in the direction of the Gympie country music muster, but that doesn't count because I was working backstage rather than being an actual festival attendee.  I didn't actually do any of the things one does at a music festival.  Whatever those are.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Creating an Aspie habitat

House in the Inner City of Chicago, Illinois ... 08/1974If our homes are our castles and our sanctuaries, we might as well make them places where we can be as comfortable as possible.  And there are ways we can "Aspie-fy" our homes, for the benefit of the people on the spectrum who live there.

This will be different for everyone.  We've all got different sensory triggers, different executive function and self care needs, and different personalities.  But here are a few things that are working at my place:

Put it where you can see it:  If there are things you need to be reminded of - putting out bins, dealing with mail, charging your phone - put those things or reminders of them in clearly visible places.  I'm OK with the bins, because I have enthusiastic elderly neighbours who put out their own bins at 3pm the day before, thereby helpfully reminding the whole street that Friday is rubbish day and whether or not it's recycling week.  But I have a chronic problem with mail, so these days it lives in the middle of the dining room table where I have to look at it every time I eat or walk past it until I get around to actually dealing with it.

Put it where you use it: My mobile phone charger lives beside the bed, because I use my phone as an alarm clock and I'm in a routine of plugging it in every night to recharge while I sleep.  My kitchen scale is actually in the spare room, because I don't cook but I do use it for weighing stuff I'm selling on Ebay.  The stuff itself (people who take online selling seriously call it "inventory", as in "I need inventory so I'm going to an estate sale to buy dead peoples' stuff") is also in the spare room.  So are the pens, sticky tape, post satchels, a white sheet draped over a chair to act as a photo backdrop, and a printed-out guide to parcel prices stuck to the wall for easy reference.  So when listing day rolls around, I just take the laptop into the spare room and everything I need to do the job is there waiting for me.

In the face of executive dysfunction, this is essential if I'm going to get anything done.  I own a thousand pens and there's a mug in every room full of the things, because that way I can always find one when I want one.  I have five hairbrushes which undertake a circular migration between bedroom, bathroom and lounge room.  I have sunscreen, bottles of water and a full set of eating implements in the car so I don't have to remember those things when I go out for a day.  I have sets of house keys at work, in the car, and in a secret outdoors hideyhole so when I inevitably lock myself out of the house I have a spare set to get back in again. Having multiples of common items might seem excessive and un-frugal, but it means I don't spend half my day like my mother, looking for her single comb/pen/notebook, which she's misplaced for the fourteenth time since breakfast.

Keep visual clutter under control: Sensory triggers are different for everyone, but personally visual clutter really annoys me.  I have very little ornamentation going on in my home, few pictures on walls and not a lot of stuff on display.  What I do have is usually organised rather than being a big chaotic mass of colour and shapes.  I also like simple blocks of colour - plain walls, plain floors, plain rugs, plain sheets, plain shower curtains, plain tablecloths.  Busy patterns overwhelm me.  Too much stuff distracts me from the things I need to see - which takes us back up to point one.

Keep the noise down: Noise is a massive trigger for me, so I never have a radio or TV on "for company" or for "background noise".  I once spent a whole morning experimenting with sticking bits of wood and folded paper under the fridge to get it perfectly level so it'd stop making a groaning noise.  I put the washing machine on before I go out so I don't have to hear it, and very seldom use a dryer because I prefer the sun, which is not only silent but free.  I now have - by luck rather than design - a microwave that beeps once when the meal's finished and then shuts up, rather than doing that 'beep beep beep beep beep beep BEEP BEEP BEEEEEEP COME GET YOUR GODDAMN FOOD, FOOL!' thing so many of them do.

Overall, it's about knowing what your own triggers are, and finding ways to work around them and create a space in which you're happy to live.  Our homes should be our safe places, our sanctuaries, and they need to be spaces were we feel comfortable and, well, at home.

Photo: House in the inner city of Chicago, Illinois, August 1974 from the US National Archives via Flickr Commons.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Tag! You're it!

