An angora rabbit for sustainable textiles

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Image 1: A picture of a gray-furred angora rabbit resting between a wooden paling fence and a tree trunk, with the vibrant green leaves and red flowers of a nasturtium plant in front.

Want to read the story of how I kept an angora rabbit who turned weeds into shoes and clothing that are incredibly soft and seven times warmer than wool? I wanted to understand if textiles really could be sustainable, and that took me on a long journey of weaving, spinning, knitting and being bitten and cuddled by a rabbit disguised as a fluffball. I’ve written about it here.



Learn Auslan – Grammar

Read the text for this lesson, before you watch the video.

As I have already mentioned, in Auslan, the grammar and sentence structure is different from English. Now I want to go into this a little deeper and practise putting sentences together using correct Auslan grammar.

The topic is the first part of the sentence. “I’m going to the shop” becomes SHOP ME GO. The shop is the topic. Usually the verb is the last item.

If you use a time marker, (for example, ‘yesterday’) it goes first in the sentence, before the topic. The sentence ‘I went to the shop yesterday’ is signed ‘YESTERDAY SHOP ME GO.’

Try signing:

• I want a drink.
• Do you want to watch a movie?
• My father is very tall.
• Please pass me the salt.

If you don’t know the vocab for the above words, fingerspell them. AFTER you have tried signing them, watch the video and correct your signs:

Natural treatment for ankylosing spondylitis and inflammatory arthritis

When I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), and told by doctors it is an auto-immune disease, a form of inflammatory arthritis, for which the cause is unknown, and treatment consists of ‘heavy drugs’, I was devastated.  Google searches didn’t yield up more information, and it took me a long time to uncover effective, natural ways of treating the disease. In the process, I also discovered that the causes are in fact known to some researchers. This article covers the best of what I know about AS and how to manage it.

(By the way, please read all the way to the end before you leave a comment.)

Natural Treatment with Diet

The most effective treatment I have found for AS is to follow a lectin-free diet. This has dramatically reduced my AS pain and is currently my preferred way of treating it.

Natural Treatment with Vinegar

After my first post on my old blog about AS, one of my readers, John, left a comment telling me that drinking apple cider vinegar removed all his symptoms of AS. This was life-changing for me at the time. Vinegar is the second-best treatment I have found, and I used this method for several years. However, I find the lectin-free diet mentioned above to be more effective so I prefer that. But vinegar is a much easier treatment than a complete diet overhaul. Be aware that taking a significant amount of vinegar may have long-term consequences for your health. I have not been able to find any information about this though.

It seems vinegar was suggested by Margaret Hills, back in the 1950s, in her book about inflammatory arthritis. From her nursing training, she understood that inflammation is a build up of acid. It’s the acid that gradually damages our joints if we don’t get rid of the inflammation. She also knew that when you consume vinegar, it becomes alkaline in the body. So her theory was that the alkaline vinegar would neutralise the acidic inflammation. Lots of people with all kinds of inflammatory arthritis have found relief this way, thanks to her book on the topic.

Instructions for how to take apple cider vinegar:

Use live, raw vinegar, with the cultures in it. If you see little strings or sediment, that’s a good sign. Any kind of vinegar is fine, though apple cider vinegar apparently offers many other health benefits. I personally make my own vinegar by fermenting kombucha for longer and prefer to drink that. It’s full of probiotic cultures and kombucha is also reputed to have a wonderful detox effect.

Put 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar in a glass and top up with water. Never drink vinegar straight or you’ll burn your insides. Drink, and follow immediately with plain water to rinse out your mouth. Leaving vinegar on your teeth 2-4 times a day can erode the enamel on your teeth, so always wash it off. You can also drink it through a straw, taking care not to get vinegar on your teeth. This a bit intense at the back of your throat.

When you first start taking vinegar, it will feel very sour, so put less vinegar in your glass, and gradually work up to larger amounts.  My kombucha vinegar is much milder than the apple cider vinegar from the shop so I put more in the glass.  I aim to have it as sour as I can stand.

Margaret Hills suggests adding honey, and using warm water so the honey will dissolve, to make it easier and pleasanter to drink. I prefer to use stevia drops instead, as they have no calories.

