Dear  Pauline Hanson: Autistic children are not the flaw in our education system.

Dear Pauline Hanson: Autistic children are not the flaw in our education system.

Dear Pauline Hanson,

When I first heard you proposed that autistic (and other disabled) children be removed from mainstream classes, I was angry. You asked Australia to go back and review exactly what you said in context. So I did.

I’m no longer angry. I’m frustrated and disappointed.

You argue that teachers are too preoccupied with children who have special needs to adequately attend to the rest of their class–and you are correct. You are absolutely correct.

But this preoccupation isn’t due to children with autism or disabilities being present. And children with different abilities are not placed in “mainstream” classes to make them “feel included” or “less hurt”.

Allow me to explain.

  1. ALL children in the classroom have special needs.

    All of them. No exceptions. The way that we teach children is fundamentally flawed, it accounts for only the tiniest percentage of people who learn effectively in a traditional classroom environment.

    This environment is only just beginning to acknowledge students who learn best by methods outside of lecture and repetition. It is only just beginning to recognise that there are intelligences outside of being able to recite times tables.

    In a classroom the variation of ability is not as simple as disabled and non-disabled. No two kids are at exactly the same level in every aspect of their education, and teachers are charged with understanding each individual child to help develop their weaknesses and provide pathways to excel in their strengths.

    Teaching to a range of learner types, at very different stages of learning, is an enormous challenge. Especially in the primary system where one teacher is responsible for the general education of an entire class.

    Our system doesn’t allow for the attention that every child should get. It just doesn’t. Teachers are pretty marvellous beings, but even so, a single teacher can only be in so many places at once. The issue isn’t too many children with special needs, it’s too many children competing for the attention of one. It’s a classroom system that doesn’t cater for the different ways in which children learn.

  2. Autism is not always a negative in the classroom.

    Children with autism are often especially gifted in a particular area, “leaps and bounds” ahead of the others as you put it. They aren’t holding anyone back. Teachers could–and should!–encourage autistic (or any) children with a particular gift to work with their classmates who may be struggling in that area.

    Why? Learning to help others is a lesson in patience. It’s a lesson in truly understanding what you’re teaching. It’s a lesson in cooperation. It’s a lesson in communicating. Learning to work with others is knowledge you can’t just get off Google–and this is what we need to be preparing our kids for more and more. Information is great, but social and communication skills are far more important.

  3. Mixed-ability classrooms develop social skills and tolerance in all.

    School isn’t about learning facts anymore. It’s learning how to exist in the world, and how to be a good person. When you rob a classroom of its diversity, you create a false world where differences are abnormal. Children are then not socialised with those outside of what they know, and rather than viewing each other as peers they see aliens. People they don’t feel they can understand.

    The best way to teach children how diverse and wonderful humans can be is to have that representation in the classroom.

    For children with aspects of autism, socialising may not come naturally. Having examples of their peers on which to model and test their behaviour is one of the most effective interventions you can get. I act as “normally” as I do almost entirely due to my observation of others my age—an opportunity I would not have had if I were segregated out of a mainstream class.

  4. Autistic children are not all the same.

    Not even close. If you imagine the range of life and academic skills as a bar graph, the level of the bars for an average person doesn’t vary very much from skill to skill. They have strengths and weaknesses, but overall it’s pretty level.

    In a person diagnosed with autism, these bars are all over the place. Language abilities may be a huge tower, but mathematical skills is almost 0. Psychologists call it a ‘spiky profile’ of abilities. Autism is an intense variation in strengths and weaknesses. My social skills (very low in early childhood) might render me “disabled” but my language abilities (very high) say the opposite. What would happen to children like me in a special school? Would my gifts be forgotten in a room designed to rectify weaknesses?

    You can’t solve the issue of teacher attention by taking out all the kids who are classed “autistic”. You actually make it worse. What you have there is that same mix of different abilities as you find in a regular classroom… on steroids. A single teacher, however superhuman, will not be able to provide that group with the learning support they need.

  5. A child needing intensive teacher support should not be relying on the main classroom teacher for it.

    What you seem to be referring to are children who are so challenged by their autistic traits that they require extensive teacher support. That does indeed drain the teacher’s time.

    These children should have aides. Someone dedicated to providing the learning support they require so that it doesn’t impact the teacher’s ability to teach the rest of the class.

In short, segregating a subset of children from classrooms will not work. You simply recreate the same issue in two different classrooms. A teacher with no “disabled” children still needs to cater for an incredible range of intelligences and learning types. It robs children of their ability to learn from each other, actively and passively. It robs them of the chance to understand someone different to who they are.

The system is the fault, not the children in it. A system that expects teachers to effectively manage and balance their time between so many variables. A system that requires schools and parents to jump through fiery rings of paperwork just to provide one child with the support they need. A system that devalues the complex work our teachers do, while asking more and more of them every day.

