Feline Focus

Feline Focus
My latest puma, July 2016


Beloved companion to Sarah, Nov 2015

Window To The Soul

Window To The Soul
Watercolour Horse, June 2015

Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping Beauties
Watercolour Lionesses, Nov 2012


"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."

Groucho Marx

Snow Stalker

Snow Stalker
Another snow leopard - my latest watercolour offering - July 2013

13 November 2011

Humour Me

Do you know that people with Asperger's don't have a sense of humour? I wish someone had told me before I bothered to develop one. It might have saved me a lot of hassle, especially when it comes to trying to convince people that I am autistic: “You mean you understood the joke? I’m sorry, but you can’t be autistic then. Oh, and you’re a woman too? Well, you definitely can’t be one. Everyone knows it’s a man thing.”

What, even though I can’t multi-task to save my life; I do facts not feelings; I have about as much intuition (feminine or otherwise) as a pile of elephant poo; I have linear thinking so if you tell me to do something I’ll do it, but don’t expect me to think beyond your literal instructions and do anything more than what you asked of me; my astounding lack of sensitivity is legendary; and I think about sex most of the time?

Or perhaps I don’t have one at all? Maybe that thing which I think of as my sense of humour is actually something else which I’ve misidentified (it wouldn’t be the first time!) That would explain why most people don’t recognise when I’m being funny – that’s funny “ha ha”, as opposed to funny “peculiar”. Apparently most people have no problem in recognising in me the latter.

No, it must be true. It comes from the highest authority - neurotypicals. I even read a quote from a psychiatrist who stated that we don’t have one, and therefore Albert Einstein couldn’t be one of us because he did. Well of course that would negate all the other evidence to the contrary. Stands to reason. ‘Nuff said.

Does this mean, then, that anyone found wanting in the humour department has Asperger’s? My God, think what that could mean: the number of autistics could have multiplied dramatically overnight. We could be taking over the world, and nobody would know about it! And think how much easier it would make diagnosis: “No sense of humour? Definitely autistic.”

I would like to say something to those people who have stereotyped us all as lacking in wit – “You’ve got to be kidding! I’m an autistic in a predominantly non-autistic society, for fuck’s sake. What bigger joke can there be than that?!” Of course there are those on the autistic spectrum who don’t have a sense of humour, but that’s not all of us. Hell, there are plenty of humourless buggers in neuro-land but no-one holds it against them. Instead they give them large salaries and put them in positions of power.

If it weren’t for my sense of humour I’d be completely round the bend by now, or possibly have tripped off this mortal coil and be floating around in the ether playing jokes on people in the corporeal world. Ooh, I could haunt séances and try communicating with the living, see if it’s any easier now that I’m dead. Probably would be. One of God’s little ironic jokes, no doubt.

Did you see that? That was humour, that was - for those of you who have trouble spotting it, without me having to signpost it with yet another exclamation mark! Apparently my wit is very dry, which is why so many people don’t get it. I could try the opposite, I suppose, except that I’m not quite sure what that would be – wet wit, perhaps? Is that where people spit a lot when telling jokes? Or do they deluge you with them, which makes you feel like you’re drowning (or wish you were, they’re so bad!)?

I guess I needn’t get too despondent though. After all I’m in great company: even God gets painted as a humourless bugger by some people. I think I’d have lost my sense of humour by now if I’d been burdened with the responsibility for taking care of the human race! I wonder whether S/He gets paid a large salary to run the universe (expense account included)?

Ah well. Best return to my humourless existence, then, back to the gloomy place I share with Eeyore, before someone spots that I’ve escaped for a few hours of wanton jocularity, and questions my dubious claim to being autistic.

09 October 2011

The Weather Girl

Apparently it is a well-known fact around the world that here in England we have an inordinate preoccupation with the weather, and a conversation rarely goes by without it being referred to in some way, especially between strangers when you don’t know what else to say. It is, it appears, the ultimate ice-breaker, a safe way in which to connect with other people, even if only for a moment. It’s as if you’ve touched base with another human being and discovered that you’re still one with the rest of the world: you didn’t metamorphose into some hideous creature, devoid of human sensitivities, in the middle of the night. Nope, it’s okay: you weren’t transformed into an autistic.

Now, here’s the thing. This discussion about the weather that people engage in so frequently, and which seems often to lead onto more interesting topics (I mean, how many ways can you find to describe the fact that it’s been pissing it down with rain, yet again, especially during what we laughingly describe as our summer?!), is one which I have taken to its literal limit. When I talk about the weather, I talk about the weather. And when I stop talking about it, that’s it. The conversation, such as it was, is over. Unless I happen to have a back-up topic in mind with which to extend it. Otherwise we’re done.

