The camera doesn’t love me

According to cultural norms of our time and symmetry of features (with the exception of a lazy eye and scoliosis) I’m not unattractive but the camera doesn’t love me.

I like taking photos and I am not averse to having my photo taken but still the camera doesn’t love me.

I like and/or love the people I am with when I’m having my photo taken but still the camera doesn’t love me.

The camera doesn’t love me for two main reasons:

I can’t invent an expression that does not match what is happening. I’m about to have my photo taken, I’m looking at a camera. How do you smile at equipment for the sake of a smile? Who invented smiling for cameras anyway, it didn’t start out that way.

My typical attempt at a smile

and  I can’t hide an expression that matches what I am doing then and there.

AWESOME

Flies trapped in the tulle of my train: GROSS

I am rarely aware of unintentional messages my body language is sending to people (one of my autistic traits) but I thought this photo might convey a subconscious message to the camera from me.

Up yours camera!

However, for those of you who are not photo savvy, here are three tips that I’ve only just learned that seem to be culturally appropriate for a good group photo in Australia these days:

  • If you have trouble holding a smile, convince yourself that what everyone is saying is ten times as funny (fortunately for me someone somewhere is usually making a joke or a smart aleck remark about something) but only just before the photographer is about to take the photo otherwise they will catch the ‘sigh’ afterwards instead.
  • Lean in towards everyone, actually ‘snuggle in’. This makes it look like you are part of a cohesive group (the literal helps the figurative). However if you can’t hold a comfortable expression when your personal space is massively invaded that tip may not be for you.
  • Turning your body slightly toward the centre of the group (if you are in the centre, pretend that you are not) and if you are a women put one foot in front of the other (or at least don’t stand with your feet too far apart and pointing in different directions).

Before (I’m at the front, in the trousers)

After (second from the left)

me Ladies foot forward

I’m sure many people could give you better advice about how to pose for a photo but they may also take it a little too seriously causing you to develop body image issues. The gamut of advice could range from tips on makeup, hair, fashion and body position to accentuate certain aspects of your appearance and hide others (causing you to feel somewhat ashamed of the parts you are advised to hide).

I’m afraid to say that I finally became aware of and succumbed to this ‘accentuate and hide’ idea recently (typically I was not subtle about it). I apologize to humanity for doing it and as part of my apology I have also included a photo of me before I undermined myself.

After

Intentionally hiding my thighs (sad really)

Before

Me

The camera might not love me but my husband does, my sons do and so do many others. It’s not just certain parts of me that they love, they love all of me ‘inside and out’ and besides my occasional body image hiccups so do I.

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Hoodwinked in health

This is a topic I’ve wanted to write about for a very long time now. But it is such a delicate topic that I have been too afraid to attempt it until now. It’s not politics, it’s not religion and it’s not even football.

Everyone does it these days. Everyone talks about it. No, it’s not sex and most of you will now be very disappointed; some of you relieved. It is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Well, that was an anti-climax and it can hardly even be called ‘alternative’ anymore now because it is so common it seems to have become therapeutic norm.

What is CAM?

CAM includes: naturopathy, chiropractic, aromatherapy, homeopathy, reflexology and Chinese herbal medicine among many others.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) defines CAM as a group of diverse medical and health care interventions, practices, products, or disciplines that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.

When I was young I was fascinated about the story of travelling ‘snake oil’ salesman. Apparently, in the 19th century there existed a popular product based on snake oil that fraudulent salesmen promoted and sold as a ‘cure all’ to vulnerable audiences. They moved from one township to another quickly enough to avoid any unsatisfied customers. I wondered how anyone could become so easily convinced to buy such products and naïvely assumed that people would be too aware to be fooled by that sort of thing now. I was wrong. The snake oil salesman has evolved with us and adapted his products, terminology and his sales techniques. He is alive and well in the guise of some CAM practitioners.

Many years ago, I completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne and a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics at Deakin University, so not surprisingly what concerns me most about CAM practitioners is their nutrition advice.  We don’t just have fad diets now but we also have food prejudice.

Certain food groups and nutrients have become the number one enemy. I don’t know what it is about humans but we have an intense desire to pit ourselves against enemies and the person we are most likely to trust is the person who points out our enemies, the snake oil salesman has exploited that. Milk and wheat are two of the most hated foods at the moment. Perhaps ‘gluten’ should have been called ‘slimmen’ and ‘casein and whey’ should have been called ‘healin and lite’.

Do you know how perplexing it is to me that after having completed my five years of tertiary education to become a Dietitian, even my own sisters have made appointments with naturopaths and followed their diet advice to varying degrees?

