Grandma’s Counting Book

(not suitable for an embroidery sampler)

1  Pair of shoes that fell apart, plus

2  belts that did as well.

3  Pairs of sad slacks with stains.

4  Part-time jobs I’ve worked this year, for

5  people whom I’m supporting.

6  Pairs of raggedy undies and

7  pairs of holey socks I tossed in the trash.

8  Hundred is a great credit score,

9  hundred is a mortgage payment,

10 days since I’ve applied for a mortgage in just my name, and

11 months I’ve paid the mortgage on my own.

12 Kitchen cabinets & drawers that are falling apart, plus

13 year old stained carpeting and gouged vinyl need replacing.

14 Days after applying, the letter will follow the phone call that said Grandma doesn’t make enough money to get her mortgage.

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The Catch

I’ve been having intermittent bouts of vertigo (some severe), along with worsening tinnitus and resulting difficulty understanding what people are saying. My GP said I got poor results on the tympanogram, and is sending me to an ENT, whom I see next week.  I’m no longer driving on the highway, and take extra care if I’m carrying my grandson.

Meanwhile, someone at school told the principal that I was “doing the wall thing”, meaning touching the wall to steady myself as I passed down a hallway.  This resulted in being called up for a Official Meeting.  By the time I left, I was feeling queasy and light-headed for entirely different reasons:

  • Being a couple hours late to phone in my absences due to migraine and due to a Emergency Room visit for vertigo, had previously earned me a stern warning for procedural lapses.
  • Going to or staying at work if feeling dizzy is prohibited because an educator with vertigo is a liability.
  • Leaving work 30 minutes early for a doctor’s appointment must be taken as sick time.
  • No “flex time” is allowed for appointments (i.e. leaving a bit early and making up that time by staying later another day).
  • Thirty minutes, half a day or a whole day all count equally as an incident of using a sick day.
  • Taking 19 sick-day events by October due to viruses, migraines, vertigo or doctor appointments is excessive, and any further such absences can result in termination of employment.
  • Which specific number is unmentioned, but up to the Powers That Be in the Human Resources department.
  • Any employee who is feverish with a virus must stay home.

Alas, this is all legal, and there seems to be a large limbo of being disabled by irregularly re-occuring conditions without actually being Disabled enough for some kind of accommodation.

Even if I somehow negotiated with H.R., the interpersonal climate with the school admin is too prickly to stay.  This is a shame, because I have a great relationship with my classroom staff/faculty.

I’m looking for a different job, hopefully something full-time that also pays well enough so I can have just ONE job in my life.  But everything I’ve seen pays fast-food wages, or else is so technically specific that my skills profile is a mis-match.

The free-floating anxiety is just HELL.

Hotbed of Apathy

*sniff, sniff*

“You sound sick,” stated my daughter’s fiancé, M.

“I can’t be sick,” I mumbled in protest, and honked into a tissue.

“Redunculus; you’re sniffling.”

“I can’t be sick; it was Mr W’s day to be sick,” I explained.  “He got first dibs on being out sick today …  If all the classroom staff members who were sick stayed home, there wouldn’t be anyone left!”

I’m sure the students wouldn’t have minded having some of their classes cancelled.  But no, we slogged through the day, hour after dreary, mind-numbing, O-PLZ-STFU hour.  It was, I decided, a veritable hotbed of apathy.  The lead teacher was battling a sinus infection, and I was suffering from what felt like temporal phase-shifts.  And my aches ached.  My ears were ringing and making sharp pains and I was having dizzy spots and nausea.  I was cold and then would have a sneezing fit and then be hot, and would have some odd spastic tic and then be cold again.  They cannot invent a vaccine for this shit any day too soon.

It’s worse when you’re feeling crappy and working 60 hours a week. But it seems like every few days I discover yet another person who’s working multiple jobs, the latest being a cashier with two jobs and Lupus.  (Maybe what the economy really needs is for everyone to take a week off just to get some rest already.  All in favor say, “Aye!”)

And then there’s the strange stress nightmares I get before a semester starts, going through an interminable dream about teaching 3rd grade but starting the same day the students do, and having an unworkable U-shaped classroom without a chalkboard or whiteboard, and the women’s bathroom stalls all cost 75 cents in quarters to use, and …

If you, too, are ready for a diversion, our favorite engineers (previous post) have a new video up on Advanced Cat Yodeling.  M just about ROTFL, as he has been Yodeling with his cats for a long time, and favors the Machine Gun Kiss™  approach.

Comfort-able

For the first time in months and months — far longer than it should have been, but there we are with the insane busyness of life — a friend and I got together at her house for dinner.

“You look like you’re finally relaxing,” she said after I’d been there a little while, and we decided to not wait in conversational limbo for the third person (who never did show).  “You were so stiff when you came in,” and she made reference by some expression (that now escapes memory) of how I was indicating being relaxed by behaving more normally.

Not “normally” in the er, Normal (neurotypical) sense, but me-normal, where I felt comfortable enough to sit and rock slightly, to not worry about making eye contact, to get a bit flappy at funny events or when agitated, to shed the pent-up motor tics.  To just be me. To “let my hair down” and to set aside unnecessarily restrictive social norms.  To eat my chicken and rice with a fork, and the still-crisp cooked green beans neatly with my fingers (as one does with fries or asparagus), because her table was Nicely Set for our aesthetic enjoyment and yet we weren’t standing on formality.

We talked about typical stuff, like the foibles of spouses, the concerns for college-age kids, the drudgery of eternal home repairs, the quirks of cats, of temperamental computers and the thrills of new mobile phones, of career changes, and the vicissitudes of economic times.

We also talked about atypical stuff, like the difficulties of college education and employment when dealing with various educational/neurological disabilities, of managing arthritis pain and joint issues, of the wonders of TMJ bite blocks, of dealing with the profound cluelessness of the general public for the extreme pain of migraines and how hospital Emergency (A&E) is a horrid place to physically be when in the throes of gut-wrenching-head-splitting pain and the snarkiness of some medics therein.

Crip chicks like we don’t diss on our disabilities, we diss from our disabilities.  It’s not poor-pitiful-me whining but the healthy pitch-a-bitch whining from someone who understands, even when our respective glitches are not all issues shared in common.

