Authority

Triggers. I’m not adept at listing/highlighting these. It’s a new concept for me. However, I think the idea is sound so here’s my attempt. Mentions of violence, conflict, self harm & suicide and drink driving. Sorry if I didn’t mention something else.

 

“If you get lost you can always ask a policeman for help”

This was repeated to me so often when I was young it achieved mantra like status. I was a supremely anxious child, constantly worrying about being lost, separated, accidentally getting on fire, getting locked out/in, the car moving when it was just me and my sis in there. All supposedly things that I shouldn’t worry about but all except the fire actually happened, so I was never easily convinced that there was ‘nothing to worry about’.

I don’t recall being small and having to talk to the police. I do remember them coming to help with one of the fallings out my parents had. I was very young, I don’t remember much except feeling very upset and a lot of tall people around me telling me things were going to be ok.

As I became more aware of politics and through debate with my magnificent Granddad I realised that the police were not necessarily a benign force for good and that they are people doing a job where the goals are set by government. I was young enough for it not to affect me really. I was environmentally aware and became vegetarian. I remember the protests about bypasses and other such things, then the criminal justice act happened. That DID affect me. I wasn’t up to anything of any criminal intent. Genuinely. But I could see how this bill could be used to whatever effect the authorities decided. It upset me. I protested. Secretly. My family didn’t know.

When I was around 14 I called the police in desperation to try and ask for help to stop my drunk Mother getting behind the wheel of her car. I did it in secret. It was a huge deal. I felt like a traitor but I was terrified that she’d hurt someone. I wasn’t taken seriously. They told me that if I was that worried I should take the keys off her. Like I hadn’t already tried doing that….They said they didn’t have any people to send and that it wouldn’t be worth it even if they did.

I moved away when I was 19 and had to sustain two, sometimes three jobs just to be able to stay at university. I had worked in the pub near me from the day after my 18th birthday and was excited to get to be a barperson in my new town. I enjoyed bar work, it had structure and rules, although I had no idea about the effects of the overload it inevitably left me with. This new university town had a different feel and culture, I worked in a gay pub, well, a fair few gay pubs in fact. Trouble was common, uni nightlife, a party town, a fairly high crime level and an awful lot of heroin. Yep. Good times.

I dealt with thefts, assaults, abuse, racism, homophobia, transphobia and plenty else as part of those jobs. I got the most help and support from other bar owners/staff. We acted as a network. Some Friday nights we’d get a call from a bar in London to say they’d seen the national front getting on the train to come down to us for the night. We’d have an hour’s warning to get as many people in as possible and warn the customers. It was really effective. I don’t remember the police being involved much. We looked after each other.

I recall one night where a lady outside the pub I was working in put her arms through our windows. Both arms. Her goal was to cause harm to herself. It was a tiny pub, I think I was there with one other person working and we had no more than half a dozen customers in. I went outside to see what was happening and she was out there, hurt and distressed. I got her sat down and went in (before mobile phones this one…) to call 999. I asked for an ambulance and for the police. I was told the police wouldn’t come for just a window being broken (only the property seemed to matter) and that the ambulance would only come if she would agree to get in it (which she wasn’t going to – she was refusing all help but was in no state to decide for herself what she needed). I was stuck. I had tried as hard as I could to explain the seriousness of the situation to the call handler but despite my best efforts the authorities weren’t interested in helping the lady outside. Nor were they interested in helping her to at least be safe elsewhere for the night so we could get on and have our windows boarded up. We were so close to the hospital it was actually easier and quicker to help her get to A&E than to continue trying to persuade anyone to come out.

It wasn’t much better abroad. I lived in Europe for a while. I called the police there once to report some suspicious behaviour I could see going on outside. They weren’t interested. My OH tried to get the police to help stop a lady being beaten up in the street near the railway station. They weren’t interested either. Because the lady was working and it was her pimp doing the hitting. Not their problem.

Yesterday and last night my neighbours had an almighty row. Much shouting, throwing, screaming, crying and slamming of doors. When it started up again at 1am I was not best pleased, I had been on my way to getting sleepy and looked forward to a good night’s rest without an early morning alarm. Instead of that I was treated to a horrible row and my anxiety spiked pretty quickly. I have been thinking about that. Part of the reason I find their arguments so intolerable is that the woman has an accent that reminds me of someone else’s. I have no kind feelings towards that someone else and would rather not be reminded of them at all, let alone have to listen to a similar voice (like a foghorn…) for hours whilst I’m in my home. It triggers feelings that I’d rather not experience time and time again. It’s taken me months to figure out why their behaviours have bothered me so very much, I think that’s the reason.

I was tweeting last night as it helps when I’m anxious to focus on something, even if that’s just saying what’s happening. I saw a message this morning from someone very sensibly asking if I could call 101 next time it happens. I had considered it. Genuinely. I wondered if I should. But I’m scared of causing a row between us and them and also I don’t have much faith that the police would listen or actually do anything constructive. This blog post was my figuring out why that was. Heh. Who needs therapy eh? I did that in my PJs from the sofa.

I don’t think they were being violent to each other directly, I *think* they were just throwing things around and shouting. I don’t assume that either is or isn’t capable of being violent. I wish I didn’t have to think about it. But if it happens again I think my first plan is to pull up the blinds and put the lights on so they know we are listening. Then to maybe go outside in the garden and ask them if they’re ok. I’d rather talk to them than to the police I think.