Friends, family and strangers alike have often recommended certain diets to me or told me the evils of a specific food group, food or nutrient even after or especially after I have disclosed my dietetic background (something I don’t enjoy doing because it only encourages people to promote their own beliefs about food). Beliefs; not facts.

I am not denying that people can have allergies or intolerances to specific foods or nutrients but unfortunately many people who have been told by CAM practitioners they have allergies to certain foods are not allergic to them at all. It is not uncommon for false diagnoses of allergies to be given by CAM practitioners who use unproven allergy tests. High-allergen foods are not intrinsically unhealthy (if you are not allergic or intolerant to them) so restricting their consumption is of no benefit and in some cases may  pose nutritional risk.

This is about the point where people feel compelled to write about how their CAM practitioner changed their life, which will only make me feel like banging my head against a brick wall. Why do I feel that way? Because as wonderful as you might feel right now, I can’t help thinking that you have been hoodwinked like so many others and in being hoodwinked an injustice has been done. It’s like the story about the emperor’s new clothes, only I don’t think anyone deserves to be deceived with regard to their health.

Over half of all Australians report using CAM treatments1 and less than half of those who use CAM treatments tell their General Practitioner (GP) about their use of CAM1. Concerns regarding CAM based strategies relate to the fact that they are usually not evidence based even if they claim to have scientific proof and can be used to replace known effective treatments, provide harmful side effects or financial burden for no real positive end result2.

Did you know that if someone gives you a pill, which you believe may be capable of relieving symptoms you are experiencing, it may actually work even if it is made entirely of sugar? It’s true; it’s called the placebo effect.

Besides the placebo effect there are so many statistical and scientific factors that need to be taken into account when evaluating studies in order to be sure that something is in fact doing what it is claimed to do. Not to mention that there needs to be a plausible explanation for it to work.

I no longer practise as a dietitian because I realised pretty quickly that I don’t have good social or sales skills, something that perhaps works in favour of the evolved snake oil salesman. Many people with scientific and academic strengths that have enabled them to be accepted into mainstream health and medical studies and professions have their weaknesses in ‘bedside manner’ or social skills. Meanwhile, the snake oil salesman says all the right things, inspiring you, empowering you and reassuring you that you can escape the ills of western civilisation by following a few simple steps.

I’m sure that some CAM practitioners believe in what they are doing (practitioners can sometimes be fooled just as easily as the consumers) and perhaps some might even admit it is not based on established science but that it is a belief system based on a vitalism* but I doubt any of them says “The only scientific evidence for what I’m about to do is anecdotal evidence, which is probably a reflection of placebo effect, confounding factors and statistics and you should let your GP know about all the supplements I am about to sell you in case it interferes with any of the medications you have been prescribed” because they wouldn’t be practicing for long.

I really think that people need to be making smarter, more informed choices with regard to their health. You only have one body, and making health mistakes by trusting the wrong practitioner can be costly in a physical, psychological and financial sense.

Over a 12 month period in 2004/ 2005 Australian’s spent 1.86 billion dollars on CAM products, 1.73 billion dollars for CAM practitioner visits, and 0.54 billion dollars for other CAM-related items1. No doubt that figure has increased substantially in the past decade.

The best advice I can give is to recommend that you make sure you understand how any particular treatment is meant to work. If a treatment doesn’t make sense, sounds like a fad diet or sounds too good to be true, ask for clarification and evidence of it’s effectiveness and don’t be afraid to do some research on it yourself. Don’t sign up to or pay for anything until you have looked into it further. The following link provides valuable advice on how to be an informed consumer and how to find and evaluate online resources.

It is also important to tell your GP or medical specialist when you are undertaking a CAM treatment because they are not without risks; they may result in harmful or unwanted side effects. If you are interested in a particular CAM treatment your GP should be able to access and assist you to evaluate information on it also2.

Don’t be afraid to ask your GP about recommendations they have given too, I do. I’ve actually found that most doctors enjoy talking about things in greater detail. Of course, there is always the exception to the rule and that is why getting a second opinion (seeing another doctor or medical specialist for the same issue) is commonly done.

A brief note on CAM and Autism

A very good review article that I came across recommended trying (with proper guidance and/or training) only three out of nineteen commonly used CAM treatments for people with autism after evaluating the scientific evidence available3. For interests sake they were melatonin (for sleep problems in children with autism), multivitamin/ mineral (for those with a limited diet and/or poor appetite) and massage therapy3. Feel free to do further research on these treatments if CAM is of interest to you. Otherwise, there other more conventional approaches to supporting people with autism, some of which are briefly covered on my post on communication and behaviour.

As mentioned previously, it is important to tell your GP or medical specialist when you are undertaking a CAM treatment because they are not without risks; they may result in harmful or unwanted side effects.

