Feline Focus

Feline Focus
My latest puma, July 2016


Beloved companion to Sarah, Nov 2015

Window To The Soul

Window To The Soul
Watercolour Horse, June 2015

Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping Beauties
Watercolour Lionesses, Nov 2012


"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."

Groucho Marx

Snow Stalker

Snow Stalker
Another snow leopard - my latest watercolour offering - July 2013

03 December 2017


I’ve been meaning to write some posts like this for, oh I don’t know, maybe two or three years?  Don’t know where the time (and the inspiration) went…  

I had intended starting with how I deal with my sensitivity to noise (I’d made notes and EVERYTHING for it), but then something happened last week which has shifted my focus, so I’m going with that first instead, in case I lose momentum.

I don’t know what it’s like for you, but I have a real struggle having to stand up for myself, no matter how minor the issue might be.  The anxiety I feel makes me want to curl into a ball and hide.  And last week I was confronted with just such an incident.  

I looked out of my living room window and saw christmas lights hanging from my trellis-fence, fencing which I paid for, so there is no dispute about ownership - it’s mine.  And on going outside and checking, I found that the lights were draped on both sides - which meant that my neighbour had come into my garden to hang them, and had never bothered to come and ask me first.  
My initial reaction was confused and diffused by the voice in my head that tells me that whatever I feel is bound to be ‘wrong’ or over-reactionary due to my being autistically over-sensitive, anxious, and paranoid.  So when I spoke to my friend that evening and told her about the lights, I described how I felt as being “a bit miffed”.  

Imagine my surprise when she said that she’d be steaming angry if it happened to her, and that she wanted to come down here, remove the lights, and return them to my neighbour, along with a few choice words. 

As we spoke, I was able to begin to process what I really felt and thought: and imagine my horror when she then said that I was going to have to go round to my neighbour’s and tell her that what she’d done wasn’t okay, and to ask her to take them down, otherwise she was going to continue to take advantage if I didn’t put a stop to it now.  She only moved in about a month ago, and already she has shown herself to be a bit of a bully - not threatening, but the kind of person who expects to get her own way, and rides roughshod over everyone else in order to do so.

At that point my real reaction kicked in - gut-clenching fear at the idea of having to go and deal with her, and possibly start a conflict.  That’s what I’d felt earlier when I first saw the lights, but part of my instinct for survival is to avoid anything which has the potential to explode into an argument or disagreement by minimising what I feel about it.  Plus I’m just plain slow at processing information, so it took me until the next day to fully realise just how far beyond ‘miffed’ and into ‘piffed’ (with a double ’s’) I really was.   

And then I remembered that I’d got another option to the dreaded talking - writing.  I could write her a note (or, in my case, a letter).  I’d done it before, with another neighbour, and it had helped tremendously, giving me a way of alleviating the feeling of being powerless to do anything because of my anxiety.

This way I could relieve some of the stress and fear about not being in control - not knowing how she would react, but possibly even worse not knowing what my own reaction would be: would I babble incoherently?; become mute with fright and brain-freeze?; or bolshy with impulsive anger?  And, knowing myself, would I forget who was actually in the wrong, feel guilty and end up almost apologetically grovelling for forgiveness, and for her to do me the favour of taking them down, if it wasn’t too much trouble…  All in an attempt to try to control her, and hopefully stop her from being angry with me (which is how I assume she’s going to react, because it’s what I assume about everyone, given that I cannot for the life of me ‘read’ people.  And I am a depressed donkey whose default position is to expect the worst…*big sigh*).  But then I would hate myself.  And then I would blame her, and then I would hate her.  Not a happy place to be. 

So yes, writing.  A way to have some control over my part - what comes out of my ‘mouth’, as it were.  I also use writing for when I have to phone people (eg to report repairs).  I write scripts for myself to help me remember what it is I need to say, otherwise I’m likely to forget the words, or lose focus and babble.  These are as specific or as loose as I need them to be - so sometimes I literally write whole sentences to say, or I’ll just need to make a note of key words or phrases as prompts.

I know this suggestion won’t be useful to everyone (for those of you for whom writing in itself produces stress and anxiety), but I hope it might help someone who might not have thought of it, and who is labouring under the illusion (as I was) that there is only one way, and that I HAD to learn to be able to confront/challenge/tackle/communicate with people verbally, and in person.  As my friend frequently reminds me, “There are many ways up the mountain.”  

