Autism and Burnout

Burnout is a chronic state of stress which leads to physical and emotional exhaustion. It might manifest as anxiety or depression or both.

The Signs Of Physical and Emotional Exhaustion

  • Fatigue: You lack energy and feel more tired than usual.
  • Insomnia: Starts with the occasional bad night and progresses to the inability to sleep or stay asleep every night.
  • Concentration: Lack of sleep affects concentration and the ability to complete tasks.
  • Physical Symptoms: Palpitations, chest pain, chills, stomach aches, headaches and hundreds of other physical symptoms that make you worry that you are gravely ill which in turn forces you even further down the wormhole.
  • Illness: Your body becomes more susceptible to immune related illness.
  • Appetite: You may lose your appetite or go the other way and over-eat, especially sugary or high-carb foods.

Alongside the physical signs, there are emotional signs.

  • Loss of enjoyment about things you love.
  • Negativity: You become pessimistic about everything. In my case, it isn’t glass half empty. It’s glass smashed into smithereens all over the floor!
  • Isolation: Socialising is hard work for most autistic people but during burnout, we don’t have the energy or inclination to socialise at all. This includes social media.
  • Detachment: As an autist, I have always felt detached from everybody else but detachment from burnout can be a detachment from everything including yourself.

When you reach this stage it is illness.

A lot of autistic people will reach burnout stage at some point in their lives. The reason is that trying to exist in an NT world is stressful and exhausting and the human body can only take so much battering from stress hormones before it starts to burnout.

Burnout.

Nervous Breakdown.

Shutdown.

Call it what you will but it ALL amounts to the same thing.

Your body has had enough and is no longer whispering words of warning to you. IT IS SCREAMING AT YOU TO FUCKING DO SOMETHING!

The whispers started for me as a small child when I constantly felt sick or threw up and was living in a constant state of fear.

The whispers got louder as a teenager when I developed an eating disorder as a way of trying to gain control of my own life.

As a twenty-something the whispers told me that it wasn’t normal to be seeing ‘black things’ scurrying across the floor that nobody else could see or imaginary spiders in front of my eyes.

At thirty-something I tried to shut the whispers up with alcohol.

At forty-something my mother died and I had my first nocturnal panic attack.

At 46 years of age I had a nervous breakdown.

Finally, my body said ‘ENOUGH’.

Physically and mentally, I burned out.

My body has pumped so much adrenalin into my system that my fight or flight response now triggers when it shouldn’t – like in response to my dreams or the heating coming on. This is why I have insomnia. This is why I wake up in the early hours every morning.

Why do autistic people burn out?

The more ‘highly functioning’ we are, the more is expected of us and the more we push ourselves to be neurotypical. People can’t see what’s going on inside of us. They just see somebody who ‘looks’ perfectly normal. The effort it takes to be able to pull this off is phenomenal and sooner or later, the consequences will be burnout.

A lot of autistic people suffer from anxiety and anxiety means fear.

We fear walking out of the front door into a noisy and confusing world. We fear having to socialise. We fear having to make small conversation at work. We fear that we will lose control. We fear people being able to see past our pretence of being neurotypical. We fear rejection. We fear there being no escape route.

We fear.

Our hearts beat faster. Our bodies are constantly primed to fight or run. The fight or flight response is triggered numerous times a day and over time it takes longer for our bodies to recover from it. Eventually, even the fittest of us will succumb to illness. Either physical, mental or both.

Once you have had a breakdown you are never the same. It’s an invisible scar. A wormhole opened up and you know that it won’t take a lot for you to lose yourself down there again. As if life wasn’t already tough enough? Now there is this fragility about you. The difference is that by now you know you have to take better care of yourself and your needs.

You learn to say no.

You learn to let go of people/situations that drain you.

You accept your limitations.

You will hang up the neurotypical ‘skin suit’ for good.

What the fark is a skin suit?

If you’ve ever seen Men in Black, you’ll be familiar with the big ol’ ‘bug’ who comes to Earth. The alien nicks farmer Edgar’s skin so he can look less, er, conspicuous. Only it’s not his skin, so it doesn’t fit. He looks weird and it makes him uber cranky because it feels pretty shit to be wearing someone else’s skin. A bit like trying to cram yourself into size ten jeans when you are a generous twelve..

Feeling ‘alien’ is a feeling that a lot of autistic people identify with. We feel like we don’t belong here and a lot of us pretend to be neurotypical in order to not stand out. It’s an act and acting requires effort. When we shut the outside world out, it’s such a relief to finally be us.

My breakdown coincided with my diagnosis and even though I am still fighting to rid myself of panic disorder and insomnia, I am finally free of the constricting neurotypical suit I’ve been inhabiting for the majority of my life.

I feel lighter.

I don’t push myself to be ‘normal’ anymore.

If I can’t go to social functions I don’t beat myself up about it.

If I can’t face shopping in the supermarket, I’ll do it online.

I haven’t given up on life. I just find ways that make living a little easier.

When I get overwhelmed I shut myself away like I have always done. The difference is that I no longer feel guilty about it. People can think what the hell they like because you know what? They will anyway because that’s what people do.

This is no longer about them.

It’s about you.

It’s about self-care.

With social media, I get overwhelmed pretty quickly so I have learned to give myself breaks from it and to limit time spent on the internet. The internet can get pretty intense and I soak up the negative stuff like a sponge. Bad news and hate is all over the internet. It affects me, then I get ill. Yes, we live in a computer age and the internet can be useful but it can also be damaging to your mental health so it’s up to us to police our internet time so it works for us not against us.

I have also accepted that I can’t do ‘life’ on my own so now I ask for help when I need it. Being autistic, there are certain things that I struggle with. Asking for help, isn’t being weak. It’s self-care.

The thing is that I’ve have put so much effort into existing that I’m exhausted and for what?

To fit in?

So I don’t offend people by saying no?

I’m done with all that.

We should all be done with that, right?

If you can identify with this post. Please don’t let another day go by where you live your life on somebody else’s terms. If it hasn’t already, it will make you ill.

It’s time to be the fabulous human being you were born to be.

It’s time to be you.

“If you celebrate your differentness, the world will, too. It believes exactly what you tell it—through the words you use to describe yourself, the actions you take to care for yourself, and the choices you make to express yourself. Tell the world you are one-of-a-kind creation who came here to experience wonder and spread joy. Expect to be accommodated.” ~ Victoria Moran – Lit From Within

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Vagina and the Menopause

Vagina and the Menopause is a good name for an all female rock band don’t you think?

