#FurnitureFreeLiving

Last time I posted I wrote about my overall experiences of using space more flexibly; a process I have undertaken since we moved house and into a new property that was slightly smaller than our last home. The walls were a lot higher, so it gave me an opportunity to think about how we use space and how to use it to better effect. Originally, we built up, utilising higher storage options and creating a bespoke bunk bed for my son out of reclaimed scaffolding planks to give him full access to the floor space in his room.

A rug is located diagonally with a small pile of cushions at one end.
Cushions and a rug make a furniture free space more comfortable and invite lingering.

Most recently I have moved away from the idea of different rooms have a designated purpose, often assigned by the type of furniture in it. Houses have bedrooms, with beds in, kitchens and bathrooms, (whose function we can’t really move away from), but otherwise part of the consumption driven approach to housing in capitalist societies is to keep buying a bigger house with extra rooms, all with a designated function. Therefore you end up with a couple living in a five or six bedroom property, with a games room, laundry room, lounge dining room and mud room for example.

Small wooden creates create flexible and attractive storage that is easily moved,

We’ve made the choice to use our home more flexibly. We have our television in one of our bedrooms, whose occupant prefers to watch this to relax and so the TV did not dominate the living space downstairs and overall layout options available within it. As a family most of our living takes place upstairs, but our son was struggling with a lack of space in his bedroom to play in, so he ended up with what would traditionally be the lounge/diner as a play room. In the future, this space may well be converted into a bedroom as well. Given we have multiple family members on the spectrum, personal space for downtime, hobbies and special interests is more important to us all that a space for collective socialising. The one bugbear at the moment is a dining space. I’m not happy without, one but other family members don’t feel they could manage with eating upstairs converting the smallest current bedroom. I guess that time will tell what the greater need will end up being.

A large wooden shelving unit contains drawers, boxed and folded quilts.
Storage allows furniture free spaces to stay clear and even houses bedding.

Within my own personal space I have embraced the idea of furniture free living quite radically and have found it to be a great release from constraint. The space taken up by a bed is massive in terms of the lost opportunity to move and play in different ways.

Bed is made up on different quilts on the floor
My sleeping arrangements – a bed as big as is required.

At the moment I have got rid of my bed, choosing to sleep on the floor Japanese style instead. My desk and kneeling chair has gone and has been replaced with a squatting desk and winebox stool. The main pieces of furniture in my living space comprise of storage, a really important feature given that the benefits of using space flexibly are maximised when things are packed away and not left around the room.

A black and white cat is curled up on a pile of colourful cushions
Feline embracing of furniture free living, every space becomes a napping spot!

Instead, the new room we gain becomes an exercise and rough-play gym, sleepover space, hooping studio and sensory playroom. Toys and props are left around as provocations for movement and we have a range of accessories to use with our ceiling anchor points which are invaluable for sensory breaks in winter when the weather is crap. Side tables are made from wooden crates which can be moved about to accommodate a whole range of activities as well as stacked to add a degree of novelty as moods change. Rugs and cushions make using the room during the day more comfortable whilst still gaining the benefit of different opportunities for the body to move and be used in many ways. Simply banning chairs and other furniture which only allow the body to lower to thigh height makes such a difference in terms of flexibility and muscle strength. I’m also pleased that my son is adopting some of these changes, such as sleeping on his own floor at times. Not only do they bode well for his future health, but can make a real difference in the perception of what is ‘needed’ and what is optional across a life time of buying things, or not as the case may be.

A low desk with a lit lamp and two monitors on top
A squatting desk encourages more movement and greater use of the body.

I am finding that I am getting healthier the older I get, mainly by removing many of the trappings of wealth and convenience we indulge in, in western cultures. I’m thinking about writing about these in the coming weeks, as lockdown challenges me to think differently about my life and space.

Three colourful hulahoops lean against a wall in front of a radiator and window
Movement provocations are left out to play and interact with.

Creative people in my life – Catherine Booker

In 2019 I have made retreat several times, including in May when I attended a mindfulness weekend, which I blogged about previously.

Although it was not as successful as I had hoped, one of the most positive things to come out was me meeting Catherine Booker, a beautiful and very talented woman who creates wonderful images. Catherine and I have struck up a relationship (I hesitate to call it a friendship at the moment) based upon some shared spiritual experiences we are talking about together. We have only just started this process and I am keen not to apply labels to something that is, as of yet, still embryonic in its form.

