Feminist Aspie

Where I’ve Been: A long whine about my brain

Long time, no see! Again. I’m sorry for disappearing off the face of the metaphorical planet. Again. This post will basically consist of me whining about my brain. Again. Having said that, I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite a while now, and with my blogversary this Tuesday and no sign that I’ll magically be really motivated and Good At This again any time soon, I suppose there’s no time like the present! Basically, I want to try and explain from scratch some mental-health-ish problems I’ve been having, as if explaining them to my parents, because that’s my eventual aim before I leave home again next week; I struggle with finding the right words verbally at the best of times and as you can probably imagine this is a particularly hard topic to find words for, so I’m hoping that even though they’ll probably never see this post, it will help to structure everything in my own head. This is also difficult, so I’ve ended up with a really long, quite whiny post, so I apologise for that; I also wanted to offer an explanation for my constant disappearances, so I guess I’m reaching out to people here too.

When I’ve spoken to friends, I’ve called it “brainbug” just because I don’t have any more concrete terms, so it’s worth noting at this point that despite that word, I haven’t totally ruled out the possibility that it’s not a “bug” at all but rather autistic burnout or something else along autism-related lines (that’s also why I’ve used the tags I’ve used). I usually lean towards the idea that it’s something else, though, mainly because unlike autism, I see it as a Bad Horrible Thing that I’d gladly get rid of in a heartbeat. I’ve spent a while tonight planning out this post, and I think I’ve managed to split the brainbug into three main sections, although they’re all quite interlinked:


1.) The anxiety stuff. In many ways seems to be part-and-parcel of life on the spectrum. Sensory issues are a thing. Personally, I panic in crowds, I don’t handle lots of loud conflicting noises well, and the reason I couldn’t sleep on Christmas Eve was less to do with excitement of the next day and more to do with the jumpers we were all going to wear (this seems really silly to me in hindsight, because those things were actually SO comfy!). To an extent, this is not new. Yet it’s increasing, slowly but steadily over time – my anxiety and fear around this stuff has gone through the roof, even though my actual tolerance hasn’t decreased to match.

Having said that, a large portion of my issues under the “anxiety” section aren’t really to do with sensory overload at all, but are more social; I don’t know, talking to people just seems to be harder now than it was before starting university, especially when I think back to how loud, enthusiastic and at times too-brutally-honest I was when I was younger. This may or may not be due to point 2. What really scares me is that I’ve recently realised I’ve sort of accepted terrified!Me as the new, well, me – the new normal. Sometimes I make it into a running joke, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but I worry that I’m falling into the trap of pretending everything is okay when that’s not always the case.

2.) The huge sense of inadequacy. This has also gradually become my “normal”; I’ve noticed this alongside point 1, but in hindsight it may have been around in some more subtle form since, let’s say, secondary school. At the heart is a truckload of internalised ableism I somehow still haven’t managed to shift. Everyone else can cope with this, feels at ease with that, enjoys this, doesn’t enjoy that, and definitely doesn’t do those things, so why are you so weird?! Rationally, I know this isn’t fair, but at the same time, I worry incessantly about what everyone else must think of me and, sadly, that IS the way a lot of people think.

At the same time, I always feel like I’m just not cut out to be an adult (she says, at 20 years old) because the others at uni seem to find all the basic adult-ing stuff so easy and can deal with that and their studies and their much bigger social lives and their societies and their sports and their applications and all the other people are all doing so much more than me, and this is much harder to just fight away with logic because usually it’s actually true. Thinking about it tonight, a lot of this is probably fuelled by point 3.

In either case, this often leads to huge negative thought spirals. Huge spirals, and hugely negative. It’s really not healthy, and probably exacerbates point 3.

3.) The near-total lack of spare brain-energy. Again, that’s a term I’ve made up for lack of anything better – I’m not entirely sure how broadly the spoon theory can be applied and I don’t want to appropriate it from people with chronic illnesses, but think of it as an at least vaguely accurate analogy. As I said above, everyone else seems to be able to handle so much all at once, not just in terms of work/serious stuff but also things like starting new hobbies and even keeping up with loads of different TV shows and film. In contrast, I don’t seem to be able to juggle all the balls at once, and if I actively try and pick something up again, it’s at the expense of something else… and this is the part where regular readers may wonder how I hadn’t managed to notice this until recently! This is the main underlying reason why the blog keeps disappearing. The other thing I’ve been neglecting long-term is my guitar; I suppose it doesn’t help that I’m not at home very often anyway, but even when I am, it’s something I always seem to put off for no real reason other than lack of brain-energy.

In the last month or so, though, I’ve realised that during my first term abroad I’ve inadvertently “dropped” every non-essential, not-strictly-scheduled, not-time-sensitive thing, up to and including my Netflix catch-up plans even though watching TV theoretically requires virtually zero effort. I do work on time because there are deadlines. I go out with friends because we’ve set a time for it. I Skype home because I do that on two specific evenings a week. I used to blog every Wednesday afternoon but one week while I was writing, plans were changed and it really set off point 2, and this is the first time I’ve blogged since that day just because the routine was thrown off track once. I do laundry roughly every week because it needs to be done or I won’t have anything to wear. I buy food and cook it and eat it because it is literally necessary for survival, and I’m really not very good at it, but at least I am actually doing this now; there were a couple of weeks this term where even that seemed impossible, and I think it’s only since inadvertently-dropping-everything that I’ve at least felt stable again in the literally-basic-self-care department.

