Tackling ignorance

So much prejudice and discrimination in our society is based on ignorance. People act badly towards others because they are different from themselves, they do not understand the differences and they feel threatened by them. The answer to this is education.

This won’t work for everyone – some people seem determined to hate – but I believe that most people are decent and reasonable at heart.

My own interest is raising awareness and understanding of autism and mental health issues. Yesterday I met the parent of an autistic child who has a wonderful card that he gives to people who act judgementally when his child has a meltdown in public. The card explains the basics of autism and that this behaviour is not just a case of appalling parenting, as many seem so quick to assume. I thought this was brilliant and I would love to see the looks on the faces of those who are given them.

We all judge far too much, myself included. None of us are better than anyone else, we are just different with different values and priorities. Obviously we think ours are the right ones, that’s why we have them. But actually as long as nobody is being hurt or damaged, all are equally valid.

Rather than judging and disapproving, we all need to work harder to understand each other. We are all on journeys, we are all damaged and we can all get very defensive when the right buttons are pushed.

This doesn’t mean that all behaviour is acceptable. There are basic standards of decent behaviour. But beyond that there is plenty of scope. Don’t be scared of differences, try and learn about them and the reasons behind them. We all have a lot to learn.

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My meltdown revelation

For a long time I have thought that one frequently occurring aspect of autism which I do not have is meltdowns. In fact, I now realise that I very much do but I have simply not recognised them for what they are.

My meltdowns happen when I become completely fixated on resolving some issue or situation and end up going far beyond what any reasonable or logical approach would be. Frequently this is when I am trying to resolve an error with an order or service received and the response I am getting neither solves the problem nor addresses my concerns. If it is something that means a lot to me, at least at the time, I can quickly spiral into what I have thought of as getting myself in a state about the issue. I tend to try to keep escalating my concerns to higher levels and lose all sense of proportion. I usually end up in tears or very close to tears.

What is even more frustrating is that I can sometimes see it happening but feel powerless to stop it. It is like I am a third party watching it play out. I know I am being ridiculous and totally unreasonable but I can’t do anything to stop it.

The only way out is to find a way or be forced to step away from the situation for a while and calm down. This is usually followed by a deep sense of shame and embarrassment about how I have behaved.

I feel like I am having fewer meltdowns these days, I am sure as a result of a much more stable home life. But I do need to get better at avoiding meltdowns and managing them when they do happen. I guess it’s all part of the journey.

We all make mistakes

For years I was married to someone who would not let me forget my past mistakes. Things could be and were brought up many years later out of context and without any acknowledgement that everyone makes mistakes. It was awful to live with and frankly I am more than capable of berating myself for past errors without needing someone else to do it.

But so many of us do find it hard to move on from mistakes and to forgive ourselves. We look back and cannot understand why we behaved as we did, made that decision or said those words. But that is past now and cannot be changed.

Sometimes there are consequences of past mistakes that we have to live with and address for many years. I made some bad choices that resulted in debts that I am still repaying. But the fact that those consequences go on does not mean that berating myself about them or anyone else bringing them up again helps in any way. I know I got it wrong and I am now doing all I can to put it right.

We cannot change the past but our now will soon become the past and we can change the now. Decisions we make today may have consequences that linger for a very long time so it is important that we at least consider the longer view when making decisions.

I do like being able to look back at what has later turned out to be a mistake and at least being able to tell myself that it really did seem the right thing to do at the time and that I could not possibly have known any different then. Hindsight is always a big advantage and none of us would make any mistakes if we had a time machine!

But even if you have made huge mistakes, try not to live in the past. You can’t change it. Do all you can to put things right, particularly if other people were hurt as a result, but be kind to yourself. Learn from the past but do not be punished or tortured by it. Make tomorrow better.

What Have I Forgotten?

Am I the only person who lives with a constant nagging feeling at the back of my mind that I have forgotten something important? Even if the feeling prompts me to remember something, I still keep thinking that there must be something else as well.

