Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Trapped

It's been a while since I've posted, because the last couple of months have been a bit of a settling in process for me with Asperger's.

I've started to accept it and come to terms with it; but that doesn't mean I like what I'm discovering.

Despite the fact that I'm getting used to it, I now have the realisation that this is it. I'm stuck with it.

I am trapped in the mind of an Aspie; socially isolated, confused, and not bloody pleased about it at all.

Imagine a life where you ALWAYS get the wrong end of the stick, you project your own crappy feelings on to everyone and everything, and you are always confused as to whether or not you've done something wrong because you don't know how to interpret text conversations, emails or facial expressions? Well, that's it.

Absolutely trapped.

Shit.

So, I guess I need to work out how to be un-trapped and how to lighten the fuck up a bit.

It's going to be a long day.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Understanding the female aspie in your life

You might want to get a sandwich before you read any further, because this is going to be a long one.

Since finding out I have Asperger's, at the grand old age of 44, I seem to have forgotten all my previous coping strategies; well, most of them, and the real me has come out to play. This is not necessarily a good thing for the people around me, and until I can become reconciled to who and what I am, it's going to be a bit of a bumpy ride. If you have a female aspie in your life, then keep reading, because you owe it to yourself and to her to understand.

You're so much worse since you were diagnosed...

I'm not really. I just now have to acknowledge that this is what I am, and all of the difficulties, quirks, setbacks, benefits and so on are now being magnified to me. Ohhhhhhhh THAT'S why......is my currently most used phrase. I'm getting to know myself, so I'm sorry if I seem worse to you; you might not feel that you know me too well, but oh em eff gee, I have no idea, so you're going to need to be a bit patient with me. Because guess what? Yes, the world DOES revolve around me; at least mine does; because it has to so that I can function and interact with you. 

Asperger's isn't a mental illness; it's a neurological disorder, where the development of the nerves in the brain is compromised. It has more in common with Multiple Sclerosis than it does with mental illness, but depression goes hand in hand with it, because life is sometimes just SO FUCKING HARD. As it is for everyone at times, but every day is a mass of trying to read situations, understand what you're saying, getting it wrong, wondering what I've said that's pissed you off; the list goes on. And yet, my neurotypical clients; I can read you like a book, cut straight through to the crap, and help you move on. 

Dealing with the neurotypical world is exhausting

Oh yes. Dealing with social demands, sensory input, overload, demands, too much going on, too much noise, too much colour, too many demands on my time; I've just finished work and I need time to decompress and calm down. I NEED to be alone for a few minutes without you making demands of me, whoever you are; if you don't let me, I will melt down, you will forget I'm an aspie and assume I'm in a pissy mood, and then I will feel guilty, overwhelmed, mute and sad. It's not like I always even understand what you're trying to say. Say what you mean, and mean what you say, please. I'm a hypnotherapist, not a fucking mind reader. I missed out on the hand book you were all given at birth that taught you how to socialise and read people, and understand social interaction and nuances of some conversations. This is particularly true in text based conversations, like Facebook messenger. There is a really good chance that we could fall out with each other in a messenger conversation because I JUST DON'T GET what you're alluding to or hinting at. I just don't.

And honestly, as far as socialising goes; I would love to. Really I would. But I'm on the edges of everything, and I have learned how to make small talk, but I just don't see the point in that. So I really need you to understand that I have to be on my own for most of the time. I know it comes across as arrogant, or as if I don't care. I do. I have far too much empathy and I give up a lot of my time to help people. It's just the way it is. But I can't deal with too much interaction. When you don't know the rules, it's pretty scary. And I'm an aspie, so I have obsessions. Do you REALLY want to hear about every Beatles B Side? Or about my fascination/obsession with the Madeleine McCann case (actually, everyone who's ever been on my Facebook friends list EVER knows about that one). It's not really dinner party conversation material is it?

My nightmare scenario is going clothes shopping with friends. I never try anything on, I don't need to. For some reason, I have a great eye for how clothes will look on me (and on you, if you ever need a stylist), and whether or not it will fit me. I can just tell at a glance. So, my last shopping trip with a group of friends which was hellish enough for me to begin with, became very uncomfortable because I wouldn't join in the trying on of clothes in Primani Hell, and with the shrieking that accompanied it. Massive sensory overload, too much noise, buzzing fluorescent lights, clothes labels that DRIVE ME MAD and too many people. No, just no. And obviously, I no longer have that group of friends who just thought I was weird.