Catherine was kind enough to send me some images she had taken of the wonderful wildlife around the Taraloka Centre. They capture both the beauty of the natural setting, a large part of the reason I visit, but also her talent.

If you’d like to see more of Catherine’s photography please visit her Facebook page.

Air and light and time and space: how successful academics write (a book review)

Given I am about to begin writing my dissertation the process of ‘how’ to write, as in, finding the time, space, company, motivation and craft to write are of interest to me. Writing has always been an agonising, if increasingly more rewarding process, as I find my own style and confidence in the feedback that I receive.

Academically I know that I produce good work; well-referenced, analysed and synthesised arguments, but it is always answering someone else’s questions. At undergrad’ level, it is just regurgitating someone else’s work but now I have hit master’s level and I’m beginning to define my own interests, ideas and research the writing process is changing. It is taking on a life of its own, like my research itself.

The book I am reviewing is a great introduction to the art of writing. It divides itself into four subsections that approach writing from different perspectives that I hadn’t really thought of as the novice researcher than I still consider myself to be; behavioural artisanal, social and emotional, The author, Helen Sword, herself a seasoned writer, based the book on a comprehensive piece of qualitative research that included interviewing one hundred academics from around the world about their writing practice; its ebbs and flows, the benefits and challenges, with forays into pure abstraction such as exploring the metaphors academics used for their relationship with their writing. This was complemented with a further body of questionnaires that expanded out the data set to encompass a considerably wider scope of writers in terms of their professional status and career state.

I found the tone of the book to be light-hearted. It bestowed upon me a sense of comradery as a new recruit joining the ranks of academic authorship. It was heartening to see battle-scarred veterans still describing some of the struggles I have whenever an essay deadline looms.

Some of the perspectives were different to anything I had considered before. The struggles of those academics working within English as a second language shone a light on the inherent language bias that still exists in so many aspects of our global life as human beings. In some ways, the struggles of those coming to their work from very different cultural origins seemed to echo those I feel when thinking about how much of my own lived experience to seed into my writing. I struggled whether to use ‘I’ or not for weeks in my research essay. It was only the support of a very knowledgable and experienced tutor, who both has oodles of academic as well as lived experience of mental health distress to reassure me that it was the right thing to do.

The different experiences of writing that I can bring to bear on my current development as an academic were also things that I had not considered before. Working as a graphic designer, copywriter and web designer has developed a skill set in me that I draw upon regularly in my own writing. Being autistic is a blessing and a curse. I am able to zoom down into the detail to an infinitesimal scale, and my proofreading is also pretty damn good after working as an account manager. But I struggle terribly with anxiety and cannot often summarise what I am going to do, or even know where I am headed in my writing because I don’t have the structure and context to know the destination. I have just learned to trust my instincts that the end result will usually be pretty good, and ultimately enjoy the journey on the way.

If I were to sum up Air and Light and Time and Space, my best attempt would be to describe it as a book about the philosophy of writing that ultimately has many gems for living as well. the habits of ‘lucky’ writers and academics; noticing opportunities and building networks, trusting their instincts persevering in the face of rejection and criticism and seeing the positivity in challenging or difficult circumstances. These are habits I have cultivated myself in the last six years of being mentally ill and which I am finding also serving me as I recovery and carve out a new professional niche for myself. Similarly, the advice to do something creative or expansive before writing as a means of opening the mind rung true when I considered it in relation to the time I have spent on my allotment and riding my bike in the countryside. Not all the advice was as relevant, but this is the beauty of this book. I suspect that there really is something for everyone.

Overall I loved it (and have decided to write this review about 15 pages from the end). The organisation of the sections, together with the author reviews, very personal, and sometimes vulnerable, author contributions, with practical ‘try this’ sections and a brilliant list of further reading that is interspersed into the text rather than being lumped together as the end, weave together into a lively and colourful consideration of academic writing.

My United Kingdom travels

In amongst all the Brexit anxiety and heightened awareness of the climate damage that air travel causes I have tried to spend more time exploring the United Kingdom this summer, rather than relying on the old fall back of a cheap package holiday.

Time away this summer break has been particularly important. Last summer, most of 2018, was spent rectifying the abysmal state the property that Derby Homes let to us, was in. This affected nearly everything that was important in my life. My mental health, my relationship with my son and partner, and my allotment. The latter is just a case of pulling up some weeds, but my health and my family have taken more careful consideration; namely some respite and some dedicated time spent together one-on-one.

