On Owning our Strengths

I had a text yesterday from a friend, “focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t.”

That’s not in my nature. Is it in yours? It makes sense though doesn’t it. Sure, you need to acknowledge those areas in which you could either improve on, get some help with or just write off; but why do we dwell on what we can’t do to the detriment of what we are, actually, pretty damn good at?

For years dwelling on the things I can’t do has held me back from offering what I can do for the world. Real issues with executive function stopped me from persuing academia; limited social skills meant I lacked confidence to push my business forward; and others mistaking holes in my knowledge for a lack of intelligence began to rub off on me. There’s nothing like others seeing you as crazy or lazy for you to start believing the hype!

I’ve watched friends take huge risks with their careers, living arrangements and long term plans over the last twenty or so years and by-and-large these risks have massively paid off. When I asked,  “Why?” they confidently replied, “Why not?” Meanwhile I’ve always played it safe with the sneaking suspicion that I could-do-better but an unwillingness to risk failure and be laughed at. 

But here’s the thing. More recently I have made some exceptional friends. Off the scale artists and wordsmiths with depths of intelligence and insight that have blown me away. But I couldn’t understand why they didn’t have the glittering careers that they deserved. I would sell my right arm for their talents. 

But. Three things…

1) Each of them is also autistic.

2) Each of them is dismissive of their own gifts. 

3) Each of them is equally in awe of the abilities I have that I had dismissed!

If you have had a lifetime having your flaws and inabilities being pointed out to you – Just be friendly! Smile! Concentrate! Stop doing weird things with your hands! You’re so disorganised? You’re too old for temper tantrums! Why would you even say that? You’re so bad with money? Why won’t you answer me? Oh stop crying! What do you mean it’s too bright/noisy/busy/smelly? Just eat it! Just wear it! Just make the phone call! Stop fussing! I thought you were supposed to be clever? I thought women were supposed to be able to multitask! Everybody else can manage that – why can’t you? – then it is incredibly hard not to focus purely on the things you can’t do.

I am in no way dismissive of the similar trials that allistics (non-autistics) go through. Confidence is often an elusive thing for many, many people. But this theme seems to run considerably stronger through the autistic women I have come across than for most others. 

Because while we can do some things that very few other people can do, we can’t do a lot of things that nearly everybody else can. 

So what’s the answer?

I’m not entirely sure. On a personal level it takes a major shift in thinking to flip the can’t do: can do ratio to something more positive. But we can also all remember in our transactions with others to remind them both of their strengths and of our own. And we all need to all see beyond someone’s more obvious achievements, recognising that the playing field is not always level. A lack of achievement is not always down to a lack of talent. (And, while you’re at it can I please recommend you read this rather brilliant post from Luke Beardon?)

I’m out of words! Tell me yours. What do you think?

 

 

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Celebrating Christmas


Here’s the thing. I love Christmas. Truly, truly love it. But maybe not in the way that others do. While we don’t celebrate the day in a religious context my family (my husband and two daughters) and I mark this time with rituals and symbolism that have meaning and significance to ourselves.

Might as well get it over and done with, here’s a list of what we don’t do and why!

  • Cards (massive drain on the environment, finances and executive function.)
  • Increased sugar intake (and thus increased anxiety, irritability, insomnia, acne and weight gain.)
  • Parties (social interaction when our emotional energies are at their lowest of the year? Nope.)
  • Flashing Christmas lights (headaches and anxiety.)
  • Christmas crackers at home (I really can’t justify buying plastic tat produced by severely underpaid and mistreated factory workers and destined for the bin.)
  • Presents for the sake of obligation (honestly, we don’t need anything. Nothing worse than having to smile and gush over yet another item produced by those poor factory workers and using up the earth’s resources.)

But here’s what I love, love, love!!

  • Getting to spend time around my precious husband and daughters. They are my favourite company. I know we may only have a few years left before our girls create their own traditions so we’re making the most of eating good food and snuggling with them while we still can.
  • Food. Easy, simple, delicious. We do the same every year: Nigella Lawson’s cranberry and orange Christmas muffins for breakfast with orange juice and prosecco. (And coffee. Lots of coffee.) Then a mid-afternoon, fully organic roast dinner which I prepare on the day while they watch some Christmas movie. Nuts, a bit of chocolate, a bottle of organic beer or a glass of port will feature at some point but not heavily. And then Christmas pudding with custard or cream for supper. Delicious, filling and minimal food coma!
  • Decorations! Every year a real tree, and foraged mistletoe, holly and ivy. Tiny static fairy lights and decorations made from wood, metal, ceramic or glass. Also pine cones and dried orange slices. And lots of beeswax or organic soya candles.
  • We also have a range of Christmas CDs ranging from pop to jazz, classical and soul. Something for every mood.
  • And time. Time away from school and jobs is precious. So we share the housework and spend our time, resentment free, in cooking, eating, watching movies, walking the dog, reading, playing board games or just chatting and catching up – checking in with each other.