Trying new things

WTF, are you kidding me?
Trying new things can send an Aspie into meltdown. New foods in restaurants, different types of clothes, holiday destinations.....it goes on.

I'm not too bad with restaurants and food, although if food I've become used to suddenly looks/tastes/smells different, I won't touch it again. 

The thing that bugs me and makes me feel insecure and wrong is watching new television programmes. I love Game of Thrones, and Breaking Bad; both of these I got into at least half way through the first season, because it's scary to commit to new stuff; so I'd ignore the first episode when hubby was watching, cast an eye over the second, and start getting drawn in by the third. This means that I have shows I really enjoy, and just keep wanting to watch those over and over. Drives him mad. Sorry. :)

Relationships and friendships with other women

If you are a woman, and we are friends, then you must be pretty special. In fact, if you are male or female and we actually have face to face contact, then I think really highly of you, because socialising.......ughhhhhh. But my relationships with women have always been a little strained, and it's because, as an aspie, I struggle to do the "girl" thing. Dressing up, looking like other women, it just doesn't come naturally to me. My hair is usually a bit of a mess, often a mad colour, and I wear jeans, Converse, and band t shirts. I occasionally try something different, but if feels so very uncomfortable and so wrong, and I feel SO RIDICULOUS that I just revert to type, This, I now know, is typical of aspie women. I'm 45, and most 45 women I know don't dress this way.  I find the mask of being well dressed something I've never been able to master although I can occasionally scrub up ok, but I also find that it makes me suspicious. I've learned to act and mask my fears and problems, and women are generally amazing at this; but they all see right through me.

Men, on the other hand, I can get on with far more easily. I can be blunt, to the point, and basically be myself. My mum wanted me to attend an all girls secondary school, and I railed against this. She asked me why I wanted to go to the school of my choice, and if it was because there'd be boys there; and I said yes, of course. I think she thought I was boy mad :) Not so, I have 3 brothers, understood the company of boys, and didn't understand female interaction and game playing.

So now, if you are a woman, and we get on; you're blunt, to the point, and I love you for it. 

Melting down in public

Melting down is the culmination of a lot of pain, but tipped over the edge by a seemingly small trigger.

I "stim" a lot, those little tics that we all have that make us feel better in uncomfortable situations. When a meltdown is coming, the warning signs may be that I stim a lot more. Chances are though, the meltdown will just erupt. Melting down at home is one thing; in public is one whole, humiliating, other story. Nothing like seeing a grown woman have what seems, on face value, to be a temper tantrum, or to be in hysterics. I've had meltdowns where my husband has had to hold me firmly upright, arms pinned to my sides. to stop me from rolling around on the floor. These are few and far between, thankfully; the last really public meltdown I had was in a tube station about 6 years ago, and one in Leeds city centre 9 or 10 years ago. I have the occasional this-could-go-somewhere-if-we-don't-stop-it-now episode, but public meltdowns are, thankfully, quite rare. 

This doesn't mean, by the way, that I can control the meldowns that happen at home or in less public places; it just means that, so far, I've got lucky.

Being different

So clearly, I've always been different, but now I know why. 

I've always lived my life behind a glass partition, able to see through it but not really experiencing life. I've always had "them and me" syndrome, for as long as I can remember. At nursery school, I couldn't socialise, I would wait alone at break times, waiting for all the other kids to clear out from the big table where they had their orange juice and biscuits, before going to get mine. See; them, they, not us or we. At infants and junior school, I felt the separation of me and them, and spent as much of my time as I could learning the guitar, which I was compelled to learn. I got on great with adults, and took my guitar to school every day, so my long-suffering teacher would show me something new to play. We got to the point fairly quickly where that role was reversed and I was teaching her, but I loved the time and interaction with her. Female aspies are quite youthful, and even now, I look up to the company of adults; but I'm finding now that some of these adults might well be younger than I am. 