Therefore why would I keep persisting in trying to follow the hardest route, which keeps me stumbling about at the bottom making no progress, without the necessary means to overcome the obstacles in my way?  As I’ve remembered just recently, trying to use force will always create resistance.  Better to make use of the tools that God has given me to move into His flow, and find an easier way, one that relieves some of the stress.  Life’s difficult enough as it is for autistics without adding to it by trying to follow a neurotypical route.

So, I wrote my letter, read it to my friend to check that it was okay, and posted it (eventually).  It took me a couple of days to find the courage to go out and stick it through her letter box (under cover of darkness at the crack of dawn, I kid you not!), and of course I had the anxiety of wondering how she would react.  But it achieved what it was meant to - the lights were taken down that day, and I haven’t seen her to know how she reacted to the letter.  I just have to keep reminding myself that she was in the wrong.  

And I thought it might be helpful to add the letter here, in case anyone needed some kind of guidance.  So here it is:

Hi (I’m sorry but I don’t know your name),

I noticed on Friday evening that there are christmas lights on my trellis, and, given that they’ve never been there before, I’m assuming that they are yours (if I’m wrong, and they’re not, apologies, and please ignore this letter).

I am autistic, and I also suffer from social anxiety, and I found it extremely disturbing to see not only that they had been put on there without my permission, but that they are also on my side as well as yours - which I can only assume means that whoever did that for you either came into my garden, or leaned over the trellis into my garden.  

I was in all day on Friday, and I didn’t hear anyone knock on my door to ask me if it was okay for them to do that; but if they did knock, and I didn’t hear them (which is a possibility), the fact that they went ahead anyway, rather than wait until they caught me in, I find equally disturbing, discourteous, and inconsiderate.

I would never dream of doing any such thing to anyone else, especially knowing how anxious and distressed the idea of other people encroaching on my space and privacy makes me feel, and how difficult I find it having to challenge them about it.  I would appreciate it if, in future, you would respect my privacy and my boundaries, and ask before you decide to do anything that might affect me.   

So, having had time to think about it, I would like you to take down the lights: you do have your own trellis in the back, so it isn’t that you don’t have anywhere to put them.  I’ve also decided that I would prefer it if you did not put anything at all up against my trellis, having also had time to think about your question about planting a climber there.  I already have a honeysuckle growing up there.

As I said, I am autistic, so I struggle to communicate clearly with people to make myself understood, and the anxiety makes this worse.  This is why I have written this letter rather than talk to you directly, as I find it easier to express myself in writing - it allows me time to think about what I want to say, which talking to people does not.

Kind regards


09 November 2017

Love's Labours Lost The Plot

Crikey!  That last post was rather laboured, wasn’t it?  I know my blog name includes the word Rambling in the title, but that felt more like a trek through untamed jungle, with only a butter knife to hack back the overgrowth.  

And, my God, was there a lot of overgrowth.  I know I said that I’d done a lot of editing to get it down to that size (four and a half pages… FOUR AND A HALF A4-SIZE PAGES!!!  I usually manage to stick to two), but obviously not enough: that was minor pruning, rather than the lopping with a machete which was really needed.  And perhaps a blowtorch.

I spoke with my friend about it after she’d read it, and she confirmed that it was as laborious to read as it had been to write.  I like that about her (among other things).  She always tells me the truth, without sugar-coating it; but it never feels like criticism (except when I’m having a really bad day, in which case saying hello to me could be misconstrued as a criticism).

We agreed it was not one of my better pieces, being somewhat lacking in the humour department (though I had intended for it to be funny; the initial idea was humorous, but the long, drawn-out execution kind of squeezed all the fun out of it, so it did end up feeling that way - like an execution).  And the length… 

I was thinking about going back and editing it some more, but she said to leave it: it would be a reminder of what I’d done ‘wrong’, and what not to do next time.

