An Excuse to Talk about MARVEL’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D While Trying to Explain My Lack of Social Skills

 

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Ah yes, I finally get to talk about my current no.1 obsession: the TV show MARVEL’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m just going to go ahead and mention that this post may contain spoilers for the most current S.H.I.E.L.D episodes because I like to keep pretty up-to date on them and I would hate to ruin the excitement and nervous anticipation of fans waiting for another installment like I have been over these many weeks.

For about 5 or 6 months now I have been developing into a very huge MARVEL comic book fan and enthusiast, but I’ve not been able to share my love with other comic book fans. It’s not just being a failure to connect to the comic book world but I first realised I struggled to get along with other fans when I joined a Stargate online fan message board. Before I was into the MCU I was and still am a very huge fan of the Stargate franchise.

I’ve acquired a lot of knowledge about Stargate so it’s never hard for me to talk about the facts from the Stargate Universe (not to be confused with Stargate: Universe) but when it came to discussing the episodes in depth is when I started to realise I focused on different parts of the show than those around me. Basically other fans were talking about the show as if it was real and getting quite worked up about it too. To them the characters were free to make decisions and their actions were not solely at the hands of some very creative writers, and as someone who wants to become a writer I saw it the other way. At times I would praise the writers for creating such a thrilling episode with mystery and intrigue and drop hints throughout the series so we the audience could try to work out what was going to happen on our own – take note, Alphas.

But I just did not connect with the fans. I found them emotional and almost delusional for not getting that it’s just a show.

fitzquote13One of my favourite characters (Agent Fitz) and one of my favourite moments on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

After seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the S.H.I.E.L.D episodes that linked with it I became so passionate about the show that I wanted to connect to other fans. There were the odd trolls who would nit-pick certain parts of the episode they didn’t like or whatever news that came out about future episodes or they would basically just say the show should be cancelled because commenting on the official Facebook page of the show you hate is just such a good way to spend your precious time, right? Those people are easy to ignore, though some people just can’t help but give them a piece of their mind.

Then people yet again started to talk about the characters as if they were real and the story was real and I just felt uncomfortable again. These people were just empathising so much more with the characters than me, which isn’t exactly a bad thing. When I watch the show I can be moved in the same way as they are. I know that after Agent Phil Coulson was brought back to life by regenerative DNA of a blue alien that he is kind of a broken man and that he didn’t want the cellist to know he was alive because it took so long for her to get over him, though a few other fans did reveal some of the finer details for me. Fitz big speech in ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ when standing up to Garrett while crying was touching but again it was very hard for me to understand why. I needed other people to explain to me what it meant to them. It even took some time for me to empathise with Skye who was looking for her parents but then it turned out they were dead and she was being protected by S.H.I.E.L.D because she was an 0-8-4 (meaning an object of unknown origin – she could have special powers) and some bad people were out there looking for her. Most likely Hydra, because unless you’ve been living under a rock or are kind of you know popular, you know they had been infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D for 70 years and since Captain America helped take them down S.H.I.E.L.D is now seen as a terrorist organization, so they are still kind of in power.

You can see why I filed this under ‘autism’ now can’t you? I even feel my above descriptions of some of the series’ plot is coming out a bit stale. Could it be anxiety? Perhaps. I have lots of that. Is it a bad time to mention that I’m writing this while hearing Agent Phil Coulson’s voice in my head, kind of reading out the post to me? It’s something else I do to help me write. It’s common on the autistic spectrum. I’ll stop talking about it now.

It may take me some time to feel emotions toward the characters but I do feel them and when I watch the show I am taken into the fantasy of it all, but for some reason when I talk about it to other people I can only regurgitate the facts of the show, you know, recite the story in a very technical way (my psychologist said I explained everything in a technical way too) and then when I tried to explain the emotions of a character  I would start to sound less intelligent than I am. When I talk about the neuronal processes in the brain or recite any law of physics or even share a theory I have about black holes I can just articulate it so much better that I sound like I’m smarter than I am. But when it comes to explaining how something can move me emotionally, well I just I, well I, I just feel dumb.

There would have been a time where I thought it was better to think more logically and not worry so much about emotions. After all, emotions are distracting, confusing and exhausting things. They get it the way of our reasoning skills and all my achievements have been a cause of my logical problem solving skills. They create unnecessary social drama and keep us stuck in our rumination, so we remain longer in distress whereas if we ignored them we would reach a solution faster and not be as emotionally affected by our reactions as we usually are. I have a bit of a mood disorder too so my emotions are usually explosive. I am like a real life Vulcan when I suppress them and focus mainly on logical solutions.

But I’m starting to think that maybe it is better to get stuck in the fantasy of a show. It’s strange, in any social situation, usually offline, I will just want to talk about anything related to MARVEL comics and my most recent successful conversation (yeah, I count them) was when I rather drunkenly gave a very long and spoilerish run down of the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and how they linked up with S.H.I.E.L.D episodes from episode 14 and up, to someone who probably had no idea what I was talking about. And when I get really into show or story, especially if it’s related to science fiction, the line between the real world and fantasy becomes a bit blurred. I just don’t understand why I can’t go into that mindset when I talk to other fans.

So, now I’m trying to feel deeper emotions from the characters in S.H.I.E.L.D so I can get a better understanding of how other fans of the show empathise with them and maybe I could have longer and more in depth discussions with them without thinking ‘this person realises that’s just a TV show right? Whatever happened in it was how the writers wanted it to happen.’ No, I must silence those thoughts. There are times for logical thought and times to be more emotional. It’s not really that fun being a robot. I’ve met others who take things more literally than me. They have told me that they literally have no visual imagination and I can make movies up in my head and I would hate to live without that. Likewise, the more empathetic among us would hate to live without feeling such deep emotions for their fellow man, or woman.

I’m planning to go to Free Comic Book Day and experience the comic book fandom that I’ve been missing out on because I hardly know anyone well enough to go to these events. And yes crowds are a problem but we must fight through uncomfortable or even scary situations so we don’t miss out on opportunities to make new friends or have new and enjoyable experiences.

I’m really excited about this next episode of S.H.I.E.L.D by the way. I think Skye is going to be taken to Hydra and we get a see Maria Hill again. And I’m just so excited I can’t even speculate properly.