I need more social life, but there’s so much of ordinary socialising that I find enervating.

I’m not antisocial; the interest in socialising is not a binary form, where one either does it or doesn’t do it.  But over the years I have learned what I actually enjoy (as opposed to what one is “supposed to” enjoy).  My intro/extroversion levels vary wildly because some kinds of social interaction are nothing but draining, while others leave me (if not physically) at least spiritually recharged.

I’m not fond of socialising by large quantities of people all chattering with each other in the same room, where the conversations get all blenderized from my Auditory Processing Disorder, to where I end up trying to tease apart sequential fragments of half a dozen unrelated conversations, fruitlessly trying to follow just one voice or two, and reasoning out from fractured context what some of the mis-heard words could possibly be.

I’m not fond of socialising where the content gets watered down to less-consequential subjects of chit-chat, by dint of less privacy and some unwritten code of how long one is “supposed” to entertain time with another guest before moving on, and by the other unwritten rules of conversational quid pro quo, where my monologuing to fully deliver a story complete with back-explanations and thesis statements delivered at the end is discouraged in favor of witty repartee.

I like the time to mutually share and analyse our respective news, and the real, content-laden answers to our mutual questions of, “How are you?”  The real “How are you?” question, not the fluff of “How-are-you?” or “How-was-your-day?” that is the social minefield trying to distinguish between polite interested query of acquaintances and polite disinterested query of associates (that latter social coin that is all form and no content), or the mental quagmire of trying to answer “How-was-your-day?” when the question is so vague and our answers are so experientially linear and tangential instead of whatever the hell others were expecting.

I was comfortable — we both were comfortable — because together we had created a social environment that enabled our mutual comfort.  It was an agreement that had been developed by long familiarity and by various conscious decisions over decades, to create a friendship that fulfilled our individual needs over the culturally-proscribed forms.  True friendship enables positive interactions, and supports needs and affirms and enriches our lives.

Here’s a toast to real friendships!

Depiling

That is, de-pile-ing*.

* Not to be confused with depilling, which is trimming off those annoying “pills” that form on knitted garments. Presumably those wee balls of fuzz form due to the blasted orneryness of the universe, especially with regards to the cosmos’ dreaded knack for providing supplemental stress to anyone with OCD tendencies.

Depiling means to systematically remove piles of clutter.  On my desk, that means not just the usual bills, statements and paperwork, but also:

  • documents to be scanned,
  • Copy Center requisition forms,
  • old appointment cards and unnecessary receipts unloaded from my pockets and other ephemera,
  • 35mm slides to be scanned,
  • an empty postage-stamp strip,
  • wire twist-ties,
  • caps to ball-point pens I don’t even use,
  • hort industry infomercials masquerading as press releases or “educational materials”,
  • spare tins of lip balm and cuticle salve,
  • important receipts to file,
  • a really cool concave rock to use as a water dish when I refresh Rosie’s habitat,
  • the booklet on Inservice courses for Job #2 that I cannot attend because of Job #1,
  • beads that are still surfacing from when the curtain tie-back snapped last month, Read the rest of this entry »

Backwards Symphonies

“It’s been a long week — I bet you’re ready to decompose.”

I stared at my husband, blinking through the mental fog of too-many-jobs-not-enough-sleep.

“I’m not ready for the compost pile yet,” I replied, trying to figure out what his latest malapropism was meant to be.

“Or whatever the term is,” he added.

My brain finally catches up. “Decompress,” I answered.

What an incredibly long week.  I can’t remember the last time I had one like this, and in my over-busy world that’s saying something.

Wednesday last week I had a pneumonia vaccination, which left my arm so sore I couldn’t take off my jogbra without assistance, nor even get my hand up to head level until the weekend.  Moreover, Read the rest of this entry »

Stop me, I’m having too much fun!

/SARCASM

I keep fixing things around here, increasingly with the wonderful help of the Kid (who at 17 now has skillz in home repairs unmatched by his dad, which is a satisfying thing when you’re a teen).

The bad news is the increasing apparency of a 2b/f ratio, where 2 things break for every 1 thing fixed.  I replaced the garbage disposal, and one of the brackets for the shower towel rack broke, chipping the tub enamel as it fell.  I replaced a shower head, and the textured ceiling crap is coming off the bathroom ceiling (necessitating scraping it ALL off, then painting on sealant primer and ceiling white), and apparently I need to unclog the P-trap to the bathroom sink.  We replaced a light fixture in one bedroom, and I observe that the ants have found a new inlet around the kitchen sink/window, and a curtain tie breaks, spilling beads all over the floor.  We replaced a light fixture in another bedroom and two more garments get added to the mending pile.

And so it goes. Which is partly grousing and partly an explanation for why I’ve not finished several posts.

(Oh–there’s another bead…)

Anxiety: not knowing where things are going

cropped photograph of a highway bridge under construction, showing heavy I-beams looming beyond the column support

cropped photograph of a highway bridge under construction, showing bare I-beams looming beyond the column support

*Whew*

Got my computer fixed. It was only gone for a few days, and I backed up my docs and music and pix and extra programs before taking it in, but as I anticipated, it came back with a fresh OS installed. So I had to sort through the shiny new programs and adjust all of my setting preferences, and decide which files I really need to dump back on. After three days of paranoia and considerable annoyance, I found where I had backed up my 200+ bookmarks some three months ago *whew!* Imported calendar data into different program and got to two appointments okay *double-whew!* Finished job app. Got class reports turned in on time.

I feel like I’m making progress, but considering that my Things To Do list never gets any shorter, I might just be walking the wrong direction on a “slidewalk” (moving walkway). But omigosh, I will actually be able to get some blogging done again!

But not soon; I’m tired, and then there’s tutoring and a bunch of errands and an exam to sit and grocery shopping and probably several other things that aren’t coming to mind at the moment, that need to get done first.

On the other hand, I did find a Minuscule that I had not seen before, and I’m going to assume that everyone else is likewise “up to their ass in alligators” and also needing some fun. So kick back and enjoy the surprise ending!

