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

03 November 2014

A Secondhand Life

You may have noticed that I like quoting other people in my blog.  More often than not, I’ll stick a quote, or two, at the top of the page, and away I go.  Sometimes I use it as the starting point, the source of inspiration for what I write: other times it’s like an affirmation of the point I’ve been trying to make.  

Until now I’ve not given much thought to why I do it: I’ve just assumed it’s a good thing, to be able to memorise and then recite things that I’ve read.  I’ve seen it as a sign of intelligence, good memory, and learning.  And I’ve always admired people who can do it; been in awe of those able to spout forth the words of wisdom of others.  Of course, this idea kind of gets blown out of the water when you consider that you can teach a parrot to quote.

Now, I’m not saying that quoting is a bad thing, though only being able to parrot words that you’ve learnt is not really very helpful; being able to use quotes in the right context, understanding what the author meant by them, is a step up.  But, as I’ve recently realised, for me there’s something else going on as well when I use them.  

It’s as if my own words are not enough, like I don’t believe that they carry any weight compared to other peoples’, even if it happens that I am speaking from experience, and they are simply imparting academic knowledge (an example being that of autism, and the precedence I give to the words of those non-autistic ‘professionals’ and ‘experts’ in the field.  If my experience doesn’t match up with what they say, then I discount my experience - or I try to bend it to fit into the autistic-shaped hole that they’ve carved out). 

It wouldn’t be so bad if I confined my use of them to my blog.  But the fact is that I liberally pepper my speech with other peoples’ words, in preference to coming up with something original of my own.  I reference things I’ve read, usually with the words, “It’s like (insert name  here) says in (insert name of book or other source material here) …”, which I’ve now become aware produces the unfortunate result of isolating me from myself, and keeping everything in a state of abstraction - i.e. it all stays in my head, and never touches my heart.  I end up building a life for myself based on my dodgy understanding of someone else’s beliefs (and not just one, but lots of someone else’s).  So it’s yet another bloody form of copying - I just can’t seem to get away from wanting to follow the herd!

And it isn’t as if I can’t think for myself - this whole blog is a testament to the fact that I have plenty of my own opinions and words to share.  I just seem to be filled with such a level of self-doubt that I feel the need to have to refer back to someone else’s interpretation, or experience, rather than trusting my own, and utilising my own words.  I constantly question my own judgement and understanding; and, believing that it’s not quite enough, not quite right, seek to validate it - hence the ubiquitous quotes.

So, in an attempt to divest myself of this habit/trait, I have put aside for the next three months some of the books which I reference frequently, and which are responsible for colouring and shaping a great many of my beliefs and opinions.  Hopefully, not having them to re-read (which reinforces and concretises them in my mind) will lead to me thinking more for myself, and coming up with original ideas, rather than simply dipping into the bottomless pit of my memory.  I think it’s time to give that area of my brain a rest - it’s been shockingly overused, while the rest is in a state of semi-retirement.  

No wonder it takes me so long to get going with writing or art - my brain is fast asleep, and has to be resuscitated first.

01 October 2014

The Declutter Bug

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”    Hans Hoffman

“Keep It Simple”

I’ve been decluttering for the past week or so (I’ve kind of lost track of time, as I am wont to do when I get locked onto one of my little ‘projects’).  I say “been”, but the fact is I’m still in the midst of doing it, though it has calmed down to a trickle rather than the flood I had going on last week.  But, even though I had the physical evidence as proof of the extensive clear-out (a massive pile of bags, boxes, and random large items, all carted off to the charity shop), my home doesn’t look that much different.  In fact, if you were to see the state of it, you’d maybe wonder whether I was being delusional, and a tad optimistic: it looks more like I’ve been doing the opposite, what with the chaos that abounds, kind of like the aftermath of a mini tornado. 

So what has it taught me?  Well, apart from the obvious, which is that I hoard things (even though I hate doing it), my approach to the process of clearing out has been an illustration of certain of my ADHD, and autistic, traits running rampant.

Of course, I never meant for it to be - I had every intention of approaching it like a sensible, neurotypical person would, the way I’d read about it on the internet (of course I ‘had to’ go and read about it first, and then keep returning in order to re-motivate myself.  Nothing at all to do with getting distracted by being on the internet… not much).  It’s a wonder I actually managed to get anything decluttered at all.  And it’s why it has taken me so long - ‘cos I don’t really have that much stuff, nor that much space.  I live in a small, one-bedroomed flat.  But there we go.

So I started off in typical fashion - not accepting that, as someone with ADHD and autism, reading about something that is actually very simple was a bad idea, especially given that it was being espoused by a lot of non-autistics/ADHDers; only to find myself, once again, comparing myself to them, and using them as my template.  

And I discovered that, for something so simple, there were a lot of variations, and an enormous amount of blogs/sites out there dedicated to the art of decluttering/living simply/minimalism.  I guess when you’re making a living out of it you’d have to stretch it out, otherwise you’d have nothing to write about on your blog (or in your book/s).  It’s kind of ironic that we apparently need a book, or a blog, full of instructions on how to live simply.  But hey, I’m dumb (and willing enough) to buy the idea.

Of course, when I set out I didn’t really make a decision at all.  I just sort of fell into it, with the desire/need to empty out and get rid of a set of drawers, which I duly did: and then it simply escalated - as these things have a tendency to do with me.  I kept making vague murmurings about needing to slow down, focus on one bit at a time, and not move onto another area until I’d completed that.  But, in true ADHD fashion, I ended up starting in one place, becoming overwhelmed, being distracted by thoughts about what needed doing elsewhere, losing interest in what I was doing, and abandoning it to go start somewhere else, ad infinitum…  

Hence I’m now sitting in a flat in a state of semi-completion, with smaller piles of unsorted clutter in each room - but, still, piles all the same.  I’m beginning to think I might be allergic to order and tidiness, because I never quite get there (‘there’, I think, being a kind of utopian state where everything has a place, and it’s always in its place).  Or I do, but it only lasts for about sixty seconds.  Or I get one bit, or most of it, done, but never quite finish it (I have a problem finishing things in general - and starting them.  But I’m okay with the bit in the middle).  