I’m not sure what gives rise to this feeling, and I suspect that knowing wouldn’t help much in dealing with it anyway. I think it probably comes from many years of unhappy marriage when stress made my memory very poor coupled with abuse whenever I did forget something, however minor. Maybe it’s an anxiety thing too.

Wherever it comes from, I wish I had a better strategy to deal with it. The problem is that it is impossible to prove a negative so I can never fully convince myself that I haven’t forgotten something, only establish that I haven’t forgotten one of my immediate priorities.

Our minds can be awful for playing tricks on us. Have you thought about this, what if that happens, they are all laughing at you and so on. Cognitive behavioural therapy, which I have tried and didn’t do much for me, describes these as automatic negative thoughts and tries to teach you to dismiss them. But to me, it’s like saying don’t think of an elephant. Even if I am thinking about the thought, it’s content is out there and worrying me.

The only thing that I find of any help is in some circumstances I am able to identify what I might have forgotten to do and work through the consequences if I have. If these can be managed, I am calmer. But if they cannot…..

It’s another reason I really wish I could turn my head off for a bit. I know that my brain going flat out all the time helps me hugely with things like problem solving and creativity, but it’s exhausting! So I wonder what I might have forgotten today……

Give Yourself a Good Talking Too

Talking to yourself, the saying goes, is the first sign of madness. I take issue with that. Firstly, what’s wrong with being mad? If the world at large is what is defined as sane, I will happily take madness. Secondly, I really don’t see anything wrong with talking to myself and I do it all the time.

Do we not talk to ourselves in our heads all the time anyway? If our thoughts crystallise into words in our heads, which they usually (but not always) have to do to be useful, is that not a form or talking to ourselves?

And for me, saying something out loud reinforces the thought. It makes it more real. In the same way that writing something out repeatedly to learn it for an exam reinforces the knowledge, so saying something to myself also fulfills a purpose.

Sometimes it is like a pep talk to myself, trying to push myself to make a start or get on with something. Sometimes it is in exasperation, and muttering under my breath helps to release the pressure a bit. And sometimes I simply think aloud to myself. It sort of feels like it creates a bit more space in my head if I release thoughts through talking.

I really do find talking to myself a huge help and I would find it very difficult to stop. But maybe that just shows I am mad. If it does, that’s fine. I’m happy being me.

Spring Cleaning

None of us have perfect lives and none of us are perfect people. We are all works in progress and we can all do better.

One of the ways we can get better is to take a regular look at things in our lives, be they thought patterns, behaviours, how we spend our time, imaginary barriers holding us back or any number of other things and see where there is a need for change. This can be done at any time, though some things are best addressed at particular times when opportunities arise or at natural breaks in events or cycles. But spring is traditionally the time for a clearout and declutter, and this can apply to our minds as well as our homes.

So what is holding you back? What is only bringing sadness and stress into your life? Are these things that you can address?

If it is a close family member you almost certainly can’t give up on them, but maybe you need to distance yourself from them a bit more. I do not believe in giving up on people, but none of us are responsible for the way other adults choose to behave or live, and none of us is obliged to keep getting damaged or hurt, even by another family member.

Some habits are hard to break. Maybe it is close to an addiction or maybe it is so ingrained in us that it has become second nature. Maybe you need help to get free. But even then the first step is wanting to do better, wanting to make that change enough to do something about it.

Everything starts in the mind, and everything is possible in the mind. Nobody can ever put your mind in prison or force you to think a particular way. The only person that can ever control your mind is you, unless you let someone else take over by following what they say mindlessly. That is why it is so important to keep thinking independently and question things for yourself. Do not ever give up your mental freedom.

We can all start spring cleaning our minds today. Try to get rid of negativity and self-doubt. You are amazing. You really are. Try to start really believing that. It is the best bit of spring cleaning you can do.

Mental Health Awareness Week – When is the Action Coming?

First, let me be absolutely clear. Mental health awareness week is a good thing. Anything that raises the profile of mental health issues is a good thing.

