My White Whale – The Interview

I’ve titled this entry referring to the White Whale in Moby Dick to use in this context: “To describe an opponent/nemesis who is extremely difficult to defeat; can also apply to miscellaneous games or events which are difficult to master.”

So, I realise it’s been a little while again, but to be fair, I’ve had another few cognitively exhausting weeks which included preparing for an interview which I was originally convinced that I didn’t get offered.

I’ll rewind a bit.

I saw a job posting for my local Local Authority for a Fostering Social Worker post in the fostering support team (i.e. supporting carers directly versus recruiting them, which was my downfall in the independent fostering agencies I tried working for a few years ago).¬† I was on the fence about whether I wanted to re-enter the field I’ve been out of for over three years¬†but thought I had nothing to lose by at least applying.¬† So I did, and I had expected to hear back exactly two weeks after the closing date (which was the first May bank holiday).¬† When I heard nothing by the end of the Monday a fortnight later, I thought that it wasn’t meant to be… until Tuesday morning when I received the email inviting me to interview.

Because the last time I tried applying for a SEN Casework role with this Local Authority and I didn’t get offered the job because I didn’t fully answer the questions – (because how can you ask a three-part question and expect ANYONE to be able to answer it fully??) – so I actually went so far as to ask the Recruitment Team if I could have the written questions available to me in the interview (n.b. not asking for them beforehand), as I am awaiting an assessment for Autism.¬† Beyond that, I spent time on the phone with my friend who is a Kinship Care social worker and chatting to a couple of my friends in my current team, doing my best to prepare for this interview.

Well, the interview was two days ago.¬† I’ll give you the spoiler alert now: I didn’t get offered the job.

I got to the first part of the interview at 10:20 (for a 10:30 interview), but the lady on reception didn’t ring up to the team to say I was there until 10:32 – which made me mad, because surely that would say to them that I got there late!! When the admin came down to collect me, I made it a point to say that I was there early and that I couldn’t understand why the receptionist didn’t ring up sooner… especially since there were prolonged silences with her and a man who I could only guess was a security type person (walkie-talkie on his belt) interspersed with awkward chit-chat.

Anyway, get into the interview room and have the questions put in front of me, introductions made to the interview panel – the team manager for the post in question recognised me from when I applied to this role about three years ago where I missed the benchmark by 5 points.¬† They asked me the questions, I re-read them to make sure I understood them, and I did my best to answer them.¬† I was even given the opportunity to return to any of my responses to give more information, which I did for one question wherein it was about research or serious case review informing practice… I mentioned my interest in Autism and I brought it back to relating to foster carers looking after children on the spectrum.¬† I walked out feeling fairly confident.

I then had an hour to kill before the second part of the interview… all that was mentioned in the email was an hour-long session with “young ambassadors” with the other candidates… delightfully vague, right?¬† So I had no idea what to expect.¬† I get led into the room with the other two candidates – one slightly older and one slightly older than her – and in front of us on the table was a range of arts and crafts supplies with big pieces of paper taped to the wall behind us.¬† The activity was also delightfully vague – “illustrate what you think a good fostering social worker looks like”.¬† Not being funny, but I am not a super crafty person anyway, let alone when put on the spot and expected to be instantaneously creative.¬† I couldn’t hide my horror and tried my best to follow the lead of the other candidates.¬† I can’t really draw for anything, so rather than illustrating, I was just writing words on the side of the outline of the person.¬† I did the best that I could despite feeling horribly uncomfortable.

Fast forward about four hours after the interview and I get the phone call.¬† Something along the lines of, “thank you for coming in, it was lovely to meet you, you have a lot of warmth and passion, however….” and then the most infuriating thing: “the candidate we selected, it was apparent in her responses that she has had more [quantity] recent involvement of direct work with children and that did not come across as much in your responses”.¬† I was starting to fume.¬† I reiterated that I answered the questions as they were presented to me, and if they wanted me to talk about that, then I would have done, but I didn’t feel like that was asked in any of the questions.¬† At this point, because I had nothing to lose because I already didn’t have the job, I explained to her that I’m awaiting an assessment for Autism (as I wasn’t sure if the Recruitment Team indicated this or not), and why I asked for the questions to be written out for me to read after asked verbally was because I wanted to be sure I was answering all parts of the questions.¬† She didn’t seem to respond much to this revelation, but thanked me again for coming along and best of luck, etc. all the same bullshit you dismiss someone with.

I realise that a diagnosis is not going to change much in my day to day life, but I realise that it’s probably gonna make it harder for me to get a new job because I can’t get past the interview part when there are veiled questions behind the questions I’m actually being asked.¬† It’s almost like I need a subtext interpreter in an interview… is it so wrong that I take things at face value?¬† I don’t think people understand my difficulties with language interaction because I am very articulate… but processing verbal information takes me a long time and it’s hard for me to read into the subtext or find the implied questions.¬† I’m so mad about this.¬† It’s not even like I was that desperate to get the job, but I’m more upset about the fact that I didn’t get the job is basically because of my language difficulties, which I’ve only become aware of since delving into this whole diagnosis journey.¬† I feel like I want to complain to someone… the Recruitment Team, or the National Autistic Society (to seek an advocate to help me complain)… but then, on the other hand, I wonder if it’s even worth it.¬† People will just continue to find other reasons to not hire someone even if it’s not directly because of their Autism.¬† What frustrates me even more is that I have successfully worked as a social worker for nearly five years before I even discovered that I may be on the spectrum… but clearly that counts for nothing.

