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

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.

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