It’s as if I see the finish line, where the spectre of neatness stretches out in front of me like an endless desert (a bit like an extreme minimalist’s home), and then I seemingly panic and baulk at running through the tape.  I don’t know whether my mind subconsciously worries about what I’m going to do if I haven’t got anything to distract me, and so basically sabotages it all; or whether it’s as simple as me needing to accept that I’m a bit of an untidy person, that it’s a character trait of mine, but as long as I don’t end up hoarding, and let it get overwhelming, it’s okay.  It’s not life-threatening (I’m not going to die from chronic untidiness), and it doesn’t make me a ‘bad’ person.

I’ve been chasing after the illusion of wanting to be a neat person for years, and so far it’s eluded me.  That’s a lot of years.  Perhaps if I stopped chasing it, my own version of order and tidiness might come to me.  After all, there isn’t only one way to be ordered - there are those people who find order in chaos, or enjoy creating order from chaos - perhaps I’m one of those, and I should stop trying to obliterate what might be an essential part of my personality.

When I was on my web-trawl (doing my ‘research’ on decluttering) I saw a photo of Steve Jobs’ office, and it could only be described as looking rather messy and chaotic - and yet he created, and managed, Apple.  Obviously to him his ‘chaos’ was inspiring rather than distracting, and he looked to create order and simplicity in the computers he built, rather than in his environment.  Just think if he’d done what I do, and spent his time worrying about the fact that his room was untidy, and how to go about decluttering it - his Apple tree would still be a sapling, and never have grown enough to bear fruit.  

“To each their own”, as they say.  Now, if I could only stop trying to follow everyone else’s…

21 July 2014

Language Of The Heart (Part One)

“When we try to speak to each other - Me to you, you to Me, we are immediately constricted by the unbelievable limitation of words…  Words are really the least effective communicator.  They are most open to misinterpretation, most often misunderstood.

And why is that?  It is because of what words are.  Words are merely utterances: noises that stand for feelings, thoughts, and experience.  They are symbols.  Signs.  Insignias.  They are not Truth.  They are not the real thing.”     From “Conversations With God”, by Neale Donald Walsch

Imagine a blind person still trying to use their eyes through which to see; or someone who is deaf who continues to listen with their ears; or an individual who has lost the use of a body part attempting to utilise what no longer works.  

And now think of an autistic, for whom communication and understanding via language is, at worst, frustrating and bewildering, and at best incomplete, still insisting on depending on this form.

This is me.  Yep, it finally dawned on me that, despite my diagnosis four years ago, I still have not accepted this rather major facet of my character (it is, after all, one of the defining traits of autism), and persist in relying almost wholly on words as my means of understanding, and communication. 

I realise that my perception is at fault, and I am limiting myself as a result.  I have a narrow, rigid comprehension of the word “communicate”: I see it as referring solely to the use of language - to talking, reading, and writing - when, in fact people, communicate via other means, through their feelings and actions.  But, since I am largely unconscious of this, I have always chosen language by default to express myself and interpret what others are trying to convey. 

Therefore, in order to broaden my perspective, it needs adjusting to include other definitions -  which, as an autistic with a narrow viewpoint, and a tendency to focus on minute details, forgoing the bigger picture in the process, is alien and unnatural.  But I believe it can be done: it’s just not going to be instinctive.  I’ll have to make a conscious effort to do it, to remind myself when I’ve become narrow and limited once again.  

As I have said before, I LOVE language - playing with words, crafting a piece of written work, constructing the perfect sentence.  When I really let myself play (when I’m not constraining myself with a lot of rules, which take all the fun out of it) then it’s like my heart becomes engaged in the process, not just my brain, which I think is what allows me to be able to communicate through this medium.

Unfortunately, though, I have come to depend almost wholly on words; to revere them as if they hold the key to all knowledge and understanding; to believe that because I can read and write and understand what I’m reading on a literal level, that this means I understand what is being said.  This can be very confusing.  

Language Of The Heart (Part Two)

“Words may help you understand something.  Experience allows you to know it.  Yet there are some things you cannot experience.  So I have given you other tools of knowing.  These are called feelings.  And so, too, thoughts…  

Your experience and your feelings about a thing represent what you factually and intuitively know about that thing.  Words can only seek to symbolise what you know, and can often confuse what you know.”      From ‘Conversations With God’, by Neale Donald Walsch

So, to continue, my problem is that I don’t see beyond what I literally see, and I have no idea what other people see, so I assume that they see what I see, and that what I am seeing and hearing is what they are saying (get your head around that one if you can!!)  Only to frequently discover that it’s not.

It also dawned on me that not all autistics have the exact same problem.  Sure, we all share the difficulty with social communication and understanding (which not only includes language in the form of words, but reading body language too), but they don’t all depend on language the way that I do.  And yet some of them live full and successful lives; have found ways to compensate for what they ‘lack’; are happy and accept themselves as they are; and trust what they feel.  My autistic friend is one of them.  

She has the ability to see the essence of what is being expressed, along with any literal interpretation she might have.  At first sight it can appear that she is not that literal at all, especially not when compared to me, which I have concluded must mean that she isn’t: that the part of the brain which deals with language interpretation is not as affected in her as in me, or that she is not quite so far on the autistic spectrum.  All of which is quite plausible - after all, we aren’t all exact replicas of each other.  

But it seems as if, when she reads something, she is not reading solely with her eyes, simply engaging her brain - she is reading with her heart, her soul, her whole being,  which appears to compensate for the literality.  She trusts and depends on her instincts.

