I Prefer the Term ‘Nowfulness’ Over ‘Mindfulness’

Here I wish to register my personal dissatisfaction with the term mindfulness, which I find obscure and confusing. It smacks of bad translation, perhaps by someone who learned English as an adult and maybe subscribes to that misolinguistic cargo-cult of You Don’t Really Need To Master Grammar To Make Yourself Understood. Also, I suspect it was someone held in great reverence by fawning religious devotees who either didn’t want to risk committing a sin by questioning their “master’s” ill-conceived neologism, or worse, actually liked this bit of jargon, and this mainly because of its obscurity.

Anyway, in it’s place, henceforth (and until further notice) I shall try to use nowfulness, which is in my opinion much more transparent, given that the actual nuts-and-bolts practice of so-called “mindfulness” appears to me to boil down to filling one’s mind with stuff that’s happening right now.

Hope that’s useful!


Image Credit: Image by mleonascimento0 from Pixabay

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I’m Sorry, but My Autism Makes You Seem Like a Moron: Why I Try Not to Stupidity-Shame

I don’t know what my IQ is, but even if it’s perfectly average I figure I’m smarter than half of all human beings. That’s a lot of relatively stupid people I have to cope with on a daily basis, but I try not to whine about it because I figure it serves me right because my own relative stupidity must be dealt with by all of the relatively intelligent people that compose the other half of the population and who have to cope with me on a daily basis.

In the end I guess it all balances out, which is why as a rule I don’t like to make people feel ashamed for being stupider than I am. What’s there to be ashamed of? Relative stupidity is all just part of the Human condition.

But it’s the exceptional rule that has no exceptions at all, and every now and again I will meet someone who really seems to be begging me for just a teaspoon of shame sauce, and in these occasions I like to have on hand a good zinger that can satisfy their craving.

My own version of this makes use of my ASD diagnosis, but the general format can be used with most any condition:

“I’m sorry, but my dyslexia makes you seem like a moron.”

“I beg your pardon, but my ADHD makes you seem kind of dim-witted.”

“Whoa, my hay fever is making you look ridiculous!”

You get the picture.

Hope that’s useful!

 

 

Introspection Illness: Perseveration as Disability

One of my most disruptive symptoms is a kind of obsession, rumination, or perseveration that goes on in my mind in which I cannot stop thinking or talking to myself (out loud, unless I think someone is listening) about some particular topic. Although, provided I’m not sleeping, I am virtually always more or less obsessed with something – a language I’m learning, a problem I’m having, a book I’m reading, etc. – under some fairly common conditions these perseverations can become quite intense and frankly disabling. Although I don’t have any problems with “walking and chewing gum”, so to speak, by which I mean that while lost in my thoughts like this I can still, for example, wash dishes without difficulty, drive a car, brush my teeth, etc.; but with respect to any activity that requires me to attend mindfully, maintain focus, and think carefully about what I’m doing – exactly the kinds of tasks associated with pretty much any white-collar job – I can become quite incapacitated.

As a general principle, the more I perseverate, the more I write. I don’t always write down my perseverations, and some topics of perseveration (e.g. learning Spanish) just don’t lend themselves well to being written about, but decades ago I discovered that when possible, writing can reduce the amount of time that I perseverate on a given topic. Somehow, the act of writing down a thought releases me from having to keep thinking it over and over again, allowing me eventually to move on from it (to some other topic). Although in this way I have written many unfinished books and unpublished essays, a good deal of my perseveration-writing has taken the form of letters or emails to individuals who play some key role in the given perseveration, often conflictual, but not necessarily.