“L’attaque de la sucette rose”

Budget Issues

There are a lot of difficult things with getting used to a condition that causes regular pain or chronic fatigue. Part of it is just getting used to the idea that there is no quick fix, that this is the New Normal in our lives.

Part of it is realising that medication and treatments will alleviate some of the pain, but that they don’t always eliminate it. Even if we’re not feeling horribly crappy, that doesn’t mean we can just blaze through the day like we used to. The reductions in overall capacity from tiring and/or painful conditions create additional problems that are not always easy to anticipate.

There are the social issues, of not wanting to sound whiney, but also of needing to advocate for ourselves, and either forgo doing some things or request accommodations for others. Meanwhile, everyone else is still working on the idea that relieving pain means making-it-go-away, and that “if you’re not in pain, then you can do everything just like normal”.

There are weighing issues of prioritising things. When we don’t fully adjust to this new normal, it can be partly denial, and partly not realising just how much the condition permeates things in life. It’s one thing to say, “I’m hurting, I’m not going to do this right now,” or “Doing that causes me too much wear and tear so I’m going to do this instead.”

But it’s quite another to realise that we can’t keep putting things off until “I have more energy” or “I have more time” or “When I’m feeling better in the afternoon”. In reality even though there are better times of day or just better days, and even though we find alternative means, what we find is that we still can’t do all those things.

We can do them, but we can only do some of them. When we’re having a good afternoon or a better day, we then find that we have a backlog of Things To Do. In truth, there was no way we could really could do all of them previously in our lives, which is why everyone has those long To do Lists in the first place!

There are budgeting issues of allotting energy. In the new normal, we not only can do less because we have fewer good time periods, but also because we have to pace ourselves. If we push ourselves too hard, then we crash and feel worse than we would have otherwise, and will just get even behinder. (And both the crashing and the getting behinder result in being grumpier, making us and everyone around us miserable.)

What makes pain such a bastard is not just the direct issue of hurting — a lot and frequently, or variably and all the time — but also the secondary issues of pain causes stress and stress aggravates pain and the dreadful feedback loops.

Chronic stress-pain loops can result in not having much appetite (so not eating regularly or nutritious foods), being more sensitive to the ordinary incidental pains in life as well as the chronic issues, getting more easily stuck in anxious, obsessive or depressive states, having depressed immune responses, and of course, it can create the whole horrible pain-bad sleep feedback loop. There’s nothing like chronic pain to make one realise just how inter-related psyche and soma really are.

Chronic issues mean not having much in the way of energy reserves. It can be really easy to fall into a bad habit of “cheating” the budgeting or pacing by relying upon crisis energy. Lots of people (especially those with AD/HD) rely upon the “salvation by deadline” to get them energised to do or complete a task. But this kind of crisis energy is really hard on the body because it relies upon the adrenaline from the sense of crisis. Once that adrenaline rush is past, we crash. It’s a way of pushing ourselves that is counter-productive in the long run.

People who are able to integrate the new normal successfully throughout their lives are those who do best with chronic issues. The novelty fades and the issue is simply another part of their life. Acceptance is not the same thing as giving up. We can accept that we have problems without abandoning efforts to find new ways of improving things.

Prioritising and budgeting energy are important components of the adjustment, just are various therapeutic approaches and regular stress management. Energy prioritising and budgeting are especially important because they are less about what we cannot do, and are more about enabling ourselves to do things that are important.

Whatever “important” gets re-defined as.

“But pain… seems to me an insufficient reason not to embrace life. Being dead is quite painless. Pain, like time, is going to come on regardless. Question is, what glorious moments can you win from life in addition to the pain?”
~Lois McMaster Bujold

Transitions, ACK!

Read up on descriptions of students with autism, Asperger’s, or Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, and you find the familiar piece about how such people “have rigid routines” or “cannot deal with changes in routine”. Some of those descriptions are um, much more rigidly defined than others. I have real problems with descriptions that use a lot of always or never, as real humans just aren’t that binary. In such cases, the author is being more literal-minded than the group they are describing!

In contrast, statements worded as, “Dislikes changes in routine” or “Has difficulty with unexpected changes in routine” would be much more accurate, especially with regards to the unexpected changes — you can brace for, and plan ahead for expected changes in routines.

Therefore, consistency in routine is suggested as a good instructional, parenting, and employment tool. It’s also recommended for students with AD/HD as a support measure.

But you know what? Everyone is attached to their routines. We like to get through our morning preparation without a lot of glitches. “OMG, we’re out of coffee!” We expect holiday celebrations to go a certain way, and when two people become a couple they find out how many rituals were specific to their own families of origin, and then the couple has to decide how they are going to select and combine both of their rituals.

People in general don’t like having to adjust their day around massive changes in their schedule, and are more than a little vexed at unexpected and unavoidable challenges thrown in. Airline travel went from something exciting to a dreaded ordeal as airport security became tighter and tighter, and the airlines restricted what kinds of and how many comfort objects people could bring with them on the plane. No, “comfort objects” aren’t just teddy bears or worry-beads; a wide variety of mundane objects like your favorite bed pillow, brand of soda and portable music player are also comfort objects.

So why are some people so much more attached to their routines, and then undone when faced with changes?

There are a several reasons, related to situational decoding, compensating, and attention-switching. Read the rest of this entry »

De-stressing with O.T.S.

Funny short story:

Hubby and I are at the local pub having a Guinness. Naturally, the big-screen televisions are on, and he asks me, “Are you watching the basketball game?”

Are you kidding?! I think to myself, and answer, “No.”

There’s a slight pause, then he asks, “Are you staring at the ceiling fan?”

Busted!

Well you know, I’m there to relax, right? Chatting with hubby about life, and enjoying my ale is only part of that.

A pal of mine is very stressed. Sadly, this is a common problem. But even worse, over the years the repertoire of natural coping methods have been so discouraged, extinguished or suppressed that my pal can hardly name what is helpful. Now that is really sad.

We all have ways of dealing with stresses. They can be roughly divided into three general categories: organisation [O], timing [T], and soothing activities [S]. I have denoted each with an initial because the text flow did not easily lend to listing these in categorical sections.

Prevention [O]: We avoid situations that we know will be stressful. Sometimes we can have someone else do a task for us, or set things up so the task does not actually have to be done.