I, on the other hand, don’t trust mine at all.  I was raised differently: I learnt to doubt, distrust, ignore, suppress, and fear what I felt.  If I couldn’t name it then it didn’t exist.  And I did it so well - the evidence of this is that I’m still doing it now, though I’m hoping that there is a shift taking place, now that I’ve seen this truth.  

I have learnt to place great importance on words: it has not served me well.  I read and re-read things, in the futile belief that understanding will come by constant  repetition and familiarity.  It doesn’t work.  If all you can see is the surface, then all you’re going to see is more of the same surface when you’re looking at it from the same angle, no matter how often you look at the same thing!

Then we have my attempts at trying to see beyond the literal meaning.  Not good.  I invariably misconstrue what’s trying to be conveyed, as I strain my brain to see beyond my limited viewpoint.  This usually leads to long bouts of deep analysis, where I manage to bypass the point completely - all because I’m still doing it through my ‘eyes’, with that part of my brain that doesn’t process language well.  Plus I’ll often try to look for the deeper meaning to things which have none, and are actually meant to be taken at face value.  

But then there are times when I have discovered the essence of what I am reading - which appears to occur when I’ve read with my heart, and my feelings have been engaged, not just my mind.  Like I’m connected to God, who then does for me what I can’t do for myself, and opens my mind to a more unlimited veiwpoint.  It might still take me quite a few attempts at reading something before I get beyond the surface, and if I try to force understanding then it doesn’t work.  But if I relax, and let God lead the way as it were (or, another way of putting it, be guided by my feelings) then it gradually comes.

Words, I have finally realised, actually impede and limit my understanding.  They clutter my mind, and distract me from seeing the true meaning.  They fill me with doubt, leaving me constantly questioning the validity of what I feel or experience, causing me confusion, resulting in a constant state of indecision and conflict.  I get caught up in the minutiae of trying to determine the exact meaning of a word or sentence, which narrows my focus, so shutting me off from the bigger picture.

So what does this mean?  It means, I hope, that there is hope of change.  

It means that if I give up trying to force a part of me to work in a way that it can’t, and being totally dependent upon it, and instead shift to learning to tune into and trust what I feel, then I might well have a better chance of communicating and understanding.

It means that I might learn a more effective way to utilise my ability to read, without being dependent on the words themselves to impart the meaning.

It means that I might shift my perspective even further to see it not as a liability, a deficiency, or a problem, but as something that allows and encourages me, and all those with whom I engage, to find more effective ways to interact - to see that my autism is not meant to limit but to liberate me.

And the truth is that words are not that effective at all, as it says in the quote at the beginning of this article.  Even when used between non-autistics, they frequently miscommunicate and misunderstand when relying on them.  After all, isn’t that how arguments and wars are often started?  One wrong word and you’ve got Armageddon! 

10 July 2014

"Aren't I Blessed?"

“You seem so sad, Eeyore.”
“Sad?  Why should I be sad?  It’s my birthday.  The happiest day of the year.”      From ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’, by AA Milne

It’s my birthday today.  I’ve been on this planet, in this corporeal form, exploring this life, for forty-seven years.  Do you know what’s so remarkable, so miraculous about this fact?  When I was almost twenty-one I tried to kill myself.  My life was so bleak, so devoid of any hope, so overwhelmingly joyless, and I so completely unhappy and despairing, that I finally got up the courage to try to end it all.  

I nearly succeeded.  I ended up in the hospital, in A&E, being pumped out, and then spent a few days hooked up to a drip.  The worst of it was that I felt even more hopeless when I came to and realised that I was still alive.  I’d always counted on suicide as a last-ditch option for when life became too unbearable, yet here I was, and it hadn’t worked.  Despair doesn’t begin to do justice to my state of mind at that time.  

Yet here I am, and I can barely describe to you the amazing change that has taken place in my life.  My stay in the hospital catapulted me back onto the psychiatric unit (where I had spent seven weeks, earlier in the year, being detoxed and ‘counselled’ about my drinking), and then into a rehab unit for alcoholics, where I first came into contact with AA and the Twelve Step programme of recovery.

I can’t say that I found the programme, took to it like a duck to water, and my life altered radically at that time.  The truth is I tried reading the Big Book (the basic text book of AA which contains the programme and the instructions on how to do it), and it made very little impact on me at all, other than to confuse me, and cause me to question whether I was, in fact, alcoholic at all, because I couldn’t find an exact match to my drinking ‘career’ or my life and personality.  

I was, of course, reading it literally, and I couldn’t see beyond the words, to the essence of the message.  But at that time I had no clue that I was autistic, and so I took on board the idea that was spouted forth by the ‘average’ non-autistic alcoholics, that I was merely in denial about my drinking, and that I simply didn’t want to admit that I was that bad, that I was alcoholic.

Well, I have to say, for someone in denial I did my damnedest to try to fit the picture of the classic alcoholic, and I stuck it out in the rehab, without a drink, for eighteen months: I was the longest serving resident there.  And on the 21st July this year I will be celebrating my 26th year of continuous sobriety.  People in denial don’t tend to last that long!!  I think, perhaps, the unfortunately misguided people of AA who have a tendency to generalise about alcoholics need to rethink their approach, and consider the fact that there are, among them, many of us who are not wired exactly the same, and who require alternative approaches to cater to our differences.

Interestingly enough, we are covered in the Big Book, which was published in 1939, and is so farsighted it has to have been what we sometimes call ‘a God Job’ - it was divinely/spiritually inspired.  On page 58 of the chapter ‘How It Works’ it says, “There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.”  Even though the language is not what I would use to describe my autism, it is the terminology in current general use.  But then that’s the miracle of the Big Book - despite its age, it remains timeless and relevant in its principles, hence the fact that it has never been altered, other than to add new stories to the personal histories at the back.