I’ve found I do best if I have 4 glasses of vinegar-water a day. I have a glass on rising, another mid-morning, one mid-afternoon, and a final glass before or after dinner. These days I put it all in a one litre drink bottle along with 5 drops of stevia and a teaspoon of Vitamin C. The Vitamin C helps me fight off colds – it’s not for the AS. But I’ve noticed that having it in my drink bottle is more effective than taking a single dose of Vitamin C morning or night. I have noticed with the vinegar water that if I drink the entire litre, say, in the morning, it works just as effectively as if I spread it evenly over the day. But I find this makes me feel a little nauseous on an empty stomach so it’s best for me to sip it slowly after food.

My favourite way to drink it is with this recipe I copied from a Braggs drink:

In a one-litre bottle place 4 tbsp apple cider vinegar, ginger infusion (I grate ginger and steep it in boiling water then strain – I keep a bottle of this in the fridge ready to go), 40 drops of stevia, and then top it up with water. This is delicious like a soft drink – but a bit intense for every day. I use only 5 drops of stevia most days.

Apple cider vinegar tablets:

I later discovered that I could buy buy apple cider vinegar in tablet form. For a period, I took 4 capsules per day of Nature’s Way apple cider vinegar tablets at 1200mg strength. I didn’t find it as effective as drinking the vinegar as a liquid but it was a relief to have a break from drinking it at times, and is handy when travelling.

How long does it take to work and who will it help?

It took about 5 days before I started to feel better. After that, for the next 10 days, every day was a little better. Apparently it takes a whole month to get the maximum benefit of this remedy.

This remedy helps all kinds of inflammatory arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis and reactive arthritis. It should remove inflammation, so pain associated with inflammation should be reduced or disappear. It won’t help pain that is caused by damage to your joints that has already occurred though.

Natural Treatment with Diet

Before I discovered the vinegar treatment, I managed my AS by eating a starch-free, lactose-free diet.  After starting vinegar, I found my symptoms were better than they were when I followed the diet, but some readers of my blog have reported that they do better by following both the diet and the vinegar treatment, or they prefer the diet than the vinegar. However, I have now discovered that a lectin-free diet is even more effective for me than this one, and significantly more satisfying, so I would suggest you try that before attempting the starch-free diet described here.

A starch-free diet is a restrictive, difficult regimen to follow, but the pain and degenerative problems caused by AS can be a very good motivator if the diet works.  Unfortunately starch-free diets are pretty-much unheard of in our society, so it can be challenging to work out exactly what you can eat and what you can’t. I found that eating only the tiniest amount of starch (a single breadcrumb, or a pea) was enough to set off my symptoms dramatically, so it took some time of following a very strict diet, and gradually adding in one food at a time, to discover what foods I could eat and what I couldn’t.

Everyone’s body responds differently to the diet, so if you are trying to make this work and struggling with it, I would suggest starting with a very limited diet of foods known to be starch free, and after the pain has reduced, add in one new food at a time, observing your pain levels the day after adding in the new food. Some people tolerate lactose fine, others need to eliminate that from their diet as well. I will list here what I ate on this diet as I found this sort of info on others’ blogs incredibly helpful in designing my diet.

I could eat:

Rice: glutinous rice – both black and white. Glutinous rice has a different-shaped starch molecule than regular starch, and in me it didn’t trigger my symptoms.

Vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leek, brown onion, lettuce, rocket, celery, spinach, silverbeet, red and yellow capsicum, carrot, pumpkin, fennel, zucchini, avocado.

Fruits: tomatoes, berries, papaya, grapes, apples, pears, pineapple, melons, passionfruit, persimmon, mango, coconut, citrus fruits (juiced and well peeled are fine but avoid the white pith).

Protein:
All unprocessed meat
Seafood (unprocessed only)
Eggs
Blanched almonds
Pine nuts
Sesame seeds

Dairy:
Butter
Dry curd cottage cheese
Milk, cream and yoghurt to which I had added 10 drops of Lacteeze per litre, and left to sit in the fridge for 2 days. Lacteeze is a product consisting of lactase enzymes, which over the course of two days, consume the lactose in the milk and convert it to glucose. The resulting milk is pleasantly sweeter as a result. Be sure to purchase Lacteeze drops, not a tablet or powdered form, which may contain starch.

Condiments:
Sea salt
Mustard
All herbs
Garlic infused oil (remove garlic before serving)
Spice infused oil (remove spices before serving)
Fish sauce,
soy sauce,
tamari
Vinegar
Honey (a little sugar is ok)

Fats: olive oil, coconut oil, butter, lard, animal fat.

