2021 in Review

Image of fireworks over London, with the numbers 2021 in digital lasers.
2021 London NYE fireworks. Image courtesy of campaign.co.uk

People tend to look at 2021 as being worse than 2020, but I have the opposite experience. 2020 was a time filled with fear, loneliness and uncertainty. As lockdowns ended and it looked like things were going back to normal I decided there were certain things in my life I’d like to change.

For starters, my social skills had regressed significantly from the lack of socialisation so I was sure to start rebuilding them as soon as possible. Fortunately, I was able to do this through speaking to the neighbours in my apartment building which was only made possible through my cat who had been meeting them from her returns from long adventures away from my apartment. 

2020 was the year she finally decided it was time to stop being an indoor cat and face her fears and go outside. 

2020 saw me develop a serious case of oral thrush which turned into a full fungal infection, but with the help of probiotics and a strict keto diet I was able to decrease a lot of the fungus in my mouth. And my medical toothpaste and my ability to know exactly what natural antifungals to take once it starts spreading again, helps me control it too. 

I decided early in the new year that I would find a roommate, which I did and for about 3 months I could finally stop worrying about my finances. 

Then the delta wave hit and both me and my roommate were locked down together, then after lockdown he was right back out into the world and ready to move on though I wasn’t yet, so it made sense for him to leave. It took me longer to feel safe going out because I wasn’t vaccinated and couldn’t be, due to medical issues, which I’ve already explained on this blog. 

I even had to go out to vote which I was very nervous about and completely unprepared for. If it wasn’t for a former mayor I wouldn’t have been aware I had to vote at all and would have ended up with a fine. Australian democracy in action /s

2021 brought on a lot of positive changes for me. I was brought back to my faith in God, and for a little while I even went to church and was able to meet and chat to other Christians, until delta hit and we yet again had to watch church services streamed online. I was able to rebuild my social skills, which are stronger now than ever and I’m more content with not always having to talk all of the time, but just to listen. 

And I finally got to spend Christmas (Boxing Day) and my birthday with my family, though I definitely exhausted myself on actual Christmas Day by baking myself keto snacks to take and share. Though, I didn’t get to see my nephews and give them their presents and let them play with my PS5 and talk video games with them, so it wasn’t entirely perfect, but I guess that means I’ll have to go to the next family outing. 

My plans for 2022, though I seem to be left with even less energy as I had at the end of 2020, is to get back into my screenwriting, find another roommate, get back on testosterone and prepare for my disability pension review in 2023. 

Though we are facing a huge COVID-19 spike, the virus will eventually be gone or become less dangerous, that it turns into another seasonal flu. 

The world seems to be in turmoil but that doesn’t mean we give up, or spend our days complaining about it on social media. We can acknowledge that it’s not in the best place but not become obsessed with our suffering, then we can find it easier to continue living and enjoying life. 


Autism Awareness Month: How Far I’ve Come

April is Autism Awareness Month and each year I like to write something about it. As I’ve been doing this since about 2008 I get tired of repeating the same things; the basic autism symptoms and something about how they affect me, my relationships, and what strengths they give me, I decided this year to focus on just how far I’ve come.

Background History

I was diagnosed at the age of 23. My life back then was completely different than what it is now. I was still living in the family home, in a small town on the south coast of New South Wales, Australia. Though I had friends I wasn’t especially close to them. I didn’t have the faintest clue about small talk and couldn’t hold a conversation. In fact, I could not even initiate a conversation. 

Prior to my diagnosis I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t get a job, even though I made it to a number of interviews. I’d often say things that others felt were rude, or just downright selfish. And I had social anxiety that was so extreme my mind would freeze up anytime I wanted to join in on conversation. 

After I spent some time on Ritalin after being diagnosed with ADHD and had improved some social skills and was able to get onto top of my executive dysfunction (organisation skills) my mum felt I was ready to move to Sydney, with my eldest sister. I was unprepared from going from a protected child to mostly complete independence. I had a lot of breakdowns and went through periods of depression, but I eventually came out of it as I learned to take on adult responsibilities. 

When my sister moved to Katoomba I moved in with another sister, who I was closer to in age, and who I grew up with so it didn’t feel like much of a difference to living in the family home. Then she moved out with her boyfriend and found me a roommate. This I was definitely not prepared for. My roommate had past trauma so it was already difficult enough living with them, but there was a lot I had to learn about living with essentially a stranger. 

An autism awareness image of a person drawing on a pad with text surrounding it reading 'Don't be ashamed of my disability, it has given me some of my abilities.'
An early autism awareness meme of mine.

I was very inward, I didn’t like to share the TV, and had to keep to my routines which involved watching the five o’clock news everyday. Even though I didn’t always watch it, I needed the TV to be on that channel. I couldn’t communicate my needs properly, so my roommate didn’t know how to accommodate for them.

With the second roommate I ran into the same problems. It was hard to bring up personal issues so instead I just felt a lot of anger toward them. It eventually subsided but it really got in the way of having a good relationship with that person. 

But now I’ve changed. I now invite roommates to watch TV with me, even if I can’t follow what’s happening in a TV show or film while they’re there. I usually just rewatch it the next day. I can do small talk really well for a person on the autistic spectrum. It’s probably better than me having a long and deep conversation with someone. I have actual problems getting the words out of my mouth in the right order so I prefer to say less. And I can now modify my own routine around a roommate’s one. 

How Far I’ve Come

It’s been thirteen years since I was diagnosed with autism and I have come really far. I’ve been able to develop enough skills to lessen some symptoms and overcome some entirely. I still have some that I’m able to manage well through aids like sunglasses and noise cancelling headphones, but usually it just takes a lot of forward thinking so I’m not caught by surprise and not clueless about what to do. 

I’ve been able to do things that I and many who I knew in my childhood wouldn’t think I was capable of doing. I live independently either on my own or with another roommate. I talk to the people in my building. I don’t have much social anxiety anymore. I don’t envy others nor do I think I’m better than them, which was something I struggled with in my younger years. 

Why I’m No Longer Part of the Online Autistic Community

I no longer feel like I need the autistic community. Early on, during my diagnosis process I would frequent the autism forums everyday, and they were great to help me understand my symptoms and to make me feel less alone when the people I was living with wanted me to be more like them. They didn’t understand nor accept my autism. But I felt at times when I was overcoming some symptoms that staying in the community made me feel stuck. I couldn’t keep improving while being there. A lot of the subjects posted about were about issues I no longer had, and the negativity towards neurotypicals didn’t help me when it came to building stronger relationships with them. Sometimes I felt like I took on symptoms that I never had before, like I had to have them to be seen as autistic.

I can understand why autistic people, especially young or newly diagnosed people need the autistic community. Living not only with a differently developed brain but a brain that changes the whole way we process the world and react to those around us can be a lonely, confusing and even a depressing experience when we compare it with neurotypicals or they don’t approve of us and try to change us to become something we don’t naturally feel we are. The community brings us closer to those who go through similar experiences as us, and make us feel connected to them. When we face stressful situations the community is always there to help us through them. 

13 years later and continuing the autism awareness, in my own way

But like most online communities there seems to be a collective consciousness, by that I mean that the majority will take on the views of the few and that basically becomes the dominant position to hold. The woke movement has made it worse. Now, there are real consequences when it comes to not listening to the autistic community. Now you’re seen as not listening to all autistic people when you question their views and are therefore against them.

When you spend all day talking about people who don’t understand you, criticise them and act like the world is against your neurotype you’re not able to see things clearly. I was the same way. But only a few years after my diagnosis I was somehow able to view things from a neurotypical’s view and was able to explain what it was like having autism in a way they could understand. Eventually I ended up becoming a mediator between neurotypical and autistic people to extinguish arguments between them. One such case was when I had to be the person who explained to a neurotypical mother of an autistic child why another autistic person was so upset with them they resorted to insults and accusing them of all sorts of things, from being ableist to abusing their child. They were coming from a place of trauma so it was understandable but it wasn’t acceptable that they treated a parent with an autistic child that way. A parent who didn’t have the first clue about what they were talking about, having not been in the online autistic community and had no idea of the terms they preferred or how to see things from an autistic point of view. A parent who really just did what they thought was best for their child. 