How I Experience Hyperactivity Part 2: Hyperfocus and Anxiety

In the previous post I tried my best to describe the mental, physical and emotional responses I experience due to symptoms of hyperactivity. Today I’m going to continue by elaborating on two other symptoms that happen in a very hyperactive brain: hyperfocus and anxiety.

When a person with attention problems finally can focus they don’t just focus normally. For me, I basically latch on to that one thing I can finally focus on. It doesn’t matter what is it or if it’s especially important. Usually, it’s not. Most times it might be an online news article or a message board and I’ll get stuck on reading and replying for far longer than I anticipated. Even after I realise this and that I should maybe go and do something else, like do those tasks I planned to do like cleaning or buying food, I will find it impossible to pull away from that one thing that has captured my focus.

Pulling away from that focus feels like severing a physical link between me and that subject. I have to put a lot of conscious effort to force myself away. Having hypoglycemia kind of helps me do this because I have in the past decided to stay focused when I should eat and then I would crash so hard. For those who aren’t aware symptoms of hypoglycemia come with sudden weakness, muscle aches, vision problems, and what I can only describe as psycho-motor retardation; a slowing down of motor skills, sometimes with a lot of shakiness. There are also behaviour symptoms. When I’m out and about with people or even in the kitchen in a mad dash to stabilise my blood sugar levels and people talk to me, I cannot be polite. There’s zero suppression or regulation of emotions. I will yell at that person until they get out of the way of the fridge, cupboard, toaster, whatever. And if they try to talk to me – I really don’t have the patience to even pretend I care. I sound pretty harsh but I usually just tell people I’m dying, which is a huge exaggeration, but I just feel like my whole body is shutting down.

So, when I’m hyperfocusing and I know I’m going to crash soon I have the decision between experiencing these symptoms or getting up and getting some meal inside me. If I’m a few minutes to an hour late I’ll have a lil crash, but if I went about 3 -5 hours I will continue to feel weak even after eating.

Another problem is that if I spend a long time on one subject then I may drain myself both mentally and physically and often I have to attempt 10 minute breaks. I say attempt because after 2 minutes I want to try and do something else. I crash a lot throughout the day. Some days are better than others and I can break away from tasks sooner than on those days where I’m spending 3-5 hours longer on something.

Lately I’ve been playing an old Captain America game on my Wii and yesterday I was fine to stop after playing two levels but today I wanted to keep going. I probably could have but then I started to get fed up and decided to take a break to write this blog, something I had planned to write. I spent much longer playing Batman: Arkham City and even on Super Mario U even when I wasn’t that great at the latter. The gamepad kept dying after 3 hours too. I would play Batman in the morning, afternoon and at night having breaks only to recharge that stupid controller. Sometimes having more anticipation to play a game is better than just having a game to play with not much getting in the way. The more some outside force keeps me from playing games the more I want to play them.

I played Batman for weeks until I got stuck and decided to get back to it later which I never did. I actually had to make sure I ate a sizable meal before deciding to play, because I didn’t want to get hungry yet not be motivated enough to make a meal and instead just grab some chips. I did that with Skylanders and ended up feeling very ill.

So that’s the bad type of hyperfocus. People with ADHD will have their own definition for hyperfocus and some will say there’s good and bad, I tend to be very strict in my definition. Hyperfocus to me is anything I focus on that I didn’t plan to and can’t just easily break away from. It’s something I enjoy so much I lose track of time on it. I tend to forget about the world around me, all senses for anything other then the thing I’m focused on begin to dull and I might even forget where I am.

Then there’s controlled hyperfocus which are tasks I plan to spend time on. But to me this is regular focus even if I do get distracted about 50 times, have information processing issues (which means I have to read over lines or re-watch certain scenes in a show/movie over again) and have to put a lot  of effort in to stay focused, even if it’s something I like doing. I don’t often get stuck on it and once I’ve spent enough time on this subject that I had planned all along I can stop and move onto something else. Then I might begin to hyperfocus on them, that is, become so absorbed the rest of the world is blocked out and I spend far longer on the task than I planned.

Social Networking sites like Facebook can really suck me into all the wealth of information available. If someone with ADHD doesn’t want to read article over article or comment about 1000 times in 30 minutes then they need to limit the amount of time they spend on Facebook. Most forms of digital communication aggravate ADHD symptoms and even the most committed person who wants to better manage their ADHD can end up jumping from one story to another, play apps and partake in meaningless re-post rituals for hours, and they just threw away a whole day in which they finally wanted to be more organised.

I used to be addicted to playing games on my phone and using the internet on it until one day I just threw it across the room and just decided no more. At times I do go back on, though games are reserved for the iPad which is now barely nothing more than a journal and comic book reader. OK, I admit I have started to play Captain America: The Winter Soldier and it’s really fun. I only use the internet on my phone when I’m in a café or pub and begin to feel anxious.

I’ve dealt with anxiety all my life but I think some of it does come from having a hyperactive brain. I also have seizures which I wouldn’t say are connected to hyperactivity but they certainly influence each other. I can go from extremely hyperactive to suddenly convulsive. It’s usually on days where I have heightened senses which generally make life uncomfortable for me.

Some days when I go out I can have higher social anxiety than usual which turns into paranoia. I basically call it paranoia when I think someone can do harm to me and the usual ‘they’re thinking negative thoughts about me.’

I think some of my anxiety can be blamed on ADHD or rather it was developed out of the symptoms of ADHD. At times of high anxiety I will constantly re-check I have important items on me, like phone, wallet, keys etc. Even when I’ve checked about three times I’ll still get the lingering anxious thoughts from not being completely sure if I just had checked. I think this comes from having a poor short term memory because even though I checked I had something with me just a few seconds before I will still feel like I hadn’t done it yet, unless the memory becomes visual or has some sort of sound associated with it. Then I can forget whether I’ve closed the front door or turned off the stove and this produces extreme feelings of anxiety, and it’s not uncommon for me to have a panic attack.

There are moments when my mind is thinking of far too many things at once and this turns to having more anxious thoughts about possibly everything. There are specific things I’m anxious about like travelling overseas – not of flying but of going to someplace I’ve never been to before – aka. the fear of change. It’s not just about overseas but areas that are close to me that I’ve never been to before. That’s one of my autistic gifts.

