Max's shop of horrors

Warning: imagination testing site. Enter at own risk

Month: September, 2014

Low tech life hacks

Stress is like psychological herpes; it’s a persistent little bastard that just keeps coming back.

Over the years I’ve built up an extensive bag of tricks for dealing with it; I already did a post on the most potent of these, ASMR, (https://japanmax89.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/the-magic-of-asmr/) but there’s a lot more where that came from, so I thought I’d share a few of them.

Please note that I am not any sort of medical professional; these are simply the techniques that have helped me to diffuse anxiety attacks.

A handy solution: Try clenching your hands into fists, then totally loosening and relaxing them. It’s actually surprisingly calming, I find.

A breath of fresh air: Slow, deep breathing is one that just about everyone knows, but there’s more to it than that. Try drawing air all the way down to the bottom of your lungs, pushing out just below your ribcage, and trying to keep your shoulders level. Take six seconds for each exhalation and inhalation.

Our bodies change our minds: Here’s a really interesting one, which I learned from a TED presentation by psychologist Amy Cuddy. You can see said presentation here, ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc ) but if you don’t have twenty minutes of time (or patience) I’ll sum it up briefly; adopting certain postures for just two minutes actually chemically changes our mood. For instance, when we “close up” and make ourselves smaller, our levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone” goes up. When we “open up” and exhibit dominant, assertive body language, our cortisol levels drop. So body language goes both ways; not only do our minds influence our posture, but our posture influences our minds.

Work it out: Another great stress buster is exercise. If you don’t like running/jogging, you could do anything from lifting weights, to push-ups, to zumba. Anything that’ll get your pulse racing and release some of those glorious anti-stress endorphins.

Brain cruise: With the miracle of Youtube, a multitude of high quality guided meditation videos are just a click away.

Obviously, everyone’s different; I can’t vouch that these will work as well for you as they do for me, but if it’s stress relief you need, I hope you find them helpful. 🙂

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Aspergirls

A guy I know once described the autism spectrum (which he’s on, by the way) as “a total sausage fest”. And I know what he means; I co-run a support group for young adults with autism, and in an average meeting, about 80-90% of the attendants are male.

The true ratio of male to female within the autism spectrum is a mystery. Estimates range from 2:1 to 16:1, but we don’t even know for sure that there are more men than women with autism. It could just be that the diagnostic criteria are designed around how the condition presents in men, and that there are vast numbers of undiagnosed autistic women flying under the radar.

Even the stereotypical image of the “autistic person” is of a male. (And generally a preteen child, but that’s  a whole ‘nother can of worms – those giant sand worms from that stroke-inducingly awful Dune movie)

I’ve heard a couple of theories on this issue. One is that women on the spectrum are more adept at observing and imitating their non-autistic peers. Another is that in our society, women are expected to be more passive and not initiate social contact, and it is more acceptable for them to be shy, so their autism does not stand out from social norms as much as it does with men, who are expected to be assertive and take the initiative.

Okay, that was my sordid past as a Sociology major showing through; I’ll try to keep this less dry than that basement full of tinder dry scrolls in Gondor that Gandalf goes into with a massive flaming torch.

I know several women on the autism spectrum. And, just like the guys I know on the spectrum, they are remarkably diverse. In some, it’s barely noticeable at all. In others, it’s more pronounced. In my limited experience they do stand out less than their male counterparts, and I am a believer in the theory that it is more common in women than it seems.

If true, this is clearly an issue that needs addressing; autism can bring with it certain challenges, and the possibility that millions of women are facing these challenges without support is concerning to say the least.

If you’re a woman on the autism spectrum, I’d love to hear your opinion on this issue in the comments section. 🙂

A (t)horny question

Society seems to love desexualising categories of people. Like dwarves, amputees, or people who need wheelchairs. Oh sure, they get fetishised in niche porn, but the idea of them as people with ordinary sexual desires seems almost taboo. Hell, people even desexualise their own parents! I must say, I’ve never understood why you’d be horrified by the thought of your parents having sex; how do you think you came to be, were you dropped off by a stork from one of those cloning trees in The Matrix?

no-sex-for-you

Autism is one such category of people. For one thing, we tend to be infantilised; because we find certain things more difficult than people without autism do, we’re often treated like children, and hence as asexual.

Now, I am aware that there are people on the autism spectrum who do identify as asexual, or whose challenges are so severe that they are effectively like children. But many of us *shock/horror* have sex drives just like the rest of you. 😉

vgs-shock-endings-300x300

In fact, I would say the majority of people I know who are on the spectrum have a desire for sex and relationships. Many of them have even gone on to achieve these things.