On the other hand, I’m in a good position because I still have a permanent job within a team where I have several friends who understand and support my journey to diagnosis; now whether this is just because of the nature of our job (Special Educational Needs) or that I’m just lucky enough to be around caring, understanding people, it’s hard to say.

Like all my other recent interview rejections, I’ll eventually get over this one too, but I’m still angry about it… but for the first time, I’m not mad so much at myself but rather the unwritten rules of the interview game which I’m clearly not privy to.

Until the next one… ūüė•

Understanding the Spectrum

I came across this on Facebook by Katherine Green¬†[Wishing On Jupiter], an Aspie author I follow, having heard her speak at last year’s Autism Show and befriending her afterward. ūüôā
The original post is here: Understanding the Spectrum

The author of the comic has made the images available for sharing, which I am doing here now.  Please note that I am not taking credit for these images and that no copyright infringement is intended.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

All image credits to Rebecca Burgess.¬† I’m grateful to her for illustrating this so beautifully and simply.¬† This explains quite clearly what I’ve been struggling to fully express. Below is some text from her original Tumblr post which explains a few bits:

Last but not least, some explanation for anyone unfamiliar with some of the language used…

Neurotypical = the majority/average brain, in context to this a non-autistic person

Neurodiverse = the opposite, but some people use this term to refer to more then just autism, things such as dyslexia, adhd etc.

savant skills = being extremely good in one area of thinking, I guess the most common one is being extremely good at math and having a perfect memory.

Also, my depiction of¬†‚Äėthe spectrum‚Äô is simplified (to be used as a starting point/simple explanation), if you look into it there are a lot of different traits or factors that make up the spectrum!

What is wrong with me??

So, it’s a bit of a running joke between Paul and me that I occasionally have “a case of the dropsies” wherein I just seem to fumble and drop EVERYTHING.¬† Thankfully I’ve not dropped any dishes or glasses, but I’ll drop my keys when trying to hang them on the hook, or when I’m getting my tablets out in the evening, I’ll end up knocking too many out of the bottle and send one or two pills flying to the floor (or the bottle itself after screwing the top back on)… and I’ll do that with more than one bottle of tablets.¬† On Friday, I had a mini-meltdown after I dropped a container of Chinese food leftovers as I was trying to put them on a shelf in the fridge… rather than pushing another container out of the way with my other hand, I tried pushing it aside with the container of leftovers I was hoping to refrigerate for the next day… it fell in slow motion, and as the top came off, it all had to be binned.¬† I was so upset… like, not just at the waste of food, but that yet again I’ve fucking dropped something and it’s so stupid.

Now, in my research into Autism and seeing a correlation with Dyspraxia, I couldn’t help but wonder if I may have a certain degree of Dyspraxia too.¬† I was NEVER good in gym class in school – like, any game which used a ball, you could guarantee that it’d hit me in the face at least once.¬† Tennis?¬† Sheer hilarity as I flailed around with the racket trying to hit the ball… and if I did manage to make contact, it’d go flying over the fence and I’d get a disappointed tut from my partner and gym teacher.¬† And when it came to art class, I couldn’t draw or paint or do anything particularly well – despite having fabulous ideas in my mind, I just could not translate them to paper (or any other medium) because I just didn’t have the right level of manual dexterity, which always frustrated me.¬† The only reason I didn’t graduate nearer the top of my class than I did was because my gym and art grades were lower than my academic subjects (before final grades were issued, I was estimated ranked 9th, but years later when I requested my transcripts for UK equivalence verification, it turns out that I was actually 8th out of 150-odd in the class #HumbleBrag).

I thought that because I am just not athletic by any definition, I just thought it was down to everyone being different.¬† It never occurred to me that there might be a name for it other than just “clumsy”.

I have been feeling quite stressed lately, especially in regard to work because I’ve had a few quite complex cases blowing up and parents persistently ringing (“stalking”) me which has been enough to make me want to retreat into my bubble of solitude and protection, which is not exactly easy to do when you have a job to do.

Is it possible that my stress is manifesting itself into me just being a bit more clumsy than usual, or is it indicative of something more sinister??¬† Holding my hands out in front of me, they’re not shaky or anything, so I don’t think I’m having any sort of nerve issues, but it’s really making me cross when I keep dropping things.¬† I don’t know what to do, other than maybe keep track of how often and under what circumstances I’m dropping things.

