Wednesday, 31 July 2013

An Aspie in love

vintage picture of pretty woman with a sleepy, somewhat seductive expression, holding a fabric heart
No, I'm not writing this because I'm in a relationship.  I'm not, haven't been for nearly 15 years, and don't expect to be any time soon or indeed ever.  Relationships, in the romantic sense, just aren't something I do.

When I was what is these days called a tween, I had crushes on male celebrities and maybe one or two boys I knew in real life.  They were pretty intense, thanks to Aspie obsessions doing what they do best, but I wasn't any loopier than some of the fangirls you'll find on Tumblr these days.  (And I was a lot less public about it.)  While Aspergers may have come into my tween crush stage, I think most of it was just being an adolescent girl.

Since then I've had a range of disasters and near-misses.  A very serious relationship with a man damn near 20 years my senior, which isn't insurmountable if you're both grown adults but I was still in my teens when it started.  A guy met on the internet who didn't turn up for the date.  Failing at flirting so hard my target didn't actually notice my attempts (which, in hindsight, means we both dodged a bullet.)  Inadvertently giving a poor guy I met at a Doctor Who convention really, really mixed signals.  Not making a move on someone I really fancied because I thought anyone that good would obviously be taken, only to find out he was single after he passed away.  Fancying a girl at school, but not doing anything about it because there's no way that wouldn't have ended really, really, really, really badly.

If you'd asked me-as-a-child what I wanted to do when I grew up, I'd have said exploring Egypt or digging up dinosaur bones or being a famous actor, depending on which phase I was going through.  But what I actually expected I'd do when I grew up was get married, have babies, and be a stay at home Mum.  That was what most of the female characters did in books and TV shows. It's what Nana did.  It's what Mum did.  (Except Mum also worked AND ran her own business, because she was an arse-kicking 80s Mum who got shit done.)  It was just what women did.

But it didn't.  Because, for reasons that wouldn't make sense until I'd lived a quarter of a century, that's the one thing I'm not really wired up to do.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Dealing with social media 'noise'

I love socialising online.  I live in a regional community (translation: country town with mining bloat) where it's not easy to find people who share my arty-farty interests, I'm quite shy, and there are the obvious social difficulties that come with having Aspergers, so the internet's been a great way to find some likeminded souls and share ideas.  I won't lie - I feel far more "community" in some of my online haunts than I do in the actual physical community I live in.

But the downside of being active online is digital 'noise', a background hum of constant information you're not interested in, but can't really block out.  As I try to reach out and make friends, I've been following a lot of extra people on Twitter and Tumblr and 'friending' people and liking pages on Facebook.  But the more people you connect with on social media, the more noise you have to sort through - retweeted witticisms by celebrities you've never heard of, animated .gifs from shows you've never seen, pictures of other people's lunches, and Facebook's insistence on telling me which dull corporate pages my friends have 'liked'.  There's some great stuff, but a lot of crap too.

illustration from Alice in Wonderland of the white rabbit blowing a trumpet.  A stream of social media icons are coming out of the trumpet.

Since I only have so much energy, my whole social media approach is getting an overhaul to cut down on the noise and clutter that's making it really hard to find the good stuff.

1.  Twitter lists

I've unfollowed a lot of people, to thin my feed back to the point where I'm able to keep track of who's on it.  Usually, when I check Twitter I scroll right through everything that's been posted since I was on last, so following a few extra people can quickly make that blow out if they're chatty.

Instead, I now have a series of lists - for autism, arts, people I've worked with, local news outlets - which I can check when I have time or want to catch up on a particular topic, rather than having all that information crammed into the one feed.

2.  Following Tumblogs via RSS

My Tumblr dashboard had become even more chaotic than my Twitter feed, and like Twitter I like to be able to see everything that's been posted since I was last on, rather than knowing I've missed goodness-knows-what.  So I've restricted my actual following to people and issues I really care about, and have the blogs of a nice-but-I-don't-really-have-to-see-every-post nature over to RSS.  I use Feedly these days, since my beloved Google Reader went west.  Paste the blog's URL into Feedly's "add content" box, add "/rss" to the end, and you can add it to your reader to peruse at your leisure.  And if you do find there's a tidal wave of content building up, just hit 'mark all as read' to get rid of the lot.