As a method for engaging in that thing called “chatting” it is totally bloody useless to an autistic. I don’t know why I keep trying, really, because I’m hopeless at it. And the truth is I find it really quite boring, but I have this persistent misguided idea that it’s somehow what is expected of me, in order to be considered polite. God knows how the person feels on the receiving end of one of my weather forecasts!

The person whom I most frequently deluge with my climactic enlightenments is my veg lady. This is my nickname for her: she is not actually a vegetable (just in case you’re THAT literal!) I visit her farm stall once a week in order to buy vegetables, and every week I try to engage her in dialogue by discussing the weather. The thing that confuses me is that she is quite friendly towards me, but she isn’t actually very forthcoming in the conversational department. She responds to my clumsy attempts to chat, but if I don’t say anything then she just leaves me to get on with choosing what I want.

Now this is actually ideal, due to my inability to multi-task (especially if one of the tasks is talking). But instead of being relieved and grabbing the opportunity she has offered to not have to stress myself to be chatty, I find myself even more desperate to try to keep up the interaction. I can’t seem to get into my head that she won’t be offended if I do nothing more than buy what she’s selling, and bugger off so that she can get on with the rest of her day!

I do wish that I could either shut up around people or, if I’m going to speak, at least speak as I normally would to someone I know well, where I don’t feel I have to pretend to be anything other than what and who I am, and I can talk about the things that interest (or obsess) me. Like yoga, for example. Or pole dancing. Pole dancing?

Yes, my newest obsession is with pole dancing. I haven’t taken it up – yet. That would either require that I have to go for lessons somewhere (an absolute no-no), or that I buy myself a pole, which you then erect (pun definitely intended!) in your home, hopefully without bringing the ceiling down on your head the moment you launch your whole body weight onto the thing, swinging with wild abandon like a chimpanzee – only with less control. And less finesse.

And then you follow on-line video lessons. This, in a manner of speaking, is what I’ve been doing, minus the pole – and minus actually following them (which is rather difficult to do without the pole, as you can well imagine). Instead I’ve been doing the Lisa version, which involves watching a lot of different clips from a variety of teachers, and then imagining myself pole-dancing. You don’t get much physical benefit, or a feeling of empowerment, which is what it’s supposed to be about (and you thought it was about sexually titillating men in clubs!), but then you don’t end up collapsed on your back; dislocating your shoulder because you were over-keen to get on with being able to clamber round the thing like a monkey in heat; or suffering severe friction burns to your groin area.

I now find myself drawn to lamp posts when I’m out walking, with an overwhelming desire to fling myself at one and see if I can perform a fireman’s spin, back-hook spin, or a kick-up invert – vaguely a la Gene Kelly in ‘Singin’ In The Rain’: though I don’t ever recall seeing him hanging in mid-air upside-down, his legs astride the lamppost with his arse sticking out. Funny, that, how you don’t seem to get any men doing it. Do they not find it empowering too? Perhaps it’s the shoes ...

As a conversation initiator I don’t know that this would go down too well with the general public. I think it more likely to bring it to a clanging halt, unless you happened to be talking to a professional pole-dancer. Or a fellow amateur enthusiast. And I’m not quite sure how you would follow this topic, what flow of ideas would spring forth for a lively discussion – lap-dancing, perhaps? Or stripping for a living? Perhaps the benefits, or otherwise, of working in the adult entertainment business? Or maybe romantic/erotic literature – also on my list of newly-acquired obsessions. Do you see a pattern here?

But no, it’s not about sex. It’s just about exercise and empowerment. That’s why they wear those high-heeled shoes.

At least that’s what everyone says it’s about, if you read about it on the web. And it does sound quite reasonable – all that hanging on with your arms and legs, not to mention spinning wildly around, equates to a full-body work-out that’s more fun than pounding the gym. Not to mention working on your balance as you totter about on your four inch heels. Have they not heard of yoga? You get to work on your balance without the threat of falling off your mountainous heels and breaking your neck, or of spiking yourself, or someone else, in the eye.

But then I’m so gullible I’d buy sand from the Arabs if I lived in the desert, and they offered an even barely-rational reason as to why I should. Like the fact that imported sand is better than the home-grown stuff ‘cos it has anti-ageing properties that will make your skin look younger if you mix it to a paste with camel spit (no water in the desert), and slap it on your face every day. And once you’ve bartered with the Arabs for the sand you can practise your chatting skills, by talking about the weather. Not much to talk about there then. Unless you’re into camels. Or sand.