For an immediate, concrete example, consider that the very blog post you are now reading, as a matter of fact, is the product of such perseveration. As I write this very sentence you are presently reading, I have been working on this blog post in one way or another non-stop for over a week now. Every day, for the past nine days in fact, from the moment I wake in the morning, till the moment I drift off to sleep at night, if at any point I haven’t actually been writing or revising some draft of it, then I have almost certainly been thinking, mulling, ruminating, obsessing, etc. on the question of what I’m going to write when I can finally get back to working on it. For nine days now everything else in my life – my kids, my job, my other interests (e.g. learning Spanish) – has been pushed aside for this blog post. And that only covers what has happened till now, as I approach the end of this paragraph. No doubt many, many other sentences and paragraphs will follow the present one, although most won’t make the final draft, just as most of what I’ve written these past nine days has also been cut.

Note: one can never know from the length of a given piece, just how long it took me to write it. I might breeze through 10 pages in a day, or struggle through 1 paragraph in a week, depending on, among other factors, the topic of perseveration.

One thing I should explain here is that my perseverations never actually compel me to behave in any particular way, no matter how intense they may get. With writing, for example, I never feel like I absolutely must write, or that I simply cannot stop myself from writing, or perhaps sharing the final product with others. One of the main reasons I write — aside from enjoying it and often appreciating the final product (occasionally so much so that I want to share it with others, like I’m doing with this blog post) — is because writing tends to reduce the amount of time I perseverate on some given topic. Writing is a partial solution to the general problem of my perseverations. Writing down my perseverations ultimately allows me to move on from the topic in question and to perseverate about something else.

I don’t write because I “have no choice” or because I feel inexorably compelled to. I write, because writing works.

But what I cannot control is the basic fact of the perseveration itself. It’s the perseveration that I feel compelled to do, which I have no choice but to do. One way or another, whether I choose to write it down or not; whether it goes on for a long or a little while; whether I choose to sing or dance while perseverating, or to cry, scream, smile, hide under the blankets, take pictures or whatever; once I start perseverating on some given topic, I am mostly helpless to stop myself from continuing.

That’s mostly helpless. Because depending on the reason for doing so, I actually can redirect my attention for short bursts, say, in order to check my mirrors while driving, or in order to pretend to pay attention to someone who is speaking to me, but maintaining the shift in focus is difficult to the point of distraction. In moments like these my real choices are simply to perseverate, to write down my perseverating thoughts, or to struggle against the powerful current of my perseverations. What is definitely not possible for me in these situations is any sort of stable shift of attention to any other topic than the current topic of perseveration.

Nor can I simply choose an arbitrary topic and begin to perseverate on it, like one might choose to redirect the beam of a flashlight. How useful it would be to be able to do that! If I had such flashlight-control over my capacity for perseveration, I could just pick something extremely useful – finding a cure for cancer, say – and then dedicate my life to perseverating about that. Of course, I’m not seriously boasting that I would ever actually find a cure for cancer, but I’m quite sure I could be quite useful with the search, if I could just get my brain to perseverate about cancer.

But I cannot, and believe me I’ve tried. Not with cancer maybe, but definitely with other useful fields of endeavor. For example, I once spent three years prepping to take the series of exams needed to become an actuary, and although I did pass two of them, I failed the third exam twice before abandoning the project. Not because I couldn’t learn the core exam material, mind you, but because that was all I could do, and that’s actually only part of good exam preparation. Good actuarial exam prep also involves working plenty of practice problems, and I was just never able to perseverate about that. I did some practice problems, but nothing like enough. My attention kept returning to the core exam material, which I found irresistibly fascinating, and when exam time came I was unprepared and choked.

Twice.

A frustrating complication of this phenomenon is that anyone who doesn’t personally struggle with a similar issue finds it difficult to believe that I do struggle with it. Also, with respect to any given topic of perseveration, I can seem perfectly coherent, articulate, intelligent, functional, etc., which makes it seem utterly implausible to naive observers that I might actually be totally disabled with respect to anything else I have to do and which involves more attention, say, than ironing a shirt, or carrying out the recycling. So in addition to struggling against the basic forces of my own runaway mind, whenever my mind does runaway with itself like this (like it is doing, even now, as I am writing this blog post), I cannot simply excuse myself and withdraw (e.g., “call in sick”) in order to deal with it like one might with a broken leg or fresh surgical wounds. Any attempt to do that sort of thing is met with the kind of hostile skepticism and accusation — implied if not explicit — of faking or exaggerating or blowing things out of proportion that is inevitably leveled at all of us struggling with so-called “invisible disabilities” (migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, PTSD, etc.).

