Thursday, 18 June 2015

How Are You? A most difficult question to answer.

I got up this morning and wrote my Morning Pages - three pages of long hand writing about anything and everything.  Three weeks into that practice and every day they churn something up and lead to discoveries and decisions and things that need to change.  That's about 1000 words every morning.  And then I got sidetracked online by a one frame cartoon based on the question "How are you?"  And then the following happened.  Another 1000 words.  Typed - which is so much quicker than using a pen and feels very different inside.  So that's 2000 words of dubious quality and equally dubious meaning, written down by about eight in the morning.
OK.  So this is going to show me to be a bit weird.  Or possibly very weird.  That's nothing new.  There are seventy posts here already, most of which show up some kind of weirdness.  Yes, this is weird - but at least I know I'm not unique.  I know at least one person who feels exactly the same way I do and complains about this very thing.  And he's not even autistic!  Another person who doesn't deal well with those parts of social interaction that are just acceptable nice rituals.
One of my least favourite questions to be asked is "How are you?"  A question that is asked every day.  Part of the small talk and formal social banter we're all expected to participate in.

It's part of that social ritual that means we have to talk about the weather.  Someone is standing next to us and we tell them it's a cold day or warm, or wet, or dry.  As if they don't know that for themselves.  And then they have to respond with something equally banal.

I've learned the weather thing - I just agree with whatever the other person says.  Which becomes hard for me when one person tells me how cold it is and a minute later someone is telling me how hot it is.  That happens.  For me it's quite confusing.  I want to argue with the second person on behalf of the first!
But I have real trouble with the question, "How are you?"
That's because - as anyone reading this knows - very few people actually want to know the answer and I am a pathological truth teller.  I'm generally a very open book and the only secrets I keep are about other people. I have trouble interpreting the words "How are you?" as "Let's enter into meaningless ritualised talking for the next few seconds" rather than as "How are you?". I find it hard enough to give the meaningless "I'm fine" answer to complete strangers and have to force myself against all instinct to say it when asked by people I know.  Because while I know in theory that the question is just a piece of social fluff that doesn't mean anything, in practice, in the moment, I have to work really hard to remember that people don't actually want to know how I am when they ask me how I am.

Most days I can manage to do the polite thing:  "Hi.  How are you?"  "I'm fine.  How are you?"  "I'm fine too.  It's sunny today isn't it?"  "Yes, but they forecast cloud on Tuesday."  "Oh no, I hope it stays sunny."  "Yes.  I've got to go now.  It was good to see you."  "Great to chat with you."  "Bye."  Such a conversation is a bit like two animals passing each other and giving each other a quick sniff, though I dare say the animal conversation contains far more information.  But it's a conversation most of us have very regularly.
But sometimes I'm so drained that I can't manage to override instinct, honesty and openness about pretty much everything.  So what tumbles out is an actual answer to the question.  And that gets me in social trouble pretty frequently.

Please don't ever ask me how I am unless you want the answer, whether it's from the height of ecstasy or from a place of dark pain. Because for me, anything else is physically painful.  Yes, physically painful.  To answer "I'm fine" when I'm not actually hurts me.  To be asked a question that actually means "Please lie to me now" isn't easy for me.

Please don't ask and then tell me off if I respond with honesty.

If I ask you the question it means I actually want to be told the answer, or to be told that you don't want to tell me the answer. It doesn't ever mean that I am making polite and completely meaningless small talk.
If I ask you the question then I don't want the answer "I'm fine" unless you are fine.  Tell me you aren't comfortable with answering.  Or give the answer, whatever that happens to be.  But please don't lie to me just like most people lie to each other dozens of times a day and just like it's become our instinct to lie, avoiding proper relationship while pretending we have it.

If I ask you the question it means that I am seeking relationship with you, based on truth and integrity, on authenticity, not on social rules that force us to be dishonest with one another.

If I ask the question on my own initiative - not as a polite answer to you asking the question - it is an actual question.  It's not small talk - because I'm rubbish at initiating small talk.  It's not ritual.  It's not part of the liturgy of most people's social interaction.  It's a question.