I was very very very very oh my god very very bored at school. Apart from during maths, where all I felt was fear and impending humiliation because I can't remember my times tables. Interestingly enough, I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was at uni, but I've questioned that diagnosis since finding out I'm an Aspie; I could always read and spell pretty well, my reading age was way ahead of my actual age; but numbers were horrendous, and I would regularly write them back to front, upside down, have number blindness. 

It also took me some time to process questions asked of me, because my mind goes through every possible scenario at top speed. So now, if you ask me a question, and I look at you with a glazed expression with my mouth open, I'm shuffling through the answers for the most appropriate one. 

Being musically gifted was a great escape for me, so while I felt bored and unstimulated at school, and couldn't wait to get away (and also couldn't revise for exams, because, durrrrrr, I have executive functioning issues), music and playing guitar came totally naturally to me. So, your female aspie isn't lazy, or dim. She might not be academic, but has brains to burn, she just needs the right motivation.

To not stand out as being different, female aspies learn to fake it. We learn really well through observation, and we can intellectualise most emotional processes. But we watch what other people do, right from how to behave in social settings, that being blunt and open isn't ALWAYS the best way, that you don't have to put sugar in your coffee in public if you don't normally drink it that way (having seen someone else do it and think that's what everyone does), to how to get through a networking event relatively unscathed. Sadly, your female aspie pal will be exhausted as a result of this. Pretending and watching is tiring. Being tired, having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is often a co-morbid condition to Aspergers, and I am currently typing this post in bed, dealing with, so far, a 4 day relapse, where I'm falling asleep regularly during the day, and my arms and legs have pretty bad burning pains shooting through them to make it a bit more interesting.

Female aspies don't just get tired. It's real fatigue that grinds us to the occasional halt.


Being alone and being lonely

I've been told, many times, that I need a social life. I need to get out there and meet people, do new things, take up new hobbies.

Taking up new hobbies is something the female aspie (in fact all aspies) needs to do when she's good and ready. The reason being, we already have our interests, and new things distract from those. 

My social life is on Facebook. I love my friends, I'm fairly sure they think I'm ok; and when I say friends, that's what I mean. People I've known for years, since school, who've ignored my weirdness, or better still, accepted it and tease me about it. 

If you're my friend, you're special. If I want to see you, please bear in mind that it takes me some effort. It will be great to see you, but there are only a handful of people with whom I am truly comfortable and happy to be my weird little self with; and they know who they are.

Being pressured into socialising makes me shut down and retreat into myself. And yes, that's incredibly lonely, because I DO want friends. I think you should all come round to my place for a party. I'll be upstairs on my own, but I'd love you all to be there, and someone can just report in to me now and again and give me all the goss.

So that's it....

Every day is a tightrope walk, my friends. It's an attempt to fit and and feel normal and appear normal. Women are particularly good at this, and we don't often realise there's something wrong, other than we don't appear to sail through life with the ease that other people do, knowing the right thing to say and do. It goes beyond introversion and shyness, and most Aspies are introverted and shy. But even then, you all seem to understand how to play the game, on the other side of the glass partition.

I know that it's hard to understand that a simple question can make an Aspie girl shutdown. But to you, it's simple. To us, there are a million possible answers, and we don't always believe that any of them will be right.

But for now I'm done; be glad it hasn't taken you as long to read this as it has for me to write it; but thanks for getting this far.

Paula x

Monday, 25 May 2015

Please do not hug the aspie

OK, here's the thing. I don't like being hugged.


I hug people because it's a social norm, but for me, it's fraught with problems, and I'm guessing it's like being hugged by an ironing board.

On social media, it's one of those things you say. Hugs. Expressing empathy when something goes wrong (or in my case, saying it because it's the thing other people say, and I copy social cues to try and get it right). However, when that's returned to me, I struggle with it.

Imagine that you're someone with Aspergers who doesn't like hugs, and is having a bit of an emotional shutdown. Can you put yourself in my place? Because I have difficulty putting myself in yours. But just go with it......you're shutting down, and someone keeps offering you hugs. How do you think you might feel? If you can't imagine, then I'm going to be clear on this, because I can't skirt around it. I don't like it. They make me feel crowded, pressured, unsafe, and I'll retreat a million miles away if I can. Offering me hugs if I'm shutting down is an absolute no no. And if I'm having a full on meltdown? Don't even think about it.

