Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Greeting rituals

I read this blog entry yesterday, and it started me thinking about my discomfort with greeting rituals. I am aware of the need for rituals in social interaction. And on an intellectual level many of these rituals make sense and I try to conform, on the one hand because I prefer not to draw attention to myself, and on the other hand I because I don't like to make other people feel uncomfortable. Again the irony of an autistic person being aware and accommodating of others' needs, while the others have no idea that the autistic person feels uncomfortable and have different needs.

One of the many good things about seeing my therapist is that he understands and is comfortable with my discomfort with greeting. I usually read in the waiting room, and when he comes in, he will say my name softly to get my attention, and I will just look up and sort of crinkle my eyes to acknowledge him. And then he will either offer me some coffee, or just say 'let's go' and we go to his office. And when we walk down the stairs afterwards, I can just mutter 'thanks' or 'okay' or even just smile, and walk out the door. I so appreciate it that he is willing to let go of what comes naturally to him so that I can do what comes naturally to me.

When I talk to my older brother, we also totally discard the normal greeting stuff, and I love it. The last time we met, after not seeing one another for a year, I was outside when he got out of the car and came to the gate. I told him "Go away, we don't want to buy anything." And he said "Wrong address, sorry!" and got back into the car as if to drive away. And I opened the gate and he drove in, and that was the greeting part taken care of. My mom also has a lovely way to open a conversation with me on the phone or on chat - she just says "What?" or "Yes?" and then we start talking.

What would I prefer when I encounter other people? Hmmm. Ideally I would like a few minutes of just observing. I'd like to look and listen and absorb and get a sense of the emotions present, I'd like to process my own reaction to this person or persons, and this is not an instant process. Only then I will feel ready to respond in an authentic way. When I get to know people well though, this processing takes place faster after a while.

What usually happens is that the moment people see each other the whole greeting ritual with smiles and touching and lots of small talk starts. I get caught up in a stream of jumbled impressions without the time and space to process and I follow the other person's lead while my authentic reactions and thoughts get pushed back. Sometimes I can stand back after the flurry of greeting is over and change gears from being acceptably social to being authentic. But changing gears is hard.

How about saying goodbye? I wish people could react to me the same way they react to a child. When a child announces 'I want to go home now', people smile at the honesty. I am certain if I announce the same, many people will be offended. So one changes it to the more acceptable 'I have to go now'. I struggle with the timing of this, and probably often leave places without greeting all the people personally. I can only hope that I don't offend too much. And then there are the expected protests, and other rituals that takes way too long. At this stage I often find comfort in inside laughter, thinking about one of the definitions in The Meaning of Liff - "HIDCOTE BARTRAM (n.)
To be caught in a hidcote bartram is to say a series of protracted and final goodbyes to a group of people, leave the house and then realise you've left your hat behind."

I have no problem with other people needing and enjoying rituals. I accept that it may mean more to them than I can understand. I am just grateful for the few family members and friends who do not expect me to conform and allow me to be my authentic self.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Would this make you uncomfortable?

World Women Awareness Day

Many events are organized on World Women Awareness Day. These include:

  • Panel discussions with experts on women, politicians and non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives.
  • Informational events for parents and partners of women.
  • Conferences and workshops for professionals working with women.
  • Artistic workshops for women.
  • Television and radio shows, as well as newspaper features, about women.
  • The launch of educational materials for parents and teachers of women.
  • Exhibitions of art work by women.
  • The display of posters and banners to increase public awareness of women.
Special clinics are also organized for families dealing with women to obtain consultations with doctors, psychologists and social workers.

So, would this bother you? I'd be surprised if it did not. A worldwide focus on women and what should the women do? Keep quiet and paint while 'experts' on women and those who live and work with them do all the talking.

Would this still bother you if 'women' were replaced by 'autistic people'? I'd hazard a guess that it wouldn't really bother you, that it would suddenly sound good and helpful and productive. But we will not keep quiet and paint.
We will keep talking, we will make ourselves heard, we will be loud and we will keep on working towards a future where autistic people take the podium on such days. In any event about autism, autistic people should play the lead role, leading people away from the paradigm of fear and doom.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

When Aspergers matters

A couple of years have passed since my diagnosis. During the first years having Aspergers was something I thought about every day. It was always in the back of my mind, I looked at everything through the Aspie lens. It was a good and helpful process. I figured out so many things, and made peace with most of them.

I think I have grown into my Aspie skin now. I don't think about it so often, some days not at all. It does not take up much thought space any more. I had a sudden thougth the other day though – that having Aspergers does not matter, except when it matters. Doesn't sound logical, and I did not share with anyone, but since then something happened that I can use as an example.