No?

Moving on then…

I’ve droned on about so many aspects of the menopause but the thing that I have struggled with the most is the fact that my body is so different. It’s almost as if I am inhabiting someone else’s because this sure as sausages doesn’t feel (or act) like the one I’m used to.

In reality, I sort of have my body backthe body I had before hormones turned me into a psychotic mess every month. I just get to keep the boobs, the tell-tale signs that I have given birth to three children (one removed via my abdomen) and my battered vagina.

It’s Mother Nature’s gift to me.

The menopause is a natural part of ageing which affects you inside and out. This, combined with wrinkles can make you feel about as desirable as a pig trough, and as if that wasn’t crap enough – sometimes you lose your sex drive too.

It’s true. Sean Bean could be standing in front of you naked and you’re like, ‘Whatevs Sean. Put the kettle on love, eh?.’

I miss my oestrogen. I miss the feeling of calm it gave me. Also, the lubrication. Another crap thing about the menopause is how things start to, er, dry up. The last time my GP poked her finger up my vageroo, she informed me that, ‘It’s all healthy up there except for some slight atrophy.’

Slight what?

A trophy?

What the hell did it win? The vagina most likely to need a safety net as part of the birth plan?

For those of you who are not au fait with atrophy, I will enlighten you.

verb
verb: atrophy;
1.
(of body tissue or an organ) waste away, especially as a result of the degeneration of cells, or become vestigial during evolution.
“the calf muscles will atrophy”

Gradually decline in effectiveness or vigour due to underuse or neglect.

Now, you’d imagine it’s time for your weary vagina to get rest after decades of, er, use?

Nope.

According to the experts, you need to keep it ‘exercised’.

And lubricated.

Basically, you need to shove something up there once a month, even if it’s plastic and works on AA batteries – just make sure you wash it down after.

There is nothing REMOTELY dainty about the menopausal vagina that has seen some battle.

The menopausal vagina is like the state of your living room the morning after your teenage children have thrown a wild party. A total shit-hole with stuffing hanging out of the sofa and an odour that you can’t decide if it’s good or bad. Am I wrong?

Yes, your fanjo will smell different.

It’s another perk of the menopause. YAY!

Different is fine but if you find that a distinct fishmongery smell is following you around and people are passing out after you’ve been for a wee, you might want to get it checked out by your GP as offensive odours are not normal, sistahs.

Reasons for vag pong are as follows..

1. Bacterial vaginosis that causes a vaginal discharge and odor
2. Concentrated urine due to dehydration
3. Urinary tract infections
4. Urinary leakage

First thing would be to make sure you are drinking enough water.

Most of us don’t drink enough but as I have said, after the menopause it’s ALL about lubrication and hydration. One way of knowing if you are dehydrated is to check the colour of your wee. It should be pale. If it’s dark, you are most likely dehydrated. You should also be aware that medications and supplements can make your wee different colours. For instance, B12 makes mine day glo yellow.

The reason our vagina’s go from sweet smelling to not is due to pH levels. Aside increasing intake of water, you can improve the situation with exercise and a a bit o’ internal massage, you get me?

Then there are the aesthetics..

Generally, after decades of being pounded by penises (real or plastic) and heaving out human beings, the vagina looks like it’s gone ten rounds with Joe Calzaghe. Things, er, loosen up a bit. The unflattering term, I believe, is ‘bucket fanny’. This is where you regret not doing those pelvic floor exercises when the midwife told you to, eh?

The way your ‘fanny flaps’ hang arrange themselves also affects how you wee because if they are in the way, the wee can’t flow smoothly. Sometimes there’s a ‘sprinkler’ effect where the wee goes in several directions at once and if you haven’t pulled your knickers down far enough you can end up with a soggy bottom.

No, I’m not talking from personal experience. HOW VERY DARE YOU!

*lies through teeth*

Personally, I don’t have a problem with excess ‘flappage’ as I prefer to think of it as potential skin graft material should I ever find myself needing one.

Clouds and linings, people.

However, if you want to take drastic measures, you can buy a ‘designer vagina’ via plastic surgery.

Labiaplasty reduces the size of the labia minora.

In English: Over decades of having sex and giving birth, your flaps may start to resemble a pair of elephants ears as opposed to the mouse ones you started off with. These billowing flapolas are a match for the elephant sized derriere that also seems to be yours. This would explain the jump from skimpy briefs to all encompassing Spanx pants and why you can’t walk into Top Shop without setting off alarms..

The good news is that if you dare to go commando in Summer – the waft from your flaps will keep your thighs nice and cool and the flies off your chips.

WIN and WIN, ladies!

Labiaplasty reduces your flaps back to something like their former glory.

Vaginoplasty is designed to reduce the size of the vagina.

Self explanatory.

For between £1000 and £3000, you can have this done. I say, SOD THAT! I’ll take my chances with a tub of KY, Fem wipes and doing some Kegal exercises in the post office queue.

What do you say, ladies?

“Why do people say “grow some balls”? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.” Betty White

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Reasons I Hate Snow

 

1~ It’s cold.

Snow can be cold. The kind of cold that strikes through to the bones and freezes your snot. People say that children don’t feel the cold but they obviously never met the likes of me. Soggy mittens were never my idea of fun, people, hence I generally ‘enjoyed’ the snow from the warmth of the dining room window. That said, there have been moments in my menopausal journey where I would have given my right nip to be able to shove my face in a snowdrift..

2~ Aesthetics

There is something quite beautiful about fresh snowfall. I always marvel at the white blanket that magically transforms even the shittest of places.

Then humans and animals ruin it all.

First come the size 14 boot prints of the milkman.

Then, come the patches of yellow snow..

There is nothing remotely picturesque about a snow filled garden when you have dogs. Even less when it’s a small yard.

Then there is the joyous act of cleaning up after your four-legged friend has taken a dump in the snow..

Never had the pleasure of digging out a dog turd from 8 inches of snow?

You’ve never lived!

*snorts*

Lets not forget the lazy-arsed owners who genuinely believe that their dog’s excrement will dissolve in the snow so there’s no need to get that poo bag out eh?

What actually happens is that once the snow has melted – the pavements are smeared with poo which gets on everybody’s shoes and into their homes. Incidentally, these are the same breed of dog owners who believe that slinging shit bags into trees makes them inconspicuous.