Our schools need help. Our teachers need help. If we truly want to create an education system we’re proud of, we need to invest in it. Get aides beside those children who need them. Let our children learn from each other. Bring down classroom sizes and let our teachers bring out the best in all of their students. Let them teach rather than tying their hands with paperwork and ineffective testing standards.

This isn’t about avoiding the “hurt feelings” of children with autism. This is about ensuring that all our kids get a well-rounded education.

And we need to all be in it. Together.

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‘I better talk to one of the boys.’ — The maddening daily sexism I face from customers.

‘I better talk to one of the boys.’ — The maddening daily sexism I face from customers.

I don’t normally get up-in-arms over matters of sexism. I should, but I don’t. I’m more concerned with the over-arching rejection of anyone mildly different from ‘normal’ than I am with gender-based discrimination. I don’t really understand the concept of gender, either… it seems very arbitrary to assign people a stereotype of traits based upon their biological construction.

Who I am, and how I am, is entirely separate to my reproductive functions.

That said, I encounter casual sexism almost every day I work. Since I began working in a shop that sells electrical components, AV equipment, computer supplies and other marvellous gadgetry, I experience it all the more.

Here’s a conversation I have at least once, if not twice, a shift:

Me: Hey! How can I help?
Customer: Oh–I don’t think you can. It’s okay, I’ll wait for one of the boys.

I have to smother the urge to roll my eyes, bash my head against the counter, and shake people by the shoulders. No matter how many times I hear those words, it never gets less maddening.

A few days ago, I approached a customer in my usual, bright way. Here’s what he said to me:

Customer: You won’t be able to help me. I need someone who knows electronics. You don’t look like you know electronics. If you know what I mean.

Sigh. If I know what he means? Honestly—I wish I didn’t. I wish there was actually some visible presentation for ‘electronics specialist’ that I clearly don’t have, because otherwise his judgement was entirely based on the fact that I am a 5’6″ petite female.

He was right. I’m not an electronics specialist, I wouldn’t have been able to confidently answer his question. But being right about what I don’t know doesn’t make it right for anyone to assume I couldn’t know it–not without asking me.

Fun fact, the staff member who did help him ended up using Google to find what they needed to know. Pretty much what I would have done.

Then there was this fun moment from Friday night:

Me: Hey! Anything I can help you with?
Customer: Probably not, I’m okay waiting for one of the boys to free up.
Me: Are you sure? He might be a while yet.
Customer: Yes… I’m sure. It’s a computers question, I think a boy is best to ask.

Anyone who knows me will here applaud my restraint in not screaming.  I explained that I do have extensive computer experience, including certifications, and that I was well qualified to answer any questions.

I am. Computers is what I know. I’m no genius, and there are certainly those out there with more knowledge than me, but I could safely say that I have a greater amount of computer knowledge than the average person. Including the ability to spot a missing molex power cable from a fuzzy photograph and recommend it as the required component for the machine.

I shouldn’t have to justify my right to serve a customer by flaunting my certifications. I shouldn’t have to begin sales by explaining why I am able to make the recommendations I do.

What I don’t understand is what must go through people’s minds when they see me in the store. Is there some assumption that I was hired as an ornament? Like a vase of flowers to pretty up the place, or do they assume that I am there as some nod to gender equality?

While the company does love that this particular branch is finally not an all-male store, that’s not why I was hired. I was hired because I’m a nerd.

I was hired for my love of computers. I was hired because I knew the difference between a HDMI and a USB cable. More importantly, I was hired because I was eager to learn about the wide range of interesting items that the shop stocks.

And I have learned, let me tell you! From someone who thought that all power adapters were essentially the same, to being able to select the right replacement based on required voltage and amperage. I’ve learned the names of, and can identify, most common connectors. I know that the backup battery in your NBN box is a 12v 7.2Ah. I can  talk you through the pros and cons of a wired or wireless security surveillance system.

None of this knowledge came harder to me because I’m female. Nor do my managers expect me to know less than my male colleagues. I have sales targets based on the exact same metrics as they do. I am held to the same standards. So why is it so hard for people to accept that I am exactly as capable as the others hired beside me?

There are two especially annoying points to the computer knowledge example. One is that the male staff member I was working with has no clue when it comes to computer components. He has other areas of special interest, but computers confuse him. Nothing wrong with that! Except when people assume he knows because of his male appearance.

The other is that the customer who assumed my lack of knowledge was also a woman.

It’s far more common than you think. In my experience, women are far worse for assuming my capabilities than men are. Perhaps they assume because they don’t know, I shouldn’t either? I don’t know, but it’s disheartening.