Because, you see, I have actually developed a set of principles or guidelines for writing my blog posts, despite the fact that it may all seem rather random at times.  And they actually fit into an alliterative list, which pleases the little linguist in me immensely.  So, they are:

Keep It Simple - basically stick to one main topic or theme within each post.  This helps me to stay focused, and there’s the possibility that I might get the thing completed within a week of starting it if I can stay on the path, and out of the forest of my distractions…

Keep It Short - I have found, through trial and error, that approximately two A4 pages is enough for me to say what I need to say: any more and I start repeating myself (just with different words, so I don’t notice it).  Plus, the long ones are usually a sign that I’ve shifted into lecture mode, where I’m now trying to teach something or make a point; I’ve grown attached to the sound of my own thoughts; and I feel the weight of their importance and the need to share them.  God, are those boring posts to write, and read…

Keep It Sweet - by this I mean funny, but the only alliteration I could come up with was either Sweetly Funny or Seriously Funny, and it spoilt the poetic metre I’ve got going on…  So, sweet it is.  Being rather a depressed donkey by nature, I didn’t want this to be a place where I got to cement my woes ‘on paper’, as it were, and share the gloom and despondency of life.  This was meant to be a place where I could share the hope, strength, and experience of having initially survived life as an undiagnosed autistic with adhd (now moving into thriving), and the sense of humour which is so intrinsically a part of that shift, and necessary to keep cultivating in order to keep that donkey at bay.  So the minute I feel myself labouring on a post, being driven rather than guided to write, and having lost interest in the topic, then the humour has gone, and it’s time to either reassess, or abandon post.  As my friend would say, “how important is it really, in the scheme of things, if you don’t finish it?”  This helps to put things into perspective, which is also what humour does.
And so, before I break one or more of my guidelines, here endeth the deconstruction of my last post.  May it rest in peace.

06 November 2017

My Imaginary Self

You know, I often feel as if there are two of me, and now I know why - there are.  I’d like you to meet my Imaginary Self.  She’s the one who convinces me that I am who I’m not, that I can do what I can’t, and, as a result, leads me off down rabbit holes which result in frustrating dead ends - not to mention time wasted on yet another distraction, of which my life seems to be one long series.

She’s been with me throughout most of my life, and has become so interchangeable with my true self that I often can’t tell which of us is real, and which the fantasy.  Even as I’m writing about ‘her’ now, I’m not quite sure whether I should be referring to her as being the one who has created, and believes, all of this false stuff about myself, and therefore convinces me of it; or whether it’s that I have created her, through the combination of ignorance, confusion, the influence of the neurotypical world, and (in recent times) resistance to accepting being an autistic with adhd, and what that really means.  As you can see, she has almost literally taken on a life of her own.  

However, this life she imagines is real doesn’t bear much resemblance to the one I inhabit, which is part of the problem - we are frequently in conflict because I cannot live up to her expectations, and she refuses to accept that I can’t do what she wants me to do, rather choosing to believe it’s because I’m refusing to try (that way she retains the illusion of being in control). 

I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks, now, and I’ve floundered around in the introduction, attempting to explain what I mean by her, instead of allowing the rest of the post to do that.  So I’m going to cut this (relatively) short, and try to be brief and succinct - though that, too, is an example of something my imaginary self can do, and I can’t.  Brevity is not my strong point: everything I write requires extensive editing.  You should see the draft notes for this post.

1  My Imaginary Self has both autistic and neurotypical wiring, which means that she thinks both autistically and neurotypically.  She isn’t clear on the exact details of how this works (details and logic not being her forté, unless it involves getting lost in the minutiae of the English language), just that she believes it does.  As such, she thinks she can suppress/control/manage some of her autistic/adhd symptoms by applying some of the neurotypical techniques she has learnt in her extensive research.  My real self has been trying to do this for fifty years (unconsciously for the most part): it hasn’t worked yet. 

2  As I mentioned above, details and logic are not my forté, but she harbours the illusion that she is a logical, linear, concise, analytical, academic thinker.  She’s not.  She couldn’t think in a straight line even if she had a ruler, and she cannot get from A to B without having to detour through the rest of the alphabet - usually more than once, and often encompassing the alphabets of any other random languages which might happen to be lying around to distract her (hello Sanskrit).

This illusion is compounded by the fact that she loves writing and everything about the English language, which she mistakenly believes means that she must be academic.  It doesn’t, and she’s not.  She’s a creative thinker - it’s just taking her a long time to figure this out, because she thinks in words not pictures (though she does paint pictures with words, which confuses her further).  Plus, she harboured a dream to go to Oxford University and be a scholar (like her hero, C S Lewis), even though she found school and college incompatible with her personality and mode of learning.  In her classically rigid autistic way, she thinks there’s only one way of learning in order to prove your intelligence, which requires the acquisition of a lot of information on a wide range of subjects, most of which actually bore the arse off her.

