How I Became a Planner Junkie

How I went from disorganized to #planner junkie | alexfelicia.netIt’s only been a couple of months, though. For most of my life, I completely lacked routine and organization. I loved the idea of it; having an orderly life and getting things done. I loved the idea of a planner with neatly written checklists, and a desk full of clever utensils. And, of course, of having a clean home into which I would feel comfortable inviting friends. Of steady sleep patterns, regular meals.

But it wasn’t to be. Every time I came up with some new organizational scheme, it took no more than a few days before it was lost in the general clutter of my life. The holy grail turned into a pipe dream. I would pause in the stationery section of every bookshop and gaze longingly at supplies I knew would never see any use.

I was a hopelessly disorganized person, and that was the end of it. Continue reading How I Became a Planner Junkie

Invisibly Different: Neurodivergence, Mental Illness and Me

I think most people have probably asked themselves “What is wrong with me?” at some point. It’s a loaded question with terribly complicated answers, and it’s not the one I’m going to answer in this post. I will, however, tell you how I believe I’m different.

How I discovered I'm both neurodivergent and mentally ill | alexfelicia.net

I used to think I was a complete failure. Having been told throughout my life that I am so smart, so talented, with the constant implication that if only I would just put my back into it, I could achieve whatever I wanted … well, the fact that I never seemed to achieve anything at all gradually sucked me into a deep, dark pit of despair. I had received so much praise for my character, and couldn’t fight the growing suspicion that I never actually earned it.

On top of this, I suffered a recurrent feeling of being disconnected from the social world around me. As though life was one big party that I wasn’t invited to. Some of this persists to this day: The more I enjoy a social interaction, the likelier it is that I will be attacked by doubt afterwards. Did I make a fool of myself? Did everyone secretly find me really annoying?

Obviously, I have spent a lot of time thinking about why this was so. Especially my inability to harness the abilities I clearly possess. Why was it that I kept falling over every time I picked up some speed?

For a long time, I believed that my problem was that I had it too easy. That during my formative years I simply coasted along on my ability to pick up new skills and knowledge extremely fast, and never learned to do the work. So of course, when I started encountering real challenges, I caved. A lot of the time I was afraid of applying myself to new tasks because what if, this time, it turned out to be too difficult and my world would come tumbling down?

And I thought that obviously, there would always be people who didn’t like me very much because of how outspoken I was. I had gotten plenty of feedback during my childhood to indicate that I’m simply too much for many.

I thought that was the end of it, but it was never the whole picture. My story is one of getting to know myself, and learning the difference between neurodivergence and mental illness.

Clues

This is a difficult story to tell, not because it’s painful or private but because it ties together so many seemingly disparate parts of my life and personality. And so much of it, I haven’t even begun to understand until these last few years.

The first part was identifying what I call my Aspie tendencies. As an example: For a long time, I believed that I was a bit arrogant, because that’s what I was told. Perhaps I was, at that, but it was never my intention to put people down. Yet I was always receiving criticism, sometimes openly from adults in power positions, sometimes more or less veiled barbs from my friends and schoolmates, for my know-it-all attitude. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I finally realised that there’s a complete disconnect between my intentions as I understand them, and what other people hear.

See, one integral part of my personality is that I have a reality fetish. I like facts, a lot. As an extension of that, I like knowing what I’m doing (which means doing things sub-optimally if I want to is a valid choice!). And I always assumed everyone else was the same. Thus, correcting people when they were incorrect, or giving them pointers when they were doing things wrong (and it seemed likely they weren’t doing so on purpose), was for me an altruistic act. Still is. But these days, I understand that what they often hear is an intention to tell them that I am better than them. So I’ve learned to watch myself, to weigh my words carefully when I do decide to put in a correction.

Then there’s the way my brain sometimes can’t cope with changes of plan if I’m the one supposed to carry it through. And of course there’s the fact that I find it extremely uncomfortable to have eye-contact for more than a moment or two, with anyone other than close romantic partners. And my general subconscious obsession with following rules. And how I often find physical interactions difficult and awkward. And possibly the fact that I’m agender.((There’s evidence suggesting gender dysphoria or being transgender is more common on the spectrum.)) And lots of other tiny little things that mean nothing in isolation, but together start to paint a picture of a mind that doesn’t quite work like it’s “supposed” to.