I couldn’t eat:

Grains (wheat, non-glutinous (normal) rice, spelt, corn, etc)

Starchy vegetables & fruit:
Peas
beans
potato
sweet potato
beetroot
banana

Processed meat such as sausages or salami unless I could guarantee it was made without starchy ingredients

Nuts or seeds other than blanched almonds

Dairy products with lactose:
Milk
Yoghurt
Soft cheeses
White cheese 

Thickened sauces such as oyster sauce or ketjap manis, or processed curry pastes

Condiments:
Ginger
garlic
pepper
spices.

A typical day of meals:

On rising: 1 tsp cod liver oil in dissolved in freshly squeezed orange juice. (Fish oil apparently helps arthritis.)

Breakfast: Lactose free yoghurt, milk and cream (made the same way as yoghurt), muesli made from finely chopped activated blanched almonds, dried coconut, black sesame seeds, and dark coloured fruit such as berries, peaches, apricots, papaya.

Mid morning: Vegetable juice made with kale and beet leaves from my garden, beetroot and apple, or a cup of warm bone broth (stock) with fish sauce and vinegar added.

Lunch: big plate of vegies or salad, with some eggs, meat or fish, topped with at least a tablespoon of butter.  Sometimes soup. Sometimes black glutinous rice with eggs and greens.

Mid afternoon: Activated blanched almonds and dried fruit.  (If I didn’t eat almonds twice a day I crave carbohydrates.  And I can’t get through the afternoon without a snack.)

Dinner: Another big plate of vegies, often a roast or a stew, with meat or fish, and plenty of butter.

Dessert: I often craved something in the evenings, and when the cravings were high, I’d eat either a bowl of fruit with lactose-free cream, or else I have a homemade icypole made with egg yolk, lactose-free cream or dry curd cottage cheese, strawberries and honey.

Drinks: through the day I drank two glasses of lactose-free milk, 1-2 glasses rejuvelac, 2 or more glasses beetroot kvass, and sometimes I had a herbal tea such as roibos or the korean corn tea.

About glutinous rice

I read on an AS blog that glutinous rice is made up of a different form of starchy molecule – amylopectin, while most starchy products are made up of amylose.  Apparently klebsiella bacteria can consume amylose but not amylopectin!  Glutinous rice is made up of amylopectin, not amylose, so theoretically it should be safe for those of us with AS to eat.  My first attempts at this failed – I bought a black rice which I thought was glutinous rice, but now I think was actually not glutinous.  At first it was fine but after a while my klebsiella evolved and I began to get symptoms from it. I then sourced a proper glutinous rice and had no symptoms from eating that over a longer term.

Diet issues

While once I had adjusted to the diet, I was okay on it for a year, but after that I think some stores of nutrition became depleted, because I found it increasingly difficult to follow, especially living without wheat.  I  noticed that when I didn’t eat wheat for a long time, I began to get desperate cravings.  It felt like having low blood sugar.  If I ignored it, my symptoms become progressively worse, so that I became extremely ill.  If I broke my diet and eat wheat, I felt better, so much better, and all my cravings would go away again, for about ten days. When I tried to quit dairy I found the same experience. Some people seem to do fine on this diet and don’t report the problems I felt, and I never did get to the bottom of how to handle it.

About Ankylosing Spondylitis And Its Causes

AS is a form of inflammatory arthritis, where your joints become inflamed. When you have the fluid of inflammation sitting around your joints for long enough, eventually that liquid erodes the cartilage that protects your joints.  Once the cartilage is eroded, the damage is irreversible, and also very painful.  So it’s important to treat the AS in some way – leaving it untreated will eventually lead to permanent joint damage and pain.

When Google searches for natural treatment for AS didn’t yield up anything for me, my family urged me to do some proper medical research.  My sister showed me how to search online medical journals, to see what the very latest research was for AS.  I also noticed that AS was often grouped with other auto-immune diseases such as MS, and broadened my search to see what was helping auto-immune diseases in general.  I started making a habit of trawling the medical journals at night once my son was in bed. If you’d like to read more about how to DIY your own medical research, I’ve written about that here.

It took me two months, but eventually I found IT – the answer. Here’s the real deal on AS.  There is a rheumatologist in the UK, a Dr Alan Ebringer, who has been researching AS for 35 years, and has published nearly sixty research papers.  I have read several of his papers and can see how he slowly built up a picture that explained AS and how to treat it through diet.

Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is a form of reactive arthritis that follows an infection by the bacteria klebsiella pnuemonae.  The disease only occurs in people who have the HLA-B27 gene (which I do).  Although 5% of AS patients do not have the gene – Ebringer thinks that the disease in these patients is actually a different entity.  Klebsiella pnuemonae is remarkably similar in molecular make up to the HLA-B27 gene.  Hence, when the body makes antibodies to klebsiella, the antibodies also attack the HLA-B27 gene, causing a range of physical problems, including joint inflammation.

Klebsiella is in the digestive tracts of 40% of people, and tends to be an opportunistic bacteria that creates disease in people whose immunity is lowered.  I now believe that I came down with a klebsiella infection in May 2008, at a time when my immune system was in very low state, just before I changed my diet to traditional foods.  I had a very sudden onset of high fever, chills and terrible cough, which is consistent with the symptoms of community-caught klebsiella infection.   I was so ill that I still clearly remember the day that I came down with it.  It took me three months to recover, and despite visiting the doctor and being suspected as having whooping cough, the tests came back negative for this.  I now know that commercial labs don’t have a test for klebsiella, which explains why I wasn’t diagnosed at the time.  Several months later I started experiencing symptoms of AS.

If klebsiella could be eradicated from my digestive tract long term, it’s likely that my immune system would register the invader as gone, and would stop attacking the B27 genes.  However, killing them with antibiotics doesn’t help, because the bacteria is so prevalent in our community that they tend to return.  Sulphasalazine is a drug with (often) unpleasant side effects that is commonly used to treat AS.  It kills klebsiella, which is now thought to be the reason for its (somewhat) effectiveness.  However, when sulphasalazine is discontinued, symptoms tend to return within some weeks or months, likely because the klebsiella have recolonised the digestive tract.  Klebsiella feeds on starch, so removing their food source in my digestive  tract can starve/subdue them, resulting in a lowered immune reaction.  When we eat starch, some of it tends to remain undigested in the digestive tract, creating in an abundant food source for the klebsiella.  Clinical experience has shown that low starch diets help all patients with AS.  Lactose is a secondary food source for klebsiella so elimination of lactose is also essential for some people.

In clinical practise, all 600 of his patients have shown high levels of klebsiella, and those who have managed to adhere to a low starch diet (reduced intake of flour and potatoes) have shown a significant improvement in symptoms, although damage done by the disease cannot be undone.

Crohn’s disease is also associated with AS.  Patients with Crohn’s also have antibodies to the klebsiella bacterium.  It is thought that Crohn’s disease and symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are part of the AS spectrum.  Low starch diets also help people with Crohn’s disease.

One of Ebringer’s patients, Carol Sinclair, who has both AS and IBS, has written a book, The IBS Low Starch Diet, which reveals how to manage this diet.  She suggests eradicating all grains, cereals, lentils and pulses from the diet.  If symptoms remain or recur, then eliminate rice and potato products (including sweet potato).  Should symptoms remain or recur, then eliminate numerous other foods which include low levels of starch, including cooked vegetables and spices.  There is a simple test to determine the starch level of a food.  Buy iodine from a chemist, and place a drop on the food.  If it contains starch, the colour of the iodine will change.  It darkens from orange to shades ranging from inky blue to black.  Some fruits and vegetables that are picked unripe (such as many found in supermarkets) contain high levels of starch, but have no starch when picked at full ripeness.  Some vegetables develop starch in cooking but are starch-free in their raw state (actually the starch is present in the raw state but shielded by an “envelope” that goes through the digestive tract undamaged; cooking destroys the envelope and releases the starch).  The iodine test assists in determining which foods are safe to eat.

The goal of the diet is to find out which and how much starch needs to be eliminated to maintain a pain-free, symptom-free life.  Not everyone needs to eliminate all starch.  One AS sufferer reports that after a strict no starch diet for 5 months, eating only meat, fish, vegetables, salad and fruit, he has been able to reintroduce bread, but cannot eat pasta, potatoes or rice.  Carol herself has found that over time she has needed to eliminate more foods in order to keep her symptoms under control.

Following a low starch diet generally results in remission from AS and symptoms, but is not a “cure” for the disease, since once we have antibodies to klebsiella, they are always able to attack the B27 gene.  It’s a matter of encouraging the immune system to register that there is no threat from klebsiella at this time, to minimise antibody activity.

When I started eating a no-starch, low-lactose diet, and the difference was remarkable.  All sorts of weird pains and symptoms disappeared instantly (e.g. I’d twisted my ankle some time before, and had pain in my foot for months – this resolved itself immediately when I changed my diet).  At first the changes were very difficult, and I found it hard to feel satisfied after a meal.  Eventually I came to accept that without grains and starches to fill me up, I didn’t get that really “full” feeling after a meal, but my food DID give me the energy I need to carry me through to the next meal.

