Trying the Orcam for the First Time

I have been following the developments of OrCam since 2013 when I first contacted Dr Yonatan Wexler wanting to know more about this peculiar gadget he was envisaging. Dr Wexler kindly kept in touch with me over the years as OrCam developed and grew. Last week I was loaned an OrCam MyEye to wear for a month, in order to test it out and review it from the point of view of a young blind person. It is a four year dream to get my hands on this technology and I can’t wait to share my findings with you.

OrCam MyEye is a tiny camera that is positioned on the top right edge of any pair of glasses. A black wire runs behind your ear and to a box which contains the device computer. It is light and can then be clipped onto your belt or clothes. When turned on the OrCam MyEye can recognise pre-saved objects/faces and read text to the user via a bone conducting ear piece. The device is discreet and excels in recognising text- both on screens and paper.

Below is a video of myself and OrCam trainer Judy as she introduces me to the device for the first time. As you can see I was sceptical at first as to whether it would read my favourite poetry book accurately. A week on and I am still amazed at what OrCam is able to do. I am so excited to be able to share this ground breaking new technology and to provide a realistic and grounded review of the product. From what I’ve experienced so far, I firmly believe OrCam could be instrumental in the lives of many visually impaired people around the world. I will be putting the device through its paces in the life of a young person with sight loss. In the UK there are already over 600 users of OrCam and worldwide there are thousands. So, are we looking at the beginnings of artificial vision?

 

Mouse Does DBT: ‘What’ Skills

 It was explained to Mouse that mindfulness could be practiced in different ways- some of them are covered here in the ‘What’ skills. 

Observe

A white mouse holds a magnifier to their face 'observe' is written alongside. Copyright upside down Chronicles. Observing is about just noticing as thoughts and feelings come and go. One way to do this is to imagine that your mind is a conveyer-belt and you are passively watching your thoughts trundle by. You are paying attention to the thought as it goes; acknowledging its existence and letting it pass without judgement. You can also observe by noticing the rate of your breathing or by doing a body scan meditation to recognise any physical sensations you may have. You can also observe things external to yourself, like watching people in a cafe or admiring the tiny details in a beautiful view. It’s noting the facts of what is going on in as much detail as possible.

A cartoon image of a conveyer belt. A brown cardboard box is moving along on it. It is labelled 'mouse's thoughts'. Copyright upside down chronicles
Describe

A mouse holds a magnifying glass to the word describe. A question mark above his head. Copyright upside down Chronicles.Describing is all about focus and understanding. In the group session all the mice were each given a chocolate Minstrel. Using the describe skill they tried to find words for the shape, texture, taste, smell and colour of the chocolate. Doing her homework Mouse found that the easiest way to practice this skill was to describe her beauty regime as if she was filming a YouTube tutorial video. She described the products she used, how they felt on her fur, how she applied them and how they change the way she looks. As well as describing actions and objects you can use the same description exercise for thoughts and feelings. Putting words to something as abstract as feelings makes them seem less scary and more controllable.

Participate

A white cartoon mouse poses with one hand on his hip and one in the air in a Saturday night fever dance pose. Music notes around him and the word 'participate'. Copyright upside down Chronicles. Participating is about actively being in the moment. Focusing on the one task you are doing and then doing it with all your might. This could be: singing to the song you are listening to or not allowing yourself to slip into the background during social situations. By taking part in everything you do fully you can stay in the here and now.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that mindfulness is not about clearing your mind. Clearing your mind is actually not very mindful at all. Mindfulness is about acknowledging the moment you are in and accepting things for how they are. These ‘What’ skills are a way to focus and engage with the now. Practicing these skills is hard as you have to try and let the thoughts that interrupt your mindfulness exercise drift past on your brain conveyer belt without letting them pull you completely off task. Mouse’s conveyer belt seems to be being used to transport tonnes of manure around her mind. What skills will need some work.

(Please note that Upside Down Chronicles has no training or therapeutic expertise, only experience. This series ‘Mouse Does DBT’ is to support people going through DBT themselves, or for those interested in the therapy. Please contact your GP if you need further support for mental health problems.)  