*Vitalism (Oxford dictionary): The theory that the origin and phenomena of life are dependent on a force or principle distinct from purely chemical or physical forces. Examples include Reiki and qi.

References:

  1. Xue, CC. Zhang, AL. Lin, V. Da Costa, C. Story, DF. Complementary and alternative medicine use in Australia: A national population-based survey. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2007; 13(6): 643-650
  2. Myers, SM and Johnson, CP. Management of children with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics 2007; 120: 1162-1182
  3. Lofthouse, N. Hendren, R. Hurt, E. Arnold, LE. Butter, E. A review of complementary and alternative treatments for autism spectrum disorders. Autism Research and Treatment 2012; doi: 10.1155/2012/870391

It will never happen here

I always thought that I lived in a lucky country. Lucky in the sense that I thought we were all free from oppression here.

In this country, I had the opportunity to receive an education through public schooling. In this country, I never had too much trouble finding full-time paid employment. In this country, I can afford private health insurance but even if I couldn’t afford it I would still be able to get access to public health care.

Here, I am also surrounded by mostly like-minded people who treat me as an equal (for the most part). But ‘I’ am a thirty-something, white, middle-income person with little obvious disability. Not everyone in this country is in the same privileged position as me.

Recently, in this country, not ‘my’ country/ not anyone’s country/ just land as it formed over billions of years, we had a change of government. The new government was noticeably more right-wing than its predecessor.

I was shocked when the new government was elected. Shocked when they disassembled the independent climate change commission and acted toward removing environmental protections, shocked when only one women was appointed to a ministerial position even though we had recently had a female prime minister and shocked when they appointed a new human rights commissioner that had once called for the abolition of the human rights commission and intends to repeal recently introduced anti-racial discrimination laws (under the guise of freedom of speech) Those among other things.

People in this country (and from other countries wishing to seek asylum here) from the least privileged positions, who may be emerging from oppression in the past (or trying to escape from immediate threat) are now finding their path to freedom sucked from underneath them.

During secondary schooling, when I learned about one of the most infamous of oppressive regimes, Nazi Germany, I was horrified. I did not understand how such a thing could happen and in my naïvety I assumed it was an anomaly and that it could never happen again.

However, comparable oppressive regimes exist now in many countries around the globe. A comparable oppressive regime existed in this country during white settlement (oppressive to indigenous Australians) and could easily establish itself in this country again.

Some people think that education is a barrier to oppression, it probably is, but it is not impervious. Even in countries where people are well-educated, they can still remain ignorant and have that ignorance exploited.

I have just finished reading two autobiographies (given to me as Christmas presents) Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and Malala Yousafzai’s ‘I am Malala’. From these books and what little else I know of global politics, I saw a disturbing pattern emerge. It became clear to me that oppressive regimes can occur anywhere, at any time.

I can’t succinctly describe the underlying pattern that supported the oppressive regimes described in the books I was given, but I feel it. I feel it now in present day Australia. It’s a combination of discrimination, imbalance of power, biased media (in whatever form) coverage and finally mob mentality.

Just look at the way our government is treating asylum seekers who arrive here by boat. Demonizing them by insisting that they be called “illegals“, removing their access to Government funded legal aid, disbanding the Immigration Health Advisory Group overseeing asylum seeker health care and detaining them indefinitely in inadequate offshore facilities. Don’t start making excuses or you are facilitating oppression; nobody should be treated like that.

When oppression sets in, everyday people lose their freedom and find themselves committing, facilitating and turning a blind eye to atrocities that they never thought possible; as Nelson Mandela puts it the ‘The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity’.

Malala Yousafzai noted of her people after the Taliban insidiously took control of her home in Swat Valley  ‘Funny when I was little we always said Swatis were so peace-loving it was hard to find a man to slaughter a chicken’.

What freedom we have we do not owe to luck; we owe it to activists and everyday people who risk standing up for the liberties of the those most in need. These are the people who can bring down oppressive regimes and importantly prevent them from establishing or re-establishing themselves.

If we want freedom for ourselves, our children and our children’s children, we are also responsible for promoting it. We should not look to others to preserve our freedom. We need to become those activists, those everyday people who risk standing up for the liberties of those most in need.

As Nelson Mandela so eloquently states ‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others’.

Malala Yousafzai’s father, an enormous influence in the young activists life, carried around with him the following poem written by Martin Niemöller (who had lived in Nazi Germany):

First they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,

and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Catholic.

Then they came for me,

and there was no one left to speak for me.

I sincerely hope that there are enough activists, enough people unwilling to be passive bystanders in this country who can open the eyes of the majority that voted the new government in, so that crucial mistakes are not made in our country that will gradually take us down the well-worn path of oppression.