*double snort*

3~ Driving

The problem with this country is that we are never prepared for wintry conditions. Our cars suddenly turn into Torvill and Dean – only less graceful.

To be fair, it’s the scariest thing to find yourself sliding down the road with absolutely no control whatsoever. I’ve had a few ‘squeaky bottom’ moments in my time so I avoid driving in the stuff whenever possible. However, I still get anxiety from watching other drivers sliding perilously close to my car as their back wheels have a mental breakdown.

Note to self: Next house must have a driveway.

4~ Snowballs (and other bodily parts)

No matter where you are or who you are with, at some point some idiot will throw compacted snow in your face and fall about laughing. For some reason, this is considered normal behaviour? But if I was to fast-spin a cricket ball at them, I’d be hand-cuffed and trundled off to the police cells.

*throws hands up in the air*

Then there are the snow-people complete with balls and boobs..

Nothing says Christmas quite like the sight of a snowman with a massive set of knackers on the front lawn, eh?

5~ It’s Slippy

As I’ve got older, there is another reason why I hate snow and ice.

It’s slippy.

The problem is that I have Osteopenia.

Osteopenia? Isn’t that a film about mods?

No, that’s Quadrophenia.

Osteopenia is the pre-curser to Osteoporosis. In other words – thinning bones. This means that I am more likely to break a bone should I fall over. Even a minor fall could have serious consequences. *serious face*

This is monumentally crap because I’m only 47 but it is what it is and all I can do is protect myself as much as I possibly can. So I fit contraptions to my boots (cleats) to stop me falling over and they do work. I am the ONLY parent on the school run who wears them. However, the well-being of my bones trumps dignity, no?

Note to self and other snow grip users: Do NOT attempt to walk on a tiled floor with your ‘cleats’ on. You’ll be on your arse faster than you can say Bolero!

Then there are the women who wear high heels when the pavements are blatantly icy. What’s more is that they manage to stay vertical! There’s me taking tentative steps despite the protection of my grips and they overtake me wearing stilettos as if they didn’t get the memo that it has snowed!

Witchcraft?

One theory is that the heels act like little ice-picks so maybe there is some method in this madness?

Even so. I think I’ll stick to my flat heeled boots and snow grips, ta very much. I’d rather look like Nanook of the North than end up sprawled on the pavement with a busted hip.

So, there are my five reasons why I hate snow.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it NOOOOOO!!!

I rode on a plane a couple years ago with Snow Patrol and didn’t know who the hell they were. They said they were big fans of mine and were playing Madison Square Garden. And they let me listen to one of their records on their iPod. I started to weep. ~ Neil Sedaka

 

 

The Teenager That Santa Forgot..

One year, Santa forgot me.

It’s true.

To be fair, I wasn’t a small child. I was a teenager.

So how did I come to be left off Santa’s list?

It was 1985. The year of the first successful heart transplant, Windows 1.0, The Golden Girls, The Breakfast Club, Live Aid, Take on Me and wearing your jacket sleeves rolled up Miami Vice style..

I was:

Fifteen. Teenager. Vegetarian. Knew Everything. Annoying.

I don’t remember how I came to be vegetarian, I just know that from 14 I declared myself a meat free zone. I lived on cheese, as 80s vegetarian options looked (and tasted) like Trill. Thank God for Linda McCartney, eh? Problem was, Mum never did understand the concept of vegetarianism. She gave me cheese in place of meat but then poured gravy over it which kind of defeated the object..

Maybe it was hormones combined with my undiagnosed autism (and copious amounts of cheese) but my teenage years were funked up and not in a good way..

I’d argue that black was white and I’d do it with a PASSION. Not content with being meat-free, I terrorised everybody else for being ‘murderers’. Dad took it all in his stride. He thought it was hilarious, but Mum was suffering from the menopause (or rather we were suffering from her menopause) and that particular year she and I clashed more times than a pair of cymbals.

By Christmas, I was struggling. Doing the social thing exhausted me mentally and physically. Going out took hours of stimulating myself with rock music and days of recovery time afterwards. Every time I convinced myself it would get easier but it never did because exposure only works with shyness and I wasn’t shy. I was autistic.

That year I’d asked ‘Santa’ for loads of records including The Cult’s ‘Love‘. I’d been borrowing my mate’s LP but she was pissed off with it spending more time on my record player than hers, so I was looking forward to getting my own copy. Gimme a whoop!

Christmas Eve

We were allowed to lie on the sofa watching films all day and the jar of Quality Street was ceremoniously opened. It was a good day and in the evening Mum challenged her inner Hyacinth Bucket (It’s Bouquet) and did a candlelight supper, which was V posh.

I felt very grown up.

I was even allowed wine. SHHHHHHHH!

Dad was on the Jack Daniels.

Brother was semi-pissed on Southern Comfort.

Mum was on the Stella (I’ll fight you and everyone else) Artois.

Everyone was happy.

Until it went tits up..

I don’t remember what I said, exactly. Maybe it was something about meat and murder again? I just know that I opened my big mouth and said something that had my mother slamming the louvered doors off their hinges as she flounced off into the kitchen.

In my confused mind, ONE thing registered.

SHIT!

Dad was rolling his eyeballs.

Brother was smirking at me.

Elvis was crooning Blue Christmas in the background.

My mother was turning the air blue in the kitchen in-between nose blowing sessions.

Tentatively, I inched my way into the war zone but took one look at her face and knew that grovelling was futile. She looked like Alice Cooper, only with red eyes. Even in my limited understanding of body language, I knew my best (and only) option was bugger off upstairs and leave Dad to smooth things over.

So I went to bed and endured one of the most miserable nights of my 15 year old life.

What, in the name of Ian Astbury, had I said to incur SUCH a reaction?

I still don’t know.

All I know is that I was forever being reprimanded for ‘showing off’.

Showing off?

Er, I’M AN INTROVERT?!

In hindsight, I know that the Christmas Eve fiasco wasn’t ALL down to me. I blame Stella Artois and lack of oestrogen. Stella because it always made my mother do the crying thing and lack of estrogen put her on a permanent hair-trigger. It could have just as easily been my dad or my brother who said something to upset her, eh?

But it wasn’t them.

It was me.

