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Aspergers

After the other week’s anxious exchange, and even more anxious rushing to meet some deadlines, I am in the happy position of being able to say “I did it!”.

I did not offend my client. She is still in touch and keen to keep working with me. The cherry on the top is that, so far, she is also pleased with my work. Naturally, I am still a bit anxious, after all, the project isn’t entirely over yet! My next hurdle will be to negotiate phase 2 of the work.

But, I am happy to have had some success, and I am happy not to be in such a rush at the moment. It’s very easy for people like me to skip between worries without stopping to appreciate, or celebrate, when something comes to fruition or goes well. For example, I am currently worrying about three separate issues, but I’m trying not to.

Last Thursday I met two big work deadlines and on Friday I celebrated with my daughter, sister, and nephew, and lots of cupcakes and gingerbread men. I can tell you, after some long, stressful weeks, salted caramel never tasted so good!

So, what’s next? I still have plenty to do but I don’t want to keep worrying about it all. I want to move forwards with confidence, because actually, I do sometimes know what I’m doing.

Let me remember the salted caramel a little longer.

Today, I come cap in hand looking for reassurance and guidance. I’m not too proud to admit, I’m a bit stumped today. Let me explain…

I recently acquired a new client and I have been working very hard to complete their project. It’s a copywriting project – my first non-editing role in over a year! I quoted, all was agreed, the deposit paid, and the working relationship seemed to be developing nicely. But…

Today I found out that my client thinks my quote is effectively a cumulative piece rate. She has divided my charge by the number of resultant pages and thinks this is the way forward for future work. This is not it at all – and I now have to explicitly, yet diplomatically, sort the misunderstanding out before I’m doomed to an untenable working relationship.

This happens so often with copywriting – and probably other services too. Clients don’t understand that it doesn’t come down to the number of words or pages. It’s about getting the right message across in the right way for the right people. It’s about the tone of voice and choice of words. It’s about the research involved, and the level of your copywriter’s experience and expertise. There are many contributing factors, it’s not like you’ve put a monkey in front of a typewriter and promised it one banana per page.

But that’s enough of the copywriter’s rant. My real issue here is the communication with my client. I am really hoping that my email is suitably diplomatic. I was aiming to be assertive, but not an a**hole. Speaking as someone with Asperger’s, I have no way of knowing if I’ve achieved that. Even if the client writes back and says that’s fine, I don’t know if she’s secretly fuming, or confused, or fed up.

So tell me – where’s the line between assertiveness, and that other a-word? Can an Aspie really learn to spot the difference?

PS. If you’d like to have a rant about how your professional services are misunderstood or under-appreciated, go ahead in the comments! I love a good rant.

After last week’s sorrow, I am relieved to say I’m feeling better. The problem I wrote about hasn’t gone away, and I know it never will, but I’m feeling stronger anyway.

If I’d had a wobble like that 15 years ago, I would still be in the grip of it now. Time does not cure Asperger’s, but it does give us the opportunity to get better at living with it!

Something that helped me come out of that fog, was the simple act of hitting ‘publish’ on that blog post. The likes I got after were much appreciated. So, my recovery was initiated entirely by people taking the time to press a few buttons. I took the time, and so did you. With the internet between us, these tiny movements are enough to make a big difference.

We hear a lot about people causing trouble for others online, but not so much about all the good things that get done. Simple things that take seconds, like adding your name to a petition, making a charitable donation, or showing someone you took the time to read what they wrote. And for people with Asperger’s, or other conditions that put limitations on communicating, the internet is really a lifeline.

Thank you.

Yesterday I was forced to open up to a stranger, in a way that I found painful and embarrassing. I went to my local hospital to take a look at their birthing unit, and as I sat in one of their birthing rooms, listening to the joyful stories of people who’d given birth there, I started to cry. Once I’d started, I couldn’t stop. I was reliving the birth of my daughter, and the trauma, and feeling of having let her down came washing over me.

Consequently, the nice midwife who was showing everyone around, took me aside for a private chat. It reminded me of my counselling sessions when I was a teenager. The midwife was so lovely and helpful, but I just felt weak and awful. I didn’t want to talk about my pain. I didn’t want to dwell on those memories. She offered to give me some numbers of people to call and talk to, but I didn’t want those either.

Today, the sadness is still fresh, and I find myself deliberating about who I could talk to. How do you reach out to people when you hate reaching out?