So. Today I overcame anxiety and went outside to water the garden. Fed it too. That should help it to look lovely for when OH is back. I think they’re not up as everything’s quiet, even the dogs. I’ve had my moment of self reflection there and am now going to focus on doing positive things to help change the situation. That’s filling in a whole heap of paperwork today. Heh, although, it’s not DWP paperwork so I really have very little concern about it, it just needs to be done.

Thanks again to the wonderful twitterverse.

Authority

Conflict

I have spent my life trying desperately to avoid conflict of any kind. Despite that, it features more frequently than I would like in the tangle that is my life.

This morning went spectacularly badly. I’m a bit of a mess now and in the absence of any other outlet I decided to spill all the grrrrs into a blog post. I can’t go outside just now, so no chance for a stomp around or some gardening. If I try to do anything inside I’m likely to break things, accidentally, yet still it won’t help the general situation. So I’m sitting still, or at least sitting. I’m clenching and unclenching various series of muscles and trying not to type too forcefully. Oh, times when I felt like this in the office were tough. Everyone knows how someone feels by the way that they type. The aggressive addition of a full stop can say more than any words. I’m trying not to chew the inside of my mouth or pick my fingers too badly, both habits I unconsciously resort to at times like this. I don’t knit any more at home (three cats, not enough doors). I’ll do some housework in a  bit when I feel up to to it, that should help get the physical nasties out a bit. The upset and rage and frustration and disappointment and fear and desperation each have their own slightly different physical sensation but together they make a swirly mass of wrong that I can only dispel by doing something physical that makes me so tired it wipes out the swirls of wrongness.

My clever data collecting period app thingy says it’s T-3 days until ‘white trousers & rollerskates day’ (for those of you too young to remember such adverts for products designed to deal with a woman’s ‘blessing’ I expect they’re on the internet somewhere. My favourite was the one with the white dogs. Such symbolism there. Red is BAD. Be pure and WHITE! Don’t let people know about your ‘curse’. Be a GOOD girl.). I knew that, have felt the hormones building up and despite my best efforts they’re having an effect on how I feel. Anxiety has been bad. I’ve been pretty productive, that sort of determined plodding that is actually fairly useful sometimes, but I’ve also been in pain and tired which doesn’t help mental agility or optimism. I’m looking forward to once this is over having a couple of good days if I’m lucky where my mind & body are both able to function together. I try not to fixate on them too much as a virus or meltdown can easily snatch them away but when they happen I am so grateful. I get a glimpse of what life might have been like. Perhaps that’s not a good thing. Maybe it’d be easier to endure the grim days if I didn’t know that a good day could be so good.

This morning was a rough ride. OH didn’t sleep well, a cat woke her up at 03:45. The same cat woke her up at 03:00 the night before, so said cat is not very popular with OH today. To be fair, the cat was only pointing out that the food bowl was empty and that they were all peckish. I expect they tried chewing my feet first because they usually do but I was out for the count so likely didn’t respond. They had food when OH went to bed at 01:00 so they can’t have been that ravenous. But still, cats don’t really care about human sleep time.

We both got up as usual, each doing our part in the morning routine we’ve honed over years. I made coffee. OH got showered. We had coffee & she ate whilst we watched the news (or at the moment the weather and any bits of the news that are not bad, which isn’t much). OH went to get dressed. I took her up some clean dry clothes. I’d forgotten to grab the things from the tumble dryer. I continued with my next task, making her packed lunch. I was busy snipping spinach and chopping tomatoes when I heard doors slamming upstairs, things landing on the floor and OH shouting and crying. She was having a moment because she couldn’t find a clean something and instead of asking me if there was one she had a tantrum. OK, not the end of the earth. But. I don’t deal well with that kind of behaviour at the best of times. It’s not something I can tolerate. I realise, the hypocrisy given that I behave that way myself sometimes is quite enormous. But to listen to it makes me feel like I’ve been punched and all I want to do is curl up in a small dark hiding place with the cats and not come out until it’s all over and everyone’s gone.

As I realised that OH was having a door slamming olympics  all on her own up there I heard next door get up. Their bedroom is above our kitchen and as well as hearing me grind coffee at 05:30 most mornings they must also have enjoyed hearing OH. I heard the neighbours get up and start to shout at each other. That was it. I grabbed the things from the tumble dryer went upstairs. I deposited them on the floor in front of OH (I didn’t say I had behaved well! I’m a nightmare too). I came back downstairs and finished the lunch (practical – can’t leave food out or cats will have it) before going into the dining room to cry over the ironing board. Oh yeah. Living the dream there.

OH came down and wanted me to drive her to the station. I do every morning. However I feel. It’s usually a short journey if she’s going in early as the traffic isn’t so bad. I have a bit of a hang up about lifts. It’s from my bloody Mother. When my Sis and I were small and not so small getting a lift from mother required days of preparation. It had to be earned, physically and emotionally. I just realised that I used my first earnings to buy my first new bike. That was my way of gaining independence. I cycled wherever I could for years. Because if Mother knew a lift was required it would be exploited at any opportunity. It was an exhausting additional layer to the complexities of life and I swore that if I ever drove I wouldn’t ever use giving someone a lift as any kind of currency. It matters a lot to me that I am not an arsehole about it. I do it every morning. The evenings are harder, we negotiate those. But this morning after that I didn’t feel like I could set foot outside the front door. I also didn’t feel terribly inclined to try and overcome it.