A bit more about AS

Thanks to a suggestion by someone who commented on my blog, I bought and read Micah Cranman’s book / DVD package.  I would recommend this resource to anyone with AS, though I wouldn’t go as far as to say that my AS is in remission as a result of his book.  My AS is not in remission at all, it is simply managed through drinking vinegar.  The diet is the same as the one I’ve already described here on my blog (for free) – starch free.  Micah does go into a bit more detail about a few ingredients which I was previously unable to find out whether they were starchy or not.  I found that helpful.

He also advises that a first step towards improving your AS is to take fish oil – he recommends krill oil.  I went out and bought some and started taking it, but had no improvement at all as a result.  But then I realised that I already take cod liver oil every morning, and probably this fulfills the same function.  So I’ve probably already got the benefit that can be had from fish oils.  But a note to those of you out there with AS, experiment with fish oils.

I’d love to hear from you.

Since I started telling people about AS, I’ve discovered almost everyone seems to know someone who suffers from the weird problems of joint pain, digestive troubles and skin troubles.  Or they know someone who has already been diagnosed with AS.  Since rheumatologists here in Australia don’t seem to know about Ebringer’s research, feel free to spread the word and let people with AS know about this article.  Ebringer has started a forum for people to share their progress and diet tips, and it’s a great place to start.  Carol Sinclair’s book is another good starting point.

If you have AS or know someone who does, please leave a comment to share your story. I sometimes get people asking me to give guidance or help them with their condition. Sorry, but I’m not a doctor and can’t do that. The purpose of my blog is to give you information so that you can use it to help yourself.

The impossible feat my printers had to pull off to print my full colour illustrated novel

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Image: Two similar book covers. On the left is Future Girl (Australian edition) and on the right is The Words in my Hands (North American edition), both by Asphyxia. They show a girl with long, black, wavy hair. She wears a gray sleeveless top and holds a magenta pencil and paint brush in her fist, with a light blue paint dripping from the brush. She has large black cross over her right ear. Her eyes are green and her lips red. The background shows drawings of buildings. The left background is green, brown and teal textured paint; the right background is teal, pink and ochre textured paint. On both covers is a review by Amie Kaufman, a New York Times bestselling author, which says, ‘Brilliantly imaginative, totally immersive…’

When I first had the idea for my book, titled Future Girl (in Australia) and The Words in My Hands (in North America), I told my publishers I wanted to make a young adult novel that included full colour art on every page, because I believe that picture books should not just be for young children. I now know why this is a genre-breaking concept – it was way more complex than I could ever have imagined.

Usually picture books are printed on glossy thick paper, which makes the art look great, but when the pages add up (384 of them, in the case of my book), it can make the book prohibitively heavy. There’s a reason coffee-table books are called that – they sit more easily on a coffee table for viewing than in your hands while you lie back in a bath or in bed. We had to find a way to print it that would result in it feeling like a novel, not a coffee table book.

Using thinner paper is an option, but if you go too thin this risks ink bleeding through from one side to the other. If I have an artwork with heavy black on one page, then light colours on the next, the light page could be contaminated. My publisher selected a thinner stock than they would for a picture book, and printed special colour proofs double-sided on the actual stock (the first time they’d ever done this!) to ensure there were no problems here. The publisher also insisted we print on ‘woodfree’ stock, which is what most ‘normal’ novels are printed on, instead of glossy/shiny stock like picture books are often printed on – to ensure it still felt like a novel. This sort of paper knocks back the colours, so the designer had to ramp up colour in our files to compensate, and again, there were several test colour proofs done to check this colour before the actual book printed.

Not only that, but areas of very heavily saturated ink on a page can take a while to dry – risking the ink transferring on to page opposite it. If ink saturation gets too heavy, special measures need to be taken by the printer – such as separating out and drying pages individually, or putting a special varnish over the top of each page. These sorts of measures take a ton of extra time and cost a lot of extra money. So, the book designer also needed to knock back some of my heavier blacks to avoid this, walking that fine line of judging how much to knock them back in order to receive the best printed product possible while remaining true to the look of the artwork.

I am amazed that my publishers didn’t just tell me where to go with my idea. Instead they took a punt, consulted with highly experienced printers, and eventually came up with what we all hoped would be the perfect combination of paper, ink and techniques.

