Reframing real estate: tell a new story

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View from my apartment deck

Reframing reality. I’ve known about reframing since hearing these immortal words on a Louise Hay tape 20 years ago:

A thought is only a thought. You can think a new thought.

Truly? Really? I considered that idea with amazement. I knew it was true, and what a relief!

I have used reframing often since then. It changes everything! Or rather, you can change your frame of mind and this (thinking a new thought) can seem to change your entire situation. Last year a cognitive behaviour therapist enabled me to reframe a stressful reality after two visits. And of course I can always see when others need it, oh yes! I might even presumptuously advise them to use it.

But still, at times, boom! It’s me who needs it—but I’m blind to the fact.

Responsibility for real estate: a story that needed to change

Over the last few weeks I slid into a situation that was causing me great stress. Here is the story I told myself.

  • I’m Chair of the body corporate responsible for the block of 6 flats in which I live.
  • Body corporates now have major issues with earthquake proofing and health and safety policies
  • Body corporate office bearers now have major liability. If you fail in your duties and a tradesperson gets injured, you may have to pay $60,000 or $600,000
  • We meet only (clue: note that word only) 42% of local earthquake-proofing requirements.
  • Insurance companies are likely to raise their own requirements to 70%, or to raise fees for buildings below that level.
  • Earthquake-proofing of an old building like ours, built in 1940 same as me, is hugely stressful for the occupants, costs millions and affects saleability.
  •  Arithmetic is the problem: we have only five owners to do a huge amount of work
  • As Chair I feel overburdened.
  • It might be better to sell my apartment and buy a small house in the same neighbourhood.

Now, all those statements are true. Nevertheless it was a bad story, one that locked me into negativity and anxiety.

A better story which is equally true

I got lucky talking to a brilliant real estate agent. He said to me, “You need to reframe.”

He didn’t need to say another word. I knew exactly what he meant and within seconds I switched to a different story. I mean it, within seconds!

  • I live in a wonderful apartment with 360 degree views, sun, space, and everything else I need.
  • It’s worth enough so that I could sell it and look for a small standalone place.
  • But this beloved city-neighbourhood has only 400 homes and many of them are unhealthy. I am very, very lucky!
  • Our body corporate members are willing and able. We can organise ourselves so that the work is equally shared.
  • Compared with most other body corporates our problems are tiny.

Almost instantly the chips fell into place and I became confident and serene. We will have problems, of course we will! So? Others should be half as lucky.

That was easy! Ever tried it?

 

My very own rest home inside the brain

 

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Four unidentified marching girls have their boots whitened by an unidentified man, 1956. National Library Archives.

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In which the jabbering residents of my interior rest home duke it out.

 

I’ve got my very own rest home inside my skull, with at least five residents. When I try to Think with a capital T about how to prepare for growing old, their voices drown me out. Jabber jabber jabber!

Depressa: It’s just luck. You can’t do anything about it.
Smugilla: You don’t need to do a thing—you’re perfect!
Depressa: You’re gonna die anyway so what’s the point?
Innocent Bystander: She doesn’t look that old.

Where is the wise part of me? Does she even exist? Oh there you are, Menerva—speak up, why don’t you?

Smugilla: You are so hot you could give advice to everyone else on how to stay young forever. Write a How To book! You’ll be famous! You’ll make millions! You’ll be on Oprah!
Innocent Bystander: You’re only as young as you feel.
Menerva: I don’t think she’s trying to solve a problem exactly.
Innocent Bystander: Just run along to the plastic surgeon. Or try homeopathy.

Hey, there’s a guy in there! Great, a fixer-upper.

Sergeant Major: Quit that squabbling. What’s the problem?
Menerva: She doesn’t know what to think.
Sergeant Major: Too much thinking does you no good. Time for action.
Smugilla: She doesn’t need any help from you, that’s for sure! She’s an expert grower-older.
Depressa: Yeah, right!
Menerva: She does need help. We all do.

And that’s when the Sergeant Major proposed a boot camp. One goal per month for the year, and then I’m done. Done like a dinner. No longer undone.