I told OH to walk. She claims she didn’t hear me (I mumble or she doesn’t hear? Who knows…). She waited outside for me then came in all of a strop because we were late and she’d missed her train. I knew there was no way I could get her to that train. I needed to calm down before I would contemplate getting in the car. So here’s the bit that I think has upset me the most. OH was trying to reason with me, to persuade me to give her the lift. All the time she was doing that I was screaming inside “you’re not listening to me!” and the swirling wrong was worsening. I don’t know how else to explain to her that driving is something I have to decide if I can do.

She knows about autism and anxiety and triggers that I have. I’d done my very best the day before to explain that my hormones were making things tough and that I was struggling with some things. I’m not trying to excuse myself but to be honest about what I’m dealing with so that it doesn’t get blurted out hurtfully in situations like this morning. I learned that with the last therapist. She pointed out that people can’t read my mind. That I can’t get upset that they don’t know how I feel if I haven’t told them. It’s a fair observation. I appreciated the feedback. I’m working on implementing it. But OH never met my therapist. She’s not had any support through this apart from talking to her parents and a couple of colleagues of hers. Despite that I’d hoped that on some level she would understand that I wasn’t saying I wouldn’t drive her to be an arsehole and make her late for work, it was that I wasn’t calm enough to drive safely after the way the morning had played. I now realise on reflection that all kinds of other buttons had been pushed and that combined with my hormonal grrrs will have made everything that much more difficult.

What a mess. We had a bit more of a row then I took myself off to do some breathing and calm down. Best thing was to get her out of the house and the way to achieve that was for me to drive her to the station. I found the cold steely hard centre of my anger and used it as an anchor whilst I logically planned what needed to happen. I put shoes on. Checked I was dressed in actual clothes. Got hat and glasses and phone and bag. Deep breath. Unlocked the front door. Opened it. Another deep breath. Shoulders back. Eyes fixed on floor ahead of me. First foot outside. Second foot outside. Focus on gate and getting key ready for the lock. Keep breathing. It’s ok. The world’s not falling. Get to car. Heart rate check. Deep breathing. Music on. Heart rate check again. I’m doing it. I’m in control. Observations check. All senses working. Vision clear. Mind clear. Engine on. Familiar rhythm of driving. Mirrors. Check. Road. Check. Pedestrians. Check. Cyclists. Check. Small children and dogs. Check. I made it to the station without incident and then back home again.

I don’t know what to do now. The bins should have been put out but I don’t think I can do that one today. It’s very frustrating as we need to clear so much out – I need them to be emptied or I’ll have to take things to the tip. But it requires going outside two, maybe three times and runs the risk of coming face to face with next door so I really don’t think it’s going to happen.

When OH gets in later we’ll have to have a *talk* so I’ll be ruminating on that if I’m not careful. I have to try and do things that will help rather than hinder the situation.

I’m wondering if I should call the therapy people. I was supposed to be seen again for some follow up stuff but they say they never received my online message and after a very frustrating phonecall where I had to be bold and stand firm on not being reassessed I eventually got somewhere. The conclusion was that the guy I was supposed to see would email me with an appointment. That was about a month ago I think, although I’ll check my notebook before I do anything as my sense of time is unreliable. I feel awful about it. I don’t want to push to see someone that’s so busy with people more seriously ill than I am that they haven’t had a chance to get in touch. Despite my contacting them twice to say I could do with some help just now. But I also don’t see why because the service is desperately underfunded I should be expected to go without the support that my last therapist said would be available and was perfectly appropriate for my situation.

I sent the therapy people’s number to OH. That may well not have gone down well. But she’s finding things tough so it seems logical to me that in the absence of anything else that might change things something like that might be worth a phone call. She has her own triggers. I may well have hit some of them by doing that.

I remember that quote about insanity, doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. I trained as a scientist, I know that if you do the same thing over and over over without changing at least one variable you will get the same result. If you don’t then you simply haven’t accounted for all the variables.

My Sis has her own stuff to deal with just now, so I won’t be letting her know things aren’t rosy at the moment My Mother thinks OH is a saint and can’t understand how she’s put up with me so long so I’d get no objective viewpoint there, just another blow to my already fragile self esteem. I still can’t quite figure out how it is that I can write this so honestly to be published on the internet. To possibly even be read by people I’ve never met (if you’ve made it this far then wow, I apologise for wiffling on so long, I really hope the rest of your day contains more cheerful words). It seems utterly ridiculous, not the kind of thing I would usually do at all. But getting the words out helps. It helps me to order my thoughts. As I write it helps me to slow my mind, I can catch which thought has triggered certain emotions and realise links that I may otherwise have missed.

We are both working on changing this entire situation. Last night next door’s dogs barked constantly for nearly two hours once OH got back from work. The dogs were on the patio but the volume and proximity means they sound like they’re in our house or garden. It kept us both on edge and I ended up shutting the windows to try and block some of the sound, but there’s nothing I can do to stop it travelling through the walls. So then we were both too warm. Our time to relax is very limited right now so things like that matter an awful lot. I’m not the only one with sensory sensitivities.  I wish I could not give a cr*p about next door being woken up by OH this morning. I don’t care about them at all really, but I do care about the confrontation I imagine us having over the bins about it. I can’t risk it.

So, thanks for letting me type into the void. This kind of therapy doesn’t rely on some underfunded service or my displaying certain ‘not coping’ behaviours to be eligible.

I’m off to find a cat now. That’ll help for sure.

 

P.S. Here a person called Sophie Hall gives a good selection of the history of advertising sanitary products – https://www.beamly.com/tv-film/best-worst-tampon-adverts-ever.