Ah, yes, “invisible” disabilities. Don’t get me started on that

‘Doctor Shopping for Validation?’ — Response to an Invalidating Reader Comment

I’d like to respond here to a comment left on my previous post by an anonymous reader. He wrote just one simple question:

“Doctor shopping for validation?”

I don’t know about you, but when I first read this comment I found it quite invalidating, got triggered, and then proceeded to perseverate on it, vacillating between wanting to ignore/delete it entirely and writing some scathing and satirical rebuttal.

But neither of those responses align with my recent therapeutic commitment to strongly favor validation over invalidation in my interactions with others. However unpleasant may be this comment with its implicit accusation that I might actually and deliberately go from doctor to doctor, embracing those who confirm that I’m autistic and rejecting those who don’t, in the end this sort of feedback is a perfect opportunity for me to walk my validation talk.

So, here goes (please let me know what you think, if you like, in the comments below):

For starters, I guess I should have explained in that previous post that the therapist I’ve been seeing for the past two years is starting a private practice and so is leaving his employer — my health care provider.  He’s also taking a few months off so he can work on setting up his new practice and has recommended to me that I continue with this new guy.

So, to answer the basic question: no, I was not doctor shopping for validation. I needed a new therapist and this guy was recommended by my old one.

Also, although I do find his “borderline” theory about my own level of autistickishness invalidating and uncomfortable, in the end I must acknowledge that it’s really never been my primary objective to “be autistic”, whatever that might mean, but rather, to find my place in this world. To find sensible answers to questions such as “what is my purpose in life?” or “where do I fit in Society?” has been my primary objective for as long as I remember, and to this day it remains unanswered.

It is a publicly observable fact that I have never achieved any sort of stable, long-term success in the domains of school, work, friendship, romance/marriage, or fatherhood, and only a person who hasn’t actually observed those facts might claim otherwise.

That’s not to say that I haven’t had significant periods of success. After struggling through my first 12 years of Public Education, and then one very rocky year off for some desperate “soul searching”, I underwent a profound transformation in my understanding of how to self-accommodate in an academic setting, went to college and had a very successful undergraduate career during which I won a scholarship award and completed the requirements for a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Sciences and Mathematics. In the decades following college, I had one job that lasted 5 years, and several that have lasted somewhere from 3 to 24 months. I’ve been in romantic relationships with women who toughed it out with me for 5 years, 3 years, and most recently 9 years before they just couldn’t take any more of me as a boyfriend/husband. I have one active friendship with a woman who’s been my friend for over 30 years, and only two people in my family seem committed to hating me for the long haul. With everyone else in my family we’ve always managed to resolve our differences.

But these islands of success are surrounded by a great deal of turbulent water. As one general, high-level measure of that turbulence, consider first that over the course of my life, listed in very roughly chronological order with the number of employers who have paid me to do that kind of work following in parentheses, I have had the following kinds of jobs for varying lengths of time and levels of pay:

  1. birthday party magician (3),
  2. greeting card salesman (1),
  3. yard worker/landscaper (5),
  4. golf caddy (1),
  5. snow shoveler (5),
  6. deli sandwich maker (1),
  7. kitchen helper (2),
  8. janitor (2),
  9. car parking attendant (1),
  10. delivery driver (2),
  11. house painter (5),
  12. math/physics tutor (2),
  13. chauffeur (3),
  14. factory worker (1),
  15. school teacher (2),
  16. carpet cleaner (2),
  17. news writer (1),
  18. waiter (1),
  19. ad copy writer (1),
  20. car salesman (1),
  21. multi-level marketer (3),
  22. software developer (10),
  23. telemarketer (1),
  24. stand-up comic (5), and
  25. IT production support analyst (3).