I have generalized anxiety which is usually about fears of the future and about financial instability. I have anxiety attacks when I have to unexpectedly pay a lot of money upfront. I’m also not the best at managing my finances because of my impulsivity and inattention. I suppose it’s become more challenging for me since I decided to stop taking ADHD medication.

So, there’s a lot of anxiety that has come out of symptoms with ADHD. I haven’t even got into the social anxiety I feel about either saying too little or too much and my ability to occasionally blurt out something that makes me sound ignorant, selfish and just plain rude.

As bad as anxiety is sometimes it does help keep me organized and helps with decision making. Not when it gets debilitating. When it’s like that it makes all the wrong decisions for me which makes sure I stay locked up in my house and never have any new experiences. But sometimes I get the urge to do certain things even when I’m not planning to do them and it’s like I needed to do them. For example when I take photos of bands I might need to ask them for special access in certain venues. I’ll get these persistent thoughts about them and feel restless and even be unable to do anything else. Sometimes I just feel depressed or highly strung when I just need to go grocery shopping. Then when I complete those tasks I feel better, even a bit more hyper and happier. It also makes me feel safer that it’s there at the severe paranoid level it can get to, which makes it hard for me to seek treatment. My anxiety really is so bad that I think if I didn’t have it I wouldn’t be as safe.

Hell, I’m anxious about getting this post up as fast as possible.

So, there you have it. Two very detailed descriptions on two very common symptoms of hyperactivity. I hope I’ve made some people out there understand what goes on in a hyperactive brain more, whether it be from ADHD, bipolar, or even traumatic brain injury. I also hope that people will keep an open mind when they cross paths with a hyperactive person, most likely a child, and realize that under the hyperactivity (which often looks like it can be fun) are layers and layers of other symptoms that make us restless, physically and emotionally uncomfortable and get in the way of accomplishing the basic everyday tasks most people take for granted.

It is kind of fun though, at times.

It doesn’t really matter if people don’t believe what I’ve written in these two posts, or that they still deny ADHD could be a real disorder. Because I like many others will still experience the symptoms. And I challenge those people to try and think about those with a diagnosis of ADHD who may or may or not take medication for it in a different way; instead of thinking we are making up excuses for being lazy and wanting to get away with being rude and selfish, instead try looking at it like we realise it’s much harder for us to accomplish basic everyday tasks and we really want to, so this diagnosis and treatment is just a way to make us do those things better. And we want to do that without giving up chocolate. Think of it as a coping mechanism which are tools or methods we put in place to help us manage our symptoms. Like people who go for strict restrictive diets we choose a diagnosis and medication to help us to manage our symptoms and learn to understand ourselves better. We don’t need a complete cure because ADHD has shaped our life into what is it, and our personality. For me, it’s better to manage it than get rid of it completely.

And lastly, mind your own damn business.

How I Experience Hyperactivity

This is yet another desperate attempt to get others to understand what it is truly like living with symptoms of ADHD. For some reason I can’t just let go the fact that people will always deny and criticise this disorder that people like me have to live with everyday.

For starters I’m not predominately hyperactive, I’m what is called combined; I have both hyperactive and inattentive symptoms (the sub-type of ADHD that exists with very little hyperactivity and impulsiveness).

I start by feeling awake and alert which is a good sign, it means I might be able to focus with minimal effort.

But then it all gets a bit too much. I read over lines and the words won’t process, or they process but there’s no retention. So I read over lines and it takes a great effort to move on from there. Music is usually helping to stimulate my mind more and to block out any distractions. It’s still not enough.

Frustrated, I throw the book or magazine (these days I can only manage to read magazines and comic books) away and my legs will dance around, not to the music – they are moving way too fast to keep to the beat. I feel restless and have racing thoughts. Sometimes they are anxious but usually they are just random neutral thoughts that pop up suddenly, and one thought branches off into two or more associative thoughts. Soon they layer upon each other and another completely unrelated thought comes up. My thoughts can be heard very loudly as though someone is standing next to me and yelling them out at me from inside an echoey chamber.

I only listen to the thoughts at night when I’m trying to sleep. I don’t normally fall asleep within the hour, or two, or three. They become very vivid and visual at night. Occasionally having so much noise in my head can become physically painful. It’s a merging of emotional pain with physical pain.

During the daytime these thoughts might give me a good idea with how to spend my time but if I can’t focus on anything – I will attempt two or three things – then I’m left alone with my dancing legs, flapping hands and insurmountable amount of energy I can’t channel anywhere. Sometimes I feel like being destructive but I usually only resort to such methods when I’m going through a violent anxiety driven rage. Most of the time I am overjoyed and energetic and just need to keep moving. At times I crave social contact (which is a bit weird given the title of this blog) and will feel very uncomfortable if I can’t fulfill this desire. I can usually take being bored a few minutes but if this lasts any longer and I can’t figure out what to do I could just scream from the frustration at having so much energy and nowhere to put it.

I even cannot focus enough to watch my favourite TV shows or set up my video game console. My senses are so alive that everything around me becomes bright and loud and I just can’t settle myself down to sit comfortably on the couch.

I can be a very happy and socially engaging person during this time though and don’t even need one alcoholic beverage to be able to say a few words to people. Other times I might require one or two.

I’m still not completely certain whether this is ADHD or is more related to the mania in bipolar. I do become manic too but that usually involves non-stop energy and having the ability to do more tasks than I usually do while having a flood of creative ideas, feeling like I’m not doing things fast enough and with the odd grandiose delusions. The whole time I feel like I’m back on stimulant medication too. This type of sped-up feeling in my brain which I don’t experience with normal hyperactivity. Could also be hypomania though. Could be both. How can you really tell the difference?

I eventually do crash and for a few nights now have experienced more depressive thoughts.

The fact remains that this hyperactivity I experience is completely out of my control. It takes away my ability to focus, even on those things I enjoy. I usually slip in some Omega 3 or even a weak stimulant to help me focus. Then I put too much energy into it and I crash pretty soon. I fail to control my impulses especially when it comes to spending and speaking. Occasionally with my own actions too but I usually live by a daily to-do list to keep myself more organised and occupied.