I tried to find the one with white dogs but I think B*dyform have ensured it’s not available any more as they want a different image these days.

 

 

 

 

Conflict

Happiness. An Analysis.

I feel happy. Not the surface happy/trying to make the best of it/investing energy in seeing the bright side happy, that I generally try to cultivate as part of my general attitude towards the world, but actual real genuine happiness. I think this is the real deal. Not Happy-lite, just one calorie, not quite happy enough.

For me this is unusual. I have had more angst than optimism my whole life. My talent for catastrophisation is endless. I met a fellow grim thinker at a health and safety/food hygiene type session I attended many years ago when paired to complete an exercise in the potential impact of a breach of rules. Between us we wiped out human population  with an egg sandwich. We both agreed it was a highly unlikely scenario, yet not impossible. The instructor thought we were joking. We weren’t.

So, in the interests of being analytical about the things I feel and how I can influence them, I thought I should write about this. I still don’t quite understand how I write things online I couldn’t ever say, but there.

Yesterday was a nice day, I saw my sister on her boat which was really lovely. We chatted, she showed us what she’d decorated and we talked about her upcoming plans. We went for lunch, it was absolutely glorious to get to go and eat with my sis and my OH, in a place that had some veggie food and we ended up in a back room snug bit in a lovely window without any other people nearby. There was music, it wasn’t without challenges but it was fairly ok for being ‘out’. The driving wasn’t the easiest, my sat nav took me on the longest route of narrow lanes to get to where I had to be. I was not best pleased as I have actually been there before, driven it myself and thought I was prepared. But my sat nav is failing and doesn’t like to show things, or stay turned on, or know what roads actually exist any more. I told OH I’d replace it three years ago, it has been the source of more than a few arguments. I must do that. Anyway, bit of a nightmare journey at the end yet I was alright, tired and mainly just relieved to have arrived. We got back later than planned, there was traffic all the way home which took me a bit by surprise but I forgot it was the weekend. OH was tired and has been ill for over a week so I felt bad that I’d kept her out so late. She had to pack and be ready for a trip this morning. I’d done the laundry but it hadn’t quite all dried enough to be packed. I had done most of the ironing, quite a feat as I’m behind on other housework but I knew she was travelling and I didn’t want her packing to be a source of stress to either of us. She doesn’t do laundry. Or ironing. Another post for another day that one. It’s fine, it’s my choice to do it for us both. Even with a forgotten sewing task that I had to complete I still managed to go to bed by 01:30, not bad for a day with so much in it.

I was up early to make coffee and do my part in the dance that is our morning routine. We made it to the airport, only incident was an arsehole taxi driver not wanting to let me switch lanes at the airport. I drive there all the time, it’s not really a big deal for me. I’ve driven in cities and motorways a lot and am mostly fine with it all. I don’t love country driving so much, that’s why the glitch at the end of the journey yesterday wasn’t ideal. The taxi thing wasn’t that significant but my anxiety was made MUCH worse by OH shouting at him from the passenger seat. I’ve asked her not to do that before, yet in the moment she can’t help herself. I lost it once and told her “you can have the road rage when you’re doing the driving” which I don’t think she appreciated but I kind of think it’s true. I hate confrontation above all else and am not an aggressive or score settling kind of a driver so don’t want to have to deal with the fall out of passenger rage.

I try not to think too much about OH going away. I didn’t used to mind so much, we both used to travel a lot for work and we enjoyed aspects of it. However, the anxiety that I live with right now and the awful things that just keep on happening are hard to balance and I have to almost not believe in bad things whilst she’s away otherwise I’d just curl up and cry until she (hopefully) returned. This is where the time of the month makes all the difference. I’m just at the end of my period. My hormones are at their most stable now. I have a week, maybe two before they begin to spike and jump around again. Had this trip been happening last week I can almost guarantee that the corner spot behind the sofa would have had me in it. With cats on.

Once I got back I knew I had to prepare for a meeting. I had coffee, realised I wouldn’t be eating until I got back and got myself ready. I could either prepare my meeting notes or get showered and dressed, I didn’t have cognitive function to do both. I wanted to postpone, to say I wasn’t ready. But I took a deep breath, reminded myself that most people show up unprepared and that my idea of prepared is not likely shared by the person I had to meet. Half the battle is just showing up. Genuinely. I showed up. Not even late, which I was surprised at, the signs hadn’t been good on that. After an hour of pretty full on stuff I headed for home. My mind was spinning with the past hour’s words, noises, smells,  all being sorted, filtered and filed as my brain replayed and replayed.

