Analogies

I love a good autism analogy.  Square peg in a round hole.  Cat in a dog’s world. Chimpanzee amongst dogs (that was Michelle Vines, who I am reading at the moment).  Why do we always think NTs are dogs?  Cute, fluffy, overly emotional and ultimately with incomprehensible thought processes?  Permanently obsessed with sniffing bottoms?

There’s a concept in Terry Pratchett novels about inspiration particles.  Here, have the wiki quote, I’m pretty sure the late great Terry won’t mind:

“Inspiration Particles sleet through the universe, each heralding a moment of brilliance: a new symphony, a way of getting from A to B quicker than before, lines for a new play, or deeper understanding of something than was previously comprehended.

Most of them are doomed to miss, or to reveal their brilliance to a brick wall or a starling, which is totally unequipped to deal with the revelation.

Some however, hit the right mind at the right time, and a little later you are blinking foolishly in the TV lights and wondering how the hell you thought of sliced bread in the first place…

Many of these particles hit Leonard of Quirm, one of whose first inventions was a metal helmet designed to keep them out as he was accustomed to the embarrassment of waking to find he had nocturnally scribbled all over his bedsheets.”

Being autistic for me is living in a sleet of inspiration particles.  I’m not claiming they’re brilliant, or I am about to invent time travel, or even a new and exciting form of sliced bread. I’m not going to write a Nobel winning novel (though I once thought I could reinvent urban gothic and wrote six chapters of sci-fi about the M60 motorway, a project I do now think was probably best abandoned, for the world and my wellbeing).

But everyday I live in a sleet of thoughts, thick and fast and each as important and energising and inspirational as the last and they spark connections in my mind and then I make more connections and before you know it I’ve got some half assed idea for a world changing book on alcohol and alexithymia, a list of things to google for my next holiday, an abiding and urgent quest to find 34″ long skinny jeans, three things to email about when I get to the office, a mind bendingly brilliant 147 character tweet to write and a plan for meal organisation that will revolutionise my life and ensure I get 25 vegetables a day in a single sitting.

It’s great and funny and brilliant and absolutely totally fucking exhausting.

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Some thoughts on CBT (#1)

An exchange on Twitter last night (lovely Autistic Twitter, lovely Gilliam Loomes) managed to do what I’ve been trying to/meaning to for a while, and clarified some of my thoughts on CBT.  So I thought I’d bash them down before they were lost.  (I lose a lot by thinking I can’t start to write before I have Prepared, and Organised, and Researched and Found Citations).

I’ve had four lots of CBT, with very varying levels of success.  the first lot we can quietly shelve as a discussion topic.  I was frightened, lost, lied about the drinking and didn’t know what to say.

The second lot was useful.  In some ways.  It was after I’d been through a community detox programme at Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services.  I was sober and willing to try anything. I liked the therapist, who also took some of the groups (Monday morning Alcohol Awareness, now there’s something I’ll write about one day.  All human life was there, and most of it had the shakes so bad there had to be three rolls of kitchen paper on hand for the inevitable tea spillage).

At the start of the first session, R asked me what I thought I needed to be happy and I drew her a flow chart. On the table with my fingers.  It was very logical and it fit to everything I knew people wanted/needed, so, you know, why wouldn’t that be my solution.  It didn’t contain friends or a relationship, which some people I suppose might assume was key to happiness.  It was house. Job. Cat.  That order.  Linear.

By the time we’d got to the 8th or 9th session we laughed together about that as I’d unwound a lot and accepted that things didn’t have to be linear.  Or so I thought.  And so R thought.  What we didn’t realise then, and it’s taken me a long time to realise is there is a direct opposition here that doesn’t work for me.  Yes, I understand life is not linear and logical.  This doesn’t stop me wanting it to be, though.  Needing it to be.

And there was the first ‘rub’.  Because CBT is based on a very simple premise – change the way you think and you can change the way you feel, the way you deal with people.  It works.  Some of the mantras I learned I still use.  It’s revolutionised how I deal with my Mother. “You can’t change the person, you can change the way you deal with them.”  It’s changed how I deal with anxiety, some of the time. “Will this matter tomorrow, in a week, in a year?”