Recipients of hugs; I hug my mum, my other half, and friends I know well and have rapport with. My close school friends, because I've known them since the beginning of time, and they knew I was weird before we all knew why. Because I know you doesn't necessarily mean I want to hug or be hugged. My personal space is approximately double that of an NT person, so even shaking hands is difficult for me. If you see me getting my change in a shop, you'll also see me manoeuvering so no contact is actually made as the money ends up in my hand. If I can't stand physical contact in getting my change back, your chances of being hugged are slim to none.

Even with people I love and trust, I sometimes don't hug them back. And it's not me being a bitch, it just is what it is.

I would love this to be different but I can't change it.

If you didn't know me, I would imagine this comes across as being arrogant. I really don't mean it like that. It's just way too much and I HAVE to be selective in who I hug because I don't have a neurotypical brain, and that is what makes me choose like this.

Thanks for understanding.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Sensory processing problems - who needs a kaleidoscope when you have Aspergers?

There is a branch of a well known chain stationery shop that I need to go to fairly regularly where I live. It takes me a few moments to get myself oriented in there, because I have flappy feet syndrome; I don't always trust that where I plant my feet is where they'll go (that being unsure of where I am, physically, placed), and because the displays just swim in front of my eyes.

Have you ever been at the top of a tall building and had that feeling that the world is swimming around you? Well, that's what this shop is like. It's too bright, it's too colourful and the packaging and the words on them; they mean nothing. I can't make sense of what I'm seeing in front of me. I try to get my vision to settle, and without fail, an assistant will come up and say, "Can I help you?" Instantly I forget what I went into the shop for, I become mute, and physically have to distance myself from the assistant. They must think I'm a looper, but the world is spinning around me and I'm waiting for it to stop.

All I'm trying to do is buy a bloody pen.

Add to that the buzzing of the fluorescent lights, conversation going on around me, the heat being whacked up too high all year round, and I am one unhappy Paula.

You see, the world is a very bright, very noisy place, and I can't switch it off.

I've stood in the middle of Times Square at 11pm on a Saturday night, and felt more at peace than I do in most everyday situations. I can cope with situations (after a fashion and with some coping techniques, earplugs and dark glasses, yes even at 11pm) that I know are going to be loud and bright and too close when I've chosen to be a part of them. I love going to gigs, I love noisy places full of life that remind me I'm alive too. But being crowded in a queue, talked AT unexpectedly, and in a sea of stuff that my brain can't process; it's hell on toast.

If you see a girl frozen in the street in Harrogate town centre with her fists shoved into her eyes or her hands over her ears; it's probably me.


Saturday, 9 May 2015

Aspergers and over explaining; because you obviously didn't get it the first ten times

Yes, we tell you everything ten times


If you live with an Aspie, you'll realise this. If you live with a recently diagnosed female Aspie, you'll finally understand why.

We tend to be fairly quiet for most of the time, but once we're on a roll, there's no shutting us up. And the thing is, we want you to understand. We often don't understand ourselves, so what we're doing is talking through what we need to say, getting it wrong, finally hitting on the right words, and then telling ourselves as much as we're telling you.

And then, we'll go off and do something else, and then maybe two hours or two days later, resume the conversation we were having. If you've had a sleep since then, as a neurotypical partner, it's probably confusing. For us, it's as if there's been no break in the conversation.

"It's what makes you such fun to be with" is what I'm told. I believe there might be some irony in there, but I have Asperger's, so I don't have a clue.

Don't jump in and explain for me....

So yes, while I'm over explaining, and I'm suddenly hit with a brain fart, don't tell me what I mean, or choose my words for me. I KNOW it's frustrating for you to wait for me, particularly when you think you know what I'm trying to say. But here's the thing; you don't always, and so being kind and explaining what I'm telling you takes the conversation away at a completely different tangent, and just makes me stabby. And I'm usually articulate, but when I have brain fog, helpfully throwing random words at me makes me just want to push you under a bus. 

(I'm nice really)

And yes, I ask you the same things ten times

I need routine, certainty, assurances, and getting the same answer to the same questions, ALL-THE-FRIGGIN-TIME.

