Autism seems to be something of a buzzword lately; the go-to phrase for a person who seems a little 'out there' or 'quirky'. How often have you heard someone say 'Oh yeah, she's just a little autistic' or 'He'd rather be on his own: he's on the spectrum'? If you're a human being who moves through any kind of social circle, you're probably exposed to these sorts of comments regularly, you may even use them yourself.
Here's the thing though: autism is not an adjective to describe someone cute or quirky. Autism is a neurological condition that effects approximately 1 in 70 Australians, and one which is incredibly misunderstood and stigmatised in the community.
In my work as an early childhood educator, I have had the privilege of working with many autistic children at all ranges of the spectrum. Like every other child (and person) in the world they had their own likes and dislikes, unique traits and individual personalities, being on the autism spectrum didn't define who they were. However, because their neurological make up was outside what is considered 'neurotypical', their reactions to many situations could seem exuberant.
For instance, one child I worked with would jump up and down and scream whenever the food trolley was brought into the room. This was a reaction to knowing their hunger was about to be sated, the same way another person might have gone 'Yum, lunch is here'. The emotion was the same, the knowledge of what the food trolley represented was the same, but one child's reaction would be considered appropriate and the other child's not, however the autistic child was not being (as they were something accused of) deliberately loud or disruptive. Their brain had received information from their stomach that they were hungry, then came information from their eyes and nose that the food trolley had arrived, so their brain processed that information and reacted to it, exactly the same as your brain does. A good description I heard once from an Occupational Therapist was that an autistic brain was more sensitive to stimuli and (just like when you are feeling sensitive) it was prone to 'over-reacting'.
Of course, this is merely one example. Autism is a complex and many-faceted thing and the spectrum is broad; if you've met one person on the spectrum, then you've met one person on the spectrum. In a very board and general sense, however, a person with autism will experience the world at an increased level to those without autism. This can be both blessing and curse for the individual; for instance, many of those on the spectrum have all encompassing interests and passions (sometimes disparagingly called 'obsessions' by those around them) and this increased focus and depth of experience allows them to explore and self-motivate at a level most of us can only dream of. However if there is an unpleasant smell or uncomfortable sensation that may be only mildly annoying to some, it can be utterly unbearable to someone on the spectrum as they experience the discomfort at a much greater level and those behaviours that are often labelled 'acting out' are usually attempts to ease the discomfort they are experiencing.
Society (as usual) seems to think differently. When someone not on the spectrum has a quirk, expresses a deep interest in a particular subject, or is a little shy in social situations then those around them might throw 'autism' out as a sweet adjective to describe them. When someone who is on the spectrum experiences an event such as a sensory meltdown or reacts to a situation in a way deemed 'socially inappropriate', people around they say 'autism' as an insult or with deeply negative connotations.
What the actual fuck?!
A neurotypical, non-spectrum individual's unique personality gets described as a neurological condition that everyone thinks is 'cute', but the lived experiences of a person with that very condition are dismissed and criticised? Please tell me I'm not the only one seeing red flags here!
I Could Tell You...
A poem by Barbell Dancer
Last night you sent me a message
It was a cruel, I wasn't expecting it
Venom spewed and accusations flew
Why weren't you there?!
I was going to tell you
But you never gave me a chance
You like to perform
But you don't like to lose
Your words were unjust, angry
I tried to explain
You're being pathetic.
Why bother performing?
No one will watch you if you behave like this!
I really did try to explain to you
But you wouldn't stop
You're just being a sore loser.
Show up for your friends and buy a fucking ticket!
I looked at your message
I looked at your angry words
My fingers hovered over the keyboard
I wanted to explain
But what could I tell you?
I could tell you about my fear:
My fear of being trapped in a large crowd
Squashed, crushed, pummelled
Strange hands, loud noises, bright lights...
I could tell you about my autism:
About how everything seems more
Brighter, louder, faster, harder, scarier
How a strange place could be triggering
How I don't want to have a meltdown in public...
I could tell you about white lights:
Flashing ones, static ones and dark rooms
How my brain doesn't process it well
How I could have a fit then and there...
I could tell you that I am so proud of my friends:
My braver, stronger, better friends
I love them, I want the best for them
I want them all to win, win, win!
I could tell you that I'm sad I can't be there:
That I would give anything to be neurotypical
To be able to deal with the unexpected
With the lights and crowds and sounds
That I'd trade my right arm to be as normal as you are
But I don't.
I don't tell you.
I don't tell you because you don't care.
You don't want to hear it.
You've made up your mind.
But you don't know.
My friends do.
Author's Note: I received a message recently, I'm not going to say who sent it, accusing me of being a sore loser and a bad friend because I didn't go to watch UNLEASHED or AAPC Victoria Heats, and haven't brought a ticket for AIRBORNE. I was stung and this person threw some very nasty insults at me before I blocked them.
I don't normally share such personal details, but I'm not hiding in the shadows anymore. I love to perform, I enjoy being on stage, and part of that enjoyment comes from knowing exactly what I am doing. There are no surprises, no unexpected happenings, the lights are exactly how I want them, I have a pretty good idea of when people are going to cheer and, even if it does come unexpectedly, I have one solid thing to focus on: my performance.
But it's hard for me to be on the other side. Social phobias, anxiety, ASD and a type of photosensitivity mean a large crowd - full of unexpectedness, noise, sudden changes and bright lights - can be very triggering for me. It's not an environment I choose to place myself in, because I know it is one in which I would struggle to cope. I'm just wired that way.
I try to support the people I care about in other ways. Messages, comments, congratulations and other such things, given in person or sent on Facebook, or joining a small crowd in a familiar environment to watch them rehearse. I'm proud of them all and one day I will be able to join them up on that stage, but until then I have to watch from afar.