So that’s 25 kinds of work that I’ve done over the course of my life and 64 different employers who have paid me to do it. Since I’m 55 years old and I did my first paid birthday party magic show at about the age of 10, that works out to about 64/45 = 1.42 employer changes per year over the course of my “career”. I don’t know how that number compares with others (you can let me know below in the comments if you’d like), but I doubt anyone would consider it a strong indicator of job stability.

I could provide you with other kinds of measures, like my net worth, the number of times I’ve been fired, how many people never want to see or speak to me again, but because employment is so important to every other aspect of life, I think the fact that I’ve changed jobs nearly one and half times per year for 45 years says enough for now.

Considering just my erratic job history I’m pretty sure even my harshest critics would agree that there’s “something wrong” with me, whatever the cause. They might not believe that I’m actually autistic, or if they do, they might not believe my autism to be especially relevant; they might believe me to be merely lazy or an asshole or an idiot, or some combination thereof; but I don’t think anybody who knows me well enough to have a meaningful opinion on the matter doubts the basic premise that I am some in some important sense a social misfit.

And it is the resolution of this one indisputable problem that is my number one priority, as it has been for as long as I can remember.

Sometimes I like to comfort myself by thinking that my real purpose in life is simply to find my real purpose in life, but to be honest, that seems like a cheap trick.

No, I actually want to find my real real purpose in life, and although I do currently and sincerely believe that my “being autistic” has something very important to do with that purpose, to the point where it makes me feel invalidated and uncomfortable when someone, especially someone like my new therapist questions whether or how much I really “am autistic”, at the end of the day, it’s the facts of the matter that actually matter, and so if I’m not really, as such a matter of fact, autistic, then screw it, I want to know the Truth, and perhaps this new therapist has glimpsed it.

As it turned out, I had a great session with him on Friday afternoon and the subject of my “borderline” autism arose only briefly when he brought it up and even then I chose not to dwell on it or get sidetracked by how I felt about it. The fact is, it honestly seemed to me that we had more interesting matters to discuss.

 

 

 

 

 


Image Credit: Pexels on Pixabay

The Autism-Expert Spectrum

I’ve started seeing a new therapist. He’s a Clinical Psychologist, PhD, and although his advertised expertise is in helping people with sleep disorders, chronic pain, and mood and anxiety disorders, apparently his own sister is autistic, and he has a long-standing personal and professional interest in autism, as manifested in his professional training and especially the various autism-related research articles he’s co-authored and published in a variety of peer-reviewed professional journals.

So after interviewing me for 45 minutes last Friday afternoon, this kind gentleman informed me that in his opinion, with regard to my location on the so-called “autism spectrum”, he’s inclined to see me as being near some hypothetical “borderline” (his word), which I understood then and still take to mean that I’m somehow not actually autistic (perhaps like his sister is autistic), but am perhaps, say, merely autistic-ish.

And even though I rather like autistickish[1] to describe myself — hence the name of this blog — somehow I still felt wounded or invalidated by this man’s (initial) assessment of me. It felt like an insult of some sort. In the session I tried not to seem wounded or insulted, and definitely didn’t try to defend myself against the slight, but in the days since I have been somewhat preoccupied with this incident. My mind keeps returning to it, replaying it. I keep trying to figure out what I will say to him about it in our next session. I definitely feel a significant urge to defend myself, which is a key component of the “ultimately self-defeating” lifelong habit #2 that I wrote about in my recent post Validate Unto Others….