The idea that I may have ADHD entered the picture only recently. Although I was aware of the diagnosis and had read up on it, I had discarded the idea that any of it applied to me, except perhaps in some very limited ways.

Sure, I was rather disorganised and tended to procrastinate a lot, but that was just laziness, right? The fact that I’ve never really been any good at focusing on anything that isn’t super interesting, well, I thought that was just how brains worked. It seemed natural to me. Why should I want to spend mental energy on stuff that bores me? I didn’t have a poor attention span, I was just … discerning.

And the idea that I may be hyperactive was downright laughable. I’ve been struggling with constant tiredness since my teens. It never occurred to me that the constant complaint I made that I just can’t stop thinking could have been a sign. And I certainly never connected it to how I’m always fidgeting with something. Poking at the leftovers on my plate after I’ve finished eating, or folding napkins until they fall apart – that’s not hyperactivity, that’s just bad table manners. Or so I thought.

Labels

The way I see it (and do keep in mind this is a layman’s personal opinion), many of the psychiatric diagnoses we speak of today are simply labels we affix to certain aggregates of personality attributes and resulting behaviours. Sometimes these have some foundation in genetics, sometimes they are responses to external stimuli. But everyone, regardless of psychological make-up, has to figure out their place in the world and learn to cope with societal demands. For some, the necessary skills come more easily than for others, and for those of us in the latter group, there are sometimes labels.

So, I probably have ADHD. My psychiatrist agrees that my symtoms are consistent. Perhaps I will end up getting a formal diagnosis, perhaps not. I am already taking medicine to improve attention and initiative, and this has had a huge impact on my life.

I also might qualify for Asperger syndrome. It’s something that definitely exists in several branches of my family, and as mentioned, I do show some symtoms (again, my psychiatrist agrees). I don’t know whether I will want to investigate this further or if I’m happy as things are.

Official diagnoses or no, I believe I could be described as neurodivergent, and it’s a label I have adopted for myself. The way my brain works means I don’t fit into society’s mold for a productive citizen quite as neatly as I should, and this means more work for me and sometimes for those around me. It means I may need special treatment in some areas, and for now, it means I need medicine.

View this post on Instagram

Breakfast of champions

A post shared by Alex (@hivemindhermit) on

It should be noted that the pills pictured above are not the ones I take today to manage anxiety, etc. I had strep throat at the time.

For most of my life, I had no idea. I thought I was neurotypical, if a bit eccentric, and that my failures in some areas were merely due to various personality flaws. I thought I was a bit of a bitch, but I wasn’t – I was a bit of an Aspie. I thought I was hopelessly lazy, but I wasn’t – I was mentally ill.

My inability to focus led to crippling anxiety, and that is mental illness. ADHD((If you think you may have ADHD and this is negatively impacting your life, try filling out the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS). It is a well-established screening tool developed by the WHO. You can find it as an online form here. It has been translated into a number of languages. PDFs are available here. Should you test positive, consider seeking professional help.)) and Asperger syndrome are not.

Erasure

As with so many other things in healthcare and research involving humans, psychiatric studies often focus on boys and men. For a long time, it seems no one really thought of how socialization might affect symtoms of neurological divergence. Therefore, both Asperger syndrome and ADHD were believed to primarily manifest in male children, which means people with problems like mine end up never getting the help they need. Or, as in my case, get it only after 15 years of anxiety, long periods of self-loathing and suicidal thoughts, and too many lost opportunities.

Boys are expected and therefore subconsciously encouraged to be loud and active and take up a lot of space – no wonder hyperactive boys literally climb the walls. Girls are encouraged to be the exact opposite, and so their hyperactivity is often channeled inwards. They’ll sit quietly staring into space while their mind races, and so their attention problem is never noticed. I think the moment it really hit home for me that I may have ADHD was when I discovered that it is very common for women who go undiagnosed to end up descending into severe anxiety and depression, because they see their constant failures in life as personal flaws.

Asperger, too, is seen as a boy thing. I was raised as a girl, and I was forced to learn the various social behaviours that didn’t come naturally to me. This was done through constant negative feedback about my person. I know that the people around me who did (and in some cases, still do) this meant well, and in some respects I am grateful. Being socially competent is a nice skill to have. But it has also left me deeply insecure, and constantly monitoring everything that’s about to come out of my mouth is really draining.