I am super-fussy about colour, and choose the precise shades of each colour in my artworks very carefully. I spent hours tweaking the colours for every page. This is further complicated by the fact that what you see on the screen doesn’t represent what will come out of the printing press. That meant I had to hand the final colour tweaks over to my publishers as they use professionally calibrated screens, special lights, and make further changes depending on the type of paper used and what they see in the proofs. Woodfree stock sucks up far more ink than shiny paper so a concern was that all the bright colours in final book would end up dulled. You will understand why I was extremely nervous when I ripped open the package containing the very first copy of the book. I didn’t know how much all the paper, ink and technologies used would mess with my vision for the art.

As I flipped through it for the very first time, my jaw dropped open. I couldn’t believe it. It’s perfect. JUST PERFECT. The colours are rich and vibrant and just as I wanted them. The paper, the texture, the size and weight of the book combine to be a sensuous feast. There’s no bleed-through, none! It’s just small and light enough to hold comfortably while still being substantial and delicious.

I cried. Eight years in the making and at last I could hold it in my hands. It struck me that if I had never seen this book before, I would be so blown away that I would have to cancel my entire life for a month in order to absorb all that beautiful art. I truly did create the book I wanted to read, look at, have and hold.

I hope you’ll love it too. It’s available here if you’re in Australia, and here if you’re in North America

Learn Auslan – Asking questions

In Auslan, there are three types of questions that are asked.

• Yes/No questions – “Are you a teacher?”
• Information questions – “Where do you live?”
• Rhetorical questions – to break up information.

There are rules for the manner in which the questions are asked.

Yes/No Questions:

• Body leans forward
• Eyebrows are raised
• Eyes opened wide

Information Questions:

• Body leans back
• Eyebrows are low
• Eyes squint

Rhetorical Questions:

These are usually used when a speaker is giving a long block of information. It breaks it up and becomes easier to follow. In this situation the speaker asks a question and then answers it themselves immediately. There are no rules for facial expression and body position when using rhetorical questions.

In the video, I give an example of each type of question:

• Yes/No questions – “Are you a teacher?” (TEACHER YOU?)
• Information questions – “Where do you live?” (YOU LIVE WHERE?)
• Rhetorical questions – to break up information. (I LOVE SWIMMING WHY? TO BECOME STRONG AND FIT – GOOD) In this example I should really have signed ‘SWIMMING I LOVE’ because the topic is supposed to go first.

Learn Auslan – Space

The use of space is very important in Auslan. The key point to using space effectively, is to remember where you put things, and leave them there. Famous mime artists, when playing with an imaginary mouse, will always put the mouse back in their pocket when they have finished – they never let go of it mid-air. In Auslan the same concept is applied with space.

In conversation, when talking about a person who is not present, locate them somewhere in space, identify them, and from then on point to that location when referring to them. You need only say the person’s name once, when first identifying them. Replace the use of “he”, “she” with pointing to the location where you have placed that person. Be very careful that you leave the person in one spot. If you begin talking about another person, locate them somewhere else, to avoid confusion, and remember to point to the correct location.

Space is also important when describing physical layout. Practise describing

• The layout of your kitchen
• The layout of your house
• The layout of this room and the people in it
• A dinner plate of different food, showing where and how much of each item is on the plate.

Transposition: space is to be described according to how YOU (the signer) see things. The other person must transpose the image to visualize it correctly.

Try drawing on paper the position of hills and a farmhouse on a landscape, according to how someone has described it for you.

(Sorry, there’s no video yet to show signs describing objects and their arrangement in space. I hope to make one later.)

Life without toxic relationships

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Image: Artwork text of black paint saying, ‘YOU ARE ALLOWED to walk away from TOXIC PEOPLE’. The background is an urban grunge textured wall in black, dripping light brown paint and a slash of a red paint.

One advantage to having my entire life wiped out and being forced to start over in almost every single aspect, is that I can rebuild it much, much more carefully. The thing I am doing differently this time is choosing the people who will be in it according to whether or not they have empathy, and whether or not they are manipulative. This article, How to never get involved with an abuser again, changed my life. It says to look at the way a person acts, not what they say, and don’t accept any excuses for hurtful behaviour.