If anyone has had any sort of similar experience, I would appreciate you leaving a comment below.  Thanks, folks x

Protecting Oneself

Alternate title: Letting People Down & Feeling Deep Shame and Guilt

I’m having an ethical dilemma… before Christmas, I said I’d go along to this Peter Kay’s Dance for Life event in Birmingham with Polly (a person I am friendly with from this singing group I used to participate in)… and my anxiety was starting to creep up because I couldn’t find any details about it, and then when I realised that Paul & I were going to attend a Thanksgiving service (like a Christening but not) the day after (even though I’d technically agreed to go to the Peter Kay thing prior to the service’s arrangement), I messaged Polly saying that I’m worried about having a very late night when we’d have to get up early for this service where I’m participating in it as well (which isn’t a lie!), but I just feel horrible letting her down and she’s not given me details (bank or PayPal) to pay her back for it.¬† We’ve left it last week that she was going to try to find someone else to use the ticket, but I’ve not heard back yet and I REALLY do not feel comfortable going anymore… I found a video on YouTube and it basically looks like sensory overload + too many people…

Like, my biggest frustration is that I want to want to go, because it could be a lot of fun, but I’ve already psyched myself out of going and I just can’t bear it.¬† The primary problem being that the last thing I want to do is upset Polly, but it doesn’t help that I haven’t seen her in months (not since the funeral of a former member of the same singing group) and I’m not close enough with her yet to be able to share this whole Aspie journey that I’m on… I don’t know what to do. ūüė•

When I’ve had a very full-on experience, it drains me mentally, physically and emotionally… and I worry that if I went along to the Peter Kay thing that I would be coming along to the Thanksgiving service tired and overwhelmed from the night before, especially since I’d be getting back late (after the crush of trying to get out of the venue and ultimately back home) and I don’t fare well on limited sleep, particularly when I need to be my sociable self in a group setting.

It’s very troubling being in my brain… like all of the time.

I feel horribly guilty and am probably beating myself up more than necessary, but that’s what I do best. ūüė¶

That took effort.

So, just over a week ago, I emailed my client questionnaire to the Autism Spectrum Condition Diagnostic Assessment Team… Well, actually three versions of the same questionnaire: the first being a quick overview of things, the second being a much more in-depth explanation of my needs and experiences with quotes from Aspergirls (which, if you have been following this blog, has greatly helped me in the process of requesting an assessment), and the third being a slightly abridged version of the second one with the quotes from the book taken out.¬† I felt it necessary to embellish on things after completing the first one because it did not really give much by way of explaining what I find difficult in particular¬†but realised the extended version may be quite long.¬† This way, the clinician can look at whichever one they wish – I know that all information has been shared from my end.

I also asked in my email for an update in terms of timescales for an appointment, because I feel that my mental health is becoming progressively more fragile the longer I am waiting for this and the uncertainty is heightening my anxiety greatly.  Even if I could be given an estimate as to which month I am likely to be given an appointment, I would have been most grateful.  The lady I had been emailing had said a few months ago that the service was looking to recruit more assessors and I was (understandably) wondering if this has affected timescales for appointments.

It was, needless to say, disheartening to have the one line reply to my email: “Thank you for the attached documents, I will be in touch as soon as I have an appointment for you.”

In every email exchange, I have made mention of my anxiety, stress, and fragile mental health… but it appears to mean very little. I feel like, if you’re going to be working in a service for people who suspect they are on the spectrum, then it would be beneficial if you have a shred of empathy for the clients you’re encountering.

So, just over a week has passed since this email exchange and it’s been playing on my mind… not helped by the increasing stress at work. I finally mustered up the courage to ring the service to ask again about timescales.¬† The crazy thing is that whenever I need to talk to someone on the phone for virtually anything else in life, while I don’t like it, I can manage okay enough… but today, I was stammering and finding it difficult to keep myself together to ask… I can’t quite explain it, but I almost felt like my articulate self ran for the hills and left my vulnerable self behind without any support. I was told that they’re seeing clients referred in June/July (2015) currently, so we’re looking more at July/August for me, as (through no fault of my own!!) they only added me to the waiting list in September. I feel a bit better knowing that it shouldn’t be too much longer, but at the same time, I’m frustrated that it was such a palaver in the first place. Had I not chased up my referral because I hadn’t heard anything back in the estimated six weeks, I would still be waiting!! The fax from my GP surgery was never received (honestly, who uses fax anymore???) and it took me nearly having a meltdown over the phone to my surgery to get it sorted out… It still gives me a flutter of anxiety when I think about it now… quite similar to the anxiety I felt when things were pending with the mortgage and taking AGES to finish. I suppose it’s the whole “managing expectations” and not being told one thing and it being something completely different or just flat-out wrong or late.

Anyway, I’m hoping that before the end of August, I will at least have had my assessment and, hopefully before my 32nd birthday, I’ll know for sure and have the validation I’ve been after since last summer. It’s crazy how much time has passed, yet at the same time, it feels like it’s dragging.

I’ll quit blithering now… I’ll be back soon with hopefully something more interesting for you all to read. ūüôā

Just a quick one for now.