Then there’s the interpersonal aspect of erasure, born out of a mix of kindness, misunderstanding and lack of knowledge. Often when I mention to someone that “I’m a bit Aspie”, they will disagree with me. “No, that can’t be. I sure haven’t noticed anything, you seem perfectly socially competent,” they’ll say. And I know they mean well, and if you are one of those people, please don’t worry that I’m angry with you. But this is erasure. I’m a bit Aspie, but I have learned to act like I’m normal. I am socially competent, because social competence is a skill that can be learned. But to me, my difficulties are real and ever-present.

All’s Well?

About a year ago, I started seeing a psychiatrist. Of course I should have done so much sooner, but like so many others suffering from mental health issues, I was stuck in a mindset that didn’t allow me to ask for help even though I was aware I had problems.

All’s well that ends well is one of my favourite sayings, even if I don’t believe in it. I won’t go into detail about the process that followed because this post is long enough as it is. But I want to finish up by reiterating how much better I am doing today. Therapy and medication is turning me from an anxious wreck into an organised productivity monster, and I love it. My journey isn’t over yet, of course. I expect setbacks and many re-evaluations. But right now, I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

I’m doing better because I got help, and I got help because I have amazing people in my life who helped me get to a point where it was possible for me to accept it. If you’re one of them, then from the bottom of my heart: Thank you.

And a big thank you to anyone who has read this far. I appreciate you taking the time to get to know me better. Please feel free to share any thoughts you have on the topics I bring up. I am also perfectly comfortable with receiving questions about myself.

How To Not Kill Your Houseplants

Every once in a while I get into conversations about houseplants. I’ll mention that I keep orchids, for instance, and immediately people think I’m some sort of plant wizard. Well, I’m not. Actually, for long periods of my life, I’ve been pretty crap at taking care of living things.

The point is, it’s really not a big deal. Keeping flowers healthy isn’t magic, you don’t have to sacrifice baby animals to obscure deities or even buy expensive equipment. Plants are less articulate than animals. Unlike dogs or cats they won’t make much of a fuss when they’re hungry or thirsty, so the main issue is really to remember to take care of them at all.

So, if you’re one of those people convinced they’re some errant offspring of a death god, destined to kill whatever they touch: You’re probably wrong. If you enjoy having greenery around you, here’s a few tips that’ll get you started! Continue reading How To Not Kill Your Houseplants

Dressing Outside the Box: My Journey of Self-Expression

Anyone who’s known me for longer than a year, however superficially, knows I’ve undergone some dramatic changes lately when it comes to how I present myself. I suppose it’s not so obvious for everyone that these changes have been a long time coming. They would have come a lot earlier, if not for the strange way my strongly individualistic nature has clashed with my equally strong desire to fit in and follow the rules.

I was bullied as a kid – surprise surprise – and although that time has definitely left its scars, the strange thing is how I can’t remember what I was bullied for. Kids make up all sorts of arbitrary reasons to pick on each other, of course, but usually these reasons are communicated to the victim. Not so much, in my case. Anyway, I do remember one time where a boy accused me of having cheated on a test. I remember it because that was one of the few times I hit back (verbally, at least). Because the very implication that I might have cheated got me furious.

Okay, but what’s this got to do with style? In my case, everything, as it turns out.

Ingrained Rules

A need to follow rules has been a very strong theme in my life, without me knowing it. I always considered myself a very individualistic person, an outsider who likes to do things their own way. But fact of the matter is, I’m terrified of being caught having done something wrong. Even if that is simply wearing my hair wrong or combining the wrong pieces of clothing.

At the same time I’ve been actively uninterested in fashion. As in, I considered it anathema to the person I wanted to be. There were styles like synth and goth that appealed a lot to me ever since I was a teenager, but where I felt like trying them out would be putting on a costume. I listened to the wrong music, I didn’t have the energy or interest in learning to wear make-up … basically, I thought I had to buy the entire package to be allowed to wear the clothes and hairstyles I thought looked cool.

All this meant that I often dressed well, and in some ways originally, but always somewhat conservatively.

View this post on Instagram

Um… #gpoy time!

A post shared by Alex (@hivemindhermit) on

So that’s one aspect of what I used to look like. But my need to do things right didn’t just mean shutting myself out of alternative fashion. It also meant that I restricted myself to an imaginary binary.

