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On the path to Depression

Welcome to the Year of the Dog.

A word of caution: it’s not a happy dog, you’re welcome to skip if you don’t like the bark.

Disappointed.

My 11-month old Bose noise cancelling headphone has stopped working on one side. Damn it. I’ve been counting on it to help me get through noisy days at home and in the office. I’m feeling extremely vulnerable and exposed now. The service centre is closed due to the Chinese New Year holidays and I’m not keen on making the trip either. I don’t know if they can get it fixed and if they can’t, whether I should spend another ridiculous amount to get a replacement headset. But damn, these are the most comfortable headset I could find, why couldn’t they last longer?

Disillusioned.

I like what I’m doing for a living because mental health is my passion but my increased exposure to humans and the outside world wears me out, especially when ideals and reality clash and you start to question the others’ motives and to what extent they are truly interested in improving the lives of those affected by mental health issues and whether our institutional belief and approach are not contributing to, instead of eliminating, the stigma on mental health. I am a believer of practice what you preach, which people don’t seem to give a fuck to. “What are these people thinking?” is a question I never stop asking but rather than attributing this to an impaired empathy, I’d say I simply don’t understand how the majority neurotypicals’ mind work just as they don’t understand how mine works, and a sad reflection of the fact that I’m being outnumbered by them in numbers. And then of course, the university incident which I keep bringing up because one fact I haven’t mentioned is I work for the university, yes, The University. Not only that, but The Faculty, although it is divided into different departments and centres and I have no direct connection with the relevant persons involved in the incident (and I did not disclose my full name in the correspondence). But the fact that I work for the university creates a cognitive dissonance. How do I continue to work for an institution that shuns responsibility? It doesn’t help that I do want a job in the university because I don’t think I can take on a job that requires me to commute at peak hours and living within walking distance to the university takes a load off my mind.

Depressed.

Then there’s the flat I currently rent and have stayed for 11 years. Four years ago, I had a bout of depression and was losing weight at a rapid rate, the nurse at the university clinic was making a big fuss about it. (Rule No. 1: Don’t kick up a fuss over me!) I was enrolled in the university then as a graduate research student in the Faculty of Law and having trouble completing my thesis. At the same time, I was being plagued by noise problems in the flat. Although I was already diagnosed with autism years earlier, it wasn’t until this sequence of events that I realized my sensory sensitivities and weak executive functioning skills were actually manifestations of my autism. What was troubling me then was I could hear my upstair’s neighbours’ footsteps (and their golden retriever’s pawsteps) throughout the day, which was very disturbing. What makes the whole incident strange was they weren’t neighbours who just moved in but have been staying above me for about 4 years. Why was this happening then? Why am I suddenly hearing their footsteps? I could also hear them vacuuming the flat and moving stuff about. They said they haven’t changed the flooring in their flat and claimed they were walking normally. There was no way for me to prove if they were telling the truth or lying, whether they couldn’t care less or whether they did try to keep it soft. I can’t file a police complaint because it wasn’t like they were having late night parties, I can’t stop them from walking about in their own apartment. The anxiety was triggered by the fact that the sounds occur throughout the day and was unpredictable, which meant I had extreme mood swings. I could be enjoying myself one second and feeling irritated the next, I had no control whatsoever, I was practically at the whim of my neighbours. During the day, I could still plug in to my music. At night, I’ve tried wearing ear plugs to bed but they were extremely uncomfortable and I had difficulties getting them to stay fixed in my ear. I’ve tried white noise machines but the footsteps and their impact were still audible. I got so fed up I started looking around nearby for flats to rent. It was difficult because compared to the amount I was renting, the rentals were expensive and I actually do like the flat I’m staying in. However, I was desperate to move out of the situation because of the noise as I saw no prospect of it improving. The flat was my peace haven but the peace was gone and that made me depressed because I lost my peace haven. In the end, I did move to another flat in the building beside but barely three months, I wanted to move back to my old apartment because I hated everything about the new flat especially the stale smell and the lighting. This was a particular dark period and I remembered it because it was during the FIFA World Cup season. I contacted my old landlord about moving back into the old (i.e. my current) apartment. I figured if I have to stay depressed, I rather be depressed in a flat I was comfortable in than somewhere else. About 5 months after, I did move back. I tried to be nice to my neighbours but they weren’t keen on further communication. The noise issue wasn’t resolved but at least, I was back in a familiar environment. From then on, I always have my music player by my side. I also got a sleepphone for use during bedtime. It doesn’t block out noises but at least, I could listen to my favourite music. There were nights when I was kept awake by their footsteps, I opened the window, stuck a pole out, pointed it upwards and hit their wall. I’m not sure if they were aware of it but that was the only way I could vent my anger. People told me I would get used to it. No, People, Fuck it! This is what sensory sensitivity is about! I don’t get used to it. Repeated exposure to the source doesn’t desensitize my sensitivity. Get it? I get fucking mad as hell each time I hear it. I hated weekends because they tended to return home during the early morning hours during weekends. I hated Sundays because they vacuumed their flat on Sundays. I worked from home during this period and found that weekdays tend to be quieter and more predictable. This situation continued for another 2-3 years. I blogged about my frustration various times here (29 Jan 2017), here (5 Feb 2017), here (26 Mar 2017), here (3 Apr 2017) and here (8 April 2017). Then I finally decided to get a Bose noise-cancelling headphone around March last year which helped ameliorate the situation, especially when there were a few flats undergoing renovation at the period. However, it was still a tug of war situation when it came to bedtime. And then something almost miraculous happened sometime around May last year when I noticed that the noises have almost stopped (which explains why I haven’t blogged about this since April last year). I still hear them from time to time but it has reduced greatly and I no longer hear the dog. Sometimes, I don’t even hear any noise for several days in a row. Is the house still occupied or vacant? Did they move? It sounded unlikely though because I would have heard furniture, stuff and people moving about. Curious as I was, I was more than happy to enjoy the new found peace. I didn’t need to wear my sleepphones to bed any longer. This peaceful state of affair lasted for the remaining months of 2017. I do hear the occasional footsteps and noise once or twice a week but for the most part, it was blissful. I started to enjoy weekends again especially after I’ve started a full time job in September last year which requires me to travel to work, leaving weekends the only days when I could enjoy some rest and peace.