Asperger's makes life uncertain, confusing, and a bit scary. Also, if I can't see it, to me, it means it isn't there. So if I ask you the same thing; yes, I KNOW it pisses you off, but cut me some slack. I'm not doing it to annoy you. I just need to know conditions are as expected, that's all. 

The aspie in your life doesn't repeat and need repetition to annoy you. That's all I'm sayin'....

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Twirling

I loved twirling when I was a kid.

I wasn't one of those kids who was naturally good at cartwheels and hanging upside down from monkey bars. I was a left hander who had to do some things right handed. I was weird, and an outsider, and I knew it.

There was me, and there was "them". They were on the other side of my permanently-in-position glass partition. They could do all that stuff, they were co-ordinated, and they were brilliant, and for some reason, their names all began with J, and they had their birthdays in September and October. I was different, and my name began with P, and I was in the middle of the school year for birthdays, not one of the older kids. They could do what I couldn't.

But I could twirl like you wouldn't believe.

I could spend hours spinning and twirling on the spot when I was a kid. In fact, as an adult, I defy anyone to beat me in a drunken game of dizzy-sticks....my sense of my place in the world doesn't seem to be rooted to any particular spot. I hated to be stopped. It was fun, I was in my own little world, and my rapidly shifting horizon had a lovely, hypnotic effect on me.

My centre of gravity just isn't.....in fact, when I've been in meditation classes, and asked to find my centre, I have no idea what and where that is. I live in my head, and that's the best I can tell you. So the effect of twirling on me never bothered my equilibrium, where it had the other kids lurching about and falling head first into things. I just saw cool visual effects and felt that I was in a different place in a different time.

So, as I don't know my place in the world, on the planet, and exactly where I'm located in space and in relation to the ground, I twirl my way through life. It's one of the better stims, it's more fun that clicking fingers and rocking, which I do just to feel calm and capable.

This sense of not knowing where your body is in relation to the ground and your surroundings is odd. I occasionally get dizzy spells that twirling around have never caused, and it's just a momentary feeling of being rooted; it's disconcerting, and then I fly off into space again. If you've ever played the game Super Monkey Ball, where the monkeys fly off at the end of each round; it's like that. If not: If you've ever had labyrinthitis, and infection in the ear that causes feelings of vertigo, you'll understand this. The feeling of falling upwards is something I experience regularly, and I always feel that it's normality trying to happen, clinging on for a moment, and then giving up. No, not today.

Of course, I could just be weird, that would be the easier explanation.

But of course, now I know it's one of the earlier signs of autism and Asperger's. But back then, in the early 70s when girls just weren't diagnosed with Asperger's, it was "being silly" or "attention seeking" or "for goodness' sake, you'll make yourself sick".

There aren't really any opportunities to twirl around as a 45 year old woman who needs to be a credible and respected member of the business community. So instead, I have to improvise. Twirling disposable coffee cups around with a pencil, twirling my hair around my finger, spinning toys, spinning the rings I'm wearing, or the bracelets around my wrist....anything to satisfy that need to feel on the move, changing perspective, and repetition, because it means safety and security.

So, you know my stims. Rocking, finger clicking/flicking/tapping, and spinning. This is the effort it takes to feel normal, feel like someone whose name begins with J, and to act like I'm on the other side of that glass partition.

Not hurtling off into space.

Aspies unite in your own homes please

I thought it was about time I started to document my experiences with Asperger's Syndrome. Life is very different for a woman on the spectrum, and our experiences are not always in parallel with our male counterparts.

I looked at a lot of blogs when I was first diagnosed (January of this year), and while they were great, not many of them really addressed the practical issues of having Asperger's and twirling your way through life as an adult female who has been through the ringer. They were very ethereal postings, and while I am going to post a lot about how it feels, I don't really relate to the tone of "I'm sitting in the dark with just my cat, because she's the only one who understands me....."
(sorry if you're sitting alone in the dark with your cat because she's the only one who understands you.....)

My name is Paula, I'm 45, and I am an Aspie with superpowers.

I run a business, I have to get through each day relatively unscathed, and deal with the days when that doesn't happen.

So, terrifying though this is, this is an open-heart look at Aspergers in daily life for the 40 something Aspie Girl.

I hope you'll stick around.