I try not to get too attached to online communities these days, because every one of them will have its rules and its inner dramas. But to me they’re just a place to learn and give help when you can. I treat them as a helpful tool. If I give them any more time than that then they start to cloud my own judgment or get me into highly heated but unnecessary arguments. They served their purpose when I needed them the most, when I was young and confused and lonely and seeking friendship with people who really understood me. But my PDA profile of autism makes me less able to relate to the autistic community, but I have learned to be ok with that. I don’t always relate to other PDA’s, and at 36 that’s not something I need anyway. I finally understand that every human being on this Earth is different to the person standing next to them. They have different life experiences, different personalities shaped by those life experiences, even different neurological structures even if they share the same diagnosis. Different interests and likes and loves and hates and pet peeves. Different views, different levels of knowledge, different sensitivities and different skills. 

Furthermore, I’m less offended these days by the way society talks about autistic people. In Australia at least both the media and medical science and even the government has made leaps in how it views autism. The media usually interview autistic people, the government has a programme to help school leavers develop a career and even doctors are embracing Neurodiversity. Even when the police and search and rescue look for missing autistic children they do it in a way that doesn’t scare them off by keeping in mind their sensory issues and they utilize their special interests into the search. I’ve been part of government research studies that try to understand what it’s like for adults living with autism, and those answers have made a difference in government policy.

A image of a newspaper with an image with a father holding his autistic boy rescued after 2 nights lost on a mountain. Image reads: He's Alive: Pure Elation on Mt Disappointment.
William Callaghan, the autistic boy rescued by volunteers who used his special interests in the search to find him. Photo credit: The Herald Sun.

I try not to put too much emotion on words so I have no real preference between saying ‘autistic’ or ‘has autism’ but use the two interchangeably and have no problem with the puzzle piece logo. Symbols can be interpreted in different ways and I don’t think there’s one right way to interpret it. For me it’s always been about how the cause of autism was always such a mystery, and that researchers were looking for that missing piece of the puzzle to fully understand autism’s causes. Also, puzzles were one of my first special interests. I have a fond memory of playing with a puzzle made for infants in my church’s creche. It was the easiest puzzle to do that you wouldn’t even call it one, but I remember how satisfying it felt to be able to fit a big chunk of puzzle onto a board where it felt like it belonged. There’s a metaphor about acceptance in there, I’m sure.  

I don’t think society is against autistic people because that’s not what I’ve been seeing. It’s quite the opposite. In the 13 years since my diagnosis society has really learned to embrace autistic people, and see them as less of a tragedy or someone who should be pitied, but as just another person who yes has challenges but when they’re accommodated for can do just as much as anyone else. In some cases they can do more as The Autism Advantage shows; by utilising our expert level of knowledge in our special interests to use in places of employment, and taking advantage of our strong work ethic or by focusing in employing us in areas where we have the most mental strength (technology, math, organising) which also brings an advantage to the company.

Society has really learned to include us. It has learned we are no less than allistics or non-autistic people.

I’m not sure if I’ll write a post for next year’s Autism Awareness Month, but who knows? Maybe if I make even more progress I’ll have more to share next year. 
– SJ

PDA and the Pandemic

An image of posters full of instructions of how to protect about the COVID-19 virus.
‘Get’ is a very big trigger word for those with PDA.

To those unfamiliar with the term PDA stands for pathological demand avoidance syndrome and it’s mainly characterised by extreme resistance to obeying orders that is caused by intense anxiety. The person with PDA needs to feel in control of their environment and anytime someone gives them an order it feels like they’re trying to control them. So they must resist in order to get this power back. 

Now life is usually distressing enough for a person with PDA and when you add a pandemic with all the changes to everyday life because of restrictions to movement, it’s a new kind of Hell.

Autism + PDA

To start off let me talk about my most impairing autism symptom. PDA is a profile of autism and some people can fit both the criteria for what I call general autism and PDA. The worst part of my autism is my fear of change. You can already see where this is going. From the moment the shutdowns were announced my ‘fear of change’ has been in overdrive. When my fear response triggers my PDA avoidance kicks in, which doesn’t always lead to refusing to obey orders but the extreme anxiety is still present when obeying said orders. By extreme anxiety I mean it’s basically the same intensity as a panic attack. People with PDA are also people pleasers and autism can make people follow rules to a T, particularly laws, so there’s a kind of push and pull between it and PDA. 

I tried my best to obey the new rules, despite being so anxious I wasn’t doing it right. For example I didn’t know how far I should be standing from people because of my dyscalculia ; I didn’t know what 2sqm was. For a long time I was standing 6ft away from people because that’s what they had to do in America. I later found out it was only 3 feet in Australia. 

I absolutely despaired over panic buying. I just wanted to have the comfort of knowing I had enough toilet paper, paper towels, hand wash and body soap. I would be close to meltdown when I couldn’t find the usual food brands that I usually buy. Sometimes buying other brands would make me sick. I found these new changes anxiety provoking and depressing. I eventually decided I’d just starve myself until I died. 

That didn’t last long as I was able to get food but that was after letting people know how much I wasn’t coping. People assumed I’d be ok because I live on my own, but I was falling apart due to my inability to transition well to changes. 

To make matters worse my OCD became so severe whenever I went to buy groceries from my local store all I saw was dirt and germs. It got to the point I could barely move, I couldn’t even sleep in my own bed so I decided to give into it. Giving into OCD involves giving into the anxiety or fear that something bad is going to happen. It a kind of mental torture unimaginable to those without OCD. 

I did manage to get through all my anxiety, depression and even suicidal feelings. I followed the restrictions, particularly the ones that had fines attached to them. 

I’ve mostly been happy to follow restrictions but when people enforce them in an impolite manner then that’s when I want to defy them. Take for example the one day I forgot to wear a mask inside the pharmacy because I was so scatterbrained due to being extremely stressed out. Instead of gently reminding me to wear a mask the clerk gruffly said ‘you’re supposed to wear a mask, you know?’ The man has been my sworn enemy ever since. 

Not Antivaxx, Just Antivaxx For Me

When vaccines were finally being given to disabled people I was all set to get one, but then I learned people with my chronic illness of myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), a neuro-immune dysfunction usually characterised by severe fatigue that’s not easily recovered from, had very severe reactions to the vaccine. It just wasn’t a few but dozens and dozens of them. For years I have tried to not make my symptoms severe by not pushing myself beyond what my limited energy could take. But here were people made extremely ill, and unable to get out of bed for months, all because of one injection. Severe ME often has people unable to leave their bed for decades, and these were not just the usual side effects from a vaccine, but the ME itself reacting to the vaccine, which can happen with any vaccine.

I made my decision that I wouldn’t get the vaccine because I couldn’t risk becoming bedridden, because there wasn’t anyone around who would be able to take care of me. I would just wait for restrictions to lift for unvaccinated people. But it wasn’t to go as smoothly as I envisioned. Everywhere it seemed from the news to social media,  that everyone was urging people to get vaccinated. Most not very politely. It was a damn demand. My PDA anxiety triggered over and over again. I felt an intense anger well up inside me. I felt misunderstood for being put in the same group as antivaxxers. Sometimes I argued aggressively, sometimes I replied without a hint of emotion in my words but was so detached from them I just explained my circumstance factually. Eventually I’d just completely ignore them. The most I’d do is roll my eyes as I did my best to avoid them. 

An image showing a sign that says you can only enter the building if you show proof of vaccination.
Maybe I’ll just die?

I now see signs on most shop doors saying you’re required to show a vaccination passport in order to enter. I have no interest in entering their premises, but the anxiety is still there. It guarantees my PDA vigilance is always at the surface. 

I’m also not able to go to my church until December 5. That one hurts, because it was becoming a Christian again and watching the church’s livestream that help me cope in the pandemic. Eventually, I attended the church though it took many months of waking up early, eating enough food to avoid a hypoglycaemic crash, and getting ready in time to catch the bus to make it in time for church. As it’s streamed live I don’t want to be walking in late. It was hard too being transgender and being around so many cisgender and straight people, and even use their restrooms. But I eventually did it and met so many lovely people, and enjoyed talking to them about things I couldn’t talk to anybody else about. 