Stuck in the Binary

It’s been a couple of years since I realised I completely lack a gender identity (what this means exactly is something I’ll probably get back to in a future post). When I first did, I didn’t think much of it. I’m AFAB and wore femme clothing, and as such enjoyed all the privileges, such as they are, of being interpreted as a ciswoman. And since gender literally means nothing to me, I didn’t really care if people kept thinking of me as a woman.

I also made one of the most embarrassing errors of thought I can remember: I thought, “Well, if I’m gonna dress as a man, I’d want to pass, and with these wide hips and narrow shoulders, ain’t no way that’s ever gonna happen.”

It never once struck me that there are other ways to present myself than fully feminine or fully masculine. That there’s a whole spectrum of gender expression, I knew. That there are plenty of people breaking the binary and challenging norms, I knew. I applauded and looked up to them. But for myself, I was completely entrenched in binary thinking.

So I thought that if I couldn’t pass, dressing masculine was pointless, and I told myself that with these wide hips of mine there simply was no chance of ever fooling anyone. Except perhaps very briefly, if seen at a distance. Simply going butch was never on the map, and what’s even stranger, it never struck me that I could dress androgynously. Even though I’ve carried a life-long fascination with androgyny.

All this changed, obviously. It changed through meeting the right people. The first step was, somewhat ironically, embracing femininity. Although I definitely had an interest in looking good before, I suffered from internalised femmephobia, which prevented me from wearing skirts and the colour pink. It’s okay, you can laugh. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The first step involved meeting a man who was interested in fashion. Not fashion as in what’s fashionable, but as in how to find clothes that suit yourself as a person, how to combine them to accentuate good features, etcetera. And I realised that hey, this is actually a legitimate interest. A hobby, even. One doesn’t have to be shallow or vain (attributes frequently associated with femme) to find this interesting or fun. Besides, if I refused to wear clothes I liked simply because our culture tells me I should wear them because of my perceived gender, then in a way, culture would still be winning.

And that was the beginning of my femme revolution.

Over the next few years I enjoyed a variety of styles with a focus on around-kneelength skirts and brightly coloured and patterned tights. I mostly went either for conservatively cute (as opposed to full lolita) or high femme.

The problem was, it still wasn’t me.

Letting Go of the Rules

The final change began when I started hanging out with the people who are now my closest friends (and in some cases, lovers). Suddenly I was surrounded with piercings and sidecuts and interesting, norm-breaking styles of dress and above all, a very relaxed attitude towards it. They were not cliqueish in the least, and when I started expressing an interest in trying out some new style elements – like dying my hair in unnatural shades – this was met with enthusiastic support and offers of help.

And so I took my first few careful steps. A purple ombre. A discreet undercut. A not so discreet medusa piercing. A sidecut. Another sidecut.

View this post on Instagram

I am not a woman. I don't know what it feels like to have a gender identity at all, which is why I style myself agender. I am not a woman. I have learned to play the part, and to some extent it has been both enjoyable and empowering to embrace chosen parts of hegemonic femininity. But it doesn't define me. It never has. I am not a woman, but I know what it feels like to be seen as and treated as one. Thus I am a feminist. Today, on Intl Women's Day, I ponder how lucky I am to live in a time and place that allows me to think about gender identity and expression in terms like these. Most people never had that luxury. So – here's to past victories, and future success. #internationalwomensday #iwd #iwd2016 #nonbinary #enby #agender

A post shared by Alex (@hivemindhermit) on

And then, sometime this spring, I had many long conversations about gender identity and expression with my partner Deus, and through these realised what should have been obvious all along: I had been LARPing a woman, and for a long time felt comfortable in that role. But I didn’t have to keep doing that. I didn’t have to pretend to be anything that wasn’t me.

I could, in fact, start dressing to look androgynous. Or butch. Or weird. Or whatever I feel like at the moment.

And that’s where I am today. I cut my hair off and dyed it black and purple. I wear a fake leather jacket and prefer men’s clothing, especially trousers, which just have so much more space than the ridiculously tight trousers I wore before. I also happily abandoned the grossly uncomfortable underwire push-ups I had squeezed my diminutive bosom into (telling myself I needed it to get closer to the much-coveted hour-glass figure), in favour of sports bras.

And not just that – I started sitting differently. And standing, and walking. I suddenly became acutely aware of how I, while trying to act like a woman, had constantly been policing my own behaviour, adjusting it to fit the idea of what an attractive female person should be like. Now, I’m finding it amusing to try to emulate male ideals instead, in an attempt to perhaps land somewhere in the middle.