Come 2018, I was hoping things would stay the same, I think I got complacent, perhaps it’s a stark reminder that things and people do change and I should have changed. The noise is making a comeback. Just like before, it is unpredictable and happens throughout the day, especially at night and in the early morning hours. This is what is triggering my anxiety. I have been sleeping like shit because I have been woken up by noise at various times between 12am-4am. What the hell is happening? What happened during the last seven months or so of blissful peace? Who is staying above me now? Are they the same neighbours who were staying here before? Why are they always up or coming back in the early morning hours? If I know their habits, I might feel a little less anxious but I have no answers. Many times, I got so fed up I wanted to charge upstairs and knocked on their door but the thought of confronting them made me sick. I wouldn’t want people to knock on my door unannounced. Besides, I’ve done that several years before and it didn’t help, people aren’t going to stop walking about in their apartment just because I could hear them. I am intrigued with my neighbours’ lifestyle, which seems to go through cycles of drastic changes. These days, I go to bed playing white noise in the background in addition to wearing my sleepphones with music on. Still, that doesn’t put me at ease. In the past, I could still make use of the time they kept me awake at night to work whilst I catch up on my sleep during day time but with a day time job now, I can’t afford this. I’m nervous and anxious to go to sleep at night. I’m worried this will trigger another bout of depression. I’m outraged I wish my neighbours dead. I have enough interpersonal and sensory challenges to deal with at work, I’m not sure how and whether I will survive this.

Welcome to my Dark World.

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When Autism Awareness Goes Astray (Part IV): The University’s Response Article

This is a follow up to Part III of my post. After pressing the university to clarify its position 3 weeks ago, the university has published its ‘response article’ this week, written by the very same author, the contents of which are translated below. The translated title reads, “Differences in the display of empathy“. My initial thoughts are indicated in blue.


There was a letter from a reader referring to the issue of empathy in people with autism. Empathy is the ability to stand in someone’s shoes and to understand his/her thoughts and feelings from that person’s perspective, it helps us to interact appropriately with others. This seemingly simple ability actually involves a complicated process of comprehension and expression, including reading the mind of others, understand his/her needs and feelings, and responding appropriately.

Take the example of SY, a student with autism. When she returned home from school, she found her mother looking sad and sitting at the corner by herself, she thought for a while before returning to her room quietly to do her homework. It is possible that SY’s seemingly ‘cold’ behaviour is because she has difficulties conceptualizing the situation and feelings of others, she carries on with her daily schedule because she doesn’t comprehend that her mother is unhappy and needs attention; it is also possible that SY understood her mother’s feelings and felt anxious about her mother’s unhappiness, she thought about needing time alone to calm down when she was upset so she decided not to bother her mother and returned to her room. The former concerns a lack of understanding of emotions, the latter concerns the ability to show appropriate empathy. (Who decides what is or is not appropriate? Why is not bothering her mother necessarily not showing appropriate empathy? Are you aware of the ‘double empathy problem’?) 