So, to return to the narrative of my life, I didn’t leave rehab with a completely altered perspective on life, brimming with joy, hope, and confidence.  I felt much as I’d always felt, a great sense of anxiety and trepidation.  But the one thing I did have was the knowledge that I was alcoholic, and that that meant I couldn’t ever safely drink alcohol.  So I was now sober, afraid of the consequences of drinking if I relapsed (I’d had that fear bashed into my brain), and with no coping skills for life - alcohol had been it.  Oh, and food - which was not as effective as booze, but which now took centre stage.  And not forgetting over-the-counter medication, with which I'd get stoned - not the pleasantest of experiences, but effective in its own way, nonetheless.  

And I was never the kind of person who came into contact with illegal drugs, nor would have had the courage to go and find a dealer - my anxiety around people was so great it precluded any such interactions, unless drunk.  So, since my creative use of medication didn't begin until after I got sober, I was kind of limited: which was, undoubtably, a good thing, as it turns out.  Who knows what type of mess I could have gotten myself into, being such a naive and gullible innocent, and not just with the drugs themselves.  You kind of get the picture?  One addiction/compulsion replaces another.

I lasted six years in this miserable cycle, until I once again reached a place of complete despair and hopelessness, and was ready and planning how to kill myself.  And then a miracle happened - I found an angel!  I reached out to someone I’d known six years previously, who was now in AA, but who actually followed the programme in the Big Book (there are lots of people who don’t, who believe that the programme is in the Fellowship: they are, I believe, sadly misguided).  I admitted that I was not well, and she offered to help me.  She then became my sponsor (my mentor).  She’s also the person who suggested that I might be autistic.  

And, seventeen years later, she remains so, and more - she is my best friend, my spiritual guide in human form, an inspiration in so many ways.  And, even more amazingly, it turns out that she, too, has Asperger’s!  This is the woman I once described here on my blog as being about as autistic as a plastic bag - that’s how perceptive I am!  She was diagnosed at the end of last year, at the age of 66, but it hasn’t made a bit of difference to how she lives her life (other than to answer some questions about certain behaviours, etc that she has) because she’d created a life that suited her, using the AA programme.  She truly is remarkable, and a groundbreaker. 

And so, back to the present.  I have spent my birthday in joyous contemplation of everything that I have in my life - I decided to list 47 things that I appreciate, one for every year of my life, which I duly did on the bus journey into town..  And I have been full of wonder and enthusiasm at the amazing spiritual insights that I’ve been having today, and in the last week or so - I feel like a well that has sprung a leak, the thoughts are just spouting forth all over the place.

I spent the morning shopping in my local market town of Retford, and at the dentist having my teeth de-scaled: not a usual method of celebration, I grant you, but it reminded me of the days when I was drinking, and how I would have to get drunk in order to go to the dentist, so crippling was my anxiety.  Then once I got sober, and had nothing to anaesthetise myself with, nor any way of dealing with the fear of being in such close proximity to another person, I simply stopped going to have my teeth done for the next twenty-odd years.  Fortunately, nothing happened to them in that time, and they stayed remarkably intact and healthy.  And now I can go in there and just get annoyed at the fact that he doesn’t understand my allergy to sugar!

And then I decided that I wanted to share all of this, my birthday, with anyone out there who might be reading this, in the hope that it might give someone hope, or insight, a feeling of connection, or just a bit of a laugh.  There is much to laugh at in this world, and, as I am learning, it only takes an instant to switch a light on, and go from darkness to light - you just have to make sure you’re plugged in and connected to the right Source.  And to think I could have been here twenty years ago if I hadn’t kept sticking my plug in the wrong socket!

And on that profound note, I bid you adieu, and a happy birthday to, and from, me.  ‘Cos, in the words of Eeyore (and Pooh):

“Oh!  Well, many happy returns of the day, Eeyore.”
“And many happy returns to you, Pooh Bear.”
“But it isn’t my birthday.”
“No, it’s mine.”
“But you said ‘Many happy returns’-“
“Well, why not?  You don’t always want to be miserable on my birthday, do you?”
“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

30 June 2014

Fear Of Flying

“People wish to learn to swim and, at the same time, to keep one foot on the ground.”     Marcel Proust

Last night I had a dream about flying.  At least, we were meant to fly but, symbolically, we never actually took off, merely spent a great deal of time on the preparation.  Yes, even in dreams I still manage to procrastinate!

The dream itself involved me boarding a plane for the first time, and then wandering the length and breadth of the whole thing, trying to find the perfect seat, probably in an attempt to keep the anxiety about flying at bay.  And, as is often the case in dreams (with them often being representative of something), the plane was not an exact replica of the real thing.  Instead, it was set out in a series of ‘rooms’, and the seating resembled that of a cafe or restaurant - lots of dining tables and chairs.

We never did take-off in my dream (kind of the story of my life).  By the time I woke up, I was still wandering around anxiously, trying to find a place to settle, attempting to locate the toilets in case I needed to vomit (which I was already anticipating would be the case), and to find the person with whom I’d connected in the queue, who had said that they would guide me since it was my first time, but who had taken off alone the moment we reached the boarding tunnel (symbolic of my lack of trust in real life - I expect people to let me down, and I often confuse guidance with dependence).

In reality, I have never flown: I’ve hardly travelled at all, in my forty-seven years of existence.  This is where my anxiety really impacts on my life, and no amount of yoga has so far helped to overcome the obstacles which impede any prospect of me travelling.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t ever happen, though, sometime in the future.  

I’ve done lots of things in my life since coming into recovery, and finding the Twelve Step programme, which has led to a connection with a Higher Power of my understanding (which I call God): none of which I ever believed possible before.  For one thing, I left my family home, and acquired a place of my own - something I never imagined I’d be able to do.  And, since then, I’ve moved twice more - another feat I thought myself incapable of, since I hate change so much, and any disruption causes me such anxiety and distress.