Dressing Outside the Box: My Journey of Self-Expression | alexfelicia.net
Same same but different. The picture on the right was taken in 2012, the one on the left is recent.

In the end, this journey (which obviously isn’t over yet) has led to all sorts of insights about myself and how I express my personality through my exterior attributes. I’m happy to say I haven’t just become far more relaxed about how I present myself, but also less judgmental of others. In the end, the important thing is to dress and look the way you like and feel comfortable with.

So, if you’re reading this and feeling even the slightest twinge of envy: Just Do It. Go on and buy that piece you’ve been ogling but didn’t think you’d dare wear, or get your trimmer and shave a side-cut. It’s less scary and more liberating than you think, and you can always change your mind.

Getting Past Mental Blocks

I actually experienced a pretty huge mental block quite recently. See, it turned out that writing that first post didn’t release me from the issue of deciding how to start this blog off. After all, that wasn’t a real blog post, it was just an introduction, of sorts. Immediately I found myself wondering: What do I do next? I have all these things I want to write about, but where do I start? What is a good topic for my first actual article?

And so I found myself in a very familiar state: Paralysed with anxiety. Continue reading Getting Past Mental Blocks

A Blog About Anything

Writing the first post on a new blog is kind of like starting a new journal. You have that huge, empty space in front of you, a white page (or screen) waiting to be filled. Demanding, even. And for some reason, you feel like those first words have to be perfect.

Deciding what to blog about can be a daunting experience.
This picture was arranged, and is not an accurate depiction of what it looks like when I blog. (I seriously wish it were.)

It’s ridiculous, obviously. Very few things turn out perfect on the first try. And what’s a perfect first blog post, anyway?

Of course, there are plenty of people (pro bloggers, that is) who have opinions on that. Usually, the idea is to set the tone for your future writing. The problem is that even though you may have some idea of what you want that tone to be, it will still take some time to develop. Also, in my case, I’ve had some trouble figuring out what I actually want to blog about.

A Paralysing Lack of Focus

See, there are so many topics that interest me. Everything from deep stuff – like various social justice causes, relationships and intimacy, gender, and so on – to hobbies and crafts, gardening, gaming, and other assorted geekery. So you can imagine my plight when pretty much every expert on the internet says, “You have to focus! You have to find a niche! You have to have a topic! You have to know your audience!”

But I’m a generalist, not a specialist. I’m not an expert at anything, but quite good at a few things and doing alright at a lot. My hobbies and interests tend to shift over time, leading to me picking up a lot of new skills but never honing any of them to a fine point.

I used to think the reason I never managed to become an expert was because I’m lazy. But I’m not. I’m simply way too interested in way too many things to be able to focus on just one of them. This realisation came to me earlier this year as a result of reading this excellent blog post by Stephanie Zvan on Specialist Envy. (Not very long thereafter I also realised that I probably have ADHD. No wonder I can’t focus!)

Along with this realisation came a certain amount of acceptance. Being unable to focus on one particular thing and become an expert on it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Especially not when it’s paired with an ability to pick up new knowledge and skills very easily. It means whatever I’m doing, I usually have some idea of the wider perspective.

Realising I’m a generalist was all well and good, but it certainly didn’t help me narrow down what I wanted this blog to be about. I have kept blogs before, and inevitably abandoned them as my focus shifted to other things. As a result, I became more and more reluctant to start new ones.

The Obvious Answer

This time, as my need to exercise my creative muscles (as well as my rather excessive desire to Tell People Stuff), I caved and asked my friends what to do. The answer was pretty much unanimous: “Just write whatever you want to write.”

In retrospect, that was kind of obvious. If I am to stay interested in blogging, I need to write about what I’m passionate about at the moment. Not force myself into a niche, which I will inevitably get bored of.

In other words, this is a blog about me, Alex Felicia. It’s about my hobbies, interests and passions. I’ll be sharing all sorts of things, from thoughts on how to deal with jealousy, to tips on how to make your planner look awesome – as well as what is going on in my life at the moment. If you know me, I hope this is reason enough to stick around and keep reading. If you don’t, give me a chance – perhaps it turns out we share an interest or two.

But don’t worry, everything will be neatly categorised so you can follow only the parts you are interested in. After all, one of my current passions is organisation…