Autism is a spectrum disorder, each individual varies; sometimes some people with autism does not seem to show enough empathy, the reasons behind cannot be generalized. The development of autistic children in reading the thoughts and feelings of others are slower than children of their same age, which will hinder understanding; but many high functioning autistic adults’ may have developed a matured understanding but lack the ability to express their empathy, as a result others may mistakenly think that they are inconsiderate. (Why are you suddenly talking about autistic adults? And what do you mean by ‘high functioning’? Is it even necessary to mention high functioning autistic adults here?) 

Empathy allows for greater harmony when we interact with others. Regardless of who, if we could take a different perspective to understand other’s behaviour through their thoughts, feelings and situation, we can resolve interpersonal problems more effectively and see a different world.


This article is far from satisfactory. However, at the very least, it no longer says that people with autism lack empathy. Nonetheless, if I am a lay reader, I would be confused with the two articles that are published on the internet, written by the same author, with seemingly contradictory statements. Or worse, people who read the first article without seeing the ‘response article’ because the so-called response article doesn’t expressly refers to that previous article nor corrects the misinformation in that article.

This reminds me of the story behind a Chinese idiom which means to contradict oneself.  The story happened during the Chinese warring states period, a man was trying to sell his shield and spear in the market. He raised his shield and claimed that his shield was the best in the world and that nothing can pierce through it. After a while, he took out his spear and claimed that his spear was so strong it can pierce through anything. Upon hearing this, someone from the crowd asked, “What happens if I use your spear to pierce your shield?”

The author and the university remind me of the man who wanted to sell his shield and spear. Fortunately for them, I guess, not many people would question the validity or legitimacy of what they hear or read from the news these days. I’m still annoyed with the university’s condescending attitude to the incident but I’m prepared to leave the matter to rest. I wanted vindication although I didn’t think they would apologise and I can’t force an apology. To be fair, I didn’t request them to retract the original article in my original letter to them and my main objection to that article was that it included a statement that was untrue, which they’ve clarified indirectly in the response article by contradicting themselves, which just makes the whole thing look like a joke. It is also contradictory when the author fails to recognise the paradox that underlies the ‘double empathy problem’ when bringing up the issue of showing appropriate empathy. People who claim that autistic individuals have a problem showing empathy often fail to recognise that empathy and perspective taking is two-sided.

The experience of a lack of realisation or the lack of insight is a very common one in social interactions of many varieties, however, and leads to the ‘double empathy problem’ between differently disposed social actors…So it is true that autistic people often lack insight about non-AS perceptions and culture, yet it is equally the case that non-AS people lack insight into the minds and culture of ‘autistic people’, or that they may lack social insight in other social situations due to an easily repaired natural attitude, and the aligning tendencies of their peers. One could say that many autistic people have indeed gained a greater level of insight into non-AS society, and more than vice versa, perhaps due to the need to survive and potentially thrive in a non-AS culture. Conversely, the non-AS person has no pertinent personal requirement to understand the mind of the ‘autistic person’ unless closely related socially in some way.Damian E.M. Milton (2012) On the ontological status of autism: the ‘double empathy   problem’, Disability & Society, 27:6, 883-887

I mentioned in my last post that I have sent to the newspaper my open letter response to the university although I haven’t received any response from them which is rather disappointing but it doesn’t matter now and I won’t press on. I am going to put the matter behind me but I’ll be watching them closely. On this note, I will end with a mock poster presentation on raising autism awareness 101: Get your autism facts right. 

 

 

Sharing good autism research practice: Cage, Monaco & Newell (2018)

One reason I have been feeling particularly down is because I’m tired and annoyed of reading and/or hearing cases of badly worded articles written by so-called professionals or experts that put autism in a bad light. These people probably don’t even care about the very population they’re studying, in which case, why are they even doing this in the first place? The incident involving the university is one example but I’m also referring to academic journal articles. These frustration were the source of inspiration behind this post. It is not very often that I come across a good article with a more balanced and emphathetic view of autism and I can’t wait to share with you this article I’ve just read about the importance of autism acceptance in mental health. Not only did the authors involve autistic individuals in the early planning stages of the research process, they also tried to counter some of the misconceptions surrounding autism. I know it is a 10-page long academic article but I really think it deserves to be read in full.

