Testing Times

Ah, the joy of exams.

Does anyone enjoy them ?.

I vividly recall blind panic and how my brain stubbornly refused to recall revised facts. I also recall the sense of impending doom as I sat yet another exam in yet another subject I had no interest in.

Bullying put a real downer on my secondary school experience. After that, and the lack of any practical support or ability to put the bully’s in their place, it was hard to concentrate in lessons where you were abused and picked upon by your classmates. Perhaps, in those circumstances, and a long before diagnosis awareness that I didn’t fit in, I wasn’t likely to succeed.

I just didn’t like school.

I hated Maths. Yes I could add and subtract but I had no need for angles, fractions or trigonometry. I’ve never passed a Maths exam in my life which is somewhat ironic given I’ve spent the last 15 years of my working life dealing almost exclusively with numbers. I understood English perfectly well thank you but reading books described as “The Classics” when they were filled with archaic language and the motivations of their characters were a complete mystery to me, seemed even more of a waste of time.

I resented the sciences. I resented them because they were imposed on me in a bizarre attempt to make me a doctor!. I’d never said I wanted to be a doctor but that career choice had, apparently, been made for me by the science department. I think I thoroughly disappointed them by hideously failing physics and chemistry and barely scraping through a low level biology exam.

Autism is, of course, about interests and the subjects on offer just didn’t represent my interests. There was nothing, or very little, that I could enthuse about. Geography was passable and whilst I excelled at History I should confine that excelling to knowing a lot about Ancient Greece which meant I did well in some exams but failed the big ones because, oh lord, why does it always have to be modern history ?.

After the debacle of secondary school I was thrust into college to spend a year taking new O’ level subjects in an effort to give me something worthwhile to put on a CV several years later. The good thing about college was that you could choose your own topics rather than sit a set curriculum.

I chose Law. Law was solid, predictable and logical. I loved Law but really struggled with contract law, a factor that would spoil my A level effort but was barely present at the lower level. At least here there was a subject I could get my teeth into. Similarly, Politics was a logical, structured topic. I came unstuck here at A level when they loaded the exam paper with American politics, a topic in which I had zero interest. Why do they always spoil it for me ?.

My other choices were “Write whatever you like because it’s probably right about something!” Or, as you know it, Sociology!. I added in Psychology or as I knew it “Write whatever you like and mention sex a lot and it’s probably right” and Art ( for a complete change of pace ).

I have the artistic ( and autistic ) talent of a single cell amoeba so my still life was swiftly renamed still death and my portraits brought forth cries of revulsion and the sound of violent retching resonating through the studio. To this day, given that my Mother and Sister were highly talented artistically, I am faintly embarrassed by my lack of talent.

But that was how things were.

I’m not blaming being Autistic, nor do I blame bullying although both were factors in my lack of educational success. Partially I think it’s that I’m not an exam person. I panic, I go into a spiral of despair and my mind becomes a sieve just sifting all the useful information and watching it dribble out through my ears!. But the main thing is, I think, that I’ve never ( rarely ) had the opportunity to study things I want to study. And these days Fibro Fog has cursed me with a shocking memory and Anhedonia has ripped interests and hobbies from me.

So my opportunity passed.

Exams. Some thrive, some have the perfect brain to recall information.

But for myself ?. Testing times indeed.

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Numb

Err..

Ummm…

Well..

Err…

All words I use at the start of sentences when asked to describe how I feel. Or what I feel.

Because I just don’t know.

I’ve felt like this for a while now. Apathetic, lost, numb. A sort of in between place where lots of emotions and feelings circle about me; where I can see them clearly but they prove themselves elusive or “not quite right”.

Sometimes it’s like living in a vacuum. A vacuum where all the feelings have been sucked out and I float in an empty, featureless void.

Of course there are reasons why I feel…or don’t feel, this way.

Anhedonia, the loss of pleasure in interests and pursuits is a major factor in my life. It’s hard to get feelings about day to day matters when you can’t get strong feelings about things you used to be passionate about. If you don’t have anything to latch on to; anything to begin with, then the struggle to identify how and what you feel, is that much harder.

People will say, “Oh, but you feel depressed”. They will pinpoint that as evidence of feeling but that’s not the point I’m making here. Yes, I do “feel” depressed but that’s a general state of mind not something I “feel”directly.

I don’t know what I like. I don’t know what I dislike. I’m ambivalent about most things. I can’t get enthusiastic about things. There’s no desire to do things. There’s no passion. Everything’s sort of “meh”. Everything’s bland, vanilla, samey, and a kind of nothingness.

Looking back I question now, whether most of my life has been like this, a genuine struggle to feel emotions. Have I ever had real feelings ?. What feelings are “real” ?.

