Tag: writing

Uncomfortably rewarding: why I don’t hide the bad days online.

Uncomfortably rewarding: why I don’t hide the bad days online.

Over the past few months, I’ve come to alter the way that I blog and the way that I utilise my personal social media to show a more ‘balanced’ account of my experiences. We’re all guilty of posting only the best photos, of keeping our darkest moments to ourselves in an effort not to make those who follow us uncomfortable. I made the choice to break away from the ‘good-only’ approach to social media very consciously, but why?

When my experiences are good, I have the ultimate freedom to express them entirely. But when they’re bad? It’s a very public, and at times very uncomfortable, way to suffer.

Perhaps there are people who read this and think I’m utterly batshit for putting this material on the internet, where it can be found by people in my physical world (I link to each blog through my personal accounts, and there are other snippets of brutal honesty that go only to those accounts). What I post can be found by anyone who chooses to look: friends, family, potential employers, inter-dimensional beings from a future as yet undiscovered…

Am I mad for doing this? Probably. It’s a well certified fact that I am, in fact, delightfully weird. It’s not by chance though, it’s a decision I’ve made and followed through with after deciding the benefits significantly outweigh the potential for my writing to backfire on me.

First and foremost, I do it for me.

I would love to say that it’s based on some selfless desire to help others find their way through their own rough patches, but that would be a lie. The process of writing out and posting the good and bad in equal measure has become a method of self-care and healing.

Just writing out my experiences of the day takes the thoughts out of my head (where they are often whirling around in manic circles and refusing to find resolution) and into logical sentences. Once they’re out, I can begin letting them go.

Writing also forces me to think logically, to step back and analyse what happened and from that perspective I begin to see the alternate paths that weren’t immediately obvious at the time. Recognising those after the fact isn’t a bad thing–those choices are more evident the next time that situation rolls around, and I have avoided repeating situations because I know I have options. Writing also helps me cement information in my long term memory, so the lessons I learn are rarely forgotten.

It also provides an ongoing account of who I am at a given time, allowing me to look back and see the sort of progress that is invisible day-to-day.

The writing alone is only one part of the process. If it was, I could just as easily keep a diary and be done with it.

There’s a unique sense of responsibility that appears when I post something online. I have stated to the world that this is happening, and when the situation is an unpleasant one, it puts increased pressure on me to resolve the situation. Much like a writer might feel the need to resolve a plot point after a cliff hanger, even if no one reads a single word I write–the words are out there. The story must move on, must show progress, and it’s up to me to take actions that move toward a better point in the ‘plot’.

This is why you’ll often see a ‘balancing’ post after my less positive entries. I feel this weird drive to look deeper and find the better side of things, to share that reality alongside whatever self-indulgent misery I’ve put forth. While I do that as a responsibility to the ‘audience’, it balances my brain as well. If this was just a diary, there wouldn’t be that drive. In fact, without the public nature of social media, this would read more like a My Chemical Romance album.

It would be the opposite of the ‘only good’ social media view, it would be the ‘all bad’ private thoughts of depression. Neither is the whole person, and the latter is a mental trap too easy to fall into.

Social media also provides me with a platform through which I can explain myself in the best way I know how: through text.

I don’t give away a lot in my expressions. I especially don’t like to talk about how I’m feeling when how I feel isn’t good. The words don’t like to come together, I don’t like bringing the mood down, and if I’m in someone’s company I’d much rather be distracted and enjoying myself than talking about things I struggle with. I also have this horrible habit of breaking into tears whenever I feel ‘exposed’ in conversation. Text allows some distance and ability to craft explanations that are coherent.

This communicative impairment doesn’t discriminate. If I’m talking openly about these sorts of topics, it’s because I’ve either reached breaking point (with the accompanying emotional explosion), I’m drunk (I talk far too much when I’m drunk. Just ask my brother-in-law!), or I am pushing myself (or being pushed) well beyond my comfort zone. This is just a function of who I am, and finding ways to communicate around it has helped immensely. It’s unlikely I’ll ever be comfortable with direct conversation regarding myself.

But once I have written about something, and posted it publicly, the nature of the information changes. It goes from ‘innermost private thoughts’ (and I am an intensely private person) to ‘information in the public domain’. Everyone I meet theoretically could have read the material, and I should expect to discuss it. I am prepared to discuss it. I have considered it deeply, I have opinions and ideas and further solutions that occurred to me after the time of writing.

Posting publicly effectively releases the privacy of my own thoughts and puts them in reach of open discussion. The more I do it, the more I’ve begun to feel comfortable discussing content that I haven’t posted. That has been amazing.

Being brutally honest about how I feel and why has been an exercise in freedom.

The secondary benefit is in how others respond to my writing.

It may not be what I seek to get out of this process of honesty, but each comment or like  or mention I get from someone who identified with my writing is the best bonus I could ask for. I never set out to inspire people (and I find it ridiculously humbling when I’m told that I have provided inspiration. Who, me? I’m a wreck half the time!).

All I aim to do is provide an account of who and how I am, as I go from good to bad and back again. The idea is to demonstrate to myself that there is no situation so bad that I won’t come back out of it stronger, so if that is reaching others and helping them feel the same? I’m pretty pleased with that.

It is a terrifying thing to do sometimes, to expose the complex and often confused nature of my thoughts. On some level I do feel an obligation to do it. As someone who was given an ability to communicate in written word to not use that ability to describe my experience (especially the features of my Aspergers/Autism) seems like a gross waste of ability.

The rewards of this public honesty have been huge. Even on my worst days, I feel more my ‘authentic self’ than I have in too long. It’s my life and it won’t be sunshine and rainbows all day every day, there will be posts that come that are uncomfortable and miserable. That’s life, regardless of mental state.

What’s important is that a better post will always be coming, and I look forward to sharing those immensely. I never did this in the expectation that my posts would be actually read, either, but I appreciate everyone following along on this quirky journey. You make it extra worth the effort!

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Fantastically weird: why I’ll always love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

Fantastically weird: why I’ll always love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

I never believed in grieving for celebrities. How could you miss someone who’d never truly been present in your life? The belief was, as all beliefs are, inherently flawed.

Presence is more than a physical proximity. It’s more, even, than a direct and personal communication. Presence occurs when your life is influenced, for better or worse, by another being.

But I never truly understood this until the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett.

As I’ve described many times through this blog, I was a strange child. I knew I was strange. I saw the world in weird and colourful ways; I had a habit of looking at situations sideways and that confused my peers. In social constructs where clinging to ‘sameness’ was the method of survival, this left me weak. I was vulnerable for my crime of too much imagination, for my love of learning and stories and for pondering what my beloved cats got up to while I was not around.

I established books as my ‘safe place’ early in life. A book was a whole world you could fall into, cast off the noise of reality and be consumed by a life of adventure and magic. Like Bastian Balthazar Bux in The NeverEnding Story, I escaped to places where I could imagine myself as strong, capable, even heroic. There was a freedom I had between pages that I didn’t have in my primary school life. Stories were a coping mechanism, a joy, a proof that maybe… just maybe there really was a cupboard out there that would turn my toys to life (The Indian in the Cupboard was another key favourite.

Even as indoctrinated in the ordinary magic of books as I was, nothing quite prepared me for my first plunge into Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.

It happened by accident.

Mum, being the conscientious parent she was, took us to the library as often as possible. I would borrow huge stacks of books to devour, and then return late. We had a strict lights-off time at our house, and after I’d been caught pretending to use the toilet so I would have light to read, I sought a new solution to the ever-increasing problem of so many stories, so little time to read.

Audio books!

I went through dozens before I picked up a brightly coloured cassette cover with the title Interesting Times. I’d never heard of the author. It was read by Tony Robinson, though, who I knew as Baldrick from Blackadder and the Sheriff of Rottingham in Maid Marian and her Merry Men. I liked his voice, so I borrowed it.