19 September 2011

Gone In Sixty Seconds

My attention span, that is. The thing that’s gone in sixty seconds, I mean. That’s what the title refers to, and not to the film of the same name. This is not a review of the film, just in case you were wondering, after having perhaps happened upon this by accident. There will be no mention of Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie, or former “hard-man-of-football-turned-Ac-Tor” Vinnie Jones (and where better to learn and perfect your acting technique than on a football pitch? There’s been many an Oscar-winning performance played out on that stage!) Oh. I just mentioned them, didn’t I, when I said that there wouldn’t be any mention of them. Well, what I mean is that there will be no further mention of them, or the film, after this. If I can only remember what the bloody hell I was going to write about in this article!

Ah, yes. My attention span. Or lack thereof, to be more precise. You know it would be easier just to write a review of the film really, even though I’ve never actually seen it. But then writing or talking about things that I have limited or no knowledge of has never been much of a deterrent to me. It’s not that I embellish or fabricate a story, the way that non-autistics do (commonly known as bullshitting!), but rather that I can take a fact and then string it out to fill a whole conversation; or, if I run out of steam, then I can flit from the fact at hand to incorporate other information, which may or may not have a link (though possibly tenuous) to the topic I’m presently on. Much like the way this article is going, really.

Oh, I remember now what I was supposed to be writing about – my attention span. Ah yes, the absolute joy of having a brain that seems to short circuit every time I try to force it to focus on something for longer than sixty seconds. That may be a slight exaggeration – it’s only on very bad days that it’s this short – but on average I can probably only do about twenty minutes before I get distracted, and I don’t even know whether I’m fully-focused during that time.

Okay, so here’s a case in point. I’ve been trying to write this article for about the last couple of weeks, and now I’ve lost interest. This is despite the fact that when I say I’ve been doing it for two weeks, I do not literally mean that every moment of every day has been spent sitting here, straining my brain to focus on getting the words on the page. Nope. My plan precludes such a thing, because it’s designed to try to break up the obsessive part of me. I do writing on four days of the week, for half an hour each day.

This means that, in total, I’ve been attempting to focus my attention for the humongous amount of ... two hours. That’s two HOURS out of two WEEKS. That’s two hours out of THREE HUNDRED and THIRTY-SIX HOURS!! And I’ve barely even managed that, hence the long and arduous (not to mention frequently damn-well tortured!) route that this article has taken in being conceived and delivered. Hell, I don’t even think giving birth is this laboured!

I used to think that I suffered from writer’s block – a lot! I now think it was more a case of the writer in me going on extended leave because there just wasn’t room for it. It gets a little crowded in here when you’ve got ADHD, complemented by being obsessive/compulsive. Funny thing is I don’t ever seem to get obsessed and compelled by the need to write... or draw, paint, make craft things, do calligraphy, learn how to use the programmes on the computer... All things which I, apparently, love doing. Even yoga, which is probably my favourite thing in the whole world, often gets easily abandoned when my brain is otherwise engaged in distracting my mind. My friend Dee has frequently pointed this out, and all I can say is, “Duh?”!

Reading and thinking – this is what I get distracted by, probably the two least productive activities in the whole world for someone with autism! I even tried to read my way out of writer’s block. I found a book about how to write (even though I already know how to do it!), and proceeded to submerge myself in it. I really enjoyed it, actually: it kept me distracted for weeks, and I didn’t do a single bit of productive writing within that time.

I did, however, try to follow one of the exercises designed, apparently, to get the well-spring of creativity primed and pumping – it was called ‘morning pages’. Unfortunately I didn’t fully understand the instructions, so the intended outcome was not forthcoming. For one thing my morning pages, which were funnily enough meant to be restricted to the morning, actually extended throughout the day. They were also supposed to be limited to three pages, and to take no more than twenty minutes to write out. Oh, and you weren’t supposed to think about what you were writing, but simply to put down whatever came into your mind at that moment, commonly known as “stream of consciousness”. None of which I managed to stick to (another problem I have – following instructions!) Of course it now makes more sense of why this is, since it’s very difficult to do so when you haven’t fully comprehended them.

Okay, so I’ve now taken an extra three writing sessions to complete this, which is another hour and a half on my original total. And now I’m going to finish it ‘cos there’s not a lot more to be said right now on the subject. Basically, my attention’s gone. Again!

10 June 2011


You know there’s really no point in having any pride when you’re autistic. I seem to spend half my time feeling dumb because of something foolish I’ve said or done, and the other half looking foolish whilst being totally unaware of it – until sometime later when the penny finally drops. Here’s an example of this joyous facet of autism.