It’s a mystery.

Perhaps I’ve always balanced my life between very small windows of high emotions (travel, occasional achievements of note, romance) and much larger windows of desperately low emotions ( family bereavements, loss of pets, relationship endings,…a long list) all underscored with general depression, low mood, crippling low self-esteem, a sense of failure and general apathy towards life with added dysthymia, anhedonia and alexithymia, all thrown into the mix for good measure.

It’s not all bad news. The numbness protects against rash decisions. It prevents me from throwing myself enthusiastically into risky ventures as I don’t have the enthusiasm for them. It stops me from spending large sums of money on things I might like but wouldn’t enhance my life. It reins me in.

But the counter argument is that it stops me from enjoying things because I can’t recognise enjoying them. They make everything a chore; an exercise of going through the motions rather than an emotional investment.

I wish I knew the answer.

You don’t know how many times I try to dig myself out. How many times I try to force myself to, and I’m sorry but I have to use those awful words, “snap out of it”; to kick start my enthusiasm for something.

But I can’t.

Those microseconds of enthusiastic emotion; those clutching at straw moments are ephemeral. They slip through my fingers like the finest gossamer; barely there.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Somewhere, deep inside me, there are good intentions. Those intentions are tiny voices crying in the desert of the numb, desperately trying to be heard.

One day, perhaps …and I can’t put it higher than that, a tiny voice will be heard and a movement will begin within me that brings me back to the light. A movement that brings sustainable enthusiasm, enjoyment and the rich panoply of emotion, if not bursting through, at least simmering gently, more visible than before.

It’s an everyday struggle. It’s a constant wearisome fight. The enemies of Anhedonia, Dysthymia, Alexithymia as well as Fibro Fog are an ever present frustration. They each hang heavy around my neck and in my heart.

Until I can control them..

I will remain..

Uncomfortably..

Numb.

Why Masking is self harming

Why do we mask ?. Do we feign interest so we appear, to NTs, “normal” and part of THEIR society ?. Do we avoid stimming to avoid embarrassment ?. Do we wear “sensible” clothes (insert appropriate hand actions for inverted commas here) because we believe (probably know) that is what society expects ?.

Masking harms us. No matter how good we are at it, how proficient, it harms us.

In fact the damage we do to ourselves is tantamount to a slow, lingering death. And no, I am not joking.

The strain we put on ourselves, holding ourselves in, being someone other than we really are. The toll it takes on us day in day out is beyond the comprehension of most. It’s an exhausting process, deeply debilitating and, oddly enough, extremely hard to extricate ourselves from. I can’t go home and instantly change into ME. Often I find myself unable to take the mask off and find myself trapped within it through the evening. Its stuck to me with super glue, consuming me, reducing the real ME to a tiny fragment of personality desperately trying to claw its way out.

Letting go is no simple process.

Sometimes I find myself having to slip in and out of the mask to satisfy NT requirements if the phone rings. I have to be sensible, that awful “normal” word.

And I hate it.

It is so tiring.

It’s not a paid role. We are not acting. We are surviving. We are going undercover in an alien world trying to blend in; trying to avoid detection and being outed by those who believe, even claim, that they “Know” Autism better than we do ourselves. 

Masking is, in this humble bloggers opinion, a form of self harm. We are denying our own identities; our true selves, and, in doing so, we are not living the lives we should be living but allowing ourselves to be treated as simply another person when we should be out and celebrating our skills, our talents and the many important contributions the Autistic community has made, does make and will make to an overwhelmingly neurotypical society that benefits from those skills and talents yet continues to demean us and treat Autism as sometimes little more than a cheap jibe. 

We are better than that. 

I am proud to be Autistic and wouldn’t change it, wouldn’t “cure” it in a million years. It’s who I am, it’s my identity and I am tired of having to deny who I really am for fear of misunderstandings, embarrassment and more. 

I am tired of masking. Tired of harming myself by treating myself as something less than the whole of my parts. 

I’m tired of not respecting myself enough to stand up for ME. 

It’s time to cast the mask aside. 

It’s time to stop. 

Who is with me ?. 

 

When you can’t talk..

I can’t speak. 

Nobody’s actually listening so the power of my voice has obviously been nullified.  

I’m given permission to speak in my own home. I’m told to “ Go on” as though it’s my turn. I say something but get battered down because I’m wrong or else I try to say something but get swamped by others who have no desire to hear what I have to say. 

Everyone knows better than me. Even when we talk about Autism, what someone has been told is more valid, more worthy than my own experience. There’s a constant barrage of criticism if I do or say something wrong when others, it seems, are perfect and never make mistakes. 