For example, Read the rest of this entry »

Weights and Balances

Today I joined hubby for a short visit to the health club. I’d not been in a large number of months, but decided that this would be a good opportunity to scope things out with regards to what they had. I need to get back into the habit of getting some regular exercise. I figured that scoping things out ahead of time and figuring out what I needed, and when I was going to go, would be a good way of easing back into the habit. Why wait until New Year’s Day to make a resolution?

There are a number of good reasons for me to get some exercise, but an equally weighty number of reasons why it’s been increasingly difficult to do so. Read the rest of this entry »

A Week Too Long

It’s been a very, very l-o-n-g week. The kid was off school for two days with a migraine that required IV meds to break. I got rear-ended in a three-car pile-up while waiting at a red light (I’m okay, and so is the car, structurally). The kids at school have been super-squirrelly, as only 30 students (all of whom have major emotional & behavioural problems) can be, so the staff are stressed. It’s also been cold in the mornings, and not surprisingly, NO one wants to crawl out of bed and go anywhere.

But, we’ve still one more day of the work week (two for me, as I’m tutoring on Saturday). So for everyone out there struggling to get going in the morning, here’s a sympathy picture. This is one of our cats, Spot, (named after Data’s cat, from Star Trek Next Generation, of course):

TURN OUT THE LIGHT!

A Most Dangerous Question

Once Upon A Time…

I had a great counsellor. That sort that gives you unconditional positive regard, and listens to what you’re actually saying (instead of what they’re expecting), and who also asked especially good questions. Some of the questions were of the Zen-master category of counselling, the sort that jog you from your everyday running, smacking palm to forehead and saying, “OH!” or else stopped you short because you had been doing something totally irrational and then had it pointed out to you when you were at a point to heed such. Other questions were more like planting little seeds, things that seemed innocuous at first but that later proved to be much greater things.

This is the story of the little seed question. It was a very dangerous question, not in the hazardous sense, but in the transformational sense. Read the rest of this entry »

Slices (Episode 2)

The best definition of “poetry” I’ve ever encountered is, “Poetry is life condensed”. In a similar way, cartoons condense a slice of life into just a few panels. All of these cartoons are about navigating our way through the day.

I meant to do another episode much sooner (back in June) but then Stuff Happened. The summer was full of tutoring chemistry, and microbiology. We squeezed in some vacation, and then just hours after our return, wham! school started up again.  Here are  four fun cartoons: Read the rest of this entry »

“ON HOLIDAY!” : Disability Blog Carnival #20

Ah, the crowd’s starting to build up … the hurry-up-and-wait part of events makes me nervous, and there’s only so many times I need to check my To Do list, or line up the dishes and flatware on the serving buffet (but look, I lined up the napkins in rainbow order!)

Over in the bandstand, Shiva of Biodiverse Resistance is putting the final tweaks on the “Top 10 Unintentional Disability Anthems”. I had the pleasure of listening to audioclips to all of these on iTunes, and found some new pieces I really like. Shiva has eclectic tastes in music, so the selections are sure to have something for most everyone.

“Ooh shiny! A hummingbird on the hummingbird mint …”

Ah, the crowd is filling in, passing through the buffet and staking out spots in the shade or a place to soak up some of the abundant warm sunshine. “Do try some of the brownies — I got the recipe from Gluten-Free Girl and they are fabulous — even if (unlike me) you don’t normally eat gluten-free food.” After the usual nattering about trifles, we finally settle down to the topic of the day. If there’s a constant about being on holiday, it’s that one frequently needs to take a vacation after having taken a vacation — we need to rest up from having fun. Or trying to have fun. Or trying to get to the place to have fun. Or trying to find something you can eat at the fun place. Or funning with trying people… Read the rest of this entry »

Small Comforts

“You know when you have a few good days and you begin to wonder whether the bad days could have possibly been as bad you imagined they were and then you have a few bad days and wonder how on Earth you ever were able to do the things you did on the good days? No? Well, I do.” ~ The Goldfish

It’s a pain. No, it’s many pains.

I’m getting over a migraine, which makes me just generally tired and gives me brief flashes of visual auras, pain twinges, inconsistent light sensitivity, and word retrieval problems when speaking. This rather much overshadows the arthritis business. I’m also trying to get a bunch of errands done and phone calls made prior to packing for a trip, which unto themselves are stressful activities. I also forgot to take my ADHD med this morning, so I’ve been in a what-was-I-going-to-do? fog all day long as well, above and beyond everything else. “Ain’t we got fun.”

But after I tracked down two cats and took them to the vet (putting the suddenly-hexadecimal cat into the carrier is always entertaining — picture here ), I went for my semi-annual tooth cleaning. I have no idea if I’ve had this particular dental hygienist before, having no memory at all for faces not seen daily, but she was nice enough to shut the window blinds for me on account of my migraine “hangover”. I was also due for some dental x-rays (roentgenograms), so the she draped me with the lead apron. Although having the bite-wings stuck inside my mouth is less than fun, I always enjoy the comforting pressure of the lead apron.

In fact, years ago when I realised that a lead apron was such a fabulous deep pressure aide, I got one from a retired dentist. When I stagger to bed with an incipient migraine, I compose myself in the dark room and drape it across my thorax. I’ve also used it on nights when I just can’t seem to settle down because I feel twitchy on the outside. The lead drape is one of several small comforts that I have found useful. Everyone deals with stress in their life, both the eustresses (the good sorts that help “push” us in beneficial ways) and the distresses (the bad sort, which need no further introduction). But we all differ in the things we are stressed by, and how those stresses affect us. My distress-reduction is accomplished by several means. Read the rest of this entry »

Bridge Load Limit

“I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once.”
~Jennifer Unlimited

PART THE FIRST: THRESHOLDS AS VARIABLE MAXIMA

Sometimes it’s hard to explain why things get overwhelming, or why something I could tolerate just find one day becomes overwhelming on another day. I look “normal”. I earned university degrees, hold jobs, have a family, converse like an intelligent person … and then I’m standing there dumbly like a deer in the headlights, or am staggering down the hallway flapping a hand, or am seated away from others and rocking in agitation. I’ve turned into a “not-normal” person, and transgressed that invisible boundary marking staff from students / clients, or have shifted from upstanding citizen to crazy-looking person on the street.