I came back from my walk earlier today and found that my water supply had been cut off – not, I hasten to add, due to any deficit on my part in paying my bill! I’ve had this happen to me on numerous occasions (as it does to most people), and I reacted as I normally do – I panic! I am having to accept that this is my automatic reaction when anything unexpected happens, no matter that the unexpected might actually be a relatively normal occurrence in everyday life. It appears to be a part of the hardwiring in my brain rather than a cognitive thing because I cannot talk myself out of it with logic and into a state of calm, like non-autistics are able to do. In fact, non-autistics don’t even seem to need to resort to having to reason with themselves at all - they just shrug it off (or maybe feel a bit annoyed at the inconvenience), and carry on with their day. How do they do that?!! To me it’s like an apocalyptic event – another one. My whole life has been one long apocalypse. (Yes, I am exaggerating – but only slightly!)

And the thing is I know what to do when this happens. I check with the neighbours to see if theirs is off too (a bit of an ordeal in itself, no matter that most of my neighbours are very nice, because I suffer social anxiety), which eliminates the worry that it’s just happening to me; and then I phone the water supplier to find out if there’s a leak in the area or work being done. In every instance there has been some good reason for it, and they’ve had the water back on within a few hours.

Yet I approach every new incident as if this one is going to have no reason or solution for it, and I am never going to have water again! It doesn’t matter that the evidence is that I have never experienced drought, and that there’s no logical reason why it should suddenly occur now. This I do not find reassuring. My logic is that just because it’s never happened yet doesn’t mean it isn’t going to: in fact it’s almost a guarantee that it is because I’m long overdue! And the thing is I cannot offer any explanation, reasonable or otherwise, as to why I think like this. My friend tells me that this gloomy outlook also appears to be part of the autism, though I’m not certain whether that means that this too is hard-wired, or learnt. Either way it’s a pain in the arse!

Now today, for some reason, I seemed to panic more than usual, because I approached doing everything in the wrong order. I didn’t check with the neighbours first, I phoned the water supplier, who of course asked if I’d checked, and then asked me to do so. Unfortunately what they asked was that I check with my neighbour in the downstairs flat, which I told them I couldn’t do because I don’t talk to him anymore. They finally suggested that I check with some of the other neighbours, which I said I can do.

And I did do. And, do you know, none of them were aware that the water had been switched off until I spoke to them? And none of them reacted like I did – no panic, no worry, no anxiety; no wondering how am I going to cook lunch, and stick to my plan?! Does no-one else use water like I do? Does no-one drink the stuff, or use the toilet, throughout the day? Am I responsible for half the world’s drought?!

I have no idea what impression I left the neighbours with, but by this time the impression I had created in the mind of the person at the other end of the phone does not bear thinking about – dippy, neurotic woman with a brain the size of a pea. Nor was this image improved by my having to call back later and inform them that I thought I might have phoned the wrong water supplier!

As it turned out, this was the case. Oh joy! I spent an hour after I got off the phone to the wrong supplier waiting for them to get back to me with news, only to realise the mistake I’d probably made. The thing is we have two suppliers – one deals with the sewerage (lovely!), and the other actually supplies our water - and people accuse me of complicating everything! So I finally got in touch with the right one, and found out instantly that there was, indeed, a burst water pipe in the village where I live, and that it was being repaired, and would be completed within a couple of hours.

As I write this the water has been back on for over an hour (sooner than they estimated) so I am not composing this whilst in a state of advanced dehydration - parched to death, and suffering from mental confusion due to the lack of fluid to my brain. No: the mental confusion is entirely normal for me, so please don’t all rush at once to come and drown me with fluids! I’ve decided that after I’ve died and am rehydrated (I mean reincarnated, but it’s much the same thing, really!) I want to come back as a camel. I don’t imagine that camels panic about the lack of water in the desert. Or perhaps they do? You never can tell with camels – like you never can tell with autistics!

23 April 2011

Art Failure!

Oh dear, I’ve discovered something which gives me a justifiable reason for hoarding rubbish – it’s called ART! More precisely, it’s crafts. And, to be even more specific, at the moment it’s actually papier mache. Prior to this it was decoupage – I was going to decoupage everything in sight: I still might do so once this obsession has worn off. In fact I can even combine the two things and decoupage my papier mached creations – how great is that?! Well, it would be if I could ever take the plunge and make a start on the bloody thing!