But travel for me is fraught with extreme stress (from the planning, packing, etc, to the journey itself: and once I reach my destination, the anxiety doesn’t stop there), and I require so much stuff (part of the need to exert some feeling of control, I believe), that it’s really not worth the hassle at the moment.  

I worry especially about food, since I have such a ‘specialised’ diet - I am vegetarian/almost vegan; can’t eat sugar, of ANY description (and so much of it is hidden in foods you wouldn’t expect it in), other than certain fruits; can't eat bread products, so no quick and easy sandwich snacks for me to carry with me; don’t have dairy; don’t eat anything processed, pre-packaged, instant, etc - I make everything from scratch.  And the list goes on).

So, back to the dream, since there was a great deal of meaning to it, which, for once, I had no problem interpreting.

On the surface, there’s the literal interpretation of flying that I fear (though that in itself is merely symbolic of the whole act of travelling, by whatever mode of transport I choose).   But beneath that it represents my fear of allowing my self, my soul, my spirit, my essence, my whole being to take off and fly; to be free; to think my own thoughts; to have my own beliefs; feel my own feelings; experience my own experiences; to live my own life; to let go of trying to control everything.  

I fear not being in control, and letting go and letting God do His/Her/Its part - which means trusting that all is well, and will be well.  So of course I worry about having to trust the pilot (God), and the plane to stay up in the sky, especially when I don’t understand the ‘mechanics’ behind any of it (how does something so heavy remain airborne?; and how does one fly a plane?)

I fear that if I do allow myself to fly (to let go of all the negativity and enjoy my life) that it won’t last (like a plane can’t stay in the air forever), and I’ll come crashing down to earth at some point: no gentle landing to refuel for me.  No, my ‘plane’, I seem to believe, has to have a crash-landing.  Either I, or someone else, will do something to bring me down to earth - ‘cos of course I worry (become paranoid) that some people will be envious, and try to sabotage my flight.  And since I’ll have further to fall if I soar too high, it will be more painful: therefore it’s better to keep one foot on the ground, which means I never really take to the air at all.  

Or there’s the option of a Harrier jump jet take-off - lift vertically into the air a few metres, hover for a short while, then return to earth in almost the exact same position you started from.  Sounds like my kind of journey. 

 And then, of course, there’s the fact that I not only literally require so much luggage to take with me when I venture anywhere (no matter how long I’ll be away from home), but that I figuratively lug around tonnes of baggage, which I struggle to let go of - worries, fears, resentments, obsessions.  All of which contributes to impeding my ability to take flight.

So, the dream I believe, in essence, was showing me all of the stuff which I have designed, both consciously and unconsciously, to keep myself grounded (and not in a good way), to stop myself from travelling further along on my life’s journey, and to slow down and control the process of growth and change.  Because it’s my mind in which all of this is taking place, and which my dream is dredging the depths of in order to bring to the surface what’s happening ‘down’ or ‘out’ there, in the dark abyss that often gets overlooked.

And the only way I know of to change any of it is to first become conscious of its existence; to bring it out into the light where I can get a good look at it; share it with someone who has a more objective perspective and can, hopefully, offer guidance on how to deal with it; and own it - stop blaming it on other people, or circumstances, or things.  Only then can the journey to freedom continue.

Doddle.  Just don’t forget to take your parachute, and a spare (or two), just in case…!  

Or, better yet, trust that God is always there to catch you if you fall… unless you believe that God is man-made, and likely to malfunction.  In which case you’re in deep shit, and probably better off staying on the ground, like a bird with its wings clipped.  But oh, you’ll miss out on so much.

Take a risk, ask God to remove the fear of flying (the fear of change), let go and let God be in charge of the outcome, and just enjoy the journey, like we are meant to do.  Simple, but not easy (as we say in AA).  Bon voyage!

24 June 2014

Static Cling

“We never do anything well till we cease to think about the manner of doing it.”      William Hazlitt

Have you ever heard the allegory of the centipede which, when asked how it knew which of its hundred feet to use when, found itself unable to move when it started to think about it?  Well, this is me.  Obviously, I don’t mean that I’m a centipede, or that I’ve got a hundred feet.  No: but the minute I think about how to do a thing, you can guarantee I find myself unable to do it.  

Case in point.  I don’t know whether you’ve noticed but, for the first four months of this year, I managed to be extremely consistent and post two blog articles every month.  Amazing, what?!  And I don’t know whether you’ve also noticed that, for the last two months, I haven’t published anything at all?  (Nothing like going from one extreme to the other).  So, what the devil happened?

Well, it wasn’t ‘the devil’, much as I might want to blame it on someone or something else (some supernatural distracting force that body-snatched me, and put a stop to my literary musings).  

To put it simply, ‘I’ happened.  ‘I’ did it.  And the question is, how did I do it?  Well, it wasn’t with a spanner, in the library, with Professor Plum, that’s for sure.

No, it was far easier and simpler than that.  ‘I’ noticed how consistent I’d been, and so ‘I’ started thinking…  

Rather than continuing on with what was working (which meant just going with the flow,  spontaneously writing whenever I had an idea, and not thinking about the logistics of how to do it), I started to worry about how long this would last, and to plot how to ensure the continuation and improvement of this happy state of affairs (meaning posting more blog posts every month, ‘cos I have an obsession with the idea that more is better), I decided to stick my oar in and tinker, once again, attempting to set up a routine for my writing which would maintain and improve my productivity.  Concrete thinking here we come!