Amanda wrote a pithy blogpost on 6th May, 2006, making the excellent point that what constitutes a sensory overload threshold for one (autistic) person may be quite different for another. This is relevant to all sorts of types of inner and outer functioning; as she points out, Read the rest of this entry »

Fraud

I don’t belong here. Maybe I should have applied at a different department; Professor N was just being nice to write me a letter of recommendation. I don’t even know what those rec letters said; what if they were just so much “social noise” and I’m not really cut out for graduate school?

I am not getting these party jokes at all. Are they inside jokes? Are they related to people’s research? Is it a department joke? Just smile and move along…

I’ll never be able to cope with all this stuff. Omigod, they’ve added so much stuff to animal biology since I studied it years ago. I can’t believe I just got a B grade in biochemistry without knowing all these details.

How come everyone else seems to know what’s going on? Did I miss something on Orientation Day? Just act sharp and keep your mouth shut; hopefully somebody will mention something.

There’s too many people here to remember! But they all know each other. Just smile and ask “How’s it going”; maybe some clue will be mentioned.

My advisor says I ask too many questions. I thought he was there to advise me?

Oh no! How will I make it through four semesters of statistics? I’ve always been terrible at the maths. That A in Calculus wasn’t normal for me; we just had a really good teacher. I can’t hardly do these life table calculations without getting numbers turned around!

I feel like such a fake. I was just lucky. That was just an isolated event — it won’t happen again.

“You have no idea what a poor opinion I have of myself, and how little I deserve it.”
~Reg Smythe

It’s not just me. This is what we call “Imposter Syndrome”. Often mentioned in the context of gifted individuals, and high-achieving women, it’s also seen in quite a different population. Read the rest of this entry »

The Words

They lied.

One sentence; two words. Together, two very powerful words.

As the beginning, those two words beg more questions than they answer. Who lied? What about? To whom? When, where, and why? Read the rest of this entry »

Who Owns What?

SCENE 1

“You can’t make me!” she replied in a taunting, bratty voice.

Then I calmly replied with what is probably one of the most difficult things for a parent or staff member to ever say, “You’re right. I cannot ‘make’ you do anything.”

Following this factual statement was the next important one that stepped away from the power struggle between myself and this now-very-smug teen, and led us back to the actions-and-consequences. “Because YOU are responsible for your behavior. You need to get your work done – and completing it to an acceptable level – so you can do other things like have computer free time, read a book, or play pool. Or even take a nap, if that’s what you want to do. Now, do you want to do the reading together, or by yourself?”

SCENE 2

“Hah! You can’t make me!” he challenged.

“You’re right. I cannot ‘make’ you do anything. However, I am responsible for your safety, and that is not a safe choice. You need to follow directions for this assignment, or we are going to quit this right now. IF you don’t complete the assignment in a safe manner, THEN you are not going to get free time afterwards.”

(Damn but he didn’t go ahead and try to eat the chile pepper seeds anyway, which painful natural consequences required much rinsing-and-spitting, and consumption of bread to mop up the capsaicin oils that were hurting the inside of his mouth. Of course all this first aid meant that he had the rest of the seed-planting assignment to make up later on, and he had no free time for play. What fools these mortals be!)

SCENE 3

“You’re making me mad!” she snapped.

Wait a minute, didn’t we recently establish that you cannot “make” someone do something? The same also applies to feelings, despite all the social conventions we ascribe to making someone sad or someone else making us happy, or a situation making us frustrated. No one is actually responsible for someone else’s feelings.

In truth, our feelings arise not from the situations and not from what people say or do, but rather from our views and opinions about events. This is why different people can have different responses to the same situations.

This is why the verbal abuse from others rolls right past me now, because I understand that it’s not really about me, it’s about other people acting out their problems.

“I didn’t really mean it,” he protested, “She knows I didn’t really mean it; I was just all stressed out about my mom. She shouldn’t get so mad.”

“You’re still responsible for what you say to others that can be upsetting to them.”

Nor is anyone necessarily responsible for the feelings they have, especially given that they arise from parts of the brain that we do not have conscious control over.

However, everyone is responsible for their own actions. We are responsible for what we do that others can react to in their happiness, sadness, anger or fear. We are also responsible for our own words and actions derived from our own happiness, sadness, anger or fear.

“I can’t help it – I’m pissed!” he ranted, pacing back and forth.

“Okay, you can’t help being angry. Everybody gets angry sometimes. But kicking the lockers and ripping up the bulletin board is NOT an appropriate way of reacting to that upset. You need to come up with a better way of handling such situations, and how you are reacting to them.”

Where-ever You Please

I teach community-education classes on gardening. Unlike typical college credit classes where the instructor can generally assume some base level of knowledge and even some demographic homogeneity, these attendees are a real mixed group.

I get complete novices, and seasoned gardeners who just want to pick up some new ideas. I get dysgraphic students who are relieved to see extensive handouts. I get enthused teenagers and first time home-owners, and old people who haven’t gardened since they were children helping feed the family during times of economic scarcity. I get students in wheelchairs who are glad to see tables instead of combined desk-chair units. I get students who have not finished high school and need science concepts explained, and students who have advanced degrees in other fields and want to know how the basic science gets applied in the practical side of horticulture. I get dyslexic students who request being able to audio-record the lecture or get a printout of the powerpoint pictures. I get students who have lived in the area for years, and others who have just moved from a completely different part of the continent and are unfamiliar with the climate and local flora. I get students who are shadowed by sign-language interpreters for whom I fetch seating and make sure that the lighting is set to illuminate them. In other words, I get ordinary students who are a sample group that reflects the population at large. (Well, a horticulturally-interested subset of that population at large.)

I get adults who will come in and meekly ask where they are “supposed to” sit. Oft times these are older adults, who I am assuming are defaulting to some childhood paradigm of Being The Good Student. It’s interesting to see if they find being told, “You may sit where-ever you want!” to be a liberating or momentarily disconcerting. (The side-to-side ranks of tables do not easily lend themselves to a someone who is mentally defaulting to traditional school desks lined up in front-to-back rows.)