I was eleven years old, I had not long changed schools, and I was truly beginning to feel that I was made in the wrong shape for this world. I was weird. Two schools confirmed it. But just four cassettes later (alas, I began with an abridged reading!) I was on a path to change the shape of the world around me.

Delivered in Tony Robinson’s uniquely expressive voice came ideas so marvellously twisted, yet so logical, I might have thought the same if given time. Here was the world as viewed by someone who also saw magic in the mundane, who also pondered the most bizarre ‘what ifs’. Most importantly:

Here was someone who had committed their weird view to paper, and who was not ashamed of it.

This was the first spark of belief that weird could be wonderful. I wasn’t the wrong shape for this world–the world was any damned shape you like, you only had to look to see it. If the people around me were only able to cling to what was safe and acceptable, this didn’t have to be my problem.

It took many more  years to be solid in that belief, but this was a beginning. This was proof. It wasn’t the same magic of the fantasy novels I consumed by the dozen, it was something more. I would always be enchanted by magical realms far removed from our own, but I didn’t connect with the authors of those in the way I did with Terry Pratchett.

Pratchett offered me the world I saw. A more colourful and curious version of reality, with characters so fantastical and yet so human (or inhuman as the case often was) that if I squinted through my eyelashes they might almost exist on this plane beside me. He took supermarket trolleys, sports, music, libraries, law enforcement and all manner of other ‘normal’, ‘boring’ things and gave them a twist of magic.

I was not the only person to have looked at an abandoned supermarket trolley, and wonder: how do they all get so far from their stores, and why?

I was not the only person to have thought up a bizarre and entirely unrealistic (yet somehow completely logical) answer.

Through his writing I began to realise that there must be others out there too. Yet more people who cherished the quirky and strange, and the way that the most unreal scenarios could explain us in a very real way. I picked up PyramidsGuards! Guards!, and Wyrd Sisters. Most books held me spellbound, testing the limits of my sideways thinking, they were more than stories. Some were mental exercises in themselves as his intricate plots twisted together in the most unexpected ways to form a conclusion.

And I wrote. I mimicked his style. In high school I began to truly find others who valued my quirks, and for them I wrote a series of stories in The Bare-footed Princesses series. Mostly they were terrible, full of in-jokes and my attempts to recreate the balance of warped reality, humor and drama that I found in Pratchett’s work. For all the hack-job writing these stories contained at the time, my friends enjoyed them.

My weirdness was appreciated.

His death hit me hard. I woke that morning, readied myself to leave the house–and checked Facebook. After digesting the news, I slowly dressed myself back in my pyjamas, crawled into bed, and resumed sleeping. I suppose part of me hoped that if I started the day again, it wouldn’t be true.

But it was. One of the fundamental building blocks from my childhood and teenage years was gone.

It’s likely I would have found other paths to accepting myself, these things are rarely denied for a lifetime. In this trouser leg, in this timeline, I developed faith in these key parts of myself through the work of Terry Pratchett.

I have most of the books now, and some (one or two) are unread. I may leave them unread for years to come. I rather like the idea that there’s still more pages out there of his that I haven’t consumed. A little bit left for later—whenever later comes.

Grief for an artist is strange, though. I am sad that we’ll never know what other strange and magical ideas he may have had. Perhaps we don’t grieve so much the person, but the impossibility of continued fresh material. What already is, will remain.

What already is, sits in libraries and in book shops. It waits. Not dead, not sleeping. Not even dormant. Each word is still as miraculous as it was the day I first read them, and will be to every reader who sees the world different and feels they are alone for it.

He may be gone, but the words, and his weird, live on.

WTB: Telepathic communication device for making friends without alienating people.

WTB: Telepathic communication device for making friends without alienating people.

I don’t understand people. I really don’t. I don’t know how it is that so many people seem gifted with this ability to speak without words. Is it telepathy? Are you somehow beaming meaning at each other via mysterious brain-lasers?

Whatever you’re doing, I don’t seem to be able to do it. I say things the wrong way, or at the wrong time, I give the wrong response, or more often than not–I don’t speak at all, when there’s something I should have said or done.

Some of my early school memories are literally of standing behind trees, trying to divulge the secrets of making friends. Twenty years later and I’m still as clueless as that little girl with her cheek pressed against the bark.

School at least offered a place where you could become known–and eventually friends–with those you saw regularly. Adult life makes this so much harder, even those who know the secret to interpersonal communication struggle to break out of their ‘friendship silos’. I have very few friends of my own in this town, and I have no idea how to go about connecting to more.

This realisation occurs to me every so often, when I exhaust the one (sometimes two) options for a venture to the movies or new restaurant. This time it hit me while I sent out invitations to my 30th. Almost everyone on the list who lives in the local area was a family friend, or friend of a friend that I don’t actually know well enough to feel comfortable making plans with that don’t involve the mutual friend. The rest were family.

My own friends, and I do have some wonderful friends in my life, are scattered everywhere but here. I love each and every one of them without reserve. I feel guilty for wanting more than I have, but there are days where I wish that I could text someone in the morning, and meet with them for lunch. It feels a little pathetic that my social interactions rarely go beyond my family. My family is fantastic, but they have their lives and friends outside of me, and I have… an overly comfortable blue couch.

Work is where adults are supposed to make friends, or at least this is what the internet says. Yes–I have actually Googled ‘how to make friends as an adult’.

As far as I know, I’m not unpleasant to work with–nor am I hard to get along with in general, and in most cases I’m happy to do whatever pleases the people around me. I have conversations with those I work with, suggest things to do, laugh and joke–and I think I’m doing well.

Yet, when it comes to making the jump from ‘work friend’ to ‘actual friend’, something goes wrong. I don’t know what. While others connect and relax together, I hear of it in stories after the fact. I’m not arrogant enough to think I should have been invited–but I do wonder what I’ve done that excluded me from participation.

Have I done something? Is there some secret code I’m not using, something that makes it clear to others that I want to be involved?

Or worse, am I just forgettable? Blended so far back into the scenery that you’d no more invite me to something than you might a kitchen chair.

When I do, and very nervously, invite people to spend time with me (in the hope of establishing an on-going friendship), the invitations are inevitably declined. Other priorities trump whatever I suggest, or perhaps they are just not interested in being further involved in my life. I don’t know.

I do understand, at this age most people have their ‘friendship silos’ firmly in place. It’s hard breaking in to a group, but I watch the people come and go and interact and wonder why I can never seem to get ‘inside’.

I’ve been told it can be hard to get to know me. Am I giving signals of disinterest? I don’t mean to.

The other suggestion for connecting with new people is interest groups, and that is one where I’ve had previous success. I’m looking at you, Melbnano and Brisnano. Groups for everything exist in the city, so finding the most wonderful bunch of 20-something and up assorted nerds willing to talk about ninja zombie erotica was as easy as looking up the local NaNoWriMo group.

Where I am now, the local writing group is lovely, but more interested in literature and memoirs than secret agent school girls discovering their teachers are actually drug lords. Most of my interests, like writing, aren’t group activities either–which increases the level of difficulty.

What do I do, then? I would love to create a social life for myself, take some of that burden off my family and really find myself a place in this community. To feel properly involved, and not a tag-along afterthought.

How do I get to there? What am I doing wrong? How do I become someone people think of when organising things to do?

Alternatively, if you could sell me one of those brain-laser telepathy kits, I’d be much obliged.

How losing my job may be the best career move yet.

How losing my job may be the best career move yet.

On Friday, I was let go from my job.

For those who work to pay bills and live, this may sound like a bit of a nuisance–something frustrating rather than devastating. Challenging to lose the income, but provided you didn’t burn down any chance of a good reference, incomes can be replaced.

I live to work. I’m not happy just paying the bills–I want more than that. I want an opportunity to use my strengths, to have a real impact on a business in the way that only I can. I want to learn and to grow, to sharpen my skills and keep making magic.