I know all that is strange.  I know that the world doesn't work like that and that such questions will continue to be asked without meaning what the words say.  But it is the way this head instinctively works.

There is another reason why I have trouble with the question "How are you?"  It's open ended and can mean too many different things.  It's not specific enough and I can panic about what the question might mean before coming out with an answer.  Honestly, there are several reasons why I have trouble with the question and I've learned this year that these reasons are common for autistic people.

Some of them are echoed in the comments on this page.  Yes, I could be that aspie friend in the original post.  I'm not, but it's nice to know I'm not alone!

It's fascinating for me to slowly look at my life and thoughts and ways of being through the lens of autism.  It's bringing so much understanding that I never had before.  And with understanding and time and work I'll be able to learn to function so much better in society.  Whether it's the little things like small talk and questions like "How are you?" or the big things like the sources of my temptation of self harm in times of stress, or the ins and outs of sensory issues, defences and social work arounds the whole process is being a revelation for me and is turning out to be a challenge of a size I never could have believed.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Sensory Overload - An Autistic Hell Day And A Difficult Recovery

Yes.  Yet another autism post.

This was written long hand in pen at six o'clock this morning.  I have thought hard about whether to type it up and share it, without any editing because of the nature of that writing.  OK, so I admit one edit because the original was just planted onto the page in one long paragraph so I've separated things out to make it more readable.  This writing is part of a course I'm starting on unlocking creativity, a course that will be wonderful.  But the pages of writing every morning - yes, EVERY morning there's this amount of writing, in pen, on paper - aren't really meant to be shared.  Today I am breaking that rule.  Because this may explain part of my life to people who can't see it because it's not visible.  Here I share a little of what sensory overload can mean to me.  The effects of doing something I wanted to do - and to be able to do.  It is very nice to be able to admit to all this and to be honest with myself and others.  It is horrendous that my unconscious coping techniques and defences took a running leap off the nearest cliff when I started to examine them and bring them to light.  Right now, things are fucking difficult.  I'd say "Excuse my language," but really, don't.  I can't be British and polite and stiff upper lip about this without being dishonest about the whole thing.  And if I'm dishonest about it then what really is the point of me talking about it at all.  Here goes:

There are moments when I wish autism could go and take a flying fuck out of my life. Last night. And this morning. Moments when it would be nice to be able to do normal things, the simple things that normal people do, without it turning into a living hell, without having to retreat and recover until hell subsides.

Yesterday I spent time with people. Unexpected people. For maybe 45 minutes in a noisy bar. Thankfully not the first bar we entered which was too much for me in seconds. I try to act normal for the randomly met people. But it's so hard when everything else is happening, when every second is an inner pain and every moment an overload of sensory input. I try so hard but it is hell. And I just don't know the social rules. Didn't really know how to function and that would have been the case even if we have all been on a deserted mountain with only the sound of the breeze through the rocks and the heather to keep us company.

Perhaps I should have said no, and not done it. But damn this. I want to be able to function in a reasonably normal way. I know I wasn't. I know I was finding communication tough. Drifting into a mode where every word is forced and where being non-verbal is the option I want to take. It was nice to be with a very verbal person so I didn't feel an excess of pressure to talk, just guilt for not talking enough and drifting into stimming with the sleeves of my top in order to stay relatively centred.

Yes. I want to be with people. But I need to learn to say no. To be totally honest and say “I am autistic. I choose not to do this because it is harmful to me.” “I am autistic, and while this may be normal life for you, it is misery for me.” For my own well being I need to learn this.

Because it wasn't just that the situation hurt all the time. It continues. The bar is left behind. The noise, in the past. The people left. But that's not the end of it. My hell does not end the moment the situation ends. It takes me time to recover.

Last night was a quest to recover. Yes, there were good things. K's enthusiasm over stones. The blessing of a double rainbow. Writing to a friend. But the evening was recovery, still feeling the physical pain of sensory overload. Still in a state of shock, in a state where the terror and craziness and over-whelming chaos of that bar stayed with me. Every second, no matter how distracted, was a continuation of my pain. Just as a tuning fork takes time for the note to fade.