I like to set out the handouts on the tables before class starts. This helps prevent me from forgetting some of the parts, and also helps prevent that confused flurry that results from handing out stacks of paper to the people at front and letting each person in the crowd try to figure out how things should be passed back. (The students in my classes never sit together in a solid cluster, so the paper-passing is not the simple conveyer-belt effect one might expect to see.)

Having the handouts out ahead of time also serves another utility for me in that it gives me some measure of control over the attendee scatter. Generally I don’t care where people sit, but sometimes I am given large lecture rooms that seat 120 when I only have 10 students. If the students follow the diffusion typical of dining areas and libraries, they would be all over the place, which is a strain on my vocal cords when I am going to be talking for two hours. So when someone comes in and doesn’t sit at a place that already has handouts, I tell them, “You’ll need some handouts. You can sit where-ever you want, but it’s easier if I don’t have to holler to the back of the room, as I don’t have a microphone.” Once in a while I will have someone who feels the need for more personal space and sits a few rows back from the last person. That’s okay with me; we don’t need to be in a huddle.

I also tell my students, “If you need to get up and move around during that class because of a back problem or if you’re just hyperactive, that’s okay. I shouldn’t get to be the only one who’s pacing around!”

I also get distressed students. I get young moms who are desperately hoping they can get through large chunks of the class without having to take a fussy baby or rambunctious toddler out into the hallway. I get doctors and the relatives of patients who have to suddenly depart at a pager call. I get students who arrive nearly half an hour late because they may have ADD and almost forgot that they had a class today, or who may have some level of geographic agnosia and had to ask half a dozen people on campus how to get to the building, hallway, and classroom. I get students who come defensively clutching notepads and multiples of pens because they are worried about having to take notes and then being tested, even though this is an ungraded class without exams. All these students need reassuring that I am not going to be upset at them, and that I am not grading or judging them, but rather that I am here to help them.

Although the individual class topics are about specific kinds of gardens, describing suitable plants and methods for the category is only my proximate goal. My ultimate goal is to answer the specific questions that each student has brought with them. I want my students to feel that they have received whatever it was that they came to my class to get. This is tricky when they are not even consciously aware of what that is! But it is important that they be able to identify their needs, and then to have those addressed. That way they will feel that they have spent the two hours in a satisfying manner, and I will be able to both adjust and keep the focus of my classes on what the students need and want. I am not making my classes to follow what I think they “should” need.

Because I am supposed to take roll, I ask everyone to tell me their name (I run on the theory that no one mispronounces their own name!), and to share with the class what in particular they are needing to know that day. This question gets easier for the students to answer after the first few replies gets people thinking. As the students list topics, I mention if they are already addressed in what I’ve prepared or I will write myself a word or two on the board to jog my ADHD brain and make sure that I answer them in the appropriate context. All the while, I am mentally adjusting my delivery according to this feedback.

This exercise works well on several fronts. It’s a bit of an ice-breaker, and makes people feel more relaxed about asking questions. The newbies are relieved to hear that other people have the same problems and questions they do, and are less reluctant to speak up. Sometimes the students already know what they want to do and just want someone to affirm that Yes, it’s your yard, and it’s okay to rip up a shrub you don’t like! This exercise is also especially good for those subdued Good Students who are not used to being “allowed” to have their own opinions about what they want or need to learn, and then advocating to have those needs met.

My job description is officially about teaching horticulture, yet in that there is a surprising amount of passing-along of acceptance and self-advocacy.

Centenary Retrospective

“This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one’s potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life.”
~ Carl Rogers

Wow. The other day I was looking at my blog stats, and it said that I had 22,000 hits. I have also recently written my 100th post since June; that’s close to thrice a week, for the mathematically disinclined. So I thought I would take a step back and review what has gone by, to see what kinds of topical trends emerge, and pull up some of what I think are the better posts, for those of you who are newer visitors.

Bloggers are usually loquacious and opinionated, a description I do not fail to meet. But why do I blog? Some bloggers just natter about their lives, others blog as an outlet for kvetching, some are pushing a specific agenda, and still others like to analyse what they see. I do a little of all the above, but mostly I like to analyse. I am less concerned about persuading you than I am about giving you something to think about. After all, if we all believed the same things, the dialogues would get pretty dull!

Now that there is data from which to draw a pattern, what kinds of things do I blog about? In a way it is hard to sort posts into single categories, because topically there is an n-dimensional hypervolume of intersecting sets. But as an approach, I like to explore themes from personal experience or news events, and also from philosophical perspectives. I feel that philosophy loses some of its significance without grounding it in the phenomenal fields of people’s lives. And telling stories of lives without examining the what and wherefore of those events falls short of the ultimate value of storytelling: revealing the patterns in human relations, and learning from them.

Some of the greater categories revolve around education, from both student and instructor perspectives, and they revolve around the politics of disability and advocacy. In contrast, there are some themes that connect those categories. One of the most important themes is taking the traditional understandings of how social systems work, and taking those apart to reveal very different perspectives on what is happening.

These systems include how we communicate, such as when the language of “choice” is really just a distractor, or doublespeak meant to transfer the apparent (symbolic) power to the one person who in actuality has little power over the situation. These systems also include power paradigms, including how we “help” people, how people miss the mark when trying to create “inclusiveness”, and why pity is such a evil force because it creates distance between people. (There is no need to congratulate me for having “bravely overcome” the insults and artificial obstacles that people put in my way.)

I also look at how the assumptions we make determine how we define groups of people, from the way that we create diagnostic labels, to the sometimes-absurdities of “person-first language”, and concepts of “tolerance”.

In the end, we don’t need better ways of “beating” the system, because we are all part of the system, and the beatings must stop. (They haven’t improved morale yet.) What we need are ways of overhauling the system by sidestepping these terrible games and introducing different ways of working together.