This job, which I began last March, offered all of that and more. My official title was ‘Marketing Co-ordinator’, but as the business was small, the range of responsibilities was everything from administrative assistant to tech support. I was in charge of writing all content for the website, monthly newsletter, additional eblasts, social media, case studies, developing  printed collateral, arranging promotional items and gifts, co-ordinating the IT system and acting as a gateway between staff and our IT company, answering phones, taking data and wrangling it into charts, telemarketing, searching out contacts to call, managing the client database, answering phones and live chat queries, setting up new equipment (usually laptops and phones), and whatever else needed doing on a particular day.

That’s how it is in small business. Regardless of your title, you need to be prepared to drop everything and do something well out of your job description when required. Over time, it became obvious that I am the world’s worst telemarketer, so that–and a few other tasks–were removed from my role.

My primary skill set is writing, and my key weaknesses are time management and multitasking. Having not held a position like this before, the sudden expectation to juggle so many competing priorities (and co-ordinating these with up to four external companies) was a challenge.

But–I loved it. Even when I felt like I was drowning in a sea of tasks, I loved it. I got to see reactions and web traffic rise as my informative posts went up on our site. We saw our online enquiries triple. We’d done a lot of SEO work, so it wasn’t just my work that got results, but we got results. I was a part of that.

I was good at the work, but I wasn’t fast. I got tasks mixed up easily, I forgot things (even if I had them written down on my calendar) and I made stupid mistakes. After a few months in the position, I realised that I was far more fatigued than I should be, and that began the investigation into myself that resulted in my autism diagnosis.

Did that autism result in being let go? Possibly. Small businesses change priorities fast, tasks come up with little notice and need to be turned around fast. That’s not me. As an autistic person, that chaotic workflow is irritating and makes it hard to focus. I like the time to consider things carefully, to implement them in the exact best way that I can. My work is slow, but the results are high quality. I need space between tasks to mentally ‘adjust’, I find it hard to pivot straight to the next thing. Sometimes I put more time and effort into something than it deserves, I can get ‘lost’ in research and design.

Though those are largely autistic traits, and yes–they interfered with my work–this wasn’t discrimination. Those traits are also facts about me, parts of who I am that will challenge me my whole life. Those same traits made it difficult to meet the performance requirement for my job, it’s that simple.

I grew a lot in this position. Learned things about an industry I knew little of before. Learned how to better work social media. Learned about myself and realised that for every dream I’d ever had, a high-pressure fast-paced glamorous career was never going to be healthy for me. Working 8am-5pm in this position four days a week was leaving me mentally fatigued, struggling to want anything more than sleep when I had time off.

I’d come back to Victoria to spend more quality time with my family. The job I loved was sucking away any desire to see anyone outside work. My fiction writing suffered when my creative energy was put toward making commercial floor cleaning equipment sound exciting. For all that, I still loved my job.

Losing it is a devastating blow. I’m not without options, and financially I’m in a great position to job search. I’m confused by some of the actions taken before that meeting, I’m upset at how only hours before I’d spoken with my manager (who would have known what was to come later in the day) where she discussed my plans for next week. According to my boss, she also felt burdened by the amount of help I needed in structuring my time and in determining what priorities came first. That she never said anything to me, rather,  that she acted eager to mentor me (and I did see her as a mentor) is a betrayal I just don’t understand. Why wouldn’t she say that I was being too demanding?

I need to let that go. The last lesson this job has to teach me may be the most important one of all: not blaming myself for this outcome.

I put everything into this job. I learned and I improved and I developed content that the company will continue to benefit from. I’m proud of that. I didn’t give up, I continued to hang on and keep trying, keep pushing to meet the demands of the company. I can’t do it–yet. As a small business, they don’t have the resources to invest in getting me to that point.

The decision to let me go wasn’t personal. They loved my work, there just wasn’t enough of it. They felt I was under too much pressure to deliver and that it would only get worse in future. For my health and their profit, it was best that I found something else.

I spent the weekend with my family, and took some time to feel sorry for myself. Tomorrow I begin the job hunt. I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, but I do know a few things to avoid. I’m excited to see what’s out there, and what I can learn in my next work adventure.

This time, I think I will aim for more of a life-work balance. A job that I can love, but one I can ‘disconnect’ from after hours. Something that provides me with breaks for mental rest that I need to keep from burning out, and something that allows me to be myself.

I’m sad today, but looking forward to tomorrow. What jobs do you think I should try my hand at?

Reconciling evolution and intelligent design.

Reconciling evolution and intelligent design.

Fair warning, this post is about religion. I’m not a religious person–but I’m fascinated by the structure and influence it has. I admire those who have the strength of faith to believe in what cannot be proven, and those who take these ancient teachings and utilise them to be generous and kind. I hope that my thoughts below carry my respect for others’ belief. However, if you find religious discussion confronting or uncomfortable, you may wish to skip reading this blog.

If you are religious and find your way through my thoughts–I would love to know your view.

Why is a twit like me thinking about religion so much?

I was raised to believe in what I chose to believe in, so for the most part that was the hidden magic of the universe that you see in books and movies. I hoped every day desperately that I would catch my toys interacting in the dead of night, a tiny world that nested within my own. I attended a church with my grandparents and siblings on the weekend, their way of giving my parents some much-needed peace, but the miracles of the Bible just never grabbed me in the way it does others.

I liked the stories, and I loved the massive lunch they held once a month. I got enough familiarity with the routine and structure of church that I eventually decided it wasn’t for me, and I would have to find another activity with free food.

Simply put, I couldn’t suspend my belief enough to accept the Bible as a historical source. I still can’t, and I think it’s downright amazing for those who can.

I do think about it a lot, though, especially with the influence that religion has on society. Trying to reconcile happenings in the world with oft-quoted Bible verses keeps me occupied.

Genesis vs The Big Bang

One thing I never really ‘got’ about Genesis was the concept of the world being created in seven days. This makes very little sense if you consider that prior to there being light, there was likely no way to measure day and night. But then, who are we to assume that a God’s concept of day and night is the same length as our own?

The magic-wand approach of ‘intelligent design’ just doesn’t seem right. Why magic a universe from the depths of nowhere, when you could grow one? Why go for instant gratification when you could pull cosmic forces from hither and thither, smashing them all into one ‘big bang’ and forming the beginnings of a baby universe?

I don’t see how the Bible and scientific theories of universe creation are incompatible.

Remember too, that when these tales were initially formed, society didn’t have the deep scientific understanding that we do now. You could assume we were told a story we would understand, one of magic and wonder. Much like a child’s fairy tale before the child is old enough to comprehend that these things (allegedly) don’t exist.

God as a scientist.

So if we assume then that God is the instigator of the ‘big bang’ and our universe is His pet project, we then begin to see God not as an almighty magician, but as something better. A scientist!

This does mean putting aside the idea that God’s way always is and always was perfect. Perhaps in days of Eden it might have been, but whether you believe that sin and corruption changed the course of the world–or that God allowed nature to grow as it would–you can’t deny that the world has been evolving and adapting.

A close friend advised me that God gave man free will, that man could choose to love Him independently. The concept of the unknown element, ‘free will’ ties in nicely with the idea of us as an ongoing project. Another teaching claims that after the original sin, man was given the freedom to seek his own salvation in goodness and worship. In other words–God let us loose upon the earth to see what we would do.

Choose him? Better ourselves? Tear the world apart? In giving that free will, God himself was unable to know the outcome of the universe. Sounds like a pretty awesome project to me!

Evolution vs Intelligent design

With me so far? This one can be tricky. Once again, we’re going to assume that Genesis is a story told to man based upon how they understood themselves at the time. That is, a race that could stand, walk, and communicate.

Evolution suggests we weren’t always like that. Evolution suggests that we evolved, like all other organisms, from the smallest building blocks in the universe. The Bible states that we were made in God’s image. The fight over what view is correct has been raging since the theory of evolution first arose.

They’re not incompatible. We assume that the Bible means our current shape and form, because that is what we know. We don’t know what God’s image is. God, as is commonly accepted, is an all-knowing presence with no corporeal form. There’s no evidence that contradicts the idea that God Himself is able to change forms, and plenty of evidence that humans have evolved over time.