Once home I remembered that I’d not heard back from the self referral I’d done online to be seen again by the local mental health services type people. I had some CBT(ish) earlier this year that has I think helped a lot with how I am dealing with these things. Being analytical is one of my goals. Another is remembering to eat. My challenges are varied and some are pretty basic. Stress and anxiety are not good for the appetite. I’m not good with food most of the time. My ability to eat healthily and regularly is pretty indicative of my control on my anxiety and wider health. I have been on a sort of ‘therapeutic break’. Time to put into action the things that I’ve been working on. See how I do on my own. I wasn’t keen but I can’t say I’ve missed trekking to the next town in rush hour traffic each week (when I started I was working, so pushed for the earliest appointment I could get as I had to commute for 1.5 hours to get to the office after each session. Not fun). My therapist isn’t there any more but that’s ok, she told me and we planned that I could see a guy there she recommended. He works with other autistic people and she said he’s funny and listens well which are important traits to me. I can’t quite remember when I did the self referral online and can’t be bothered to get my notebook to check but I didn’t hear anything last week and I’m pretty sure it must have been at least a week ago, if not two. I was annoyed because my CBT lady had reassured me that what had happened with my initial referral (sent for initial awful face to face assessment, lost off system, I called to find out what happened months after, sent for second initial face to face assessment, then eventually got to see a therapist) couldn’t happen again, that they were short staffed and the systems were not ideal but both things had been invested in and that I should be able to see him within a week or two of asking to. So today when I called (which I had been trying to avoid) I wasn’t best pleased to hear that I was to go to another triage assessment thing. I tried to stay calm. I explained the situation as best I could. I swallowed my frustration. Not entirely, but most of it. The self referral hadn’t been acted on because they were short staffed and way behind. Just like last time. Eventually the girl on the end of the phone read the notes my last therapist had written and said it was clear and that she would get the person I need to see to be in touch with an appointment. I was bold and asked if they could email me rather than call, to reduce anxiety. That was fine, which I was pleased about. Then I had a flash of brilliance, a rare thing. I asked her to tell the team who are doing the online self referrals to not contact me as I’ll get very confused (and very angry) if they try to call and tell me to go to yet another uneccessary face to face assessment. That was also fine, which I was really pleased about.

That’s a fair amount for me to have done before 11am. I was out of spoons. After a few hours staring into the middle distance (processing the meeting and the phone call), hugging cats and frittering around online I eventually decided that sleep was required. I went for a nap this afternoon and woke up this evening. I’ve had 6 hours sleep, a normal ‘night’ worth and now I’m awake. I spoke to OH, she’s fine and going to sleep. I hate napping normally, waking up is hard and takes time so I don’t like to do it more often than I need to. I’d rather endure tired. But because I’d slept 6 hours it felt like I was waking up on a normal morning. Except it was 9pm.

I’m up, I had tea and toast. I watched some friends and checked email. After a couple of hours I got up and did the dishwasher, unloaded, loaded, put salt in. As I was doing it I looked at my watch to see how quiet I needed to be and it was 12. It seems my routine works whichever end of the day I start it. I’m sat down for a bit now, writing this in no particular sequence and with little finesse but my brain is all jumbly and I thought the writing of things might help. I realised as I was doing the dishwasher that I felt happy. Which struck me as odd because loading the dishwasher at midnight isn’t a typical ‘happy’ scene. Analytically though, it makes some sense. I’m home alone. Apart from the anxiety about OH travelling I LOVE being home alone. I don’t have to talk, negotiate, compromise. I am not waiting to jump when my phone bleeps to get in the car and drive to the station. I also have nowhere to be tomorrow. No appointments. A free unfettered day. It’s the middle of the night. For the next few hours the doorbell is unlikely to go. I don’t have to listen to the comings and goings of people outside. Even next door’s dogs are asleep. Peace.

I have plenty to do, heaps of stuff. Some of it much bigger and scarier than what I did today. I think the feeling of happy means that what I’m working on and planning is the right thing to do. I hope it is. If my plans come off I’ll be doing more of this. Living life my way. Being happy.

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Happiness. An Analysis.

Peace

I live close to an airport. It was here before I moved in. I knew that it was there. Aeroplanes fly overhead for a good amount of the day. The other local residents discuss frequently on the village chat group the breaches that are made to the flight and noise rules, yet nothing changes. Our MP campaigns, yet still nothing changes. A few extra flights in the night or early in the morning don’t bother me too much. I usually don’t notice. I’ve lived near to airports for a good amount of my life. Further away than this when I was younger, closer than this in other places. The regularity of plane noise and the tone of the engines doesn’t impact my life most of the time. My brain knows the rhythm and for the most part tunes it out. Sometimes belongings rattle on the shelves, when a large freight plane passes close by. Sometimes I have to pause the TV to wait for a particularly loud flight to pass so that I can hear again. Even these things don’t cause enough of an issue for me to mind. I used to be woken up at 3am by the brothel down the road kicking out. Car engines ticking over outside and drunk, spent (in every sense) punters spilling out to fill the waiting taxis. That drove me round the bend. A few planes are neither here nor there.

Living here has a lot of benefits. It’s a lovely place. Lovelier than the last place I lived, which was in turn, lovelier than the place before that. It’s not perfect but where is? When I was working it was ideal, the transport links and proximity to my job was why we picked here. How things change.

One of the other huge benefits of this lovely place to live is the lovely garden that it has. It’s not huge, but it’s bigger than the balcony we used to have and we’ve spent a lot of time and effort and not a small amount of money making it a lovely place to be. We being me and the wife. I refer to her as OH on twitter, as it’s a conveniently understood acronym. I don’t consider her *my* other half though, she’s the other half of our family. We have cats, no children. I consider us very much a family though. Anyway. The garden is OH’s passion, she loves to think about what to plant, to plan, to go through the seed and bulb catalogues. She loves Chelsea and Wisley and Hampton Court. She’s definitely the brains of the operation. I wouldn’t know where to start with any of that. What I can do is keep things alive, for the most part. I trained as a scientist. I have an aptitude for tissue culture. Gardening’s very similar. Using knowledge of nature & biology & chemistry to figure out how to make things grow. Optimism and persistence essential. I’m not saying I’m ace at every thing, not at all. I’m yet to figure out the perfect slug defences. I haven’t taken a lavender cutting that hasn’t died. But I’ll keep trying. Me and the wife have put a lot of hours into our garden. In part because we enjoy it (or at least I’m told I do). Mostly I do. In part because it’s good to be active, it’s a good activity for mental health and it’s a good antidote to the outside world. We both found peace there. Mine was when I could be out there alone early in the morning or in the middle of the night (snail hunting).