I really do have a problem with rigid thinking, and wanting everything to be written in stone, even though you can guarantee that I’ll change it at some point (whether it be sixty seconds, sixty minutes, sixty hours, or sixty days later).  This seems to be one of the areas where the autistic and the ADHD in me clash and/or overlap.  My personality is geared to wanting such tight control of everything, which just exacerbates the rigidity: and vice versa.  

And then there’s what might be the trait of spontaneity (the jury’s still out on whether I have any of this) which longs for freedom, but which possibly transforms and manifests as the flighty impulsivity due to my insistence on attempting to nail it down.  ‘Cos that’s what I do to myself - construct a solid concrete prison, which I call routine, rather than a wooden framework that can easily be altered, dismantled, rebuilt, or added to as necessary.  I don’t so much flow as clunk through life.

So, point in question - writing.  Having unfortunately noticed the longed-for consistency, I determined to set out a routine (set of rules) for my writing that I believed would help me continue with this novel concept which I seemed to have inadvertently stumbled upon.  In short, I got caught up in the minutiae, yet again.  

This meant questioning everything involved in the process of writing - when’s the best time for me to write; how long/how much should I write (eg should I do it in short bursts to accommodate my ADHD, even if I find myself happily focused and wanting to continue beyond the allotted time); how often (daily, every other day, weekly, three times a day, every hour); best place to be (living room, bedroom, kitchen, outdoors); best position (on the sofa, at the desk, at the dining table, on the bed); seated, standing, reclining; on paper or the computer, or rough draft on paper and then computer; one draft or more, rough outline/plan, or leap straight in; what to write - blog article, short story, poem, novel, peace treaty!?  Who knew there was so much to the art of writing, before you even set pen to paper?  Now I see why I often resist doing it!   

And amazingly, as you can see from the evidence, all of my attempts to formalise and formulise my writing has produced miraculous results - I haven’t managed to produce a sodding thing!

Yet I still insist on trying to exert control.  Why is that?  Well, apart from the fact that I just naturally like to be in control, it’s partly because I retain the persistent (but misguided) belief that I can’t be trusted to do anything unless I’m forced into it, using the timeworn method of rule enforcement; and also because, having read copious amounts of info on the subject, I now find myself copying.  Unfortunately, most of the stuff I’ve read (and taken personally and literally) incorporates the concepts I’ve mentioned above, such as disciplining yourself to write daily (another way of saying forcing yourself), etc.  

The fact that most of these people are talking about writing for a living, writing full-length novels, and that they aren’t catering to autistics with ADHD goes completely over the top of my head.  Their motivation is completely different to mine, yet I find myself adopting theirs, which results in writing losing its pleasure for me.  And once it does that, once I start writing from a distorted sense of necessity and fear, then my well of inspiration dries up completely.  Kind of like God saying, “I’m sorry, Lisa, but I don’t want you to write for money or fame or any of those other  materialistic motives: I’d just like you to write for the pure joy of it.”

And it’s not only my writing that I’ve picked apart just lately: I’ve done it with art, too.  Well I would, wouldn’t I?  Once I start doing it with one thing, the trait takes over and spills into everything.  It’s not the individual thing that’s the problem, but me, and there’s no point trying to focus all my attention on fixing the object or situation, in the belief that once I’ve done that then I’ll cease to worry, ‘cos it doesn’t work.  I’ve tried, and failed - numerous times.

So, for example, when I start worrying about one thing, I’ll then find other things to worry about, until I end up in a permanent state of worry, where the focus of my anxiety becomes completely irrelevant.  It’s like setting a time bomb ticking, and letting it run until it culminates in one massive explosion - an autistic meltdown.  Unless, of course, I have the wherewithal to remember to turn the timer off, rather than running around like a loon, trying to manage a live bomb, doing silly things like trying to bury it when it’s still active.

As to art, all of my paintings so far are done by copying from photos.  But a few weeks ago I had a sudden inspiration for something I could do from my imagination.  Of course, it almost scared me to death - I mean, I’ve never been able to draw from my mind (at least, nothing decent: they always resemble the scribblings of a two-year old with hiccoughs, in my opinion), and yet here I was, on the cusp of some great change.  Not only that, the idea I had was abstract: I don’t do abstract.  Obviously God must have been at work, overcoming the confines of my limited imagination, gently nudging me forwards to try something different: especially as I have been saying for a while that I would like to be able to produce my own original work.

But saying it and doing it are two different things.  So what did I do with this spark of an idea?  I obsessed about it, talked about it, did a brief sketch, and then abandoned it in favour of going searching for ways to practice playing and having fun with my art - ‘cos that’s what I decided was what was holding me back, the problem being that I take it all too seriously.  Which is true.  But, basically, my solution was a way of procrastinating about trying something new, and in itself involved trying something new.  How dumb can you get?!  

Which is how come I ended up spending hours trawling the web, looking first at art therapy (I thought it might help me to express myself!?), and then landing on art journalling, which I was convinced was the answer to my prayers (and a way to combine art and writing, so becoming consistent at both at the same time).  I even bought myself a ‘proper’ artist’s sketchbook, with thicker watercolour paper, for the purpose (not thick enough, as it turns out: the pages buckle on contact with the paint.  Sheesh!).  Fortunately it only cost me about £3, and it turns out it’s not the answer to anything, really, other than avoiding doing art.  Which I have successfully managed to do.  As was my unconscious, fear-driven, intention.

You know what I find really strange about all of this, though, and which gives me cause to wonder whether I do, in fact, have the innate ability to be spontaneous (despite my seeming autistic genetic resistance to the whole concept)?  I don’t recall having this problem when I was a child.  I would write stories when I wanted to write, draw pictures when I felt like it, and launch myself into trying things like handstand (and succeeding with persistent practice - something I’m not now well known for) without prior instruction, because that’s what my body wanted to do.  