It really becomes difficult to make choices and follow through with them. I often start projects and never get back into them, especially when something else grabs my attention and it doesn’t take nearly as much effort to stick with. Once again I’ve failed to get into the mode to write my science fiction but that’s ok because I’m yet again obsessed with the Marvel Comic Universe and band photography, I guess.

I love to be hyperactive though. I enjoy the extreme happiness and energy that comes with it. My self-confidence seems to be on overload and I get most of my creative ideas this way. Trouble is I can’t focus and process information properly. My memory is more impaired and I’m so active and impulsive that I might end up doing something without thinking it through, often ending up with physical injuries or losing important items or saying something offensive to someone without realising it. Just try and think of the many times in a day you need to focus, remember things, watch what you say to people because of how they would react if you didn’t, avoid distractions and suppress impulses and keep your damn body still. You need to do these things within minutes of getting out of bed and an insurmountable number of times before you go back to bed, in which you must then sleep otherwise you’ll be fatigued, forgetful and find it very hard to focus the next day. If you don’t you’ll delay getting very basic tasks done, offend a whole lot of people or they’ll judge you based on your intelligence which is based on how they view your social competence and general knowledge about the world and even the speed in which you can recall a memory, and most importantly you will not just mess up a few times a day but constantly throughout the day damaging your own self-confidence and risk your relationships with people, your bank account and pretty much everything you need to always be aware about; locking the front door, remembering where your keys are, looking before you cross the road, and if you have little ones to take care of…you’re now taking on double the responsibility and you can’t even remember whether you zipped your fly up. And now you have to constantly re-check you did.

I still love being more hyperactive than most but it’s still so damn hard to control and just get on with those mundane daily tasks, and even the fun ones as well. And not to feel like a complete failure when comparing myself to other people who don’t have to face the constant barrage of symptoms I do on a daily basis. I still have more energy than them.

I did not even get around to talking about how my hyperactivity can make it seem impossible for me to make dinner or how when doing daily household chores I feel such intense resistance to the task the more I try the more uncomfortable it feels.

Why You Should Stop Telling People With A Mental Illness That Psychiatric Disorders Don’t Exist

I know you may mean well by making people aware that it’s okay to be a bit different. We don’t all need our own versions of normal to have a label put on them. But there are people who are greatly impaired by mental disorder and illness from anxiety and depression to schizophrenia to autism to personality disorders.

I’m really failing to grasp how some people can think every human brain will always be functioning in a perfectly balanced way. The cerebral cortex is made up of between 15-30 billion neurons with synapses that connect to several thousands of other neurons each releasing a chemical messenger. If one or more of those neurotransmitters is not firing enough or too much or absorbing too quickly or not absorbing fast enough then this can lead to a person having symptoms covering a wide range of mental health and neurological issues, including ADHD, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression and possibly even autism. For the more deeply biologically ingrained mental health issues there may be physical differences in how areas of the brain developed, and even long term mental illness can change the size or functioning of some brain areas. In depression it’s found that the hippocampus begins to shrink and in bipolar the longer someone goes without treatment the more their frontal lobes shrink, which means they are less able to plan and reason and have the basic executive function issues. Executive functioning is basically what we rely on to carry out tasks and it helps us plan for the future, transitioning from one task to another comfortably and navigate through complex social demands. Basically put, it helps us have healthy relationships with people. Other parts of the brain help in all these things too but in a more specialised and regulated way, in contrast the frontal lobe is the organising committee.

It’s even been found that people with smaller amygdalas, which helps regulate how we react emotionally to situations, are more likely to develop PTSD. Scientists have found many changes in the brains of people with mental health issues and neurological disorders, even the condition that gets the most denial, ADHD. The research is all out there on the internet. Go look it up for yourself.

Now that I’ve brought up ADHD let me talk about it more. A lot of the time the people who question someone’s diagnosis of ADHD and doubt the condition even exists is just meaning well and more wants to free this person from identifying themselves with a label and encouraging them to be content with being a different creative and free-spirit but the problem here is that for those with ADHD symptoms, whether it’s actual ADHD or some other disorder, is that not only do they have to face these severe impairments in executive functioning and poor limbic system regulation (controls emotions which may show as hyperactivity) making them incredibly hard on themselves but they also compare themselves to the average public. The fact is they can’t just ignore how everyone else copes better than them when they have to go through such a difficult time.

Some common issues for an adult with ADHD include a lack of motivation and usually a hyper focus on tasks they enjoy but aren’t exactly needing immediate attention, so they will struggle to pull away from this highly stimulating task and they also have a poor time transitioning from one task to another and if they can’t pull themselves away or just keep finding more interesting things to stimulate themselves with, they will feel like a failure.

That’s just one symptom. Symptom two is the most common one: poor ability to focus. It’s like having a switch in their brain that randomly decides when they can focus and it won’t tell them. If you can pick up any book and begin reading it and processing it and remembering what you read it’s not likely you have ADHD. If at times you can read it but other times you can’t then you may have ADHD but it could also be something else.

I don’t want to talk too much about ADHD symptoms because ADHD isn’t a mental illness so it gets all a bit confusing but it is the highest stigmatised brain disorder. But the symptoms also lead to problems socialising; either the person is too impulsive and blurts out a lot of offensive things, they can be too forward or hyperactive, or they can be quiet and withdrawn and not able to say very much. The focus and memory issues still exist in social setting too and it’s difficult for them to even pay attention to what people are saying without feeling bored, distracted and they may have to put a lot of conscious effort into following what people say. They may do ok one on one but may fall apart in a group conversation.

This doesn’t apply to all with ADHD too. It might be more applicable to people with both ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome too.

The most stressful of all ADHD symptoms are the racing thoughts. These can be random neutral thoughts or over focusing on rumination. A person with ADHD is capable of thinking several different or ‘branched off’ thoughts at once, and can feel physical pain over them. Co-morbids such as OCD and bipolar come into play here too. The most common co-morbids are caused by the social issues associated with ADHD. They are anxiety in the more hyper-impulsive type and depression in the Inattentive subtype, the group with very little hyperactivity. Both types can have either or both mental illnesses too. There’s also a combined type of ADHD consisting of symptoms from both types.

