#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.

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.

Derby’s food heroes

Having lived in Derby, albeit in two houses now for nearly seven years, I am reaching the watershed where it will overtake, in the next eighteen months, the places I have previously spent the longest in my life. I have had a rather nomadic existence up until now but overall I like Derby. It has got a great mix of small city and accessible countryside with public transport and road links that make getting to other places really easy.

One thing I particularly enjoy is that there is still a myriad of small businesses that serve not only the English community in the city but also the different ethnicities that have chosen to make their home here. Between them, it is possible to eat really cheaply and healthily, whilst enjoying the benefits of personal service and keeping money for the best part in the local economy. Here is my list of the top ‘Derby Food Heroes’ that I would recommend for food shopping:

Gerald Langley Greengrocers, Osmaston Road.

I have shopped at Gerald Langleys since I moved to Derby in 2012, and was pleased to see the business revitalised when taken over by its current owners. As well as an amazing selection of fruit and vegetables in the shop, the business now offers a free delivery service which is a great addition to the local community for people who may be less able to get out and about. There are regular ‘deals’ featuring two fruit or veg for £2.00 which are possible to mix and match within. I particularly like the fact that there are often unusual vegetables and fruit for sale, depending on what is available at the wholesale market. Recently I have tried multi-coloured beetroot and carrots and pineberries. Gerald Langley’s also make eating seasonally and locally much easier as all product growing regions are listed and a good proportion of the produce is grown locally within the East Midlands.

Puri Food Store, Stenson Road.

Considering the latest craze for bulk sold goods Puri foods are ahead of the curve for this trend, having sold dried goods from sacks ‘just like back home’ for several years, at fantastic prices too. The business owners are always really friendly and the shop sticks not only a huge range of nuts, spices and pulses that you can buy in bulk straight from sacks but a massive range of other items that are essential for me on a gluten-free diet. These include many different GF flours (gram, coconut, rice, water chestnut), alongside really beautiful Indian chutneys. paneer, live apple cider vinegar, organic coconut oil and natural live yoghurt. The fresh food section supplies beauties such as fresh tamarind, Medjool dates sold loose again and fresh turmeric root. Puri food has almost become my ‘local shop’ the place where I pop in for milk and a chat if I want to get out of the house for a walk and some fresh air. A real gem and almost impossible to discover unless you walk in because they have no website.

Terry’s Butchers

I only discovered Terry’s (named after the original proprietor and now run by his apprentice Ram) after moving to Sunny Hill and have once again got the pleasure of a local butcher I can walk to. Terry’s range of products reflects the diversity of his customers, selling the typical English favourites of pasties, pies and honey alongside prepared Tandoori curry, mutton and goat meat which I am looking forward to trying soon.

Every time I have visited, nothing has been too much trouble and Ram has taken the time and care to make sure I have everything I needed. Alongside a huge range of meat products (some of which do require preordering) Ram also sells a range of bread, eggs and basic vegetables.

Supersam, Pear Tree Road.

I LOVE Supersam. This shop has got a meat and cheese deli the length of the back of the shop and the most amazing on-site bakery that sells cakes that put Bird’s to shame, in terms of size, quality and price. If you are into breads made from different flours there are a variety of sourdough and rye loaves to pick from. I get a whole lot more of my gluten-free shopping from here, including potato starch and buckwheat flour (both essential for GF home blended flours), plus buckwheat groats, an amazing range of herbal and fruit teas and healthy rice cakes about a fifth of the price you would find them in Sainsbury’s just up the road. The spirits section is second to none. If you are a vodka fan I urge you to venture forth and have a gander as the range of Polish and Eastern European spirits is huge. Quite a few people would be put off, I know, by the fact that many of the labels and staff are not English but please don’t let this stop you. I have always managed to make myself understood and google translate can go a long way in deciphering labels.

Chung Wah Chinese Supermarket, Wilmot Street.

The last of the food heroes I have discovered in Derby and an absolute must if you like Asian food. Chung Wah caters for a host on different Asian cuisines, including Japanese, Filipino and Thai from what I have seen on the shelves. It is also another regular stop off for me as a gluten-free shopper as it stocks a massive range of GF noodles (sweet potato starch, corn starch, mung bean starch or brown rice?) as well as everything that I need for making homemade kimchi.

The staff have always been incredibly friendly and helpful and I have found some unusual and fun presents for friends, including Japanese Sake wine and chopsticks for kids. The last great benefit is the free parking which is located just across the road, meaning that there is no need to pay through the nose to get your goods.

Dumelow’s Dairy

Dumelow’s are a dairy farm that sells raw cow’s milk from a chilled automated dispenser at the entrance to their farm. Raw milk can only be legally sold directly from the farm in the UK. The ethos of the store is really sustainable; the cabin includes reusable glass one-litre bottles that are great value and useful for a whole host of stuff. I also use mine for storing iced tea in the fridge. Alongside the milk, the farm sells a range of honey and other jams from different local makers and operates with an honesty box. The dispenser is available until 9pm each day.


