Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

When you feel everything

People assume that people with high levels of empathy have a deep insight into how others’ are feeling, and can thus moderate both their own behaviour – and that of others – to give everyone the highest comfort levels possible.

But this isn’t always the case. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, sometimes, empathy can actually cause the opposite result. People with high levels of empathy can become baffled by human behaviour, and unable to moderate their behaviour at all.

The way I see it, there are two kinds of empathy. There’s biological empathy, and social empathy.

Social empathy is the empathy we read about in magazines. It’s compassionate side of individuals that allows them to see the world from someone else’s perspective. Social empathy is usually an acquired skill. It needs to be developed over time, and it requires three keys things:

  • Emotional Intelligence on the part of the person exercising the empathy (or hoping to do so);
  • Compassion and a willingness to set aside judgements, prejudices and preconceptions;
  • And keen observational skills.

These can be developed over time. Research into the field, as well as personal observation and anecdotal evidence all contribute to social empathy. It’s the kind of thing that become your life’s work, and if we all invested more time in developing our own social empathy, the world would be a safer and more peaceful place.

But there’s another kind of empathy. Biological empathy is sometimes mistaken for ESP or something out of the ordinary and, frankly, a little strange. A person with high levels of biological empathy feels the emotions of those around them. It doesn’t matter where they are or who they’re with – even complete strangers can give off very strong emotions. And those with high levels of biological empathy have no choice but to feel those emotions as if they were their own.

(And – notice: I didn’t say highly developed biological empathy, but rather, high levels of empathy. This kind of empathy seems to be something you’re born with. Any personal development in this area needs to focus on managing and understanding it, more than expanding it.)

There’s a lot to be said for biological empathy. if you can learn to separate your emotions from those around you, and teach yourself to read the cues that suggest whose feelings you might be feeling, you can develop your social empathy remarkably. It becomes possible to understand – deeply – what another person feels, whether their motivations for feeling a certain emotion seem logical or valid to you or not.

It certainly short cuts a lot of the explaining work that usually needs to form part of social empathy development. Over time, because you can feel what a person is feeling, you can begin to develop an understanding of why they feel it, too.

But biological empathy is not without its share of problems. For one thing, it’s exhausting. The people I know with high levels of biological empathy are usually pretty sensitive people themselves. That doesn’t mean they’re easily offended or they cry a lot. It just means that they come with a lot of feelings of their own. Strong feelings. And managing those can be hard enough without the burden of feeling everyone else’s feelings, too. without guidance – especially at first – it can be very difficult to figure out which feelings belong to you, and which belong to those around you. That makes every day an emotional roller coaster.

But it goes further than that. People lie. They lie to those around them, and they lie to themselves. They especially lie to children. So when a child has a high level of biological empathy, they may feel the emotions of the adults around them. But when they ask those adults if they’re okay, the adult will blithely assure them that all is well. Often, that adult hasn’t even admitted to themselves what they’re feeling. They may well believe themselves when they say everything’s okay, because they’ve spent so long denying their own emotions.

But the child (or biological empath) is not necessarily asking because they want to help, or because they’re nosy.

They’re asking because they need to figure out if the sudden welling up of anger or heart ache or frustration they just felt is theirs – and where it could have come from – or not.

When the person feeling the emotion doesn’t take ownership of that emotion, the person feeling it with them has no way of dealing with it. It becomes difficult to separate where his or her own self ends, and another person begins.

If we could all learn to be more honestAnd it becomes very difficult to develop social empathy. You learn not to trust your emotions or instincts. Because you know what you’re feeling, but not why, and because the person you believe is actually feeling this sudden welling up of emotion refuses to clarify it for you (probably innocently), it becomes very hard to read people at all. Knowing how to behave around other people becomes an opaque minefield of confusion and overwhelm.

When you behave based on what someone says, rather than what their actions reveal, it’s possible to come across as callous and thoughtless. But when the words a person says are baffling to the biological empath, they may not have any other options.

Eventually, these gifted people, who could offer so much to the world, retreat into their own worlds to protect themselves. It’s a great loss to society.

We could benefit so much by being more honest and real – with each other and ourselves. And, since we can’t identify the biological empath by sight, if we all took steps to be more honest, they would naturally benefit as a happy side effect of the whole world becoming a better, safer space to be in.

Let’s chat about making choices.

Just because I choose it, that doesn't make it easy

Just because I choose it, that doesn’t make it easy

And of course, living with the consequences of those choices. Which can be hard.

Really hard.

Suppose I wanted to climb Mount Everest.

That would be my decision – a choice I’d made.

I’d have to do a lot of preparation and – being me – I’d spend months and months online, doing “research”.

My research would cover the gamut of mountaineering, from which boots to wear when facing a Himalayan summer (warm ones, preferably headed to the tropics) – to which tent is best suited to sleeping on the side of an imposing great hulk of rock.