I didn’t question whether it was possible or not, but simply believed that I could do it, and so just did it.  Whereas now I think I have to have a fucking step-by-step guide to how to do the simplest of things because I’m afraid of getting it ‘wrong’.  Which leads me to wonder whether the problem lies not with a lack of spontaneity, but with having absorbed the idea that there’s a ‘proper’ way to do everything, and that you can’t just decide to do things, willy nilly, without having someone teach you first.

The question is, how did the first people learn how to do everything when there was no-one to teach them?  It’s something my best friend asks me whenever I insist on going off to look for instruction on the internet, clinging like a limpet to the static idea that I need someone to copy, to tell me what to do.  And then I ignore them, or alter the instructions.  So it’s a bit bloody pointless anyway.    

30 April 2014

Analyse This

“There’s no limit to how complicated things can get, on account of one thing always leading to another.”      E B White

Apparently, I complicate everything.  I don’t know how I do it, but I can’t keep a thing simple to save my life.  It appears, though, that one of the main techniques I use to inadvertently achieve this state is by analysing everything.  Funny thing is, I didn’t realise that this is how I complicate.  

I was under the illusion that my attempts at analysis, and being specific (trying to attain a definitive explanation for everything) were actually helpful in simplifying things, aiding my ability to understand and accept.  But when I honestly look back at my life, and how much I have achieved by means of this process, the fact is that it has actually hindered rather than helped me to do anything, or to change.  And it continues to do so.  Any change that has taken place in my life has occurred despite my tendency to analyse, rather than because of it.

Much as it wounds me to have to do so, I have to admit that these particular thought processes of mine are part and parcel of that wondrous gift I have for procrastinating.  If I can think my way out of doing a thing then I'll will.   

According to the Chamber’s Dictionary, analyse means “to resolve or separate a thing into its elements or component parts; to ascertain those parts; to trace a thing or things to the source or cause; to discover the general principles underlying individual phenomena by doing this; to psychoanalyse”.  

Umm, yep, sounds like what I do: except that I’d found another word to separately describe the part about separating a thing into its separate elements - I call it compartmentalising.  Of course I would.  Why have one definition when twenty will do?  Let’s face it, keeping things simple is a concept I have only a fleeting relationship with - I tend to wave at it as I’m floating by on my cloud of analysis, getting wrapped up in, and distracted by, the minutiae of life.

But the point is that it’s rather difficult to identify something in myself when I don’t know or recognise what it actually encompasses.  Or perhaps, sometimes, it’s more a case of when I don’t want to know or recognise it.  My self-will has a vested interest in keeping me in the dark, and reinforcing certain beliefs in order that I don’t do anything to change the status quo.  I am, after all, a person who fears, and hates, change, and if I continue to believe that I can’t change then there’s no need for me to deal with the possibility of maybe having to do so. 

I guess the truth is also that I’ve got used to thinking like this, and been doing it so long, that I’ve become convinced that I can’t do it any differently.  And having the handy rationalisation of being autistic/ADHD has become a useful block to change it - I’ve talked myself into believing that my mind is wired to do this, so I can’t not do it.  

I’ve realised, though, that this is not true.  It dawned on me that analysis is only one part of the thinking process, and that I don’t analyse every single thought I have, much as I might feel and appear as if I do sometimes.  Yes, there have been times in my life when I have become completely obsessed with something to the point of analysing myself into a state of paralysis.  But in recent years I have actually made some progress, mostly through the practice of yoga, which has taught me to be in the moment, using the breath or what I’m doing as a way to bring the focus back to the present (rather than on what I’m thinking).  So the actual evidence is that I can manage my tendency to analyse.  I just have to want to.

Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with analysis - lots of people do it.  It’s one of the functions for which the human brain was designed, I believe.  My problem, though, is that I over-analyse, and I tend to analyse that which doesn’t actually require analysing (which, at its zenith, means basically everything).  I can get to the root of a thing, and then bypass it completely as I whizz by in a tornado of obsession, chewing endlessly over the same thing, trying to find an answer to a question that’s already been answered.     

I frequently don’t notice that I’m doing it, it’s become so much a part of who I am - like breathing.  But then I’ve learnt through yoga that whilst breathing is something that we all do instinctively, not everyone breathes efficiently or effectively.  However, you can learn to change and improve your breathing technique to attain the maximum benefits, which I have done.  

As a recovered alcoholic/addict I cannot risk taking medication at all, so I have had to find a way to manage my anxiety, along with all the attendant difficulties of having ADHD/Aspergers.  Yoga has literally been a God-send, along with the AA Twelve Step programme (which can be adapted to suit any ‘problem’ or condition), and the change in my diet (which came about as the result of me being a compulsive overeater/undereater, bulimic, with a sugar addiction, which was way before I ever knew I’d got ADHD/Aspergers, and that diet could make a difference).  

I no longer eat sugar, except that contained in fruit; I became vegetarian/vegan, so I gave up dairy as part of that change (plus certain foods, like cheese and yoghurt, I could not stop eating once I started); and I prepare everything from scratch, and don’t eat pre-prepared meals, processed food, junk food, or anything instant.  I believe that, like everything else, being a compulsive overeater is a blessing, the necessary motivation for having to change my diet, because God knew in advance that it was going to help manage what I wasn’t aware of at that time - especially the ADHD. 

Of course, none of this happened as the result of me overanalysing any of it.  In fact, my insistence on analysing and questioning everything kept me delaying taking the necessary action to bring about any of these changes.  It’s only when I stopped thinking, and started doing, that anything different happened.  As it says in the AA Big Book (page 449, third edition): 

“When I stopped living in the problem and began living in the answer, the problem went away."