 

Mouse Does DBT: The Wise Mind

Welcome to a brand new blog series- “Mouse Does DBT”. DBT skills explained by mice!

A cartoon drawing of a white mouse sitting on a blue seat. Mouse holds a tiny toy mouse in her paws and has a thought bubble above her head with grey lines through it. It looks like TV static. Image copyrighted- UpsideDownChroniclesMouse has been having trouble with her thoughts. Sometimes she’s too high and hyper, others she is too depressed to move. Sometimes she is neither, but she is always incredibly anxious. So mouse was referred to DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy) and after some assessments and a waiting list she was finally invited to join group and 1:1 therapy.

Mouse was really nervous about coming into the group. In fact she wasn’t even sure if it would help. She was given a cup of tea and then she just listened to the conversations of people coming in and sitting down.A picture of mouse sitting on a blue chair. Inside the outline of mouse's body is grass, a snow topped mountain and a blue sky. A sun is rising behind peaceful mouse's ears. Copyright- UpsideDownChronicles.

The group starts with a Mindfulness exercise. At the sound of a chime the group’s leader began to slowly read a relaxation exercise for everyone to follow. You had to imagine you were a mountain standing strong and confident breathing in and out.

Mindfulness is the main base for Dialectical Behavioural Therapy. This mindfulness begins with the search for the ‘wise mind’. The wise mind is a hybrid between your emotional and reasonable mind. All three minds live inside all of our heads. For example; if you were out shopping your emotional mind would be the one telling you to buy everything you fancy right there and then. Your reasonable mind would say: “It’s nice but you don’t need it.”. The wise mind however would say “Maybe wait until next payday, if you still want it then you could buy it.”. The reason one of the first parts of DBT is trying to find the your wise mind is because it is the wise mind that is best placed to understand situations and make decisions. The wise mind is the most diplomatic and rational of the three minds and therefore decisions are safer when made in wise mind (or wise mouse)’s hands.

A cartoon image of a pink brain, inside the brain are three mice. On the left is emotion mouse crying into tissues, Wise mouse is in a lotus position levitating and looking blissful. On the right is reason mouse, standing with his hands on his hips and wearing sunglasses. Copyright UpsideDownChronicles.
Like in the mountain exercise, guided meditation is a good way to find your wise mind. Ideas to do this include: thinking ‘wise’ as you breathe in, and ‘mind’ as you breathe out and imagining being a snowflake on a lake. Alternatively (mouse’s favourite) you can imagine walking down a spiral staircase- from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. You can stop on the stairs any time, noticing your senses. You can find some more visualisation exercises here or alternatively you could try a children’s mindfulness book to help you start with the basics. The more time we spend in Wise Mind the better.

(Please note that Upside Down Chronicles has no training or therapeutic expertise, only experience. This series ‘Mouse Does DBT’ is to support people going through DBT themselves, or for those interested in the therapy. Please contact your GP if you need further support for mental health problems.)  

Living with Me and My OCD By Claire Watkinson

I found out about ‘Living with Me and My OCD’ years ago. I was intrigued and excited to hear of a film exclusively about OCD and, even more excitingly, one that is directed and produced by someone who actually has the condition. I knew straight away after being in contact with Claire the producer that she would make sure that this film would give the best insight into OCD as possible. Recently the film came out and there was a screening event in Claire’s hometown of Sheffield. The film is now on OCD-UK’s youtube channel and has been praised by OCD Action.

The film includes interviews with people who suffer from OCD. It puts right the public perception that OCD is about ‘just being tidy’. It is shocking and eye opening in all the best ways, and truly shows the many forms this disorder can take. I’d really like to praise and thank all the contributors, as well as Claire of course, for being so honest in their accounts and allowing them to be shared. Some of the testimonies brought tears to my eyes because I could relate so strongly. If you have OCD this film will show you that you are not alone. If you don’t have OCD- this film will open your eyes and make you grateful you don’t. I seriously believe that this film is an epic step in the right direction for OCD Awareness and understanding.