The church has plans to move into their own building because currently they’re renting space into a music venue, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make it to the new location. So, I decided I’d just never return to sort of lessen the hurt when I’d have no choice but stop going for good. Fortunately, the church has no plans of leaving my suburb. Still, getting back into the old routine of 6am starts is going to take a lot of work.

Vaccine Anxiety

What people don’t understand is that my refusal to get vaccinated comes from a place of extreme anxiety. It’s as if getting vaccinated is knowingly consenting to having your legs removed, because that may happen to me. I’ll still have my legs, I just won’t be able to move them very well. I know that may be highly offensive to wheelchair users and people without limbs. But it’s a lot to adjust to. Wheelchairs are expensive. I can barely afford to upgrade my Xbox let alone buy a wheelchair and my apartment building has no disability accessibility and I live on the top floor. So that would mean moving which costs more money. I don’t think I have it in me to become even more disabled. It will eventually happen as my ME gets worse every year and I probably have long COVID on top of the ME, which has the exact same symptoms. But I’m not walking into severe ME. I wouldn’t be able to afford a carer, and I don’t want to have less than the 3 hours of energy I have in a day. It’s hard enough to live like this. I’ve had no choice but to give up on my photography and going to see live bands. That one hurts a lot. I also can’t be the screenwriter I want to be.

To suddenly become more disabled would break me. I’m not risking it. So miss me with the ‘ableist’ label. I have internal ableism – there’s a difference. But no one I know with ME wants it or even wants to identify with it.

I’m unable to get my testosterone shot without a vaccination passport, unless I inject it myself which can go very badly if not done properly. It’s been three months since I was due to get another shot and my changes have already started to reverse. I already feel the pangs from PMS cramps, and I yet again have PMDD because I tear into everyone I have a disagreement with. Plus the migraines and earaches together tell me what’s coming. I’ve also had a resurgence of gender dysphoria I’ve not experienced in at least two years. 

All it takes to end this pain is two vaccines several weeks apart but I’m not doing that. Truth be told, lockdown put me in a state of inertia which makes me not even want to leave my apartment for more than buying food. I’m certainly not going to jump on a bus and walk all the way to my doctor’s surgery to get vaccinated or even get my testosterone shot, which is why I delayed getting it done until it became impossible for me to get it done. It was the same with getting a haircut but that’s the least of my problems. 

Restrictions Still One Month Away From Lifting

COVID restrictions in New South Wales are due to lift for the unvaccinated on the 15th of December or until 95% of the state has been fully vaccinated. It feels kind of weird being one of the few who still can’t go into retail shops, cafes, or cinemas despite them being open. On my usual walks to the supermarket to replenish my fridge and kitchen cupboards I pass cafes full of people, then my eyes dart to the sign telling people if they want to sit and eat that they need to show a vaccination passport. Then I sigh and continue to head to the supermarket. 

My roommate left so it just feels like everyone is going back to normal while I’m just doing the same thing. My days feel monotonous as I drag myself through the same old routine. I’m just biding my time waiting for December 15 to come so I can then organise my next testosterone shot, get a haircut and maybe see a film. Most days I don’t want to get out of bed or shower because it’s just the same boring process each day. And now I’m barely going to have enough money to make my days more entertaining. To be honest I probably have developed depression. 

It’s even hard to get into the mood for Christmas. I’d say ‘spirit’ but honestly that just makes me roll my eyes. Yes, I’m cynical but I haven’t celebrated Christmas with anyone since 2019. So, I’m allowed to be cynical. And the little excitement I had for Christmas dissipated once I realised I wouldn’t have the kind of money to do something special for my nephews and nieces. And there ain’t going to be no presents when I’m purposely buying $3 protein bars to keep me full most of the day instead of making proper meals. Part of me believes I’m not even going to be able go to Christmas lunch because I’m unvaccinated. 

Like I said before my changes on testosterone are reversing and that brings back gender dysphoria and fear people are looking at me cause I don’t pass as well as I did before. And even though I don’t have my period yet the whole situation still sucks. I’m moody, depressed, and low on energy.

So, the rest of my 2021 isn’t looking too good. But I will not yield. PDA has made me resist to the point of suicide. I’ve been through all this before. It’s just emotional torture, and some really painful period cramps.

In my last post I talked about how to respond to someone with PDA. Well now I need you to not try to push people, who may fit the symptoms of PDA, to get vaccinated. In fact, we need to respect someone’s choice not to get the COVID vaccine and understand not everyone refusing it is an antivaxxer. You could be causing someone a lot of distress by pushing them to get vaccinated, and may ruin your relationship with them entirely. 

However, if it’s your child you could restructure your words like I taught you last time. If you’ve forgotten or haven’t read that post yet you can click the below link taking you back to my previous post to learn just how to do that.

How To Respond to Someone With PDA

Photo of an awareness arm band reading 'PDA Awareness.'

CW: Brief mention of self-harm and suicide.

Pathological Demand Avoidance syndrome (PDA) is a type of autism characterised by an extreme anxiety reaction to being given orders, but can also trigger over being given suggestions or even just presented with new information that doesn’t fit their world view. This anxiety makes a person with PDA resist anything that can be interpreted as a demand. They do this because they need to feel in control of their environment, so rather than wanting to control people purely to have power over them they may try to control people to decrease their anxiety and feel some emotional stability again.

People with PDA don’t just trigger over being given orders but how the order is said. That’s why it’s important to know how to respond to someone with PDA so that they not only feel less threatened by what you said but may actually do what you say.

What Not To Say

Social media is often full of posts that not only tell people what to do but are written using the most triggering words to someone with PDA. Words such as ‘should, do, don’t, stop’ should all be avoided when talking to someone with PDA. You can’t always do this especially when you’re talking to a wide audience, but if possible you could try to consider the feelings about those with PDA before you post and restructure your post to be less triggering. 

This doesn’t just apply to talking online but also face to face. Then, you are directly talking to the person with PDA so it’s more important not to use the above words.

How To Say It Better

The way parents can avoid their child from having a PDA meltdown is to negotiate rather than demand. This helps make the PDA child feel more in control of their decision making, and adults feel just the same. It also helps to present your order as more of a question. As I noted in the intro a suggestion could be just as triggering, if it’s presented like a demand. If you’re going to suggest something to someone with PDA it’s probably better to ask if you can give a suggestion first. Suggestions can be as big of a trigger as an outright demand.

Put It Into Practice

It’s not enough to say you know and understand how someone with PDA reacts to what you say while at the same time still triggering their demand avoidance. They’ll still get angry or may ignore and avoid you. You need to learn how to restructure your sentences so you can help keep them calm and actually may do what you ask of them. It will also strengthen your relationship with them. Not doing this may do just the opposite. How would you like it if certain people triggered your anxiety when they knew how to help you avoid it? 

Take for example OCD or PTSD triggers. You would do your best to make sure people with those conditions were comfortable and didn’t trigger into full blown episodes of anxiety and having to do rituals to control them or in the case of PTSD, lock themselves in their homes and not want to leave. Likewise, people with PDA may trigger several times a day just from the way people speak to them. 

Accommodations For All But PDA

Let’s consider some other conditions like depression, bipolar, BPD, schizophrenia and just your general type of autism. If you knew anyone with one of these conditions you’d do your best to make them feel comfortable so they don’t have a meltdown which often results in a lot of screaming, throwing things, self injury, suicide attempts and sometimes even becomes violent. You’d do your best to avoid them becoming distressed. In the case of autism a family member or friend would make sure they kept their symptoms in mind such as their difficulty transitioning to change, distress in a crowded and noisy environment, lack of interest or anxiety around others, and tried to integrate their routine as much as possible into their daily schedule.

People on social media even go out of their way to help autistic people understand the meaning behind what they say, by using ‘tone indicators’ such as ‘/S, /SR, /J’ which stands for sarcasm, serious, and joking. This helps an autistic person interpret their words better. There’s even a collective agreement in the disability community which intersects with LGBT and some left wing spaces, to not ‘tone police’ because it’s used as a way to silence people, who are most often autistic or neurodivergent in some way. Emotions by the way overwhelm me so I tone police to lessen my own anxiety from, you guessed it – PDA! 