Or rather, I'm it.
fast

I've been tagged for the Liebster Awards, a 'tell us about yourself' blog hop for new sites with less than 200 followers, by recent tagee Musings of an Aspie.  I don't strictly fit in that this blog's not new, but it does have well less than 200 followers, so I'm claiming it with glee.  A little recognition is a wonderful thing. Also, who doesn't like talking about themselves?

The first task for this Liebster ('beloved' in German) lark is to give 11 random facts about yourself.  So here goes, in my usual rambling stream-of-consciousness style:

1. I am really shy and not at all good at conflict, even of the mildest sort.

2.  I recently had my hair cut short and dyed it purple.

3. I can't decide if this makes me look awesome, or ridiculous.

4. The biggest source of clutter in my life are my email inboxes.  They're always overflowing with crap.

5. This is because if there's something I don't want or know how to deal with - say someone's offered to do a guest post over on the travel blog I run, but I'm not sure if they're legit or just a text-spinning link-whore - I just ignore it.

6. I feel really, really guilty about that.  But sometimes I'm just not up to correspondence.

7.  I don't know if that's laziness, cowardice, or something to do with the social or executive function issues that come with Aspergers.

8.  If I knew it was an Aspie thing, I'd stop feeling guilty about it, or at least try to, because I'd know it wasn't just laziness or cowardice.  This is a line I really struggle with, that grey space between beating yourself up for stuff you genuinely can't do, and using an excuse to get out of stuff you could if you just knuckled down.  I don't know where that line is.

9.  I suspect, however, that it's much further over to the 'you genuinely can't do this' side than I realise.  I've been living alone and working full time and generally trying to be normal for a good 12 years now, and I. Am.  Exhausted.

10. So I'm coming to the realisation I can either go on as I have been and become more and more exhausted and bewildered until I crash, or I can redraw that line and give myself a chance to recover.

11. Sometimes I dream of running away and becoming a burlesque performer.

Now it's time to answer 11 questions from the person who tagged you - Musings of an Aspie, in my case:

What book are you currently reading?
I'm still in the midst of a collection of Byron I started two years ago and keep forgetting about even though I genuinely like reading it.  I recently gave up on How to be Idle because it started well but then my interest just slid.  I'm about to track myself down some PG Wodehouse, because I've recently fallen in love with Jeeves and Wooster through my Stephen Fry fangirlings.

What hobby or interest would people who don’t know you well be surprised to learn you have? 
If you only know me through this blog, you might be surprised to learn I'm a witch, pagan, and read tea leaves and tarot cards.

Coffee, tea or something else?
Always tea.  I love tea.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be? 
I used to wish for invisibility, but have come to realise that was less about being able to sneak around and more about being so socially anxious I wished people couldn't see me.  So while that power might be handy, it isn't a healty one for me.

Then I realised a superpower could be anything, so I got out of the old comic heroes mindset and thought about what would be the most useful in today's world.  I'd like amazing, uncanny, superhuman... social skills.

What’s your go-to activity for entertaining out-of-town guests?
Dinner out, if they're in town overnight.  A trip somewhere like a park or nature reserve type place otherwise.  In the town where I'm living at the moment there's a delightful and very old park that has a little craft and cakes store in it, so I take everyone there.

And by 'everyone', I mean my Mum.  Who else would there be?

If you could have any sort of animal for a pet, what would it be? (assume anything is possible, like if you want a pet giraffe, your neighbors won’t mind a bit) 
Not a pet but a companion/acquaintance type thing, but if I lived near the ocean I think being able to hang out with dolphins would be a blast.

Do you have any phobias? 
Social phobia.  Also heights.

When did you start writing? 
This blog?  Three years ago or thereabouts.

In general?  I've never not written. I was reading and writing before I started school.  The first thing I ever wrote was "Swan Hotel", on a deposit slip in a bank where my mother was doing some business when I was still getting about in a pram.  I copied it off the sign on the building over the road.  I vaguely recall it being hailed as a sign of my genius.