Mostly what got me into trouble were my meltdowns. I’d become overwhelmed, therefore out of control, and it was interpreted as me being a little shit – as so often is the case with autism.

Nobody knew I was autistic.

Not even me.

Christmas Day

I unenthusiastically wished Jesus a happy birthday and prayed that he’d put in a good word with my mother overnight and she’d forgiven me for “ruining Christmas”. I lay in my miserable pit until I heard sounds of life downstairs, then slowly made my way down into the kitchen where Mum was perched on her stool puffing away on a Silk Cut. She narrowed her eyes at me. This look meant, ‘Approach me NOT. I’m still pissed off with you!’.

I slunk into the living room..

There, lit up in all it’s magnificence was our faux Christmas tree and underneath it were three piles of presents.

One for my brother.

One for my dad.

The third pile was my mother’s.

FUCK!

Didn’t say fuck – obvs -my life was hanging in the balance as it was.

For the first time in my existence, Santa had forgotten me.

I’D MADE THE NAUGHTY LIST.

THE SHAME!

Mum looked weird. Sort of angry and sad at the same time and that’s quite a hard one to pull off!

Brother was still smirking. That litle shit positively basked in my misery!

Tears slid down my face.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so sorry for myself in all my life.

Dad couldn’t take it anymore. He looked at Mum and said, “You’ve made your point Flo. Come on now. It’s Christmas”

Mum snorted and flip- flopped upstairs in her new mule slippers.

A few minutes later she appeared with my presents.

She went from angry to misty eyed in a matter of seconds and hugged me so hard I thought she’d busted my lung.

“And let that be a lesson to you, Madam!”

Despite having no literally NO idea what this lesson was supposed to be, I chose to keep my trap shut.

Maybe that was the lesson?

Ordeal over, I started ripping into my pressies with the finesse of a three year old on E numbers.

My first gift?

It was Love.

When I tore off the wrapping paper that Christmas morning in 1985, I had no idea that 32 years later, the lyrics to the title song would have such significance to my very existence on this planet.

I guess you could say that I’ve spent most of my life in the ‘wrong hole’?

Now don’t go and ruin this moment by thinking rude thoughts about holes? *serious face*

I mean ‘wrong hole’ as in trying to be neurotypical.

Spent a long time in this hole
Spent a long time in the wrong hole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anxiety: The Night Shift

 

What were you doing at 2am this morning?

Chances are you were asleep.

Me?

I was cleaning my kitchen.

Are you insane?

Well yes, but I don’t usually snap on the Marigolds in the wee early hours of the morning..

Thing is. I went to bed at 10pm last night and woke up having one of my not so wonderful nocturnal panic attacks. I’d been dreaming so I presumed it was around 4 or 5am, which is the time I usually wake up with a racing heart..

Then I looked at the clock.

IT WAS 11.30 PM!!

There was an ‘What the actual fark?!’ moment, right there.

I’d only been asleep for about an hour?

This was alarming in itself as I am used to waking up around 4 or 5 am. I have woken early on other occasions but when you are half asleep things are confusing and unfamiliarity intensifies fear which intensifies the sensations of anxiety.

I my breathing exercises but on this occasion they didn’t work. I was just too wired.

The adrenalin surged through my body affecting every part of me from my head to my toes. This is the sensation where my body feels electrified combined with a horrible feeling of foreboding. It’s a majorly shit feeling but I’m used to these sensations. I’ve experienced them more times than I can remember. Mostly, the deep breathing works, but sometimes my heart races on regardless.

That’s when I have to get up.

This was one such occasion so at 11.45, I gave in and got up.

On walking into the kitchen, my dog looked at me as if to say, ‘What the fuck are you doing, Human? I was having this totally awesome dream about me, a fit Dalmatian and a pallet load of Bonios and in you walk lookin’ all pale and shaky. Don’t expect me to lick your sweaty face anytime soon, yeah?’

Then she started licking her arse..

I don’t blame her. Like me, my dog is a creature of habit and doesn’t like surprises. I often wonder if she is autistic too?

My first job was to flick the kettle on for some herbal tea. Ginger for the nausea. Then I filled in one of my trigger forms for health anxiety. This is where I talk myself down from my state of irrational fear by asking myself what my worst fear is and what factual evidence I have for it. For instance, my fear might be that I will have a heart attack or my heart will stop and I will, like, die. Factual evidence for this thought are my symptoms – such as palpitations and chest pain.

Then I consider the evidence against this thought. In my case, I have had recent and extensive tests which all showed my heart to be working as it should albeit a bit fast due to anxiety. There is no evidence of heart disease. Also, I have had these episodes for the last 6 years and I am still here.

I remind myself that even if the worst was to happen, I have experienced and come through a major health scare when I was bleeding internally in my 37th week of pregnancy. My life and that of my son was in danger. However, despite understanding the seriousness of the situation, I felt no fear and did not panic. This suggests that if the shit was to hit the fan, I would cope.

I also remind myself that, relative to it’s power input, the heart is the strongest organ in the human body. It’s designed to keep going despite stress or trauma. This organ kicks arse yet because of the sensations of racing and humping, I imagine it to be frail or delicate? There is no medical evidence to support heart failure or disease. My heart is merely responding to the fight or flight mechanism. A necessary bodily function. It’s there to keep us alive. My brain doesn’t know that it’s my thoughts that are triggering the response. It’s simply doing it’s job.

Next, I consider the other possible explanations for the panic attack. What have I done differently?

In this case, I had eaten too much sugar and too many cups of decaf. Even decaf has a percentage of caffeine, so if you drink enough and are sensitive enough, it will affect you. I also ate a spicy meal which I know affects me. When I woke up, my mouth felt like a flip-flop, so I could also have been dehydrated and dehydration can trigger panic attacks.

So what did I do to cope with the situation?

I cleaned my sodding kitchen!

I worked with the adrenalin instead of feeding it with irrational shit.

I completed my worksheet by coming up with a realistic thought about my situation and this is what I wrote..

This is unpleasant but I have been here hundreds of times before.

These sensations always pass.

I can cope with this.

At around 3am, I reevaluated the intensity of my thoughts, emotions and sensations and noted that it had gone from 90% fear to 10% with my physical symptoms being less intense, so much so that I was able to go back to sleep.

It’s 8am as I am typing this. I have had four hours sleep and I feel exhausted but I got through another night shift.

I didn’t add fear to the fear.

I didn’t phone for an ambulance.