In Australia:

First they oppressed the asylum seekers,

and I did not speak out because I was not an asylum seeker…

Questions and then some

Damian was bombarding me with questions from the backseat of the car and I was answering them as fast as they came. I can’t remember what the questions were but they probably related to what I was doing at the time, which was filling the car with petrol. His head was stuck out the window in an attempt to keep my attention the entire time.

Meanwhile, I sensed that an older man using the petrol bowser beside me was trying to make eye contact with me. Given I’m not usually comfortable at petrol stations anyway (I often seem to have trouble attaching the hose or parking close enough to it) my anxiety is higher than usual and so I avoid eye contact for as long as I can. Finally, I give in and look sideways at the man, who says with a cheeky grin “Why?” (imitating Damian).

I laughed, but in comparison to Jeremy’s frequency of questions, I barely even noticed. Then I paid attention and yes, Damian asked me questions all the way to the counter to pay and all the way back. The man was still at the bowser when we returned to the car so I cheekily countered Damian’s most recent comment with “Why?” nice and loud, for the man’s benefit but I don’t think he heard.

Now Jeremy (Damian’s brother)… there is a boy who asks questions. He also insists on answers as if his life depends on it. If I don’t know the answer he says urgently “think” even if it is something insignificant to anyone else or something we could not possibly ever know.

Today, my husband was making a steak sandwich for lunch with tomato sauce, sliced tomato, cheese and beetroot. He claimed it was an ‘Aussie’ sandwich and then proceeded to put leftover potato salad in it renaming it ‘a McSurname special’ (McSurname being our family name, used in place of our surname to give us a little more anonymity).

We watched my husband take a gaping bite of the McSurname special and Jeremy asked “What can you taste first? What can you taste next? What then? What then? etc.” Jeremy wanted a second-by-second commentary on every detail of consumption.

My husband and I exchanged a knowing look and he insisted that every bite was a new experience. I attempted to explain this to Jeremy by questioning him in a similar way when he bit into his sandwich. Then I took it to another level, adding layer upon layer of questions about how the sandwich tasted, whether it tasted the same upside down and whether it tasted the same with every bite. “Think” I said with an urgent sounding voice.

Jeremy started to fake his answers to my questions after a while, not to the extent that his father does when he starts answering all Jeremy’s questions with ‘spaghetti sauce’ but slightly more convincing and so I said “See, it’s not that easy to answer is it?”. Instead of Jeremy getting annoyed though, he seemed to thrive on the attention. I said to Jeremy “You’re loving this aren’t you?” and he grins a somewhat toothless wide grin, which makes him look adorable.

Then I had a ‘light bulb moment’ and said to my husband (in front of Jeremy, as the ‘constantly asking questions’ characteristic of my children is an ongoing joke in our family) “I know how to stop him asking so many questions, we just have to ask them first” and then I extended that to having to continually talk so that he doesn’t have time to think of any questions.

Ten seconds later and I had already run out of conversation and Jeremy was gaining great pleasure beating me to it with question after question. It then occurred to me, poor Jeremy was an avid talker born to two minimalist talkers, no wonder he asks so many questions. Jeremy doesn’t only ask a lot of questions, he also likes to talk a lot about things he is interested in (cricket, Australian rules football, martial arts, music, the Universe, Star Wars, superheroes, the latest kids crazes, dinosaurs and bumosaurs) things he has done, things other people have done, big things, loud things and fast things.

My husband and I are very quiet together except for the occasional one line comment or question that can often be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I hit information overload much quicker than most other people do, so the less I have to think about the better. For example, when my husband travels overseas for a conference, I don’t even know the name of the city he is staying in (he tells me but I never absorb the information). The ”need to know’ for me is “When will you be back?”

Being an adult and having lived with my husband for over 15 yrs, we also have all the personal and general background information/ experience necessary to interpret each other’s communications (well more often than not anyway). Jeremy is a child; he has so much to learn even about the basics of life and is a little more disadvantaged by autism in that regard due to reduced social communication skills resulting in the need for more explicit explanation.

Recently, my husband read a little of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and commented to me about how Mandela noticed that in white families the children asked their parents a lot of questions whereas that was not common in his culture. Mandela explained that children in his culture learned by watching. I just laughed at my husband making note of that comment, which also stood out to me when I read it.

Different children learn in different ways. If they ask a lot of questions then that is their preferred way to learn and they shouldn’t be discouraged from learning. However, when the questions come at you a hundred miles an hour you can’t blame us for encouraging him to slow down a little to save our sanity.

When there are a lot of extremes in your household balance is a harder goal to achieve.