M and I spent a week together staying with friends of mine who moved to Totnes in Devon twelve months ago. The southwest really is a paradise for little boys and we spent our time peering into rockpools, crabbing off harbour sides and building sandcastles. M also seems to be developing a fondness for poking through charity shops and bought some fabulous items from a tiny antique shop located on Totnes High Street.

 

More recently I took myself off to Glasgow for a week of culture sans children. After locating an amazing Victorian tenement apartment deal on Airbnb I submerged myself into a five day extravaganza of culture, art, food and fresh air.

I had never visited Glasgow before this visit, or even Scotland. I was extremely surprised. Given the cultural stereotypes that exist about the Scottish (Glaswegians in particular) the exact opposite appeared to be the case, both of the city and its residents. Glasgow is a city with a style and beauty that is all its own. Given its association with Charles Rennie Mackintosh it is easy to say that would be the case, but walking around, the relationship between the architecture and art, and what we know as the ‘Glasgow Style’, is more symbiotic. Things that I identified as ‘Mackintosh’ existed every day in the city before he began working there, and so I think that the city influenced him as much as he eventually  influenced it.

 

I am looking forward to visiting Edinburgh inasmuch to see if my suspicion that there might be a similar relationship between it and Glasgow and Madrid and Barcelona is true. When visiting the first and second cities of Spain, Madrid felt very regal and austere. There was definitely creativity and pomp but it was also extremely regulated, with a high degree of protocol. By comparison there was a lightness of touch to Barcelona that I really appreciated.

I wonder if the same might be true of Edinburgh and Glasgow too

Patricular highlights of both trips for me were; in Devon, the ’round robin’ boat trip between Totnes and Dartmouth; crabbing in Paignton harbour, and having a coffee there thinking about my ex-partner Ian, whose birthday it was. He died last year and was the last person prior to this that I visited Paignton with. Mostly though, spending time with my boy; even the car trips were fun for that reason.

In Glasgow, cafe Zique, the Hanoi bike shop (try the ‘Feed me!’ option for lots of delicious surprises). The accomodation we stayed in; masses of character and perfectly located for walking around, the Botanical Gardens, and the Kelvingrove Musuem and Art Gallery where I learned about the Scottish Colourists and the Glasgow Boys.

I’m looking forward to exploring more of the UK in the next year or two.

Autism Dialogue Conference 2018

This year I have participated in the Autism Dialogue programme developed by Jonny Drury, in Sheffield, based upon Bohm Dialogue principles that are widely used in business and academia. The inaugural conference took place on the 14th December 2018 and I was invited to speak about the impression that AD had on me. The process of participating in Autism Dialogue has created a lasting and positive change in me that is still working its way through.

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The cave paintings at Chauvet in France demonstrate a new development in human artistic ability around the time of the major ice ages in Europe. These incredibly beautiful, photorealistic depictions were vastly more sophisticated than the previous simpler images, which we might typically recognise if we were asked to think about such early art.

Researchers from the University of York have aligned this new ability within a cluster of others that emerged at about the same time. Namely those of being able to focus intensely on one thing when making complex flint tools, to remember large swathes of terrain in order to hunt for food  that may be under cover of snow and over a much greater area because of animals becoming scarcer, and the ability to enjoy one’s own company more, because of longer darker nights and poorer weather making going outside of your shelter risky and uncomfortable. The same researchers have examined contemporary populations and have identified autistic people as being the closest fit in our own abilities and preferences to these new iterations of humanity that prevailed about thirty thousand years ago.

So to make this point as literally as I can, it seems autistic traits developed as a result of natural selection in order to give the people with them an evolutionary advantage under very specific conditions. We, autistic people, may have been instrumental in ensuring the survival of our species, which is a pretty big deal.

Thus, both modern science and art can appreciate very vividly the contributions an autistic version of humanity has made for the benefit and advancement of all of humankind.

I reflect with sadness that the same cannot be said for many of our peers today in the 21st Century where being autistic  is negatively stereotyped, stigmatised and regarded as a burden because of the cost associated with supporting people who are disabled by their inability to live in a world that can be distressing for them but which is also convinced of it’s own inherent validity in many instances.