03 April 2014

Fear Is The Key

‘“Ah!” said Rabbit, who never let things come to him, but always went and fetched them.’      From ‘The House At Pooh Corner’, by AA Milne

“Every human thought, and every human action, is based in either love or fear.  There is no other human motivation, and all other ideas are but derivatives of these two.”      From ‘Conversations with God’, by Neale Donald Walsch

I have all the patience of a toddler waiting for Christmas to arrive.  Just like Rabbit, I find it almost impossible to wait for things to come to me, be it inspiration for a painting or a piece of writing, or the answer to some question.

For a long time I believed that this was intrinsically part of my ADHD, but I’m no longer certain that’s true.  I think it just happens that one of my particular personality traits is an excess of impatience (like I seem to have an excess of everything!), and having ADHD exacerbates it.  

It’s as if the ADHD trait of poor impulse control combines with my impatience to produce, or heighten, my distractibility, restlessness, and quick loss of interest.  It’s kind of like they have a symbiotic relationship - the more impatient I become, the more easily distracted, etc.  The same goes with any emotion, whether it be positive or negative, e.g. if I get too happy I find it impossible to calm down, leaving the way open to the familiar ADHD symptoms.

Another characteristic I have, which I believe is part of my autistic hard-wiring, is a bone-deep inability to stop myself from copying, and absorbing.  I say it’s hard-wired because I do not choose to do it.  It happens automatically, without any conscious decision on my part, and more often than not I haven’t got a clue that it’s occurred, until later.  

If I had a choice, I wouldn’t do it - it’s one of the things about having Asperger’s that I actually hate.  It has confused me for a long time because I am so vehemently against the idea of imitating other people: I long to be an individual.  Before I got my diagnosis I wasn’t even aware that it was something I did, probably because I was wandering around with the conscious belief that I didn’t want to be like other people, or follow the crowd.  

But it seems it’s often the case that the conscious thought is merely what you would like to be the truth, and not what the reality is: as in this case.  And everything about me screamed out otherwise - from the way I behaved, how I looked, to what I believed and said.  I was like a walking car-crash, a tangled mess of confusing and conflicting influences, with hardly a sign of the original, intact person left behind.

The fact is that, much as I might be telling myself that I don’t like copying, at the root of me something is going on which I can’t see, which drives me to do so.  And, again, just as with the ADHD, discovering that copying is part of my nature as an Asperger, and trying to attribute it solely to that, has only served to answer half the puzzle.  But I might have finally found the rest.

I copy because I don’t have the patience to wait for an answer, or the faith to believe that one will come in time (God’s time, not mine).  

I copy because it’s easier and quicker than having to deal with the unknown, and the feelings that sprout forth as a result - I can just follow someone else’s path instead.  Unfortunately, this still means that I have to wait for the result, which I also find impossible to deal with, hence my inevitable tendency to chop and change, abandoning one person’s ideas in favour of someone else’s, and never being able to stick to one path and see it through to its natural conclusion.  As I’ve mentioned before, I am the Queen of Tweak.

I copy because when I get distracted, restless, and lose interest (an ADHD attack) it’s the quickest way to fix it, to go on-line seeking new stimulation to try to awaken my dopamine-deficient brain.

Basically, what all of this boils down to is that at the root of me I am motivated by fear.  I fear that if I don’t go and look for the answers then they’ll never come; I fear that I’ll miss out on something; I fear that I might be doing it (whatever ‘it’ is) wrong, and I won’t learn unless I go looking to someone else for the answers; I fear that the feelings will not pass. 

In the words of God (from the book ‘Conversations With God’), “This is what I have called the Sponsoring Thought.  It is either of love or fear.  This is the thought behind the thought behind the thought.  It is the first thought.  It is prime force.  It is the raw energy that drives the engine of human experience.”

So then you put these two things together, the autistic copying/absorbing, along with the fear-driven motivation, and the result is me going searching on the internet for quick answers and inspiration (not to mention it’s distractibility  appeal, which allows me to forget myself and all those pesky feelings that I’m trying to escape).  

But, whilst I might break free for a while, I don’t escape unscathed.  Instead, I return with a confused mess of new ideas and information which will inevitably come back to bite me on the arse at some point in the future, when I’m suddenly reminded of something I read, and decide on a whim to try to integrate it into my life.  Which usually means abandoning something that works in favour of something new that inevitably doesn’t.

Of course, this wouldn’t be such a problem if I weren’t autistic, and if I possessed that miraculous ability to filter information, discarding what isn’t relevant, and adapting what is to suit my needs.  But I don’t.  For some reason, God saw fit to create me without a filter.

It also requires some modicum of self-awareness, to be able to identify what is relevant, and to recognise the commonalities you share with the people about whom you’re reading.  Nope - I don’t have any of that either, and it doesn’t look like it’s coming my way any time soon, much as I’ve kept on striving to acquire it.  Seems this, too, is a hard-wiring issue, and I came out of the factory with the relevant bit missing.

So what’s the answer?  Well, I guess I have to accept that I copy, and always will do, so seeking solutions and an escape on the internet will always be a problem.  It does not hold the answers for me, but merely compounds my difficulties.  My choice is between non-acceptance of my autism/ADHD and it’s limitations (which could be turned over and viewed as blessings), or giving up the fight to prove that I can do what other people do. 

Acceptance means the need to shift from fear into love (and faith) - which means practicing the opposite to what I do at the moment, and start believing that God has the answers, and will provide me with them and everything I need, if I allow Him/Her/It to do so.  Which means trusting that “This too shall pass” (a slogan we have in AA), when I am plagued by feelings - as long as I allow them to do so, by not going off and trying to escape them.  

Filling my head with other peoples’ ideas and opinions does not help me to find myself - it merely helps me to lose touch even more with who I am, as I get buried under a blanket of random useless information.  To act out of love (to trust in God) would mean to honour the fact that I am autistic/ADHD, and so stop doing the stuff which only serves to hurt me.  

Maybe then I could truly embrace the concept of ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’, ‘cos I might finally find the Self to which I could be true. 

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