Our perceptions of the world influence how we act, including how we view and understand others. Sometimes people mistake better identification or newer kinds of identification with “epidemics” of autism, AD/HD et cetera. But I bet if we’d had these kinds of identifiers decades ago, a lot more of us would have been better understood. Hyperactive kids are kind of hard to miss, even those who otherwise do not misbehave. (You wouldn’t believe how many ways there are to sit inappropriately!) More boys than girls are diagnosed, but I have to wonder if that isn’t due more to diagnostic criteria than actual prevalence rate. Why didn’t we see kids with these kinds of “needs” in previous decades? Partly because some of those kids didn’t even go to regular schools — they were kept at home or in institutions. Those who did go to regular schools just had to struggle along. They rarely had IEPs and such because their parents didn’t – couldn’t – ask for services that simply did not exist.

When we make these changes in understanding systems and in our perceptions, they can be outwardly expressed by seeking to become a better advocates. Being able to create a new rôle for one’s self includes being able to learn about the various rôles that others have played. (But just try to find sources on disability studies at the local bookstore!) Advocacy requires overcoming inertia and moving into commitment, and moving into commitment and inclusiveness. We also have to be able to recognise our own sources of ability and power, especially if we’ve been convinced otherwise.

Advocacy is complex, and the concerns of parents for the futures of their disabled children is an important part of that. Unfortunately, people whine about how hard it is to have an autistic child, or any kind of exceptional child. All too often there are terrible news reports about parents who have killed their handicapped or autistic children because they were such a horrid burden. Even more horrifying is when the press perspective or quotes are full of sympathy for the murderer because killing your own child is “understandable” because a person can’t help but be insanely stressed from dealing with the child’s abnormality.

It’s hardly not a new trend. But this millennia-old attitude does a terrible disservice to disabled people everywhere to be cast as either devils or angels. It is dehumanizing, and removes us from our humanity, and thus our basic human rights. In light of the fact that many things have a genetic basis, then hating disabilities in our children involves a curious kind of denial and self-loathing.

Distraught parents also need to understand that there is a difference between getting cured and being healed. The unresolved grief leaves parents susceptible to errors of judgment, and these well-intended but scientifically ignorant people who buy into these things are being duped by charlatans, sometimes with loss of life as well as with great monetary expense. Then the problem is propagated because those well-intended but scientifically ignorant people become meme agents, earnestly spreading the false gospel. Meanwhile, the rest of us are left to weed out the “Astroturf” of faux grass-roots efforts.

Advocacy efforts include those in our schools, and involve administrators, educators, parents, and the students themselves. Sometimes teachers and parents worry about school accommodations because they fear it will leave the students unready for when they have to venture into the “real world”. Or, by misunderstanding the differences between equity, equality and need, teachers fear that giving accommodations “wouldn’t be fair” to the other students.

Parenting our students with learning difficulties is not easy – the traditional methods do not work, which is often why the students end up in “special” education. In turn, the students also get frustrated, and attempts to deal with the unmotivated student can sometimes create further problems. We also have to be careful to distinguish between challenging our students, and just making things more difficult for them. Distinguishing between cause and effect in misbehaviour is important – we need to address the causes to resolve problems.

The teaching end of things can also be rife with issues, and college professors can sometimes fall prey to pedagogical myths. Equally absurd is how learning difficulties are often not recognized until the student has been failing or near-failing for a while, thus allowing the student to get further behind and more entrenched in negative mind-sets. On the flip side, we identify exceptionality by contrasting it to what’s common for the group, or by how well a person functions. But what if our sampling group is far from average, or if the environment is less disabling?

Tutoring and teaching is another means of engaging in advocacy, and one of the best means I have is to share with my students the tools for how they can solve new kinds of problems in the future, for themselves and by themselves. It also gives me the opportunity to constantly learn from my students. During this co-educational process, we often need to figure out where in the learning process they are getting stuck, then come up with different ways of helping them learn new information, and different methods for studying. Sometimes the educational changes we make can be as simple as the way a test is typed up, making it more accessible to all the students. The way the audio-visual equipment is set up also makes a significant difference, including the kinds of computer monitors and lighting used. As a tool for engaging your students’ attention, novelty can be a big help. It can also backfire in unexpected ways…

On the more personal scale, I’m always seeking better ways of dealing with my own challenges of “Executive Functioning”, like dealing with all the stuff, stuff, stuff that piles up, losing something in the Dreaded Safe Place, coping with the inertia of task paralysis, or just getting “stuck” when the Plan B falls apart or I unexpectedly get engrossed in something. In worse cases, this means pulling myself out of an awful case of the Betweens, which condition you won’t find listed in any manual, but one that any ADD or autistic person will surely recognise. Regardless, it still helps to remember that strategies for compensating are just that – and that when there’s too much load on the system, those strategies won’t all succeed. That makes it difficult for me, but sometimes others’ lack of understanding is the greater problem.

When I sat and contemplated my place in the grand scheme of things, I found myself wondering just how it was that I could be “doing things the wrong way” and yet still be producing the right results. Were the processes really as important as the results? Doing things “normally” is very important to the general public. People with a wide variety of differences go to extreme effort trying to “pass for normal”, but this can be perilous. Some parents spend great effort to ensure their autistic children learn how to do “good eye contact”, but this may be a poor goal for some unexpected reasons. People can get hung up on developmental timetables, or they worry and wonder why their child likes to spend lots of time lining things up (it’s a good thing, really).

Adults can come up with some pretty off-the-wall assumptions about what is, or is not, going on in a child’s head; we cannot always assign mental processes to the results we see. Then there’s the situations that an earnest-yet-clueless ADHD or Aspie kid can find themselves in, such as failing to cheat. The really scary part is how these children who have difficulties socialising with their peers will fall prey to bullying and abuse, and general depression. Then we grow up into adults, and there’s the whole sticky territory of trying to make Small Talk, and the repercussions of just having a different sense of humor.

On the lighter end, a few posts are just for fun; about once a month there’s a “Recess”. Recess means we take a break and play – it’s important to do that once in a while. During dinner our family discusses why “resistance is fruitile, and how to be “underly pedantic”. Meanwhile, I have fun with repeating words, and enjoy taking photographs of improbable things.