When I read the list of signs that a person lacks empathy, I recognise people I have known. Here are some examples:

  • Inability to imagine how their words and actions may affect you;
  • Isn’t interested in finding ways to soothe your worries;
  • Becomes angry or looks at you with a blank face when you cry or get emotional;
  • Is hurtfully blunt and casually critical, and when you become upset, tells you they are ‘just being honest’. Honesty without kindness is cruelty.
  • Talks at length about a topic that clearly bores you, without noticing;
  • Brings up sensitive topics after you’ve asked them to stop;
  • Expects instant forgiveness;
  • Invalidates your thoughts, experiences, ideas and concerns;
  • Neglecting or ignoring you when you are sick;
  • Judgemental;
  • Believes they are always right;
  • Expects you to accomodate their needs and schedule, without regard for yours;
  • Doesn’t ask you how your day was or how your doctor’s appointment went;
  • Self-centredness – seems to have plenty of empathy for you but not for others. Watch out – you’re next;
  • Indifference to the suffering of others;
  • Doesn’t seem to care how their words or actions affect you.

I will add some red flags to watch for of my own:

  • Has a vision of how you are or should be, and is more interested in trying to get you to fit that vision than understand how you actually are;
  • Offers you something and when you take them up on it, acts like they never offered it;
  • Expects you to move out of their way rather than expecting to work around you;
  • ‘Forgets’ saying or doing things that upset you when you call them on their behaviour, and tells you it didn’t happen;
  • Tells you that you’re over-reacting or being too sensitive when let them know you feel upset or hurt;

According to the article, you can tell if you are being manipulated by looking at your own feelings about the relationship: 

  • You often feel guilty; your mood depends on the state of the relationship; you feel inadequate;
  • you never feel sure where you stand; you carefully control your words, actions and emotions around this person;
  • you do things that go against your values or make you feel uncomfortable;
  • expressing negative thoughts and emotions seem forbidden so you hide them;
  • the relationship feels complex and you can’t quite put your finger on what the problem is;
  • you try to figure things out but can’t get anywhere;
  • you want to please this person but keep getting it wrong;
  • you end up in no win situations where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t;
  • you feel afraid of losing the relationship;
  • you feel you are walking on eggshells.

I watch for the above in new people I spend time with, and if signs of manipulation or lack of empathy come up a few times, even in small ways, I choose not to continue the relationship. I am astonished to see that these traits can show up in the earliest encounters, often in seemingly positive ways. Some examples:

  • There was a guy who invited me on a date, telling me we’d go for a walk on the beach and that he had a puppy I was going to fall in love with. He did not ask to find out if I like walking on the beach, and he didn’t check whether I am into puppies. He assumed. Red flag: he has a vision of how I am supposed to be, not interested in finding out who I actually am.
  • I stayed with a woman who blindsided me with upsetting text messages during an important meeting. When I looked back I recalled a myriad of other small red flags. I decided to move out before things could escalate.
  • A friend showed me a series of videos on YouTube, and even after I had pointed out that I couldn’t understand them as they didn’t have subtitles, continued to insist that I would find them fantastic. She didn’t notice the bored expression on my face.

I’ve found I can tell a lot about a person by working with them in the kitchen. Say I’m washing the dishes, and the other person wants to wash their hands, what happens? Some people wait until a suitable moment for me, and then reach in quickly to wash. Others expect me to stand aside, or even stop washing the dishes altogether, because it is inconvenient for them that I am in the way. The former have empathy – they are thinking about my experience and taking care not to interrupt it. The latter are focused on their own experience and unconcerned with mine. I keep a very sharp eye on the people in the second group – usually there are other red flags which surface. By watching the small ways people interact with each other, I’ve found I can quickly pick up who has empathy and who lacks it.

Of course, some people are a mix – empathic in some ways and manipulative in others. I have noticed that if I call them on their manipulative behaviour or for crossing my boundaries, they will either respond with concern that they have upset me and a desire to understand better (and to change), or else respond defensively and maybe by pretending that the thing never happened. The people in the latter group get struck off my list. With the former, I watch carefully to see if their intention to change translates to actual change. Do they stop crossing my boundaries in the way I requested? Remember that behaviour speaks louder than words.

By pulling the brakes on these relationships before I become too invested, I have noticed a magnificent effect on my life: it is now filled with deeply empathic, caring people. I have never been so well loved as I am now.

When making new relationships, watch carefully for signs of whether the person has empathy or not, and whether they manipulate you or others. If you spot any red flags, watch carefully to see if this is a pattern of behaviour or just a one off. If it is a one-off, you could try calling the person (gently) on their behaviour and see how they respond. If their response is problematic or the pattern is strong, I encourage you to pull the brakes on the relationship if possible, and distance yourself. If that is impossible, take care to have very strong boundaries with this person and minimise day-to-day involvement.