But this premise that CBT can change your life by changing your thinking had an inbuilt problem for me.  I can’t change the way I think.  I am autistic, a lot of my thinking is hard wired.  My firmware is pretty set.  So, post detox, post my CBT I was released into the world, freshly sober, with this expectation that I had a toolkit to deal with it.  And so everytime I didn’t deal with it, when the relapses happened, when the world closed in on me or I lost the ability to do anything but walk the house, wired and broken and trying not to hit myself on the head because mad people do that (Oh God might I be mad, might I be really mad, OH GOD) it’s was MY failure.

That’s not done a great amount for my self esteem.  It’s left me blaming myself for not being good enough, reflecting that I am intrinsically broken, worrying I’m a step away from being sectioned, worrying that the next hovering relapse will be the one that takes my job, home, life.

Since I worked out that I’m autistic, I’ve gone easier on myself, that helps.  I’ve identified the problems, like burnout from masking and not being able to relax properly and alexithymia meaning I am not sure what I’m feeling, and how my decisions are made logically and cognitively, not with emotion.  I suppose the next stage is working out what to do about those problems and how I am not there yet. 🙂

 

 

Alcohol and Autism (initial splurge)

I’ve been mentally writing this one for ages.  But it’s just too big to fit in a post, and when I start methodically breaking it down, the task becomes too large to start.  Now I have asked my GP to refer me for diagnosis, though, it feels important to make a start.  I’ve read a lot recently about women going for diagnosis, but the professional undertaking that diagnosis feeling that their issues are related to their experiences, not to autism.  Obviously, from reading social media posts I can be no real judge of whether the women in question are right (convinced they are autistic) or if the professionals are right (convinced they are not).  I think the alcoholism and my lifelong poor mental health are due (in part at least) to undiagnosed autism, but whether this will be apparent at diagnosis, or a red herring, I’m not sure.

I’ve done some thinking on it all, and I think the alcoholism can be roughly (very roughly) attributed down to three (ish) things.  Firstly, the social stuff, secondly a remarkably poor grasp of cause and effect(this also makes me a pretty fearless climber and scrambler, which is cool) and thirdly numbing.  Just shutting my fucking endlessly thinking brain up.  I said this latter to a few of the health and addiction workers when I was going through detox and they patently thought I was being overly dramaatic and hysterical.  It’s only lately I have learned that not everyone thinks, plans, analyses, strategies, writes, fantasises and proseltyses permanently.  There was a weekend with my boyfriend a year ago where I interrogated him every half an hour.  “What are you thinking?  What are you thinking about?  What are you thinking about NOW??”  In the end, by Sunday afternoon, he snapped “I am DRIVING, that’s all, that is all I am thinking about.”  Poor sod.

That was when I was drinking.  Now I don’t (mostly), I am pretty sure my relapses are attributable to meltdown, incipient meltdown, or just Too Much.  Too much thing, too much information, no quiet, no peace, too much stress, a week with something happening every evening.  All of that.  meltdown, really.  Generally.

One thing I have always found so utterly frustrating is when, after a relapse, as I tiredly recover, my sister or Mum will ask ‘why?’ and I have no answer, no real answer.  Not like the people in my abstinence support group, who can quite specifically relate back to emotions and events.  Most of the time, I just don’t know.  Looking back though, it’s so bloody obvious.  That time I’d been working from home, and got nothing done as I was paralysed by the size of the task.  And the house was a tip, but I couldn’t do anything about it, as I was paralysed by work and paralysed by the size of the housework task.  I’d sat, all day, staring at my laptop, doing nothing.  By 4, I felt enormously physically and emotionally wired.  And I didn’t know how to control any of it.  It was a frightening, overwhelming feeling and the scale of it was shutting down my mind so I couldn’t logic or calm out of it.  So I drank.  Then there was the time I went away with my boyfriend and his family (!), sharing a cottage (!), having only been with my boyfriend three months (!) and my elderly cat died whilst I was away (!) and I got home and there was still laundry draped all over the house and I just couldn’t think or cope and it felt like the whole world was greying round the edges and there was an unsettled ocean of feelings in me and nothing was ordered or neat or right and I went to Costcutter for a half litre of Glens (£3 cheaper than Smirnoff, FYI).