What I’m not doing is blogging regularly or even following the Twitter feed. Or filling in and sending off endless applications for internships – I’ve done two (one rejected, one pending) and would like to get a third done, but I’m leaving it a bit late, and I have exams next month. Or doing anything else about the fact that I have absolutely no idea what I actually want to do with my life and should probably sort that out so I can start gaining all the necessary experience. Or learning to cook more different things. Or learning other useful and/or necessary adulting stuff. Or watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer – it sounds like a silly thing to think about, but I started way back in August, am really enjoying it, and don’t understand why I can’t motivate myself to watch one episode every so often when a lot of other students can manage entire seasons in a matter of days. Even my plans to re-watch all of new Doctor Who in French slowed to a stop towards the end of series 1, and come on, that’s Doctor Who, no motivation problems there. And for what? I have less work this year than I’ve had for the last two years. I haven’t managed to get into any extra-curricular activities like those I’d been doing at my UK university. And at home, all of that goes away anyway. I don’t know where the time, or the brain-energy, is going. Putting all this together, I guess I’m concerned. It makes me feel like I can’t possibly handle being an a “proper adult” which is a huge factor behind point 2.


In the last few months – since the summer, let’s say – all this has had some other effects. I’m not really sure how to word this, but emotionally, things seem to be coming to a head much more often. This time last year, I’d say I only cried during a meltdown or (for some reason) if close family members were arguing. These days, crying sometimes happens just on my own in my room (so without any meltdown-inducing sensory input), often when talking to friends online about the brainbug, but occasionally also as a direct result of not being able to Just Deal With Things like everyone around me. It’s definitely not an autistic meltdown, because I recover pretty easily and usually feel better afterwards. I’m not even sure it’s a bad thing to be expressing emotions more often; it’s just another difference I’ve observed. In addition, thanks to my year abroad I’ve made quite a few new friends, and it’s made me think about how much I pass as neurotypical – basically, I definitely used to, but now I don’t think I do. This is absolutely definitely not a bad thing, and in some ways makes things easier, although it does fuel point 2. It does concern me that verbal communication (by which I mean “actually saying what I want to say, rather than saying something else or just dropping it”) is so much harder these days, or at least more inconsistent.

I’m not consistent – and it really makes me doubt myself. Sometimes I’m okay. I don’t mean putting-on-a-mask okay, I don’t mean pretending to be okay, I mean genuinely, really okay. And even when I’m not, sometimes I can be okay for a little while; I think I’ve spent my first term in France mainly in the “not okay” zone, and yet I’ve had so many great times, amazing experiences and memories, literally doing a year abroad, making new friends, seeing the sights, going to events, and I even successfully asked for an actual literal date for the first time. How can I do all that and have such a great time and also have all this bad head stuff going on? It doesn’t help that, as you would imagine, I often don’t want to talk about the bad stuff or find it too difficult, but will happily talk sincerely and enthusiastically about the good stuff, creating an “everything’s perfect!” mask that now looks impossible to undo. Also, so many well-meaning friends have said “we all feel like this” to comfort me and/or attempt to tackle point 2 – being students, we’re all getting our first tastes of adulthood, and there’s a whole group of us facing the same challenges of the year abroad. This makes me wonder if all of the above is actually totally normal and I’m just completely failing to cope… as in point 2. Oops.

This has been going on in various forms for about 18 months – although I’m not sure exactly – but I feel like this is the first term where it’s actually beginning to interfere with my studies and other career-stuff, as well as of course hugely interfering with my participation in feminist/social justice activism even online, which is hugely important to me, and I’m really sorry I keep abandoning the blog. It’s not for lack of trying. I’ve taken a few steps mainly to deal with the anxiety, but that’s for another post (specifically the one that’s been sitting half-finished in my drafts for a month) and, whilst very helpful for calming me down, I feel like it’s doing little to actually resolve the admittedly rather vague “problem”.

At the end of every term for the past year, I think “right, when I finish this term I seriously need to talk to people at home about this” and yet I’ve never actually done it. It’s a problem with finding words, but also with timing. There is no standard acceptable time to casually bring up that yes, uni is fantastic and I don’t regret a second of it, but also my brain hates me now and I’m quite concerned. But at the same time, at some point very soon I guess I’m going to have to bite the bullet.

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The S Word, Tip Of The Iceberg

Yesterday afternoon, someone complimented me on my necklace. “Sorry!” I blurted out. After a few moments on the receiving end of her confused look, I amended my response to “Um, thanks!” I spent the rest of the day wondering why the heck I’d done that.

– – – – –

I walk mainly on my toes. I’m pretty sure I spent the first, say, ten years of my life blissfully unaware of this fact. At some point during the Asperger’s diagnosis, it was pointed out to me, or at least I read it somewhere, and then I probably went back to whichever Pokemon game was out at the time. It wasn’t until secondary school that it became a big deal. Somebody must have noticed, and somebody must have decided that it was worth obsessing over and making fun of. Having realised this, well-meaning family and friends thought the best way to resolve the problem was to magically make my tiptoes go away; however, without any actual magic powers, this could only be done through shouting “Feet!” at me every so often, and even then only for a few seconds. It didn’t occur to anyone that my problems weren’t caused by toes that hadn’t ever bothered me before, but by the people giving me hell for it. Or by other things, the loneliness, the meltdowns that then still occurred frequently, the sensory issues I didn’t know were even a thing because autism is still largely defined only from the perspective of a neurotypical outsider. All that, and everyone was interested in my foot position.

– – – – – 

Twice yesterday, I ran into the same person at the same part of the hallway where I live. On both occasions, the dialogue was the same. I saw her, jumped a little, said “Sorry!”, held the door open, and she said “Thank you”.