I know it’s been a while again, but work has really been using any extra CPU (computer analogy of how my mind works) and by the time I’ve gotten home, I’m too cognitively exhausted to write anything.

I’ve just this morning discovered a Facebook page called the Autism Women’s Network and read an article shared a few days ago which perfectly explains how I feel while I have this diagnostic assessment pending.

This was what I commented on the post and (hopefully) it’ll make sense when you read the article (link here: As a Woman on the Autistic Spectrum, My Diagnosis was Delayed because of Gender Stereotypes):

“I’m a bit nervous posting publicly, but I’m going to give it a shot. I am awaiting assessment for AS (more specifically Aspergers) because after attending a convention/conference last summer, hearing various women speaking about their experiences of late diagnosis felt like they were telling me my own life right back to me. I started having conflicting feelings, thinking “how could I possibly be?” which shifted to “how could I not see this before?” I’ve always been a bit quirky, but because I did well in school despite being subtly bullied, and managed to go through university and get a job, and landed in a relationship where I could more clearly see Aspergers traits in my (now) husband, I was too busy looking outwards and not seeing how any of the traits might have applied to me… But this may also be down to the male-centric understanding of Autism up until recent years. I needed to decant the things swirling in my head and started writing a document outlining how I thought I might fit the criteria, and that came out to be 29 pages long – single spaced, size 11 font. It took me a few weeks to build up the courage to print this and request an assessment from my GP, which she immediately agreed with. I’m now still waiting for an appointment to be made. The more time goes on and the more I ruminate on things, the harder I’m finding it to cope with things that I was somehow able to before because I had to¬†because I couldn’t articulate why it was taking me more effort to cope than those around me. I’ve not mentioned to many people that I think I’m Autistic/Aspergerian because of the exact same reason this author highlighted – #SheCantBeAutistic. I just hope that I can make it through the assessment process and have a certain sense of closure on the one hand, but a new way to explain myself in the context of society on the other hand. Thank you for reading this.”

I have also had a harebrained idea about a charity/social enterprise that I would love to start… But I may have to keep you waiting a bit longer before I show my hand on that one just yet.

Addition (25/03/2016): found another two links today which share other women’s stories about the problems presented with gender stereotypes and being failed by the system – How Gender Stereotypes Prevent Women With Autism From Unmasking Their True Selves and Is the NHS failing women with autism?

I’m sick of being sick.

Hello to my handful of followers. ¬†Sorry it’s been a while… took a chance with attending a party for our friends’ daughter’s first birthday, aaaaand¬†as to be expected, there were sniffly babies (January, ya know) and I came down with a viral infection which knocked me out of work for a week. ¬†I’ve still got the cough lingering, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it was a few weeks ago. ¬†Needless to say, I’ve been trying to get myself feeling better and back into my routine, which has been thrown off by being poorly.

I’ve been feeling a bit lost as well. ¬†I sang with Rock Choir locally for about three years and made the decision to leave at the end of 2014, and had the break from singing from January to August 2015. ¬†I miss the friends I had in Rock Choir, even if they were only “I see them once a week to have a laugh and a sing” friends.

I think I’m experiencing a bit of after-effect trauma (without trying to sound dramatic, but I cannot think of another word for it) from having to leave the a capella group that I had started attending in late August [see 2015… over already?]. ¬†While they were lovely to listen to, I was getting bored with sitting doing nothing and not being up there singing. ¬†The expectation for perfection was quite high, which I didn’t think was realistic for me to achieve consistently in the long term and began to intimidate me and make me doubt my singing abilities. ¬†The final straw for me was being told off for sitting and reading my Kindle one evening because some people on the risers said it was “distracting”… I don’t know how sitting still reading could be distracting, but like I said, it was a long way to go to sit and do nothing, so I thought I’d just read because they weren’t singing anything I could participate with. ¬†I haven’t felt that sinking horrible feeling since I was in school being told off for some slight like chatting when we should have been quiet or something.

I had befriended several of the women on Facebook in my time being there, and I found that several had unfriended me after I decided to leave. The level that this actually upset me surprised me, because I figured, on the one hand, I was quite unlikely to see any of them ever again, but on the other, I was not adverse to continuing to support them by attending future shows, etc. and I was hurt that rather than messaging me to see what was up (because I was too distraught to message them all individually), they just unfriended (or in one case blocked!) me. I don’t know if I’ve just sabotaged it all by being truthful about my feelings about what happened, but I guess I’ll never know.

Following that, I was trying to find a middle ground between Rock Choir and that a capella group. ¬†I stumbled across an a cappella community choir, but one that’s not about perfection, but just singing with other people. ¬†I attended one session in mid-January and have not been back since as I became poorly, which has had me coughing a fair amount, thus hindering my ability to sing. ¬†Because it’s a community choir, a lot of the people who attend are local residents, so I feel a bit of an outsider because I’m not part of that immediate community; I never felt that with Rock Choir, because I know my back row buddies both traveled from even further than me. ¬†The leader of the community choir was so lovely and was very welcoming; I guess because I lost my momentum after the first session because of being poorly and I’m questioning my return because I’m still not sure if it’s a proper fit for me.

Why I came to the very difficult decision about leaving Rock Choir in the first place was because I was just not enjoying the song selection anymore, and it was a lot of money to pay to not be 100% enjoying it anymore. ¬†I stuck with it for so long because I enjoyed the social aspect most, but also I suppose because it became routine. ¬†Now, I find myself in a position of, “Do I keep trying this community choir, or do I go back to Rock Choir?”

I don’t like this feeling that I feel. ¬†I just feel icky inside, that I don’t like myself, that I feel like I’ve somehow done something horribly wrong. ¬†I was really surprised at some of the people who unfriended me from the a capella group… ones that I thought I had struck a bit of a friendship with. ¬†But I guess it’s a bit like an exclusive club; you’re either in or out, and I worked my way out. ¬†Part of me wishes I hadn’t even tried¬†because I’d have been spared the emotional turmoil. ¬†But on the other hand, that’s a very slippery slope into becoming a total recluse.

I just wish I knew the answer.

2015… over already?

The 31st of December.

The last day of the year.

A lot of people become reflective about the year that’s gone past and tell sanctimonious stories of how selfless they were and how they will be an even better person next year.

Some may call me a pessimist, but I prefer to identify a bit more as a realist. ¬†This year has been very challenging in many ways. ¬†The remortgage was a fucking nightmare, but I am grateful that the effort put in has paid off handsomely. ¬†I’m looking forward to living alone with my husband for the first time since April 2012… nearly four years… that’s longer than we were together when we got married (three years to the day). ¬†As hellish as things got, I have to reframe it and look at it like this: if we made it through this less-than-ideal living situation and stuck it through together, then our relationship is stronger than either of us may have perceived previously. ¬†That is something to be very grateful for and proud of.

I also look at this year as a year of two halves, as it was in June when I had the realisation that perhaps the overarching explanation for why I have always felt different may be because I may have undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome. ¬†The more I read, the more I am validated and the more I am convinced this is the case. ¬†I just wish that the diagnostic process didn’t have such a long waiting list¬†because I’m sure if I was able to present my evidence, I’d be rubberstamped straightaway. ¬†I know that a diagnosis will not suddenly make me okay or normal or whatever, but it helps me to explain my subtle quirks so much better. ¬†I have spent so much time and energy my whole life to appear “normal” to others whilst feeling like I’m wading through treacle in order to function. ¬†It’s exhausting. ¬†I worry that because I’m articulate and appear sociable that people won’t accept my suspicions of a diagnosis and will discredit me.

Case in point, just last night I sent a “break-up” email to the Musical Director and Section Leader of the acapella chorus I started attending in August and joined in November (after finally passing audition) because it wasn’t shaping up to be quite what I was hoping for or expecting. ¬†I wrote a page and a half email explaining my feelings, yet I was terrified about sending it to these two women. ¬†I spoke to my Dad and read him the email, breaking down crying as I read the last paragraph. ¬†In the body of the email, I had referred to my suspected Asperger’s and that as they haven’t seen me in a broader context, they would not necessarily have picked up on my quirks.

Basically, I was driving 58 miles after a day at work to participate in a 15-minute warm-up to then sit for the next two hours while the rest of the group sang repertoire songs with¬†maybe a 10-minute crack at the end of the evening at one song that I had been sent the teaching track for (after all benefits of the warm-up had worn off). ¬†One evening when I had suspected that I’d be sat doing nothing for the majority of the session, I brought my Kindle to sit and read, thinking that would be less distracting than checking Facebook or playing games on my phone. ¬†Halfway through, I was approached by my Section Leader and told that my reading was “distracting to others on the risers” and to please stop. ¬†Needless to say, I was shocked to be told off like an errant child at school and that took the shine off the apple and left a sour taste. ¬†After a few weeks of not making the long journey, I decided it was time to just put my views down and make a clean break. ¬†I referred to my suspected Asperger’s because I wanted to give a bit of context to my feelings, but I really worry that they’re going to read it and not believe it. ¬†I can’t verbalise how upsetting it would be for me if they react negatively to it all. ¬†I apologised for wasting their time… what it boils down to is that I like singing in a choir because it’s a double sensory experience – the singing itself in harmony with others and listening to the harmonies around you. ¬†Performing is not the most important thing for me; it’s the singing itself that matters most to me. ¬†I’m devastated and horribly embarrassed that I’ve gone this long trialling it and pulling the plug so soon after joining, but I really feel like it’s for the best. ¬†I’m going to try finding a community choir to join where I can just go sing and not worry about being a pitch-perfect performer and just enjoy the activity of singing.

One of the things that touched my heart so much last night was after I finished reading my email to my Dad, he said that what I wrote was perfect and that he wouldn’t change a thing – that he is very proud of how I write and how I’m able to articulate myself in writing. ¬†That made me feel so good when I really needed it¬†because I felt so utterly horrible about what I had hanging over my head. ¬†I feel like it’s been very positive that I’ve started this blog and that I’ve been able to utilise this creative outlet to get my thoughts out, even though my overall reach on the interwebz is quite limited. ¬†I wish that I could write professionally like some of the female authors of books about their experiences of late diagnosis of Autism/Asperger’s… but one has to have a slightly wider reach in order for that to happen. ¬†It’d be nice if a publisher or similar came across my blog and was like, “we love how you write! Please write for us!” ¬†But I’m not going to hold my breath.

Oh, and I sent the email after I hung up with him and have yet to receive a response; needless to say, I am dreading opening up my inbox now¬†because I don’t know if I can face the response just yet.

I’m not one for going out on New Year’s Eve… can’t stand the crowds, drunk people, loud music, or anything that comes along with it. ¬†I saw something on Facebook (might have been a Buzzfeed thing) with Jennifer Lawrence’s picture on a late-night talk show in the States where she is quoted as saying something along the lines of: “I hate New Year’s Eve; I always end up drunk and disappointed.” ¬†Being the wife of a guy in a reasonably good covers band, more New Year’s Eves than not have been spent as just me and the cat, and tonight will be no different. ¬†I blame the media for hyping up how great New Year’s Eve is when really it’s just another midnight… because I like dates and numbers, it’s nice to mentally “turn the page” and “clean the slate”, but other than that, I just don’t see the point of going nuts over it.

In conclusion, this year has been quite challenging in several ways (mortgage, unsuccessful job interviews), but it has been punctuated by a handful of really nice occasions (weekend away to Croyde with friends, Manics concert at Cardiff Castle, meeting up with a friend from elementary school in London, and my cousin’s week-long [yet all too short] visit for my birthday to name a few). ¬†Rewind The Film has just started on my iPod playlist of the Manics’ chronological albums playlist (the only way to listen to a band’s back catalogue), which has been described by Nicky and James as being a very reflective album (as they enter middle-age), and it certainly seems to fit the mood I’m in right now.

To those of you who took a chance and signed up to follow my blog, my sincerest thanks. ¬†Please feel free to share with others, as I hope that my writing can help validate others in their everyday lives in one way or another, suspected Aspie or not. ¬†I wish you all the best for the new year¬†and having a clean slate… the sense of renewal is nice and comforting.

Much love,

Cherry Blossom Tree xx

 

Losing A Parent Through Isolation, Not Death

Here’s the true story of how I started losing my mother, Ann, in late 2005/early 2006 and completely lost her in mid-2008, just as I was leaving the US to move to England. (Names and place names have been changed.)

I did not speak to my Dad for the majority of my junior year of undergrad (Aug 2004 – May 2005), as this was when the divorce was wrapping up (either the 11th or 13th December 2004 – it was close to Ann’s birthday – “the best 50th birthday present ever” in her words) and my Dad’s and my relationship hit a bit of a rocky patch and it was easier for me to just not speak to him so I could concentrate on myself at university.¬† Talking about it with him years later, he was devastated by this, but we have both agreed and reconciled that it needed to be that way at that time; thankfully, our relationship has remained strong ever since and it continues to strengthen.¬† I’m proud to call him my Dad.¬† He sacrificed a lot to make sure that my brother and I were never without; I don’t know if I’ll ever truly be able to express to him how grateful I am for all that he has done my whole life.

By the summer, I needed help with my computer, so I “extended the olive branch” and arranged to meet up with him after I was settled in my dorm room for the summer on campus for my summer job.¬† He came to work on my computer and we ended up having a long heart-to-heart, all-cards-on-the-table conversation.¬† I confronted him with several questions that had been bothering me for the last several years, which he openly answered.¬† After a quite difficult discussion, I felt like things had been sorted, but (understandably) I was going to approach things with caution because I didn’t want it all to blow up in my face again.¬† As such, I did not tell Ann straight away that he and I had reconciled because (knowing what she’s like) if it all blew up again and we fell out, she’d just go “well I could have told you that was going to happen”… she was very good at that.¬† So when I eventually told her that Dad and I were on good terms again (including that when I finished undergrad I was going to move in with him and Rita in the summer to commute to Uni for grad school), and needless to say, she did not take it very well.¬† Even though I explained that commuting from Suburbia (7.3 miles) made more sense than Smalltown (19.9 miles), especially in winter, she just saw that I had “switched alliance”, even though a child should never have to pick sides between their parents, no matter their age.

Over the two years of grad school, I barely saw or heard from Ann.¬† In my first year, I was living with Dad & Rita, interning in the city, and spent a lot of my time on campus or at a friend’s place writing papers late into the night.¬† By my second year, my course load was lightened a bit (thanks to doing two summer courses), I had moved to Littletown (less than a mile from where she worked at a supermarket) with a friend from the graduate programme and was interning at two schools in Biglittletown (i.e. much closer to Smalltown than Suburbia or the city).¬† Ann never once came to see my apartment, and when I showed up at the house in Smalltown one day when I finished my internship early, I was given the cold shoulder upon arrival, being told, “you know I don’t like cold-callers”… not realising that I had to make an appointment to visit the house I grew up in!!¬† She was pushing me away with both hands, despite me trying to maintain a link.