My thanks to you for stopping by, and please to leave comments!

andrea

Running With the Red Queen

Everyone in life has to compensate in some manner or another, because no one excels at everything. If you are not mechanically inclined, you take your car to a shop to get the oil changed, and you call a plumber to fix leaks or replace worn faucets. If you’re not comfortable with arithmetic calculations, you have a tax specialist do your annual return, and you arrange for automatic payroll deposits and bill payments with your bank. These are ways that ordinary people deal with ordinary difficulties, and no one thinks any less of them. In fact, the economy depends upon people’s interdependency — earning your living doing things for others is important to the Gross National Product, is important to a town’s sense of community, and is important to a person’s self-worth from feeling useful.

It is curious that people who have others do everyday things for them because they are rich are envied, whereas people who have others do everyday things for them because they are unable to do them are looked down upon. People with ability sets that are different than the “average” person’s run into problems because they are being “inappropriately incompetent”. Some of those “should be able to” things are related to sex-rôle stereotypes: a man should be able to fix a leaky faucet, a woman should be able to sew her own shirts. Among more traditional or conservative populations, a person is not faulted if they are incompetent at a skill that is reserved for the other gender. However, when someone cannot do something that is expected of everyone, or cannot do it well, or cannot do it consistently, they are then open to derision.

The Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler noted how people compensated and even over-compensated as ways of dealing with perceived incompetence and avoiding feelings of inferiority. Not all “incompetences” really are gross difficulties — they may merely be assigned as such by others around us.

I’ve mentioned before that my life is a mass of compensatory strategies. I compensate for auditory processing problems, and the tinnitus that increases the background noise problem. I compensate for prosopagnosia (difficulties recognising people from their faces). I compensate for all those organisational, time-sense, and executive-functioning issues related to ADHD and Asperger’s (planning, executing tasks including the getting-past-the-inertia stages, self-monitoring). I compensate for the hyperacusis, and my general clumsiness, tics and stuttering, and migraines. Generally speaking I compensate fairly well. So much so that most people don’t realise that I am working much harder to achieve nearly as well. I “pass for normal” most days, so people can’t understand why I’m having problems when I’m ill or stressed or simply trying to compensate for too many things simultaneously.

Adler would probably say that I over-compensate.

I had to go through Driver’s Education class twice to acquire the necessary motor skills. I did eventually learn to drive stick shift (manual transmission) and have even driven in both the UK and US. The day that I parallel-parked in front of my high school to request a transcript to be sent to a college was indeed a threshold moment in my life. (Even the transcript part was a highlight, as assaying higher education was uncertain due to my previous academic difficulties.) My husband once asked me, “What, can’t you drive and talk at the same time?” and I did not feel that it was unreasonable to answer, “No, I can’t.” I cannot drive a stick shift vehicle through city traffic, trying to find a business I had never been to, and talk on a cell phone. (I have Auditory Processing Disorder and he has a severe hearing loss — talking on the phone can be inherently confusing in its own right.)

There are classes when I struggle to keep my attention focused on the instructor, and also to understand what they are saying, especially if the classroom is mechanically noisy, or if the instructor mumbles or talks while facing the whiteboard or doesn’t present information in a clearly-defined format or use supplementary visuals. Because I am very good at being able to distinguish the important material in an educational presentation and record those details in sensible paragraphs, I have been a note-taker for dysgraphic or hearing-impaired students. But I have only been able to do that in those subjects where I was already familiar with most of the information — I could not be a note-taker for others if I was still learning all the vocabulary and concepts myself.

Mathematics presents special difficulties for me because of problems with sequencing, slow working speed, and occasional transpositions. It took me four years to memorise my multiplication tables, and I have flunked a number of tests over the years, and nearly had to take a class over. In university I dropped a course that I was getting D or F grades, to try it again later on to get C, B or A grades, and did that with more than one course. It was slow, difficult work slogging through college algebra, trigonometry, calculus, statistics, physics, and four semesters of chemistry. One of my current jobs is working as a special education paraprofessional. I help in the science classroom, but my main assignment is in the math classroom. The extremely ironic thing is that not only am I helping students with mathematics, but also that I am doing so in the very same school I attended years ago, in the same classrooms where I had once sat flunking math tests. (My first work week was not only difficult from the prosopagnosia-aggravated new-job disorientation, but also from “post-traumatic school disorder” as I had ongoing flashbacks.)

I actually did flunk a semester of secondary English and had to re-take that portion of the course. I have also written a book and hundreds of articles (on a variety of subjects) for magazines and newspapers. I tutor college students in composition classes.

Given these examples, it might sound as though my difficulties were all in the past, and have been made up for by my recent successes. That isn’t quite true. What I have done is learned how to work around some kinds of difficulties. With others I simply have to work harder to puzzle through consciously to figure out those things that most people do easily and without conscious effort. Some days I feel like Alice Through the Looking Glass, running as fast as I can just to stay in place.

The problem with over-compensation is that although I have at times felt that I had vanquished my personal demons of incompetence by having overcome various failures with landmark achievements, those successes do not mean that I cannot or will not have future problems! What helped more than those moments of personal glory (exhilarating though they were, despite lacking exciting soundtrack music), has been finding out why I have problems, how those problems manifest in my daily life, and how to work with them. Self-understanding improves self-image because it gives me tools for those ongoing and future difficulties. Self-understanding means that the next time I fail something (not “if” but “when”, because everyone does fail periodically), I will have the necessary cognitive and emotional tools to handle the disappointment. I will be able to handle defeat graciously, because it is a failure of task-specific achievement, not moral failure. Furthermore, I can extend that same grace to others, because we all have such problems, even though the details differ.

Out in our various communities, we need to be able to not only acknowledge that Yes, not everyone can do the same thing, but also destigmatise that fact. One of the tragedies with the current paradigms in the helping professions is the disdain and depersonalisation from “care-givers” to that people who need personal attendant services or other forms of assistance. We can’t all do the same things. Needing someone to change your diaper should be no more stigmatising than needing someone to change the oil in your car. There’s really something sick about people who feel superior those whom they serve — there’s an element of self-loathing transferred from one’s self to one’s job to the client. It is overcompensation of the soul-eating malicious sort. Service to others is about sharing strengths, not about bolstering one’s damaged self-worth at the expense of others’.

We should not have to overwork ourselves to over-compensate just to earn other’s acceptance.

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