Which Halloween candy did you eat first and which did you always give/throw away? 
Halloween's becoming a thing in Australia now, but it wasn't at all when I was a kid.  I was aware of its existence from American TV shows, but certainly no trick-or-treating was ever undertaken.  But in general, when faced with a bag of mixed lollies I'll eat the nicest ones first and save the blah ones til last.

How far away from your place of birth do you currently live?
1,322km, according to Google Maps.  It feels further.

If someone is only going to read one thing on your blog, what would you like it to be?
I think you could do worse than to begin at the beginning, with the post (originally a Facebook note) that kicked the whole thing off: The First Letter.

The most popular post on this blog, by a very, very wide margin, is Is autism the next step in human evolution?  This is vaguely annoying because I personally don't consider it one of my better posts - there are much better ones that haven't had a tenth of the views.  Also the answer is basically 'no'.

Next, I have to set some questions for the next round of taggees:

1. Who are you?  (In as great or little detail as you feel like sharing)
2. What's the story behind this blog?
3. Right- or left-handed, or something else?
4. Does evil exist?
5. Do the ends justify the means?
6. If we use our brains to understand the world around us, but we don't understand how our brains work, do we understand anything?
7. Loud socks or plain?
8. Do you think Lady Macbeth's reference to the "milk of human kindness" means human kindness, or humankind-ness?  Or something else?
9. Justice or fairness?
10. What's a key point in your life, where had you made a different decision things would be very different for you?  What would you and your life be like today if you'd chosen differently?
11. Now, bearing in mind all those anwers.... who are you?

The last step in this Liebster business is to tag 11 more up and coming blogs.  However, I don't know 11 bloggers - I'm not sure I even know 11 people outside of my immediate family and work colleages - so here's the deal.

Get thee hence to the comment section, and tag yourself.  Whoever you are, whatever sort of blog you have,  all decent folk are welcome here.  So if you'd like to be tagged in this blog-hop, but maybe you're just as shy and poorly connected as I am and don't know anyone to tag you, here's your chance to tag yourself.  Just leave a comment with a link to your blog in it, so we can all follow up on your answers.

No, seriously.  Don't be shy.  I'm really worried nobody at all will respond to this, and I'll look like a complete stalk.  And probably run away and cry.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

When change is a good thing

by Hustvedt on Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes, change is a good thing.

Starting a relationship, moving to a new town, getting or changing jobs, even signing up with a new ISP - all these things can be good.  They can bring happiness, new opportunities, more money, improved self esteem, and faster broadband.

But there's comfort in the familiar, even if it sucks.  You know the rules there, it's predictable and reliable.  There's no element of risk or danger.  It looks, tastes, feels, sounds and smells familiar.  We know the triggers - sensory and emotional - and have methods in place to deal with them.  Change has none of these things.

Anxiety and depression can make navigating change even more difficult.  Our natural aversion to change is exacerbated by anxiety that lies to us that every little thing is a disaster, and depression that lies to us that there's no point even trying because we're worthless and stupid and don't even deserve to be here.

These are lies.

Change can be a good thing, bringing us a beautiful future of love, happiness, fortune and comfort.  Reaching out for it is scary.  Living through it can be terrifying, as the solid foundations of your life ripple and twist and rearrange themselves.  I won't say it's easy because I know it bloody isn't.

But it can be done.  And it can be so very, very worthwhile.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The geography of feelings

I've had a win today.  I think I may finally properly have my head around the difference between anxiety and hunger.

My body awareness is really shaky.  It affects my sense of where I am in space - which leads to tripping and running into things - and in terms of sensing my own internal processes like pain and cold.  The second one, I think, is the root of my problem with telling anxiety from hunger.

The two both feel like physical feelings to me, but one's a little higher than the other - hunger's more around the solar plexus, just under the ribcage, whereas anxiety is lower, more around the navel.  But actually figuring this out and telling one from the other accurately has taken me more than 30 years to sort out.  This explains why my anxiety went untreated for years.  Also why I am fat.

This set me to thinking about what other feelings - both physical and emotional - have a particular part of the body where they hang out.  Here's what I've come up with: