Wednesday, 3 July 2019
Talking about mental health is hard. I think there's a couple of reasons for this:
-Fear of judgement/punishment - I think this speaks for itself. We're scared of people punishing us for our issues, whether it's being fired for taking time off to cope or people thinking we're not capable of doing our jobs etc.
-Pride - We don't want to be seen as weak. We don't want to burden others with our problems. We want to be able to fight it ourselves, to prove how strong we are.
-Don't know how - A lot of people don't know how to talk about their emotions or their mental health. How do you even start the conversation? What are the words for the things we're feeling? Who do I go to for help?
So, in order to help people talk about these things, I've started doing monthly "Mental Health" sessions at our weekly meeting. You would be surprised how many people open up when they know they're in a safe place and they learn how to talk about these things. Some of the activities I've come up with so far are:
- Anonymous positive messages. Passing around a hat with names, and you have to write an anonymous positive message to the person whose name you got
- Word Association. Everyone has 30 seconds to write down as many words that they associate with a particular word. Great for showing how differently people use language and how the same word might have a different meaning to different people.
- Death by PowerPoint. Trust me, PowerPoint presentations don't have to be boring. If you use them as a way to generate discussion instead of talking at people, you can really bring people out of their shells.
Regular talks about mental health not only encourages people to speak up, it increases morale and brings the team closer together. Instead of just relying on things like "R U Okay Day" and brushing it under the carpet the rest of the year, make the effort to keep the conversation going all year.
Saturday, 19 May 2018
A lot of people on the spectrum that I speak to often lament that telling employers that you have a mental illness/personality disorder/are neurodiverse often means that they are excluded from jobs. This means that they don't reveal their condition, often trying their best to disguise it. This is a BAD idea for a lot of reasons, the biggest one being the damage it does to the individual. Trying to mask neurodiversity is HARD, and it takes a lot of energy that could be instead focused on getting the job done. Following on from that, I then hear stories of people starting to burn out, get sick and ultimately get fired for poor performance. No need to explain why this is bad - getting fired repeatedly from jobs makes it harder to gain subsequent employment.
So, my plan has always been from the start to be open and honest about my condition. A lot of people will scoff at me for this, but I look at it this way - if someone doesn't want to employ me because of my condition, then I really don't want to work for them. You don't want to work for an employer that doesn't want to work with you in getting the best out of you.
That being said, there are ways that you can make this a positive:
- No one knows you better than you. So before you start applying for jobs, work on a plan. Think about the things that you need to be a good worker and about the things that can potentially go wrong. Click here to see a copy of my "Quick Aspergers Syndrome Guide" that I have printed out on my desk.
- Make sure you tell potential employers at the interview. Frame it as a positive - mention that you have a plan and you're happy to answer questions. Not only will this make it easier for employers to help you, it also shows initiative and planning, which any employer will value!
- Keep the lines of communication open. Things change, including in your personal life, that affect how you work. Also, new strategies and treatments are becoming available all the time.
- You don't have to tell your employer everything, and there are some things that you will be telling your manager that you won't need to tell your coworkers.
For employers: Please, PLEASE don't dismiss applicants just because they're neurodiverse. You wouldn't dismiss someone for being in a wheelchair (unless of course, it was a physically demanding job). Consider them as a whole person, and if you can work with them and they will fit into your business then definitely hire them. You might have to make a change or two, but if you dismiss neurodiverse people out-of-hand, you could potentially be missing out on a great employee.
I always try to be open and honest about my Aspergers. It helps build trust and respect, and it means if something does go wrong, my coworkers, managers and myself are well-placed to minimise the damage and get me back to working my best.
Good luck to everyone, whether you're looking for a job or whether you're looking for the next member of your team.
Saturday, 5 May 2018
The only thing is, this satisfaction is only short-term. You feel the rush of power, of successfully bringing someone down, but soon that wears off and you need a new victim. Just like a chocolate bar. A sweet, sugary chocolate treat that tastes so good going down but soon the chocolate bar is gone and you need a new treat.
The similarities don't stop there. As I've been told many times while binging on chocolate: A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. Bullying and chocolate don't fix anything, and while they feel good in the short-term, long-term they have negative consequences.
Bullying and chocolate are only really good for covering up the cracks, for those of us who don't want to take the time to work on ourselves, to see the parts of ourselves that aren't very nice and work on them to make ourselves better people. Whether it's counselling or exercise, both are much harder to do than bullying or eating chocolate.
I'm not talking about a once-in-a-while chocolate, or a bit of friendly teasing. These things are fine in moderation.
Of course, the people who actually need to read this blog, the bullies, won't read it, or if they do they'll think it applies to someone else. It's hard to look at the bits of your life that are hard, and work through the problems of your life, but it's worth it, not just for the victims of bullying, but for the bullies themselves.
Wednesday, 27 December 2017
So, as everyone probably knows, I am a huge Brisbane Heat fan, and a fan of cricket in general. However, the way that Big Bash games are paced and the way they encourage the crowd usually leaves me with severe sensory overload (from the sound and from the way we're all packed into the Gabba like sardines). So, I've been experimenting with ways to make this easier for myself after a bad start to the season (even though the Heat have been excellent). Here are my suggestions to make going to the Big Bash (or really, any sporting event) easier if you have Autism/Sensory Processing issues.
First off, unfortunately live sport isn't for everyone. It's loud, long and taxing. If you have severe issues with noise, lights, crowds etc I'd suggest going to the Womens Big Bash, or the Sheffield Shield. There are usually less people at these events, and a lot less noise/flashing lights. So if you still want a live sport experience, perhaps chose a lower grade of your chosen sport to attend.
However, for those of us who are going to the big leagues, here are some ways I've found that can make your experience more enjoyable:
1. For those of us who are sensitive to sound, I can not recommend a good set of earplugs enough. I wore a pair tonight and it drastically cut down the noise exposure, while still allowing me to enjoy the atmosphere.
2. Take advantage of innings breaks. Most stadiums allow to you head outside for a bit, which is what I did tonight, so make sure when there's a break in the play you give yourself a bit of time out to bring yourself down. Most people stay in the stadium to get food/enjoy the entertainment in the breaks, so it's much quieter and calmer outside.
3. Make sure you're properly rested and fed/watered before going to the game. A good rest and having your blood sugar levels stable is important for withstanding a Big Bash game - sometimes the games are long and being exposed to so many triggers will sap your energy.
4. If you can, take your own food and drink. One thing I LOVE about the Gabba is that they allow you to bring in your own food and drinks, provided they're still sealed and non-alcoholic, so I don't have to deal with the social interaction of buying food if I don't need to. Check with your chosen stadium, and see what you can/can't bring with you to the game.
5. Accept you might not be able to sit through the entire game. This is especially relevant to me when it comes to Test matches. I've only ever sat through a whole day of a Test once, and I paid dearly for it. Now I know that I can only stay for a few hours maximum, but it's enough for me to enjoy the game and have a bit of fun.
Obviously, this is a very basic start, and you might need to work out your own strategy for attending live sports events, but whatever your plan, make sure you have a plan and stick to it, and remember to HAVE FUN!
Wednesday, 26 July 2017
Tuesday, 25 July 2017
I never got to meet you, but you and your music were there for me when I needed someone, something to hang on to. Your music saw me through my tough teenage years before I even knew what Autism was, and that I was on the spectrum. I knew I was different, I knew I was meant for something more, but the people in the town around me seemed determined to bring me down. Thanks to you and your band Linkin Park, I got through and I'm now in a pretty special place.
One particular song of yours got a LOT of play by me. That song was "Runaway". I LOVE that song. It was often the last song I heard before I fell asleep. I could never really articulate until now what drew me to the song, but now I know. It was the affirmative message embedded in the lyrics, a call to action that I can happily say I took to heart and acted upon.
I'm gonna runaway, and never say good-bye.
I didn't look back when I finally left Oakey for my true home, Brisbane. I ran far away from the negativity of that place. The addiction, the bigotry, the lack of self-satisfaction that permeated the air.
I'm gonna runaway, and never wonder why.
I didn't need to think twice about leaving a place that was determined to destroy me. I place that regularly branded me a freak, that often told me to keep my head out of the clouds, that being a writer (the biggest part of me) was an unattainable dream.
I'm gonna runaway and open up my mind.
My mind is still opening to this very moment, learning more about myself, others and my place in the world. More importantly, my mind is opening up to my responsibility as a writer, a responsibility to help open the minds of others to new ideas and attitudes.
So Chester, thank you. From myself and everyone whose lives you touched. We're going to miss you, but I think I can speak for everyone when I say thank God you're well at last.
Sunday, 21 May 2017
A little background: at my first proper job (which I only lasted 3 months in) when I was 17, one of the ladies I worked with (Flora, one of the most gorgeous souls I have ever met) asked if I had Aspergers Syndrome.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Mild Autism. My grandson has it and you remind me a lot of him." Was the reply.
Eh, I brushed it off. In the culture of the Toowoomba Region, things like Autism and other neurodiverse conditions were considered disabilities no matter how they impacted your life, and a label like that wasn't something you wanted stuck to you.
Later on, when I was working at "the Warehouse", the boss's son came to work with us during the school holidays. He also had Aspergers Syndrome. I can still recall people laughing at us one lunch hour, and not knowing why until someone pointed out that during our whole conversation, we hadn't looked at each other once.
So off to the GP to get a referral I went, and soon I was diagnosed.
"You definitely have Aspergers Syndrome." Said the psych.
"You are broken." I heard. It didn't help that at the time I was dating a guy whose family had that exact notion - that I was broken and I needed to be fixed. In fact, a lot of people that I had known for a long time were like "Oh, that explains a lot. So you're getting fixed then?"
Now I know better, of course, but back in 2007 the attitude still was that ASD was a disability and an affliction and I needed to be cured. Probably explains how I got stuck on that terrible sodium valproate, which definitely wiped out my anxiety and sensory sensitivities along with just about all of my other emotions and every single one of my imaginary friends (who I am happy to say are all back alive and well now).
Yes, there are some aspects of ASD that for me are akin to a disability. It's taken me a long time to get up to speed on my social skills (which are still on the lower end of the spectrum, but at least my embarrassing incident quotient is going down), and my anxiety will always be a bugbear, along with my knack for sensory overload. Still, I think even with my ASD label, I'm a pretty nifty young lady. My sensory issues also come with positives, including a love of music/dancing and I'm always down for a hug (definitely a hugger, not a handshaker). My brain might run at a million miles an hour making it hard for me to focus and contributing to my anxiety, but without it I wouldn't have my imaginary friends nor would I have the likes of my books "Ink on the Wind", "Chuckles and Giggles", "Experiment 24-42" or "The Children of Wellsworth School".
Aspergers is not something that needs to be fixed. Neurodiversity is not a curse. It is something to be embraced, for with it comes new ideas and ways of thinking. Celebrate our differences, cherish our similarities and let's all work together for the betterment of humanity!