I didn’t disturb anybody else.

I will not fear going to sleep tonight.

If I have another panic attack, it won’t kill me.

It never has.

“That’s the advantage of insomnia. People who go to be early always complain that the night is too short, but for those of us who stay up all night, it can feel as long as a lifetime. You get a lot done” ~ Banana Yoshimoto

 

 

 

 

Spontaneity Hurts.

Say yes, and you’ll figure it afterwards ~ Tina Fey

Doesn’t work that way for some people, Tina.

It certainly doesn’t work that way for me.

Sometimes it will appear that I am being spontaneous, but the truth is that I will have been thinking about something in my head long before I actually say, ‘Shall we do this today?’ However, this can only apply to me and OH as The Boy needs time to adjust to any changes because he is autistic too.

One problem I’ve always had is having to cope with other people’s spontaneity – such as those who turn up without notice. I’ve had decades of people just turning up unannounced. There have been countless times when I’ve hidden upstairs or in the kitchen to avoid answering the door..

As part of my diagnosis my ex husband wrote a letter about me as, at that point, he’d lived with me the longest. He referenced how I used to do these things and how at the time he thought I was being moody or rude. He noted that every time the door went or the phone rang, I was suddenly elsewhere..

My parents never turned up unannounced. I guess this was because my mother also struggled with unannounced visitors. My mother-in-law, bless her, was different. She was full on neurotypical and as old fashioned as they came. I know without a doubt that she loved me, but I also know that she didn’t understand me. She’d often ask her son why I was so moody, only I wasn’t being ‘moody’. I was struggling to process the change to routine.

In the early years of my first marriage, I was practically a hermit. I struggled with everything that most people do without thinking. Even fetching the milk in was stressful because there was a chance that one of the neighbours would see me and I’d have to speak to or ignore them. It was often the latter. Sometimes because it was easier. Sometimes because the words wouldn’t come out. Hence, I got myself a reputation for being ‘weird’ or ‘stuck up’. I’ve waited hours for neighbours to go in just so I could walk up the street. On especially anxious days, I have cancelled appointments rather than walk past people in my street. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but it’s true.

My mother-in-law had set days where she would come to ours. The routine worked for me. However, sometimes she’d just turn up when I was on my own. She’d peer in through the living room window and rap on the glass. I loved this woman so much but my heart would sink, not because I didn’t want her, but because I wasn’t prepared for her. There was no time to get my head around it and I had no choice but to let her in because no matter how muddled my head was, I would never have left an elderly lady on the doorstep.

A lot of people like to be spontaneous but I’d hazard a guess that the majority who do are neurotypical.

Take Christmas, for example..

Every year, I give OH a list of what I want for Christmas (almost always books) and he always says, ‘We’ll see’. On hearing those words, I become anxious. He has this thing where he likes to ‘keep me guessing’. It’s utterly NT and it drives me FUCKING NUTS!

Every year, I tell him, ‘I don’t like surprises. Please just get me what I’ve asked for’.

Every year he says, ‘We’ll see’.

I’d hoped that my DX would change this and he would understand that surprises stress me, even nice ones.

Last week, I told him that I’d give him my list of books and he replied that I’d be getting something else as well because it made him happy to surprise me.

What’s more important? The pleasure of the giver? Or the distress of the receiver?

I can’t help how I am. I can’t adapt. No matter what I do, I will ALWAYS react negatively to spontaneity.

I get that there has to be compromise in any relationship, let alone a neurotypical/autistic one, but sometimes compromise isn’t possible. In this situation there can be no positive compromise. It can only be that OH does as I ask him or I try and cope with the anxiety in order to make him happy.

An example of spontaneity malfunction from my childhood..

We’d just moved and my life had been turned upside down. That summer, I turned 11 and my mother decided that I was old enough to be sent on errands, whereas before, I’d always gone with my brother. One day she told me to go to the local shop for her. It was a bad day anxiety wise and I had no confidence at all. I reacted badly. However, my mother interpreted my behaviour as being normal for a girl my age. Except that I wasn’t being rude. Or lazy. I was overwhelmed.

How can a trip round to the local shop overwhelm you?

Here’s how.

The request was spontaneous. There was no time for me to process or plan. Mum wanted something from the shop and she wanted it there and then.

The only route to the shop was along a busy main road where the traffic, at the best of times, was loud and unrelenting. Part of pavement narrowed with railings on the roadside and overgrown bushes on the other. It was claustrophobic and forced you into having communicate when people allowed you past or when they thanked you for allowing them past because for all my problems, I have always practiced good manners whenever possible.

The shop itself was half post-office, half grocery shop and it was always busy after around 10am. Mum sent me round at dinnertime – one of it’s busiest times.

What happens to my brain when I’m stressed is that it goes blank. I struggle to process and retain information. I remember standing in the shop with sweat literally pouring out of me – staring at what my mother had written on the piece of paper..

I was looking but I couldn’t see anything..

The noise was deafening. That, combined with the smells of cooked meats and that general grocery shop smell was an assault on my senses. The ‘normal’ thing to have done would have been to ask someone, but that meant communicating and it was beyond my capability at that moment in time. In the end, I walked out of the shop with nothing and went back home feeling useless. It was a feeling I would become familiar with as the years went on. It really bothered me that I couldn’t do the spontaneous thing without my brain malfunctioning. I need to plan. I need to know where everything is, right down to the toilets. I need trial runs to unfamiliar places. I’ve done this with holidays. It’s a part of my autism that I wish I didn’t have but I also know it’s a part of me that will never change.

Spontaneity doesn’t make me feel ‘alive’ like it does with most people. It freaks me out and fucks me up.

Since being formally diagnosed as autistic, a lot of the guilt has left me. How can I beat myself up over something that’s beyond my control? Nor do I feel the need to apologise anymore. I can try and educate people but I can’t make them understand that spontaneity hurts.

  I might say yes IF I can figure it out beforehand ~ Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas and the Autistic Child

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Most children like Christmas right? For many on the autistic spectrum, Christmas is a stressful time of year. The inevitable changes to routine are enough to send some children spiralling into one meltdown after another..

Same for autistic parents.

The Boy’s anxiety has been climbing for weeks. As soon as things change at school his behaviour deteriorates. He’s on a VERY short fuse and the simplest of requests, like taking his coat off, has him throwing stuff and stomping off upstairs screaming that he wants to DIE. He’s eight going on thirteen only this is him BEFORE the hormones kick in!