I, we, have experienced a plethora of emotions, both collectively and individually. All of these became contents for the vessel of exploration that Dialogical Practice revealed itself to me to be. Perhaps the thing that struck me the most was the intensity of the perception in the room. At all events, autistic people were in the majority and our monotropic concentration that was focussed on the shared dialogue was palpable in its intensity. Similarly, the gentle stimming that many autistic participants subtly engaged in was catching. Our nonautistic peers commented how they felt comfortable engaging in their own stims which they would publically pack away in the presence of others.

I feel the Autism Dialogue events enabled a space for all human participants to experience autism in their own way, This unadulterated, unmasked undiminished autistic experience allowed us to explore its nuances and limits in a very visceral way. Ultimately though I left with a greater sense of who I am, a sense that there are others like me and that there is a beauty in my difference and our differences that has the potentiality to make a difference that I hope, at some point will be recognised as universally as the cave paintings in Chauvet are today.

Autism is a construct; a descriptive word. Today people with these characteristics are widely considered disabled and often lacking. Thirty thousand years ago we may have been revered as mystics, artisans or clan hunters if current research is correct. This makes me think that little by little and using tools and experiences such as Autism Dialogue we have a chance to chip away at the negative perception ‘Autism’ creates and transform it into something powerful and positive once more. Autism Dialogue has given me hope for the future in seeing myself and my community in this way and a new understanding of autistic beauty. I would like to thank Jonny for his work in making this happen and allowing me to be a part of it.

Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0d/Chauvet%C2%B4s_cave_horses.jpg

The latest…

Things have been a bit quiet on my blog for the last six months. A lot has happened, mainly positive, and with some challenges. The main change has been a house move. We still live in Derby but the house we were in had to be sold because of being owned by my partner and his ex-girlfriend who wanted the release equity, via a County Court case, which was quite stressful as you might imagine.

We were declared homeless in January and were lucky enough to secure a council house about ten minutes away from our previous home, meaning M could stay in the same school and all my support could stay in place.

Unfortunately life threw as a slight curve ball as we discovered there was still extensive work to do four days before we were due to move. When I mean extensive I am talking about rising damp throughout the ground floor, a rotten mouldy kitchen and woodwork caused by the damp as well as a whole host of other smaller jobs to complete.

Rather than my relaxed summer reading and prepping for my thesis I instead spent it trying to keep my head above water emotionally whilst project managing a major renovation and negotiating a compensation settlement. Cue another spell under the crisis team and much stress, but I am pleased to say that we got through and I am now trying to get everything else back into order whilst still playing catch up with my new uni term’s work.

On the positive side. We now have a home that noone has any claim over. We have got rid of the rather stressful ex-partner who had been causing stress since I was pregnant; over six years in total. We are no longer running a business from our home and finally have some stability to that space without multiple demands upon it and us as a family. I am getting back into my allotment and have found someone to share the plot with me, with the added advantage that they are a winemaker and novice forager too!

All-in-all it has been a tough six months but the important thing is that I, we, got through. Things that would have caused me to end up as an inpatient didn’t have anywhere near as bad an impact as it would have previously. It is good and satisfying to know that I have moved on and have healed, truly in the Buddhist sense of ‘this too shall pass’. Most importantly the last six months, despite the extra stress, seem to have cemented my primary relationship. Although I still consider myself to be polyamerous I have realised that this is enough for the moment and the forseeable future.

I am happy.

 

 

 

My mental wellbeing: a visual reminder

 

My mental wellness wheel
Capturing with imagery what was important to me when I was very ill in 2013. A great reminder of what I have overcome.

Tomorrow I facilitate a workshop in which women with perinatal mental distress will be asked to explore their health journeys visually. This caused me to remember a similar collage that I created at the request of a wonderfully supportive nurse to represent my own health and well-being needs and challenges.

it is an honour to have progressed far enough to be able to help others in a similar way along their own path.

 

 

I hear voices, I just didn’t ever realise the significance of it.

Today was the section of my research module that detailed the experiences of voice hearers, via a person-centred construct that applied meaning to their experiences, moving it away from a pathologised symptom of illness. Instead, voices are expressed as a natural response to traumatic events, often appearing at times of high stress and when reframed in this way, newly understood as facets of unexpressed emotion or aspects of abusive memories too traumatic to find voice.

As I read the dimensions around which the voice constructs were created I began to perceive similarities with my own experience.