I ended up talking to her (and her son) for a while about the problem they were trying to solve, and I think I well and truly proved my point—I know what I’m talking about. But again, I shouldn’t have to do that.

People should just assume that I’m talking shit because I’m trying to sell them things. You know… how you treat every other salesperson out there.

Oh well. One day at a time, one customer at a time… slowly proving them wrong and bringing a little more belief in girl nerd power? I guess that’s what I’m here for!

What anxiety feels like (for me), and how I survive it.

What anxiety feels like (for me), and how I survive it.

This is one of those posts that can only ever be accurate to my experience. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to experience anxiety, just a combination of symptoms that affect particular people. I find my experiences of anxiety fit into some smaller sub-types that I’ve defined for myself, and by defining those types, I’m better able to treat myself when I need to.

Anxiety is often mis-understood as a psychological illness with purely psychological effects. This is very rarely the case. Anxiety starts in the brain, but the physical effects that result can be debilitating.

So here goes. My anxiety and panic sub-types, as defined by me.

PANIC DISORDER

For some, the terms ‘panic’ and ‘anxiety’ are interchangeable. I don’t feel they are, but those are just the words I use to label how I feel. I have been formally diagnosed with panic disorder, and to be honest, these days–it’s the easiest of all to manage.

Panic disorder, for me, is the sudden, crippling, struck-by-lightning, acid-down-your-back, stomach-through-your-toes, overwhelming sense of sheer terror that grips me out of the blue.

The weird thing about it, is usually I don’t realise I’m anxious prior to the attack occurring. I’ll be fine one moment, and then bang–it hits.

After the initial terror shock, my heart rate sky rockets. I breathe fast, I feel nauseous. I very rarely have the ability in these moments to think straight, my thoughts are in a blender on the fastest speed. Everything is fragmented.

The more it goes on, the more symptoms join the party. My head feels like lead, my legs are made of incredibly heavy jelly–but the middle of me doesn’t feel like it’s there at all. I might vomit. Colours become brighter, white becomes unbearably incandescent and black looks like a void I’m about to be sucked into. Eventually my vision clouds over.

My body is utterly out of control, and still spiralling. So it does that one thing computer techs around the world wearily ask:

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That’s right, an unexpected reboot!

Fainting is the body’s way of taking human thoughts out of the equation, and restarting with enough basic functions to get the terror under control. Before… you know. I have a heart attack or something.

Problem is, it’s also absolutely fucking terrifying.

So, how do I avoid getting to that drastic point?

It’s actually simpler (and still harder) than it sounds.

I don’t fight it anymore.

When that bolt of terror hits, my initial instinct was to forcibly regain control of my body. I would fight to get my heart rate down, I would fight to stay standing, and I would fight the urge to vomit. More to the point, I was creating additional stress by trying to stop these things from happening. I was afraid of what would happen if I let the panic attack continue, so I did my absolute damnedest not to let it continue.

Rookie. Error.

It’s far easier said than done, but once you accept that it’s happening–it starts going away. It doesn’t hold power over you. The minute you realise that this attack isn’t putting your body in danger, there’s no need to fight it. The sickening thunderstruck sense is usually only a spark that needs more fear to grow, and that fear comes from fearing the symptoms of your own anxiety.

Panic attacks in this sense don’t last long for me anymore. Thirty seconds to a minute, long enough for that initial bolt to wash away. These aren’t generally caused by any identifiable trigger, which is what makes them different to anxiety attacks.

When I first started practicing this technique, I started by identifying the sequence of symptoms in the usual order they would occur, and how I could minimise any damage caused by them. Note that I did once split my chin open and break two teeth in a fainting episode!

So getting on the floor is crucial. When that bolt hits, I quietly and calmly lower myself to the floor and lie in recovery position. Then I just–let it do what it will until it’s gone. Every time I do this, I reinforce the understanding that these attacks can’t hurt me, and the next one is easier again.

An anxiety attack? Well. That’s another thing altogether.

ACCCUTE ANXIETY

On the surface, ‘accute anxiety’ or an ‘anxiety attack’ looks much the same as a panic attack. It hits fast, hard, and if it spirals out of my control you can bet I’ll end up on the floor.

The primary difference in my definitions of panic and anxiety attacks, is what causes them. An anxiety attack usually occurs in response to something. An unkind word from someone else, making a dumb mistake, being surrounded by too many people, or just the insane amount of reflective surfaces in Target.

Just as a panic attack will feed on the fear of the attack itself, anxiety attacks also need fuel to keep going. Problem is, there’s plenty of that! And it’s fuel that is a lot harder to dismiss, especially if I’ve done something spectacularly dumb.

Feelings of being stupid, inadequate, incompetent, isolated, crazy, weird, and other horrible thoughts about myself are usually circling about in that blender-like brain feeding the fire.

