Guest post #6: Deb – “I have vast wells of empathy”

I had no idea I might be autistic until I was 45, despite many people joking about it over the years, because of silly things like having to have all the cup handles facing the same way when doing the drinks trolley at work. I am generally oblivious to what people are getting at if they don’t just say what they mean (which they rarely do). Social cues are lost on me. I have trained myself to do eye contact as it seems to be important to people, but it’s deeply uncomfortable and I can’t keep it up for long. I am tactless and can’t do small talk, but I have vast wells of empathy that I have learned to put strategies in place for, to prevent me becoming overwhelmed. Parties and social gatherings make no sense to me, and are usually excruciating, so I don’t go to them. I often have a strong sense of having been dropped off on the wrong planet.

By chance, in 2017, I saw a video by Tony Attwood, in which he talked about how autism presents differently in females than it does in males. The video was 30 minutes long, and I spent most of that time with my jaw dropped as he basically describe me and my life, in quite some detail. That was when I realised this might be the answer; I’m not weird (the word most often thrown at me at school), I’m not on the wrong planet, there’s nothing really ‘wrong’ with me…it could be autism! It really did explain an awful lot.

Diagnosis was brilliant for me. I often cite it, along with marrying my husband and having my son, as one of the best things I ever did. Over the four-hour assessment, the psychologist’s main concern was that I was not currently using my talents in any way. And she was right. Having written a novel several years before, I had by my mid-40s become so worn down by life, and exhausted by the constant masking autistics do in order to function in the world, that I’d completely given up on any kind of creative outlet. I no longer had the energy or the inclination, and I was thoroughly miserable.

I was given a much-needed kick up the backside to start trying to fulfil my potential, and now I’m enrolled on a Creative Writing degree (distance learning, naturally), and have written a poem every day for 4 months, with no intention of ever stopping. I feel so much better now I’m using my creativity, and it’s true what they say – the more you use it, the more inspired and creative you become. I’m entering poetry competitions and submitting to magazines, which I would never have had the confidence to do before assessment. I also have a much greater understanding of my difficulties and strengths, and no longer wander the world thinking, ‘What is wrong with me?’ I’ve found a little peace of mind.

Fancy writing a guest post? Guidelines are here

Guest post #5: Sonia Boué – ‘I navigate like a middle aged Gretel’

It’s easy to get bogged down in what autism is and what it isn’t. I’m beginning to think there are more of us than anyone can yet conceive, so it could be you!

Autism means I am creative and obsessive. I’m forgetful yet sometimes unable to let go.

I’ve compensated for autism all my life, so taking the lid off it with my diagnosis two years ago has been a process.

Some days I’m staggered at what I have achieved in my life despite an impressive bunch of co-morbid conditions. Dyslexia and dyscalculia are far more bothersome in many ways. Yet pockets of grief empty out as I absorb how disabled I can be when I can’t compensate. Like a badly tuned radio my antenna buzzes with interference. Periods of desolation can follow.

I dread those times. Existence feels tenuous – I am a ghost woman.

It has taken me a long time to understand that others just don’t experience the same sensory onslaught that I do. I thought this was normal and that I was a just a hopeless wuss. There are days when vertigo topples me and tinnitus destroys all patience. Such days appear on a whim and most of my wardrobe becomes unwearable.

Organising can be a challenge but I’ve come to learn that I do have a system – it’s just that I can’t do anything in a straight line. Associative thinking dominates and so I’m good a setting tasks in motion but I’m quickly distracted. I find the trick is not to censure but rather to celebrate it as a method. If I keep going I can get the job of five people done.

This is where you need to take the long view. Hurrah! Being older is a plus. 

I’m good a recognising patterns, and with the aid of my diagnosis I’ve observed that I’m a person who simply lays trails. Working backwards is another excellent life hack for those of us who are thin on working memory. I navigate like a middled aged Gretel, and all of my trails eventually lead home. This is how I’ve managed to produce a body of creative work which is multi-form and disparate yet is entirely coherent. My strategy is now to keep going because what used to feel ‘scatter-gun’ has emerged as intelligent thinking (albeit of a different kind). 

Another deep benefit of autism is hyper-focus and the extraordinary sense of creative flow which comes from time spent in this state. Flow lifts us up where we belong, to borrow a song! In flow there is no tinnitus or vertigo, and my radio station is perfectly tuned. In flow clothes don’t seem to matter and the plates stop spinning. There is only one job, and in it I can be magisterially able. I love the stillness and perfection of flow. Hyper-focus is surely a superpower for autistics.

My family keep me anchored and my art practice makes me soar – I know that I’m lucky to have this balance in my life.


Sonia Boué is a multiform artist. You can find her at soniaboue.co.uk or as @soniaboue on Twitter.

Fancy writing a guest post? Guidelines are here

Guest Post #4: AutisticScienceLady – “The internet gave me space to exist in my own skin”

Lots of stories of ours are about our social challenges in life.

I want to tell you a happy story.