I love making things, but what I seem to love even more is collecting stuff with which to be creative, and obsessively thinking and reading about the activity. I’ve already come up with half a dozen ideas for what to make with this particular craft form, not to mention having rescued numerous materials which would normally get thrown in the recycling bin. I’ve even bought the additional necessary items required to get going (the flour for making the paste, and balloons for the first easy project). All this, plus having deluged myself with research on-line about how to make paste, how to make pulp (how many different recipes for making the same paste and pulp does one person need?!), what techniques to use, and numerous inspirational guidelines for what to make. Noah’s flood was a light shower compared to this!

And yet I continue to look and, in the process, manage to avoid taking the BIG LEAP of having a go myself. It also has the contrary effect of dampening my enthusiasm for the whole idea, as it starts to get more and more complicated - whose advice is the best?; which instructions should I follow?; how am I ever going to be able to make anything like the things I’ve seen created by other people on some of these sites?; what if it doesn’t work?; should I even bother?!

Ah yes, it’s the Cycle Of Doom! It’s the way I approach everything new (and not-so-new) in life, especially when it’s something that’s meant to be enjoyable. It seems to go like this:-

 First we have a spark (or conflagration!) of interest in a new idea or activity;

 Then the fire gets fuelled by plenty of petrol (meaning I start thinking, reading, talking, and dreaming about it all the time – commonly known as obsessing!);

 I “plan” to do it (this is my version of a plan, which means a kind of vague wandering in my mind going over the instructions again and again, and, if required for chosen activity, start buying or hoarding things for it – one of my favourite parts of the whole process!);

 And then I procrastinate about making a start, as I worry about how and where to begin, what the end result will be like, whether I can actually do it, whether I’ve understood the instructions properly, what a waste of materials it will be if I get it wrong, what will I do with it if I get it right, where will I house all my creative efforts (having, as I do, very little space to spare, and visualising being snowed under in an avalanche of solidified paper!), what will I do instead of this if I discover that I either don’t enjoy it or am useless at it, and what will I do for my next project if I ever get this one finished! As you may have noticed from my list of worries there’s no logical progression from one to another, and they generally all descend on me together – it’s like being mugged by a bunch of dufflepuds! (For amplification please read ‘The Voyage Of The Dawntreader’ by C S Lewis.);

 By this time I’m almost in a state of meltdown, my whole happiness has become dependent upon the success (or otherwise) of my ability to make a bowl out of a few bits of newspaper stuck onto a balloon: everything else in the world has paled into insignificance, to the point that if I don’t manage to prevail then all the meaning to my life will be lost and, basically, there will remain no reason to go on.
You think I jest? You think I exaggerate? If you’re non-autistic you probably do: if you’re autistic you’ll likely know what I’m talking about and know that I don’t, that it’s no laughing matter .... at least, not while it’s happening!;

 Then finally, after reaching a crescendo of anticipatory dread and anxiety (with, if I’m lucky, possibly a smidgeon of excitement lurking guiltily in the background!), the magic moment materialises and I take the plunge. Well, actually, it’s more like dipping a toe timorously in the water, in case something hideous is hiding ready to leap out and get me – like, perhaps, an unforeseen bout of enthusiasm!

So, there’s the Cycle: and here’s the really thrilling thing – I get to go through it with every single project I undertake! Yes, every time I come to the end of making one article I have the great good fortune to have to endure the exact same process, with no omissions, for the next creation. There’s no “once you’ve taken the plunge the first time, the next will be easier” for me. No: I’m always wary of sticking my toe in the water, even when it’s the same water and I’ve been keeping a check on it to make sure that no-one changes it or introduces something untoward during a moment when I might have been off my guard – people are like that, you know, always wanting to tweak things!


Not literally, of course, but yes I have made a start and, in the attempt, braved the Cycle of Doom 2 – The Revenge! Yes, this is where, having survived the first, I’m hit by the Second Wave of Doom – very similar to the original, with just slight modifications to take into account the fact that I’m now doing, rather than just thinking about doing, whichever activity it is that I’m trying to avoid!

I’ve also discovered that I can’t blow up a balloon! Seriously: I have seemingly forgotten how to do it. The instructions, simple as they are, just don’t compute. I know I used to be able to do it, but it seems that, as with all things connected with being an Asperger, if I don’t keep up a consistent practise then, for some bizarre reason, I forget how to do it (I swear I’d forget how to breathe properly if I didn’t have to think about it for yoga!). And since balloon-blowing hasn’t played much part in my life, not really being a necessary skill for living (unless you have children, are one of those balloon artists who make strange shapes out of them for a living, or do papier bloody mache!), the technique has deserted me. Which is a bit of a bugger considering that it now appears to be a requisite for my newly-acquired interest in the paper mashing arts. I’ll just have to buy a balloon pump – it’s either that or go around asking people if they can blow up a balloon for me; and then I’d have to explain to them that I don’t mean that I want them to use an explosive to blast the thing to smithereens – just in case they’re literal too!