Can you imagine when they do?

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Trip hazard? Or my son when the testosterone kicks in?

The Boy’s need for me is ever greater as he battles with a brain that struggles to cope with Christmas. He likes Christmas but struggles with it just as he struggles with a lot of other things he likes.

There are no decorations up at our house yet as we’re trying to keep stimulus to a minimum and my anxiety is so bad that the mere thought of them makes my heart race. The control freak within me struggles to allow other people to do it and in the past when I have let the kids, er, ‘help’, I have stood there fighting the urge to rugby tackle them to the floor in order to prise the baubles from their clammy little hands. *whispers* I re-did it once they were in bed. It’s something I don’t like about myself but it’s a pathological need for certain things to be aesthetically pleasing in my eyes.

When it comes to visiting Santa, forget it. It’s a sensory nightmare.

Queuing = Hell.

Noise = Hell.

Migraine inducing fairy lights = Hell

Sitting on Santa’s knee. Do they still do that? = Hell.

I hated it as a child. The Boy managed one minute in a queue once and we had to leave. Do your child and yourselves a favour and go to an autism friendly session where the visits are timed, you can take your own present. Visiting Santa should be a pleasant experience for every child, no?

There are things you can do as a non-deranged parent to make things a little easier for your autistic child.

Decorations

  • You can involve your child in buying decorations or letting them help you to put them up.
  • Introduce the decorations gradually. It’s probably best not to have it looking like Santa’s Grotto if your child gets easily overstimulated.
  • Give some thought to your Christmas lights. If your child is very sensitive, a migraine inducing strobe effect probably isn’t the best idea. Static or gentle fade in and fade out lights will be more appropriate.
  • Use countdowns for putting the decorations up and taking them down.
  • Use social stories and visual calendars.

Visiting Santa

  • Check your local papers/social media for autistic friendly Santa-sessions

Presents

  • Mountains of presents will overwhelm most autistic children so it’s best to limit how many they get or don’t put them all out on Christmas Day.
  • If your child has sensory issues pay attention to the paper you use to wrap the presents with.
  • If unwrapping make them anxious then don’t wrap them at all.
  • Place a familiar toy next to the new presents.
  • Try some gentle classical Christmas music in the background especially if classical soothes them normally.

Family

Don’t feel under pressure from your family. If you know your child can’t cope with a big family get together on Christmas Day, then don’t be afraid to tell them to sod off – albeit politely. Your child’s well-being has to come before Great Aunt Ada parking her arse on your sofa all day scoffing the Quality Street eh? Life is different when you have an autistic child. If people get it, great. If they don’t, educate them until they do get it. Maybe give them a book on understanding autism as a Christmas present?

Familiarity

Christmas Day is just the three of us. There are no visitors. There is no Christmas dinner with party hats and other such paraphernalia. The Boy has his usual food and bedtime is the usual time with the usual ritual of a story and his Classic FM.

The Rules are that there are NO rules when it comes to autism. Each person is different. Some love Christmas, some don’t. All autistic people are affected but not necessarily in a negative way.

Me? I find Christmas stressful BUT it’s also the season of fairy lights and I BLOODY LOVE fairy lights!!

As a child I used to lie on the floor under the Christmas tree and stare at them for hours on end. My Nan, having downed a few brandies, would say, “You’re a funny little girl” I used to wonder why she was calling me funny when I hadn’t said or done anything funny. Now I know she was calling me weird. MY OWN GRANDMOTHER!!

Christmas is difficult for me in ways which most people wouldn’t understand. I’m not a Christmas hater – it’s just that there is too much going on and that sends my anxiety orbital. Social media is crammed with Christmas. TV is bombarding us with adverts/mini-movies for the hard sell and it gives me a headache. If I could cherry pick bits of Christmas it would be lights, carols and the act of giving. You can keep the crowds, commercialism and my pet peeve, ‘Secret Santa’.

I don’t suppose it helps matters that my father decided to shuffle off his mortal coil on a Christmas Day. To lose someone you love on any day of the year is bad enough but to lose them on Christmas Day is epically crap. The image of Dad’s lifeless body while Noddy Holder screeched “IT’S CHRISSSSSSSTMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAS” is forever seared into my memory and while I fight to bring forward the memories where he was the life and soul of Christmas, this one always wins.

As regards The Boy, we try to keep things as close to normal as is possible. Whatever ‘normal’ is.

Header Image via Creative Commons

 

 

The Many Moods Of The Menopause

Most women are used to being moody for two weeks out of every month, right? Our significant others understand that all a woman wants during her premenstrual and menstrual phase are painkillers, a hot water bottle and a family size bar of chocolate and if we don’t get those things we’ll be up on a manslaughter charge. Diminished responsibility, obvs.

Here’s the thing..

Menopausal women don’t get a break from the mood swings. The length of time it can take for things to settle down vary but it can take up to 15 years for all the symptoms to subside.

FIFTEEN YEARS!

When it comes to our ever changing moods – think of them as a relay race where Happy starts off and passes the baton to Irritation – who passes the baton to Anger – who passes the baton to Psycho – who passes the baton to Melancholy – who passes the baton to Guilt who sprints through to the finish.

THEN IT ALL STARTS AGAIN AND NOR NECESSARILY IN THAT ORDER.

Irritation

Everything and everybody irritates you. Nuff said?

Psycho

This is turbo-charged irritability.

Scenario: Mrs X has struggled with hot flushes ALL day. Her boss is an inconsiderate arse biscuit who’s fed up of her numerous visits to the loo to stick her furnace face under the cold tap. She fights her way home in rush hour traffic, then opens her front door to find her living room is a shit-tip. The carpet is 50% dog hair, 50% Pringles. The dishes are doing the leaning tower of Pisa in the sink. The house smells like somebody died in it and the culprits behind the chaos are staring lifelessly at the X Box in some kind of gaming-induced coma. The only reason Mrs X knows they are alive is because their thumbs are still moving..

Mrs X realises that while she’s been slaving away at work, the lazy oafs she heaved out of her vagina sixteen years ago have been sat on their backsides killing zombies all day and calling each other ‘dude’ or ‘man’.

‘Pass the Pringles, Man’

‘Dude. WTF?! You killed me!’

Mrs X starts to feel the familiar sensation of heat rising from her chest upwards..