I truly believe that those friends of mine who do perform know I'm behind them, even if I'm a little further away than most, and I no longer consider the person who sent me that nasty message to be a friend in any sense, and yet I wanted to respond. But I wanted to respond in my way, in my own time, in a form that felt most comfortable for me, hence my free-verse poem.
Sometimes I've wished that, like a computer, whenever I got too tired to keep going I could just hit a REBOOT button, shutdown for a few seconds and then return to life good as new.
Unfortunately for me (and the rest of humanity) the human body doesn't come equipped with a REBOOT button. Our natural way to reboot and restart our systems is through sleep, but many of us are not very good at that either. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, between 35 - 45% percent of Australian adults aged 18+ have poor sleep patterns, while the Re-Awakening the Nation report found that a full 9% of Australians (1.5 million people) have a diagnosed sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, insomnia and restless leg syndrome.
Not great when you consider that sleep is vital for our continuing good health and that too little sleep leads to fatigue, irritability and physical complaints (such as gut issues, headaches and slower reaction times). Not getting enough sleep also impacts our productivity and can severely impact our mental health. In purely economic terms, sleep disorders cost Australia $5 billion a year in 'health care and indirect costs' while the personal costs and the reduction of quality of life for those experiencing sleep disorders can exceed $31 billion per year!
Aside from the physical cost, that's a sh*tload of money lost to lack of sleep, and it cannot be a coincidence that mental health complaints in Australia have climbed almost in tandem with our lack of sleep. We are not only making but literally waking ourselves sick!
So, what can we do?
The honest answer is there's no easy fix. Today's world is a highly-charged, super-busy place where our minds are constantly stimulated and we push our bodies to their limits and back again. After all, if it were as simple as getting more sleep, everyone would be doing it. Technology raced ahead of our understanding of its effects on the human body and it is only now that we are learning about the effects of things such as blue light, endless notifications and social media.
None of these things are necessarily bad (with, perhaps, the exception of blue light over-exposure), but they have changed the way we live and connect and they are super addictive and hard to switch off from. Disrupted sleep is just one consequence of living in a hyper-connected, hyper-technical world.
Enter Alchemy Cryo and the Reboot Pod.
Alchemy Cryo, in South Yarra, Victoria, is my go-to recovery spot and, seriously, one of my favourite places to be. I've done cryo (extreme cold) therapy several times and have also spent several blissful, relaxing hours in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber for a few sessions of mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
The Reboot pods are a new addition to Alchemy's repertoire of recovery and I've been dying to try them out since they were launched in July. I had planned to go last weekend, but an unexpected medical emergency followed by an overnight stay in hospital put paid to that plan, so I rescheduled for this afternoon instead.
Alchemy's Reboot Pods are a 'private pod - a peaceful oasis, ergonomically designed for a fully immersive rest experience.' The lounge reclines back to 180 degrees and the pod closes over you, encasing you a warm, dark (but still very roomy) bubble of bliss. The pods are equipped with BrainTap headsets, which combine 'a soothing matrix of relaxing sound, music, spoken word and light frequency' which helps to guide your mind through the various stages of brain activity to induce deep relaxation of the conscious mind and stimulation of the unconscious mind. Having had lots of experience with meditation and also studying my course, I was excited to try out BrainTap and looking forward to something different, and it was certainly a unique experience.
In the meditations I have done in the past and those I am creating now within my course, it has been about relaxation, about lingering in the places were create, or about focus and insight. I did an Enchanted Forest visualisation with BrainTap and there was no time for lingering, however the entire experience was incredibly relaxing without the need to slowly walk through all the stages. Also during the visualisation, along with the guided visualisation relaxing my conscious mind, there was a second voice, sometimes overlapping and sometimes not, which was stimulating my unconscious mind. I can't remember specifically what it said or what it was instructing me do it, in fact, my clearest memory of what that particular voice was saying was 'You don't have to pay attention for this to be effective'. I certainly felt like my subconscious was stimulated and I'm interested to see if I have any interesting dreams or symbols that rise in my meditations over the next few days.
But it isn't just BrainTap that makes the Reboot so refreshing. They pods also use Normatec Recovery Boots, which provide a deep pressure massage from toe to thigh and compression therapy, which assists with lymphatic drainage and muscle recovery. The boots have several different settings depending on what pressure you enjoy and mimic your natural biology, using a combination of dynamic pulsing, static pressure and compression release, they help pump lactic acid out of the body faster and soothe aching muscles. I can personally attest to their effectiveness, as I had very, very sore legs yesterday after some intense pole training. I had a shower and rubbed doTERRA Ice Blue Rub all over my muscles (I love that stuff, it's like cryo therapy in a bottle!) but they were still pretty sore when I went to bed last night. I had some lingering DOMS this morning, but the lymphatic massage from the compression boots was absolute heaven and my legs feel better than ever before with no pain or tightness in them.
And the best thing about the Reboot at Alchemy Cryo?
You get all these wonderful benefits - a full mind and body relaxation, compression therapy, light and sound therapy, and your choice of a deep meditation experience - all in thirty minutes!
In a world that doesn't want to stop, where time is precious and stopping is considered 'a waste', it is a radical act to say 'No!' to the constant demands of the world and tune in to what your body needs and desires.
So, if you're not getting enough sleep, if you feel as if you're a walking zombie or just going through the motions in a haze, I would highly recommend booking in a Reboot at Alchemy Cryo. Consult your health professional if you have any prior or ongoing issues, but the team at Alchemy know their stuff and they were ensure your session is safe, relaxing and enjoyable.
See you in my favourite recovery spot and ultimate happy place!
You don't have to like me. I'm not a Facebook post.
Me With No Apologies.