Everything I mentioned above and more contribute to people with ADHD feeling like failures and comparing themselves to other people’s successes in the most basic tasks who don’t have ADHD or mental health issues at all. I’ll just mention here that very mild symptoms can exist in the general population but not cause severe impairments. The difference between having ADHD and not having it is the disabling nature of the symptoms. Some people try to ignore those feelings or adopt a completely positive outlook but others will constantly have to challenge these notions of themselves.

Let’s return to real mental illnesses now. Bipolar disorder to me encompasses all mental illness into one disorder. You even have schizoaffective disorder which is a bipolar schizophrenia duality. I think it’s the best disorder to look at to understand how serious and real mental illness is. I can use myself as an example because I’ve only had completely developed bipolar 2, or what really seems like it, for about a year. In that time nothing changed about my diet and exercise regime, but I did suffer a trauma leading to PTSD and had to increase my dosage of Ritalin. What had worked well for many years at keeping me focused on a task now made me too impulsive and having extreme grandiose delusions. I’ve been off it nine months bar that one New Year’s Day night and my cyclic mood swings that switch between extremes of euphoria and dysphoria into severe lows and often suicidal ideation, with a few hours of a normal mood, have not balanced themselves out. So, I don’t take medication for my ADHD anymore and have reintroduced words such as stupid, lazy and selfish into my lexicon of ways to describe my behaviour despite knowing the differences in my brain often leads to that behaviour. Just without the medication helping me better manage those symptoms and regulate my emotions I’m under more stress from my symptoms, and I can be one of those people who beat themselves up and feel like a failure over their symptoms. I also do go through many severe depressive episodes a month. Lately it had been half a day manic, half a day depressed. Now I’m into day two or three of mania.

I basically feel like a walking chemical imbalance. It’s confusing to me that people don’t even believe they exist. So you can’t see evidence of them in a blood test but if you take a psychoactive drug or any illicit drug you can create a chemical imbalance and experience good and bad highs, hallucinations and have the withdrawal effect of depression and anxiety. People with mental illnesses often get the withdrawal affects severely from drugs like ecstasy. I get paranoid delusions after drinking a cup of coffee so I know to stay away from harder drugs. I don’t need drugs to get high or hallucinate too. I pretty much feel like my brain is on drugs by default. Drugs could probably give a more stronger experience but I don’t want that. I don’t want to spend the next couple of days severely paranoid and depressed.

I know that’s a fairly simplistic explanation behind chemical imbalances but it should make you think. Scientists always prove my theories of black holes were pretty spot on too so I could be onto something here.

I know that not identifying yourself with a label when you a bit quirky or eccentric is a good thing when there is no mental illness or disorder, but for those who struggle each day with them a label can be a relief for them. I hide behind the label of autism to decrease social anxiety. I used to act like an arrogant snob who felt superior to everyone. Now I just remind myself why I struggle so much and accept people’s help when I they offer it and I feel I need it. I remind myself that I’m not really stupid or lazy but have ADHD and it will just take me more time to get organised. On medication I would spend a week on writing a blog post like this but now I just want to get it up as soon as possible. Even working on this the next day is making me feel anxious.

Before I make any decision or even type something in a comment box I think about people’s reactions and ask what is my real motivation for writing something like that. To me when people try and tell me ADHD doesn’t exist and other mental illnesses too I don’t see them as being very concerned for me but wanting to prove that I’m wrong. I think people care more about how someone reacts rather than to get an important message across, and yes I’m guilty of that too. I can just write something in a comment box for ‘likes.’ It’s like a drug. Then there may be people out there who think they can change someone for altruistic reasons but they go about this is all wrong. They don’t empathise with the person they are trying to change and they don’t elaborate, i.e they say ‘ADHD is just to excuse bad behaviour and for the school system for having subservient youth.’ It would be better to say this, ‘I know ADHD can be a real disability to those who actually have it, however I think many people are misdiagnosed and doctors are not thorough enough in their assessments and may prescribe a drug to a child who may not have the disorder in a single 1 hour session, sometimes within just 10 minutes. Medication should also not be the first choice and the dangers of taking the drug should be clearly laid out.’ That tells me they acknowledge ADHD as something that is real but may be labelled to people who may not have the disorder. And there’s little room left for misinterpretation.

If you really want to help people with mental illness and disorder listen to them. Don’t just jump immediately to saying ‘you don’t have this’ because that to them is instant denial that they have any problems at all. Don’t just say you can be fixed up by changing your diet and changing your environment, because that makes you assume you know something about the person’s lifestyle you don’t actually know and you are blaming the cause squarely on the diet. Mental illness can have many causes, most often being a reaction to extremely stressful circumstances or trauma. Medication is the quickest method to recovery of symptoms and is not always done alone. Therapy is done alongside taking the medication. I’m very critical to people with mild symptoms taking medication before therapy. I have severe mental health issues and even a seizure disorder which I won’t medicate because of a past of some of the most horrific and long lasting side effects from medication I have taken, including seizures.

To me people who deny mental illness is a real and serious brain condition are just dismissing it so they don’t have to care or they can’t open themselves up to see that someone’s brain can work in a different way to theirs. In autistic circles we call that a lack of theory of mind and apparently people without autism should have an average theory of mind.

Lastly, don’t think you can change a person without taking into account the severity of their symptoms. You need to step into their mind and experience the world and react to every situation just how they do.

This Post is Dedicated to an American Hero

Phil_Ochs
On this day in 1976 topical folk singer Phil Ochs took his own life. He had struggled for over 10 long years, not just with bipolar 1 disorder, but from censorship of his own music in the media, harassment from the CIA and a failure to live up to his own often grandiose expectations. Few songwriters have come close to achieving the deep level of empathy Phil had for the people he wrote about, often inspired by stories he read in The New York Times. Bob Dylan once said Phil’s music was bullshit because he wasn’t singing about himself but when he did the songs were too personal, too painful because Phil would go through many months with major depression after many months of intense mania. People who consistently feel pain like that, having access to often shut off emotions mentally sane people don’t experience because of their soul-wrenching nature, can only really understand how Phil felt and experience his lyrics so profoundly.

Following one of the most traumatic events of his life at his own hands, in the creation of his dissociative personality of John Butler Train Phil became a violent and paranoid madman, often putting his friends lives in danger. And he never forgave himself.

