Max's shop of horrors

Warning: imagination testing site. Enter at own risk

Month: July, 2014

Broken shackles

The most dangerous limitations are the ones we set for ourselves.

We tend to trust ourselves more than we trust others, so we’re more inclined to accept self-imposed shackles than those thrust on us by others. Often, we do it to shield ourselves from disappointment.

Throughout my life, I told myself I couldn’t do things.

At 15, I told myself I would never be able to move away from home, because just going on a 5-day school camp was an incredibly stressful ordeal.

When I was 18, I told myself I would never be able to go to University, because my High School scores weren’t that crash hot, and moving to the city by myself seemed insurmountably terrifying.

When I was 22, I told myself that because I’d never had a girlfriend, I never would, and I’d be doomed to a life of lonely celibacy, unwanted and unloved, because I simply wasn’t good enough to be boyfriend material.

Today, I live 5 hours drive away from my parents, and I haven’t lived with them permanently for 6 years.

I’ve completed a Bachelor degree in sociology and a Postgrad in journalism.

And at 23, I met a kind, funny, beautiful and brilliant woman who, for 19 wonderful months, was my girlfriend.

As I look behind me at this trail of broken shackles, I have learned my lesson.

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Rage match

The finish line is in sight. I’ve been winning the whole race. Then, like an incarnation of the goddess of bullshit, Mario Kart’s infamous blue shell swoops down and blows me up a few meters short of the line. Three guys fly passed me, and I come fourth.

Suddenly, it’s like I just swallowed a shot of nitroglycerin. Shaken, not stirred.

“F*CK YOU!” I scream at the TV. The injustice burns so hot that I swear I’m about to fart a solar flare. I, Maximusaurus, just got screwed by a plastic box. The smug little bastard of a thing sits next to the TV acting all innocent and shit. The cheating son of a bitch.

For as long as I remember, I’ve been prone to these sudden rage attacks. I should stress I’m not a violent person. At least, not towards people. For example, if I stub my toe on a couch, I’ll kick the bloody thing in a futile gesture of vengeance.

When other people are around, I try hard to suppress this and avoid my usual high-decibel profanities, but it’s surprisingly difficult. Like a panic attack, it seems to circumvent the thinking part of my brain and just happen reflexively. I frequently embarrass myself by losing my temper at inanimate objects or getting grumpy when I lose at games. Many of those reading this will have experienced this, and to those I am deeply sorry!

It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I learned that these almost autonomic episodes of “blind rage” can be common in people with autism. Granted, most of the material I’ve found concerns its occurrence in children, but it could well be a juvenile holdover that I have carried into adulthood.

It’s resemblance to a panic attack is actually kind of encouraging though, because those I have learned to manage through a variety of techniques. My first thought was to carry around a syringe of morphine and shoot up on it like an epi-pen at the first sight of rage, but that could get a little expensive. (Among other things) My next thought was giving up video games, but by this point I’m pretty sure I’m biologically dependent and withdrawal would be fatal.

My current plan is to try to use the same calming techniques I do with panic attacks when the rage strikes; slow diaphragm breathing, meditation, etc. Fingers crossed… and fragile objects placed out of arm’s reach.

Fit happens

Fitness surely has to be the blogosphere’s equivalent of zombie apocalypses, break-up songs, and vampires/werewolves; subjects so overused they’re like a tube of toothpaste rolled up and crushed to squeeze the last dregs of life from its mangled corpse.

I’ve had this theory since I was a kid though, that toothpaste tubes are actually a portal to another dimension of endless toothpaste, and that it’s not that they run out, it’s just that the amount of pressure needed to extract it gets higher and higher until it’s beyond human strength. So I thought I’d run a steamroller over this particular tube and see what happens.

While I see fitness blogs all the time, what I don’t see often is it’s discussion in relation to autism.

First off, some of the drugs used to manage the condition can have adverse metabolic effects. Risperidone, for example, can lead to weight gain, and in rare cases diabetes. That’s not to say I oppose its use; on the contrary, it has really helped take the edge off my panic attacks. But since I’ve been on it, keeping my weight in the healthy range has been a struggle.