We were created in his image, and molded further to suit the changing planet, perhaps?

The universe as an ongoing project.

I’ve said a bit about this already, but the idea of our universe being seven day’s work and then sitting back to see what happens? Doesn’t sound much fun for God. I think evolution tells us that if He is the driving force behind all creation, he is still creating.

The world is changing and reacting in ways that He may not have predicted. Adjustments are needed, punishments are delivered and rewards are given. Over centuries organisms grow or lose tails, shed or grow fur to suit new climates, breed and diversify into the complex kingdom we live in.

What if we’re not just discovering new species of animals, but he is creating them for us to find?

Could you imagine the pure joy that God must feel as we explore and discover these creations? Pride when we broke our world down into building blocks, atoms and cells. Excitement at our discoveries, like a parent for a child. This is why I especially can’t get behind the Religion vs Science idea. God is science, and science is God’s magic.

On developments since the time of writing.

I can accept that the Bible may (in places) suggest that homosexual relationships are not acceptable. But remember, in this time and age, there was a great need for people to populate the earth. If men lay with men, and women with women, the progress of man would have been hobbled. We were not in the fortunate position we are now, where so many brilliant minds carry society forward.

We no longer need the reproductive power we did in Biblical times. ‘Go forth and multiply’ is no longer feasible when the world is bowing under the strain of overpopulation.

There’s a study done with rats by John Calhoun (1962) that I think illustrates this nicely. A number of rats put in an enclosure of a certain size will grow the population to a point–and then it plateaus. Put those same rats in a larger enclosure and the population will grow again, until the optimum population is reached and once again the numbers plateau. For any size ‘world’, there is an ideal number of inhabitants.

The rats controlled their own population by becoming bisexual, homosexual or asexual. As the rats were unable to flee the situation, the end result in most cases was a pretty scary dystopia–and there are plenty of counters to Calhoun’s research that suggest human society is less likely to follow that exact path.

However. If God works in mysterious was, and we must assume He does, how is homosexuality not a perfect solution to overpopulation? He’s not taken away the ability to love, but broadened the acceptance of other options and the idea that not all relationships must create children. We no longer need to multiply, but we do need to love and care for each other. There are children without families and families that cannot have children–it may be a literal match made in Heaven.

There are many verses in the Bible that speak to social contexts that no longer apply. Clinging to the words on the page may be inhibiting society’s ability to move forward with His grander plan.

The vast difference between Old and New Testaments illustrate how God adapts from guiding man with lessons built on fear, to the gentler acceptance and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Society changed, and God’s method of guidance did as well. Not everything that was acceptable before is acceptable now–not everything that was unacceptable then is still unacceptable now.

Basically? The truth is bigger than the Bible.

If I had the faith, that is what I would believe. The Bible was a guide book for centuries ago, one that can inform us of where we came from–but has limited use in our current social context. In accepting that the world is changing around us, and that this is by God’s doing, it also needs to be recognised that Gods plan is also changing.

Therefore, a thick volume of preserved words can only tell us so much. For the rest we need to take the spirit of God’s message (be kind, be generous, and love one another) and ask ourselves how it applies to the world as it is today. And from then, trust that if we act with that message and with God in our hearts, that we are acting in accordance with his plan.

I may not have God in my heart, but I do wholly believe in the message–insofar as it teaches love and acceptance. I see churches turning closer to this, and it makes me happy. Religion is a very powerful tool in society, and it should be used to bring people together–not tear them apart.

Especially not over ancient, difficult-to-translate text.

My diagnosis, and how it makes sense.

My diagnosis, and how it makes sense.

It’s like someone is in my face yelling at me in German. I can kind of grasp if they’re happy or sad, but I don’t speak the language enough to truly understand what is being said.

A few months ago I began a process that would ultimately change the way I view myself, and my place in the world. In many ways, I’m still trying to process what it means to me–and the conflict of whether to disclose this discovery to my wider world.

I have chosen to publicly disclose, and to do so here to anyone with interest in the subject. I do so in the understanding that there is a great deal of misconceptions regarding the topic, and it is my hope that through this disclosure I am able to create better understanding of my experience. This blog contains only what I know to be true of myself. There are as many presentations of the condition as there are people who experience it.

This is my experience as an autistic woman.

 

Say what?

Yes, you read that correctly. I have been assessed as presenting with enough significant traits of Aspergers Syndrome to satisfy a formal diagnosis. I don’t much like the word ‘Aspergers’–not so much for the Sheldon Cooper connotation, more I just don’t like the combination of letters in it.

One of the key misconceptions about those with Aspergers is that they are fundamentally more capable than someone defined as simply ‘Autistic’. In the DSM-5, the leading diagnostic manual for mental conditions, ‘Aspergers’ has been removed as an independent diagnosis. I like that this opens the door to a much broader understanding of ‘Autism’, the capabilities and weaknesses of those who experience it.

 

So–are you ‘high’ or ‘low’ functioning?

This is another reason why removal of the ‘Aspergers’ label is important. The idea that some autistic people are more intelligent, more capable, and more useful to society is dangerous. It leads us to expect that those defined as ‘high’ functioning should be able to adapt to the neurotypical world and survive without any compensatory methods. On the other end, it allows us to believe that ‘low’ functioning persons have diminished value due to their autism.

This is especially true of those who are ‘non-verbal’. That is, someone who is functionally able to speak–but experiences an autism-related block that prevents them from conversing in a ‘normal’ manner. Their inability to speak has no relation to their intelligence or what they can contribute to the world. Many are very talented writers and express themselves through text.

Autism is not fundamentally an intellectual disability, though it can be for some. Therefore, those with autism should be approached and classified according to our unique strengths and weaknesses. Just like anyone else.

I am neither high, nor low functioning. I am a person with an autistic brain.

 

Then… what is autism?

Autism is a different operating system. It’s a way of thinking that is atypical compared to the general population. It is the experience of looking at the world, and knowing you see it differently to everyone else on the same bus.

In practical terms, autism is a profile of intense strengths and crippling weaknesses. What those strengths and weaknesses are varies across individuals. Although everyone on earth has strengths and weaknesses, those with autism experience a much greater gap between what they are good at, and what they’re not so good at.

For example, a ‘neurotypical’ (someone with a brain that functions the same way as most) or ‘allistic’ (someone who is not autistic) person may be ‘good’ at running and ‘bad’ at cooking. An autistic person with those same traits would be ‘amazing’ at running and ‘horrendous’ at cooking. The difference in skill (or lack of) is much more pronounced in someone with autism.

For me, I am excellent at writing. This is my primary method of communication and of untangling my own thoughts. I’m great with music–I have a natural sense of rhythm and ability to play instruments with deep expression. I have mostly untapped artistic talent. I am wonderful at conducting deep analysis, I can research a subject thoroughly and output text that allows others to grasp the concept. I can argue almost any point convincingly–if I can do it in writing. I can teach myself to do things. I find something to get excited about on almost any topic. Don’t believe me? I can even get passionate about cricket. I am loyal, enthusiastic, and I love streamlining processes and finding ways to make things more efficient.

I sound pretty wonderful, huh? Here are some weaknesses.

I am downright shocking at communicating directly with people. I tire out fast and become unreasonably emotional when I’ve gone past my ‘limit’. I need extreme amounts of solitude to recover. I don’t deal with light or noise particularly well. My ‘processing’ speed is much slower than the average person–I often don’t comprehend what you’ve said until a few seconds after you’ve spoken. I can’t deal with too much verbal information. I need time to sit back and make plans for things. I don’t handle plans changing. I don’t like situations that are vague. Often, I take instructions too literally or fail to consider beyond the task that was initially asked. I almost always miss the ‘hidden’ meanings in conversations. I am naive, overly trusting, and very… very easily hurt.

 

How much of that is autism, and how much is just… you?

