I don’t know

I read a bog the other day by someone with alexithymia.  Who described being asked in childhood ‘how do you feel?’ And having no way of being able to respond beyond ‘I don’t know’.

If you asked me now, or anytime, ‘how do you feel?’ I’d be the same.  I’d need at least a little time to think, reflect, process before I could fashion an answer.  And that answer might not be entirely right.  It would be as near as I can manage, but not maybe entirely true.

I have spent a lot of my life thinking that I didn’t feel.  Or that all I was capable of were selfish emotions, emotions related to me.  I have worried that this made me a psychopath or a sociopath. I have mentally prodded myself (with quite a lot of viciousness) to see if I can force some kind of feeling out.  Think about that person.  Think of them.  Right, now think how would you feel if they died? Well?  HOW WOULD YOU FEEL? Even that vicious prodding might not dredge up much.  Not least because you know, the anxiety that prompted the vicious prodding would be wiping out anything else and also because no matter what it dredged I didn’t stand a chance of dealing with it because I couldn’t do something as simple as name it.

I had utterly debilitating anxiety for actual years without knowing I had it. Honestly.  It took eight sessions of CBT to identify it, then at least six month’s reflection on that to name it. It took, in my last job, three months of driving to work repeating ‘calm, still, calm, still’ whilst feeling panicked and nauseous before I went ‘oh, maybe this is making you anxious’.

Like so many things with autism, it’s something so much easier to deal with once it’s been recognised. I can connect things better now.  Panicking hysteria? Oh, that’ll be the impending deadline.  Wash of wellbeing? Well, that might possibly be because you do actually love your cat/your boyfriend (I’m pretty convinced I love both, though nothing I have ever felt has been recognisable from other people’s descriptions of love).

One of the really tricky things for me with this alexithymia thing though, is the risk of feeling a huge amount of something.  Then not being able to recognise or categorise.  Then panicking.  Then drinking. Or even not even trying the recognise or categorise thing, just heading straight to the vodka.  Vodka has always been my painkiller/wipe me out of choice.


This eyes thing

One of the revelations about working out I am autistic was much I had got this eyes thing wrong.  I don’t do eye contact.  I have actually tried, since I’ve learned more about autistics and eye contact.  I experimented on my sister.  (I didn’t tell her).  I managed a not very lengthy couple of seconds before my eyes slid down to her mouth (my favourite viewing point when forced to have a face to face conversation) then her boobs.  Not that I am particularly interested in my sister’s breasts (that would just be *weird* 🙂  ).  It’s just another point I end up on when I’m trying to look at people who are talking to me.  I swear every conversation I’ve had with my GP has been directed at some midpoint between her collarbone and her navel.  The trickier the conversation, see, the trickier it is to even attempt looking in the vague direction of someone’s head.

Also, the problem, occasionally, with looking at mouths is that I am doing this, and listening, and there’s other noises, I get stuck in this feeling that someone is too close to my face and meaninglessly hawhawhawing at me and then everything goes a bit weird.  I reckon one of the reasons I can’t pack in smoking because those ‘oh I’m going for a fag’moments are utter gold when running out of restaurant with too much noise and too many mouths for a moment amongst the quiet cold night.

It was only when I learned more about how important a lot of people think eye contact is that I realised how long I’d not been doing it, or doing a pastiche of it.  And that maybe that was why people sometimes seemed uncomfortable with me.  And why I felt some things work for me, conversationally, more than others.  The reason I ended up talking so much and so well to my boyfriend before we got together was because we met through a walking group and walked side by side, then travelled together a lot, side by side in the car.  I am good at side by side.  I like side by side.  You just have to chuck the odd glance in the right direction and hope for the best.

Another thing I’ve realised is that when novelists write ‘he looked into her eyes and saw it was the truth’ they actually, like, totally full on mean it.  THIS HAPPENS.  People look into other people’s eyes and discern emotions!  Imagine!  I thought it was a literary device to move the plot forward.  🙂

Now I know this thing about eyes though, it helps me to do a better job of what I should be doing (which helps at work) but it also means that I understand a lot of uncertain social fear and how I work better.  So.  That’s nice to know.


An introduction

I have been writing a blog in my head for about a year now.  To be fair, this isn’t unusual behaviour, I am quite often writing something in my head.  Or fizzing away with some kind of thinking, over thinking, analysing, strategesing planning *thing*.  Or narrating my day in the style of the last thing I happened to have read.  It’s a busy place, in my head.

This blog thing, though.  I kept coming back to it, then circling a little away.  I was put off by the fact it might not be polished or finessed.  Or that others have more experience and knowledge on the subject than I.  Or that it should be more than the sum of its parts and form some kind of glorious, cohesive, sense making whole.

I am not (nor is anyone, I suspect) a glorious, cohesive, sense making whole.

A year ago I read an article by the wonderful Sarah Hendrickx in Standard Issue which struck several chords with me.  Enough chords to set me on a course of voracious reading which then led me to a self diagnosis of autism.

Since then I have learned a lot.  About myself, about other women with autism.  About executive function and eye contact.  About anxiety and alexithymia.  I also learned I’m not really sure how to say alexithymia.

So, why am I writing?  In part, because I’ve read some things about how hard it is to get a diagnosis.  And I want to start collecting and collating my thoughts before I approach that.  And in part, because I have taken and gained so much from other people’s blogs and writings, I want to add to the pool, add to the resource.  Only this morning, I read something by Laura James, which made me think ‘yes! that!’ – here –

“Others with autism would understand how…if I know I have a train to catch at noon, the hours between getting up and leaving for the station are rendered redundant.”

It encapsulates an element of my autism – my different functioning – I have struggled with for years.  So, if by just hammering things out, talking to myself, talking through what I’ve discovered, one other person reads and thinks ‘yes, me too’, that would be a good thing.  A helpful thing.

One other thing.  I’m a recovering alcoholic.  Viewing alcoholism through the prism of autism has helped me to some difficult but liberating conclusions.  Which hopefully, if I keep up these blog entries, might help others, might help perhaps alcohol and drugs workers.

ANYWAY.  That’s me. And why, in a few paragraphs.  Oh and Triple AAA?  Autism, alcoholism, alexithymia.  And I’m ginger.  My nickname used to be Duracell at school.  🙂