A writer with aphantasia—weird or what?

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Lately a flurry of articles have drawn attention to the phenomenon of aphantasia. This is a recently named brain condition (not a disability) of those who cannot summon up mental pictures in their mind’s eye.  (Some have “total aphantasia”, which affects all the senses, but that’s not me.)

Realisation slow and fast: that’s me too

A long article by Blake Ross woke me up to what a big deal this is.

  • I knew I was face-blind.
  • I knew I had peculiar difficulty in remembering things, and always have had. Big blanks where others had instant recall.
  • I knew I was pretty smart at conceptual thinking, had a busy brain forever generating new deductions and ideas.
  • I often used words like visualize and picture this, never dreaming that others could do this literally. To me they were just metaphors.
  • I had no idea that others could summon up faces and other mental pictures at will.

Boom! Suddenly I get it, and the revelation is a whopper.

Further reading and experiments confirmed that the way that I (and at least 2% of the population) process information is not the norm. The killer question was: “Imagine a red triangle.” How hard is that? So what really happens when I ask myself to do this? I see black, black, black. I laboriously pick a point and sort of join the dots. But I still see nothing. I’m just shuffling data, drawing conclusions, and attempting to construct something from scratch. Same if I try to visualise a scene, or my childhood home: I kind of draw it, flat. The process is cognitive and deliberate. Nothing spontaneous about it!

In dreams and in that dream-like state before and after sleep, I do sometimes see things in my mind, vividly. So I know what it’s like, sort of. But I cannot, do not do it when awake.

But a writer — a poet! — with aphantasia? How can that be?

Easy. Information is flooding in, with further research and active forums for people with aphantasia. And it seems that many of us develop strong conceptual skills, mathematical skills or yes, verbal skills. This, I dare say, is how our brains automatically compensate for a lack that we never knew we had.

Instead of mental pictures, we use other information. Click click click, we work away slotting facts into place.

I have trouble describing people and if I do, I’ll just pick a detail or two and let the reader do the imagining. Sometimes I draw people from TV (Antiques Roadshow being a favourite) and use those drawings as models for characters.

It’s hilarious. Since childhood I have been admired and condemned for my too-vivid imagination. The word imagination deconstructed means constructing images, doesn’t it? I do that with words. Moreover, in the real world I have a powerful aesthetic sense, fascinated by photographs and design.

Often our life work emerges from our own inadequacies. So I failed the secret visualization test? Inevitably my dear little brain steers me into a bypass route, boosting my scores on real-world visuals, turning me into a cracker writer, gifting me the ability to explain things to others, teach them a different way …

Two minutes of self-pity over aphantasia

Last night a friend told me that if she thought about anyone, a picture of them would instantly appear in her mind. Sometimes pictures arrive without being summoned, without an apparent trigger. Wow! Really? Literally? All the time? Who knew? Answer: about 98% of people. Apparently using the mind’s eye features large in how other people think.

This morning early, last night’s revelation hit me with a bang. So … you mean … if I had a neurotypical mind’s eye, I could do this too? I would be able to see pictures of my sisters, my daughters, my sons, my granddaughters, my grandsons, my friends, like a slideshow or even a movie?

How bloody wonderful that would be! How comforting! How blissful! How healing that would be if I were sick, or when I become old in body and afraid.

I allowed myself to weep at this terrible loss of something that (as far as I know) I have never had. I let rip with delicious self-pity for two minutes. That’s more than enough.

Enough: aphantasia is neutral or positive

It just is. I can see how it has affected my life in a hundred ways, most of them not bad ways but harmless or interesting or useful or funny. Over the years I have mastered many a workaround — that’s neuroplasticity at work. Sometimes my solutions to problems seem ingenious to the receiver. Often my solutions seem ludicrous because, to other people, they are totally unnecessary. Now, finally, I begin to understand why that is, and why aphantasia is, on balance, neutral or positive.


Image from “Surgery, its principles and practice” 1906 Internet Archive Book Images 

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