3.  Tumblr saviour

Sometimes a post or an issue blows up on Tumblr, and suddenly my dashboard is crammed with something I'm either not interested in or just don't get.  That's where Tumblr Saviour comes in - it's an extension that lets you block certain terms from your dashboard.  I have a heap of stuff "savioured", from other people's fandoms (Elementary, Homestuck, Sailor Moon, Les Mis) to gore, bdsm, and similar nasties I'd just rather not look at.

4.  Liking with your Facebook page rather than your personal account

You can't 'friend' people with your Facebook page, but you can 'like' other pages.  Then, when you're using Facebook as your page (rather than as your own personal account), those pages are what shows up on your timeline.  For instance, the Facebook page for this blog likes an assortment of other autism- and disability-related pages.  I see their updates when I'm using Facebook as the page, and if I comment on their stuff the comment shows up as having been left by Letters from Aspergia.  This has multiple benefits - not only does it get the page some exposure, but it means I get to keep the different parts of my life separate.  The autism stuff and the arts/blogging stuff all stays in its respective boxes, rather than being strewn throughout my own personal timeline interspersed with pictures of other people's babies and sales pitches from a coffee company that promised me a free sample if I "liked" them and then never delivered.

5.  Choose where you're going to be

I have a Linkedin account, but it's really only there to remind people I exist.  I have a Stumbleupon, but haven't used it in months and can't remember my username, let alone password or what email I signed up with.  I have a Pinterest which I tend with sporadic bouts of enthusiasm interspersed with long periods of complete inattention.  I have a Google Plus, because it just sort of started exising one day.  I'm on Quora, a site which is equal parts excellence and complete nutjobbery.

I'm technically present in those places, but I don't really consider any of them part of my social network.  I only have a finite amount of energy and attention, and have to choose wisely where to direct it.  So, I've chosen to be actually present on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, because that's where my friends are and where I find conversations I like to join in on, or just listen to and learn.

Image:  White Rabbit from the excellent From Old Books, social media icons from Elegant Themes

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Obsessions and inertia and frittering away

tick, tock, tick, tock...
I waste a lot of time.  I recently pared down my social media followings quite aggressively, but before I did I could spend hours catching up on all the new stuff in my Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter feeds... and then wondering where the day had gone.  It's mostly inertia - not being able to pull the pin on my scrolling when I should - and probably a touch of obsession as well.

I also bought a new game at the Steam sale (Terraria, in case you care) and spent far, far too many hours playing it before realising I was crap at it and losing interest.  But by then I'd spent several days not really achieving anything, and completely screwed up my sleeping patterns to boot, which further impedes my ability to get stuff done because I don't function well when I'm tired.

It's not like I don't have enough productive stuff I could be doing.  I have blogs to run, books to write, plus all the real-world stuff of vege gardens and guitar practice and washing up.  But I really, really struggle to get started on any of it.

But here's a thing.  Is this Aspie inertia?  Is it procrastination because I have perfectionist tendencies and am afraid of screwing up?  Is it a symptom of the ADD I've been diagnosed with, but that's never been dealt with?  Is it a part of depression and/or anxiety?  To paraphrase Amanda Baggs (who I think was in turn paraphrasing someone else), it's hard to tell because I've only got one brain.

And that makes it really difficult to bust out of these ruts of inactivity, because each of those causes require different techniques.  Perfectionist-driven procrastination is not like inertia, which is different again from depression-related inactivity.  If you don't know what's causing it, it's really hard to fix it.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Proprioception and fear of heights

I've always had trouble with heights.

It's not a conscious train of thought, perhaps one that goes "I have poor balance and motor skills, therefore am more likely to fall, therefore I should exercise more caution than most people in situations where I could fall off something and hurt myself".

It's an entirely instinctive thing, or unconscious, or whatever it is it's outside my control.

Enter James May, and the discussion of proprioception and vestibular sense that starts at 3:20 in this video:

Basically, the gist of the theory is that people with an extreme fear of heights may be more than usually reliant on their visual sense, as opposed to proprioceptive and vestibular sense.  As you get higher and higher, there are fewer visual landmarks to help you orient yourself, meaning your system is less able to regulate your balance.  Result - a scary unbalanced fall-y feeling, and an apparently height-induced freak out.