So I’ve ended up having to use a bowl to make, of all things, a bowl! And I’ve also ended up having to dispense with most of the ‘rubbish’ that I’d managed to accumulate in the space of a week because it turns out to be not very useful. This should come as no surprise, really, as I also have an innate ability for being incapable of knowing what’s important and what isn’t, which translates as being able to dispense with what matters whilst holding on like a limpet to what doesn’t! So I think that, in an attempt to copy the Egyptians, I shall have all of my most treasured worldly goods buried with me to take into the afterlife – which means that I’ll be surrounded by papier mache sculptures and, rather than bury me, someone will just need to strike a match and I’ll go up in flames. Performance art!

27 March 2011

Follow That Plan!

One thing you could never accuse me of being is balanced. I don’t “do” balance. It’s not in my nature. I lonnnnnnnnnnnnng to be balanced. I strive relentlessly to achieve it. I have obsessed myself out of balance trying to work out how to get it, why I can’t seem to do so, and why it doesn’t last when I have momentarily hit it only to find myself skidding right past it again on my pendulum swing either up or down. I’m just not wired up to be balanced, and my frustration stems from the fact that I cannot (as yet) accept it.

It doesn’t compute – at least not for longer than the time it’s taken me to analyse my way into a sense of understanding, and out again! And if a thing doesn’t compute then I don’t accept it: it’s like it just doesn’t stay in my memory long enough to be fully digested. The story of my life – I am a recovered bulimic!

At the moment I’m not feeling anywhere near balanced. In fact I feel completely out of whack. It all comes from not following my plan.

Ah yes – The Plan. I don’t think I’ve mentioned The Plan yet, have I? Much like I hadn’t written about yoga until my last blog entry. And yet both of them are crucial to my life. But then that’s the way it is with me: I get distracted and obsessed by the minutiae, and the important things get overlooked. Ho hum!

Between them they give me the nearest thing to balance that I can get, which is a sense of order and rhythm, a structure to my day. They make the difference between me living my life to my full potential, and existing in that chaotic, sensorily overloaded world of the directionless, terrified autistic, trying to make sense of, and copy my way into, a life which is not my own. I’ve lived both: I know what I’m talking about. There is no contest. Life with a plan is a thousand times better than without.

Unfortunately there is one teeny problem to this plan business: it means DISCIPLINE (or disciplan, if you will!), the ultimate anathema to an autistic, especially one with the added bonus of ADHD and obsessive/compulsive disorder!

I love plans - the idea of them. I have done for as long as I can remember, and especially since my secondary school days where I discovered the wonderful world of the timetable, which told me EXACTLY what I was supposed to be doing, where, and when. Unfortunately I’m not very good at making them, or writing them down. I get the idea in my head, but then something happens during the process of trying to transfer it onto paper. Rather than solidifying into a coherent whole, it all gets rather vague, complicated, and decidedly “wobbly” (to use a Poohism!)

Another “flaw in the plan”, as it were, is my unwavering propensity for losing interest once the initial enthusiasm has waned, and the time has come for me to really apply myself to the nitty-gritty of actually having to follow it. If it hasn’t produced miraculous results within two days (sometimes even two hours, or two minutes, is just too long!) then I become despondent and convinced that it’s not going to work, and I resort to one of two methods that I have for dealing with it – I either abandon the plan altogether; or I tweak it. And tweaking, as my friend Dee knows, is my favourite occupation when it comes to plans, and the bane of her life when trying to get me to stick to one!

We’ve been road testing this plan business for quite a while now, fine tuning it along the way. I say “we” because, even though I’m the one who has to follow the thing, the whole business of designing it has been a sort of joint venture, with a large proportion of that aspect falling on Dee’s shoulders. Without her I would still be making notes – incoherent ones at that!

Plus she was the one who first proposed the idea, having witnessed my futile attempts at trying to manage my life “spontaneously”, without any discernible structure (even before the recognition of my being autistic). Despite having toyed with the idea on numerous occasions of wishing I could revisit the days of having a timetable to follow, I’d dismissed it as being ridiculous, something that I was supposed to have grown out of by now. How wrong can you get?!