Of course I’m hyperventilating, curled up in a corner, having a breakdown because I am a completely useless piece of shit. 

And other charming things to say to yourself in crisis.

These can often feed into meltdowns, which just makes for a splendid day.

Symptoms include, but are not limited to: fast breathing, elevated heart rate, tight chest, crying, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea (fuckin’ yaaay, right?), tremors, inability to speak, cold sweats, clouded vision, heavy limbs, and a critical reduction in my ability to function as a human.

But here’s something else fun about anxiety attacks:

I can be having one right in front of you, and you would never know.

The other major difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks, is I have greater ability to mask my symptoms in an anxiety attack. They aren’t less intense, and I am deeply suffering under all that make-believe, but sometimes it’s enough to look like you’re coping until you can get somewhere and break down. Which… I think is the life goal of most autistic people too.

Basically, if I’m having a visible panic attack, the shit has really hit the fan. I do not ever, EVER like people to see me this way. If it’s visible, it’s beyond my ability to control, and that is a pretty bloody bad day for me.

But–how to deal with it?

If I’m in an attack, it’s too late for prevention. We’re in damage control.

If I’m in public, my first step is to excuse myself to a quiet place where I can let go a little. Hiding an anxiety attack is exhausting. I need to get down to the ground, at least into a sitting position. I do find lying down to be the most effective calming position, though.

The darker and quieter a place, the better. Otherwise if I have my phone and earphones, some gentle music with my eyes shut. I can ‘disappear’ into music until my rhythms return to normal.

The horrible thoughts that fuel the attack will continue until I’ve soothed myself a little, and get the energy back to fight them. I almost always don’t want to talk about it during, or immediately after, the occurrence. It takes me hours, sometimes days, to process what happened and how I feel about it.

Often I’ll feel like a failure for not being strong enough to stand it.

The trick with these ones is to be able to stop the flow of negative thoughts. Stop feeding the fire, and it won’t burn–same as panic attacks. Just a lot harder to put into practice.

PROLONGED ANXIETY

This is above and beyond the most dangerous, insidious form of anxiety I know. This isn’t the intense anxiety you know is happening to you, it isn’t the whirling stream of terrible thoughts that make you sick.

It’s the days of feeling gross, on edge, grinding your teeth in your sleep, with an unsettled stomach and no explanation why. It’s similar to that feeling you get in the lead up to a big horrible event, only there’s no end in sight.

It grows so slowly it feels normal. Like depression, it takes over your life until you can’t remember what a proper resting heart rate feels like. You don’t know when the last time was that you ate food and didn’t feel sick. You’re not sure how long it’s been since you had a night where you were able to sleep, and not oversleep. It’s wearing you out and every day you feel more tired and you don’t know why.

You don’t feel like you can breathe properly, but what is properly? The longer it goes on, the deeper you sink into it, the more the symptoms grow. You’re on a hair trigger, will you scream, cry, or murder someone? Small things are irritating when they shouldn’t be. You’re restless, hungry for a taste that only exists in your imagination, and at the same time paralysed. You can’t… you just can’t, everything is too hard for some reason.

When did this start getting bad? Why? What has happened? It doesn’t seem like there should be any reason for it, and by the time you realise–you’re drowning. Lulled into a false normal bit by bit. When was the last time you didn’t have a headache? What is the deal with all this farting??

Your body isn’t as it should be, you’re not relaxed even when you’re asleep. Tension builds on tension, until eventually it explodes in an anxiety attack. And boy oh boy are they worse when they’ve been brewing like this!

So—what do?

Practice extreme self care! I don’t know if there’s any better excuse for having your favourite things on hand.

For me, that means scented candles (jasmine, frangipani, and gardenia!), a good quality blend of tea, some favourite shower gels (peppermint, and neroli jasmine… not at the same time, obviously!), comfortable snuggly clothing, and other items of general comfort.

At work I find having something to fidget with releases a lot of that tension in a less explosive way. Fortunately my new work sells electrical components like switches and buttons and wires, so I’m always able to find something to carry around and fiddle with. My favourite so far has been about three inches of double-insulated six-core copper wire. It was so bendy and fun!

Music, movies, games, all of those things that I can ‘escape’ into until my body calms down are also incredibly useful. As is the company of friends and family, both virtual and in meat space! Blogging has also become a source of self-care, and a critical part of processing and understanding how my brain functions. I learn a lot about myself writing these, as it forces me to think about things in a different way than I do when the thoughts are swirling uncontrolled.

The other really important thing? Celebrate. Genuinely celebrate your wins, however small. Whether that’s climbing a mountain, or brushing your hair. If it’s a success for you, celebrate it. We get far too caught up in our losses at times, but if you remember to celebrate the wins, they’ll help balance out the bad when you need them.