And last night I didn't see any sign of the note fading. I was in tears more than once because I still hurt so much. And because I know that there is nobody who can really help. Nothing I know that helps. As such times there is always the temptation to self harm because I know that would instantly relieve much of the stress, anxiety that can accompany the effects of overload. But self harm is out. I refuse it and don't ever want to walk down that path again.

Yes. There were good things last night and I hold onto those. But they were fleeting flowers in the fire.

I am fortunate to be taking medication. Because it does make falling asleep easy, no matter what state my head is in. The drug takes me gently away rather than it taking hours to sleep, until total exhaustion means sleep comes. Without that drug, last night would have been worse, have gone on for far longer and the pain would have been with me at every second of it.

So what of this morning? Am I recovered? Simple answer: No. I am not.

I do feel better than last night but the noise and the difficulties of the social area still with me. The noise is still humming through my head. Repeatedly the sounds clamour for my attention even though they ceased to exist in the existence of my outer world, fourteen hours ago. In my inner world they remain, in full surround sound. So glad we were near a window. It means that if I focus to the left of my brain it is a lot quieter.

No. I am not recovered. And I hate that. Fourteen hours and I am not recovered from doing a perfectly ordinary things that perfectly ordinary people do. Fourteen hours and my non-recovery makes me want to cry again for this shitty, shitty life. No. It's not shitty. This is only one side of it. There are many good things and my life is better than I'd ever thought it could be.

But to wake up still wounded from something so simple is scary. It's distressing. It's a picture of how limited I still am. And of how limited I might always be. And I have no been able to accept these limitations. I try not to punish myself for them but that's difficult. And I try not to get frustrated knowing there are normal things I can't do.

Get this through your head Clare: You are disabled. Deal with it. Accept it. And seek a life that sets you free in it.

Waking up like this isdistressing. When pain continues so long after the cause has ceased to exist. Irrationality rises up and says, “Snap out of it. It's just in your head.” Yes, of course it's just in my head. But that doesn't mean it isn't real.

I am so glad to have accepted this autism label – because at least it explains my reality. At least it tells me I'm not just a useless nutter at these times.

So today. I must continue to recover. And then go to church and be the social animal again, the smiling face welcoming everyone, the friend to everyone there. I so much want to be there, with my family who are the church. And I hope to recover enough by then so that I can be back in that quiet place beforehand.

Today is the day when I must start to learn to say no. To not worry if that makes me look selfish or anti-social. Today is the day when I must start to put my own self-care first so that I can care for others from there and not fail to care from my own hell.

I am autistic. It's time to say it. To BE autistic and explain that when I know something will do me harm. Today. Say No. Because the reason is sound.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Being Transgender: A Sudden Decision? No. Of Course Not.

I entered into a facebook discussion again just now having been asked to weigh in and be the person to answer all the questions that can be asked about transgender issues.  Again.  Maybe I should just write a book about it and then when the same questions get asked again and again and again I can just say "Buy my book, the answer is on page 82."
My plan was just to say that I'm not up to answering questions.  Instead I was forced to correct a mistake that had been the basis of much of the conversation up to that point - the quite common belief that the word "woman" is derived from "womb."

The discussion, as too many are right now, revolved around Caitlyn Jenner and whether she could possibly claim to be a woman.  (She can.  Case closed!)  And the accusation emerged that her decision to transition was of a man suddenly deciding to be a woman.  (There's no sudden.  Case closed!)

My plan tonight was to write something about myself.  Because it was two years ago tonight that I stood in front of my mirror and everything that I'd been hiding from for so long, in terms of gender, could not be hidden from any longer.  Two years ago tonight I said hello to myself as Clare - a name I already knew - and welcomed myself into freedom.  Two years on and I have not regretted it for a moment.  The last two years have had lots of difficulties, as those close to me know well.  But my life is vastly better now than it was then.  Once you learn to love and accept yourself it changes everything, no matter what happens in your outward circumstances.  My only regret is the same one that so many transgender people have - that we didn't do it all a lot sooner.