Some traits are more likely to present in autistic people, but for the most part, these are things that are experienced by most people. It’s the combination and intensity of these traits that defines whether a person is autistic or not. It’s also in the reactions to these traits where the clues to autism lie.

All of the things listed there as strengths are things I am exceptionally good at. All of those weaknesses have the capacity to (and have) interfere with how I relate to others and the world around me.

So let’s look at some of the traits in detail, and I’ll explain what I mean.

 

Obsessions and special interests

When someone says ‘Aspergers’, most people think of an uptight person who is fanatic about one or two topics. Thanks to The Big Bang Theory, they most often think of Sheldon Cooper. This is most often true of persons with autism.

My interests were simple. I love stories. I still love stories. I will go to the ends of the earth for a good story.

This began my obsession with books (and collecting books) and writing. I picked up the ability to read very early in life, well before I started school (thanks to excellent parents!). My obsession with words and letters is a sort of sub-interest to this, and it’s all sort of branched out into a broader love of linguistics, communication, and the history of the English language. It fascinates me. But it all started with stories.

This love of stories has also evolved into a love of TV, movies and video games. The creation of fiction is one of the most beautifully human things we have in our world. Through it we can imagine worlds beyond our immediate reality, glimpse into the future and revel in the past. We can escape where we are, imagine things greater, and even brainstorm solutions for problems that don’t yet exist. Writing is a form of pure magic.

Music was another early obsession. The first ‘favourite song’ I remember was  Lover [You Don’t Treat Me No Good No More] by Sonia Dada. I loved the deep vocal tones and the beat. The child-friendly tunes of Peter Coombe played constantly through early life, and my first favourite movie was Disney’s Fantasia. Music is a language of its own that captures stories both explicitly and imagined in the listener’s mind. On my worst days, music is a soothing force that brings me back down.

My third and most obvious obsession as a child was cats. I used to be able to list breeds and their  characteristics. I had books and toys and a collection of ornaments–if ever I rattled on about something (as ‘Aspergers’ is known for) it was about one of these topics.

These interests evolved and shifted over the years. I’m fascinated by true crime now, with psychology and technology. I like to know what features new gadgets have, how new apps can change the way we do things, and what goes through someone’s mind when they commit a crime.

I am also interested in what interests other people. I have a deep desire to understand what draws people to one topic or another, and thanks to my ability to find something of interest about almost any topic, I’ve discovered love for subjects that are outside of my general ‘sphere’ of interest. Much of this was sport related, AFL and cricket, but also crafting tidbits and politics.

 

Why research something you’re not really interested in?

Good question. That leads back to another trait: I struggle to make general conversation with people around me if I am not adequately prepared to do so.

It started as a means of ‘having something to say’. I feel a strong sense of disconnection even around people I’ve known a long time, and particularly those with whom I don’t share a common interest. Talking about my own interests is generally not advised–I find they’re very specific to me and not of great interest to other people. Plus, if you get me started I’m rather hard to stop.

I also don’t see much value in small talk. It was a part of the ‘cashier’ routine that I had to do for work, which I think cheapened it even more. In the job it became reflexive and ingenuine. People talk too much as it is, I don’t see any need to waste words about the weather when I could be making a proper and meaningful connection with the people who matter.

So I began researching tidbits of information that fell into their interests. Facebook makes this incredibly easy! Facebook is literally a feed of things other people are interested in, articles you can read and videos you can share. This is one of my best compensatory methods and is invaluable in helping me to begin and carry conversations.

 

Do you have emotions?

That’s another misunderstood trait. Autistic people often have trouble processing or reading emotions from other people, and also in expressing the emotions they feel. That’s not the same as not having emotions.

I feel the state of others around me keenly. It’s like a thick fog–I can’t avoid it. This ‘empath’ trait is sought after and is linked to emotional intelligence. Except in my case (and in the case of other empathically sensitive autistic people), although I’m getting the information–there’s not much I can do with it. I don’t understand it.

I understand the basics of it. Good emotion, bad emotion. Beyond that, I’m lost. It’s like someone is in my face yelling at me in German. I can kind of grasp if they’re happy or sad, but I don’t speak the language enough to truly understand what is being said. All I know is it’s right in my face and it’s damn uncomfortable. When others around me are stressed or upset, I begin to get stressed and upset because of the tension, and not knowing how to release or break it.

Like many autistic people, I don’t read faces, tone, or situations well. So all of that information is just confusing and makes it hard to cope. There’s a constant analysis going on in the back of my brain, trying to discover the meaning as it unfolds. This is a skill that is acquired over time and experience, and while I’ve got better at it over the years, it’s still exhausting and far less accurate than that ‘intuitive’ understanding that allistic/neurotypical people have.

As for my own emotions? They’re strong. Incredibly so. There are two forces here that make it hard for others to understand my emotive state, and one is simply that I am terrible at making the right face at the right time.

I am a severe sufferer of ‘resting bitch face’. Often I have to consciously change my expression to reflect happiness or sadness, and this I do solely for the sake of not looking ‘weird’. Left to my own devices, my face would rarely shift. The same is true of inflection in my voice, I have to remember to speak in a way that ‘matches’ how I should be feeling.

The second is practice at stillness. This is an unrelated and learned skill. When I was bullied in early school years, the first advice I got was to never let them see me cry. I went far beyond that and taught myself a poker face that (combined with inborn reduced expression) I presented to the entire world.

There are days where I am incredibly expressive. I express myself outside of facial expressions, too–I run and jump and spin and talk a million miles an hour. These are the days when I am most myself, and most comfortable being who I am. When I am being ‘weird’ I don’t have to be ‘still’ and I can let go.

I struggle with letting go a lot. A lot. Experience tells me that if you act outside of what is expected, only bad things will happen.

 

How do you handle conversation?

To be honest? Not well. Unless it’s on a topic that I know a lot about, or have researched, I struggle. My slower processing speed can make it very hard to keep up with the pace of a conversation, and before I say anything, it needs to be formed, checked for appropriateness, and rehearsed in my head before it leaves my lips.

If I don’t go through that process–you never quite know what I’ll say. I can spurt out irrelevant or even offensive things without meaning to. I have to actually think quite hard about what is okay to say in front of the audience I’ve got, and to word it in a way that can’t be misconstrued. When you don’t really understand the extra connotations that others spot in terms of word choice, facial expression and tone of voice (remembering that mine does not flow naturally!) it becomes very important to watch what you say.

There are so many social clues and contexts and hidden meanings that I just… don’t comprehend. It’s only recently that I learned that commenting on how nice someone’s food looks/smells is the same as asking for some. I didn’t know that–and I would often compliment my housemate’s cooking based on the sight and smell. Not in the slightest did I expect that I should be offered some. I just wanted to say something nice based on an observation. That food did smell good!

In short, any of those more subtle aspects of interaction I need to learn the same way as I learned to tie my shoelaces: with practice and experience.

Starting conversations is probably the hardest for me, especially if they’re about myself. Those of you who primarily encounter me through this blog and other online channels might think that’s absurd. All I do here is talk about myself!

In person, it’s a very different story. First, it’s much easier to start a conversation that is light hearted and that you know will be well recieved by your conversation partner. So if I start conversations, it’s more likely going to revolve around their interests.

The second thing you need to understand, is that I’m driven by a deep and unshakeable fear of rejection. I’ve had this constant knowledge all my life that I am somehow different, that I don’t function in the same ways as other people, and for the most part I’ve been deathly afraid of demonstrating that difference. I fear that when people come to know me as I see me, they will see ‘that’ thing that makes me ‘other’ and that will provide enough reason for them to turn away.

I’ve always wanted to be out of the spotlight, away from scrutiny, scared that any minute I will be discovered. It’s felt a lot as if I’m some sort of alien trying to masquerade as a human, trying to learn their ways and fit in but never quite managing it. Fearing every time I slip up and show myself that I’ll be hunted down and outcast once and for all.