And take note of what your body is doing, and where you end up. You may not pick up the slide into prolonged anxiety this time, or even next time. But, if you begin now, you’ll start noticing the patterns and each time you’ll be better placed to rescue yourself sooner.

How do you cope with your anxiety? What do you experience?

I would love to know! The more strategies, the better!

On the outer edge of coping.

On the outer edge of coping.

It’s been one of those horror weeks. My birthday was Friday just gone, and I am still recovering.

But that was almost a week ago now, wasn’t it? Shouldn’t you be all good now? Yes–and cue that intense sense of shame that I, a grown woman, am still struggling to function so many days later. It isn’t the alcohol that does me in, I wish it was–that would be so simple to fix. Don’t drink, recover fast. My alcohol hangover lasted only into the Sunday afternoon.

The rest of it I’m still wrestling with.

I did an enormous amount of hours at work in the two weeks prior, more than I’ve done in a long time. Organising the party was more stressful than I’d like to admit, they always are. I don’t know if I’ll bother again. I’ve got nine years before I have to start thinking about whether to have a 40th or not, maybe I’ll feel different then. Maybe I’ll be different then.

It’s unlikely. I was always that kid concerned that no one would show up to her birthday party. I get very worried that I’m not enough, not important enough that anyone will want to. Then I make mistakes like inviting the sorts of people that I want to connect with, and get crushed when they decline. I really don’t know how else to communicate with people that I’d like to know them better, outside of work or other social groups. I don’t know how to indicate that I want to be friends, so this is my way. I invite them along and hope they’re also interested in knowing me better.

And I should know better than that by now, but I don’t and all the same mistakes were made. I had a very good night in the end, and the quality of those who turned up for me was fantastic. Still, it’s just as well that I got merry enough before the end of the night to notice the absence of a few people who I’d been very excited to party with.

Because that is my other problem, I never seem to know the difference between someone accepting to be polite, and those who genuinely intend to come. They all make the same sounds and I get equally as excited. Then the moment comes and I’m confused. Why do people do that? Why do they make plans they don’t intend to keep? How is it more polite to leave me hanging, than to decline?

I don’t know, but the whole affair is stressful. I know people have lives well outside of my little party, and the apologies I could understand. None of my attempts to widen my social circle were accepted, though, and every decline there felt like a slap in the face. All of these were people with whom I had discussed socialising with before. Nothing ever came of it. Nothing ever does. I go home after these discussions excited that maybe I’ll be invited out, but it never happens—I see the photos pop up on Facebook and wonder again: why do people talk like they want to make plans, and then leave me out?

The only reasons I can ever come up with is I am forgettable, unimportant or just a burden to have around. Not fun.

So that cycle plagued me, the deep sense of insecurity that almost everyone invited was not my friend by choice, but someone who I had tagged onto through my family. That I wasn’t able to generate my own party crowd, because the people I know here in town aren’t interested in socialising with me. It’s a heavy feeling, and thankfully one that was offset by being surrounded by truly wonderful people on the day.

It’s no wonder that with weeks of that, by the time the excitement died on Sunday I was destroyed. I’ve been clenching my teeth a lot, my whole face aches from it. I had panic attacks more intense than any I’ve had in a long time on Monday, lost my sense of time and became completely convinced that the overnight shift I’d signed up for was next week–and it wasn’t. This I didn’t realise until it was too late, and thus began the next spiral.

How was it that I could still be this confused, overwhelmed, and tired after just a birthday party? Not just the next day, but for two days after? I felt like an absolute failure as an adult, a failure in my menial retail jobs, and any hope I had of returning to full time professional work was now a knife that stabbed into my self esteem. Will I ever be able to do the sort of work I want to do?

I don’t hate retail, but if I’m going to spend my life working then recovering from work, the work should be something that at least satisfies me. I have to devote my energy to work, there’s no choice there–I need to pay rent. It just seems to be the same endless cycle of the same to go home, sleep, collect enough money to pay rent, and repeat. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but my one hope is that I will find a job that is worth that sort of energy. But–if I don’t even feel like I’m managing retail, then how?

I already got fired once this year for not coping with the demand of a professional job. I want so badly to believe I’m capable. That I don’t have to live in this cycle forever. That I can find something that makes me feel like a success, and not a barely-scraping-by pile of shit.

Reality is a bitch.

Right now, everything is too loud. I want to watch TV but the sound screams on the lowest volume. I went to the supermarket and came out shaking, even though I kept my sunglasses on while I was in the store.

My doctor would say I pushed myself too hard, did too much work too suddenly. But what option do I have?

