Dr. Kate Sang: Tears on my podium: researching close to home

Well said Kate! Is the purpose of research other than metrics or To advance understanding & quality of human condition?

BSA Postgraduate Forum

Kate Sang is an Associate Professor of Management at Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh. Her research focuses around equality and diversity in the workplace. You can follow her on twitter on @katesang.

In many disciplines, scholars are still encouraged to pursue objective research and to distance themselves from their chosen topic. To many feminists the idea that a researcher is distinct from the researched will sit uncomfortably. Looking at feminist critiques of scientific research, there are established arguments for epistemologies which recognise the social construction of knowledge (see Donna Haraway’s seminal work). Similar arguments are made within disability studies where there have been long held concerns that scientific research has resulted in the oppression and exploitation of disabled people. As a qualitative researcher driven by a social justice agenda, my own positionality to my research and the participants has been something I have considered at great length.

Academic careers are now…

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#Alexithymia : When there are no words.

#Alexithymia in action  in the near present……  beyond words!

It may seem odd but once again I found myself overwhelmed with tears. Tears felt wholeheartedly and there was no emotion I felt apart from ” overwhelm”.

What precipitated this flood of tears?

Some may think it quite strange but it was watching a recording on TV 7 Mate of  AFLW. Australian Football League Women’s match… this overflow has happened every time I’ve viewed a match in the past months. It is a new, like brand new, women’s competition… the first time Aussie Rules Footy has recognised and established a women’s league.

Don’t know about others out there who find themselves flooding tears for no apparent reason…. but I feel embarrassed if anyone saw me in this state.

I’ve not been able to understand my emotional overflow in this case.

I’d been reading and writing on alexithymia over the past few weeks and it hit me that there are no words but one ” Overwhelmed” with no other word attached to convey emotion.  I knew that sadness it wasn’t.

My mind flicked back to my childhood when my father would play classical music and we’d listen to it together. The tears would flow uncontrollably and my mother would walk in and admonish my father for ” making her” /me “sad.”.. but I wasn’t sad I was overwhelmed.

It was a feeling too big for happy or joyful they missed the mark and any way at the time all those years ago I had no words to explain it all, not even “overwhelmed”.

My father seemed to understand and not think  my response  weird.

I couldn’t understand why my mother would  assume I was sad. … tears =sadness?

Now the same thing does happen to me when I’m presented with the horrendous sufferings and injustice to others… being overwhelmed and overcome by unstoppable  tears.

I recall when I was in my mid teens and the black and white TV newsreel displayed primitive graphics  in grey of the American war ships in the Bay of Pigs…. this stunned me beyond comprehension.

Naively I’d thought the wars in history I’d studied were phenomena of the past that we, as human beings had gone beyond such inhumane and senseless barbarism. Not able to comprehend the ” hate” in the world literally robbed me of sleep.

Nowadays the newsreels still distress me but feel  I need to be informed what the world is going through. I cannot just turn off the TV and ignore all the cruelties, I need to understand what is actually happening , to gain a contextual understanding. I do still become overwhelmed and tears wash my eyes and I know that this feeling is more than sadness but it has no actual name.

I take care not to expose myself to potentially overwhelming situations when it is not a time that I can accomodate those feelings… if I’m in control and don’t have situations sprung upon me I can live a productive life without depriving myself of the authenticity  that  comes from overwhelm.

Back to the footy game!  Yes! this feeling without a name has always been part of my life so I decided to write about it here.

Then I thought about the accompanying picture… I didn’t have any appropriate in my albums. Why not take photos of the game I was watching.

Something very strange happened as I looked through my camera …. the unceasing  tears stopped. My focus was now not on the game, following the experiences of the players etc . my focus was filtered as I honed  in on detail of action. I had now another agenda, I was not “with the players” I was being analytical and immersed in the workings of the camera and capturing superficial appearances. … a mark or a kick, the  flow of play… anything but the actual people playing the game… they had lost their state of ” being” via the lens.

It was a challenge to capture an appropriate picture as a header I found all photos lacking the dynamics , skills and humanity of the women playing the game.

I put down the camera and returned to experiencing the game through my unfiltered eyes . I gave over to the existential experience of watching the game…some tears returned with less intensity.

Is there a learning from all this?

Is Overwhelm a state that cannot be assigned another word… and why would one want do so?

It seems all this is about Intensity of existential experience and  I found what breaks it is employing a filter, a filter that  actually divorces me from knowing ( in the sense of experiencing) the powerful dynamics of relating to life.

Do non-autistics live forever in a filtered reality?

Are there times when it is wise to employ filters and what type of filters are acceptable?

What filters are appropriate for the occasion at hand?

Is it OK to just say ” I’m overwhelmed” and leave it at that?

What does all this say about “empathy” ?

What is “neurotypical empathy”?

What is ” autistic empathy”?

Why was I overwhelmed by the women football players?

It was in their “being”,their living of the game, their skills, athletics and strength demonstrating  vitality of living a period of time to the full.

A beautiful strong expression of womanhood.

Never again would ” you play like a girl’ be an insulting term in the land of OZ.

Exceptional dance, sprinting, hurdling etc, paintings, poetry  are among the aspects of life that can overwhelm me. My past life active passions.

Discovering  how various aspects interrelate… curiosity, intrigue…  feeling that what has been learned catapults me into further discovery…. that is joy… and sometimes it too can gently bathe and freshen my eyes in warm soft tears.

Achievement: finally return to studio.

Overcoming transition apprehension…. hoping it works! A Work in Progress.

It has been ages, like almost two years since I spent some time in my art studio. I’ve been too apprehensive about returning to my art as such a transition may cause mental havoc on my return to working on Autism projects. I’ve things to do, to write on more academic  aspects of autism and I’m frightened that if I embark upon my art I’ll find my return to Autism projects really difficult.

Why? Why difficult? Because it takes me  quite some time to return to my mental bookmark… where I left off thinking,  and it is quite possible that my break from that thought focus will enable a new perspective.


Good ! Yes Good but from past experience struggling to mentally retrieve all the                         ” bookmarks’  and  weave the new perspective into  context is both exciting and unnerving.  I usually find this is so and in many ways it is really productive to break away into another passion. I return with fresh eyes.

Yep! I’m looking forward to jumping into paint. However, how can I jump in when I know I have other commitments to work on? You see when I jump in , I jump in, without such  ideas  as” for just a few days, weeks etc” it is either to jump or not. A whole brain shift/mind shift… for my brain doesn’t take a wander along the path of paint it is my mind and body. It is a physical and mental thing, it is also a strongly focused meditative thing once I get into the zone.

The zone! That magical place where and when there is no ” I” separate from paint,canvas. brushes, action …. the ” I’ ceases to exist, there is just ” being” ” creating”. Time ceases to exist!

I need this to feed my spirit, to replenish mind, body and spirit that becomes drained bringing about  Burnout… a Shutdown, a teetering on the edge of Meltdown.Meltdowns are infrequent for me but Shutdowns, now they  afford me respite, a break  from the pressure of being super focused, for being in the place of ongoing ” giving’…. I become drained of energy, physical., mental, emotional and spiritual.

I’ve my toes in the ” water” having sorted stuff out in the studio, reacquainting myself with the submerged part of self… and once again I feel the juices surge as I approach the    ‘ waist high water mark” that point where I dive in, test the waters of my inner self, and enter colour, texture, form and space as I  express concretely the illusory ineffable.

A small piece I tell myself. A small piece will possibly feed my need and manifest in a complete form without a great passage of chronological time being passed. I just have to trust my inner self, plunge beneath the current mind flow and hope to emerge refreshed and ready to continue my Autism project.