Max's shop of horrors

Warning: imagination testing site. Enter at own risk

Month: February, 2016

Surviving the H1N1 Pandemic of 2009

I’m sure most of us remember the “Swine Flu” of a few years ago, and I’m sure that what comes to mind for most of us was that it was “just another false alarm”. Blimey, even at the ripe old age of 27, I’ve lived through plenty of scares involving viruses that were feared to be the next Black Plague. First there was H5N1, then SARS, then Swine Flu, and since then H7N9. That’s like, as many as Australia’s had Prime Ministers in the last 2 terms.

(By the way, I should stress that I don’t fault the authorities for “overstating” the danger, as many people have. In my view, it is better to overreact than to fail to act when potentially millions of lives are at stake)

While Swine Flu did technically become a legitimate pandemic, in that it was a novel virus that spread globally, its death toll ended up being in the same ballpark as standard seasonal flu, except that its kill count comprised a higher proportion of people aged under 65.

Of course, all this is in hindsight. At the time, I was a 20-year-old first year University student who had just moved out of home, and my fear of germs was so strong I couldn’t go within two meters of a rubbish bin. Needless to say, I was terrified.

I still remember being shut in my room on campus, scared to go to class out of fear for my life. I remember seeing the signs around campus urging proper hygiene, and constantly checking the news online to hear the latest on this looming apocalypse.  Every door knob, every elevator button, the very air itself seemed tainted with death itself.

I was particularly frightened because I was an asthmatic, and I remember reading at the time that people with such underlying conditions were especially at risk of complications and death.

The scariest point by far was when somebody in my dorm building, with whom I shared dining facilities, toilets, showers, and a laundry, came down with symptoms. This was at the stage where the disease’s mildness was still in question, and there was talk about our dorm being quarantined.

Of course, in the end, it all kind of blew over, and I’m sure most of us don’t even remember it as a big deal, but to me, 2009 was a year I felt blessed simply to have survived!

Dropping hints

I love that the sound of nature is basically a bazillion birds and insects trying desperately to get laid. Where am I going with this, you ask? Well, think of it this way; how many of the sounds and even smells around us are vital communications to other living things, but mere white noise to us, which we barely even notice much less understand?

For some of us, including myself, subtle “hints” in tone and body language can be similarly indecipherable!

For example, sometimes I forget that I’m even supposed to be examining body language and facial expressions. It doesn’t come naturally to me; it’s learned behaviour that I have to consciously remember to do. And even if I’m paying attention, sometimes it just doesn’t register; I don’t notice somebody’s rising tension or anger until they finally explode, which takes me off guard because to me it seems to come out of nowhere.

I can see how it might seem like I’m being insensitive, but the truth is that “hints” simply don’t show up on my radar most of the time. The best policy is just to come out and tell me things directly. And if you must hint, drop that sucker like an anvil dropped from a low flying space shuttle.

As ever when I write about autism, I’m merely speaking personal experience. I can’t speak for everyone; the spectrum is broad and diverse. But for me, and many of the people I know, “hints” mean about as much to us as a tap dripping in Morse code during a rainstorm.

It’s not that we are stupid or don’t care, we’re just not on the same wavelength.

It’s okay to not be okay

Few things can hurt as much as forcing a smile. As kids, we all learn at some point that when people ask how we are, they don’t want to know how we actually are. They want to hear “good thanks, you?”

There’s such immense pressure to always be composed, to put on a brave face, to not cause a fuss. But I know firsthand the dangers of bottling up one’s suffering. It’s physics 101; contain something under mounting pressure and sooner or later you get Mt St Helens.

So you know what? If you need to cry, cry. Sometimes it’s better to have a meltdown than to let it build up to the point of explosion. After all, let’s not forget that meltdowns aren’t just an unpleasant inconvenience; they have a purpose, they’re a coping mechanism.

Think of it this way; what’s worse, wetting your pants, or rupturing your bladder?

This lifelong social programming to suppress meltdowns can do more harm than good. Yes, there are other ways of releasing stress, such as exercise or creative expression, and it’s probably a good idea to leave the environment that’s stressing you before letting loose, but sometimes all we need is a good old fashioned vent, and you should never feel ashamed of that, any more than someone with hayfever should be ashamed of sneezing.


Writing is like jelly; give it time to set

If there’s one thing I’m brilliant at, it’s viewing my own work through a critical microscope so powerful that I could probably use it to perv on amorous dust mites.

This is particularly true of things that I write. When I’m in the process of writing something, or I’ve just finished, I’m always convinced that it’s utter rubbish. I want to delete/throw out the whole thing, then take a cricket bat to the nearest luxury automobile.

As I write this, right now, it is pissing me off. I feel like it’s crap, and I can’t write, and I should just give up this blogging business and resign from my job.

But what I’ve found is that if I close this document, leave it for a few days, and come back, these feelings have largely dissipated, and I’ll feel much better about what I’ve written here. Let’s give that a try.


It worked; I’m no longer frustrated, and what I’ve written here no longer makes me cringe.

I can’t say whether this will work for others, but I figure it’s worth a shot, so next time your writing feels like pushing a car through a puddle of treacle, try leaving it for a few days, or even weeks, and coming back. Maybe you’ll find it’s come unstuck on its own. (Yes, I realize this metaphor clashes with the title, but go easy on me, I’m in remission from a minor case of writer’s block, and my neighbour’s baby has been trying to set a new world record for decibels per kg of body weight)