The passage below appears in the last paragraph of the article:

“Nonetheless, we believe that this study offers novel insight into the importance of autism acceptance for autistic adults and their mental health. Future research should further examine how mental health difficulties in autistic individuals can be protected against by improving autism acceptance…We would particularly advocate for interventions designed alongside autistic people, with a focus on neurodiversity (Gillespie Lynch et al. 2017). Wider societal acceptance should also be strived for to reduce the need for autistic adults to camouflage, and instead be accepted as they are. “

Cage, Monaco and Newell (2018) Experiences of Autism Acceptance and Mental Health in Autistic Adults,  Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders; 48(2):473-484. doi: 10.1007/s10803-017-3342-7.

 

My Apawlogies

Sorry, my family and friend.

I went back to Singapore for a few days last week as my mum had a cataract surgery. I’m glad to say the operation went well and she is recovering. Going back home is always a mixed feeling because I have no affection for the place I was born in, other than my immediate family. I know a friend living in Australia who happens to be born in the same country as I was. She said she felt close to me because we came from the same hometown and that means we shared the same memories of home and food. I hate to break it to her that I don’t share her sentiments. I regard her as a good friend simply because she is a good friend and not because of our common heritage.

Sorry, cats.

My parents currently live in a private high-rise residential in Singapore, which has been our home for more than 20 years. There are many stray cats hanging around the various blocks of apartments and over the years, we’ve seen many cats come and go. Many of the cats (and dog) you see below are no longer here. It makes me feel sad when I think of them and I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to help them much. Lately I’m starting to feel a little more depressed than usual and I was full of mixed emotions on the flight back to Singapore last week, I had this thought on my mind:

One day, when I have enough of this world, I am going to leave. When that day comes, I may not be able to say goodbye in time and I hope you can forgive me.  

Updates.

I had a rather productive weekend. I’ve just written and sent to the newspaper my open letter response to the university’s misleading article on autism. You can read about the university’s article here (Part I), my initial response here (Part II) and the author’s response here (Part III). I sent the open letter to the same newspaper in which the article was published. I would know in a week’s time whether or not it is accepted for publication. If not, I intend to send it to other newspapers. I will translate the contents of my open letter and publish it on my blog later on. I also intend to write another open letter in English and submit it to the English newspaper.

Sorry everyone.

It’s been 2 years since I started this blog and I realise I’m not making any progress in terms of pursuing my dream of moving to Australia or somewhere else that is less populated and spacious. There are a few mental health related conferences taking place in Australia this year which I wish to attend with presentation submission deadlines coming up in 1-2 months’ time. I hope I can submit mine in time. I don’t have too much expectations given I haven’t got much time to prepare but I would still like to give it a go. It is difficult because I am using my own personal time to do my own research as this is entirely outside my scope of work. It is a challenge to find time to work on my own project after work especially when I can become overwhelmed with fatigue and sensory overload. It also involves a lot of planning and organisation which my executive functions struggle with, not to mention that I have another research to work on at work. What this means is that, I might be spending less time reading the posts of the people I follow on WordPress. I’m sorry this has to happen, especially to those I’ve just recently followed. I didn’t sign up to follow your blog in the hope that you would also follow mine. When I click ‘follow’, I am genuinely interested in reading about your stories, hobbies and adventures. I’ve tried reading every post of the people I follow on a daily basis but that leaves me little time for my own research. There are many posts with informative and interesting ideas I’d love to read but sometimes it gets to the point of information overload, I start to get distracted and lose focus. I hope you will forgive my poor multi-tasking and slow processing skills. I’m sorry if I have not been reading or liking your posts.

I’m not anti-social, I’m selectively social

Sociable is not a word I would use to describe myself. It is a word I regard with distaste but I have a change of mind recently, after a visit to the Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket last month.  When we arrived at the shelter, there was 45 minutes till their next scheduled guided tour. While enquiring what we could do at the meantime, the staff at the shelter asked,

“Are you up for socialising with the cats?”

Upon hearing this, I had a wide grin on my face and replied, “Of course, this is the reason I’m here.” For once, the word socialising sounds like music to my ears. The guy at the shelter has given me a new perspective. I’ve always thought of myself as asocial, if not anti-social, but whoever said you must only socialise with your own kind? I love socialising, I’m just particularly selective about whom I socialise with. I’m not anti-social, I’m selectively social. 🙂 😺

I’m a party animal!

Excuse me, you’re standing too close!

Photobomb

Come join the party!