That’s a pretty heavy belief to have when you’re seven or eight years old, yet it’s one of the oldest ones I have. I don’t remember ever feeling any other way. I didn’t believe I had a right to be myself, because what I was was obviously ‘wrong’ and didn’t fit here.

The people I struggle to talk to most are the ones in my physical realm. Online is online. Yes–I have amazing friends that I hold in very high esteem and my life would not be the same without them. But even so, if, when I reveal my true self to them, they shun me?

I can turn them off. The internet is full of block and delete buttons. The emotional cost will still be high, but I won’t run the risk of seeing them down the street. They won’t be at family gatherings. I can tell them anything I like with that safety net.

I also get to speak with them using a method that allows me the most clarity: via text. I very rarely speak the more difficult things. When I do, the right words never seem to fit in my mouth, or I sway the conversation to make light of things and change the meaning entirely. Spoken conversations never go the way they should. I always end up saying something I didn’t mean, or not explaining things well enough and the whole exercise ends up being pointless.

This blog allows me a medium. It’s open and visible to people in my physical and online realms alike. These are my words as I wish I could speak them, explaining myself in the way I’ve always wanted to–and far more powerfully now that I have some understanding of why I am the way I am.

 

What do you mean ‘slow processing speed’? You’re smart, right?

For a given value of ‘smart’, yes. I’m great at navigating photoshop, but at this point in my life I can’t drive. People far less switched on than me can drive, so why can’t I? That’s the trouble with the ‘smart’ label. It assumes that smart in one thing is smart in all things. I am definitely not. No one is.

I have definite intellectual strengths. However, it can take me a little longer to get there. How fast or slow you process things has nothing to do with intelligence.

It’s a bit like RAM in a computer. If the average person has 16GB of RAM, I’m probably running on 12GB. Therefore, I am less efficient in how I deal with things around me. My extreme sensitivity also means that a lot of that ‘processing power’ is taken up by interpreting information from external sources. So there’s very little left to deal with the immediate situation.

This is most obvious in conversation. I have particular trouble with ‘verbal information dumping’, or basically when someone gives me a lot of instructions or ideas in a single conversation. In transferring that information from the short term (or RAM) to long term (HDD, haha!) memory, there’s not always enough RAM/short term memory to store the information… and pieces get lost.

Thankfully, there’s also a weird ‘transitional’ memory that I’ve noted, which is kind of like a backup for the RAM/short term. It doesn’t catch everything, but often if it’s been a long day full of information or if I’ve been given a lot of options regarding something, during my next quiet moment I’ll take some time to go through all of the concepts that were presented and process them properly.

This is generally what I’m doing while staring at the TV, playing video games, or scrolling through Facebook. I’m going back through the day and consolidating my memory.

 

What do you mean ‘extreme sensitivity’?

My sensitivity to almost everything is perhaps the least known fact about me. Even to myself, I didn’t realise what the source of discomfort was until it was pointed out.

I don’t tune things out well. That dripping tap? The radio across the road? That bird that hasn’t stopped for the last hour? I hear each instance as keenly as I heard the first. I have exceptional hearing, and the same goes for my sight and smell. But as I lack the ability to subconsciously tune out background sensations, my attention is constantly split between what is immediate and what is not.

I’m sitting at my desk right now and I’m hearing that bird, the fan in my computer, my fingers on the keys, that weird sound of the sky at night, cars move up and doors open, the neighbours in their pool, the saliva in my mouth. All of these have equal sized pieces of my attention.

I can feel my foot pressed against the chair, my hair prickling at the back of my scalp, sweat drying on my forehead and how itchy my nose is (my nose is always so annoyingly itchy!), my chest aching from a breath I was holding, my one roll of fat resting comfortably in my shirt, my bra straps itching across my shoulder blades, my trousers stuck to my leg with the heat. I can feel how heavy I am and how my hands shake when they come to rest. Again, none of these are ever tuned out. I am always this aware.

My vision is even more intense. I’m highly sensitive to bright light, and the fluourescent bulb above is reflecting off the white walls and table and box in front of me, a sharp contrast to the black computer screen, keyboard and tower. The black lines are wiggling and jumping around, creating after images in green and purple. The text on the screen is wiggling about like it does. How I ever learned to read, let alone love doing so, is actually a miracle. The granular colours of visual snow are drifting about, as usual. I’ve never known anything different. I’m now aware of how much it drains me, and how important sunglasses are.

Often it feels to me like my skin has been peeled  away, leaving every nerve raw and exposed. Every sound is a booming cacophony, every touch is a hot knife. It drains and builds, reducing my tolerance to anything more until I literally can’t handle anything more. In those moments I need to escape. I need to drastically reduce the amount of sensory information coming in, or I will go into meltdown.

 

Meltdown? You have meltdowns?

Yes. That is the actual term for what I call ‘episodes’. It’s a release, an expression of being so incredibly overwhelmed that literally nothing more can be tolerated.

Mild meltdowns are shaking and crying, but they go far more extreme. Screaming into pillows and raking my nails up and down my skin, trying to distract myself from a weird feeling that I can only describe as thrashing around inside my skin. As if I can feel my bones shift violently about inside me, trying to get out. I can’t catch my thoughts in a meltdown, they’re fragmented and swirling in a hurricane. There’s lightning snapping at the synapses in my brain, making me think things I don’t want to think.

I am lucky, very lucky, that at the same time I often go into a sort of ‘paralysis’. I freeze and feel myself fighting under my skin, but come to no real physical harm. The desire for violent acts is there, I want to punch walls and kick glass and run out on the road and scream at cars–but I can’t, and I don’t. I don’t move until rational thought comes back to remind me how dumb those thoughts are.

Frustration is the strongest feeling. Frustration that I can’t control it. Frustration that I didn’t know where it came from. Frustration that this is a thing that doesn’t seem to happen to other people, and I must be broken for it to happen to me so frequently.

I experience some form of meltdown roughly once a week. A bad week will have them once or twice a day, some of them being very severe. The experience takes a huge toll on my energy and a long recovery time. Exhaustion also adds to the underlying stress that leaves me prone to meltdowns, so if one severe one occurs, more usually follow.

There’s no cure for this. No way to control it, but to observe how I’m reacting to the situation I’m in, and take steps to minimise overstimulation where I need to. It usually means stepping away in social situations, saying ‘no’ when I want to say ‘yes’, and generally avoiding too much sound and light than I can handle. That reduces the frequency.

They will always happen. That’s simply how it is.

 

Uhh… violent acts? That doesn’t sound fun.

It’s not. It’s really not.

Like many autistic people, I experience emotions at an extreme level. I react to situations in a very intense way that I don’t fully understand. There’s no real language to explain those moments. I know that I’m feeling something highly complex, and often there’s a strong desire to communicate what I’m feeling–but I’m left without the tools to do so.

One method of expressing this frustrating pain is to convert that feeling into a physical object, something that others can see and comprehend. It is in the world, it’s real, it’s not a figment of my imagination. Depending on my state of mind, the impulses range from scratching my skin to the above-mentioned running on the road.

I need to underline here that never in the almost-thirty years of having these types of thoughts have I acted on them any further than to scratch my arms and legs. Nor will I ever go beyond that. So much meaning is lost in the conversion from emotional to physical that it literally makes no sense to do so, and above all else, I am a highly logical being.

I have a ‘voice’ (not a real voice, but I often consider it a separate entity) that pipes up when intrusive thoughts jump their way into my brain. My more rational self poking holes into the violent suggestions that flash up like annoying pop-up advertisements.

The best example of this rational voice is from the day that the most bizarre intrusive thought suggested that I should take the office scissors and cut both my hands off at the wrists. I was having a bad day and feeling under a lot of pressure, things kept changing every other minute, and I was well beyond my limit.

Rational voice says: ‘Okay, so you very painfully cut through the bone of one hand with blunt office scissors… exactly how do you plan to cut the other hand off? You can’t use scissors with a bloodied stump, dickhead.’