If that wasn’t enough he suffered writer’s block and never penned another song again and had his vocal chords damaged when he was choked by muggers in South Africa, which Phil said had been set up by the CIA. Then he had to deal with another major depressive episode, one which he never recovered from. He took his own life one morning in his sister’s house in Far Rockaway New York. His young nephew David who looked up to Uncle Phil found him.

His songs have been covered from Joan Baez to Pete Seeger and even Teenage Fan Club. Of all the music I’ve listened to I can safely say that no other songwriter has touched me in the same way Phil has. Both socialists who feel the pain of all the people in the world whose lives we desperately wanted to change and had a hatred for a careless government that were often responsible for the conditions they lived in and an anger toward an apathetic population.

He also had a great sense of humor.

I’ll miss you Phil. I’m going to watch the There But For Fortune documentary tonight in honor of the greatest songwriter I’ve listened to.

Phil Ochs with His Guitar Standing in Front of a Line of Police Officers

R.I.P Phil. Photo by his brother Michael Ochs.

When Some Things Are More Important to Me Than Other Things

I’ve stopped caring about Autism Awareness Month. I see a new article plastered all over my Facebook news feed each day, sometimes several in a day, and I just don’t feel that fussed about clicking on the link. I may just be feeling let down about the lack of feedback on my last blog. Maybe it was too long and didn’t explain autism enough. Maybe it wasn’t what people wanted to read. Or maybe it’s because I no longer want to reach out to the people around me because they seem to be understanding more than I had thought. Whatever the case I’ve completely turned off from autism acceptance or even bothering to keep reading other people’s posts about it. How do I keep writing posts for Autism Acceptance Month when I just don’t care? So this next post will be about my fear of chan…on second thoughts, I don’t really want to do that.

I haven’t really been caring about much lately. I keep avoiding going to gigs even though I really like those bands. It’s just makes me think: is this really what I want to do? If so then why am I not even the slightest bit motivated to go out and take a few photos? Why do I cringe every time someone suggests I take photos?

My camera is currently inside a box covered by several other boxes, for safety reasons but I also think there’s more to it than that. I think I’m bored and looking for something new and novel to do. It happens to those with ADHD. We hate to just stick to one thing because repetition can make us feel underwhelmed. We like excitement and challenges, not just the same old same old, day and day again.

But I also haven’t been taking photos of bands for about four months now so instead of growing tired of it I think I’m just in a kind of inertia. I’ve lost my flow as a band photographer. I probably still have the skills but I’m just under prepared. More under prepared than just not organised, but it’s like if you haven’t driven a car in 6 months. You get a bit rusty, start making mistakes, don’t feel as comfortable behind the wheel, or something like that. I don’t drive at all but I can imagine it’s like that.

If I don’t do something in a long time especially something as specialised as band photography then I just don’t remember enough of how I was to know that I’m very good or all the tricks I developed to deal with the chaotic sensory environment.

It’s more than that though. It always is. My on/off depression and ever present anxiety affects how I see myself and relate to the world around me too. I’m dealing with some heavy things that even missing out on my favourite band or artist matters little to me. Unless it’s that band I’ve mentioned several times in this post.

The next gig is a paid shoot so I’ll give it my all and I’m sure I’ll do great. I might actually get that spark of life ignited inside me again and might be more enthusiastic about shooting the next gig. To be honest though after I see The Ape on the 2nd of May I’m not planning to go to anymore gigs until mid-August and no band has even announced a gig for that time too.

It’s not like I’m just sitting around doing nothing though. Actually, I’m starting to feel just like a person with autism feels when they get absorbed into a special interest. Outsiders would call it an obsession because to me they just don’t get that passionate about many things, but to those people with autism the interests just become our whole world and we may forget about what’s going on in the actual world and hardly care because these interests just bring us so much happiness. They’re like a drug. And we also become experts in whatever area the subject is in very quickly. They don’t call us ‘little professors’ for nothing.

My drug of choice has been focusing more on Marvel comics and Marvel films, especially since Captain America: The Winter Soldier was just released in cinemas which I’ll see pretty damn soon. Going to the movies costs a lot in the city. And then there’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to see sometime next week too.

So, I’ve been selecting certain comic books to read from my house mate’s humongous collection. I’m disappointed by the lack of Captain America comic books but I can get my fix with some New Avengers graphic novels. I’ve read a couple of Amazing Spider-Man graphic novels and I’m now planning to re-read Civil War again because it’s amazing, and then going back to Avengers: Dissembled because I have some Cap comic books from that era.

I have spent many months collecting Marvel Fact Files too and read 10 in one week. That took a lot of effort. Fortunately I had very minor depressive symptoms during that time and was pretty high on life.

I’m also trying to watch as many Bruce Timm Batman animated series episodes as I can manage. It was my favourite show when I was as young as 8 or 9 and I think it made me stick with Batman for all these years, despite being mostly a Marvel comic fan, but I’m open to more DC super heroes now.

I miss playing Batman: Arkham City only because I got stuck on one level and rage quit, but I suppose I can go back to it. I still think about Mass Effect 3 too. I just don’t like playing video games when people are around me because it throws me off my game. No offence to other people but I’d rather be alone.

I’ve started on my sci-fi story too but the structure isn’t right and I know I that shouldn’t bother me now. I should just keep writing. But before I could just write in a single stream and keep the structure perfect. It’s a fun story to play in my mind so I’m hoping it translates just as well on the page.

The band I’m most forward looking to see and photograph is The Ape and because of the narrow focus I get for certain things they are all I can think about, which is probably why I can miss out on seeing Tim Rogers because everything is just a distraction for me at the moment. There are good distractions that make time pass faster but there are bad ones that make me care more about another band instead of the one I’ve been waiting so long to see.

I’m not obsessed. Much. If I’m obsessed about anything it’s seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier and just Steve Rogers in general. Andtheape. Just don’t tell them.