It has become apparent to us that one of the absolutely indispensable tools for enabling autistics to function better is to have discipline and structure in their lives. My friend Dee used to manage a residential unit for those on the low functioning end of the spectrum, which is where she initially witnessed the benefits of implementing a consistent routine, which helped to calm the residents. We didn’t know at the time just how relevant this experience was going to be for me: back then I was still simply a neurotic, with a lot of odd habits!

When we started, about three years ago, I still had no recognition of my condition, but it was very noticeable that I could not manage my own life. I’d have spates of “getting it together”, creating order (this translates as manically cleaning my home!), and making promises to myself to keep it maintained. But inevitably it would all go to pieces, very quickly, and the sum total of my life came down to my obsession with trying to keep my home clean and ordered. There wasn’t much room for anything else: as I’ve mentioned before, I can’t multi-task (I prefer the term multi-function since it covers a lot more than just action-oriented behaviours); and, boy, am I obsessive/compulsive!

And so “Enter The Plan”! Initially it was a very loose structure, just basically a list of things to try to include in my day (including creative tasks like writing, drawing, etc: anything to break up the predominant obsessions at that time - cleaning, television, and reading!), with no time strictures, except concerning meals and yoga. These were the only two things which had definite times, and around which the rest of the day was built. And, to a greater extent, they still are. However, what we found was that this “looseness”, which equated to giving me the responsibility to decide each day what I would do, basically meant that hardly any of it got done: unless I happened to hit upon one of my infrequent “good” days (this meant I’d got enough energy and enthusiasm to do more than the bare minimum.)

Now, contrary to what many in the non-autistic world seem to think is best for us (which appears to be that we need less rigidity and more flexibility, which will help us to become more spontaneous – as if!), my plan has actually evolved from a loose list of activities into a highly structured timetable which maps out every moment of every day, and now very definitely resembles those school timetables I used to look back upon so wistfully. It keeps my life from falling apart, my nervous system from overloading with the strain of too much stimulus, my obsessional tendencies in check (I’m not allowed to focus on doing only one thing – no reading all day long, or twelve hour yoga sessions!), and my brain from exploding from the stress of having too many decisions to make. My ADHD is also catered for – most tasks only last for half an hour, a time limit which is just about as much as I can deal with in having to sit still and focus on one thing at a time.

It also allows for the process of change to occur, albeit at the pace of an inebriated tortoise (I seem to take one faltering step forwards, then stagger a couple of paces back!) But change has, and is, occurring, which is a major miracle in itself for an autistic for whom change signifies disruption, and is to be avoided at all costs. Perhaps this is also why I hate discipline so much - I innately know what it leads to!

And the ultimate irony of it all is that now that I know what it is that I’m supposed to be doing, every moment of the day, I am finding that I am learning to be able to be “flexible” and adjust my timetable to allow for those spontaneous events that inevitably crop up!

31 January 2011

What Katy Did

I haven’t yet mentioned my favourite obsession, have I? Bloody hell, that’s very remiss of me! It’s what my friend calls my “special interest”. Apparently lots of autistics have one, something which takes precedence over everything else, including all other obsessions. Well mine is yoga. And ‘Katy’ is Katy Appleton, the yoga teacher whose books I follow, and whose web-site, words, personality, and life in general I have varyingly tried to emulate – which is not such a good idea ‘cos she’s not autistic, and her life is nothing like mine. But try impressing that upon me when I’m in the middle of an obsession.

For one thing she was a ballet dancer before she became a yoga teacher. I’m neither, but I decided I’d like to be both when I discovered Katy and her book. Never one to let reality interfere with my obsessions, I pointed to the fact that, as an adolescent at secondary school, I’d done ballet and enjoyed it. Who cared that we’d only had about half a dozen lessons before the whole thing was abandoned (my school not exactly being a hotbed of artistic excellence), or that I am now in my forties? I concluded that this must mean that I would love it now, because Katy did, and I share with her the love of yoga. Stands to reason.

Well, actually, no it doesn’t. For example, my friend Dee and I have quite a number of things in common that we both like, but strangely enough she has absolutely no interest in yoga whatsoever, a fact which I find completely bewildering considering that she is a very spiritual person. I assume that every spiritual person will take to yoga the way that I did, and that it’s only on account of not having had the opportunity to try it yet that keeps them from doing so. And with that in mind I have taken it to be part of my duty to spread the word about the wonders of yoga - with over-zealous enthusiasm, and an obsessive desire to talk about it at every opportunity. I have probably bored people out of any interest in it that they may once have had, thus diminishing, rather than increasing, the number of possible convertees.

