Max's shop of horrors

Warning: imagination testing site. Enter at own risk

Month: December, 2014

2014 – One of the best years of my life

At the end of last year, I was unemployed, overweight, stressed out, and just kind of drifting through life like a dislodged sea sponge. (What do sea sponges have to be stressed about, you ask? Current events! No wonder many so many of them take up seaweed and port. If this has gone too far, just let minnow)

Anyway, it didn’t feel good, so I resolved to fix it.

To get started, I looked into volunteer work in my local area, and signed up to do Meals on Wheels in January, delivering food to the elderly. This got me out of the house, meeting people, and doing something productive with my time. (Other than converting oxygen to carbon dioxide)

I also overhauled my diet; out went the sugary cereals and the soft drinks, and the “fat free” foods that had like twice as much sugar as the regular versions. So yes, to lose weight, I switched from low fat to full fat. And it worked; I’m now in my ideal weight range.

In February, (an ancient word for the month now known as Febawerry) I finally took the advice of two of my closest friends, and started this blog. They’d both been telling me I should for months, and the only reason it took me so long was cos figuring out what to write about was kind of like picking a favourite grain of sand at the beach. In the end, I just jumped in head first, and it kinda sorted itself out. Thanks muchly, Cindy and Mana; all the good that’s come of this blog, I owe to you two.

As luck would have it, another friend of mine showed this blog to her boyfriend, whose mother worked with Asperger’s Victoria. They got in contact with me, and before I knew it, I was helping run a support group for young adults with autism, as well as volunteering with the I Can Network, an NGO who run camps, seminars, and other programs to assist people on the spectrum.

Between these jobs and this blog, I suddenly found myself regarded as a spokesperson on the topic of autism, and I am deeply proud and humbled to be seen as such.

Then, to put the cherry on top of this multilayered awesomeberry cake, the first new Godzilla movie in a decade came out this year, and it was everything I dreamed it would be.

So much has changed in the last 12 months; I’ve made some amazing new friends, I’ve found a job I love, I’ve lost 20kg, and I’ve ventured beyond my comfort zone and done things I never thought I could do, like helping run a camp for thirty teenagers! This time in 2013, it was inconceivable to me that I could come so far in just one year.

I can’t wait to see what delicious wonders 2015 has in store. Whether we’re friends in person, or you’re just a fellow denizen of the worldwide electronic spiderweb who reads my blog, thank you for being part of this transformative phase in my life.

My Awesome Brother

In our family’s genetic lottery, I got the sexy legs, and my little brother got the brains.

The weird thing is, all his life, a lot of people have assumed he’s stupid. He has challenges when it comes to reading and writing, he didn’t finish high school, and although he is undiagnosed, he has the classic social difficulties of autism. (And I’m 97% sure he’s Aspie)

The thing is though, the little bugger is a genius. Like, Einstein-on-an-espresso-drip smart.

His hobby is computer animation, and some of the stuff he does is almost movie quality. Seriously, it looks like its straight out of Finding Nemo or Happy Feet. And he’s self-taught; he wanted to do it, so he sat down and learned how from Google and youtube. He has this amazing ability to improvise and problem solve in ways that just blow my mind. Where I’d be totally stumped, he finds a way.

When he did a TAFE course, he missed most of his classes, slept through the ones he made it to, and still got a 97%. He knew more about the subject than the teacher did.

He’s easily skilled enough to work at a computer graphics company… but he’s not a Year 12 or University graduate, he has trouble finding motivation, and his social challenges not only make it hard for him to go out and search for a job, but also set him up to get shafted at the interview stage.

It’s just so easy for people to dismiss him based on first impressions; on grammatical mistakes, body language, or qualifications. Yet none of these things do him justice. He’s a textbook example of a remarkably intelligent and talented person on the spectrum who has so much to offer, but is let down by a system where presentation so often matters more than ability.

See, people tend to think I’m smart just cos I’m somewhat articulate on paper. But there are lots of different kinds of intelligence. Some are just easier to showcase than others. My brother’s a genius, but he’s an unconventional kind of genius. I may be able to string together words in a fancy way, but when I need tech support, or just help fixing the washing machine or getting the f—ing printer to work, (I swear those contraptions are controlled by Skynet and sit around all day calculating ways to screw over their human overlords) it’s the bro who bails me out.

Sometimes the trickiest thing is convincing him that’s he’s smart. He’s been judged as stupid so many times that it’s often like he believes it. That’s the programming power of bullying; if you’re told something over and over again your whole life, it can sink it through sheer repetition. Now, I doubt he’ll read this blog entry, but I intend to use similar repetition to always remind the little bastard that he’s awesome.

The Gravity of Fear

It’s difficult to adequately describe the sensation of being constantly afraid. Of spending every second of every day feeling as though the world around you is about to fall apart.

It’s like being a kilometer underwater, where the pressure is 104kg per square centimeter.

It’s like wearing a backpack full of lead ingots everywhere you go.