About two weeks ago, something really sad and upsetting happened. The only way I can cope with it now is not thinking or talking about it, but doing that takes a lot of energy. Then last week we invited guests for dinner and to stay over. I had to buy and prepare food for 10 people and clean the house. I enjoyed the cooking and loved having the guests over, that wasn't an issue. Then the day before they arrived, my son developed a tooth ache, and our regular dentist was on leave. I had to make phone calls and get an appointment at a new place. Took him there, had to answer questions and fill in a form (always exhausting) and eased him through the appointment. Two days later I had an appointment with my therapist. Discussed some emotional stuff with him, and while I was in the city, had quite a few errands to run. Did it all successfully. Came home, and found that the new gardener has created havoc and dug out ALL of my spring flowers for some reason – I found that hugely upsetting.

None of these things were that tiring by themselves, and most of what I listed were positive experiences. But by yesterday my energy was depleted. I felt literally sick, my brain felt fuzzy and I experienced complete sensory overload. Dogs barking, the ducks quacking, the kids talking, the clothes against my skin, the hair against my face – everything was just amplified and too much. I sat under a blanket on my bed a large part of the day, my eyes closed, and spend the rest of the time mindlessly playing computer games and listening to a favourite song over and over and over.

This is when having Aspergers matters. When doing 'normal' things use so much energy. When not being able to function for a day is not laziness, but real exhaustion.

I just wish I have the ability to recognise this exhaustion when it happens and allow myself to rest because it is what I need, instead of feeling restless and guilty and worthless because I am doing 'nothing'. I also hope that when I do talk about it, other people will understand that I still want to do the things that use so much energy. I love having friends over and cooking for them, I love being able to run errands for people or being able to help friends. I love driving to town. The exhaustion is just part of being an Aspie and an introvert, it is not something to avoid by limiting things that bring me joy.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Things I liked today

Dust in a sunbeam. The way the specks keep moving, appearing and disappearing. It was beautiful. And then someone walked through the sunbeam, and the dust swirled and curled and made beautiful patterns. And kept on doing so for an amazingly long time after the person left. And it was a wonderful thought that the air does this the whole time when we move, and we are totally unaware of it!

A praying mantis kept me company while I was washing the dishes. She wasn't scared of me, and I wasn't scared of her, we were simply there together. Maybe to her I was just a huge moving blob, but I loved the way her head moved to watch when I moved. I love that beautiful triangular head with the amazing eyes. She was good company.

My geese talked to me, and peered at me with their necks stretched and their eyes wary. I love talking to them.

I gathered dry sticks for all the wonderful winter fires I am looking forward to. I liked the way the very dry sticks snapped in my hands, releasing a puff of wood dust. I like the thought that what looks like dead matter will release the energy within to warm us on a cold night.

I ran my fingers through my son's soft hair and scratched his warm back as he was eating his porridge, and loved the way he smelled. I loved the hug he gave me when he got up and marvelled at the way his mouth curves when he smiles.

I heard the wind in the trees, signalling colder weather and possibly rain.

I laughed with my husband.

I found a beautiful piece of old blue porcelain in the garden.

I watched my daughter run and play and heard her sing, and felt content.

It was a good day.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Gnus-wombats-ducks celebrates 1000 Ausome Things #AutismPositivity2013

One of the things I love most about myself is my ability to keep joy somewhere inside to take out whenever I need it. I can laugh for ages about something funny, and then keep the joke or picture or funny word in the back of my mind, and at any later stage bring it to the fore again, and it makes me laugh all over again with the same amount of joy. I can look at something beautiful and shiver inside, and keep the shivers for later when I can close my eyes and experience the same joy the beauty brought me the first time. I can repeat a favourite line from a book or movie or poem a thousand, no, a million times without it losing its appeal. I can listen to a song on repeat for days without getting tired of it. I can reread a favourite book a hundred times and keep on enjoying it as much as the first time. I don't get bored and I don't crave novelty, I have such a wealth of experiences inside my head that I can dust off and enjoy again and again!

I love my imagination. I can close my eyes or get busy with my hands and my mind flies free and I create situations, dialogues, people, atmospheres. I can get lost in beautiful happenings and detail. I can get lost in imagined joy. Imagined sadness. I can see in my mind someone being kind to someone else, and experience the happiness and drift in that feeling without needing words. I can create needs and fulfil them and feel the gratitude. I can let go of words and talking and misunderstandings and just feel. I love this extra world in my head!

I like that I am not tugged in different directions by fashions and trends. I know what I like and what I don't like, and my preferences are not dictated by social pressures. I don't feel the need to be like other people and can thus look at new things as they are and make a judgement based only on my own reaction to it. I am not tempted to spend money on cool or popular things I do not want or need.

I like my need to question everything and to look at things from different angles. I want to understand, even though I  know my own understanding is also only a part of the whole. I love to analyse and rethink and question and ask why why why - just like a child.