I laughed. That’s often the case. Either rational voice points out how illogical/messy/plain dumb an idea is, or the gaps in the impulse’s logic are too hilarious. Either way, there has never been a chance of action on any of these more extreme thoughts. Nor will there ever be.

 

I bet you don’t like things changing around. Sheldon Cooper doesn’t!

I sure don’t. Some of Sheldon Cooper’s autism characteristics are ones that I do share. Rigid thinking and an inflexible sense of order are one.

I start my day with a sort of mental plan, a sequence of activities that will get me from waking and to the end of the day. I tell myself every morning that although I have this road map for the day, things will come up and I will need to adjust as necessary.

Haaaaaahahhaa. If only it worked that simply!

I get very frustrated with late changes to my plan. I’m quite okay with someone texting me 4-5 hours out from doing something that they’re now unable to, as that gives me enough time to process this information and adjust the plan accordingly. Texting me ten minutes before leaves me with a sudden gap in my mental schedule, and a sense of loss at how to fill it.

The same happens with being given activities to do. I need time to process that something must be added to my mental schedule, and time to figure out how I will best approach the task. Starting something the minute I’ve found out I need to do it is incredibly uncomfortable. It fills me with that unprepared sense of anxiety, not unlike the worry that you left the hair straightener on while you went shopping. I can do the task through it, but at the cost of that anxiety pushing me closer toward a meltdown. At the same time, the distraction caused by that unsettled feeling means I may not do the task as well as I normally might. I wasn’t prepared for this, I didn’t go in with a plan, and this is the result.

You might think it doesn’t matter, that not all tasks need a plan and approach–that I should just relax and do things regardless. In that case, you’re missing the point. Taking the time to mentally slot the task into my sense of order is how I am able to relax. I have a very defined system for how I go about the world, and the majority of it involves a period of consideration prior to action.

I even think for several minutes about what path I will take through the house before getting up to go to the toilet.

I don’t think there’s a single person I haven’t frustrated with this particular aspect of myself. Just ask my poor English teachers, who watched me sit in front of a blank page for hours before beginning to write!

 

So what is your ‘sense of order’?

Everything and everyone has a place and a way of being that I have come to expect. Changes to that can unsettle me very fast. One of my first major breakdowns spiralled from my family moving home–and I didn’t even live there at the time.

I get very attached to places and objects. Mum had the same microwave for so many years that their current one still looks wrong to me. I get upset when my favourite foods are discontinued. I hate when people change cars. Our local radio stations changed their names just the other week and I am not okay with it.

I love the idea of holidays, but the reality actually sucks. Everything is out of place at once. Christmas is a chaotic rollercoaster of visitors and nothing being the way it usually is. As much as I love the season and having people around, it’s not the norm and it becomes unreasonably stressful. During special events and holidays, I need far more time to recover than in an average week–purely because I have to keep re-creating my mental schedule around the chaos.

 

Do you understand sarcasm?

Another stereotype, and one that has a good real basis. I understand sarcasm from people I know exceptionally well. Sometimes. Not all the time. I understand sarcasm when it is hyperbolic and accompanied by a distiguishable ‘sarcasm’ tone of voice.

Our family is one that likes to tease each other in that good natured way that families do. I do it as much as anyone else, but even with family I have to second guess whether what they say to me is truth or joke. Or perhaps if it is a truth cloaked in humour. I never really know. I just laugh and try to think of something witty to say back. At least, now I do. I know that’s what is expected now.

Before I really understood that, I would shrink back or into a book and try to vanish. I would get offended or upset and retreat. What was fun for others was confusing and confronting for me, but I never knew how to express that feeling.

With people I don’t know, the confusion is a thousand times worse. Ask anyone who’s ever flirted with me–most of them get shut down so fast because I’m convinced that they’re playing some sort of joke on me. I get very defensive because I don’t fully understand what’s going on, and defensive is all I’ve got to protect myself with.

 

Do you hate social things?

Quite the opposite, if you’d believe that. I love having people around, even if it does get highly uncomfortable for me. There are certain environments that I hate, such as clubs and music festivals, but for the most part I’m extremely happy when surrounded by the people who matter to me.

There are ways I can push through, and the key one is alcohol. Alcohol dulls my senses and disables most of my filters, so I have a lot more processing power available to enjoy social situations. I refuse to lean on it as a social tool, but in situations where it is acceptable to drink and be merry, I do indeed drink and be merry.

The bonus of alcohol is that in disabling those filters, I’m generally more my authentic self and I don’t give a shit. It’s good training for being able to do that sober!

 

Why did you seek diagnosis?

I changed jobs, from a part time retail gig to a fulltime position as a marketing coordinator. Now, I have a long adjustment cycle for any type of change, but even when I normally should have been settled, I wasn’t.

I was experiencing difficulties I’d only encountered once before–when I was working full time as a network technician. I was tired and unfocused, unreasonably emotional all of the time, and I was struggling to get work done. When I got home, I would collapse on my bed and go straight to sleep. Most nights I was too exhausted to eat.

My productivity suffered for it, and I was beginning to think I was incapable of doing this wonderful new job. In spite of how much I loved it, I couldn’t seem to keep up with the changing priorities and multiple tasks that I was expected to have going at any given time. My brief foray into telemarketing was a complete bust, as I talked over people or said the wrong things, or worse–froze up when the conversation took an unexpected turn.

I had no idea what was wrong. I reached some very low points where my sense of worth was less than nothing. I contemplated returning to the job that provided me very little satisfaction and cried myself to sleep. How could I be so bad at something that I loved so much?

Many things happened in my fight to understand what was happening, but the key moment was an article shared on Facebook. It was on the ‘lost girls’ of autism, girls who were overlooked or misdiagnosed under the belief that autism isn’t something that occurs in females.

When I found a list of behaviours and symptoms, I just stared at the screen–and cried. I’d never read such an accurate description of my experience.

From there I went on a fact-finding mission, reading books and blogs and matching those experiences to mine. The result was almost always tears: of relief, because finally I wasn’t as weird as I thought. There were women out there just like me.

I wasn’t failing at my job because I was dumb. It was structured in a very different way to my previous job. I didn’t have the long gaps between short shifts to recover mentally. I was also working three times as many hours in a week, which is a lot for an autistic person. I shifted from being crippled by self-doubt to proud of what I had managed.

I am an autistic woman who is successfully holding down a full time job. Statistically, that’s quite an achievement! Many other autistic women are not able to manage full time work.

The choice to be properly assessed and formally diagnosed was a personal one. Because these autistic traits were causing issues at work, I felt I needed more than a Google search worth of answers. I needed solid strategies to help improve my productivity and create more balance in my life.

I did some research and located a psychologist who specialised in female autism. My experience with being allocated a local therapist was very hit-and-miss, so this way I was able to choose someone that I felt had the understanding I needed to give me useful answers. I read both Aspiengirl and Aspienwoman by Tania Marshall, and from there I felt reasonably confident that she could help me.

Tania Marshall does more than just diagnose, and as an adult, I needed more than just a label. Her view of Autism/Aspergers as a different wiring of the brain, and an opportunity to leverage super talents was one that I could get behind. Working with her I was able to understand both how I process things, and to begin building a road map toward better self management.

 

Are you glad you discovered your illness finally?

The process has been hard, and very confronting. The first thing I had to adjust on diagnosis was shifting the way I saw myself from having an ‘illness’ and ‘disorder’ with anxiety and depression, to being a person with a ‘condition’—a person with autism.

It may not sound like much, but the difference is huge. Autism isn’t something you cure. It isn’t something you can cure. I’m not sure I’d want to even if I could–it’s the source of my strengths as much as it is the source of my weaknesses. Like any other person, I need to manage those weaknesses and optimise my strengths. Unlike any other person, failure to take care of myself and to manage those weaknesses will result in a meltdown.

I’m very glad to have found this answer. So many things in my life make more sense through the lens of Autism. I struggle to let go of things before I fully understand how they occurred, so now that I have a better understanding of some of the more shameful events in my life, I can finally forgive myself for them. I finally know how and why they occured.