So back to Katy, whose own enthusiasm fortunately did not deter me. On the contrary, it served to re-kindle the fire which had waned somewhat after an inauspicious start to my yoga journey. I’d tried a couple of other books – one of them made it so difficult and boring I lost interest after about a month; the other neglected to include specific warnings with regard to possible dangers, and left me crippled with back pain. I took the motto, “No pain, no gain” rather literally – but then I would do, wouldn’t I? I’m autistic.

But then I found Katy. Well, not literally. She wasn’t standing there, in the library, just hanging about waiting for me to come across her and take her home with me. But her book was. ‘Introducing Yoga’ (in case you’re interested!) – a beginner’s guide to yoga. I’d seen it before and decided it wasn’t for me. I don’t do beginners’ anything: I like to launch myself straight in at the deep end, believing that I don’t really need a gentle introduction, plus I haven’t got the time to waste on it. It probably accounts for why I’ve spent most of my life feeling as if I’m drowning in a sea of confusing ideas and free-floating bits of information which are anchored to nothing in particular, but which have an annoying habit of clonking me in the head every so often. It also explains why I never seem to get very far very quickly, because in the end I have to go back to the beginning any way in order to make sense of it all!

I took it home, and so discovered what has turned out to be one of the greatest gifts I have been given in helping me to live with being autistic (and all my other attendant conditions), before I even knew I was one. I’ve learned lots of interesting and useful things – like discipline (my least favourite thing in the world), and how to breathe properly. It doesn’t half help, especially when you suffer from anxiety and a mind that’s prone to thinking at a rate faster than the speed of light, which can leave you feeling as if you’ve just been dragged across the cosmos by a comet.

But of course, as with everything that I latch onto, I have gone through the inevitable obsessional period, which involves submerging myself not only in the practice of yoga itself by simply following the book, but also in making everything in my life revolve around yoga, and trying to become more like Katy. So Katy loves ballet – I love ballet (I’ve had a fleeting interest in it at various times in my life, which could hardly be called love); Katy likes listening to Cafe del Mar – I like Cafe del Mar (no I don’t: it bored the arse off of me); Katy loves Shiva Rea – I love Shiva Rea (she’s another yogi, and I find her very annoying ‘cos she speaks in a kind of code that is total twaddle); Katy eats salads, soups, and raw fish – I decide that’s what I should eat (though fortunately I don’t like any of them so that scuppers that plan).

“Copying” is the only word I can think of to describe it, though it doesn’t really fit what it is that happens. It’s like I try to emulate people I admire but then, for some reason, I start to lose everything that is me and begin to take on, wholesale, their identity. All or nothing again. And, the thing is, it isn’t a conscious decision or action. I’m not setting out to copy, I just end up believing that they must be right about everything, so how they live must be the right way to live.

Plus, of course, I then decide I have to adopt everything connected with yoga; which means getting obsessed with following ayurvedic principles around food and health, reading the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, compulsively reading not only Katy’s web-site but any others to do with yoga, adopting the Hindu God Shiva as my higher power, buying a statue of Buddha to help with meditation, and deciding I really must have ‘proper’ yoga clothes in which to do my practice. In short I complicate it all, which is generally what I do with most things. I think it’s also known as ‘overkill’!

I am pleased, and relieved, to report that I have come through all of this unscathed, and with my love of yoga still intact – only now I have got it down to the essence of what works for me, which is the practice. I still follow Katy’s books, but not Katy any more. She’s very fortunate that I don’t live in London, where she is based, and that I suffer social anxiety, otherwise I might well have ended up literally following her - to see What Katy Did Next.

Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard
An experiment in watercolour and gouache

Quotes Quota

"Do you believe in Magic?" asked Colin.

"That I do, lad," she answered. "I never knowed it by that name, but what does th' name matter? I warrant they call it a different name i' France an' a different one i' Germany. Th' same thing as set th' seeds swellin' an' th' sun shinin' made thee well lad an' it's th' Good Thing. It isn't like us poor fools as think it matters if us is called out of our names. Th' Big Good Thing doesn't stop to worrit, bless thee. It goes on makin' worlds by th' million - worlds like us. Never thee stop believin' in th' Big Good Thing an' knowin' th' world's full of it - an call it what tha' likes. Eh! lad, lad - what's names to th' Joy Maker."

From 'The Secret Garden', by Frances Hodgson Burnett


Copied from photograph of the same name by Roberto Dutesco

Quotes Quota

"There is no way to happiness - happiness is the way."
The Dalai Lama

"If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything."

Malcolm X

On The Prowl

On The Prowl
Watercolour tiger

Quotes Quota

"What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step."

"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."

C S Lewis