This is where she goes from irritated to PSYCHO.

She starts yelling. This may or may not be coherent. Then, she starts chucking stuff. First, her handbag hits the wall. Then she frenziedly starts yanking wires out of sockets, spitting out a few effs here and there. This gets her offspring’s attention because to prematurely end a gaming session is like shutting off a life support machine. If you were to look closely enough, you’d notice that they were turning blue..

Once the X Box is in bits all over the floor, Mrs X slams off upstairs for a weep and by the time she resurfaces, the living room’s had a make-over, the dishes are done and all the knives have been hidden.

Unsurprisingly, ‘Psycho Mum’ gets things done because she’s fucking terrifying!

Anxiety

Fear loves the menopause. Having entered into this stage of life, we become more aware than ever of our mortality. We gauge our longevity against that of our mothers and grandmothers. We fear the future. We fear getting old. We fear forgetting. We fear being alone.

We fear everything.

Melancholy

Once we know our reproductive days are over, some women break out the Champagne. Others just get sad. They grieve for the babies they will never have despite knowing that they wouldn’t have had anymore anyway because they’ve, like, been there, done that and worn the tee shirt OVER THEIR HEADS!

Also, their wombs are like withered balloons.

In all honesty, if they were to heave another human out of their fadginas, they would probably need a safety net as part of the birthing plan.

So, we cry for our youthfulness because it’s apparently buggered off, dragging our ovaries with it. A few gins and Spandau Ballet’s Greatest Hits on the iPod and we’re sobbing for Britain. Why? Because when Tony Hadley first crooned the lyrics to True back in 1983 – when we were in full possession of our hormones, faculties (ish) and teeth.

Also, we had GREAT hair!

Disconnection

Sometimes women find that their entire personalities change. They don’t recognise themselves anymore. Their bodies are different. Their minds are different. They feel different.

Sometimes, women feel as if they they’re going crazy and people say: ‘You’re effing crazy, you are!’

To be fair, they have just lobbed hubby’s best golf club over the back fence in a fit of hormonal rage..

But you know what? This menopause lark is NOT easy for many of us.

If people could spend a day being us – they would understand that it’s not craziness – it’s exhaustion, depletion and bewilderment.

It’s also a sense of disconnection, as if we are observing ourselves? Rather than owning our own bodies and minds. It’s hard to understand that we can never be the same as we were before the menopause. It’s just not biologically possible.

Hysteria

Have you ever started laughing at something funny for it to morph into hysterical crying?

This happened to me.

One minute I was laughing at Victoria Wood singing about being Freda being bent over backwards on her hostess trolley. Proper belly laughing. The next I was crying hysterically and OH was debating whether or not to call the chaps in white coats to come and inject me.

The cause?

Hormones.

Those little shits are the reason behind ALL the crappy bits of menopause.

Lack of Motivation

Basically, you get days where you have zero motivation. That pile of ironing? Sod it. Need to go shopping? Sod that too! You make a date with your duvet and something with Colin Firth/ Sean Bean/whoever in it and woe betide any human over the age of 14 who tries to come between you and your 13.5 togs!

Happy

We get moments of happiness too. Hurrah! Granted, these moments can turn from happy to not happy a bit sharpish (Boo) but you’ve got to understand that it’s all down to hormone imbalance.

It won’t always be this way.

One day your feral hormones will start behaving themselves. The hot flushes will trail off. The moods will stop swinging. The brain fog will clear and you will accept your new ‘norm’.

But inside you’ll always be 16, eh?

Mullet Queen 1986

 

 

 

Senses Working Overtime

I’m hypersensitive.

It means that I experience the world in an overly-sensitive way both physically and emotionally.

Hypertactile

For me, this means that I feel discomfort at the slightest touch – cue Five Starr with their MASSIVE shoulder pads. A hand on my arm can feel like a punch if I’m sensitised enough. Sometimes OH will touch my arm and I recoil as if I’ve been shot. I can see how this affects him but I’m unable to reassure him that it’s me, not him, because I struggle to verbalise how I feel.

I also can’t tolerate certain materials which are itchy and scratchy.

Aren’t they characters in the Simpsons?

Many of my clothes have ended up in charity bags due to them irritating the crap of me. Shoes, the same. I don’t like to feel as if I am wearing clothes, see. Sounds kinky, I know, but what I mean is that materials have to be soft and not constricting..

It’s been trial and error over the years. Like when I knitted myself a mohair jumper. I know, I’m an idiot, right? It took months to knit the bastard thing. I wore it once and chucked it straight in the charity bag because I itched like a dog with fleas. Lesson learned!

After decades of buying the wrong stuff, I’ve finally settled on leggings, tunic top and boots in Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer is jeans, tee shirt and a pair of Converse hi-tops.

Not forgetting my beloved cardigans, one blue, one black, with pockets which I wear ALL YEAR ROUND!

Hypervision.

This means that I see what most people don’t. This can be annoying AND wonderful.

I see details that most people miss. This came in handy when I worked as a packer in a pharmaceuticals warehouse because I picked up on subtle differences in packaging, IE, counterfeiting.

It also means that fluorescent lights give me migraines, as does sunlight and the blue light emitted from computers and tablets.

Hyperhearing

I used to jump EVERY TIME the school bell went and without looking up I could tell which teacher had entered the room by the sound their shoes made. Some shoes were soft and and pleasing whereas others were squeaky and f**king annoying. My maths teacher in secondary school had a particularly irritating squeak in his right brogue and he was wearing the same pair when I left four years later..

Traffic also annoys me and don’t start me on emergency service sirens. On a good day they are LOUD. ON a bad day, hearing nee-nars makes me want to rip my ears off and sling them in someone’s privet. I also hear low level buzzing noises that nobody else can. Only thing is that since I developed tinnitus, it’s hard to work out what is actual buzzing and what isn’t..

I used to be able to hear a bee fart in the next street but over the years I’ve lost hearing in one ear. This is both good and bad. It means that the other ear over-compensates – which is disorientating. I do have a sexy hearing aid courtesy of the NHS but it amplifies sound too much and increases my sensory issues, so I hardly ever wear it, hence I say, “Eh?” and “What?” a lot.

On the other hand it helps when my tinnitus is giving me gyp.

The reason why autistic people have hearing sensitivity could be due to differences in the temporal lobe of the brain, which is the area that deals with auditory processing. Or it could be that responses are learned. I don’t think they know for sure why it happens..