I like who I am.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Therapy, and thoughts about thinking

We go in and the door closes behind us. I slowly exhale, close my eyes. I lie down on the carpet, on my side, my eyes still shut. My fists unclench and the tightness flows out of my shoulders. I take deep breaths, and tremble slightly with the relief of resting at last. The world recedes and I am willing and eager to start working. My red alert button is off, my green alert button is shining brightly.

This is what therapy is like. This is a very accurate description of what happens when I go into the psychologist's room. And yet - it happens only in my reality. His reality would show a client entering and sitting down on a leather chair, putting her book away and pushing down her hands between her calves, waiting for him to say something.

But that invisible lying down and exhaling is the best way of describing what the experience is like for me. It works better than words.

I often wonder what my thought process is like. Verbal, visual? I don't really know. I don't know if other people are more aware of the shape and form of their thoughts? I do know when something bothers me, I prefer having dialogues in my head, working on what I am thinking. But my feelings and emotions - I find it very hard to put it into words. Part of the difficulty may be that I find it difficult to recognise and label my feelings. Part of it is that I am not always aware of an emotion until it builds up and suddenly overwhelms me. If I concentrate, I have a vague feeling of irritation or being uncomfortable, but cannot get to the root of this before it pushes itself to the fore, often due to someone else noticing that something is wrong.

Then, sometimes, I know what is bothering me. It is easier when it is a sensory problem. The cold season is starting, and the feeling of long sleeves against the skin on my arms takes a lot of getting used to. Or the feeling of the socks and shoes against the toes on my right foot. The irritation builds up slowly, and by the end of the day I am out of sorts and have a very short fuse, and my whole body feels like it is minutely vibrating in a very horrible way.

When it is emotion, it is harder. I have the impression that I think about worries, hurts, frustrations etc in words, but when asked to explain, I find it almost impossible. Where are the words then? What I try to say and explain does not match what is going on in my head, and that is equally frustrating to me and the listener. I really hate being misunderstood, and it is made worse by my inability to express myself. Very recently I managed to share something, and my husband exclaimed 'why didn't you say this from the start?' and I sat there thinking 'I knew this from the start, but I only know it in words now'. Somehow the experience, the feelings, the thoughts and the words seem to fly around in my head randomly, and it is hard work, or chance, that connects them and let me express them intelligibly.

Very often, I find it easier to use a simile or metaphor or something like that for what I am feeling. As with the experience of therapy. And the description may not always make sense to others, but it makes sense to me. Some examples - when I see someone I really like, I don't know what emotion I experience, but I can describe it as 'something rising, lifting inside and changing the way I breathe'. Or when I see something really beautiful, it is 'pressure, compressing and expanding at the same time'. Seeing something special, like a small hidden flower, or a fish, is 'silence, stretching very far while condensing everything'. Pain is like red tulips opening and being twisted. Seeing someone being humiliated is like one hand pressing on my chest and the other one around my neck, strangling me. I am sure all these feelings are normal and have labels, I just cannot match the two.

Back to therapy. I am lucky to have a found a therapist who understands Aspergers, and to whom I can relate well. We are not working towards specific, determined goals, using specific methods, but the results are good. I am aware of valuable growth, but am mostly unable to describe it. I often think the most valuable aspect of the therapeutic hour is the switching off of the red alert button. The freedom of not thinking about tone of voice, body language, expressions, not worrying about offending or being inappropriate. Certainly a lot like lying down and relaxing for an hour!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Laughing in shops

If you go into a shop near where I live and hear someone laughing loudly, it is probably me. Most probably, since I seldom hear other people laugh while they are buying groceries. A family member recently made the light-hearted (I hope) comment that he is embarrassed being with me in a shop since I laugh a lot and loudly, and this made me think. I don't particularly like shopping, and shopping in new or confusing stores makes me very nervous. But when I feel at ease, I laugh. When my kids are with me, we laugh together, my eldest and I enjoy the same type of humour, and my youngest makes me laugh with her antics. And my husband really can make me laugh, I love it. It is ironic that we are all introverts, and not exactly a bubbly, spontaneous and cheerful bunch. There are days when we are out where we could be described as a walking sulk in four parts. But we are not afraid to laugh, and we love it.

Laughter is one thing I am not self-conscious about, and I don't understand why it can make some people uncomfortable in public. I love the joy, the feeling of something squeezing my stomach, the ticklish feeling in my chest. And I really don't care what strangers think when I stop in the middle of an aisle in a shop, say out loud "a medium sized wickerwork cat box" and bend over laughing and laughing and laughing. Or when my son comes up with a new and hilarious word, and I hug myself and stamp my feet while I laugh because the absolute fun and wonder makes it impossible to stay still. Or when I read a funny book in a coffee shop and have to squeeze my eyes shut and hold my breath to stop the joy from exploding and knocking over the table.

Laughter and fun and joy are gifts. Experiencing them in such an intense physical way is also a gift. So I will keep on laughing in shops as much as I can!