I’d consider the food I’d need to take, the best kind of ruck sack, how to get enough air, and where to find a therapist to help me through my mania and keep here, where things are nice and “normal”, rather than teetering on the side of some distant mountain clearly bent on my personal annihilation.

Now, I love me a good hike. And I am addicted to the imposing majesty of mountain peaks. I’m also a graduate of the “if-you’re-gonna-do-it-be-the-best-at-it” school of over achievement. So if I were to invest serious time and effort into this wannabe hobby, it’s not entirely outside of the realms of possibility that I would consider tackling Everest.

As Terry Pratchett made clear, “This I (might) choose.”

But here’s the thing about choices. Just because you choose something, that doesn’t make it easy. Or fun all the time. Sometimes it doesn’t even turn out to have been particularly pleasant at all.

In some cases, in fact, the choices we make kind of happen by accident. One tiny flap of a butterfly’s wing over here sets off a chain of events whose end e can’t hope to predict or even imagine. It just plays out before us (sometimes without us consciously realising the part we’ve had to play in all this drama). And the next thing we know, there we are. Mired in insurmountable drama.

Not fun.

In the last few weeks I’ve been chatting to a few of my friends (as you do). And we all seem to be facing the consequences of our choices in various aspects of our lives. Maybe it’s a natural by-product of getting older – both living long enough to see the outcomes of the path we’ve headed down (which is a blessing), and having the clarity to recognise the role we’ve played in getting to where we are (which, frankly, is a bit of a mixed bag in the blessing department).

The thing that strikes me every time I chat to these fine folk is a single line they all seem to repeat: “I know I chose this. It’s self-inflicted. I only have myself to blame.”

Well – sure. Okay. Great job on accepting responsibility for where you are in life. Let’s face it: no one can change your life but you.

But just because you chose it, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Just because you got yourself to wherever you may be on your personal journey, that doesn’t mean you need to go the rest of the way alone.

We can’t always predict the results of the tiny, seemingly insignificant choices we make along the way until it’s way too late. And while it’s mature – and even healthy – to recognise that we’ve had a part to play in getting to the place we’re at now, that doesn’t mean we’re to blame for it.

Frankly, blame shouldn’t even be a part of the equation.

And it doesn’t mean we don’t deserve compassion, support, and maybe even real, practical help. Many of us face obstacles we need to surmount – our very own Everests. No one can face a mountain alone. We need each other to achieve goals. Often, we need each other just to help us identify the goals in the first place.

And we certainly need help to get to where we’re headed. Because no matter how each of us got to wherever we are now, you can be sure not one of us did it alone.

So if you’re feeling stuck in a morass of guilt, blame – maybe even self-pity – and you feel like you need to pull yourself out of it all by yourself, maybe take a minute to stop being so hard on yourself.

Your experience is no less challenging, painful or – above all – valid just because you chose it. And just because it’s your path, and the result of your choices, that doesn’t mean you have to walk it alone.

Party Poopers

LEMONADE, 'Actually, I hate places like this.'

LEMONADE, ‘Actually, I hate places like this.’

Since Goldilocks joined a little home school / unschool collective, she has made some new friends. One of them, who we’ll call Bat Girl, has become a regular addition to our family.

Today is Bat Girl’s birthday party. The girls are going under duress – not because they don’t want to do, and certainly not because they don’t want to see their friends. They do want to see their friends. They love their friends, and they know how much it will mean to everyone if they’re there. And if they’re not.

The thing is that they, like their parents, hate parties.

We love party food – crisps, cake, sweets … okay, not cake. Or sweets. None of the girls in this house like cake or sweets. But definitely crisps. And chocolate. Always chocolate.

And we love our friends.

We even love mad crazy dancing to fun music. We like to dress up. We like to play. We love to enjoy ourselves.

Parties offer none of these things. Especially kids parties. Kids parties are loud. There are lots of sugar-fuelled monsters tearing around chaotic spaces, screaming their heads off. The children are expected to play “fun” games with stupid rules and meaningless rewards, while the adults sit around and make “small talk”.

What is about children’s parties that turn a group of adults who – I am almost certain – are completely charming, interesting and intelligent people under normal circumstances – into a gaggle of gossipy old bores? And if you don’t know the people they know, the conversation is dull and hard to follow. And did I mention dull?

Besides the lack of context that comes with not being deeply immersed in the daily soap operas of the locals, for some reason kids’ parties always seem littered with that very special variant of human (one I go to enormous lengths to avoid): the smoking racist. I don’t mean smoking as some kind of adjective – either positive or negative. They’re not “smoking hot”, for instance. They’re not so racist that their ears are smoking … well, okay. Yes they are. But that’s not what I mean.