In the six years since detox, I’ve been going, on and off, to abstinence groups and I’m quite lucky in that the excellent therapist who did CBT with me post-detox runs most of these.  We’ve worked out I don’t do well if I think I have too many time commitments.  I had a drink last year after I had a week with a wedding, a funeral and a graduation in it.  It was in part the acting level required (three separate events, three separate audiences, all stressful) and in part that I just had no recovery time. No alone time.

I’ve wandered.  But that’s helped.  I might do some delving back into the past again later.

 

My executive function and dysfunction

I can and have sat down with colleagues for an hour, then single handedly turned their vague idea into a multi million pound successful bid, with milestones, deliverables, outputs, costings, business case and cash flow.

I spent most of my twenties hideously in debt because I didn’t understand credit cards and hid my own post from myself.

I studied and researched the legislative processes, guidelines and procedures for access arrangements between estranged parents (subset domestic abuse cases) and guided my sister through a two year court process, including writing highly professional, yet quietly and calmly threatening letters and negotiating satisfactory rates with a solicitor and appearing in court.

I also appeared in court in Worcester, after my local police sent an officer round with an arrest warrant for me as I had failed to respond to a series of letters about a speeding violation (46 in a 40!) because it all all too terrifying and difficult, so I’d hidden the post.

Most days for my adult life (apart from the bit where I was in detox) I have got up, dressed appropriately, gone into an office, smiled at colleagues, switched on a computer and produced strategy documents, bids, plans, briefings and at one point responses to MPs letters.

Most days of my adult life I stand in front of the dressing table after a shower and concentrate really hard on what comes next before dressing (mosituriser, underwear).  Then make up.  Sometimes I can stand stock still in the living room for several minutes, as I am trying to mentally checklist what I need for the day and it just doesn’t happen.

I’ve written two fundraising plans for two separate charities, showing desired breakdown of income (public, private, fundraising, gifts, alumni, Trusts, tenders) and an annual business process for maximising income.

When I lived alone I ate the same meal every night I bothered to cook (other times it was coco pops, lovely cocopops) because I don’t have the mental wherewithall to think through food variety and prefer to follow  simple, familiar steps.  My boyfriend and I still only have about eight evening meal staples, and they’re all one pot things because the thought of things finishing cooking at different time gives me the raging panic.

 

I record this for my own benefit, pre diagnosis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who am I? (Part 2)

I suspect this could be a series that goes on. And on.  And ooooon.

No, I don’t know who I am.  I know who I have tried to be.  There’s a wardrobe full of suits of clothes, with different names, like I’m some kind of modern day and female Mr Ben.  I can still put each of them on, shrug into it, twitch against the constriction then act out the part.  Well, probably not the good time hard drinking party girl one, given these days just the sniff of a bottle of vodka sends me into a litre in a day binge.

But if they are not me, who am I?  When I was talking about masks on Twitter, after I asked my GP for a diagnosis the wonderful Rhi said she didn’t know quite where hers started and ended, and where Rhi started and ended.  I like that.  There’s a little bit of me in all of them, I imagine.  There’s not a void lurking under the surface facade, that would be ridiculous and frankly Hitchcock Serial Killer terrifying.

So working out who I am isn’t starting from scratch, of course it isn’t.  It’s a gentle teasing out.  A journey. As a recovering alcoholic I’m more than familiar with that concept.  It’s just I kind of thought I was on mine, and heading in one direction, and now the road before me is less clear, less defined.  Optional turnings, paths of desire. More possibilities.  Some different limitations.  New stiles to vault over, new fences to follow.