Recently some new neighbours moved into the other half of our semidetached building. Their patio garden is adjoined to our garden. It’s separated by a fairly low trellis topped fence, chosen by the previous owner with my OH. I was hoping for something taller but she was worried that it’d block light from their admittedly small patio. So now they’ve moved out, new neighbours and their three dogs have moved in. The dogs are cocker spaniels, three of them. The first time the lady spoke to me she apologised for their barking. I said it’s ok, they just moved in, they need to get used to the noises here I expect. I hoped that was true. It’s been a month now. The dogs are still as loud as ever. They spend time shut on the patio when the neighbours are out. Even from in the house when they bark it is like they are in our house. It’s so loud. The noise goes right through my brain, stealing my train of thought or concentration and leaving me distracted and frustrated and confused. It’s happening constantly. When OH is out and my anxiety allows I wear headphones and play music to block it out.

This morning I went out early to water the sad dry plants and take out the trash. I hoped they’d still be asleep and maybe I’d be able to get on in peace. I was unlucky. The kitchen window was wide open, all the better to allow the dog barks to escape. I steeled myself, swallowed my anxiety and got on with my tasks. Instead of feeling calm and peace I felt irritated and intruded upon. As I went to get the hose for the watering the dogs heard me and started to bark. They continued to bark as I watered. It was awful. I couldn’t concentrate. I didn’t want to be out there. It didn’t feel like my space any more. The owners of the dogs have spoiled it.

Peace

Planning

I hate making excuses. I was brought up to push through, just do it, stop whining, who do you think you are young lady? I was taught that if you commit you do. To fail to turn up is to fail. Not a team player. Unreliable. Flaky. Capacity, kindness to self and realism about what could be achieved given resources available were not up for discussion.

Today I was supposed to be having a meeting with the Disability Advisor at the Job Centre plus. I’m feeling the fear that after taking 7 months to decide that I’m eligible for ESA the DWP have in their wisdom assigned me to the work related activity group. This means in 5 months I must be reassessed to establish if I will qualify for income related ESA, the only thing that may be available once my initial year’s contribution based ESA runs out. It’s complex. I’ve had to become very familiar with a lot of DWP procedure over the last few months, after trying desperately and futilely to avoid needing to be in touch with them at all. I refused to claim benefits for months, convinced I would be able to find some work I could tolerate and manage to do despite my physical and other challenges after I left my last job in a cloud of ‘not coping’. Another story for another day that one. The prospect of going through that atrocious assessment process again is not one I care to consider. The reality is that I probably won’t get anything anyway, as my partner works and earns what in their eyes is a decent salary. No matter that after she pays for travel and our mortgage we are not well off at all. I realise that a mortgage is a luxury but when we got it I was working too, in a good job with a good salary. We didn’t expect that to change, although we did take a cautious mortgage knowing that if one of us lost our job for any reason we’d still be alright for a bit if we lived quietly. We’re living that reality now. It’s not brilliant but we’re just about managing. So to maintain our current existence come November I need to be independently bringing in at least as much money as I currently get in ESA, ideally a little more. I need to do so in a way that can be managed around my health variabilities, giving me freedom and flexibility to work when I’m well enough and do what I can when I’m not without the world falling in and my stress levels becoming unmanageable. I think I have an idea of how I can achieve that. I’ve been pondering and planning for months, pursued some other avenues that for various reasons weren’t right but I think this time it is right and this is the one. I don’t know if my 5 month deadline has helped concentrate my mind on that. If so, way to go Tories. Cheers for that. Feeling the fear by way of support. It’s a tactic, not sure it’d be my first choice, but still. They make it a more appealing prospect than being involved with the DWP, which is, I suppose, the point.

I procrastinated my way around doing the actual research and proper planning I need to do, I have accomplished other things instead, despite feeling really very horrible. That’s sort of an achievement in itself, pacing requires that I do things everyday, so I did. It wasn’t lovely but I survived. My talent for circumlocution is astounding. I was getting around to the fact that I just had to write an email to the DA to say I wouldn’t be in to see him today. I was honest and admitted I haven’t done the plan and that I probably wouldn’t have it by this afternoon but that I would send it as soon as I’d finished it. That took courage. I wanted to lie and say it was well underway and I was just doing the final tweaks. To save face. To not admit I’d been procrastinating. The familiar excuses of a lifetime of coping. I’m deliberately trying to do things differently, as I can’t live like that. It makes me too ill. Too stressed. Too fraught. I didn’t want to write that email. It would have been easier to put something together and show up, talk about it. But that’s not possible for me today, so I chose a plan that still gets the work done but frees me from deadlines or the stress of anticipating a phone call later on. Small steps but managing things differently is what I hope will make the difference in how much I’m able to accomplish. I have things to do!

So. Coffee. Spreadsheets. Planning. Facing up to the reality that is the future. Making it better.

Planning

Routine

I didn’t think I had much of a routine to speak of. Two coffees in the morning, a poo if I’m lucky, half a dozen or more if I’m not or none if the day is really miserable. Bowel conditions, yay. My partner works different days and hours each week so there’s no normal ‘get up’ time, although she does try to keep things as similar as she can within the realms of business needs (which means mostly she has to do what needs doing, including staying late, going in on days off and generally being available by phone and email a good amount of the time. Oh, and whatsapp. I loathe that application).