I’m just trying to keep up here. I know it will get better, because everything was fine two weeks ago. Maybe I just got so excited about that feeling of coping that I really did just run myself straight into the ground. Even though I did far less than my sister does in an average week, here I am struggling to function. Feeling somewhere between nauseous and tears, wishing that I could just stop the world for five minutes and catch my breath.

Hating myself because I can’t seem to keep up, no matter how hard I try. I do alright for a while, and then this–I hit the wall. I crash.

I’m on the outer edge of coping. Not drowning, but nor am I swimming confidently. Getting through one minute to the next, building up strength to run headlong into the next wall. That’s how I do.

 

 

Did we just assume that icon’s gender?

Did we just assume that icon’s gender?

In a mind-boggling bid to reduce subconscious gender-bias in Victoria, lobby group Committee for Melbourne announced plans to pursue a 1:1 ratio of male and female icons at pedestrian crossings. A trial has been approved by VicRoads and the first lights have been changed in Melbourne already.  So far the costs of changing fittings have been absorbed by a local electrical company. Meaning, thankfully, the tax payer isn’t funding this madness.

Yes, I think it’s utterly mad. Not because I am against gender equality–far from it. In addition to being a rather pointless exercise that will likely have no effect on the public whatsoever, I feel that this is a step backward for gender equality.

Firstly, the icon presents as a woman because it wears a skirt. Forget for a moment that some poor person had to try (and failed) to design a skirt-wearing icon that didn’t look like it had broken legs. Just… try to forget that while your brain screams about how the leg shouldn’t be going that way–ohgod it looks painful! Forget it. Forget!

This isn’t some back-water conservative town–this is Melbourne, so why do we have to put a skirt on it to call the icon a woman?

Because that’s what we’ve always used to denote a woman?

Sure, but that doesn’t make it right to perpetuate the skirt-wearing female icon in a state that considers itself to be progressive, in 2017.

Women wear pants too, it’s one of the wonderful things about being liberated and equal to men. We probably already have a 1:1 ratio of male to female pedestrian crossing icons. Did anyone ask them? Did we just assume the gender of all those icons?

It’s a step backwards for complete gender equality, too. Adding a skirt to an icon represents nothing more than a clothing choice in a progressive society where gender barriers and bias are truly broken down.

There are more gender expressions than ‘male’ and ‘female’, there are more ways to physically represent those genders than there are stars in the sky–is every Victorian going to get their own pedestrian icon carefully designed to represent their gender?

I would argue that the addition of a skirt only adds more gender bias, not less. It reinforces the idea of a binary gender system in a very destructive way. It reinforces the concept of a woman as some skirt-wearing broken-legged being, a particular presentation of a woman that we have tried to get away from!

A pedestrian crossing icon is just that. If it means so much to reduce subconscious gender-bias by changing the street fixtures, take away the icon altogether. Make it a pair of genderless legs! It doesn’t actually matter.

What matters is that we approach equality for all, not just for the traditionally accepted models of gender.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

Photo: Twitter / Nine News

Want confidence? Own your weirdness.

Want confidence? Own your weirdness.

When you don’t, won’t, or can’t conform to what is considered socially ‘normal’, it can be extremely hard to develop a healthy sense of self worth and confidence. The war between who you are and what society expects you to be can be devastating, especially for those who choose to sacrifice or hide the most unique parts of their identity in return for fitting in.

This raises the deepest of personal questions: how much of your ‘self’ is it okay to give away to find your  place among others?

The answer lies in how much value you place on social acceptance as opposed to self acceptance. If it is more important to you to fit seamlessly into the fabric of society, and if it makes you happy to do so, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with training yourself to be the person you want to be.

There is no person on this earth that doesn’t compromise a little of their personality in exchange for an easier social life. However, for those who are deeply uncomfortable with changing larger aspects of their self, the path to acceptance (confidence and sense of worth) can feel impossible. It can feel like a struggle against nature, trying to force a brain to think and act in a way that makes no sense to it.

It can also feel like  a whole lot of failure when that effort comes back with no reward. The difference between yourself and others, who seem to find those actions so much more natural (or they are much better at pretending) feels vast. It’s isolating. This article applies to anyone who feels different, but especially among those on the autism spectrum it often feels like you’re an eternal outsider.

An alien. Unable to properly communicate and become part of the world.

Fighting that is hard. Fighting to be human when your instincts are alien is exhausting. Shutting down actions and responses, analysing every detail of your presentation, closely examining everything you do, before and after you do it–all of this to learn to be something you’re not, and you know it. It’s disheartening.

If you’re not prepared to change who you are for the sake of an arbitrary social norm (and why should you?), it’s time to drop that goal in favour of a better, long-term path to confidence.

Self acceptance.

Taking a strengths-based approach to self acceptance means looking at yourself objectively, drawing out all of your positives and negatives, and choosing to love where you are strong and take steps to manage where you are weak. This can be nigh on impossible if you’re in a depressive state, so it may help to work with a friend who knows you well.