I know some things anyway.  I am still a woman who loves, almost more than anything, clean sheets and a new book.  I am still R’s girlfriend, who does aeroplane impressions (with noises) when going down hills.  I’m not going to stop loving the woods and the trees and hills and the streams.  I won’t stop being buoyed into passion by a new obsession.  I won’t stop hitting slumps after days out and events.  I know all this.  I am me.  Where I go next will just help to find more of these things.

 

 

Less Cross

I was so very angry last week.  Angry about having no diagnosis, having to find out for myself.  Angry because I was stuck with this stupid, executive dysfunctional mind.  Angry because I didn’t know who I was.  Angry because I was looking at another difficult few years ‘finding myself’ when I thought I’d done that bit six years ago.

I couldn’t even find anyone to be angry with.  I know there are people out there, autistic, diagnosed and undiagnosed, who feel they’ve been brushed off by the medical profession, and maybe that will happen to me.  People who’ve butted up against mental health services, been referred, received misdiagnosis.  I’ve no-one to blame though.  I can’t blame parents or teachers – in the 70s and 80s who even knew girls got autism?  Who knew boys did if they weren’t non verbal with a learning disability alongside.  I couldn’t expect them to notice.  Nor uni, who put me on a Watch List (almost as ominous as it sounds) for the self harming, but tagged it to my Dad’s death when I was 19.  Not the various A&E doctors who sewed me up when I cut myself, I don’t think they had mandatory mental health nurses in A&E then, or the time or knowledge.  Who else could see?  I waded through my twenties pretending to be capable career woman and nursing a serious drinking problem.  When that exploded in my face with a suicide attempt and then detox, who could be expected to see beyond the implications of that explosion to the nuances underneath?  Not my wonderful CBT Lady who helped enormously, but whose help stopped short of just quite getting there.  Why would she see it?  (I’ve bought her books, the poor sod, she might pick someone out in future).

It was odd being angry, but with no-one to target.  That’s faded now.  The anger.  I think I find it difficult to sustain without a target.

It’s just a case now of continuing on.

 

 

 

Words

I’ve been thinking about how I describe myself.  The words I’ve used, the apologies preceding them.  “I’m sorry, I’m behaving like a toddler.”  “I was very gauche when I went to university, really immature for my age.”  “I know this is stupid…I know I am stupid, but…”

What if I’m not behaving like a toddler, or being stupid, I’m just autistic?  A lifetime of bad words, derogatory words, apologies to myself and others because I am rubbish at being a human being, when really I am not rubbish at all, just different?

 

There’s so many layers to this.  I am losing myself in them.  Not that I even know who I am.

Who am I?

I have been realising a lot of things over the last year or so.  About how I function (and how I don’t function).  And where my masks start and where they end.  And I’ve realised I’ve hung my self identity on pegs for years now.  In my twenties it was hard working career woman (that gave me a breakdown).  Hard drinking fun times person.  That ended in detox.  And in the last five years, recovering alcoholic and new born hippy.

None of these things are me.  Turns out I don’t know who I am.  This is frankly terrifying.  I don’t have a current driving obsession, just my usual wanderings in the land of autism and the outdoors world.  Yoga.  Climbing.  I feel so lost and so aimless and without the badge of a label, I’m filled with constant self doubt.  What if I’m wrong?

I’ve read things about people taking years to come to terms with a diagnosis.  My life changed five years ago when I had a breakdown (another breakdown) and stopped drinking, moved counties, left my husband. I feel kind of ripped off, surely one complete life reassessment is sufficient, per life?

Who am I?  And more importantly, will I ever be properly functional, at peace?

My Mood Diary

I have to share this tiny insight, as I’ve been giving myself hysterics all day about it.  Last week was a total fucking atrocious mess, I gave up on everything on Tuesday afternoon and basically threw myself face first into a bottle of vodka.  As I am a recovering alcoholic, this is generally a bad idea.  I mean, it’s a bad idea for most people, plus vodka isn’t all that nice, really.  But for me, daft AF. Obv.  Anyway, in the pained soul searching, ‘have to do better’, drag myself back up into reality that came later, I decided I needed to keep A Mood Diary.  This is pretty standard CBT stuff, and I’ve had three lots of CBT (with varied success).  I have concluded, see, that part of my issue with relapse is that my relapse is related to meltdown.  I start to meltdown, I can’t cope, I go straight back to what helped me cope/black out/not think for most of my twenties.  So this great idea, this mood diary, would help me identify when things were slipping, and thus, help me recognise incoming meltdown and prevent relapse.  Genius. The logic is beautiful.