When I was 13, I started playing Day of Defeat, an online first-person shooter. I really enjoyed it but was terrified of using a microphone. When I finally used callouts in the game, people would call me a pre-pubescent boy and all other kinds of things, mostly college or high school boys. But at least I knew they were obnoxious and not to listen to them – not like in real life. I even joined a clan of genuinely nice people. They were WWII veterans and were super nice! We had a few clan matches but it ended after a few months.

During this time, my brother and I started playing another game, an obscure half-life 2 mod. It was an objective-based first-person shooter team game. There were a lot of people playing this game who were also in junior high. I ended up getting to know the community through playing and found a lot of friends through typing and talking in chat while playing. It was the only place I could be myself. I wasn’t scared of the microphone anymore since I knew the community. We had a league, created clans, analyzed team composition and loadouts, and scrimmaged with other teams. I moved states right before high school and never really made friends there but was still supported by my online friends. I was having fun with a group of people who understood me and didn’t judge me (and made banter-y jokes to everyone). Many of them also deal with social anxiety, agoraphobia, or just plain awkwardness, so I didn’t worry about “seeming weird.” We kept the group together after the league ended, and started playing other games together, just to hang out really. I got to know one person particularly well throughout high school, and we started dating long-distance in college. We’d watch TV shows and play Minecraft together. After college, we moved in, and it’s been a pretty great 4 years so far. We’ve met quite a few of our online friends at gaming conventions and continue to meet up every year. I was actually the driving force of those meet-ups.

People think of online games as silly and online friends as not real friendships. I have gotten pity hugs when I tell someone I have “online friends,” but they cannot fathom the community that I am talking about. What I really mean: I am going to interact with some of my best friends that I’ve known since junior high. I am going to go socialize and be accepted for who I am. People often see me as “retreating” into my shell, and still, sometimes I feel bad that they missed out.

The internet gave me the space to exist in my own skin. It still does today. And I wouldn’t be where I am right now without it. So thank you, friends.

 

AutisticScienceLady blogs at www.autisticsciencelady.wordpress.com.

Fancy writing a guest post? Guidelines are here

Guest Post #3: Melissa Murphy – ‘I finally know myself’

From my very earliest memories onwards, I knew I was different. I had recently landed on these Irish shores, selectively mute, hyperlexic and very foreign. My father, the chain-smoking Turk with broken English. My mom, the prodigal wildchild returned home over burnt bridges, to write poetry in Irish no less. With that background, what chance did I stand? No doubt about it, I was weird. An enigma. To everyone outside my family, perhaps to my family (who called me a Space Cadet),  but also to myself. Who was I, really? Why was I so different? These questions would become my focus, my obsession, for the rest of my life.

I developed an early interest in trying to “place” myself. Categorise myself. Starting with the most obviously: Horoscopes. I was a Pisces with Scorpio Rising. Born in the Year of the Snake. A Water Snake. I became quite an expert, filling in Star Charts, learning the nuances. But that wasn’t enough.

I poured over the Enneagram, thinking I could unlock who I was with a personality trait test. Then Myers Briggs, with its infernal acronyms that just confused me. Could my Numerology Personality Number hold the key? Each and every self-test I could find. My teenage years passed while I scoured the library for psychology books that might explain to me who I was.

Was I bi-polar? Borderline personality disorder? I did at one point get diagnosed with “atypical depression” but the psychiatrist said I was “a perplexing case” as he too couldn’t put his finger on what made me who I was.

And then, I had kids. And after some years my son was referred for an ASD assessment. I have a cousin who is autistic. But he has trouble speaking, and very high needs, and he shaped my views of what it meant to be autistic. So I’d discounted being autistic, until some of the traits were highlighted in my son. My mother thought I was jumping the gun, when I expressed my concerns about my son. “But all that stuff, those behaviours, are perfectly normal. You were just like that at his age.” Nevertheless, I thought it best to get him tested. Then, when answering the questions in the Parents Questionnaire about my son, I realised I could have given the exact same answers about myself. The penny dropped. Those long years of searching were over. I now knew who and what I am. I finally know myself. I am autistic. And knowing this has made all the difference.

Melissa Murphy blogs at Autistic Zebra

Fancy writing a guest post? Guidelines are here

Guest Post #2: Lindsay – ‘Maybe I have Aspergers. But it’s me, and I like it.’

Hi, I’m Lindsay. I love landscape, love Britain, I run (for fun! WHAT?!), I have a reasonably successful career, a husband and two children. (So far, so normal.) I love music, write poetry, and never know how to greet you on arriving or leaving social situations. (OK. Stick with me.) I can smell a sneeze, and when my children are ill. I can feel the high, ringing white noise of January deep in my bones. I see time as a shape. The days of the week are coloured.

Lost you yet?

I think, although this has not been confirmed by anything other than a rising suspicion (and the wholehearted agreement of my husband), that the way I experience the world might be a bit different to whatever ‘normal’ is. I’m probably some way down the Aspergers Spectrum I reckon.