It’s not just people with autism people on social media make it easier for, but deaf, blind, and even non-disabled ethnicities like black and indigenous people. In fact, people on social media make sure to respect almost every kind of minority by not using words that are offensive to them.

So why not PDA? Why don’t people accommodate for PDA by restructuring the way they speak to them? PDA comes with many of the usual autism symptoms and some people can fit both profiles, as I do myself. People seem to take those general autism symptoms into consideration but never for how they actually talk to me. Most times I have to just grit my teeth and try to ignore my feelings (masking), usually by making a joke out of what they said (a fellow PDA self-advocate called Sally Cat calls that the ‘funster’) to soothe my welling rage, or responding completely devoid of any emotion, sounding more like a physics textbook than an actual person. 

It seems no one wants to take the feelings of someone with PDA into account, even though our anxiety responses are basically panic attacks, rather than just an anxious fear response. It’s feeling a loss of control and feeling like people are taking that control away from you, forcing you into the corner, their words sounding like verbal abuse, trapping you to the spot. So of course you lash out. We can also turn that rage inward toward ourselves and self-harm and attempt suicide. To be told that one person’s need to vent their own emotions which causes distress is more important than your own need to not feel constantly threatened, just sounds like favouritism to me. Favouritism for the cute part of autism, and not the less marketable version. It’s the version that makes all the advocates tremble at the fact we could tarnish the spotless image they spent so long making, even if it doesn’t paint a completely accurate version of autism – because we still are autistic! 

All I’m asking is to try negotiating and restructuring your words to sound less demanding. It’s simple because I talk like this to practically everyone. Yes, it takes a lot of time and effort to get it right, especially if you have emotional regulation issues but it is achievable. 

I’ll elaborate on how some very specific PDA triggers make me feel and react in my next post titled ‘PDA and the Pandemic.’

Managing ADHD – Part 4: Building Social Skills

The social skills of those with ADHD depend on a number of factors; whether they have another condition like autism or how well they are at controlling impulses. It may also depend on how aware they are of themselves and those around them, to even notice how others react to them.

Generally, people with ADHD have good social skills and high levels of empathy, but sometimes these don’t come through in the moment.

Determine What’s Appropriate & Inappropriate to Say

Some issues that can arise can be innocently saying something without realising whether it may be offensive, or knowing people would take it that way but blurting it out because of a lack of impulsive control. There’s also the issue of the more hyperactive ones to take control of a conversation and talk over people. People can be put off by loud, excited talkers who talk too fast and don’t give them a chance to speak, so always take time to stop for a breath. 

People with ADHD are fast thinkers and due to a lack of impulse control can’t slow down long enough to consider what they are saying and how it would be interpreted. This could lead to embarrassing themselves, unintentionally offending people which then leads to arguments. It’s important to learn to hold back to not risk damaging interpersonal relationships.

All that takes is learning how to reflect on the situation, note what was said, how you said it and plan to do better next time. If someone thinks what you said was inappropriate it’s probably better not to repeat the same thing to them. Learn your audience. There are some people who would probably agree with you, and there are some who will absolutely not. 

Such subjects as mature jokes, politics, religion, and anything where people take sides. You really need to make sure you know a lot about the person you’re talking to before you bring any of those subjects up. It’s ok to disagree but some people can hold very strong opposing opinions which can turn a simple disagreement into a screaming match.

Try to learn what is inappropriate to say and try to catch yourself before you say these things. It takes a lot of practice, and you’ll slip up from time to time, but that’s just part of being ADHD.

We may not be able to change how people react to what we say, but we can change how we say it. 

If you don’t care about upsetting people then you can continue doing what you like but if you’re frustrated about always saying the wrong things and want to change, then this advice may help. 

Try Not to Jump to Conclusions

Lately, I’ve noticed in the ADHD community people make a lot of assumptions and jump to conclusions a lot. I picked this up because long ago people making assumptions became my pet peeve. In high school I was the subject of much gossiping and even my boyfriend joined in on these untruths because they made him sound better. Basically, people were saying we were sexually active. We were 13 at a Baptist Christian School. I lived by that old quote from a Steven Segal film, ‘assumptions are the mother of all fuck ups.’ 

So, I really hate assumptions. Like Marty McFly can’t stand being called ‘chicken’ a fuse blows when someone makes an assumption about me. It’s also intellectually lazy. 

I’m also annoyed by people jumping to conclusions on social media. The only positive thing is it gives me a chance to educate them or get them to try and widen their views, but I really wish I didn’t have to. We should not just assume we know how something really is without having the full facts. It’s arrogant, anti-intellectual and lazy. It makes us sound like conspiracy theorists, and also really really ignorant. 

Anyway, if there’s one thing people with ADHD all collectively have is an interest in everything, and when looking up more sources to form a clearer picture, you can then, temporarily, hyperfocus while learning something new. Isn’t that a much better use of your time than spouting stubborn willful ignorance you’re too proud to admit could possibly be wrong?

Build More Empathic Skills

If during face to face interaction or even online you find you’re not always empathising right away, then you can try to strengthen this by reflecting on the conversation in your own quiet time. Sometimes it can take us time to realise when we should have empathised and because our brains are thinking so fast, and usually get stuck on a few details of what’s said rather than seeing someone’s overall reason for saying something. 

So, spend some time going over the conversation later, seeing where you went wrong. Note how you could do better and next time put this into practice. If you need to learn some empathic skills you could try psychology sites that may have articles on such a subject. 

Remember To Practice Self-Care

It can be a very long and frustrating process to improve ourselves, so try to go easy on yourself. When you fail to do what you’ve set out to do just try to do it next time. There’s no need to feel that it’s impossible to change or waste precious emotional energy on beating yourself up, becoming depressed and even anxious for the next social encounter to go wrong. 

Always remember to celebrate each victory you make, no matter how minor. It’s important to have plenty of downtime too. 

The more new skills you build and the longer you keep putting them into practice, the stronger they become so you hardly have to consciously think about it, it just comes to you naturally. 

Managing ADHD: Learning To Regulate Emotions

Image of a very cross cat.

Many parts of the human brain have a role to play in the regulation of emotions. One of the main areas is the limbic system, but the expression of these emotions is determined by the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of our executive functions that help us with planning, organising, recalling memories, socialising and regulating emotions. The prefrontal cortex communicates with the limbic system via ‘frontal-limbic-loops’, usually to work out an appropriate emotional response. The connection to these limbic loops in ADHD are weak, think of it like picking up a lot of noise on a radio receiver. You can’t hear the message properly, so it sounds very fuzzy. This fuzziness leads to people with ADHD having less regulation of emotions, which makes them experience intense emotions, which makes it harder to brush off getting offended by them, especially if they are deeply personally affected by them.

It’s not just being offended they have a problem with but even little annoyances can build up overtime to explode into a meltdown. When it comes to day to day conversations with people having intense emotional reactions can make people with ADHD interpret what was said very differently, often becoming personally insulted and responding with anger. This is most often because of seeing things inblack and white, or getting stuck on specific details rather than seeing the full picture, and may also include a temporary reduction in empathising, overlooking certain details, making assumptions, jumping to conclusions, taking things personally which then leads to explosive outbursts. 

But you can learn to manage reacting this way using what I call the ‘Pause, Think and Respond’ method.

Understanding Human Behaviour 

The first tool you need at your disposal to manage your emotional reactions is to first learn about how and why people do the things they do. This should then make it easier to understand that all people have their own feelings and desires that differ from yours and because of a different life experience they may react to things differently than you would. We’ve all been exposed to different things growing up, even for those you may have a lot in common with. 

It may seem simple but even neurotypicals seem to forget this fact. Social media, especially in those online communities, has made us stick to our own tribe with our own specific language, and we expect others to talk the same and think the same. We expect them to just know it without explaining it. 

I’m not going to go through everything I’ve learned about human psychology, instead, I’ll instruct you to carefully study the words people use and how they say them, especially how they respond to things. Don’t respond back immediately but question why they are expressing those emotions. Read popular psychology websites to get some context behind them.