3  My Imaginary Self is a frustrated musical prodigy.  My real self has no musical talent whatsoever.  Based on this delusion, I spent one hundred and fifty pounds on a music keyboard to fulfil this supposed lifelong ambition to learn to play the piano, only to find it tedious beyond measure.  After hardly using it, I gave it away.

4  This same musical genius also believes that she’s a stifled seamstress waiting to burst forth and make her own clothes, because she thinks this would be easier than having to shop for them.  Unfortunately, the real me happens to be as interested in, and adept at, dressmaking as I am spot-welding, and my talent extends only as far as basic repairs, which I procrastinate over doing - a fact I should have taken notice of before I decided to fork out another hundred and fifty quid on a brand new sewing machine, which has now sat, hardly used, in a cupboard for about three years.  Another item to be donated.  

5  My Imaginary Self believes that putting off doing things will not only be temporary, but also make them easier to do later, when she feels better able to face them.  My real self is a chronic procrastinator who just defers action automatically, no reason required.  And it never makes it easier, but we always forget that.

6  My Imaginary Self thinks she’s tidy at heart, that being a minimalist would suit her, and this way she would get more writing and art done because this, she has read, is the way to combat clutter, and eliminate distractions.  My real self is chaotic, loves collecting and displaying things (like books), but also hoards things which she often doesn’t want to do, but can’t seem to let go of easily (paper, boxes, and containers in particular).  She’s attached to things more than people, and she’d panic if she had to live in a home with very little on display to stimulate her senses.  And it wouldn’t matter how clinically organised her environment was, something would still distract her - most probably the fact that her environment was too clinically organised.

7  My Imaginary Self thinks she’ll get bored if her choices are limited, so she needs lot of options to assuage my adhd; plus, she thinks this way she can overcome the narrow-focused obsessiveness of my autism, and become a more interesting, fully-rounded person.  My real self gets overwhelmed and in a flap if she’s faced with more than one alternative, and will often end up doing nothing at all because her brain has had a mini-meltdown and temporarily stopped functioning.  Or she won’t be able to focus on the thing she is doing, because she’ll be wondering whether she should have chosen one of the other options.

8  My Imaginary Self is erudite, and able to express this in a calm, relaxed, thoughtful, measured way when speaking in person to people.  My real self either clams up entirely because her mind goes blank when faced with another human being (or is reduced to repeating the few inane bits of small-talk she has learnt to express in such situations), or explodes into full-on twitter like a demented sparrow, where she just cannot shut up, and everything that comes into her head leaks out of her mouth.  This is often mistaken for garrulous sociability, when in fact it’s a sign of overstimulation and social anxiety.  Her erudition is confined to the written word, and she’s always relieved when she can escape back into blessed solitude.

9  My Imaginary Self chooses the ideas which are useful to her that she allows into her mind, and discards the rest.  She can distinguish between what’s meant to be taken literally (not to mention seriously, and personally), and what isn’t.  My real self is a sponge - a literal-minded, gullible, easily influenced, sheep-like sponge.  And, contrary to what my Imaginary Self believes, she hasn’t got a clue half the time what’s in her own mind, or why she does what she does - except that it’s usually as the result of something she read or heard somewhere… 

So, there she is - my Imaginary Self.  It took a while to wrangle her onto the page, but she’s there now - in the only place where she does exist, other than my own mind.  Now to try to leave her here… 

Namaste - I bow to the real you

Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard
An experiment in watercolour and gouache

Quotes Quota

"Do you believe in Magic?" asked Colin.

"That I do, lad," she answered. "I never knowed it by that name, but what does th' name matter? I warrant they call it a different name i' France an' a different one i' Germany. Th' same thing as set th' seeds swellin' an' th' sun shinin' made thee well lad an' it's th' Good Thing. It isn't like us poor fools as think it matters if us is called out of our names. Th' Big Good Thing doesn't stop to worrit, bless thee. It goes on makin' worlds by th' million - worlds like us. Never thee stop believin' in th' Big Good Thing an' knowin' th' world's full of it - an call it what tha' likes. Eh! lad, lad - what's names to th' Joy Maker."

From 'The Secret Garden', by Frances Hodgson Burnett


Copied from photograph of the same name by Roberto Dutesco

Quotes Quota

"There is no way to happiness - happiness is the way."
The Dalai Lama

"If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything."

Malcolm X

On The Prowl

On The Prowl
Watercolour tiger

Quotes Quota

"What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step."

"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."

C S Lewis