That’s the end of my list of food heroes for the city of Derby. I know that new shops often come and go, so if you know of anywhere else worth a mention please stick it in the comments below.

People are more than their diagnoses.

“It was this prognosis of doom, this life sentence, this death before death that I instinctively rejected when the words “You are wrong” formed silently within me. With the wisdom of hindsight I understand why this moment in the psychiatrist’s office was a major turning point in my recovery process. When I rejected the prognosis of doom I simultaneously affirmed my worth and dignity.”

“And just as quickly as I turned away from the prophecy of doom, I found myself asking– so now what? In other words, I turned away from a hopeless path but also, at the same time, had to turn into something.”

Pat Deegan

The narrative of Pat Deegan recounting her own recovery journey from a place of deficit-based hopeless diagnosis has long inspired me, both personally and more recently, professionally.  Pat’s own recovery mission, to ‘become a doctor and make the mental health system that abused her work properly’ is similar to what I wish to achieve for autistic women who have been through a similarly negative experience with their own mental health and diagnosis. I have found a similar inspiration in taking the crappy life experiences I have had, which have nonetheless also been transformative, and delivered to me far more meaning and purpose than I could ever have found in my old life, and make something better for others out of them.

Professionally this is shaping into a PhD proposal that I hope will enable autistic women to be able to think more positively about themselves and their experiences or history. I wish to create an alternative narrative to that of a medicalised diagnosis; of which even the name makes you sound diseased. Most importantly I want this to be something that all women who identify as autistic can utilise, not just those who come to this place via a medical diagnosis. In this way, I am beginning to open out the idea of self-identification as a valid means of describing oneself as autistic as well as having the same bestowed by a doctor whose own perceptions of just what ‘autism’ is might be skewed by the research bias towards gendered male presentation anyway.

I want to focus on women because I think from what I have experienced and what others have told me about, that this is the group that gets one of the bummest deals of all bum deals. In thinking about women I have also wrestled with the concept of gender and so have had to accept that just as I find it intolerable that clinicians get to decide who is and is not autistic so it is not my place as a researcher to decide who is a woman or not. This is part of my decision to work within the participatory paradigm. Not only do I involve others with lived experience at every stage of the project, but I also have to accept that they will decide the factors of the research question itself. If someone with cis-made genitals identifies as a woman some of all of the time who am I to denigrate their primary experience?

Brown, Catana. Recovery and Wellness : Models of Hope and Empowerment for People with Mental Illness, Routledge, 2002. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/herts/detail.action?docID=1099395.

Moving on (written in April 2018)

The house we have lived in since we arrived in Derby in December 2012 has been sold and we are in the process of packing up to move on. We have been so lucky to secure a council property, just down the road from where we live at the moment. Although our current property and my son’s school will be a short drive away, much will remain the same and I am sure that we will adapt very quickly.

The new house is slightly smaller than our current house which was a worry, to begin with, however, given that we have run a home business and I have also been in the same space (with a young child) for much of it there has been a much bigger pressure on the space we are in. We have access to a lot more space now. My partner has a space for his business away from our home, I have an allotment which is developing into a wonderful place to be. There is much less demand upon our new home. It can be a place for my family to come together in, rather than being a sick-room, a photography studio, a warehouse and packing-space, a play-room.

Our move to Derby was not one we planned or necessarily wanted at the time. It was very difficult. We moved and renovated a property with a three-month-old baby and the stress eventually made me so distressed I became suicidal and spent four months in a mother and baby psychiatric unit. The house was made our home although it has never really ever been ours as it was jointly owned by an ex-partner who disappeared for a number of years, only to reappear waving a court order when the house was out of negative equity.

We have dealt with everything that life has thrown at us in the last six years – problem neighbours, mental and physical health issues which have included about nine hospitalisations in total. At times, the only thing keeping Mark and I together was a little boy asleep upstairs, but we have triumphed and emerged stronger as a result.

Despite making the best of our house here, we always resisted spending too much money on it, just in case what did transpire happened as we feared it might. Now I am moving, the stuff that I dislike about our current space that I stuffed down is reasserting itself and I am glad to know that we are finally moving to our forever home. I am going to enjoy making this space our own, truly ours, in a way we have not been able to here.

Most importantly I am so happy that we have met all the crap that life and the universe have thrown at us. We can quite rightfully stick our fingers up at the naysayers who guaranteed we would never make it.

I love my family so much. We have moved forwards together and can begin the next chapter of our lives far better prepared than I could ever have hoped for.

Dialogical practice

The idea of dialogue, in relation to my developing professional practice, and also within my research work, seems to be occurring more and more frequently. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a dialogue as either:

A conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or film. ‘the book consisted of a series of dialogues’ 

1.1 A discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed towards exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem. ‘the USA would enter into a direct dialogue with Vietnam’

However, both of these ideas are misaligned with the developing idea of dialogue that I am conceptualising.