I don't know whether I'm more reliant on vision than others to regulate my balance.  But since neither proprioception nor vestibular sense really pull their weight with me, it stands to reason I might be.  And while I'm very aware of the everyday shenanigans these underperforming senses cause - the bumping into things, the over- and under-reaching because my arm's not where I thought it was, the having to take some time every morning when I first wake up to work out where my legs are - I hadn't thought about it extending to things like this.

The more you know.

Image: base from the Powerhouse Museum via Flickr Commons, inset Lunch Atop a Skyscraper.

Friday, 12 July 2013

No real post today, so have a poem instead

poetry is dead

poetry analysis
poetry techniques
poetry isn't in my words

poems about war
poems about love
poems about death
poems about loving someone you shouldn't
poems should be underlined

poetry is what gets lost in translation
poetry is what happens when nothing else can
what isn't poetry

hating yourself isn't poetry

poem things shouldn't be so hard
poetry is like a tree
poetry should not be taught
poetry should not mean but be 

why isn't poetry popular?
poems aren't finished
poems aren't that famous

poetry is dead

Sorry, life's been complicated so there's no real post today.  It's not even a 'real' poem - it's an arrangement of Google auto-fill suggestions for poetry-related searches.  I put it together for an IT poetry contest on the theme of "search engines", but them realised it had nothing to do with search engines or even the internet, so shelved it and wrote something else.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

How much is a day's work?

Earlier this week I was ranting about employment, and making workplaces disability-friendly.  But there's an important caveat to this: even in the best workplaces in the world (and I have worked in some pretty awesome ones), some of us just aren't built for permanent full-time work.

Maybe we have limited strength or stamina.  Maybe we have chronic pain.  Maybe it takes us so much extra energy to do everyday things that we hit the wall earlier than others.  Maybe we can only be around other people for so long.  Maybe we can only handle light or noise or other sensory input for so long.  Maybe we need a chunk of free time each week to go to physio or other therapy.  There are countless reasons why a person might be eminently qualified for a job, but not able to front up for 40 hours a week.

But where did this idea come from that 40 hours of work, split into five eight-hour segments across consecutive days, constitutes "full time"?  Who decided that amount is what a person "should" be doing?

The whole concept of a 40 hour week is really quite a modern one.  During the industrial revolution a 16 hour work day was not unheard of, and you were on a good thing if you had only 10.  (Those are both six days a week, mind you.)

Then agitation for a ten-hour working day became a thing in England, and a 12-hour day was brought in over in France.  Then someone realised that 24 was a factor of eight and the concept of having eight hours each for work, rest and play was born.

from Wikimedia commons
This is a noble theory, and eight hours a day is a massive improvement on 16, especially if you're a 12 year old spending those 16 hours on your feet doing hard, repetitive factory labour.  But it's still an arbitrary figure, picked as a compromise between workers and employers and because it goes neatly into 24.

But just as some people need a lot more than eight hours' sleep a night, and some people need much less, so too do we all have our own capacity to work.  A lot of people can manage eight hours.  Some can put in a lot more.  And some can do less.

A lot of the sort of jobs I'm qualified for were designed with the 40 hour week in mind.  They're jobs that require (at least) eight hours a day, five days a week.  Part-timing would mean your newspaper would be skinny some days, or your local radio show would be dead air (or, more realistically, beamed in from another city) half the time.  Job-sharing isn't always practical in this industry, either, because one usually has so many stories in progress and so much background info rattling around in your head that briefing your replacement on handover day would be a massive task.

But there has to be some answer.  Because at the moment, the standard 40 hour working week means people with skills, passion and motivation, who want to work, who could do 1-39 hours a week, instead all too often find ourselves doing 0.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Accessibility means more than ramps

People with Disability Australia have launched a petition calling for 20,000 jobs a year for people with disabilities.

Almost half disabled Aussies live in or near poverty, and figures over the last 20-odd years show it's getting worse with time.  We're now ranked 21 out of 29 OECD countries in the employing-disabled-people stakes.  Mexico's doing better.  So's Slovakia.