– – – – – 

I still walk mainly on my toes. Nothing’s changed, except now, the people I meet couldn’t care less. Apparently nobody even notices until I mention it myself. Its only impact on my life, other than never having to wear heels, was to teach me that people tend to only care about the tip of the iceberg. The bits they can see. They’d like to not see it because it’s weird and makes them uncomfortable. The rest, they already can’t see, and that’s fine by them.

– – – – – 

In between lectures this morning, I passed someone I know. He said “Hi [name redacted]!” or something along those lines. I replied with “Oh, um, sorry! Hi! Sorry!” I thought back to yesterday, in the hallway, and realised that the word I was looking for was “Hello”.

– – – – –

I’m sure I didn’t apologise too much before uni. At least, I’d never noticed it, until other people started pointing it out. Even then, I was just apologising for things that weren’t my fault, sliding “sorry to be a pain” into requests, things like that. Usually, people were laughing with me rather than at me. On its own, this didn’t bother me. What bothered me was that the growth of the S word, or at least the growth of the pointing out of the S word, coincided with a growing fear. I couldn’t put my finger on it then and I still can’t now, but I’m hurtling towards adulthood with absolutely no idea what I’m doing with my life and most of my friends graduating before me and executive function all over the place and generally not being able to take another second by the end of term, and it was scary to think about. At some point, I conflated the two things.

– – – – –

I was waiting for the microwave to finish this evening when someone else came into the kitchen, got some salt from the shelf, then left. The one thing I said to her was “sorry”. I wasn’t in the way. She’d just arrived.

– – – – –

Things have… developed since first year. The summer wasn’t great, for various external reasons I don’t need to go into. Last term obviously had its highlights, but generally was all kinds of horrible, and again, I can’t quite articulate why. On the plus side, this term’s going much better so far, although it’s far too early to tell if this will last. Meanwhile, resurfacing to the tip of the iceberg, the S word is now my general response to anything that happens. I’m not actually sorry at all, it’s just the noise I make. Like the tiptoe thing, it’s inspired many well-meaning people to “help” by shouting “STOP APOLOGISING!” and wrongly believing that actually makes a difference. Unlike the tiptoe thing, I think it would be inaccurate to call this a stim; it’s more of a practically involuntary back-up sound effect for when there’s too much going on to make actual words with meaning happen “properly” which, apparently, is most of the time these days. Also unlike the tiptoe thing, I’d also like to make it go away.

NOT because it’s weird and wrong and embarrassing and everyone’s going to laugh at you if you keep doing that, but because it’s getting in the way of my ability to string a sentence together. There’s a huge difference. Oh, and that it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

– – – – –

Tonight I was at a discussion-based meeting. Fitting enough chairs in a circle around the room was, well, interesting. I curled up a little. “Sorry.” “It’s… fine…” “…Yeah, sorry.”

– – – – –

I think it’s probably, for want of a better word, a symptom of whatever-the-heck-my-head-is-doing, the best explanation for which so far seems to be “demand > current coping mechanisms” which apparently isn’t uncommon amongst people on the spectrum. So it’s not a case of “have you tried speech therapy?” or “there’s no point feeling bad about it” or, my personal favourite, “STOP IT!”. It’s about sorting out the underlying stuff, and I don’t even know where to start with all that. Anything else is just a tiny inadequate sticking plaster.

– – – – –

Fitting the chairs *back* into a circle was basically impossible. Thirty seconds of freaking out later, it was sorted, I sat down, I rocked a little, I started waving my feet in front of me, like swimming, I guess. Not sure what it with me and stimming and feet, but there you go. “I like your shoes!”, someone said. Inevitably, “Sorry!!!” followed. But not before I instinctively hid away my legs back under the chair, back upright, apologising for that weird embarrassing not-normal thing.

Immediately I wondered why. I mean, he’s not exactly going to be horrible about my stimming; he’s autistic too.

I’d already chosen to blog about this tonight, but that was when everything clicked into place.

I’ve gotten too used to hiding as much as possible for as long as possible, to the point that I do so even when people don’t require it from me. Because the tip of the iceberg is weird and silly and pointless enough as it is.

And now, even if someone were to ask about what’s beneath the surface, I couldn’t talk about it. Even when I blog about it, I can’t find the right words and I settle for “close enough”. People want to see me as a person, so I shouldn’t talk about these things.

Only what they can see.

So now all I’ve got to describe it is “Well, I keep apologising for no reason.” And that doesn’t cover it at all.

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Boundaries

(Content warning: Rape culture, harassment)

I spent all morning thinking about how to write this post in a way that didn’t feel uncomfortably personal and detailed. Instead, I’ll say this.

Life isn’t actually a romantic movie. Repeatedly pursuing someone is scary and intimidating and generally not okay.

No means no. Obviously. Also, consent isn’t like one of those puzzle games where you have to move blocks to free some sort of trapped item. “No” does not mean “ask me why”, especially if you’re going to decide that whatever they answered isn’t really a problem anyway. “That’s fine, it’s fine, come on, I love you, come onnnn.” Incidentally, “no” also does not mean “how about now? how about now? how about now?”

Oh, and “no” isn’t just about sex. Consent can be given, or not given, for all sorts of things. Boundaries need to be respected.

Yes, sometimes we pesky mysterious women have these weird things called “feelings” and “opinions” which – shock horror – can cause us to not absolutely comply with what you want. This doesn’t automatically mean it’s all going to blow over and I’m going to change my mind. It also doesn’t mean I’m on my period, but even if I am, that still doesn’t mean it’s all going to blow over and I’m going to change my mind.