I can finally stop thinking of myself as broken, stupid, and a failure. Instead, I have been someone trying to survive in an alien world, living under the incorrect assumption that I should be able to survive the same way as everyone else.

I can’t. I need my own way, and that’s perfectly okay.

Importantly, I am not ill. I am just different.

Diagnosis for me meant that I was able to see more clearly the experience I have. It gave me the language to describe it to others. It gave meaning and hope that I could not just eventually be free of the more damaging effects–but manipulate my strengths into superpowers.

I always was and always will be autistic.

 

Isn’t everyone a ‘little bit autistic’?

Yes… and no. Everyone has traits that are commonly found in autistic people. But to say that everyone experiences them in the same intensity and with the same consequences as an autistic person is to completely disregard how painful and frightening a meltdown can be.

You might not like that itchy tag at the back of your shirt. For me, it will itch and itch and itch until I either escape it, or I break down.

 

Were you vaccinated?

Sigh. Yes. As you’ll notice, I also didn’t die of measles, mumps, or rubella.

The vaccination-causes-autism myth is completely bogus. There was never a time in my life where I was not autistic. The rise in autism diagnoses is due to the greater understanding of autism and its traits, not the increase in vaccinations.

Autism is primarily genetic. For any autistic person, there are family members who display fragments of autistic traits. Those traits are passed on, creating a profile that carries enough autistic traits for the individual to be deemed diagnosably autistic. The chance of my own children, should I have any, being autistic is incredibly high.

I will never understand the argument against vaccination on the grounds it causes autism. I would much rather this, than a preventable illness.

 

If you’re autistic, shouldn’t it have been caught in school?

For boys, this is most often the case. Girls are diagnosed on average two years later–and more and more women are discovering themselves at the age of thirty or higher. These older women (myself included) were in school at a time where the idea of girls being autistic was still a foreign one.

What happens in a lot of undiagnosed women is a cycle of not coping, where the woman is fine for a time–and then everything falls in a heap. There’s time for recovery, and then it begins again. It goes on until the woman goes into what is known as ‘autistic burnout’ or ‘autistic regression’.

 

Autistic regression?

Basically, a surge in autism symptoms. The individual is too run down or burned out to tolerate the things she did before, in the way she did before. Compensatory strategies that used to work are no longer as effective, and meltdowns become more frequent and more intense.

This is what drives most women to seek more answers. For me, changing my job was what drove me into a state of autistic regression, and I’m still trying to dig my way out of it.

 

Why can’t you just shrug it off and keep going?

Well-meaning advice suggests I should be able to tough things out, and push through. Some days, yes, that’s possible and productive. It’s not a strategy for the long-term, though.

Constantly pushing past my limits, not listening to my body when it demands rest, continues the cycle of not coping. It results in recurring burnout, each episode worse than the one before. In women who were not fortunate enough to be diagnosed, who continued trying to achieve things in the same way as their allistic peers, that burnout became permanent.

Nervous breakdowns, permanent fatigue, and critically reduced tolerance to sensory input? That’s definitely not a life I want to lead. So taking care of myself now, tolerating what I can and taking the time to recharge when I need to is highly important.

I need to accept myself as an autistic person, and make decisions accordingly.

 

How else do you cope?

I do a lot of things to cope on a daily basis. Wearing sunglasses (including inside at work), taking breaks during social activities, and having something I can hyperfocus on to ‘recharge’ if I can’t step away–those are some of the basics.

When I get home, I change into comfortable clothes that don’t cause excess sensory input. I spend my lunch breaks in a dark room, and you can usually find me resting with my eyes closed. Not asleep, but processing and blocking out the light for a while.

I get my nails done professionally, partly because it feels good and I like the uniqueness of it. It makes me feel like I stand out for the oddball that I am. But also because it flattens the tips and allows me to release pressure by scratching, without doing any damage. I get glitter polishes because watching the light sparkle is soothing to me, and can help stabilise me when I don’t have the ability to retreat.

I try to walk a line between avoiding things that induce meltdowns, and maintaining an active life. That’s a balance I’m still learning.

 

How are you still rambling?

I honestly don’t know. I hope this gave you a bit more insight into my world of Autism. I would love to answer any questions you have, or hear your own experiences.

And suddenly–it was all too much.

And suddenly–it was all too much.

It started around 10am, an hour into the second meeting of the day. The first meeting hadn’t been much to with me, just a company catch-up that we do once a month. The second, the marketing meeting, was where I was expected to be especially attentive.

We have a lot of projects on the go at the moment. Half of my work day is devoted to prodding one supplier or another, trying to get information out of people so that I can get down to the part of my job that I’m good at: writing excellent content.

Our main receptionist cut her hours back to two days a few weeks ago, so on Mondays and Wednesdays I juggle between drafting articles, updating the company website, monitoring social media, attending to the live chat widget on the website, and answering the phone. I hate phones. I swear the work phone has it in for me, it’s like it picks the time where I am at my most stretched and rings continuously.

Never with quick things I can pass on to someone else, no. It’s trickier conversations that require more than my stressed-out brain can manage, or people who insist on remaining on hold even though I’ve explained that the person they want to speak to isn’t in the office and I am genuinely unable to put them through.

I really, really hate phones. If I could disable the calls function on my mobile, I would. I never hear things properly, I forget pieces of information as the conversation continues, I’m terrible at identifying people by their voices (people who don’t say who they are on the phone are the worst)… and I’m so caught up trying to manage all of this incoming information that my ability to respond like a human being takes a nosedive.

So here I am, Wednesday morning. I don’t hate meetings, but usually they don’t last more than an hour. I didn’t notice at first.

It was like someone was gradually turning the world up around me. The contrast between the light on the board room table and the shadows on the floor intensified, voices around me cut into my ears with an almost physical slap to the brain. Things that were not loud and bright before were gradually becoming intolerably so.

My notes became more and more disjointed, edges of the black ink I was writing with haloed in bright lime green and magenta, like when your TV is on the fritz. My shoulders tensed, that tight feeling seeping into every bone and muscle, the more I tried to concentrate on the content of the meeting the more I could feel it slipping away.

I leaned forward on the table, rested my elbows on it and my hands either side of my face so I could subtly half-block my ears to muffle the sound coming in. By the time the meeting ended, each word and noise was like a gunshot. I wanted to close my eyes, but I had to stay focused and present.

Even then, I didn’t realise the full extent of the situation until the meeting ended. I stood, and almost fell straight over my knees were shaking so much. I can’t quite describe how it felt. Electric? Like my very skin was vibrating. I could feel the seams in my dress (which I usually quite like wearing) and they felt like razors against my flesh. I felt like I was about to be sick.

After the meeting I grabbed my cardigan and headed down to the break room. Wrapping the cardigan (soft acrylic, not wool. Wool is too itchy most of the time) as tight around myself as I could, I sat against the wall in the dark and let myself breathe. It was quiet, and in a few minutes I had at least stopped shaking and feeling sick.

The world remained a bit too loud and a bit too bright for the rest of the day. As I write this, I’m in my bedroom with sunglasses on. My polar fleece pyjamas (I’m a stylish lady) feel like sandpaper even though they’re the softest and comfiest things I own. Stacking the dishwasher was a unique kind of torture–I hate the sound of dishes and cutlery against each other at the best of times.

Hearing that piercing ‘clink’ just gives me–I don’t know. I can’t explain. It’s painful. Like nails on a blackboard, but worse. It doesn’t just hurt my ears, it triggers a physical discomfort. Like someone’s punched me in the throat and stuck knitting needles in my ears.

So that’s been my day. I got a lot done in spite of it, and I’m proud of my choice to step away and gather myself when I did. I had to do the same when I got home, only for longer, being so incredibly sensitive to everything all day has wiped me out.

Hopefully tomorrow, with some rest and a good breakfast in the morning, will be better. I’ll have some support on the phones at least!