Until I was 23, I had never had a problem with my weight. I was so hyperactive I could eat like a vacuum cleaner and stay thin. Then, I started taking Risperidone, and by November of 2012, I’d ballooned to 91kg. Over the next three months, while I was home at my Mum’s place for the holidays, a combination of a vegetarian diet and riding my bike to and from my brother’s house 12km away brought me plummeting to 77kg by February 2013.

Then I went back to University accommodation, with its catered food that made McDonalds look like clean eating, and by the time I graduated in July, I weighed 97kg; a startling all-time high.

It was time for desperate measures. I tried cutting as much fat from my diet as I could, but it turned out most “fat free” or “low fat” food has more sugar in it than the full fat stuff, and was actually worse for me, as my body was just converting half the sugar to fat anyway.

So I targeted sugar instead, swapping out low fat muesli for rolled oats and quitting juice and soft drinks, while upping my daily jogging regimen to four laps around my block. (Approximately 2.4km over hilly terrain)  As I write this, I’ve fought my way down to 88kg. My target weight is my ideal BMI of 83kg or less, and with Risperidone working against me its an uphill battle, but so far my new strategy seems to be working.

Fitness isn’t just important for physical health, but mental health as well. The challenges that can come with autism can have a severe impact of one’s self-esteem, so the last thing you need on top of that is feeling like crap about your weight.

What’s more, exercise releases endorphins that not only make you feel good, but can also boost your resistance to stress. It’s empowering too, because by getting out there and pushing yourself, you’re proving to yourself that you have the strength and will to take control of your life.

In my experience, regular exercise is one of the most effective tools for managing autism, and where a lot of other treatments come with a laundry list of negative side effects, exercise comes with a laundry list of positive ones.

Autopilot offline; socializing manually

Okay, confession time. Manual cars drive me up the wall. (Though by some miracle, to date, not through one)

I can drive a manual; I’ve driven dozens of hours in one, actually. But it never stopped annoying me. It felt so unnecessary; why complicate an already complicated task with a set of gears and an awkward transition method? Changing to an auto felt like going from crutches to walking freely.

I realize this metaphor is more laboured than the average childbirth, but in a lot of ways, socializing for me requires a similar manual inputs of things that should be automatic. The difference is that the benefits of socializing are worth it, and I’m slightly less likely to cause a multi-vehicle pileup by socializing.

For example, I’ll be talking to someone, and inside my skull it’ll be like, “should I smile in response to that or not? How wide should I smile? Am I doing this right,  or do I look like The Joker? Wait, is this body language OK? I’m not being rude am I? What should I do with my arms? Let them hang down by my sides? Crossing them is bad, right? Am I furrowing my brow too much, should I open my eyes wider so I don’t look stern? Is this too wide? I don’t wanna look like I’m mocking them or high on Prozac…” And so on.

It’s not easy, and on more than one occasion I’ve come across as rude or standoffish without meaning to, but you know how they say the best way to learn a language is to go where it’s spoken and immerse yourself in it? Well, luckily for me, body language is all around me, and I can learn from it every day.

I observe how other people stand and hold their arms when they talk, or what movements and gestures they make, then manually emulate these mannerisms.

It may never come automatically to me, but the more I practice, the better I get.

There’s a little autism in everyone

Since I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve had numerous people who don’t have autism tell me how much they can relate to the situations and feelings I’ve talked about.

Both friends and strangers have told me about how they too over-analyse every sentence they say or hear; that they too can be driven up the wall by things that nobody else seems to mind, like a flickering light or someone sneezing into their hand then touching a door handle.

One of my strongest memories of growing up was a profound feeling of alien-ness, like I was some different species of humanoid raised on earth among humans. Nobody I knew seemed to see the world the way I did.

Now, reading or hearing these comments, I realize the gulf is not as wide as I imagined. These thoughts and feelings are not exclusive to autism at all; autism is simply a more concentrated and specialized cocktail of them.

For much of my life I have felt alone; now I realize I was among kindred spirits all along, it’s just that we all kept these feelings to ourselves. Maybe we all thought we were the only one. Only by sharing can we truly connect.