Silence is not a “yes”. Freezing up out of fear is not a “yes”. Physically pushing you away is not ambiguous at all.

Break-ups are difficult enough. Trying to leave someone who won’t take “no” for an answer is terrifying. Having someone break their own rules about not contacting you during the “break” they’ve insisted on first is, well, disconcerting.

Insisting you’ll change and you’re a different person isn’t going to work. Repeated incessant attempts to “re-obtain” the, erm, actual human being is probably going to push them away further. Because, well, they’re an actual human being.

This should really go without saying, but repeated Facebook messages, letters, and unexpected visits to someone who’s expressly asked for space is really creepy.

If someone’s blocked you on Facebook after all of this, that’s a pretty obvious way of saying “DON’T. CONTACT. ME.” This doesn’t mean “message me via Mum’s Facebook instead”. This doesn’t mean “show up as our first-foot on New Year’s Day so it’s too awkward to not let you in”. This doesn’t mean “set up a Twitter account and follow me there instead.” (N.B. Thankfully this was my personal Twitter, although I’m now massively scared that FeministAspie is next)

It’s little things, just little things, tiny little things that do nothing but remind me of why I had to get out.

No means no means no means no means no.

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The inevitable blogversary post: Oh, Where Do We Begin?

The 2012 Christmas period was the first time I’d been home since starting university that autumn, and the combination of suddenly leaving the uni “bubble” and all of the inevitable socialising and Christmas/New Year celebrations made me realise that, despite identifying as a feminist and noticing the constant presence of sexism (and many other oppressions) far more than I used to, I still had a really hard time actually standing up to it, calling it out, questioning it out loud rather than just quietly to myself. So, in an attempt to start doing something about that (and, if I’m honest, out of procrastination), I decided to start a blog. I’ve always felt far more comfortable behind a keyboard with space to think than in front of people who can’t un-listen to what I say even if I totally mess it up, so I guess using the internet to vent in a way I couldn’t in real life seemed like an obvious solution. What I wasn’t counting on was that I’d remember the blog for longer that about a month and, shock horror, actual people would, for some strange reason, start reading the thing. Essentially, even one year on, I still have absolutely no idea what I’m doing and I’m still a little bit scared.

I have learned so much from the people I follow and/or talk to on both Twitter and WordPress; I’m more aware of my own privileges, and I hope this means I’m less likely to mess up. If I do mess up, please let me know so I can do something about it! Following on from that point, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve asked questions that are none of my business, I’ve waded into arguments when I shouldn’t have done so, and for that I can only apologise.

On the plus side, slowly but surely, I’m getting better at pointing out sexism as and when I see it, which I suppose was the primary aim of setting up this blog (at least from a purely selfish point of view). This, amongst other things, has led to a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing with regard to my anonymity (or lack thereof) which I guess is massively confusing. To clear things up: Nobody (well, almost nobody) in my offline life knows that this blog exists and for the time being I’d like to keep it that way, but at the same time, I talk about myself and my life perhaps a little bit too much, so people who, for some strange reason, actually read this thing regularly will end up knowing quite a bit about my actual real-life self. It’s basically one-way anonymity, it’s probably not sustainable, and I wouldn’t recommend it, but here we are.

I also tend to go off on tangents quite a bit. Since about February, I’ve been blogging not only about feminism but also about autism and the neurodiversity movement; again, I’ve learned so much more about neurodiversity and ableism/disablism from people I’ve interacted with as FeministAspie, and I don’t consider this particular topic as “going off on a tangent” because I’ve grown to see FeministAspie as a dual-purpose blog (as the name suggests). Unfortunately for the people who, for some strange reason, actually read this thing, I’ve also spent a lot of time moaning about the weather, rambling about Doctor Who, offering/enforcing entirely imaginary cups of tea, rambling about Doctor Who, whining about my life, rambling about Doctor Who, and occasionally shoehorning Bastille into my posts for no good reason (this is the part where you look up at this post’s title, say “ohhhhhh”, and roll your eyes). Oh, and did I mention Doctor Who? Sorry about that. Another thing I’m sorry about is occasionally abandoning the blog and/or Twitter. I’m aware that I’m really not very good at this. I guess life sort of gets in the way sometimes.

Anyway, seeing as the blogversary coincides quite neatly with New Year, I’ve actually bothered to make resolutions (which I probably won’t stick to, sorry in advance) and two of them are actually relevant to the blog:

  1. Stop constantly incessantly comparing myself to others and thinking about how they see me, because as you may have noticed from recent posts, it’s really getting to me, and all that inadequacy stuff really can’t be healthy. Sorry, this resolution is the one that isn’t really about the blog. Next!
  2. ACTUALLY BLOG REGULARLY. Post about autism one week, then feminism the next week, and so on. I know I said I’d do this back in October and that didn’t last very long, but hopefully I can find a way to make it a routine.
  3. Write blog posts that are actually about feminism and autism (and other intersecting oppressions and related social justice) rather than just rambling about my life… I am aware that this contradicts this very post. Oops.

And finally, THANK YOU! Thank you for being the people who, for some strange reason, actually read this thing, and like and comment and share and whatever else. Thank you for putting up with the sporadic updates, the bad paragraphing, the going off on tangents, and that “temporary” profile picture I never got round to changing. But most importantly, thank you for teaching me so much about feminism, and intersectionality, and blogging, and everything in between. Thank you so, so much.