By far, the biggest problem with my sensitivity is that I feel too much. Swiss researchers, Henry and Kamila Markram argue that the fundamental problem with Asperger’s is ‘hypersensitivity to experience’. Rather than people with Aspergers not feeling enough – the Markrams say that it’s actually the opposite and they feel too much. That’s definitely true of me. I’m both physically AND emotionally sensitive. Unkind words really hurt me. They scar me. You just can’t see them like a physical one.

If I see a homeless person lying in a doorway, I hurt for them. The down and outs. The underdogs. Life’s rejects. The weirdos. The persecuted. I hurt for them ALL. Emotionally I am a wreck of a human being and my sensitivity is the reason that I try and stay away from the news because I get overloaded with people’s pain. I know that most people see things on the news and feel empathy but it doesn’t haunt them forevermore. That’s the difference.

I HATE how people lie and deceive. To put your faith into someone only to be betrayed is soul destroying. Having been officially diagnosed as autistic, I understand how my vulnerabilities have been exploited over the years. People sense I’m different but they mistake silence for weakness.

Here’s the thing..

It’s NOT weakness.

Can you imagine how hard it is to exist in an increasingly sensory world?

To constantly feel that you have to adapt and camouflage yourself in order to fit in?

To live your entire life in a state of anxiety and having to make choices between everyday situations in order to lessen the stimulus?

To live like this EVERY SINGLE DAY takes strength my dears.

Neurotypical people do those things without thinking whereas I have to think about almost everything I do, even how to breathe when my anxiety is bad enough.

I guess that my problem is that I am just too sensitive for this world.

“You,” he said, “are a terribly real thing in a terribly false world, and that, I believe, is why you are in so much pain.” Emille Autumn ~ The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls.

Things People Say That Drive Autistic People NUTS!

You don’t look autistic.

Is autism supposed to have a look?

When a person says, ‘You don’t look autistic’, it’s fairly obvious they don’t have a blithering clue what autism is. Maybe they watched Rain Man and believe that every autistic person looks like Dustin Hoffman?

Or, that you should be wearing a skull guard helmet..

In all fairness, people probably think they are paying you a compliment (ish) but what they are actually doing is belittling the difficulties that you face on a daily basis. Also, in that person’s eyes it puts you above other autistic people (such as those who do wear protective head gear) because you can pass for ‘normal’ and they can’t.

Here’s the thing..

I don’t consider myself to be better (or less) than any other autistic person.

I don’t consider myself better (or less) than any neurotypical person.

We are all human beings.

You’re obviously high-functioning.

If by high functioning you mean I can speak, dress myself, take myself to the toilet and do housework? Yes, I can do those things.. However, to me, the term ‘highly functioning’ implies that I can do things WAY better than the average person.

A super functioner?

Where’s my cape and tights?!

Super strength? FUNCTIONING.

The reality is that a good day requires a LOT of effort and some days I struggle to function at all. When I am overwhelmed, I stop functioning aside the very basics needed to keep my family and myself alive. I shut down. I can’t speak. I can’t read beyond a single sentence. I can’t complete simple tasks like washing the dishes or folding laundry. My brain buffers, then freezes and it can take days for it to unravel itself. I have to spend hours on my own in order for this to happen.

Last night, I was in bed for 7pm.

I’m 47!

Would you say this is functioning highly?

What’s 97865 multiplied by 98?

Why do some people assume that autistic people are math geniuses?  I can’t stand the motherfudging subject!

My dislike (bordering on the pathological) of mathematics started in 1975 with the words ‘add and take away’.

I’ve been hyperventilating ever since..

I can give you the answer, but I’ll need a calculator.

In contrast, The Boy could recite his entire 12 times table at the age of 4. He likes maths – the weirdo.

What medication do you take for it?

I don’t take medication for my autism because it’s NOT A FARKING ILLNESS!!

I do, however, take medication for migraines, arthritis and the general aches and pains which comes from being an old fart.

Autism is an excuse for bad behaviour.

Autistic people don’t choose to have meltdowns.

They don’t wake up and think, ‘You know what? I REALLY fancy losing my shit today. Toast, anyone?’

It’s not a nice feeling to lose control, whether it manifests outwardly or internally. It is a reaction to overwhelming situations and having to use up so much energy trying to survive in an overwhelming world.

It’s EXTREME ANXIETY, not bad behaviour.

My sister’s friend’s brother is autistic. You’re nothing like him.

Firstly, I don’t have the necessary parts to be like your sister’s friend’s brother.

Secondly, no two autistic people are the same – just as no two NT people are the same.

Autistic people have similarities but all have different abilities and strengths. That said, we do share one thing in common, which is that each and every one of us is FABULOUSLY AWESOME!

You’re married, can hold down a job, have children. How can you do these things if you’re autistic?

With a great deal of effort, cocker.

I drive as well! Fancy that? An autistic person being let loose on the roads. QUELLE HORREUR!

P.S 25 + years of driving. No points. No parking tickets.

I also manage to drive AND lick the windscreen at the same time.

You’ve just been sarcastic. YOU CAN’T BE AUTISTIC!!!!!

I do irony too.

You’re a person with autism. You should use first language.

I am autistic. I am an autistic person. My autism defines me otherwise I wouldn’t be me.

Here, I can only speak for myself as some autistic people wouldn’t thank you for calling them autistic. They would be up in your face faster than you can fart. Having said that, the majority of autistic people use the term ‘autistic person’.

Incidentally, I saw a Facebook thread where the parent of an autistic teenager was having a mini-rant about people using the word ‘Aspie’ because it’s insulting, apparently.

The fact is that most people with Aspergers, refer to themselves as an Aspie.

I refer to myself as an Aspie but primarily I am an autistic person.

 

You can look me in the eye. You can’t be autistic!

Technically, I’m looking above your pupil but it’s such a subtle thing, you’re unlikely to be aware of it. As a child, I spent hours standing in the corner at school for being ‘rude’ and not looking at the teacher. I wasn’t EVER being rude. It distressed me to look people in the eye, so, technically, I was abused by every teacher who ever punished me for not doing it.

It’s taken decades for me to be able to maintain eye contact with people other than my immediate family and even now, when I am anxious, I will spend more time looking at your feet than your face. I have to remind myself to look up occasionally.

Yes, I can look you in the eye – sort of – and I am autistic.