Basically, I feel somehow invalidated by him, and now I feel the urge to reciprocate his invalidation. I’ve considered various approaches to this. I might criticize his apparent assumption that a 45 minute interview is long enough to reach some sort of conclusion. In comparison, my initial ASD diagnosis came only at the end of a full day of psychometric tests and interviews, and has since been corroborated by a psychiatrist at a prominent university autism clinic who trains medical students in autism related topics and who has been interviewing me almost monthly for a year and a half.

I might ask him whether he’s afraid that fully endorsing my ASD diagnosis might one day lead to his being accused of fraud by an insurance company. If he is worried about that then the conflict of interest between his wish to help me and his wish to protect himself from ruthless insurance companies could be affecting his judgment.

At the moment my favorite approach would be to postulate first a spectrum of autism expertise that ranges, say, from “has seen a few episodes of The Good Doctor” to the collective of the World’s 100 leading autism researchers; along with a hypothetical “borderline” that separates the real autism experts and everyone else; and then ask him how close he thinks he is to that borderline.

Yeah, that’s the old me. As I explained the other day, I’m committed to changing this habit, which implies that I should really be trying to figure how to validate him in some way.

But at the moment I’m at a loss for how to do that. Let’s call it a “work in progress”.

Suggestions welcome!


[1]I think the k is required in the spelling to clarify that the c in the suffix is hard and not soft as it is in words like mysticism, criticism, ostracism, etc.

Image Credit: hschmider on Pixabay.

My Excuses Made Me Do It

I have lots of excuses, but nobody likes them. In fact, as a rule, the more someone seems to need my excuses, the less he or she will like them.

I find that weird. If I feel upset by someone’s poor behavior or bad judgement, it always makes me feel better if I know their excuses:

“OH MY GAWD, WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME FOR MY BEST FRIEND!!!”

“I’m sorry! It’s just that he smells so nice and makes more money than you do. Also, he’s better looking, and makes me feel special.”

“Oh…anything else?”

“He’s a good cook.”

“And?”

“And he doesn’t make excuses. He takes responsibility for himself. I find that appealing in a man. In fact, I find that appealing in pretty much everybody.”

“I see. Thanks for explaining that. I feel better now about your leaving me for my best friend. In my defense, I don’t actually “make” excuses either. I mean, I have my excuses, but I don’t make them. They’re just there…a built in part of the world, influencing my behavior, pushing me to do some things, blocking me from others. There’s a lot of them. They’re everywhere.”

“Now you’re just making excuses for your excuses.”

“What can I say, the world is complicated.”

“No, you’re complicated.”

“Yeah, I get that from my mom. We can’t choose our parents, can we?”


Image Credit: yourstagedrama on Pixabay

Validate Unto Others…

If you’re interested in the general topic of (in)validation, I recommend What is… Invalidation by blogger Ashley L. Peterson, a.k.a. ashleyleia. Here I mainly want to declare my commitment moving forward to strongly favor validation over invalidation in my interactions with other people. In the last couple of years, thanks to lots of therapy, self-observation, and introspection, I have come to recognize two lifelong habits that I have and which I can see now have been ultimately self-defeating:

  1. I have a compulsion to correct people whenever they say or do something that I think is either factually incorrect, self-harming, or wrong in some way (morally, legally, etc.). I have come to see that despite my best intentions, this kind of other-corrective behavior is usually experienced as invalidating, annoying, hurtful, etc., that it is mostly ineffective, often counter productive, and is essentially an invitation for the other person to invalidate me in return, and is generally corrosive to the relationship.
  2. Whenever someone invalidates me in some way, I tend to respond first by feeling hurt, rejected, anxious, etc. and then I often try to defend myself by invalidating the person who invalidated me, often by getting angry at the person. This in particular has been highly destructive to all kinds of relationships, especially those with romantic partners, bosses, and work colleagues.

Yup. That’s about the size of it for now. Not quite sure how any of that might be useful for you, but I’m putting it out there just in case.

Let me know what you think! 🙂


Image Credit: niekverlaan on Pixabay