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Opening Up

I’ve never been very good at opening up. Well, to be honest, I have two extremes; there are a select few people to whom I whine incessantly about life, but with most people I stay very guarded. This explains the odd yo-yo-like status of this blog’s anonymity (or lack thereof). It also explains why I sometimes turn into a living breathing PR machine, sweeping the negative aspects of life under the carpet or skipping over them entirely when relaying stories to other people, regardless of whether or not the bad stuff is my own fault. I have no idea whether that’s an autism thing or not; it could be, although I certainly don’t think it’s limited to people on the spectrum. So, several weeks ago now, when I thought “When I get home from uni, I really need to tell my parents that perhaps I’ve been struggling just a tad more than I’ve been letting on”, it was a bit of an eye-opener to me as to just how big that “tad” was.

I’ve written a little bit about this before, way back in June when I first began to notice the problem, but it’s developed almost out of all recognition since then. It’s not just about social events, although that’s still a worsening issue; it’s sort of all-encompassing. I don’t really know how to explain it, but this term was defined by a general sense of NOPE TOO MUCH CAN’T COPE EXCUSE ME WHILE I HIDE IN THIS CORNER AND VAGUELY ATTEMPT BREATHING even when I was just in my room. Especially when I was just in my room. It’s still largely in the form of completely pointless fear, but towards the end of term there was a shift towards feeling totally drained, nothing left to give, whatever you want to call it. And I’m in two minds as to whether or not all this actually happens to most people and I’m just over-analysing as usual. Either way, I’ve also changed my mind about it being somehow separate from and/or in addition to Asperger’s because, I don’t know, the general “overwhelmed” feeling of it all seems pretty autistic to me (although again definitely not limited to autistic people), which is why I’m writing about it really. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t all been bad. As usual, I had some fantastic times this term. I know I still love uni really. I just couldn’t have taken another minute of it, is all.

Anyway, one particularly bad weekend, whilst perched in a corner in my room trying not to cry over some sort of laundry-based crisis (not that crying is a regular occurrence at all, I don’t know, it was a bad weekend), it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t kill me to actually talk to someone about this when I get home, because otherwise something has got to give. For the remainder of term, every so often I tried to formulate an explanation, almost rehearsing it, basing it mainly on specific incidents like the huge panic spiral on my first night back (quickly escalating from general justified worrying about work to feeling like I can hardly breathe because I didn’t know where to put my alarm clock or something). Except now I am home, and I have absolutely no idea where to start. There are a number of reasons for this.

  1. It’s probably nothing anyway. I over-think and I over-react. I don’t know, it’s what I do. Even writing this makes me feel like I’m just reversing the living-breathing-PR-machine thing by putting a negative spin on it all, and I do feel like I’m just using the blog to whine about my life because it saves having to get real-life people involved. Uni is stressful. Growing up is stressful. Life is stressful. Besides, being back home and not having just so much to think about feels so much better, so it’s probably just a natural part of growing up and becoming vaguely independent. Other people are just better at coping with it, and I make things worse through over-thinking.
  2. I just can’t quite find the words. I suppose asking for help requires an explanation of a.) the problem and b.) what you’d like the other person to do about it. At the moment, the first part of that is really difficult to articulate. I haven’t worried too much about my description for the purposes of this blog post, because mainly I want to focus on the opening-up issue, but I don’t think it’s quite accurate enough. Like I said, there are a handful of people at uni who must be sick of me whingeing at them by now, but even with them, the words I’ve used  just don’t quite seem to capture it.
  3. I don’t know what it’s going to solve. Not only is “the problem” seemingly impossible to describe properly, but “what you’d like the other person to do about it” isn’t even really a thing at all. It would just be an awkward conversation that goes nowhere.
  4. It’s awkward and difficult to admit that actually, I’ve been hiding something. I haven’t been outright lying (much), but I’ve definitely been omitting quite a lot of the truth and generally being a living breathing PR machine. It’s hard to go from that to “oh, by the way, things aren’t as fantastic as I’ve deliberately misled you to believe”, although actually I’m not sure it would surprise people much given my track record of, well, being a living breathing PR machine.
  5. There is literally no appropriate time to mention it. Over dinner? During an ad break? In the car? Really?
  6. Something else I can’t put my finger on. I don’t think it’s lack of trust. Or fear of judgement, apart from the whole over-reacting thing or because I’ve been economical with the truth for quite some time now. Maybe it’s to do with not wanting to worry people needlessly?

I’m still not entirely sure why I’m blogging about this, and I’m trying to justify it to myself by wondering whether or not it’s vaguely autism-related, so I’d love to know if anyone else on the spectrum does the whole living-breathing-PR-machine thing – or is that something everyone does? I have no idea. To be honest, mainly I’d just like to know how to stop being a living breathing PR machine and start actually sorting this out.

Hitting “Publish” is always so, so scary.

9 Comments »

Autistics Speaking Day 2013: You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party

For those of you who aren’t aware, 1st November is Autistics Speaking Day; it’s really worth heading over to that blog over the next few days for a wide range of social media posts to raise awareness and acceptance of autism, advocating the inclusion of autistic people in the ongoing conversation about us. So I thought I’d blog about something I’ve been thinking about for some time now; maybe I just notice this more because I’m at uni, but the entire culture of “proper” social occasions at the moment seems to be built around what’s actually a fairly narrow group of people.