If you recognise established relationships in your life that are clearly toxic, proceed carefully, as a person who lacks empathy or is manipulative may be quite mild while you are on their side, but become enraged and dangerous when they realise you are not. There are two key strategies to pull the breaks on toxic relationships – one is to establish boundaries and the other is to create distance. You could attempt to establish boundaries first, and go for distance if it fails. But maybe you know the person well enough to know that their behaviour is intrinsic and won’t change, in which case, distance is the only answer.

If it is a romantic relationship, imagine the worst case scenario and make preparations before you change the status quo. Hopefully it won’t come to that. But just in case, these are the kinds of ways you might prepare:

  • Ensure you have financial security, such as your own separate bank account with plenty of funds. If you share money with your partner, you could suggest a change of strategy such as having a joint account with enough money to live on monthly, and the remainder split into personal accounts belonging to each of you.
  • Place important documents such as house titles, bank statements, legal agreements etc in a folder in a safe place where they cannot suddenly ‘disappear’.
  • Talk to a friend or family member, preferably one who does not have a relationship with your partner, and make a plan to stay with them or call them if you need help.

Tried any of the ideas in this post? How did they go? Leave your comments below.

Learn Auslan – Depicting Signs

Depicting signs are a linguistic concept that are not used in English. Other foreign languages use them, however, a foreign language which lacks a word for oven may use depicting words to describe it: “The hot box with the door in front.”

Auslan uses depicting signs frequently. They are known as CL (fingerspelled) for short. There are two types of depicting signs – proform and descriptive.

Descriptive depicting signs use the hands and face to show what things look like. Try signing:

• Various objects around the room
• A dog
• A man you know
• A pattern

Try drawing on paper shapes that are described in the air. Think about showing proportion and distance, by leaving one hand to show the location of the last element you described.

(Sorry, there’s no video yet to show descriptive depicting signs. I hope to make one later.)

Proform depicting signs are used for people, animals and vehicles. Unlike descriptive depicting signs, they are predefined and must be learnt like vocab. They are used to show how people, animals and vehicles interact with each other and the world around them. In this video, I show you the depicting signs for people, animals and vehicles:

Proform depicting signs:

• Person (the area of your pointer finger from which you would take a fingerprint is considered the face of the person, and the fingernail area is considered to be the back of the head. In this video the person is facing sideways.)
• Animal (the fingertip is considered to be the head of the animal).
• Vehicle (car, truck, bike, motorbike. Again, the fingertips represent the front of the vehicle.)

I also show you how you might use these depicting signs to depict:

• A car crash (sorry, my signing here is a bit fractured)
• A woman walking her dog (you can see by my facial expression that the dog wasn’t meant to run ahead!)
• A motorbike stopping suddenly
• Two people meeting

When a depicting sign is used, it is important to identify what you are talking about first. You can’t hold up one finger and have the other person assume it is a person – you must first say who the person is.

Practise signing with proform and descriptive depicting signs, to show:

• two animals playing together
• two people talking and someone going off in a huff
• two cars racing, one sometimes getting ahead, and then the other

This post is part of my free online Auslan course. See the rest of the course here.

To learn more about what it is really like to be Deaf, details about the Deaf community and how Auslan is used by Deaf people, read my book, Future Girl.

Learn Auslan – Fingerspelling patterns

For this lesson, read the text before you watch the video!

People learning to fingerspell usually read one letter at a time, and at the end of each word they try to mentally put the letters together to understand the word. However, when reading they will be able to glance at a word on the page and know it from the shape – there is no need to read it letter by letter.

Reading fingerspelling can be the same. Rather than concentrating on each individual letter, concentrate on the handshape the word makes. Notice the first letter, the last letter, one or two key letters in the middle of the word, the approximate length of the word, then use this information to work out what the word is. Context is very important, so factor in what you are talking about. A long word that is fingerspelled will often be spelled slowly the first time in conversation, and then for the remainder of the conversation, signed very fast. Think about what you are talking about and what the word could possibly be.

Try fingerspelling your name, looking for patterns and handshapes. Try finding patterns for these words:

• Cream
• Program
• Out
• How
• Rice
• Bus

Now watch the video – I sign these words, showing you the rhythm I use that adds flow to the word. Many words that are routinely fingerspelled have a particular flow and shape that makes them easy to identify, even if you can’t distinguish each letter. You learn those flow-shapes, just as you learn specific signs.