Include any mental illness or ‘weirdness’ you think you have. Even if you are working toward recovery, the prevalence of anxiety, depression, and other mental conditions among some of the world’s best and brightest suggests that your thought patterns have unique properties that are not common. Loving yourself because of those patterns (rather than in spite of the illnesses they make you prone to) is a huge confidence boost.

Remember that wording matters, too. How you choose to talk about yourself and to yourself makes a huge difference in how you feel.

For example, as a highly anxious person I am often concerned that something terrible is about to happen. I could say that makes me ‘paranoid’, or ‘obsessively distracted with fear’.

Or, I could love that extra alertness I have and say it means I am highly aware of my surroundings. I am more likely to spot a potential threat than those around me. That awareness is valuable now. That doesn’t mean I give up on training myself to function through periods of intense anxiety. The negative behaviours that come with anxiety still need to be managed, and that comes with time and practice. In the meantime, I’m not anxious over being anxious about being anxious. Why?

Because I see the strength it provides as well as the weakness.

Autism is full of these balanced negatives and positives. I’m not the most socially savvy person, but I see the best in people and what they could be. I can get highly and destructively fixated on a task, my ability to multitask is terrible–or, I am tenacious with a high productivity rate in a focused state.

It’s all marketing, really. Once you’ve successfully built a positive view of yourself, and once you believe it (this isn’t about twisting facts or cherry picking details, those positives are there, we just get so caught up in the idea of an ‘illness’ or ‘disorder’ that we fail to see there’s anything good in our experience at all) you will be in a position to market yourself to the external world.

And you know what? For all the social pressure to conform, the world loves weird. So long as it is presented with confidence and positivity, show where you are strong and how you can manipulate that to be valuable and there it is: the holy grail of self and social acceptance.

There’s very little point in working against your brain. Unless your brain is pushing you towards the wrong side of the law, or toward actions that are truly damaging–there are always exceptions. But for the most part, you are the only you this world has and there is no good reason you should have to sacrifice that. Not if it doesn’t make you happy, not if the sacrifice is only for the sake of others who can’t tolerate a little difference.

If you’re an alien–so what? Own it. Show everyone the best parts of being an alien, and look for the best parts in others. Work with your brain, not against it. The less time you spend going against simple harmless behaviours, the more time and energy you will have to devote to the behaviours that you do want to reduce.

I’d love to hear about the strengths you find in yourself, especially those related to a mental illness, disorder, or ASD!

Comment them below to help others view the positives in their neurodiversity.

Update: From Effexor XR to Zoloft

Update: From Effexor XR to Zoloft

For those of you playing along at home, it’s been a little over two weeks since I began the switch from 225mg/daily Effexor XR to 50mg/daily Zoloft. While it’s too early to claim a victory, the early results since beginning Zoloft have been very promising.

I will reiterate here that this post is not here to discredit or discourage the use of Effexor XR. Nor is it here to promote Zoloft as ‘better’ or ‘more effective’. How you respond to medication will rely entirely on your body’s ability to produce and use chemicals that affect brain function.

I came to Zoloft after a year and a half on Lovan (which worked for around eighteen months, and stopped) and three years on Effexor XR (which had very little or no noticeable effect on my depression). My research told me that others who responded in the same way to Lovan and Effexor XR had good results with Zoloft–which is hardly good medical science but it’s a better start than picking the next one off a list and seeing how that works. Finding the right medication at the right dose is trial and error at best.

Stepping off Effexor XR (especially from that dose) was one of the most uncomfortable, unpleasant, and downright frustrating experiences I’ve had. I knew it wasn’t going to be good, I’d been avoiding making a switch for that exact reason. At the time where I had tapered down to zero, I could barely function without wanting to scream, cry, or  vomit. I watched a lot of Netflix and crawled from lounge to bathroom to avoid the dizziness of being vertical.

And I had meltdowns, but if we’re  being perfectly honest–the withdrawal meltdowns were no different to the meltdowns I was having on a full dose. This was just further proof to me that the Effexor XR had not been assisting me in the way it should have.

I went straight onto Zoloft at 50mg. I was expecting more negative mental side effects, I was expecting more mood swings and unpredictability–but that never happened. The pharmacist warned that it could cause dizziness (he was very right about that!) and along with some nasty headaches from my body screaming for Effexor XR, I was in a pretty rough physical state for a week. The dizziness still comes and goes, I’m still adjusting (it’s very early days yet) but I feel I am presently more stable than I have been in perhaps the last three years.

Take, for example, my day trip to the city on Saturday. I went down to sit a test, and because the train services from town are ridiculous on weekends, I would have to arrive at 9.30am and leave at 6.30pm. The test was at 12.30 and only went for an hour. It’s a lot of time to fill when you’ve got very little money to spend.