Again, this might be more pronounced in a university environment, but “party” seems to basically mean “vaguely meet up at some point in some noisy overcrowded room, get drunk, and overwhelm all but the most extroverted/popular almost out of the group entirely”. Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong at all with that sort of thing in and of itself, I’m sure some autistic people really enjoy it, and to be honest I can find sometimes find some of it quite fun, on the right day, even if it’s basically just watching, but it seems like that’s all that there is. It just doesn’t occur to people that some of us can’t handle that much input, can’t filter out all that background noise and follow the conversation, can’t just magically know when and where to go like everyone else seems to be able to (hint: it’s not when and where the club ticket says it will be), and all sorts of other stuff I haven’t worked out how to articulate yet. Or, as I keep telling everyone, “I can’t people“. (People-ing is a verb in my vocabulary now, sorry about that.) It’s also worth noting that, at least to a certain extent, this isn’t necessarily a problem specific to those of us on the spectrum; I have several allistic/neurotypical friends who also seem to “get it” and, for various reasons, also “can’t people” even if they do manage to hide it better than I can, and in my case not liking alcohol probably plays a massive part in it too. Like I said, the whole thing is inadvertently excluding all bar a fairly narrow group of people.

Except, well, I actually can people, I’m just not very good with that one situation that’s usually the only option for people-ing. Last week, having gone to law drinks to catch up with everyone and meet the new freshers, only to spend the entire time focusing on just barely coping and intermittently screaming and despairing at the inevitability of it all, a friend and I ended up leaving after an hour, but on returning home we inadvertently ended up sitting on the stairs (she lives on the floor above me) and talking for hours. (And I don’t just mean infodumping about Doctor Who, either!!) It really made me think. This is far from a new occurrence. That post I wrote the other week in which I mentioned a party that night? As it turned out, I didn’t actually even make it there, because everyone had already gone for pre-drinks somewhere, but not where I guessed they would be, and nobody could hear their phones, and usually I keep being told to arrive later than the stated time because people logic but then pre-drinks are also a thing and they’re earlier and it’s all massively confusing, and I felt horrible about it afterwards because it genuinely seems like everyone else has telepathic communication, but then I thought – would it really kill you to just be a bit more clear about what’s going on beforehand? That issue is probably more autism-specific that the first one (literal-minded and all that), but there’s just so much that isn’t accessible to a lot of people. And when that’s all that there is, taking the sensible route and just not going leaves you feeling massively lonely.

So yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about all this (and, I admit it, part of me just really wanted to use that blog title…) and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, particularly if you’re autistic (that’s kinda the point of Autistics Speaking Day, after all!) but it seems to be an issue with a really wide scope and different perspectives would be great. What would make people-ing more accessible to you?

(Post reproduced on the Autistics Speaking Day blog. It’s also really worth reading Coffee Zombie’s response to this post, which I can hugely identify with.)

13 Comments »

Turtle Mode: For when everything gets a bit much

It’s that time again when I remember I’m supposed to be blogging every week (Saturday nights are likely to be when blog posts happen, actually), so I thought I’d talk about shutdowns, basically because I had a pretty bad shutdown earlier this week so it’s all still fresh in my my mind.

I should probably discuss my experiences with meltdowns first, seeing as that tends to get talked about more often. This post, “Anatomy of a Meltdown” by Musings Of An Aspie, explains the feelings really well and also notes how the ways in which meltdowns manifest themselves can change over the years. When I was a kid, I got pretty aggressive (although thankfully I don’t think I’ve ever properly hurt anyone) but these days meltdowns mainly consist of crying and lots of it, which is something I never normally do. They’re now few and far between, too; I think I hit meltdown the day I came back to uni because we had issues finding my new room but other than that, my last full meltdown was back in August, the first time I tried to leave my ex, and the time before that was back in March 2012, in the middle of the school library due to a student-council-initiative-gone-wrong (it’s a long story). I guess as I grew up I just learned coping skills, to breathe, to stim, to control it, and if all else fails to just get out of there as fast as I can.

For me, especially over the last few years, shutdowns are much more common, and they feel almost exactly the same, bar the inevitable horrible crying headaches that follow a meltdown (or any crying for that matter; those headaches are just horrible, aren’t they?). As Musings of an Aspie puts it:

It feels like my whole body is thrumming, humming, singing, quivering. A rail just before the train arrives. A plucked string. A live wire throwing off electricity, charging the night air.

Thinking about it now, most shutdowns start with me being stuck in a noisy, crowded room (so party situations, then) and that was the case a few days ago, too. I don’t know how to explain it other than everything gradually got a bit much and then, as my friend put it, I went into full-on turtle mode.

turtle in shell

Well, I would have done this if I was actually a turtle with a shell I could hide in, but I’m not, so instead I just sat there and vaguely attempted to sing under my breath to try in vain to calm myself down.  Didn’t really work, because people kept pouring in, for ages and ages and ages. I remember telling said friend that I wanted to curl up into a tiny ball and not take up any space. That must have been roughly when the “thrumming” started, like every cell of my body was vibrating. Then there were introductions, there was quiet, there was calm, in theory I had a minute or so to regroup. It doesn’t really work like that, though; there were still people coming in, still, and there were still so many people around me, and as a mere human being I couldn’t just disappear and take up no space. After that, getting up and talking to people. Talking to people. Right. That wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t find the person I was looking for so I sort of wandered around aimlessly, staying around the edges of the room where it was less dense, resisting the urge to hide behind or under chairs, just about breathing, never mind anything else. I sort of knew that I needed out, I thought about how I could grab my phone and step outside for a few minutes and calm down and text my friend to let her know where I was/ask to be rescued, but I couldn’t just make that happen, I was too far gone.