So, I’m basically all about Marvel comic books during the day and watching science fiction at night – I’m re-watching all 10 seasons of Stargate SG-1 all over again, – blowing my money on highly priced movie tickets to see my favourite Marvel super heroes in action, reading The Hunger Games trilogy to get the structure of novels down and working on my own sci-fi novella, and hopefully remembering that I’m seeing The Ape in May. I need to stop avoiding going to gigs because…I don’t even know anymore. Maybe it’s anxiety. Maybe I just haven’t been doing it in so long that it’s no longer a part of the routine. And maybe it’s got a lot to do with how I felt when I went to see AFI on my own. Whatever the case I hope this one gig goes right for me.

Here’s the problem with having autism and ADHD. One of the problems. If I just had intense focus in one subject I could become an expert and base my whole career around it, but because I have ADHD and get interested in a lot of subjects, I will jump back and forth between each one, several times a day, gain some new interests as well as revisit old ones, and I’m not spending enough time on one so I’m not becoming as knowledgeable as I could be and if I was trying to reach a goal, like publishing a novel, then it becomes almost impossible to stay on task. There are distractions, in the environment and in my own head too. So, people look up to me like I’m this brilliant genius destined to succeed but the truth is no one can achieve so many things at once, especially if they have ADHD and have to manage their often disabling symptoms on their own, without the aid of medication too.

So, I have the worries about my ADHD symptoms to contend with while I spend time on my interests with the little window of focus and motivation I have.

Then it’s back to worrying about my trip to America as the day of the flight draws closer. I get moderate-severe anxiety over the mere mention of the trip, so it’s no wonder I’ve turned back to my special interests to keep me distracted.

It can be very hard for me to get excited for something other people all get excited about, like say a wedding which I may or may not be going to with the whole family when I go to America. That’s the curse of the special interest. I struggle to describe my feelings for them in words. Nothing I say will can accurately describe the state of euphoria I’m in when I spend time on them. All I can say it they are all I care about when I’m spending time on them or constantly thinking about them and they actually make my life feel like it’s worth living.

I probably seem really self-absorbed right now but at least the people around me can forgive me for that. I’m just hoping I can still manage to feed myself and keep myself looking presentable, as well as getting enough sleep so my moods and ADHD symptoms don’t get too hard to manage. It does get to a point that I get so absorbed into a special interest that I will neglect to take basic care of myself. I’m literally envisioning myself now as being sucked into the interest, which right now is The Marvel Universe, so that we are no longer separate entities but have become one.

That’s it, young lady. No more comic books for you!

I’m not even sure if I can correctly explain why I’m acting the way I am because I don’t understand it myself. All I know is I am obsessed about certain subjects and I’m putting all my attention into them to the exclusion of all others, and probably have failed to empathise with people because of the amount of intense focus I’ve put in just a few subjects, which by the way, bring a type of ecstasy for me that you just can’t replicate.

I might try later to completely explain what having a special interest feels like to me, in my staggering poetic language too.

What is Autism Acceptance Month? (Long Post)

This month my blog is going to play host to a wide range of posts focused solely on not just raising autism awareness for World Autism Awareness Month but also explaining why accepting autistic people is important too.

I’m a bit late to join the acceptance cause because I’ve been trying to rationalise my decision to be or not be that way. You see, I’m a person who has built the foundation of my whole world view solely out of facts, and I couldn’t get past the notion that seeing autism as something more positive meant that autism awareness would go backwards to the little awareness there was in the 90s and when many children, including myself, had their autistic symptoms overlooked. I kept repeating the same thing to people ‘if autism is not a disorder it would not even exist. You wouldn’t have a reason for why you are different and not be a part of a community of people who relate to your symptoms and you would not be able to share your similar experiences with them.’

I thought I was right in having this view because no one argued against it, but then I learned that autism acceptance doesn’t mean that we should stop treating autism. It’s all for that, but people who support acceptance don’t want autism separated from them, they don’t want it cured and they don’t want to be looked down at by society just because they have autism. They don’t want to be merely tolerated but accepted as a regular member of society, and they want people to keep in mind that autism is a real disability and needs to be taken seriously, even though people may seem on the outside to be functioning just as well as everyone else; it’s an internal struggle of anxiety over pressures put on them from other people who can’t understand they see and do things differently, confusion over what is required from them from those people, and heightened sensory processes (though they can also have under sensitivity to some senses). It’s not an excuse to be lazy or rude or for people to overlook inappropriate behaviours. It’s a neurological difference, a different way of processing and perceiving the environment and often a failure to connect to others in the same way two non-autistic individuals could connect with each other.

As for me I want to be allowed to be myself. I came into this world a child with no real desire to socialise and through pressures from parents, siblings and teachers I had decided to change because it seemed the normal thing to do. Though I’ve had some great experiences socialising I’ve also left a social encounter feeling stupid, angry, insulted and just confused, and even suicidal. It feels as though I was never meant to be social. I feel like I’m more of an inventor or author and people are my audience. I’m not meant to chit chat or come up with 1000 new compliments to tell a person so they will like me and in return give me at least half as many new compliments.

I’m meant to spend my days alone being inspired by my narrow special interests that I’m extremely passionate about that help me come up with ideas of my own for an art project, a new photographic gallery, another blog post, or more likely a science fiction story that helps to raise awareness about how society treats people who are different. I want to dedicate my time to books about science, or just a good escapist sci-fi story, philosophy or even just Marvel comic books. People think I can have all that and a social life but they are wrong – I cannot balance to the two. It will always be toward one extreme to the complete neglect of the other.

I don’t want people to call me a nerd as though it’s something I should be ashamed of. I don’t want my politeness to be seen as a weakness. I don’t want to be sucked into a world of memes, lolcats, and other forms of mediocrity you find on social networking sites. It took me a long time to realise that social networking websites are just like socialising. No one takes anything said seriously and it’s all for fun. Well, I don’t want to do that from the comfort of my own home. I want to discuss big ideas and be inspired by someone else’s ideas. I want to do that when I’m talking to someone face to face too but that’s not always possible, so I would rather talk about funny cat pictures offline rather than online.

I find the whole social world to be full of a lot of deceit. I can do the social niceties but why must we hide when we aren’t feeling so great? Many times when someone asked how I was I could have said I was depressed, and sometimes I have. The only point to socialising with people is about getting a closer bond to them and sometimes I don’t want that bond, sometimes I just want answers to questions and to load off a whole lot facts on people. Yes, there are times when I do desire talking people for the same reasons they do and can do so comfortably but then there are times when I feel I’m hiding myself from people if I can’t be myself and just talk about those things I’m really passionate about.