Ann has also succeeded at turning my only sibling, my brother Danny, against me as well.¬† Rita’s youngest daughter had messaged Danny on Facebook, which led to Danny blocking me on Facebook, because Ann convinced him that I was behind it all.¬† I realised that he blocked me and spotted him in the Student Union at my university (where I was finishing grad school and he was a freshman) – which wasn’t difficult as he’s over 6’5” with bright red hair – and he was not interested in hearing my side of the story… he said he’d unblock me but to this day, he still hasn’t… that was roughly April 2008.¬† So I ended up losing my only biological sibling before I lost Ann because of the poisoned thinking she had instilled in him.¬† Growing up, my Dad always reiterated to us both that we have to be each other’s best friends, as one day we may only have each other.¬† Funny, but Ann never echoed that sentiment.

I had to corner her at the supermarket one day to get her to sign a document for my UK passport – which was a declaration stating that both she and my Dad were legally married at the time of my conception and birth – but knowing what she’s like, I had to say it was for a work permit identity document rather than my passport, because if she knew it was for my passport, she would have refused to sign it – and I had far too much riding on it for her to mess it up for me at that point.¬† She would have flipped out also over the fact that my Dad informed me of his previous marriage – a detail which she forbade my brother and I ever being told – because I would have found out anyway when applying for my UK passport (needed to provide the Divorce Decree from his first marriage and the Marriage Certificate from his marriage to my mother).

The last conversation I ever had with Ann was on Sunday the 13th of July 2008.¬† I can’t remember the entire conversation, but the one aspect that rings in my head is her final statement to me: “have a nice life.”¬† No goodbye, no “I love you”, nothing.¬† Just “have a nice life.”¬† Talk about gut-wrenching and devastating to hear from your own mother – the woman who carried you and brought you into this world… who kissed and hugged you when you were crying inconsolably or painfully ill.¬† I was 23 when Ann disowned me, but today at 31 I’m still bearing the emotional scars.

I planned our wedding without my mother.¬† I didn’t get to go try on wedding dresses with her, or pick out a cake or anything with her, like most girls do when they’re about to get married.¬† I couldn’t invite her because I knew she would not have made the effort to travel to the UK, plus it would have been too difficult for my Dad (he’s been emotionally damaged by her too).¬† I’m eventually going to go through my first pregnancy without her to ring and complain about morning sickness or ask what her experiences were with me and my brother.¬† I will have to explain to our hypothetical children that they have a grandmother who lives in America, but that she doesn’t talk to their mummy so they won’t ever know her.¬† How is that going to make sense to them?¬† Will they fear that when they reach 23 years old that I’m going to stop talking to them too, like some sort of sick family tradition??

I had thought that she would have broken her silence towards me when my Grandpa was ill in hospital and ultimately passed away… nope, I had to find out through an email from my Auntie Pam (married into the family so no actual blood relation to me) that Grandpa was in hospital, and through a Facebook message from my aunt Theresa (Ann’s younger sister) that Grandpa had passed away in the night.¬† I cried for days and still cry when I think about him.¬† I couldn’t afford to fly back for his funeral, and even if I could, I doubt I would have been welcome thanks to Ann.¬† Earlier this year when my Grandma passed away, again I found out through another family member (my cousin Jean, Theresa’s eldest and closest in age to me) and not from Ann.¬† That pain from both of their passings cut me deeper than I could have imagined and reopened the old wound from 2008 that I thought had healed over.¬† THAT PAIN NEVER GOES AWAY.

When one actively chooses to write off one of their own children, it’s not over when you exchange those final words.¬† It’s like throwing a stone into a still pond; the ripples keep going on for ages before the water stills itself again… which will be after the culprit’s demise, no doubt.¬† This is worse than mourning a death, because you know that person is still alive and going on with their daily life, and you can’t help but wonder if you ever cross their mind like they cross yours every day.

I mourn the loss of the person that I thought my mother was.

Bah, humbug.

Christmas… called by some “the most wonderful time of the year”. ¬†I personally consider it a massive inconvenience, expensive and full of unrealistic expectations.

When I was a kid, I didn’t really question things, as this is what the adults around me were doing as it was normal. ¬†Why would I question it? ¬†I liked the prospect of getting presents (what kid wouldn’t?!), and I loved the Christmas lights… especially the bubble lights we had on our mantle and there were a few ornaments that I particularly liked… either the look or the feel of them. ¬†I loved sitting in the living room watching TV with the normal lights off, bathing in the glow of the tree and mantle decorations. ¬†Seeing my cousins and playing with our new toys was always a highlight.

Now that I’m older and living away from my place of origin (n.b. I consider England “home” now, as the house I grew up in ceased to be my home when my mother stopped talking to me), and particularly because there are no small children in our immediate family (that responsibility will rest on Paul’s and my shoulders eventually), I don’t see the point in going nuts for decorating just for us.