Instead of that writing, there's this.  A single response on facebook.  Much longer than planned because it gives so many reasons why this "sudden" decision is delayed by so many transgender people.  And in some countries and societies there are far more reasons for delay than here.  Sometimes good reasons why someone will never be openly transgender at all - such as wanting to stay out of prison or wanting to stay alive.

Apologies for the bluntness in this.  Actually I don't apologise.  That's a lie.  But if you are offended by swearing, don't read this - there are a few naughty words arising from feeling very strongly about these things, feelings that come from my own experiences and the experiences I've heard of in the lives of friends or seen in the lives of others who I do not personally know.  Some people have experienced far, far worse than me.  Compared to many, I've really had the whole experience of transitioning very easy.  But compared to NOT being transgender, it's been bloody hard.

No need to read on.  Of course, there's no need to have read this far either, but thank you. I'm mainly blogging this so I can look back on it myself and remind myself, not that I'll ever need reminding, of all the reasons why there's nothing sudden about the choice to come out and live as the person you are rather than the person you were told you had to be.  The following was just typed straight out and has not been edited in the slightest for posting here.

The word "woman" is not derived from womb. Not sure where that erroneous idea came from, but: There's loads online about the etymology of the word.

In any case, there are medical conditions in which cisgender women are born without wombs. Is anyone here accusing those women of not being women? Is anyone here going to define a person's gender by their genitals or their reproductive organs, rather than by the actual person? Is anyone here going to reduce such questions to body parts? Is anyone here going to say that those women cannot be women because there were born without something "fundamental" to being a woman? I sincerely hope not.

I am the friend in question but I'm really not up to answering all the questions at the moment because so much is going on right now that's taking pretty much all of my energy. There's so much good information online. So anyone who wants to learn can learn, from loads of transgender people who have written a ton of good stuff about their experiences. Just google it. Take time to research it and read just what transgender people have gone through in order to be able to live as the people they are.

But here's a rant I accidentally typed:

Just to say, it's not sudden. By no means sudden. This has always been with me in some way but I couldn't face it, face myself and accept myself until two years ago. Because from earliest childhood society told me that I couldn't be me, that such thoughts were evil, even that I am an abomination. With such crap thrown at you through childhood and adult life it's hard to accept yourself. And when you know that shit will be thrown at you when you do deal with it, by idiots, by the ignorant and by bigots, it's hard to act on that acceptance. And when you start to deal with it and get rejected by friends and family and when every time you leave the house you are abused by people then it's fucking hard to continue. And when you haven't got the privileges and riches of Caitlyn Jenner and the cash to pay for everything she's done then it's even harder. When private health care isn't an option it's difficult. When national media insults you. When hatred is thrown at you for even daring to live as the person you are then life can be more than a bit difficult. Overcoming all the crud that's been thrown at you for decades when you have done your very best to deny who you are because of who society thought you should be when you were born is never easy. Never. When people fear you. When news agencies and politicians try to get other people to fear you and think that you're only doing it because you're some kind of sexual predator who wants to assault and rape women in a toilet. When you are at far greater risk of being beaten up, and in many countries murdered. When obstacles are put in your way or it's made impossible to be legally recognised as your own gender. When in many countries even trying to be yourself would result in a prison sentence. When you see transgender friends assaulted. When you are sexually assaulted in a transphobic attack (which happened to me). When churches reject you. When they throw you out of ministry. When they seek legal help to try to make it impossible for you to even enter the building. When ministers try to exorcise the devil from you for daring to openly be who you've always been inside. When you are told you are damned to burn for eternity for being transgender. When friends turn from you and family members won't even speak to you at your own mother's funeral (which happened to me). When all these things happen it's just fucking hard to even consider coming out and saying "Yes, I am transgender. Yes, I am going to live as myself rather than as a shadow, a wraith. Yes, I am going to accept myself and love myself". So difficult.

So no. It's not sudden. It's not sudden at all. It's just very, very difficult because of all the crap that gets thrown at us and which makes us feel worthless until we find that immense courage needed to turn round and live as the people we already know we are.

To accept myself is a decision I made two years ago. In my early forties. Two years ago tonight. A decision which pretty much instantly ended a period of thirty years of constant depression.