If you’d like me to write a more detailed post about this in the future just ask.

Pause, Think, Respond

I developed the Pause, Think, Respond method (PTR) as a way for myself to control my PDA Autism outbursts. Those with PDA can interpret even innocuous words as a threat. It then triggers severe anxiety and often the person will react in the way you would if you were being insulted. This can happen several times a day so it becomes very exhausting, both mentally and emotionally. 

So, imagine if you heard someone say something that you interpret as ableist, but this person doesn’t know they are being or even what the term means. But you don’t know this either. You could lash out at them because they are nothing but a disabled hating fascist (or something) to you. Or, you could pause, consider that they might not realise what they’re saying so you carefully think about how to best respond to them. 

Or someone says something to you that instantly angers you. You can shout and insult them, or you can pause, spend some time thinking over it, and you might find that they probably didn’t intend to. 

You can use this method in multiple ways. If you keep in mind that certain news is presented in a way to rile you up, you can challenge that by seeking out more details to the story to get the full facts. Then there’s less need to join in on the backlash.

It’s Nothing Personal

It’s important in our interpretation of what’s said to not just get stuck on specific words that may offend us. I’ve seen this all the time in neurodivergent spaces. People zero in on a term that may be offensive to them, or they have strong feelings about because they relate it to a personal experience. So they can’t let it go. They respond to just that part of dialogue, even if it wasn’t really part of the point the person was talking about. 

Try not to take things said too personally. Usually, people are speaking in general terms and aren’t aware that it may be reminding you of a past trauma. 

You can take some things said emotionally. There is nothing wrong with being touched by a sad story, or relating things to a childhood experience, or being so overwhelmed with joy or feeling a strong connection to someone over a shared interest or similar experience. But if your emotions are causing you great stress and that stress is just going to result in you lashing out at someone it’s better to exercise some self-control. 

It’s also important to not make everything about our neurodivergent condition. When people omit disabled people from what they’re talking about it’s usually because they’re not aware that disabled people are affected by this certain issue, not that they don’t care. Here is a good opportunity to gently fill in the gaps. 

So, this part was very short to the point. I’ll elaborate on how you can understand people more by building empathy skills and also explain some social issues that are specific to people with ADHD and how to overcome them, in Part 4.

Managing ADHD-Part 2: How To Get Stuff Done

So, once you have your diagnosis and have been prescribed medication it’s time to make the best of them or if you’re self-diagnosed without medication it’s time to come up with some strategies for better managing your ADHD. Those on medication can use these same strategies too. The medication may make it easier to put these into practice, but don’t worry, speaking as someone who quit medication 10 years ago, it’s possible to keep to these strategies without it. In fact, it may help you strengthen them longer without medication. But each way will work fine. I’ve done both. 

There are ways to self-medicate your ADHD with everyday drug free products if you’d like to get the same yet short term benefits as Ritalin and Adderall. I highly recommend Omega 3 or fish oil capsules or if you would like a tastier one: the theobromine in raw dark chocolate sweetened with Stevia for that extra kick. In Australia there are many products where you can buy it like that ready made. Equal and Well Naturally are my go to brands. Peak even make a chocolate bar to help you focus. I’m powered by theobromine and stevia just to write this blog. There’s also alkaline water you can drink in small sips, because it’s not very good for your stomach in large quantities. I find when I have it like that I can clean my whole apartment effortlessly.

How To Be Better Organised

So in this next part I’m going to try to help you get better organised by first helping you focus and retain that focus for hopefully a number of hours. It helps to set aside time to do a certain task or project if you are finding it difficult to get out of the procrastination stage. This takes away anything it may clash with and keep away distractions, because well we’re going to completely eliminate them. If needed we are going to completely disconnect the internet or at least give ourselves a temporary ban from it. You can even motivate yourself with a little reward after you complete it, such as a snack or some time on Netflix or a videogame or something else you really enjoy. But please remember this comes after and not before. So if you want to reward yourself with let’s say a doughnut do not buy it yet. If you cannot resist temptation you will eat it immediately. This happened with someone I gave this tip to once. 

For some people it helps to put on some music. Usually an album you know so once you get absorbed into a task you forget you’re listening to it at all. 

Making Short and Long Term Goals

An image showing the differences between short and long term goals.
A list of some short and long term goals I’d like to achieve. Note: I may not do all of them.

I highly recommend you work on some short and long term goals, this will help make it easier to organise your day. Here you can then decide what is most important and what is less important. Prioritising like this can help you get the most urgent tasks done first, like remembering appointments and going to them, or paying the bills, or unsubscribing to a service when you can no longer afford it. That could also be a long term goal.

Short term goals are things you can get done within days or weeks whereas long term goals you can get done over months and years. So short term goals are the top priority, even if long term goals are important they don’t have to be completed right away. You can also rank short term goals in a manner of importance to less importance. Things that are top priority would be childcare needs, working out finances, healthcare needs (including mental health), providing enough food and planning and making meals. Anything that is urgent. It depends on what is important to you. 

For me cleaning is most often a top priority and so is making sure I have enough food for myself and the cat, and staying on top of my finances. 

When it comes to things like hyperfocusing on subjects you’re interested in, this is of low priority. It’s important to separate what’s of top priority from leisurely activities. Hyperfocusing is an intense state of focus for those with ADHD that they become completely absorbed in it that they become oblivious to their surroundings and lose track of time. It can last over days and weeks.  It can also be used to get important tasks done or even to focus on one’s own career. This is when it becomes a higher priority. But usually hyperfocus needs to be redirected from just things we’re interested in onto things we actually need to do. 

Starting a To-Do List

An image explaining how to set out a to-do list if you have ADHD.
How one of my first to-do lists looked.

If you’re still finding it difficult to motivate yourself to do the task then you may need to get into a habit of routine by yes, starting a to do list. Now you don’t have to do this or do this in the way I say, because everyone has their own way that works for them. But I find keeping to a to-do list helps me stay productive throughout my day. 

The way you write your to-do list depends on how much help you need to stay organised. Originally, I wrote everything down, from when to get out of bed and do my ‘morning routine,’ to scheduled meals and snacks, to scheduling leisure time and then finally going back to bed. Then I shortened it into the most important tasks I needed to do. But since I moved onto a digital to-do list instead of wiping one list and starting from scratch I add to it, so it is pages long, but I only bold the parts I want to do on the day or over days, if I really can’t fit it all in. It looks daunting but it works for me, and I actually do most of what I set out to do. It also helps me not beat myself up about not getting it all done in a day. 

So, you can decide how to write your to-list; jot a list down on paper or digitally, set alarms or leave voice recorded messages. You can even cover your home with post-it notes reminding you what to do. If you do write a to-do list then try to get into the habit of checking it every few hours. Usually when I reach a point in my day where I’ve done a lot but don’t know what else to do I’ll check it and cross out what I’ve done, then I will see what I have left to do. Crossing out tasks you’ve completed gives you a great feeling of accomplishment too. You might also want to do the same when you write a shopping list. I highly recommend it. I always carry a shopping list written on paper in my pocket. In fact, to help myself not go over budget I make sure to write down the price of each item. 

But it’s fine if you don’t want to do a to-do list or struggle to keep to them. As I said, we all have our own way to get organised. 

Now you’re focused and ready to start the task, there’s nothing in the way to distract you, and this specific time has been freed up just for this one task. Get to work. Remember, you can reward yourself afterwards.

Improving Your Memory

Another skill to work on which will help you remember what tasks you need to get done in a day is to improve your short term memory. It’s the memories that reside in the frontal lobe (front part of your brain) that you need to be able to recall throughout most of your day and over days. Having ADHD greatly impairs this ability, but you can work on ways to improve it so it isn’t as bad as it is. One way to do this is to write down things you really need to remember. You can also screenshot information if you can’t motivate yourself to write it down. 

If you want to work on building your working memory skills you could also just try to recite random bits of information, like simple scientific facts. I struggle to remember scripture verses in the right order, but with repetition I’m getting better at it. I also improved my mental math by first downloading a grade school math app, and then by just having to use it a lot to work out the prices of groceries. And also, by playing games everyday that required a lot of addition and subtraction. 