Firstly, whilst our mortgage finally was sorted last month, his mother still has not been able to move into her flat due to a busted water heater (who would’ve thought that a flat sitting empty and unused for nearly a year would have a detrimental effect on the appliances?!), so I’m upset that it’s another Christmas where we’re not independent; she is going to be out of the country for Christmas, but it’s the principle of it all. ¬†As such, I still don’t feel like this house is completely “our own” yet, and I’m not motivated to decorate because I’m feeling depressed.

Secondly, we have not yet accumulated any sort of Christmas decorations, so if we were to decorate, we’d have to go out and buy loads of tat, and we have more important things to put money towards other than silly decorations that would only be out for a few weeks and spend the majority of the time in a box in the loft.

Thirdly, even if we had decorations, (as briefly touched on in point 2) I don’t see the point in hauling stuff out to put up for a brief period of time just to put them away again after a few weeks, especially if we’re not having any guests over… so what is the benefit? ¬†For ourselves? ¬†The greater benefit would be for us to just leave our house as it is… requires a lot less effort!

OK, so that’s decorations addressed… now, presents.

Capitalism at its finest.

It’s cute when you’re a kid and you buy your dad another pocket-sized toolkit with money your mom gave you for the Secret Santa shop set up in the gymnasium of your elementary school. ¬†When you’re in your 30s and you know your dad has what he needs and would really only benefit from gift cards for petrol… it kinda takes the excitement out… because there’s nothing worse than getting something for someone that you think they’ll really like, only to be greeted with “Present Face” (very funny video by comedy duo Garfunkel & Oates). ¬†Or worse… when you’ve not been asked what you would like for Christmas and you’re given stuff which either you don’t need or you don’t particularly want… and you’re trying to avoid giving “Present Face” yourself… when you know for a fact that your face regularly betrays you and reveals what you’re thinking to other people.

Expectations are also set waaaaaaaay too high by advertisers. ¬†Light fluffy snow, happy families, big dinner, loads of presents… no one’s Christmas is ever that perfect. ¬†Never. ¬†Stop perpetuating this falsehood. ¬†It’s just wrong.

Going on a slight tangent… homelessness, especially at this time of year, breaks my heart. ¬†In the book¬†A Pony In The Bedroom (which I have referenced before in this post), Susan Dunne talks about a period of time when she was homeless, which gave me a different perspective about homelessness. ¬†When we were in Birmingham last week, I saw several rough sleepers on the pavement, and it made me very sad; what made me feel worse was that we kept walking by, just like everyone else around us. ¬†Later on, I was heartened by seeing a Homeless Outreach Team wearing high-viz vests going around and talking to them. ¬†I think it’s because I feel conditioned as a woman to feel scared about approaching strangers, especially homeless folks, as the assumption is that you’ll get robbed or attacked in some other vicious way. ¬†I might look into supporting a local homeless support service so I feel less guilty about not stopping to help.

Anyway, there was a reason for that tangent. ¬†Perpetuating the falsehood that Christmas is some sort of magical time of year and everything is perfect couldn’t be further from the truth for the homeless and the impoverished. ¬†People seem to become blinded by these truths and choose to ignore it.

I suppose it just all frustrates me so much. ¬†It’s too much for one person to put right on their own.

Another thing that bothers me is the assumption that, unless otherwise identified as affiliating with another religion other than some derivation of Christianity, you “celebrate” Christmas and are often wished “Merry Christmas”. ¬†Simple and inoffensive, one may think, but I honestly identify myself as Atheist… that is, Atheism, meaning “a lack of belief in gods”.

I have never subscribed to any religion and if life has taught me anything, religion causes more harm than good. ¬†So I feel like I can’t actually say that I don’t believe in Christmas as I don’t believe in Christianity, because I don’t really feel like I have to justify my beliefs (or lack thereof) to anyone who will not actually ever convince me of a bearded man who lives in the sky. ¬†So, if anything, I feel like it’s hypocritical to buy into the whole Christmas malarkey just to not be a social outcast because everyone (n.b. obviously I don’t mean¬†everyone, but you know what I mean) else does when I don’t believe in it.

It’s not like I’m against the whole “peace, togetherness, kindness” stuff that comes with the season, but that’s just being a good person – you don’t need a religion to make you not be a dick to other people.

Plus, there’s the whole thing how Christmas was actually stolen from the Pagans’ celebration of Yule, so…

I’m not a Grinch in that I’m not saying that no one should celebrate Christmas or that those who do are hypocrites (there are hypocrites everywhere); all I’m saying is that I would feel hypocritical if I partook in the whole Christmas thing in the way that society expects me to. ¬†That’s not to say that I’m not going to be having Christmas dinner with Paul and my dad & Rita; if anything, Christmas is a nice excuse to have a lush homecooked meal. ūüôā

If Christmas is something you celebrate, then Happy Christmas to you and your family. ¬†If you celebrate anything else, I send you good wishes as well [I’ll leave you to fill in the blank]. ¬†Or, if like me, you don’t choose to celebrate any of the above, then good for you. ¬†Happy December.