Self Caring When You Are Self Hating

No one ever told me that self hatred would be the thing that stopped me functioning. We talk about depression and anxiety, but their most powerful associate hides in us all. If you have too much of it self hatred is potent. Hating yourself can stop you from getting dressed, eating healthy foods and it can make you punish yourself. The truth is that if you completely loathe who you are it becomes impossible to live in between the lines and complete basic tasks.

The only weapon you can use in combat against self hatred, I’ve been told, is a compassionate approach. It sounds straight forward but if you are a sack full of self deprecation it is really difficult to face the world. By making an effort to self care you can stop yourself deteriorating physically and emotionally.  So you have to make yourself do things that might help- like having a bubble bath or going for a walk outside. You’ve got to do what it takes to make your body feel loved; even if your brain tells you that it isn’t deserved and you feel drained

.

Self care can range from maintaining the basics of being alive (keeping yourself hydrated, fed and rested) to more creative methods (like putting on some nice moisturiser or buying yourself a treat). It can also mean doing things that simply need doing for the sake of your wellbeing- like tidying up, making phone calls or booking a GP appointment.

I’ve not mastered self care yet. Some days even doing something I really want to do feels painful. Sometimes I feel like I can’t be in my own skin. It doesn’t feel right treating myself nicely when my skin is crawling and I feel so disgusting. But it is a skill that I, and everyone else, should learn. So right now I’m going to try and look after myself until I feel a bit better. If you are feeling bad right now I challenge you to do the same.

A mouse sitting in a chair with her cup of tea and toenails painted. Copyright.

What things do you do to self care?

Motivational Tattoos 

I’ve been trying out these temporary tattoos from motivationaltattoo.etsy.com


They are reasonably priced and once on skin can last four days! They include affirmations like: “be strong”, “I am enough” and “love yourself”. Great reminders for mindfulness, self care and a good tool to use instead of self harm. They are shaped like plasters and come in colourful, patterned or clear. They are a little fiddly to peel the plastic from- though well worth it! 

I got these as a gift, what a great way to remind someone, or yourself, that you care! 


‘I Will Do Better’

New year is difficult. You feel the pressure and exhilaration of trying to make this ‘your year’. If you have OCD this can become a compulsion. All year long I promise myself that I would do better on a huge array of things. Some people call it determination, I wouldn’t say that. It is constant feelings of disappointment and perfectionism and it is intensified by the season.

For example last summer I received my AS level results. I opened the envelope and was relieved that I had done well in two exams but received a ‘U’ in my other subject’s main paper. A ‘U’ is actually worse than a fail, and as I had recieved pretty respectable grades in mock exams despite being poorly I had no idea how I’d managed to get such a low grade. Had I gone into an episode during the exam? Somebody would have definitely noticed. Anyway, I went home in tears and used a drawing pin to attach the piece of paper to the side of my wardrobe. The purpose of this was to ‘make me work harder’. I knew deep down that I had worked hard anyway and that the grade was unusual for me, but I accepted and internalised that it was because I was rubbish.

A week or so later my tutor ordered my exam back to see how I’d got it so terribly wrong. She opened the paper and found that three quarters of it were missing. The exam board had lost all but one of my questions before marking and I was given a U. It wasn’t my grade after all and so it got corrected, however the piece of paper is still nailed onto my wardrobe. I must be a glutton for self torture.

The same thing haunts me with coursework. It takes ages as I read it again and again irrationally fearing it contains a murder confession or expletives, I can never hand it in because there is always something in my mind that I need to add or do to make it ‘better’. I set a lot of resolutions this new year, most of which talked about improving on 2016. What I didn’t think about when writing them into the front of my journal was that last year wasn’t a bad year. I wasn’t locked in a ward and there was no major traumas. It was pretty alright by previous years’ standards. By desperately trying to improve too much, mostly on things I can’t change, I will likely send myself back into oblivion and that would not make 2017 good at all.

This is a rambly post because my head made the first post of the year into a big deal, when actually it shouldn’t be. What I’m trying to say is:

Just try not to have a worse year than the one before and do what you love. That’s enough.