My issue with this week is that awareness is not a solution in itself. I can be aware of a car approaching me at high speed but unless I get out of the way or the car puts its brakes on, I am still in big trouble. To continue the analogy, in many cases the person in the middle of the road, mental health wise, is not able to get out of the way. It is down to the driver to stop or redirect the car. Awareness is pointless if it does not lead to positive action.

Indeed, I worry that weeks like this can sometimes be productive in that they can allow employers and other groups to put up a few posters and feel they have done all they need to do on mental health.

A previous employer of mine successfully obtained something called investors in people accreditation. The problem was that the organisation was terrible to its people but once it had received this accreditation it told itself it was brilliant and stopped even pretending to try and address the many serious issues it had.

I would hate mental health awareness week to be used to let people off the hook from actually making real changes. If you do not understand that mental health issues urgently need all kinds of action to be taken by governments, employers and all kinds of other groups then your awareness is very shallow.

What we need is mental health action week, and we need it 52 weeks of the year. We need action to change things that are damaging peoples mental health and we need better support for those who have mental health problems. Words and awareness are not nearly enough. We need action now.

This Time Will Pass

We all face hard times. Dark, miserable, I can’t bear to go times. However lucky some people seem to be, however perfect their lives appear, especially in the highly editable world of social media, they too face downs as well as ups.

It is part of being human to have lows as well as highs. Because we are social creatures (even fiercely anti-social people like me!) and because we have passions and feelings, we are exposed to sadness and worse when bad things happen to those we care about and when we hit rocky patches. If we did not feel sadness we would not be human.

None of which is much if any comfort if you are going through a tough time right now. But you are not alone. Anyone that is unsympathetic and claims not to have been there themselves is lying. Most people will empathise and feel for you. Very many people will help you if they possibly can. The hard-nosed, unsympathetic people you come up against are very much a minority (even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes) and should be pitied. In this age of technology it is easier than ever to reach out for help and share your experiences with others. It really does help.

And this time will pass. Even if you are going through several issues at the same time, you are strong and you will get through this. How you feel now is not how you will feel for the rest of your life. Emotions, feelings and thoughts heal with time just like our bodies do.

You may come out the other end scarred and not the same person that went in. But those scars are badges of honour. You went into the darkness and made it out again. You have lived.

Be strong. This time will pass.

Green Shoots Emerging

My favourite part of gardening is seeing things that I have planted start to grow. The joy of something starting to take off and have a life of its own following my minor efforts is just so satisfying. If it eventually turns into something beautiful or something that I can eat, so much the better.

Nothing and nobody is really meant to just sit still. We are built to develop, to grow, to try new things and go to new places. It is never too late to try something new or to start a new venture. It is not enough to think about doing something, we have to actually start doing it.

The green shoots only emerge from the ground once I have weeded the space, planted the seeds and watered them. That idea you have had in your head for something new to try, something you want to become, will go nowhere while it stays in your head.

It can be scary going into something new, particularly if autistic inertia affects you as it does me, but the joy of seeing green shoots emerging either literally or figuratively can help enormously with that. We all have enormous potential for so much within us but it only means anything if we plant that seed, if we start on that journey.

Plant a seed today, and if you can’t at least pull up some of the weeds that are in the way. Those wonderful green shoots are so close if we can just get started.

There‚Äôs nothing wrong with being laughed at

We are all laughed at sometimes. Sometimes it can hurt, if it is our misfortune or failure that is being laughed at. That is not kind and can be really damaging, but it reflects far more on those laughing than on you.

But we can also be laughed at for having new ideas. I believe that that is actually something to welcome and be proud of. People laugh at ideas when they are so new and different that they don’t know how else to react. These ideas are so far outside their experience and understanding of how things work that they simply don’t get it at first.

This is why, as I have said before, it is good to keep challenging things and asking why. Everything can be improved. There is always a better way, maybe a much better way.

All of the great thinkers were laughed at and ridiculed. Some were persecuted for their radical ideas, like the earth going round the sun. People don’t laugh at boring ideas they have heard before. They laugh at revolutionary ideas that change the world and how we see it. The thinkers have the last laugh.