I’ve managed to be pretty happy without realising this about myself until recently – I have great friends, can make people laugh, love deeply, and have held down sensible jobs without too much drama. But it’s with a sort of gleeful recognition I’m coming to understand there’s a tick list of traits which actually explain some of the arc of my life.

It’s a great relief to recognise that, whilst a lot of the time I probably am just ‘being a dickhead’ (sic, my husband), some of the time my idiosyncrasies are actually because I’m wired to experience the world differently to other people. Knowing the tendencies of Aspergers gives me a way to understand and honestly own the characteristics which I feel strongly on the inside, and have spent a lifetime trying to explain away, or compensate for on the outside.

Like I will remember the number plate on your parents’ car from twenty years ago, but not send you a birthday card, and see nothing wrong with this. I find eye contact hard, but force myself to make it. I think to some people I probably come across as utterly cold and indifferent, and probably a bit stuck up, because I just cannot pretend interest unless I genuinely feel it. I do still try, and mostly succeed in (and enjoy) being sociable, because after nearly forty years I have observed enough to see that there are unwritten rules if you want to get along. Full disclosure – this is my second attempt at writing this, as I suspected the first version actually made me sound like a cold stone dead megabitch. I’m not. (I don’t think.) (At least on the inside).

 If you’re like me, maybe you too don’t ever get nervous, even about things that you really probably should be nervous about. Maybe you too turn the radio down by two tiny clicks every morning to a level you can bear, versus the level your partner prefers. Maybe you too would happily lunch on the same cheese and pickle sandwich for the rest of your mortal days, should the need ever arise (can’t imagine a world where I’d be forced to test this hypothesis, but I quite honestly like the sound of it).

So maybe I have Aspergers. But it’s me, and I like it. Especially now that I know it.

 

Lindsay is a freelance writer, author of the brilliant blog And Other Idiots, and can be found arsing about on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as @andotheridiots

Fancy writing a guest post? Guidelines are here

Guest post #1: Rebecca Benson – ‘I wasn’t just quirky’

Last year I was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder.  By the time I was I knew it about myself and had done for 6 months.  The other 43 years of my life had been lived with no clue of it! 

Aged 40 I had a breakdown. At this point I had a successful career as a Detective Sergeant on the murder squad.  I had a great marriage and two cats and a rabbit.  But a complaint pushed me over the edge and I was off sick with stress for a few months before I resigned because I could not see a way back to it.  I never understood the complaints about my rudeness, to me it was just truth telling. 

A few months after I left I tackled my unacceptable relationship with alcohol, a spiral that I was in that I hated, and I quit drinking.

Turns out drinking was what held the Autism at bay!  Helped me socialise.  Helped my brain switch off for a few hours.  So a year later when I was sober at my brother in laws wedding, my first social expedition since going teetotal,  I found myself in a right state.  Unable to connect with anyone, unable to hear anyone speak over the music, generally having a dreadful time. When an acceptable time came to leave the party I returned to my room and had what I would now call a meltdown.  I threw a box of chocolates across the room in frustration.  What was it?  In my head I could hear a colleague of mine telling me I had Aspergers.  Years ago I had supervised him whilst his sons were being diagnosed and he had told me he thought I was.  I laughed and never looked back.

Until this moment.  I googled that night, took tests, had light-bulb moments, cried.  This was me.  I wasn’t just quirky, there was a real reason why I didn’t ever fit in, why I didn’t have any friends, why I couldn’t do small talk, why I couldn’t hear at parties, why people complained I was rude and I had no idea what they were talking about.  Where I thought I was just single minded in giving up smoking years ago and drinking recently was a trait. 

It was weird realising that I wasn’t just me and that the things I did were all on a tick list.  But it was a relief as well.  It’s made it a little easier to cope with life, to stop trying to achieve, to stop feeling like a failure.  It turns out its pretty usual for a 40 year old autistic woman to have a breakdown after years of trying to mask, years of unsuccessfully trying to fit in with everyone around her. 

I’ve learned so much about myself in the last year and generally been able to improve my experience of life.  Autism is just about how my brain is wired.  Different, not worse. 

You can find Rebecca on Twitter or Instagram as @wishvintage.

Fancy writing a guest post? Guidelines are here

Guest Posts

Since The Electricity of Every Living Thing came out, I’ve been getting lots of emails from women saying, ‘Finally, I recognise myself here.’

I know that, when I first thought I might be autistic, I wanted to devour stories from others like me, but I struggled to find much.

So here, I’d like to create a pool of stories that reflect real life for autistic people, written in our own voices. Would you like to write a guest post about an aspect of your life? Drop me a line using my contact form below!

You can read some of my own stories, from my newsletter, here.

Submission guidelines

  • Stories should be no more than 500 words
  • I don’t edit, so please ensure your story is proof-read and that you’re happy with it
  • I reserve the right to refuse any stories that aren’t suitable – please get in touch first to check.