Last week she was off. I knew the week would be a challenge because normally I spend a good amount of time alone, or at least I have done in recent months since I’ve not been working. It’s very odd not being overloaded from that all the time. I still get overloaded, more than I expected or would like, but I’m working on it. At least this is different. Not quite as unbearable. Anyway. Last week was incredibly full on. I had hoped to find a day to get stuck into a project that I have promised to deliver and is weeks late. It’s for my sister so she’s understanding, yet I’d still like to get it done. I didn’t manage that, or anything else much that I normally do. Which brought home to me how the routine I didn’t think I had has turned out to actually exist.

I saw a CBT therapist last year for a few months. Initially I was sent to a group stress training class thing, where the scraping of chairs and crying baby left me shaking and unable to function. I didn’t complete the course. So I was referred for 1-1 help and I was lucky enough to meet the first therapist in my life who actually listened to me and didn’t try to tell me what I was thinking or feeling. I don’t have good history with therapists. My sis saw one when she was young, she was refusing to go to school. Mother and I had to go along with her to see a family therapist as they suspected her issues were being caused by something else within the family. We were duly briefed by Mother and taken along. Mother was at this time a highly functioning yet terrifying alcoholic. No one had dared challenge her on it, save my sis and me in a few moments of desperation. That didn’t go well. We were warned not to mention anything like that or social services would put us in a children’s home. Oh yes. Happy times. Anyway, upshot of family therapy was that sis deemed not to be the problem, Mother’s drinking couldn’t possibly exist because we were dressed in clean clothes and were obviously being fed. So the spotlight turned to me. I’d just come out as gay to Mother. She told the therapist. Therapist decided THAT was the problem and that family therapy had to stop until she’d helped me work through my confusion. Seriously. Not so many years ago but in attitude we have come on so far. I’m thankful for that. So I tried to have an open mind about new therapist but I was very anxious and not at all sure that this would be something that would actually help me. I was wrong. She was awesome. I don’t think she actually used all that much CBT, she said it was in there somehow but that she tailored her approach for me. I appreciated that a lot. She even did a survey of how other people would react to a situation I’d not handled well to gather evidence for me to assess for myself how normal my reaction was. It was brilliant. It worked. She helped me to begin to face up to all the things I wasn’t coping with, including eating and cooking and doing laundry, things I’d managed to keep on top of mostly in the recent past. We worked on overcoming the challenges and I suppose I built that into some kind of routine.

I don’t sleep that much, we have to be up early most days so it’s rare if I’m not up by 6am. This morning was 4.30. OH had an early start. I made coffee, made pasta for her packed lunch and dropped her at the station by 6am. Back home, a little gardening as it was nice and cool outside and the neighbours were still asleep. Then back in for coffee and a sit. Read the news. Check in on the twitterverse. Hug a cat. Or three. I may put laundry on but it’s not until 12 that I think about getting up and doing things. I’ve found I can spend about three hours, with breaks and judicious pacing doing things that must be done. Laundry, dishes, sweeping (I hate the vacuum cleaner and will avoid it at any costs), kitty-care. I try and keep on top of the basics and do more where I can so that in general things are a little cleaner or more organised each day, even if I feel like hell and would rather do nothing. Around 4 I start to get twitchy as I am waiting for my phone to go, to hear from OH that she’s finished at work and on her way home. Her journey is around an hour and a half so it gives me warning ahead of going to pick her up at the station. It took a lot of effort to get across that the advance warning means I’m more likely to be calm and ok to come collect her, often in rush hour traffic with a right turn that requires confidence, luck and a little generosity from the oncoming traffic. Perfectly do-able but I won’t if I’m not feeling alright about things in general. There was a point where she misunderstood my intent and thought I was trying to control what time she came home. I know and accept that she can’t make sure she’s on the same train every day, that’s way beyond her control and is just the nature of her job. I don’t much care what time she finishes, I actively encourage her going out for a drink or doing something with friends after work. All I ask for is an hour’s notice before I have to get in the car and go out. Eventually she understood that and our system works pretty well now. Once she’s home we figure out dinner if I didn’t plan something already (which I really am not very talented at) and generally wind down, hug a cat, watch some TV, try to go to bed at a decent time (not very successfully).

So that’s my routine. She’s back at work now, it’s early and I’m sat with a kitty on my lap typing my wordy-diarrhoea and contemplating making my second coffee. I have pretty fierce cramps and don’t feel fab but the comfort of knowing I just have to sit for a bit, do some admin and order some new sunglasses means I don’t mind too much. When 12 comes I’ll put laundry on, unload the dishwasher and get the broom out. Maybe I can start the thing for sis later. I have a lot to accomplish, more than usual this week but I hope that if I return to my routine I’ll be ok.

Routine

The ripple of discovery

When you throw a stone into still water and the ripples chase over the surface. A little more gently each time. Those ripples I love. They mesmerise me. I can watch water for hours.

Discovering that I am autistic has felt a little like watching that ripple. Except that someone I can’t see is throwing more stones into the water. The ripples are overlapping and it’s all getting muddled. My still water is now disturbed and I’m trying to urge it to settle again so I can see the surface clearly. I know. I don’t quite know what I’m describing either, but somehow it makes sense on some level, to me at least.