It’s like having all your nerves on the outside of your skin, completely exposed.

Everything hurts. The sun, because it brings to mind cancer. Being around people, because you never know when they might cough or sneeze, or if they’re contagious. Being alone, because what if you have a heart attack and nobody is there to save you? Touching things, because of the paralyzing fear of contamination. Breathing, because of fear of what germs or chemicals are floating in the air.

The simplest of tasks becomes an exhausting ordeal; going for a walk at night feels like a brush with death, as at any moment I half expect a bat to shit on me and give me some deadly incurable disease.

A mere two hour shift at work can leave me almost non-functional for the rest of the day, because fighting against the weight of the world is just so tiring. Just existing is hard work.

A constant sense of impending doom hangs overhead, as if tomorrow the world will be wiped out by an asteroid.

The fear may fluctuate, and there are times where it retreats into the background, but it never completely goes away. Ever. Not for a single second. I just have to manage it, like a chronic incurable disease.

Over time, I’ve gotten better at handling it, but if there is a true cure, I have yet to discover it. But I’ll keep searching, and fighting this fear with every fiber of my being, because I dream of a day when I will be free.

The other side of beauty

There are things that most people seem to dislike, such as rainy weather, snakes, spiders, and sharks. These things do not fit the popular mould of beauty; they are not mild, or cuddly, or cute.

Yet I’ve always felt they are profoundly under-appreciated.

Take rain for example. It washes the world clean, it nourishes life, and it leaves the air feeling fresh and energized. I’ve always loved the rain, and I prefer it to sunny weather. I love standing outside in the rain and feeling the drops hit my face. It makes me feel alive.

Then there’s snakes, spiders, and sharks. Most people seem to be afraid of them, they find them creepy. And to be fair, I wouldn’t jump into a shark tank or pick up a Redback. But there’s so much more to these animals, be it the gracefulness of a shark, the elegance of a snake, or the patience and remarkably intricate web-building of a spider.

They’re an essential part of  our ecosystem; get rid of the snakes and there would be a lot more mice and rats about, and a lot more mosquitoes, flies, and cockroaches if you got rid of spiders.

And really, they are not as dangerous as they are cracked up to be. Most spiders are nether aggressive nor particularly venomous to humans. Huntsmans, for instance, are less dangerous than a honey bee. Along with snakes, they are much more afraid of you, and will usually avoid a confrontation at all costs; you’re basically Godzilla to them, after all.

As for sharks, well, the list of things statistically more likely to kill you than a shark includes donkeys, coconuts, champagne corks, football, ladders, cows, lightning, and vending machines.

That which is unusual is often written off as creepy, or ugly. But the way I see it, if I dismissed everything unusual, I’d be missing out on some of the most awesome things in life.

The I Can Network’s first teen camp

After the slightly bumpy but transcendent success of the our adult’s camp in April, we at the I Can Network set our sights on the next logical step; a camp for teenagers on the autism spectrum.

This was perhaps the greatest challenge our organization has undertaken to date. Because many of the attendants were under 18, it was a much more delicate operation than running a camp for adults. For duration of the camp, our staff of volunteers effectively became the legal guardians of thirty teenagers.

Thankfully, our Network’s high school program had given some of us experience in this field, and we were even lucky enough to have a student counselor (the amazing Amy Ross) and a teacher (the effervescent Ann “this is a stick” Marie) among our organization’s staff.

We also scored a fantastic location out in the bush, though getting there did involve venturing into “Wolf Creek” territory where the even radio faded to static and I caught myself wondering if we could even get a signal out if we were attacked by John Jarrett or mutant dingoes.

The first dilemma we had to face as the camp began was convincing thirty members of the post-facebook generation to surrender their digital devices for the weekend, which is a little like getting mother Grizzlies to surrender their cubs. Actually, that’s kind of an unfair statement; some of our staff suffered from similar separation anxiety!

Next we had to hit a very careful balance of pushing our attendants to venture outside their comfort zone without triggering any of their various anxieties or sensitivities.

This actually led to the absolute highlight of the camp for me, where over the course of the weekend we saw many of our attendants make remarkable strides towards conquering their fears and adopting an “I Can” attitude. There were teens who went from being too nervous to speak in front of the group on Friday, to giving highly personal speeches to the same crowd on Sunday. What’s more, several of them who had been quite withdrawn at the beginning of the camp were making friends and actively socializing by its conclusion. Seeing this was one of the most rewarding experiences I can think of.

Another more comical highlight was when a group painting exercise turned into several of our staff covering their hands in paint and pressing them onto each other until they looked like ancient Celtic warriors, much to the amusement of the teens.

In my mind, what really sealed the camp as the I Can Network’s crowning achievement to date was how many messages we received from parents in the following days, telling us how much their kids had loved it.

From now on, we plan to hold similar camps on a regular basis, perhaps bi-annually. I’m proud as hell to be a part of this incredible team, and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.