Like the whole “we have no empathy” cliche, the assumption that we are all asexual beings is one I’m encountering more and more often.

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t disguised plea for sex consideration or any such nonsense. Just busting another myth about autism. And while we’re at it, no, we can’t breathe underwater or turn lead into gold either. Not that we don’t have superpowers mind you; I know a guy on the spectrum who can put a USB in the right way on the first try.

Remembering Dad

Some people are like a sunny day; warm and mild. My Dad was a thunderstorm; nourishing rain, invigorating wind, majestic thunder and brilliant lightning, all topped off with a vibrant rainbow of creativity.

He was always making something; costumes for the local theatre group, sculptures out of discarded tin or plastic, or “skate racers” for me and my brother. (Think wooden skateboards with handlebars that you knelt on and pushed along with the other leg. We drew the plans, and he made them while we were at school. That’s the kind of awesome guy he was)

His shed was rumbled and roared like a restless volcano as he worked his magic inside, eventually emerging with some wondrous new creation. My Mum was the family breadwinner, and Dad was a stay-at-home househusband. Somehow, between cleaning the house, cooking dinner, and keeping on top of my and my brother, he still found time to create. Our backyard was his portfolio, filled with giant chess pieces, mosaics, tin dragons, and earth mother figures.

Every Sunday, he would drive us to the beach and teach us how to surf. Every Thursday, when Mum was off at her committee meetings, he would buy us ice creams and show us so-bad-they’re-good sci-fi movies.

I always admired how he seemed to be able to get along with anyone. He could strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, and within a few minutes, they’d be chatting like old friends.

Of course, it wasn’t always lollipops and unicorn farts; I had my share of arguments with him, and looking back, I think it was because he was a little Aspie himself. Many of his rules seemed arbitrary to me, and he refused to ever explain them.

So we may have had our differences, but these moments were like a few spots of burnt crust on an otherwise spectacular pizza.

When I was 19 years old, he died of a heart attack.

This happened just a few months after I was diagnosed with autism. I’ve always been thankful that he at least lived to see that day, and I hope that it helped him to understand our differences. Whether he too fell on the autism spectrum I can never know. I suspect he did, because of his intense focus on his passions and his sometimes rigid way of doing things, but these are hardly spectrum-exclusive traits, and he was never diagnosed.

I often catch myself wondering what he’d think of movies that have come out since he died, or what fantastic creations he would have gone on to produce. There are so many people who have come into my life in the last five years that I wish could have met him.

But most of all, I wonder what he’d think of me. Would he be proud? Would he want me to get a “real” full time job, or would he approve of me doing autism support and aged care volunteer work while surviving on Centrelink? Again, I can never know for sure.

What I do know is that for nineteen and a half years I was blessed with a truly wonderful father, and I’m grateful for every second we had together. Especially the time at the beach (before my OCD kicked in, for the record) that he held my head still so a blue wren could shit on it, because apparently this was “good luck”.

I love you, Dad. Thanks for everything.

Me and dad

“Must be Aspie”: Limiting one’s self to dating within the spectrum

I don’t know about you, but to me, courtship is like juggling bars of wet soap while blindfolded, walking a tightrope, and reciting Shakespeare in Elvish.

Apparently I’m not alone in this, especially when it comes to people on the autism spectrum, where the social challenges we face can make finding a partner seem impossible.

There’s an interesting response to this difficulty that I’m seeing more and more often; people on the spectrum ruling out people who aren’t as potential partners, and specifically seeking someone who also has autism.

Now, far be it for me to give anybody dating advice; I’m certainly no expert. But this approach seems to me more harmful than helpful.

Firstly, it generally seems to stem from the view that a non-autistic person would “never go for me” and that they are “out of my league”. This categorizes non-autistic people as being “superior”, and that’s quite a negative and divisive mindset. In addition to damaging one’s self esteem, this attitude also runs the risk of sowing the seeds of resentment.

Another common motivation is that they think someone else on the spectrum will understand them better. While this may be true in some cases, the sheer diversity within the autism spectrum means there’s no guarantee. Furthermore, people off the spectrum are perfectly capable of learning to understand and relate to somebody on it; several of my close friends are living proof of this.

Speaking of living proof, I myself can vouch for the viability of cross-spectrum relationships. My ex-girlfriend was not on the spectrum, I was. We still had an amazing year and a half together as partners, and remain close friends to this day.

Don’t limit your options out of fear you won’t be accepted; love doesn’t discriminate.