I’m referring to that most deeply annoying of small town stereotypes: the smoker, who is also rabidly racist. Or just generally bigoted. How are you supposed to have a conversation with someone like that without massive amounts of accusatory face leakage?

I wish I knew. I don’t.

My Tourette’s goes into overdrive: I can’t accept what they say, so I twitch. I don’t want to appear rude, so I twitch some more. I don’t want to appear to agree, either. Cue more twitching. I realise that my “resting bitch face” has morphed slightly into “judgey bitch face”. Which I also don’t want. Trying to adjust my face into something a lot more vague and opaque means even more twitching. And then they smoke in my face. I can’t breathe, I’m trying not to sneeze, my nose and eyes are streaming – and all the while they’re saying the most outrageous and insubstantiable (is that even a word??) things about people they don’t even know.

Gah.

Vomit.

To make matters worse, this party is a dress up party. Now, I for one am all about dress up parties. I love them. (I think it’s some kind of control thing.) Red Riding Hood loves them, too. But Goldilocks and Papa Bear? Not so much. Cleverly enough, Red went to today’s party as Black Widow from X-Men fame. Really, it’s the perfect alter ego for her. Goldilocks bucked the system by going as an “innocent” bystander.

And I cheated by not going at all.

Yep. That’s how good a parent I am.

Speak-FrenchToday we got to the front gate of our property, about to head out and do Saturday-type parent-y stuff. The gate wouldn’t open. It does this sometimes. Because we live at the top of a very steep and twisty driveway, “running up tot he house” to get something is a chore. It’s an especially daunting challenge for people sporting our current fitness levels. (Let’s just say: standing upright is a particular challenge for people sporting our current fitness levels.)

Thus, a gate that doesn’t open needs to be solved with tools one finds to hand. Dried husks of hydrangea are about as good as it gets – and a lot less useful than you’d imagine.

As he got out of the car, he was exercising a mammoth amount of self-control, and simply said, “Please excuse me while I … ” He couldn’t finish the sentence without expletives, so he got out and tended to the recalcitrant metal monster barring our exit for the day.

Meanwhile, young Red Riding Hood piped up sardonically, “Please excuse me while I step outside to practise my French.”

Do you ever wonder how stuff started? You’ve probably heard that old joke, “Who was the first person to look at a chicken and think, ‘I’m gonna eat the next thing that comes out of that thing’s butt!’?”

I wonder that about a LOT of stuff. Like, all the time.

Some things make a certain kind of sense. Even chicken eggs: you can see how some heretofore uninformed young cave dweller could notice that chickens laid eggs, and that snakes and dogs birds bigger than chickens liked to eat those eggs … and didn’t die. And you can imagine how that forward thinking (and, let’s face it, probably Aspie) young foodie would consider doing the same thing.

But then one has to wonder: at what point did they first think of applying heat? Was it a great big accident, like the hilarious skit in Ringo Starr’s unhit Caveman? Perhaps. Or perhaps a certain kind of brain and inclination conspire together to make obvious what is utterly opaque to the rest of us.

Take music, for instance. I love music. But I’m no musician. Even singing in key is beyond my . I certainly don’t have the kind of mind that could originate great orchestras. At best – with a GREAT amount of practise and effort (on both my own part and that of my instructors) – I might be able to replicate a not-too-painful to listen to facsimile of the original. If the original was Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. On a xylophone.

I’ll never be Mozart. I’ll never even be Macklemore. And let’s be honest – there’s a pretty big gap between those two.

But the thing is: they, and the millions of music makers that have ever lived, have the ability to hear something beautiful or powerful or moving in their heads, and convert it into something audible that we can all hear. And they’re actually instrument agnostic. It’s not as if they sat at a piano for a few hours and recorded whatever came out and hoped for the best. They created it. They originated it.

How? How was that in there?

Even more fascinating to me is the concept of creating a musical instrument in the first place. The users of those instruments are genius, surely. But the dudes who made them? Wow. That’s a kind of lateral twistification I just don’t think my brain could begin to comprehend.

Who first made a brass tube, twisted it, and blew into one end to see what happened? Who tied some strings to bits of ivory and gave them a whack? Or even a tickle, as the saying goes … I mean, how does a piano become an obvious design in someone’s mind?

I was thinking about that today (as you can tell). We were talking about the impact of a bullet on a watermelon. As you do. And I got to thinking: why does the watermelon explode? Why doesn’t the bullet just go neatly through, and lodge itself in the next available surface? (In fact, perhaps it does. But not in the movies. And that’s my frame of reference.)

It occurred to me that the shattering watermelon is the result of the exploding bullet. The watermelon rind is hard enough to cause the bullet’s impact against it to explode the bullet. But unlike, say, human flesh, the flesh of the watermelon yields too little resistance to obstruct a catastrophic explosion. So, instead, the whole thing explodes, pips and all. Mush.