I’m autistic, I can’t recognise my moods.  It takes ten minutes to work out a major emotion, the smaller ones I give up on.  WHAT WAS I THINKING??

Anyway.  Binned off that idea.  I’m trying more to keep track of how I’m doing.  So, basically, I’ll be keeping a mood diary that goes, ‘bit tired’.  Probably most days with occasional ‘very tired’ coming after ‘totally creatively exploding with febrile brilliance’.

Wish me luck.

On Working

There’s a lot said on autism and work.  A lot I recognise.  So I thought I’d chuck down my current thoughts. This one’s a positive entry.  I like my job.  I don’t love it, it’s not my vocation, but I can manage it.  After a very very long time working in jobs that had seriously adverse effects on my health, this is a massive plus.

I work because I need to get paid to live the way I do, with my own (cat and boyfriend shared) home and money to spend on very important things, like climbing shoes, fags, chocolate and books.  Obviously, if I didn’t need to work, I wouldn’t.  Because my time could so much better be spent doing more lovely things, like reading, writing, meditating, yoga, climbing, walking up big hills, watching the birds, poking the cat, stalking Chris Packham across a range of social media in a hopefully non threatening way.  (I try not to stalk Chris Packham too much, as I realise this would be a bit weird).

What works for me with work?  I work in an office.  I am employed to write reports, bids, strategies, summaries, policies etc.  It is not difficult, as I am very good at writing.  Because I work for a general consultancy, every few weeks or so I change client and subject.  This is interesting.  I have learned exciting things about green tech, bioscience, arts funding, oral history projects, conservation.  Most of it is close to my heart, as I am quite a fan of conservation, green tech, arts.  I am paid a salary and bonuses on completion, which is very handy for my concentration as there’s a pretty good incentive for me to work, rather than peer at Twitter all day or go on a loop of wiki, blogs and nature writing.

The massive pluses are: I sit alone at a bank of desks.  Mostly, to talk to people, I have to get up and go over to them.  I get huge swathes of the day where I am uninterrupted, private.  I don’t have to do that much tricky small talk. I work from home one or two days a week, which is vital recharging calm time.  We work on flexi; unless I roll in after 10 (I never do), I’m not late.  This is excellent for someone who can occasionally find mornings difficult, and can get overwhelmed by the number of things that need to be sensibly achieved before leaving the house, like washing, dressing and feeding the cat.  There’s no LATE LATE CRISIS PANIC if I find myself standing blankly in front of my dressing table wondering what it is I actually do next.  (This happens, my short term memory is garbage, my brain is flighty, and some days when it’s all been a bit full on I just blank out).  The flexi is a bonus, the routine (on the days I am in the office, I have to get up and go) helps structure me.  Structure is good, I like structure.  I get a bit panicked without it.

Unlike my last job, I don’t have to go to that many meetings.  Thank GOD.  Occasional client briefings. I’m always in my comfort zone, because I know my subject.  No networking.  Is there any greater hell than networking?  If Dante were writing now he’d put a Business Breakfast in the seventh circle.

Extra plus: the office is mostly quiet.  There’s usual several people in, but we’re well spaced.  There’s afternoons where all you can hear is the occasional rattle of keyboard and the hum of the various electronics.  Because my job requires proof reading, on noisier days it’s perfectly acceptable for me to take a sheaf of papers and go and sit in a meeting room, away from people.

I appreciate I am lucky. Luckier would be the freedom not to work.  Lucky here is now having a job that doesn’t wipe me out, take my anxiety to flooring levels.

I changed jobs last year.  In September.  After I started reading about autism in February and identified things that work for me.  If I can add to a compendium of Things That Might Work for others, I hope to maybe help.