To be clear, I had experienced very obvious psychotic symptoms, sometimes as a result of sleeplessness, sometimes brought about because of recreational drug abuse and in one particularly terrifying episode brought about by taking Citalopram, a chorus of continuous chanting  ‘Kill yourself, die. Kill yourself, die. Kill yourself, die” that lasted a week and stopped me from sleeping, driving me to follow their instruction from sheer desperation. These I could very clearly identify as voices that emanated outside of myself, as there was an ‘other’ quality to them.

There were always the other voices though. The ones who had been with me since I was a child.

Multiplicitous conversations, involving people family members from my past with whom I had rocky relationships and even different aspects of myself as ages from times past, the present and projected back from the future into my present experience. In my mid-twenties I was subject to three years of domestic violence and abuse. During this period a host of voices emerged, all facets of me at different stages of my life who struggled with the life experiences they dealt with. The four-year-old bruised from her parent’s divorce. The eight-year-old struggling to come to terms with the sexual abuse she experienced from a visitor to her home. The fourteen-year-old, undiagnosed autistic girl-woman adrift in a sea of peer bullying and social distress. The seventeen-year-old with a cocaine habit, spending as much time as possible away from home because we/ she couldn’t hack the tension in the family. They were all joined by my current (then) self and future manifestations from an imagined future, where you weren’t living in daily fear of being raped, or beaten or made to feel more worthless than a piece of shit.

We got together and told each other everything would be okay in the end. My then 25 year old self would comfort the eight year old, explaining that everything would be okay and you/she would stop feeling so dirty. We all talked to our future manifestation about what being okay was like, as a life and an experience. The future self had a little girl with her, who listened and didn’t say much, but whose presence, as a loved and cherished being was obvious. Her comments frequently centred around just who all these other people, were and why the other little girls were so sad.

Mostly, my voices were familiar and friendly, supportive and provided a much-needed sense of solidarity.  Even the critical angry voices, who I often identified with family members, were just part of my inner landscape. We conversed and I listened. They helped me to process situations I needed to prepare for or explore different scenarios that might happen. They helped me to develop the social skills I needed to deal with aggressive or confrontational experiences that happened in the real world – so the next time something similar happened I had more of the right words to defend myself with.

My voices have been with me so long that I barely even think about them, but I realised with horror this afternoon that if I had a negative response to these manifestations I  would possibly have been in line for a diagnosis of psychosis, with all the joys of being filled chockfull of pills. Even reading the other accounts of individuals who reframed their own voice hearing experiences into something more positive jolted me. Their original perspective was so negative. Had I been wrong all along? Had the experiences I have had been latent expressions of mental ‘illness’ that had gone unaccounted for? Was I at risk of another relapse despite only being discharged from secondary services last month?

I guess the best way to describe it is like seeing trees or clouds every day for your life. Then one day you read that seeing trees or clouds is actually a sign of profound illness, a serious and stigmatising experience, only it never felt like that to you. Seeing them was quite nice a lot of the time, and even when it was harder like if there were thunder and lightning, it was never anything you couldn’t deal with.

Notwithstanding my total rejection of the medical model of recovery and all the self-limiting meaning it gathers around you, the power of the internalised stigma affects me still. I was worried, genuinely worried, that I was going to get ill again, and that this time I wouldn’t be able to cope. I am still feeling uneasy now, but have taken note of the narrative of fellow voice hearer Eleanor Longden, who described the initially benign voice becoming aggressive and confrontational when she began to experience their presence negatively. I have chosen to accept these emotional responses but not to allow myself to become caught up them.

I hope my voices stick around. I have thanked them on occasion for their help, genuinely and wholeheartedly. We have got through some tough times together, and I feel like my internal world would be emptier and less vibrant for their loss.

Perhaps the best realisation I had today was that the little girl I have heard was, in fact, a little boy with blue eyes and cheeky smile. He is loved and cherished, and his mummy, me, has become the women all her past selves had hoped desperately might one day come into being. I am able to hold, cherish and love each of them, as I do my own boy, and have healed or come to terms with the injuries of the past. In this way, despite their persistence, I instinctively know that they mean me no harm, because they are me in different forms.

Love is limitless, but its momentum can be stifled between and within us. As the Hearing Voices Network, and other diverse practices like the Open Dialogue Approach are beginning to conceptualise, those barriers can manifest in strange and abstract ways like voices or self-harming behaviours. Rather than administering pills we need to return to the humane qualities of empathy, respect and consideration of ourselves, our experiences and our voices.

We need to know them, if we are to know ourselves and in doing so return love to all quarters where it belongs.