I went anyway, and I went at the last minute. I’d originally decided I wouldn’t, and would try to secure some work. I was unsuccessful with that. I was tempted still to cancel the appointment and mope at home, conserve money. Or I could go to the city on strict rules to not overspend and attend the test anyway. So I did that.

I told myself I could go to a couple of cheap shops for homewares that I needed (jugs for the fridge, so I can make myself iced tea) that I suspected I would be able to get at a better price than shops here. So I spent the morning at Daiso, and purchased two solid watertight jugs at $2.80 each. Considering the ones here at home were $9+, I was pretty happy with that. I was only allowed to purchase a food item if it was for immediate consumption, substantial, and less than $3. I ate a lot of good sushi rolls.

On the train, the most bizarre (for me) thing happened. When I boarded, I selected a seat across from a girl who had curled up over three seats and was trying to sleep. I planned on doing the exact same thing. A few moments after I sat down, she asked if I could wake her when other people wanted the seats.

This is normally where I would do a small nod, and hope to goodness for no more talking. Instead, I laughed and told her I intended to sleep as well but if I was awake I would have her back. She laughed and we both dozed off on the train. Halfway to the city, where the train fills up very fast, it was her who woke me up so an elderly couple could take the seats beside me. By the time we got to the city, she was asleep. Again, normally I would scoot out of there as fast as I can and avoid further interaction.

Instead, I tapped her on the knee and woke her up so she could exit the train before the conductors had to do it. She woke, and told me about how she was going to adopt a cat while in the city, and we chatted until the train was stopped.

I’ve been feeling extra social and relaxed like that. When I go into town, I don’t hope the people I know don’t see me, I actively walk up to them and start a conversation.

In fact, I’ve been relaxed about a lot of things. Simple things, like not waiting until every visible car is out of sight before I cross the road, and just walking to the shops when it’s starting to get dark rather than obsessing over whether I should or shouldn’t.

I’ve been more energetic, too. Outside of the physical exhaustion, I’m finding the drive to do things I would normally leave for another time. I’ve been cooking. I love cooking when I don’t have to do dishes, so I’m making the most of the dishwasher I have here. Cooking up some chicken tenders no longer feels like too many steps to get food. I just… do it.

I don’t need quite as much time to prepare for a task, either. That may not make sense most, but when I look at a rack of clothing that needs to be put away, I very rarely have the ability to just do it then. If I try, I feel extremely unsettled about it. The other day I went into the laundry and saw the towels on the rack were dry.

So I put what I was doing on hold (this is also crazy hard most of the time) and got the towels down, folded them and put them all away.

That is an unbelievable level of domestic function for me. This generally only occurs in those intense bursts where I DO ALL THE THINGS at once. Those are useful, but entirely unreliable. I’ve been operating at this level for about a whole week now. A whole week straight.

The best part is that I’ve noticed an increased ability to drop a train of thought if I don’t like it. Where a negative thought would once spawn two more negative thoughts, and I would spiral down to a horrible place–I have literally been able to tell myself ‘Yeah, how about we drop that?’ and move on to the next thought. Without having to forcibly distract myself.

That is unheard of for me. Today I got rejected for a job that I do desperately want–something that two weeks ago would have left me in an inconsolable ball of misery and low self-worth. It still stings and I still feel pretty shitty over it, but it is not the sole thought in my mind. It’s just one of many and I’m able to focus on the better ones. I’m hurt, but not imploding.

I’m beginning to feel a freedom from the detrimental obsessive thinking patterns, and it’s wonderful.

There have been less shiny side-effects, yes. My actions aren’t as heavily regulated as they were–which is good, but I’m more likely to do things without preparation so I don’t get as much of a chance to analyse whether it is a good idea or a bad idea.

Like deciding on Saturday afternoon that I might as well just head out to my football team’s fan day, because it was on. That whim was rewarded with free icecream, a drink bottle, pancakes, and the chance to hold the AFL Premiership Cup! Best day! But not something I would have previously decided to attend just because.

So far it’s all worked out good, but I’m aware that I need to be careful I don’t go to the extreme of blind impulsiveness.

I’m also eating a lot. Food tastes better, I think. I want more and more tastes. I want to cook because cooking is fun, and then I get to eat. I’m slowly switching over from soft drink to iced tea, because it’s cheaper and probably marginally healthier. I’m not picking at things obsessively, the benefits (so far) are worth the journey.

It won’t be this shiny and wonderful forever. I’m looking forward to that too, where basic functions aren’t something to marvel over. I’m looking forward to a new normal built around mundane stability.

I really feel that right now, I’m on the right track to get there. And that’s a pretty good feeling.