The first place I encountered this idea was within the ‘innovation in practice’ module, where I compared the practices of Finnish ‘Open Dialogue’, a radical approach to the treatment of first episode psychosis created out of a number of different therapeutic systems developed over overall support and intervention methodology that has transformed mental and general healthcare in the Lapland region that it originated from. Longitudinal studies of Open Dialogue have demonstrated a capacity to blow ‘treatment as usual approaches’ out of the water in terms of functional and long-term recovery.

The next encounter I had with dialogue was my involvement in Autism Dialogue, a series of events organised in Sheffield based upon the principles of Bohm Dialogue. These events were a series of dialogues with no set agenda but with a selective approach to participation in which autistic and non-autistic participants were brought together to share ideas and insight with one another. This collective meaning grew from moment to moment and from event to event, building into a unique experience quite unlike anything I have had before. There were no formal methods of recording the contributions made, but I know that myself and several others have had their perceptions fundamentally altered by the process and that some really positive developments and relationships have resulted.

the third instance I have encountered dialogue was this evening in the foreword of the book ‘Reason and Rigour; how conceptual frameworks guide research.’ which describes “a dialectic stance for research, recognising that different philosophical, theoretical and methodological approaches have different strengths and limitations and that it is often most productive to try to engage these approaches with one another in ways that provide generative insight and a deeper understanding that any single theory or approach can make.” 

In all these ways, dialogue, at least to me seems to refer to something deeper and more profound than the dictionary definition given, which seems to concern itself with solving problems or the exchange of information at quite a functional level.

Dialogue as I am growing to comprehend it is a process of unfolding and understanding. It is about finding the meaning within yourself, as a person in relation to your own beliefs, with other humans and ideas and about all these things in relation to the world around you. These ideas, however, can change from moment to moment, with subtle shifts and major movements. The power of dialogue is developing an awareness of this process, of the ontological origin of your own perspective and the matter of dialogue as it occurs. So much ‘stuff’ in this world is, and has been, take for granted, from the idea that mental patients cannot make decisions for themselves to that still held by many people that you automatically consent to sex when you get married. Unless this is raised into the level of awareness, both individually and to a collective consciousness in a group or even social level we cannot begin to unpick the complexities of our contemporary experience. Furthermore, as each of us holds multiple identities which shift and change I would argue that dialogue is an essential tool for each of us to learn in order to learn and contribute to if we are to be able to cope and filter the terabytes of ‘chatter’ our digital world exposes us to each day.

Bringing this back to my own work, in developing my own methodological stance towards my final project I cannot work within the emancipatory paradigm mainly because I don’t consider myself disabled or hold that I have to subscribe to any model of disability as is suggested researchers adopting this approach should. My aim is to take a participatory stance whilst using the principles of Autism Dialogue to explore the unique relationship between myself and my counterparts. I will not describe myself in this work as a researcher, but rather a dialogical practitioner who contributes to a shared process of understanding that extends out beyond a shared verbal exchange and instead applies the same ideals and values to the development of the data and the interpretation of the finding and recommendations I make.

I know what I think I might find, but I have to put that aside, as I did when I entered dialogue and engage with what I find, even if it is challenging or even something I would usually choose not to engage with.

Reference:

Sharon, M., & Matthew, R. (2011). Reason and Rigor: How Conceptual Frameworks Guide Research.

A light just left the world (written in May 2018)

 

I found out this afternoon that my ex-partner of three years, Ian, died unexpectedly in his home 2 days ago.

I lived with Ian for three years in my early twenties and our dating caused a bit of a scandal as he was 23 years older than me – 45 when we got together. We had some ferocious arguments, but Ian introduced me to lots of things that are still important to me today. Kink. Paul Simon. And learning to stay true to your dreams.

Ian got frustrated with me a lot of the time, because I struggled with self-belief like he did his own. He was always frustrated living in the UK and for the last eight years had been living in Bulgaria in abject poverty by standards in the UK, but this was where he belonged (in Bulgaria, not in abject poverty, although he may disagree with me on this last point!), not surveying uPVC windows in Birmingham worrying about his tax bill. He did eventually sort HMRC out after I nagged him enough (he did it after we split up) and he thanked me for it too, said it helped to take a lot of worry off his mind.

I’d only seen Ian twice in the last ten years, once the day before he left and again about 12 months ago for a drink. I was going to see him next week and take Mylo to meet him because he never did get the chance.  I found out messaging him through Facebook and his sister picked up and asked me to give him a call.

My undiagnosed autism made things hard for both of us, but we kept in touch and worked through the stuff that made us separate.

I am going to miss Ian very very much. He loved a drink, and a smoke (of various kinds) and we had some wicked house parties when we were together. He liked wearing ladies lacy topped stockings, which he won’t mind me telling you about now but would have killed me if he was still alive.

Ni-night babe. I love you and I’m going to miss you so so much.

 

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.