Now just because I say this and feel this way doesn’t mean I’m not going to be social or even play the social game. Sometimes I think it’s needed so we don’t all end up at each other’s throats. I can balance being an honest yet polite person…most of the time. Occasionally I end up saying something offensive without even realising it. I can jump from being under empathic to over empathic, again depending on my moods and my environment. When around people I’m usually overwhelmed by the closeness off them, their voices, the light, background noise and the sudden changes in my emotions after every word they say, so I don’t always get a firm understanding of their feelings.

At times when socialising people have shut me down when I try to talk about my special interests which can be the only subject I’m capable of knowing a lot about and thus capable of talking about at length and with any passion at all. These days I’m better than most with an autism spectrum disorder at briefly talking about a wide range of subjects, but it leaves me feeling empty.

I’m perfectly fine being on my own and going days without talking to people and sometimes I want to be around people more, but on my own terms. And I don’t want to be made to feel like I’m doing something wrong when I choose to be quiet.

I do have a small group of friends who I love but I’m always saying, thinking or feeling things that will risk that friendship and it when it comes to drama I don’t know how to handle it so go into avoidance mode. I basically only have the basic set of social skills I have now because I memorised them and whenever something happens that requires more social awareness and experience of handling relationship issues I hit a brick wall. I’ve got nothing so I basically say ‘I can’t do this, I haven’t got the social skills required for this’ and leave.

But I still have had a lot of fun times with friends and I’ve got a lot of fond memories, so there is always that small group of people that I will always hang out with, depending on my current mental state – and it’s more than being autistic that gets in the way of having a good time with them. I always find that having similar interests to people makes me more capable of saying anything to them and the likelihood of us becoming friends more. Mostly we all like the same music, though only one has a 90% music compatibility rating with me. That same person is just as geeky as me too.

There are some other strong traits of autism too. I function better or at all when I have a plan put in place for the tasks I do in a day or when going to an event, like a family picnic or seeing a live band. I have a natural ability to organise which comes in handy to control symptoms of ADHD and bipolar. I feel like I have more control over my mind too. I can blow up emotionally about little annoyances but I can quickly talk my way out of them and into a more rational state of mind. Is it really important to make such a big deal over this thing? It’s not usually and I just need to calm myself down and distract my mind, usually by choosing to spend time on one of many interests.

I have a close attention to detail which helps me as an impatient artist and band photographer. My best shots are close-ups of the singer’s face and capturing an emotional moment in their eyes, focusing on finger movements of the guitar players and patiently waiting for those ‘rock moves’ that get me such high praise. Drummer photos, usually taken from back, are always a challenge which is why I feel really satisfied when a nail that perfect shot of them. And I like to use real close-up lenses for them too.

I can detach my emotions from a situation when I know they can get out of control. This kind of gives me a flat affect about being told most bad news and I’ll be at loss about how I should react, except when it comes to bad news about animals. I feel like I’m more emotionally connected to animals and I’ve differentiated how I see my pets verse how non-autistic people see their pets. To them their dog or cat is like their child, to me they are my pals. I tell people my dog Bear and I run in the same pack. Sometimes I talk about him as though he is my Lord and I his servant. I even gave him a ridiculous long royal name: Lord Bertrand Ernesto Augustus Roxonbury. Meanwhile my cat Bluesy is my ‘roomie,’ Jazz is a grandma and Lyra, well, OK she is my baby but only because of her perpetual kitten look. She also looks like a rare endangered Australian species: a bush tailed possum mixed with a sugar glider and a Persian cat.

I think this ability to put logical problem solving skills before emotions is a great and useful trait to have. I still have a severe and at time debilitating anxiety disorder but I am able to eventually overcome those symptoms and think of a solution to my predicament at the time.

So, to me Autism Acceptance Month or Decade or Century is about accepting others who are different and allowing them to be that way. It shouldn’t matter if someone is introverted, not wanting to always be social or even wanting it at all. If someone is able to better function with routines and making repetitive movements with their hands, fingers, head, legs – then we should let them. As long as they are not putting anyone or themselves in danger and it’s not extremely annoying, then I can’t see why they should change. They shouldn’t be made to feel their behaviour is odd and therefore not normal. I’m a geek and proud. I also have what would seem immature interests and act far younger than my age. I’m not even talking about being 28 and acting like I’m 16. I’m talking about acting as young as 6 sometimes. It makes me take life less seriously without having to take a chemical to have such an experience.

Autism Acceptance Month is also for those individuals on the autism spectrum and their families who want to accept it. Not all can. Some people have children with severely debilitating autism who require around the clock care, and it’s up to those families to decide how they deal with them. I’m not even going to suggest anything. I have a lack of experience in that area and so this post isn’t directed at them. I do know people with severe autism who still don’t want to be cured and still don’t want to be seen as broken and inferior. I know one parent of a severely autistic boy in particular who has been very strong ever since he was diagnosed and didn’t blame anyone, didn’t try to take away his autism and just loved him for who he was. How someone chooses to raise their own autistic child is their own choice and I’m not going to get in the way of that or say they’re doing it wrong because I wouldn’t even know where to start with raising a child. All parents have a tough job but parents of autistic children have a real challenge on their hands. That’s a fact. And I’m sure even the parents who want to cure their kids are doing it out of love.

So, hopefully I’ve outlined what autism acceptance is all about and why it is important to see people with autism as not separate from their autism. They’ve had it since before birth or so early in age that it’s been with them for most of their lives. It has shaped who they are and every new experience is continually shaped by their differently developed brain. It has strengths along with weaknesses. Look at Jacob Barnett, teenage physicist or Temple Grandin; born severely autistic but through ABA therapy she has developed not just into an independent woman but as a spokesperson for the autism community teaching parents and other non-autistic people of the inner experience of the autistic mind, and she’s pretty spot on, although her visual mind is far more advanced than mine. And you know what she says? We are inventors and that the world needs us. Now, I’m one of the few autistic people that will still give credit to non-autistic ingenuity but there is definitely some truth in what she is saying. We with autism can get so passionate about an idea we become obsessed with it; we block out the world and all distractions and just get to work.