The ripples started when someone who has known me since secondary school and the only person that I am in (intermittent) contact with sent me a list of female Aspergers traits. “Have you seen this? I read it and it made me wonder…”

The ripples continued. I researched online. I couldn’t be. No way. I studied psychology. I know about stuff. I couldn’t have missed something that big! But I work, everything says that autistic people can’t work, so I can’t be. Eventually, the evidence mounted, my partner turned out to be more aware of my sensory sensitivities than I was and so I took myself off to the GP to ask for a referral.

That’s a tale for another post. Suffice to say that a year and a bit later I was in a room being told “Yes, you’ve got Aspergers. I don’t even need to add up the scores.”

I’m dealing with that. It was and still is a huge relief. I realised my late Dad was autistic too, had long conversations with my sister about it. She agreed and found some comfort in knowing it, as it explained our apparent closeness and how she felt like a bit of an outsider. He didn’t love her any less than he loved me. But we both inhabited a similar world. We both thought the same. Felt the same. My sis is cut from slightly different cloth. More like my Mother in many ways. Still wonderful, but different.

I’ve reflected on my wider family. I’m not in touch with any of them, just my Sis and my Mother. Mother is one of five children so I have a lot of people to consider. My Grandad was an engineer. He was a quiet man, set in his routines. He couldn’t bear noise, my Nan never knitted when he was in the house. He had a garage, his haven. It was set up as a workshop, full of treasures, smelt of oil and metal and engines and love. He would show me how to use his lathe if I was good. I turned wood and metal with him. It was heaven. Other times he would sit me on the floor with a big box of mixed washers, screws, nuts and bolts and I would be tasked to sort them into the appropriate tiny neatly labelled drawer. That he’d built himself. I was fast and accurate, could do it happily for hours. Or I’d be given emery cloth and a tarnished sheet of brass to polish. Oh, I loved that. The sense of accomplishment at working slowly across the surface, revealing the beautiful brass underneath. I could go on. But suffice to say, he was a man with strong special interests, he wrote letters contesting parking tickets for anyone who asked him, just for the fun of it. He was pretty successful. I think he may have had more than a few traits. I see them elsewhere in the family. I thought I understood. Until this week.

I knew my Mother wasn’t typical. She’s just not. In any sense of the word. Her life has been challenging, for a variety of reasons. Consequently, my life was pretty challenging too. Despite that, after being out of touch for a few years because I just couldn’t deal with what she was asking from me we are now in limited contact. As much as I can handle. With boundaries. That’s a huge thing for me, it took the help of the therapist I saw last year to learn that it’s ok to say ‘no’ to things that I don’t have the capacity for. In fact I *must* do that or my mental health will suffer. Not easy for a life long people pleaser to accept.

I was talking to Mother this week. Trying to steer clear of politics (guaranteed argument) we somehow ended up talking about autism. Mother is a person of strong opinions who is inclined to argue. I don’t argue any more if I can help it, so I generally shut up even when she’s being outrageously offensive. It’s the price of being in contact with her. Accepting that I can’t change her. I can choose to challenge her at times but if I choose to have the relationship it is with a person with very different politics and views than I have. Her church is just one example. They are not in favour of people being gay. She goes to church. Both her children are gay. I find that hard to process but it doesn’t seem to trouble her. So the comment she made about autism was

“Well, it does seem easier for *them* because *they* just don’t feel anything.”

I was flabbergasted. Firstly, *them*?! I suspected she wasn’t keen to acknowledge my diagnosis, here was my proof. Secondly, ‘they don’t feel anything.’. I don’t even need to explain that I’m sure. If you’re in any doubt google autism and hyperempathy and have a read. I didn’t know what to say. I knew I couldn’t let that one go. I also knew that a direct challenge would only inflame and make her more obstinately offensive. I decided to try something different. I continued to talk about autism. I talked about my diagnosis, how it’s helped me realise that I’m ok as I am and that I can do things to make life better now that I know what’s actually going on. I talked about the amazing online community of people, being kind and generous and funny and helpful all  over the place. I talked about the history of autism, how it was only recently introduced as a diagnosis and that even if I had seen someone when I was young that they wouldn’t have recognised it anyway because I’m a girl. She listened. I was impressed. I talked about how participating in research recently helped me realise that noise really bothers me and reduces my cognitive capacity and so I’d bought myself some big headphones and found myself dancing as I chose groceries in the supermarket early the other morning. She laughed and then said “I find the noise in the supermarket awful too.”

I stopped. Stopped breathing, listening, everything. I had one of those light bulb type moments. How could I not have seen it?! How could I have missed THAT?

My Mother is probably autistic too.

She started to talk. She talked about her early life. Breakdowns. Struggles with talking (mute for years) and eye contact. Getting into abusive relationships. The constant fear of being locked up, taken away, deprived of freedom. The threat of sectioning and ECT that had also hung over my Dad’s life like a dark looming cloud. How she battled to overcome her challenges, forced herself into a social job and plunged into new adventures for the hell of it whatever the consequences. How it fell apart. Time and time again. I began to see her life differently.

I haven’t spoken to her since. I did send her a link to Sarah Hendrickx’s brilliant article in Standard Issue (http://standardissuemagazine.com/voices/see-not-get-life-female-autistic/) last night by text. She texted back

“I just read it, she was talking bout ME!!! 😀 x x x x”

When I woke up this morning I thought of the Oscar Wilde quote.

Children begin by loving their parents; after a time the judge them; rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.

I had nothing to forgive my Dad for. He was magnificent just as he was. My Mother on the other hand, I do forgive. I hope that this helps her to be happier in the same way it’s helped me.

The ripple of discovery