There are also specific brain training apps you can use. I played A Clockwork Brain everyday which helped me improve my memory. 

Now that you have a better idea of how to get organised, plan goals and build memory skills we’ll move onto how to control those intense emotions of yours in part 3.

Managing ADHD – Part 1: Working Out If You Have ADHD

October is ADHD Awareness Month and I always like to take this time to write a post on issues surrounding ADHD. Today, I want to mainly focus on people who are still trying to work out if they have ADHD, and also newly diagnosed people and people who are still struggling to manage their symptoms. I’ve divided this article into four parts, to save you from the feeling of being overwhelmed by the wall of text. I’ve tried my best to make this as ‘ADHD friendly’ as possible because I think the advice contained within is invaluable.

Steps Involved in Getting an Adult  ADHD Diagnosis (Or Properly Self-Diagnosing)

I was diagnosed with ADHD 11 years ago when I was 24. I discovered I may have ADHD by accident when I was reading about ADHD to better understand what my future step brother goes through. He never became my step brother after all of that, but in reading a book simply titled ‘The Facts: ADHD’ by Mark Selikowitz I found that with each page played out the history of my childhood, especially the section about autism, which I had been diagnosed with a year earlier. 

Since finding out I may have ADHD and being diagnosed with it I’ve done a bunch of trial and error to see what coping mechanisms works for me to stay more productive and get my symptoms under control, and I feel confident enough to share what works with you.

Picture of a book that says 'ADHD: The Facts by Mark Selikowitz.'

How to Properly Self-Diagnose

But first let’s go back to that moment when a person realises that they may have ADHD. They may have done a short online quiz, read a Twitter thread under the #ADHDTwitter hashtag and related to it, or found similarities with their child’s ADHD symptoms as what they once thought was just part of who they were, or from a multitude of other sources.

They may have related to things like:

  • Never being able to keep an appointment.
  • Can’t find something seconds after putting it down.
  • Work area is messy but it helps to stay organised because everything needed is within reach.
  • Lying anytime someone says ‘remember when’ because of not wanting them to be annoyed by having to fill in the details.
  • Pretending to get it the third time after seeing someone’s irritation of having to explain something again and again.
  • Beginning sentences from the middle and not understanding why people can’t follow.
  • Couldn’t wait turn at school, and as an adult are anxious to have turn to talk, which results in butting in and over talking and dominating the conversation.
  • When it comes to verbal instruction can only follow one sentence, any more than that and the details get mixed up and the last thing said is completely forgotten.
  • Being called random by people when connecting two seemingly unconnected subjects because they can’t see it.
  • Saying impulsive ill-thought out things, and becoming embarrassed when people laugh or look at you strangely.
  • Cleaning or starting a to-do list or planning goals is like pulling teeth.
  • Reacting more emotionally to situations than others, and taking longer to calm down.

You may think that may be enough to think you do in fact have ADHD, but you need to dig a bit deeper, because ADHD can mimic many other conditions. I myself had an MRI to rule out organic causes of my symptoms, but there’s also other neurological and psychological conditions that can mimic the symptoms. Also, there’s a newly discovered condition called internet addiction disorder, which in the earlier studies found that it causes the brain to mimic ADHD symptoms. It’s an environmental cause, if you will. Though it’s not ADHD, because it can be recovered from. 

But I will not talk about that here. For more info on that read ‘The Shallows’ by Nicholas Carr.

It can be very easy to think you have ADHD when you don’t. These days many neurotypicals themselves can relate to the symptoms just because of how our attention spans have changed over the decades. So, dig deeper. I’ll now explain how to do that.

Continue to read articles from either pop psy (ex: Psychology Today) or research journals. Join an online ADHD community and don’t be afraid to ask questions to people there. Or just quietly lurk there and read the threads. But most importantly go to a library or a bookshop or an online bookshop and find books about ADHD, like the one I mentioned above. It’s harder to publish misleading information in a book than online.

Seeking an Official Diagnosis

Now that you’ve spent a few weeks or months learning about ADHD you have a better idea if you have it or not. You have two options: remain self-diagnosed or seek an official diagnosis. I have no problem with self diagnosis if it’s done right, but if you want to treat your symptoms with medication it’s better to get an official prescription. 
I actually found that in my experience doctors do not mind if you are concerned about having a certain condition. It seems to make their job easier. I usually hand in a list of symptoms, but see if you can try to read these out as doctors will just skim through them, particularly a GP, who’ll you’ll be seeing first to get a referral to someone who specialises in ADHD. Try to keep the list short and to the point by putting down only your most impairing symptoms, without too many details – save that for answering your doctor’s questions – keeping to a minimum of ten or less. 

Here’s an example of what to put on your list:

  • Have a hard time focusing on something, and keeping that focus.
  • Struggle to have motivation to clean and do other household chores.
  • Can’t remember much in the short term and get dates confused.
  • Easily overwhelmed by a large workload, especially in an office based job.
  • Find it hard to commit to things, even things you want to do (like a hobby).
  • Can focus on something for hours, though find it difficult to focus on things that need immediate attention.
  • It’s hard to follow conversations or put your thoughts into complete sentences (hard to introduce what you’re talking about).
  • It’s hard to follow directions when a lot of information is given at once.
  • Constantly letting people down by forgetting to do what they ask.
  • People call you rude, unempathetic, and selfish but you’re not meaning to be.

Your GP can’t do much more for you except to give you a referral to a psychiatrist or outside of Australia they can also refer you to a psychologist. I’m unsure if in other countries psychologists can prescribe ADHD medication, so that’s something you’re going to have to look into. Here in Australia only a psychiatrist can. 

When you see a psychiatrist they will ask for more details about your symptoms. They are looking for evidence of your symptoms in childhood, so some pre-planning can help. Try to think back to your childhood to times when you had problems focusing on school work or handing in homework or assignments on time, problems socialising, repeating the same behaviour even though you knew it was wrong but couldn’t change it, and problems with memory. Though for some there may have been no issues with completing schoolwork so it will be harder to pinpoint ADHD symptoms in childhood. This is because their own self help strategies masked their ADHD. It can be helpful to bring in report cards and if possible, have a parent there to fill in the blanks. 

But if you can’t fill in those gaps about your childhood experience don’t worry, because they are also looking to see how impaired you are by your symptoms today. 

So, now you’re either officially diagnosed or self-diagnosed. That doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck with these symptoms at the level they are at forever. There are things you can do to minimise their severity so you’re less impaired by them, and can lead a much more productive life. Or just be less stressed out by them. Part 2 will cover ADHD management strategies.

Let’s Talk About That ‘Gaming Addiction’ Episode of 4 Corners

An image of a table with video game controllers, a gaming headset, and a wall of video games stacked behind it.,

Last Monday 4 Corners aired their report on gaming addiction and the predatory behaviour of gaming companies, and as expected there was instantly a backlash against it. Though I kind of went in with an open mind, others tore into every part of the show, with sardonic commentary, and not really giving the episode a chance. 

The show started talking about gaming addiction, showing testimonies of people who had developed the condition, from mothers to children. 

I was deeply touched by their stories as I went through something similar. About six years ago I realised my gaming had become obsessive. I had stopped going to work, socialising or taking care of my health, just so I could game. I was spending more money on games over various consoles than I ever had before. And despite being part of a ‘party house’ where people were coming and going, I did not care to welcome any guests. There was even a birthday party in which I grunted my greetings to guests and returned to my game, bowls of snacks arranged near me, having been prepared just before I sat down to play. What made me realise I was having a problem with gaming addiction was I stopped going to see live bands, and some of the bands I missed were ones I loved the most. I missed out on going to an intimate set by The Vines at Newtown Social Club, and this was during a time where they rarely played anywhere. 