Something I've found over and again is that employers tend to think of disability access in terms of infrastructure; wheelchair ramps and loos in particular.  Things that can be installed by a tradie and never thought of again.

You've got your damn ramp, now shut up and be grateful
For my own disability, that approach isn't really what's needed.  While I do very much appreciate a bathroom grab-rail thanks to my wobbly balance and motor skills, it's often cultural or procedural changes that would really help.

That sounds massive, but it's really quite simple little things.  Case in point:

In an office where I used to work, the unspoken cultural norm was that it was OK to talk to someone who was already on the phone to someone else, if you needed to give them a message or get their input in a hurry.  But due to some auditory processing weirdness, I cannot listen to two different conversations at once.  It's like someone throws a switch in my brain and both the person on the phone and the one over my shoulder are suddenly speaking different languages, ones I don't understand.  It's not that I don't like it, it's that I literally cannot understand what you're saying.  Also, keep it up for more than a few seconds and I'll have a splitting headache that pretty much wipes out my productivity for the rest of the day.

In that situation, writing me a note rather than talking to me would be a simple procedural change that would get the job done more effectively, and since the office already had pens and paper everywhere the only cost would be a few seconds of the note-writer's time.  

But there was resistance to this suggestion, maybe because it was seen as giving me special treatment or maybe just because that's the way it had always been done and changing that's like turning a large ship around in the ocean.  With a teaspoon.

Getting more Aussies with disabilities into work is a great thing.  Work brings not just a very welcome paypacket, but dignity, a chance to exercise our skills and education, and a sense of contributing to society and to the economy.  And there is a very real economic benefit, too - if we could improve the employment rate for disabled people by a third, the country's GDP would go up by more than $40 billion.

But for that to happen, it'll take more than ramps.  It'll take a cultural change, and a realisation that we're not after special treatment, we're after the same treatment and the same opportunities as the rest of our community.

All the facts and figures in this post came from People with Disabilies Australia's petition.  You'll also find some more interesting reading in this report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Who put this road here, anyway?

Forks in the road make great analogies for the moment when we make a decision - or fate makes a decision for us - and our life can go one of several ways.  But why's the road where it is in the first place?  Who built it there?  Who decided that's where it needs to be and where it needs to go?

We we have this idea that there's a certain schedule that everybody has to follow, but we seldom actually examine the whole notion to see if it makes any sense or holds any water.  Everyone has to start school by five.  Or.... what?  If a child is lagging socially, emotionally, physically or cognitively behind their peers, is it going to be helpful to put them in an environment which largely revolves around assessment and performance, where they have to compete against children with better tools in their box?  Would it really be the end of the world to give them time to catch up?

I made it through school "on schedule" - albeit with a great deal of crying into my homework because I was just so tired - started uni "on schedule" too, when I left school at 18.  I did well academically, but didn't really do anything much at all socially for those three years.  That's how I was able to succeed academically - every shred of my energy went into it, there was none left for socialising even had I had the desire and known where to start.  I had to choose, and I chose the one that would ultimately leave me burnt out, exhausted, with very little in the way of a social circle and no real life outside work... but Independent.  Unhappy and unfulfilled and lonely, but Independent.  A Success.

Says who?

Who says that being able to work full time is the highest ideal of modern life?  Who says that if you need to work part time to manage your energy levels, or you can't work at all, you're a failure?  Who says if you're not paying tax you're a drain on society?  Since when have we measured the worth of a human being in dollars?

Who says that living alone and existing without help something to aspire to?  Who says that you're a lesser person if you need help with your laundry or cleaning or cooking or finances or personal care?  Who says that if you live with your parents beyond some arbitrary point - let's say your 20th birthday - you're lazy, or feckless, or a grifter?

Because whoever said that can go fuck themselves.

There is more to life than struggling to cope with the demands of a task (be it work, uni, school, whatever) that's more than you can handle, because that's the only way to prove you deserve to exist.  Than being constantly exhausted and lonely because your every shred of energy goes towards maintaining that task, because that's the one thing that determines if you're a success or a failure.

I've spent so long walking down that particular road.  And if that's what success is, if that's the only way to be seen as successful in the eyes of the world, I'm ready to embrace failure.

Image: Crossroads, from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland on Flickr Commons