That’s the magic for us. Wishing all of you your own magical festive period, and sending you huge love 💜

Science and Nature

I’m going to go out on a limb here. I’m going to say that every time I hear someone say that something has been scientifically proven, or scientifically unproven, my immediate thought is, that doesn’t sound very scientific!

Let me explain. I am not anti science. I think it’s a great thing. But I think that people have somehow forgotten or just not realised that scientific “proof” as non-scientists are presented with it is often a potent mix of economic and political bias baked with a liberal interpretation of the statistics involved and served with a healthy dash of media fear-mongering. Pure science is rarely deemed newsworthy. 

Let’s take the health of western society which (and yes, I am going to be very general here for the sake of brevity) for tens of thousands of years thrived on a diet high in organic fat, protein, seasonal produce and un-treated water. Walking, running, climbing, swimming and swinging daily in all elements without sunscreen, sports drinks or orthotics. Sleeping when tired. Socialising in small communities while hunting, gathering and caring for each other. 

Modern medicine was necessitated by an increasingly intensive agriculture and industry based society in order to invent ways to keep the population alive and useful without easy recourse to the basics that had allowed the human population to thrive thus far. And now, guided by medicine, by science we have scientific proof that we need low-fat margarine, fluoridated water, sunscreen and gym memberships. Please! 

You may be aware that science is becoming  increasingly interested in autism. This is evidenced by the sheer number of cause claims and “cure” research turning up on the net. Now, let’s be clear, autism is down to a difference in brain wiring. It seems unlikely that any one trigger, such as genetics, stress in pregnancy, or vaccination will cause such a specific deviation from the “norm.” It also seems rather fanciful to suggest that any amount of therapy, whether conventional or complementary, is going to re-wire the brain so dramatically that it causes such an exact reconfiguration of the neural pathways. 

As I see it, we have three factors at play in autism. Perception, Interpretation, Action. Any claim or cure needs to be able to address each and all of these to effect a permanent change. To my knowledge, this has not yet actually happened (although much effort has been put into researching these factors separately.)

It is important to note here that many autistics would not wish this to be so either, for while our perception of most types of stress is generally far higher than that of allistics (as is often evidenced by our actions) our interpretation of information is unique to each individual and is as valid to the benefit and evolution of society as the next persons. 

Now, I have a theory. It may not be a scientific theory, but it is my current theory and if anyone thinks it’s worth researching further please do! My theory is that the further we (the population and the individual) strays from the food, water, movement, direct sunlight quota and work/rest/play model that sustained humankind for most of our existence, the more stress we subject our bodies to. Now it is stress that causes our physical selves to adapt in order to keep us alive. It is these very adaptions that our physical selves make that give feedback to our brains as to how to react to stress. Acute stress is vital to existence. But accumulated chronic stress? That’s always going to cause problems. Chronic stress forces adaptive responses that, whether structural, biochemical, digestive, neurological, behavioural etc. may not be beneficial to either the individual or the community at large. 

Meanwhile, any therapy that enables us to return to an earlier lifestyle model is going to help to relieve stress, allowing our adaptive systems to stand down and informing our brains that everything is ok. Autism itself is not the problem. Stress is. 

If I’ve been on an ancestral based diet, had some time away from  people other than my immediate family and/or a close circle of friends, slept well and spent time walking barefoot through a forest you’d be hard pressed to pick out any of my more autistic traits. But on a binge-eating cycle, after a winter of multi-tasking under fluorescent lights and having to communicate daily with strangers  I’m going to be spending all my energy on trying to behave “normally”, and I will go into meltdown and I, along with anyone in the vicinity, will have to suffer the consequences. 

I don’t need an explanation as to why I have autism and I sure as hell don’t need a cure, but I will take any therapy that enables me to thrive with, rather than despite of, my autism. 

And I know from experience that the therapies that help me to do this, from natural nutrition, to acupuncture and to homeopathy are the ones most often hounded by and “disproved” by science. And I feel that the energy used by the scientific communities, the pro or anti activists and the media to argue whether or not structural therapies, precaution used in vaccinations, and the overuse of antibiotics are valid in preventing an apparent rise in autism, could be far better spent in helping all of us, whether autistic or allistic, to more closely emulate a lifestyle that predates the study of science altogether. Because living a life more closely aligned with nature allows all of us to thrive, without need for either cause or cure.