Of course, there was an underlying issue: we were due to move and my autistic brain couldn’t take such a dramatic change, so it reverted to a child-like form and found solace in video games. However, this was not the only time I was addicted to games. I had been playing Destiny for 9 hours a day for 3-4 years (excluding days when I actually went grocery shopping). I could do that because I was on disability so had all the time in the world to play. The longest I’ve played Destiny in one sitting was 12 hours, when people actually started to  show concern for my mental well-being. But I told them it was because of a new DLC being released. I still don’t know if that was true. I wasn’t really dealing with any serious issues over those four years. I just really liked the game. Actually, it was more than just liking it. It was the way the game was designed that made me want to play it more. Destiny is the type of game where to get anywhere in it, especially if you want play the higher level missions and get the best gear, you have to grind for days/weeks/months just to gain more experience and higher level gear. So, I was constantly trying to grind my way up to max level. But it’s a goal that while can be reached, never lasts long. So, I have to always grind to get to the highest level again, which requires me to play it constantly. Lately, the game has an element of FOMO about it, in that if you don’t play it within a certain time frame you can miss out on playing content, so players have to play it constantly so they don’t miss out. And they need to make sure their gear is of he highest power level, so they also have to grind like crazy so they can reach max level in time to play that content before it disappears. The repetitive content almost feels like muscle memory to them. They don’t even think to question it – it’s just the way it is.

Hearing the denial of the existence of gaming addiction from most of the gaming community really hurts, because I’ve lived through it and have to work hard to stop myself from falling into it again. For example I have to make a full healthy meal before I let myself play. No snacks. I also get terrible vertigo and stomach cramps if I start playing straight after eating, so I have to wait 30-60 minutes before I play. And I only play in 3-4 hour sessions. Developing a chronic illness has actually forced me to cut my hours short and become a casual gamer. It was hard having to demote myself from being a hardcore gamer, but it was affecting my physical health. Either I played games the normal way or I don’t buy food, or I don’t clean, or I don’t even make a meal. 

One such thing the gaming community likes to do when they actually do acknowledge gaming addiction is real is distance themselves from those who suffer from it, saying ‘there’s something else going on – they’re not like us normal people.’ Normal people. There is no normal. Every brain is unique; they exist on a vast Neurodiversity spectrum. I’m not a fan of the community but I do agree with their belief that every human brain is different from each other, in fact I’d argue there is no such thing as a neurotypical as even they develop mental illness, which apparently is neurodivergent. But like I said I’m not a fan of the community and I don’t want to dwell long on such things. 

So, calling yourself a ‘normal person’ is completely baseless, because there is no way to measure which is normal. Also, it’s ableist (discriminating towards disabled people) and our neurodiverse friends will come at you, foaming at the mouth, if you ever said they weren’t normal. 

Gaming addiction can be developed in those who have no pre-existing conditions. Some people just get addicted because they enjoy it, and certain games are designed to get you addicted to them. When I was studying game development I came across an article in Gamasutra, linking to a study about developers studying the psychology of gamers so they can come up with ways to get them to play more. I felt both intrigued and preyed on. And there’s no company that does this more than Bungie. Actually, it’s Activision but the best examples I can give come from Destiny. 

Ah, the games as a live service model. Make short unfinished content with the promise of releasing new content in the future, and have ‘live events’ that are nothing more than playing a mission on the same map you’ve been to 1000 times before. Ah, the looter shooter; have players play to collect guns and armour and do never ending quest lines chasing after a powerful weapon, only for them to tire of it after a few weeks, when you’ll offer another chance to get an even better weapon. And the cycle continues.

Sure, that all sounds so clear to me now, but it wasn’t before. I was one of those committed players that would tirelessly chase after that new coveted exotic, as Bungie dangled the carrot from a stick, and saw me as nothing but a customer, just another number to add to their tally of players logged in to the Destinyverse. 

I loved Destiny, still do. I love the deep lore and with every new release, a more fleshed out story campaign. I love taking my position as a Titan, the defender of The Last City, way too seriously and connecting with other players. Not just other players on a friends list but fellow soldiers, comrades, as we push back against the forces of Darkness. I told you I took this game way too seriously. I just love existing in the Destiny Universe. But it’s a very expensive hobby to keep up. The expansion packs and DLC are way overpriced for the little content you get. For years I tried to justify it by saying ‘well I’ve got 4000 hours in so I’m definitely getting my money’s worth.’ 

Then just one day I realised how pointless it was to chase after those exotic weapons by doing difficult quests. And all those game trailers Bungie released which made me think that this DLC this time will have the kind of content I want, and more of it, I could now see right though. This content will be completed in less than 6 hours. Maybe less. Bungie are so clever at deceiving us Guardians (what they call Destiny players), to hook us in yet again, as we may be thinking that maybe we’ve had enough of the same thing, only to sign back up for more of the same thing. 

But Destiny is fun, addictive, and a great game to play with people. Every time I complete a difficult mission and get a new weapon or piece of armour I get a hit of dopamine that makes me want to play more. All of this by design. But still it’s fun. And I will still play it and I will still love it. Though now I know exactly what it’s offering me. 

I didn’t talk about micro transactions much above because that’s what 4 Corners talked about next. The gaming community at least knows this is a problem and is predatory behaviour of gaming companies, and some would even say it’s ruining modern day gaming. But the ways the stores are set up to get you to spend more is the same type of mechanism that gets you to play more. One just takes real money so it’s more obvious it’s predatory, but the other one costs you time. 

The 4 Corners episode was a good introduction to non-gamers and concerned parents of the type of predatory behaviours that exist in games, and affects players. But it was biased. The only other viewpoint was from Ron Curry, from the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association defending microtransactions. You could really see what 4 Corners were doing. They wanted you to hate him instantly as the big bad wolf of the gaming industry. Documentaries themselves can be tools of manipulation, so I guess some backlash towards that was understandable. 

I’d urge any parents who watched the episode and who are thinking of banning their children from playing games – don’t. You now have the tools to control what your children are exposed to. Discourage them from buying loot boxes and hide your credit card in a triple locked safe, guarded by dragons. Take a more active role in their game life, without being the interfering mum (or dad) carrying in snacks and lemonade to cramp your kid’s style while they are hanging out with their friends, and instead educate them on these manipulative mechanisms and help them avoid falling into its trap. 

There aren’t just negatives to gaming, apart from being a fun way to spend leisure time, or a fun career to have, or a good way for socially anxious and lonely people to make friends, it also has neurological benefits. FPS gamers are said to have better reaction time than people who don’t play them, and those who try to get 100% completion by finding every type of collectible object in the game are said to develop a high attention to detail. As for me you can read this post that talks about how playing Destiny helped teach me social skills and feel more at ease talking to other players. They have helped my ADHD symptoms by teaching me to be patient so I can either get past a difficult obstacle or plan a good strategy for taking down a challenging enemy. They have increased my memory by getting me to repeat the same level after I failed to complete it before or several times, and learn from my mistakes. And because I have dyspraxia which gives me poor fine motor skills, being able to advance to the next level at all feels like such a huge achievement, and just restores confidence in myself. They’ve also helped my social anxiety and immediately made thoughts of depression and suicide disappear. 

The fact that we gamers can judge this 4 Corners episode as strongly biased also reveals how biased the program has always been, it’s just that before we agreed with what they were saying. I’ve always loved 4 Corners hard hitting and revealing journalism, but it’s always been so one-sided. Sometimes that’s ok when reporting on an injustice but when they clearly have an agenda you can see it for what it is. And it took gamers and their sarcastic replies to make us aware of it.

2020 In Review

Happy New Year! Around this time I like to write a short summary about the last year, and this year is no different.

And damn, what a year it was. 

Normally I’d speak from my own perspective but this time that’s going to be tough, because each and everyone of us was affected by 2020 in mostly the same way. 

Here in Australia we had the first few months of megafires caused by climate change, which were a continuation of 2019’s megafires that started around August. Many lost their homes, businesses, millions of native wildlife perished and in the cities people breathed in the toxic smoke and had to adapt to wearing face masks. Some hundreds still died of smoke inhalation. Then the rain came and it didn’t stop coming. Homes that were once under the threat of being burned down were now at risk of being flooded. 