Then I ran into someone I knew; I don’t think she knows I’m autistic unless she’s worked it out for herself, but I was visibly distressed, so she had to do a bit of guesswork:

“There’s a lot of people here tonight, isn’t there, is that stressful for you?”

You bet it was.

“It’s really warm in here, isn’t it, are you too warm?”

Probably, and to be fair that’s always a very good guess with me, but frankly at that point I was solely concerned with all those people.

And, finally, “Do you need to go out for a while?”

YES. YES I DID.  THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED TO DO. THAT’S IT.

Fantastic, problem solved, right? …Wrong. You see, my annoying habit of insisting I’m okay when I’m not okay even extends to when I am clearly, visibly, obviously several thousand miles away from “okay”. That, and I could barely make words happen at all. I could think all that stuff, but I couldn’t say it. The help I clearly needed was being handed to me on a plate, but even then, still, my body was having none of it, which is always massively frustrating for all parties involved. Instead, I froze, and panicked, and didn’t say a word, and then just continued wandering.

Eventually, to cut a long story short, I got out and was immediately distracted by something else, which on the one hand was really bad timing (as you can tell, my conversational skills weren’t exactly brilliant at this point) but on the other hand, at least it was a distraction, and a positive one at that. After that had happened, the event was almost over, so I left; my new room is much further out than my old one, which on this particular evening was a good thing because for a while I could just focus on putting one foot in front of the other without having to think about anything else. I got back to my room and even though the “danger” was over, everything was still on a go-slow. I slowly thought about getting into my pyjamas, then eventually did so, then slowly thought about making tea before deciding that was just more input I didn’t need, so I slowly got myself a glass of water instead, then sat on Tumblr for a bit, then got into bed, cocooned myself in the covers (deep pressure for the win), and attempted to explain all this to the person I was with via Facebook (hence “turtle mode”). I always forget how long it takes for the “thrumming” to stop, for my body to catch up with my brain and realise everything is okay.

I should probably just give people here some vague instructions as to what to do when this happens, because like I said, there were people doing everything right and I just couldn’t accept the offers of help. Basically, if it’s possible to get me out of there, get me out of there. I actually tend to be okay with touch for the most part, so if I need to be sort of guided feel free to do that, but obviously if I flinch that’s probably a sign you should stop. Once I’m out of there, I can probably take care of myself, breathe, stim, whatever. Maybe sit with me if you’re worried, don’t ask too many questions at first because you won’t get any helpful answers, let me process it all for a little while and then I can start telling you what’s wrong and we can do something about it. I guess for meltdowns (you will know if this happens, trust me, it’s really obvious!!), again you’d need to get me the heck out of there (although that might prove difficult), obviously I’m going to need tissues and water would be nice too (for the headaches) but other than that, once I’m out and I’m safe and I’m not having all that information thrown at me anymore, it’s best to leave me alone for a bit, let it happen, let me slowly calm myself down and then, finally, I might actually have the words to tell you what happened. Of course, everyone on the spectrum is different – it’s a spectrum – so please don’t take anything I say as a strict template to follow for other people.

So I guess shutdowns and meltdowns aren’t that different, internally. And not being able to ask for or even accept help is really not nice.

8 Comments »

When You’re Out, Loneliness, It Crawls Up In The Ground…

I’m trying to get back into blogging regularly, so the current plan is to blog about feminism one week then autism the next, or maybe increase that to one post from each category per week, I don’t know. Either way, that means I’m due to write an autism post, and there’s something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while now. Except, well, I’m not really sure where to start. So instead I’ll begin by linking you to other relevant things.

  1. At the risk of shoehorning my special-interest-du-jour into my “serious” blog, Sleepsong by Bastille helped me recognise and at least vaguely attempt to describe the feeling I’m going to write about. Lyrics can be found here, that’s where the title (and entire structure of this post, as it turns out) came from, and I think it sums up the whole lonely-in-a-crowd thing quite well.
  2. There’s also this post by autistic blogger Alex Forshaw on obsessive relationships. The comments on that post are really worth reading too. I really recognised myself in that post and the subsequent comments. I’m also beginning to understand why my ex (who is also autistic) behaved in the way he did during the final months of our relationship; not that that excuses it, of course, but I can at least see the reasoning behind the possessiveness.

Anyway, time to attempt some words.

When you’re out, loneliness, it crawls up in the ground…

It’s, for want of a better phrase, the language barrier. I’ll miss most of the neurotypical body language, facial/vocal expressions and whatever else; likewise, I imagine most people don’t pick up on any of that stuff from me. It’s the rhetoric surrounding who’s to blame for the language barrier, because autistic body language is seen as weird and wrong and all the advice that gets thrown at you about how to make friends all boils down to “Have you tried not being autistic?”

It’s not just that, though. It’s also the memories from when I was younger and how horrible other people could be sometimes, often people who barely knew me, people whose names I never knew. It’s learning not to trust people straight away, if ever, because they’re probably either laughing at me behind my back or about to start laughing at me to my face. It’s learning to assume that if people are whispering or laughing near you, they’re whispering or laughing about you; to this day I even assume this about friends, because, well, you never know.

“It’s funny when she gets angry.”

It’s never quite being in sync, even when you realise that not all people are going to push you into meltdowns for fun, and some are actually really friendly and supportive, in fact that probably goes for the majority of people. That’s nice to think about, but it doesn’t really solve the problem.

It’s showing up, saying “hi” and barely saying another word.

It’s being the awkward third person walking behind the other two, unless there’s four people, in which case suddenly there’s room for three people in a line and I become the awkward fourth person.