Which made me wonder: who invented bullets? More specifically: how? I can imagine that throwing rocks at people you’re not fond of is a time-honoured tradition and effective in most circumstances. And I can see how the slingshot wouldn’t be too big a leap once we worked out the whole wearing clothes and cutting fabric palaver. Along the way, people realised that the greater the force applied, the more satisfying the result.

All of that makes sense. It’s logic. I can even see how a strip of fabric could develop into a slingshot could develop into a catapult (the same, only bigger) could develop into a canon could develop into a gun. It only takes one freak accident next to a keg of gun powder to see the explosive potential there. (Sorry ;))

But the true feat of engineering genius is the bullet. Everything about it as a marvel. The shape. The materials it’s made of. The tooling. The contents. The way it works. It’s incredible. Who thought it all out … and how did they get there? Stones and things like stones have worked for millennia. Who finally said, “You know, let’s throw something else.”?

And as I thought about it, I realised, the person who created the first exploding bullet was probably not a genius like Mozart. He probably didn’t have a fully formed gorechestra (see what I did there?) in his mind before he started tinkering. He was probably just doing exactly that: tinkering. He may have had some vague idea of where he was headed. But he was probably trying things out to see what would work.

When he started, he didn’t know where he was headed.

He didn’t know.

When a baby takes her first step, she has no idea what she’s doing or why. She doesn’t know what’ll happen. She just does it. She tries different things. She discovers her own potential, and the options made available by this new skill. She learns and grows and improves. And she loves it. Every step is fun. Each improvement is an achievement.

There’s a sense of wonder at her unfolding new knowledge and skill – a joy that drives her to push the boundaries and discover more and more. An excitement that makes us all her greatest cheerleaders.

When do we lose that?

When do we finally decide, “I know enough. I have the knowledge I need to accomplish everything I have ever wanted to do. If I don’t know it now, I never will. And if I don’t do great and amazing and perfect, flawless things from now on, I never will – the only way I can possibly fail is if I am truly an idiot.”?

Maybe it’s when we finish the formal phase of our education – be it school or “higher” education or anything else we sign up and pay for. We think that anyone with a (degree/diploma/matric) should be able to do whatever thing we’ve set out to do.

Why?

Based on what? No one ever got the thing right on the first try. (Well, except those Mozart types. Are you one of those? Because if so, this isn’t for you.)

We need to rediscover the joy of not knowing stuff. We need to reignite our courage and wonder and excitement and just try stuff out. We need to explore and investigate and see what works – and bravely admit to what doesn’t.

Most of all, we need to learn and grow and learn and grow some more … and just keep doing that wonderful stuff until we breathe our last.

That way, we can never, ever fail. Our ideas might not always work out the way we hope. But that’s great. That let’s us try new ideas, new perspectives. New projects. New new new. And all the while, we keep learning.

And we never, ever lose our sense of wonder.

Never Lose Your Sense of Wonder

Never Lose Your Sense of Wonder

Inside an Anorexic Mind

I’ve shared before about my journey through anorexia here and here, and more recently here. Today I was listening to random TED talks while working, and I found this.

For the first time, someone gets it.

I am free of this disease. It’s been a long time since this “noise” Laura Hill describes controlled my life. But I do still have it sometimes. It’s a relief to hear Dr Hill’s insights and the results of her research, and to know: it’s not selfish or shallow or spoilt or stupid. It’s just a disease – and it’s treatable.

Elexoma: Brain Stimulation for Novices

Elexoma: brain Stimulation for Novices

We’ve been using the Elexoma device since Thursday. And by “we”, I mean mostly me. I’ve been making Goldilocks do it too, when time permits.

She was reluctant at first, but soon came to see the value.

Yesterday I couldn’t find it, so I didn’t use it. Goldilocks was in a bad mood and retreated to her room, and when I went to check on her I found her using the Elexoma all by herself. And it helped a lot, she said – even though she only managed to squeeze in about nine minutes.

I must say that I am feeling more relaxed and better able to cope generally. My sleep has also improved enormously. And, interestingly enough, my tics seem to be better now, too. So that’s a very good thing.

In fact, I’m using it now, as I type.

In the first post, I mentioned that my cysts were taking strain: they were noticeably bigger, and felt as though they were about to burst. Now, however, they’re a lot smaller. And they barely hurt at all. In fact, I’m no longer even aware of the ones on my head, and it’s been a very long time since I could say that. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’ve cut out chocolate and crisps, or if it’s the Elexoma doing it’s thang.

Maybe it’s both.

My particular interest is to note that it’s helping Goldilocks. Like – a lot. She is calmer, more confident, and less prone to tics. Her concentration seems to have improved, as well. That’s not to say that we don’t still have melt downs to deal with. Because we do. But they’re less intense and easier to resolve.

So far, so good.

Read more here: www.BoostMyBrain.co.za

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