The Perspective of Dawn

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Perhaps it was the hypnogogic delirium, but I had an epiphany.

Truthfully, it was probably less epiphany and more of a reminder, that little “oh yeah” sort of moment.

Yesterday I was sitting in an airport lounge at 5am, waiting to be whisked away on my 6am flight to the tropical north to join my family and in-laws for Christmas.

For the life of me, I can’t remember why I decided to book a flight for six in the morning.  I think the flight was cheap, and I thought to myself “6am … that’s not that early …”.  I forgot that to allow for travel time and checking in, I had to get up at 3:30am.  Not even sparrows are awake at half-past three.  In fact, I’m often going to bed at that time of night, so this whole pre-dawn awakening thing was really foreign.

The fact that I was showered, dressed, and sitting at the airport compos mentis was really weird … I think I was slightly delirious.

Still, the whole predawn awakening thing was enlightening. It was a refreshing glimpse of a time of day that I normally spend hibernating. The first thing I noticed was the light. I always thought that dawn and dusk were the same but just lighting from the opposite direction, but there’s a subtle difference in the hue that gives the early morning a softer, fresher glow.

The other thing I noticed was the stillness.  Everyone else in their right mind didn’t book dawn flights and were still snug in their beds, so the usual hustle and busy buzzing that usually fills the streets was absent.

The soft cool breeze on my face, in the midst of the calmed half-light was almost meditative.  It was quite a change to my daily routine of sleeping until I have to drag myself (and the kids) out to our usual daytime occupations.

The stillness and beauty of my new perspective of dawn reminded me of how it’s easy to get stuck in the same pattern.

Our routines are partly a function of necessity – we have to go to work, the kids have to go to school, we have to get groceries, attend social functions, go to church on Sundays.  There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this repetitive normality.  Still, our brain gets used to the usual patterns and it starts to filter out the same input that it gets continually exposed to, and our brains function on autopilot.  This process of automation, habituation and suppression is an advantage for our brains in terms of efficiency and energy conservation, but this leaves a bit of a cognitive void which our brain fills with the internal monologue of our own confabulation.  We drink our own kool-aid, as it were.

This is what people often think of as “the rut”, that existential inertia and stagnation, the first-world malaise of meaningless repetition.

The antidote to the rut is to break the pattern.  When we have a change to our circumstances and we experience something new, our brain has to process things differently.  More processing power is needed, which involves our working memory and our conscious stream of thought.  One small step outside the comfort zone of our routine, and all of a sudden, the world can seem fresh and new again.

This process is enhanced through mindfulness.  When we practice mindfulness, we fully engage in the present moment.  We can appreciate the detail that we so often filter out and ignore.  We can (and should) practice mindfulness at any time, but when we’re engaging in a new experience, immersing ourselves in it mindfully will only enhance it.

The perspective of dawn that I experienced yesterday helped remind me of the power of stillness in an ever-demanding world over-saturated with stimulation.

I hope that this Christmas and New Year, you can take the time to have your own ‘perspective of dawn’ as it were – step out of your comfort zone and experience something completely new, and engage with the experience fully, mindfully.  I hope you gain a fresh insight that you can help propel you forward into the amazing potential that 2017 holds for us all.

From my family to yours, have a very Merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year.

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Let boys be non-stigmatised boys

Boys will be boys ...

“When I was a boy …”

Many a stirring yarn has been started with those exact words, as aging men relive their childhood adventures with sentimental grandiosity increasingly taking over from detail as each passing year blends in with the blur of distant memories.

Ps Greg Gibson wrote an article that caught my attention as it floated across my Facebook feed last night.  Gibson is a pastor in Knoxville, Tennessee.  His “when I was a boy” story recalled his happy times as an energetic child, a serene innocence punctuated by two years of Ritalin-induced misery.

His point: “I think we should let boys be boys, and non-medicated ones at that. Therefore, parents, if at all possible, don’t medicate your boys.”

I think I understand what he’s trying to say, that it’s ok to be an energetic child and to see the extra energy as a strength to harness, not a weakness to control.

That would be fine, except that in trying to normalise energetic behaviour, he also winds up demonising Ritalin.  It may not have been his intention, but whenever someone respected in the community says something negative about stimulant medication or ADHD, it reinforces the oppressive stigma attached to those who suffer from it.

Ps Gibson’s fundamental assumption, that normal but energetic children are being misdiagnosed as ADHD and therefore unnecessarily medicated, happens far less often than the opposite – children with ADHD are misdiagnosed as energetic children that just need to be taught how to control themselves.

Personally, I don’t know of any parent who ever wanted to medicate their child with Ritalin.  If anything, it’s the opposite, because if your child’s on Ritalin, then you must be a lazy parent, or given them too much sugar, or too much screen time, or not hugged them enough as babies, or didn’t practice vaginal seeding, or whatever other form of parent-guilt is being perpetrated by the media at the time. Parents will do everything they can in their power to avoid using Ritalin, because of a culture that blames and shames.

Unfortunately, this means that children who could be helped by Ritalin or other stimulant medication are left behind, because ADHD isn’t the mislabeling of normal energetic children who just need better structure, or better posture, or who learn differently.  ADHD is a real disability, a dysfunctional lack of planning and control that’s abnormal compared to other children, affecting their entire lives.

For example, these children find it hard to play with other kids because they can’t follow basic social rules like the rules of games, or waiting their turn.  These children find school difficult, because they can’t concentrate for long enough to focus on completing a multi-step task, or have a long enough attention span to make new memories for words or facts.

One of my patients, a little boy about seven years old, was brought in by his mother because a chiropractor wanted me to arrange a blood test on his behalf.  When I asked why, the mother said the little boy had dyslexia which the chiropractor was ‘treating’ (actually, this chiropractor was blaming a disease that didn’t exist, and wanted me to arrange a test that was resigned to the pages of history, but that’s another story).  When I talked to the mother about the child’s symptoms, it was pretty obvious that he had ADHD, amongst other things.  After seeing a developmental paediatrician to confirm the diagnosis, and taking Ritalin for just one week, his reading improved three whole reading levels, and after a month, he had not only caught up, but had passed a number of his class-mates.

This is a real life example of how ADHD can hold children back, and how stimulant medication can help.  While there are always exceptions to the rule, stimulant medications help more often than they hinder.  They’re sometimes the difference between a child meeting his full learning potential, or being unnecessarily held back, languishing at the bottom of his class as his peers go further ahead in leaps and bounds.

Our culture needs to move on.  We need to stop our social prejudices making life more difficult than it already is for children and their families who battle with ADHD.  We need to see that medications for ADHD can be the difference between a life of learning and a life unfairly held back.

Let’s change the tune.  Rather than saying, “Let boys be non-medicated boys”, how about we say, “Let boys be non-stigmatised boys.”  It’s only through the break-down of the stigma surrounding ADHD and stimulant medications, that all boys (and girls) can truly meet their full potential, whether they have ADHD or are just a bit more energetic.

If you want more information on ADHD and its treatments, this is a good place to start: http://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/ADHD_an_overview/

If you are concerned that you or your child might have ADHD, talk to your local GP or paediatrician.