It’s all the worrying about being clingy and possessive and jealous, all the actually being clingy and possessive and jealous. It’s bugging people with either far too many Facebook messages or one that’s far too long. It’s freaking out when that silly Facebook messenger “seen” thing is removed only by a completely unrelated message from someone else, and when that actually gets some sort of response.

It’s the feeling, probably unfounded but still there nonetheless, that I’m in the group but not actually in the group, just sort of tagging along for the ride. It’s the realisation that this sentence applies to basically any group of people I could ever have vaguely been considered a part of.

…It’s what you feel, but can’t articulate out loud.

17 Comments »

Just Another Post About Shame

A couple of weeks ago, Musings of an Aspie and Autisticook (who are both awesome and you should go and look at their blogs *right now*) wrote posts about shame associated with the autistic spectrum, so I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon with a list of probably-relevant things which I’ve been ashamed to talk about properly to some degree. Here we go, then:

  • I never really got the hang of riding a bike. Incidentally, I’m studying in Oxford; for those of you that have never been there, it’s literally BIKES, BIKES EVERYWHERE, and now that I won’t be living in college anymore, I think things are going to get very awkward very quickly. Evidently, I’d like to learn, but at my age people are expected to not need to learn so everything’s aimed at (neurotypical, able-bodied) kids. I meant to try and resolve this issue over the summer, but it hasn’t happened.
  • I meant to do so many things over the summer, but it hasn’t happened. I’m getting very worried about the inevitable “What did you do in the holidays?” question when I go back to uni.
  • I’m still a massively picky eater, although this is something I’ve been working on and I am getting a lot better at trying new things. I have to admit that all the really formal stuff at uni still makes me nervous, though!
  • Whilst I don’t have the bladder issue described by Autisticook in the post I’ve linked to above, I really don’t like asking to, well, do anything really, and… erm… let’s just say that’s almost landed me in trouble a couple of times.
  • I’ve started accidentally abandoning FeministAspie for days at a time because my executive function has gone completely to pot over the summer, so I’m trying to blog more now. Which is the reason for this post, I guess.
  • Yet I seem to have developed the ability to waste entire days online.
  • I wrote a post the other week which started and ended with “Don’t… think… this will just blow over”. Well, guess what?! IT’S JUST BLOWN OVER. I don’t really want to talk about that ongoing situation, but the point is that I have all the assertiveness of a blade of grass. Not ideal.
  • Sometimes I sort of daydream about having meltdowns or a more severe shutdown in imaginary stressful situations and how other people would react, especially people from uni. I think I’ve always done this to a certain extent, but I’ve only really noticed it this year. I don’t know why I do this; it’s almost certainly not good for me. Maybe it’s because I am yet to have a “proper” public meltdown at uni (although – typical – I came very close on the last night of the year!) so part of me wants people to understand. I don’t know.
  • My ultimate solution to all problems is to ignore them, close my eyes until they go away, and hide behind distractions of some form. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t really working out for me.
  • I worry that all this tiptoeing and pacing on tiptoes is going to damage my feet when I’m older, no thanks to being told that by a number of people, all with the clear ulterior motive of “that’s weeeeeeeeeeeird” but there’s probably some truth in it. I then worry that when this does happen, I’ll be blamed for it.

That’s all I can think of at the moment. It’s always nice to get things out in the open, even if it’s just so you know you’re not alone. I’ll probably think of so many things I could have added to this list the second I hit “Publish”. I worry too much. 😛

The next day…

Told you I’d forget something! And maybe this is just because it’s causing a lot of shame right now, but I thought it was such a big one that I should go back and add it to this post.

You see, my (NT) brother has just pointed out that I haven’t actually left the house since Monday afternoon (it’s now Thursday noon-ish). He thinks this is really abnormal (choice quote: “Do you not… like… lose air?!”) but the thing is, I hadn’t really even noticed until he asked me about it. To be honest, for me in the school/uni holidays that’s pretty normal. Although now it’s making me feel like a hugely inadequate person, especially thinking about other people from uni and how productive the holidays have probably been for them. Heck, I haven’t even made a dent into my metaphorical “TV shows to watch” list, and that’s what most people seem to do when they’re being unproductive, so I feel even more unproductive. Have I really spent the entire day online again?!

This time last year I didn’t know executive function was a thing, but I sure have issues with it!!

5 Comments »

On Being Taken Seriously

(I should probably give a CW for strong language…)

Don’t think this will just blow over.

Don’t think I only express anger because I’m an irrational bitch who “goes jackshit crazy once a month” (not my words). In fact, don’t assume I’m on my period at all.

Don’t think I haven’t thought anything through.

Don’t think I’ll forget everything I know the second I see you again.

Don’t think I’ll change my mind at the first sight of some pretty flowers. Oh, and don’t use them to act like I owe you, to guilt-trip me into just going along with it.

Don’t think I’m too silly or emotional to understand when you’re the one trying to shout me into submission.

Because women can have opinions too, and they’re not all based on fucking hormones.

Don’t think that past love and kindness mean you’re eternally entitled to get away with whatever you want.

Don’t think that past love and kindness mean you’re entitled to have me forever. Actually, don’t think you can “have me” at all. I’m not a thing.

Don’t think you can manipulate me into doing or thinking anything.

Don’t think I don’t have a will of my own, a life of my own, a mind of my own.

Don’t invalidate “no” to the point that I’m a little scared to say it.

And don’t you ever

ever

ever

think

not even for one tiny second

that this will just blow over.

4 Comments »

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