Then, when they too seemed to clear, Australia got their first cases of a novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in late January. The infection spread as rapidly as those megafires. The government’s chief medical officers’ encouraged strict hygiene practices such as washing the hands thoroughly with soap for 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer when you couldn’t and keeping 1.5 metres from people. Even that wasn’t enough and the state governments called for businesses to be shut down, resulting in hundreds of thousands losing their job over night. The lines to sign up for the welfare payment, now increased, stretched throughout the street in every suburb. The website crashed. People took out their superannuation early. They did anything they could to survive financially. Rent reductions were introduced, evictions were frozen and compulsory job searching for welfare became voluntary. 

The states declared lockdowns, commanding people to stay in their homes except for essential work, food shopping, medical appointments and just half an hour of outdoor exercise a day. People’s boredom turned into despair as the suicide hotline Lifeline saw an uptick in calls and therapists saw an increase in new patients. People eventually adapted by getting some new hobbies; baking bread, making videos, being creative around the home, turning a spare room into a home gym, playing video games, connecting to others online who were going through the exact same thing as them, and adopting a pet. Some people wanted to help others feel less alone so offered to do things for them, like shopping, if they weren’t able to do it themselves. Neighbours met each other for the first time. Despite there being a mass panic about having enough basic supplies including toilet paper, bread, milk, canned goods, rice etc, people would provide these for free on the street. 

We humans are so adaptable to changes, even frightening and despairing ones that we experienced during 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic, that we began to adopt new ways to live life in the ‘new normal.’ Work from home became commonplace, Zoom meetings replaced overseas work travel, Telehealth appointments took up the bulk of GP and therapist visits, even the arts took advantage of video conferencing to keep their jobs alive. 

It seemed whatever 2020 threw at us we could find ways to adapt to. 

For me personally though, I was less adaptable. Being autistic and having my most severe symptom being a fear of change and difficulty transitioning to it, should have made me aware, but because I had been living independently for a few years I had thought I would be able to manage whatever came my way. Like other young people like me I was confused about the panic buying of toilet paper but I didn’t worry until I was close to running out. When the usual stores ran out I had to look for other places that sold it, but getting to these places gave me a panic attack because they were in new locations. Eventually I had to go online to buy toilet paper, and though it was a bit more expensive buying locally made toilet paper was a better value than buying marked up prices of commercial toilet paper from resellers. 

For the first couple of weeks of lockdown I had zero structure, I just stayed on social media all day. I was constantly watching the news, hearing COVID updates that I had already been updated about three times since I turned on the news that morning. It had made me more anxious about the pandemic and when I went to buy food my OCD was so high I had to buy online, but then that got so booked up that the supermarkets stopped it and then brought it back for people who needed it the most (pensioners/disabled people), which you had to be approved for. Around this time my anxiety was so high that I thought it would have been better if I starved myself to death rather than worry so much about when I could get food delivered to me. 

But eventually I could get my food delivered from ordering online again, and I even got a massive hamper full of basic ingredients, some of which I’d never bought before so I was kept preoccupied with having to learn new recipes. My niece even did a grocery run for me. 

Australia celebrated Easter in lockdown. I baked a damper and some ANZAC biscuits and ate some chocolate I had bought from the supermarket before my OCD had gotten too severe and stored them away in case there was a lockdown. 

I was finally able to distract myself from the pandemic by going back to the video game Destiny 2, and playing it from morning to night. 

Eventually I found my way onto Reddit to make some attempt to make friends because I was feeling lonely. It was my neighbours who despite the lockdown still had each other and that reminded me of how lonely I was. It didn’t turn out too well for me so I gave up, went back to Twitter which I spent an unhealthy amount of time on. 

Around August I had some unusual symptoms, not what you’re thinking. I woke up with what seemed to be an allergic reaction on and in my mouth. After asking around online especially in the ME/CFS Facebook group I found out it could be a fungal infection, Candida albicans to be exact. So I looked up how to overcome it naturally after the medicine I got didn’t work and just made me tired all the time. So I found the anti-candida diet and found myself on Reddit again, getting advice from the candida sub there. Then I was right back into Reddit and chanced upon a sub called Get Discliplined. First I was giving advice and arguing with people for not being sensitive enough toward the people they were meant to be giving advice to, then I started participating in the ‘plans’ thread, which is basically writing down a daily to-do list and sharing it in the thread. This is what helped give me structure and was what got me back into my screenwriting, and I was also encouraged by reading posts from the screenwriting sub too. So, while I was undertaking this strict gluten free no refined sugar diet I was also structuring my day with strict discipline and working on a script. I was finally able to forget about the pandemic. Lockdown had ended, and my state’s cases were down. There were still social distancing laws in place and high capacity venues were closed but medium sized venues were opening up with lower audience numbers, like music venues, the cinema, churches, gyms etc. 

But even after learning how to adapt to the changes, especially the restrictions, when the next COVID surge hit my city the panicking and bad habits to cope came back. And it took a lot to try and overcome them again, but fortunately I did this a lot earlier than before. 

However, the biggest test came in December. My Prime Minister always guaranteed us if we kept the hygiene regime up and followed the social distancing laws, that we’d be able to have a normal Christmas. This probably raised my hopes a bit too much because as it turned out, just a week before Christmas, that restrictions, which had been eased days before, were now tighter. Homes could only have 10 visitors which effectively cancelled my family’s Christmas lunch on Boxing Day, which also doubled as my 35th birthday celebration. I didn’t take it well. I had a mixture of emotions from anger and blame toward my Premier, to a resurfacing of abandonment issues that always come about when I go through a depressive episode. I guess you could say there was a lot of jealousy too, as I looked at those who could still celebrate Christmas with others with disdain. As a result Christmas just didn’t feel like Christmas at all. It was just another day, in which I continued my well structured daily routine, and did some baking and got sick off the food I made because it wasn’t nutritious enough. So Christmas didn’t seem to be worth it. Christmas just didn’t feel like Christmas and it still felt like it never happened. 

But a few months back I had become a Christian again and was reading Devotionals everyday and a few weeks leading up to Christmas I was doing devotional plans, one of which was written by televangelist Joyce Meyer, whom I grew up watching at 4am on TV. In them each day you get a devotional that usually has an important lesson to learn and about 3-5 scripture verses accompanying them. I felt I learned a lot from these, deeply, spiritually. So I kept doing them and so on Christmas Day I continued them and a lot of them had to do with the true meaning of Christmas. And because I often don’t dwell on it because it seems so repetitive to me hearing it every year, especially when I was growing up in church, so I didn’t pay too much heed to the birth of Jesus. But I decided to on Christmas Day, and I felt a peace I hadn’t experienced for days. Now I feel like I don’t need the Christmas celebration, the commercialism and manic gift buying and anticipation of receiving gifts. As a Christian it’s definitely not about that, it’s far deeper. Our salvation depends on that one story I had kept avoiding, so I stopped avoiding it and really dwelt on it. 

I don’t care if people don’t believe it as I believe, but it’s important to me. Through reading the scriptures I have found a kind of mental calmness and clarity that I haven’t experienced from anything else this year or the years before. And it helped and is helping me get through the pandemic. 

By the time my 35th birthday rolled around I was content to just do my own thing at home. The restrictions were still in place so I didn’t have much choice. I’d often spend my birthdays alone but usually in despair and loneliness. But this time I was happy to continue my routine and play some video games. And I didn’t experience all of it alone. My niece, her fiance and my step sister dropped by to give me gifts (gluten free cookies) and wish me well. It was nice to have their company, and when they left I didn’t long for more. I just continued with the rest of my day, which now included eating dinner and watching streaming services. 

I feel at 35 I’ve finally matured enough to be content in my own company, to not worry about how the world sees me, and to live my life according to the Bible, and not to be influenced by the world. 

And also, now that I’m, 35, I am no longer required to do job searching. After five nightmarish years of being forced by disability employment services to apply for jobs I know I can’t physically or mentally do, under the threat of losing my pension if I don’t apply to them, I am free. 

2020 was a trying year for all of us, especially me, but I too adapted and overcame some very serious issues and I feel like I’ve been transformed into a whole new person. 2021 will come with its own challenges but I must remember that I’ve survived through the worst and I can do it again. I only need to remember how I survived 2020 and apply those things I learned when the following years get too much, and then I can confidently face any challenge that comes my way in the following years.