So why bother ?

When you already have severe self esteem issues people don’t seem to understand how damaging this all is. Or they know but don’t care. 

I can’t speak because I’m always wrong. Guests immediately put the tv on without asking. I object but am told I’m being embarrassing despite the fact I would never do that in someone else’s home. I feel an outsider in my own home. I’m told I’m wrong to even mention it. 

I can’t speak because I am drowned out by others who’s voices are deemed to be of mor3 importance than mine. 

Nobody listens. 

So why speak at all ?. 

The lonely path

I see.

I see everything. 

The lies, the spies, what hides behind.

Neither left nor right. 

I see. 

I watch in dismay. I watch in fear. I see and hear the vitriol. The unabashed and unashamed hate. 

The spewing bile. 

Of the unreasoned. 

I see. 

And I hear. 

I hear the lamentations. The anguish. The impassioned cries and yet..

Underneath. 

Without thought nor reason, hurled forth like avenging angels..

They brook no argument. 

They are without reason. They are blind. Blind to all but their own. 

I see. 

They are unshakeable in their beliefs. Even, in the face of evidence to the contrary. They remain..

Unshakeable. 

My path is lonely. 

I walk it in fear but also in hope. 

That hope deflects, disperses, blocks and shields me from the worst

But the darkness assaults me

It seeks to knock me from my path. 

To drag me, screaming into their choice, to make me one of their own. 

I will not abandon reason for madness. 

I walk the path. 

The lonely path. 

The Tale of the Blue Arsed Fly

They’re coming over! 

When ? 

Half an hour or so. 

What! But, but we’re going out ?.

Phone

Hi love can you come over at one ?. It’s just that we have to nip out. 

Yes, we will be there at one. 

Nipping out. 

Skip. Drop off various heavy items including old mattress. Autistic panic already set in. 

Shop. Collect various snacks. It’s Saturday. It’s hell. It’s Autism overload. It’s the I can’t find anything day and they don’t have what I need panic day. 

Petrol. In and out the car again. Fibromyalgia screaming. 

Gas bottle. Fourth in and out. Can barely lift the bottle. Too tired for this. 

Rush home. 

Bags in. Gas bottle up a flight of stairs. Almost fall down them. 

Can you hoover ?. Done. 

Can you wash up ?. Done. 

Can you tidy up ?. Done. Falls over coffee table with tiredness. 

Body in agony, joints searing in pain, headache, anxiety, all this from a spontaneous we are coming over. 

Have rushed about like a blue arsed fly…..

And…

Ten past two…

Not a sign of them!. 

Great!! (Sarcasm) 

A dangerous time of year

This is a dangerous time of year for me. 

Unfortunately, Halloween, Bonfire night and Christmas are three loathsome “events” that bring a shudder to my spine. 

Halloween I’ve always looked on as an American tradition. I just don’t see the point in it and people knocking unexpectedly on your door is not exactly Autism friendly!. Bonfire night, an old tradition, is a mixture of frightened pets, crowds (the inevitable firework display) and loud bangs, again not Autism friendly. Oh, and have you noticed how it rains on the night of the firework display so you’re damp, miserable and having your ears assaulted!.

Christmas is my nightmare. 

What to buy, how much to spend, will it be liked, will I like what I’m given, do I have to show gratitude or pleasure, where will we be on Christmas Day, are we staying home or going north ?. These, and more, cause me nothing but anxiety in the build up to, and on, the big day. 

What with the clocks changing as well when the end of British summertime is heralded (hah!) and the effect that has on my body clock and the inevitable winter blues that assail me and drive me into deeper depression, you can probably tell that I already long for the first buds of spring and those first welcome rays of new year sunshine. 

Unfortunately I am alone in my views on these events. My partner loves all three and we are to be surrounded by grandchildren for at least the first two. 

Yes I appreciate these events are for children. Although that said, none were high on my enjoyment meter as a child. The loud bangs of fireworks have ever been painful to these ears. I suppose I enjoyed Christmas more when I was a child and could ask for what I wanted and avoid any surprises but these days I have no idea what I want or need so any present brings with it unwelcome pressure to “like it”. 

My partner is easy to buy for. However, as she wishes to give in return I find myself asking for things I neither want nor need, just to give her something to to give me on the day. 

I don’t think that the pressure we feel under is appreciated. I think it’s just the way that we are expected to conform to a neurotypical standard of enjoyment surrounding events such as these and join in. 

And that is upsetting. To be forced into a place where it is dangerous for my mental health is something I wish to avoid but it is even harder when you’re in a relationship with a partner who is neurotypical and loves these events. 

Its a dangerous time of year. 

I just want to get through it.