My husband is busy at work. My best friend has her own problems to deal with now. My other friend wouldn’t understand. My mother, father and sister… just no. I never could open up to them. Every option I have feels wrong and alien. And yet the thought of calling a stranger at a charity is even worse.

And so, I’m sending this into the ether. A letter to anyone and no-one, with apologies because this is meant to be an upbeat blog.

After last week’s optimism, this week has thrown me a curve ball. My diary is pulling me in different directions and that’s a lot for my brain to handle. On Monday I had two appointments, two more today, a playdate tomorrow, and I don’t yet know if I’m needed for volunteering on Thursday.

I realise my schedule still makes for light reading, especially compared with many others. I know my husband’s days are often filled with meetings, phone calls and other distractions that get in the way of ‘actual work’. But for me, even my relatively easy schedule is hampering my thought process and productivity. My question is this:

How am I supposed to get stuff done when I have all this stuff to do?

People on the autism spectrum are generally known for preferring a steady routine. Chopping and changing, making ‘casual’ ad-hoc arrangements, and attending unusual or awkwardly timed appointments do not put us in our happy place. Each little alteration to the schedule creates worry and stress. It’s like putting a brick wall in the way, while we were enjoying our walk, thank you very much!

So – for the foreseeable future – my stress levels are continuing. My brain is doing its best to keep up with all the important stuff I have to do, as well as the distractions, but I know I’m not functioning at my best and that is so frustrating.

It’s times like these that I envy my husband. He has a career, and while his job may be annoying at times, at least he is working in an office with a single overarching focus. My own time has been split into what feels like hundreds of strands of focus, ever since I first quit full time employment to become a mother.

But I can’t blame motherhood for all the fragmentation. It was my choice to study accountancy. It was my choice to take two voluntary positions. It was my choice to take on work as a freelance editor, and it was also my choice to write a blog and enter short story competitions. As for the cooking, shopping, housework, and child-care arrangements, well I’m just kind of stuck with those. It didn’t make sense for my husband to be the stay-at-home parent.

So, as you can see, there’s no real cure for this fragmentation. It is merely a busy period that I have to get through, before the next one hits. If I weren’t pregnant, I would certainly treat myself to a glass of wine to help my brain switch off. But I am, so… any tips?

Following on from my last post’s sluggish determination, I write to you now from the other side. My energy levels are better. I can eat normal food again. My mood is better. But when I look back I can see how annoyed I was with my body – I felt it had let me down.

At yoga, we have been focusing on “ahimsa” these last few weeks. The principle of doing no harm – not only to others, but also to ourselves. It got me thinking about a trait which I believe is common to those with Asperger’s, and many others as well. We get cross with our limitations. We are saddened by our own selves. If we’re not careful, we can learn to hate ourselves.

I went to a wedding last weekend, and met lots of people I knew as well as a few new faces. For an Aspie, this is hard work. For a pregnant Aspie who has to stay sober, it proved to be rather painful. For about 12 hours I was trying to enjoy myself, make small talk, follow conversations, dance, and generally look like someone who fitted in at the party. All the while, a little nagging voice was making me doubt my every move and word. I wasn’t happy with my hair, my dress, or my shoes. I felt dowdy and frumpy with my bump and low heels, next to countless glamorous and willowy, confident women. I got stuck when I tried to talk to people. I had to take a few breaks, where I sat alone in the bar hoping no one would notice me and think “what’s that weirdo doing?”.

What an utter waste of a party.

My other half had good fun but I think he was a bit worried about me too.

So, I have not been very kind to myself these last few weeks. I have been sad because of my changing shape, and yes, I know carrying a baby is a wondrous and miraculous thing but I really do miss my waist.

Even so, I don’t want to turn into the person I used to be. The one who was too scared to talk to anyone. The one who cried herself to sleep most nights wondering why she was such a failure as a human being.

I must refocus on ahimsa. Happiness does not exclusively come from being a size 8 party animal, despite what popular culture tells us.

Do you fall into the negativity trap?

When you have Asperger’s, one of the biggest challenges you face is creating, and maintaining, close relationships. Sometimes, even ‘neuro-typicals’ struggle with this, so it’s no surprise that socially impaired Aspies feel like they’re scaling a sheer cliff-face making friends!

Even now, well into my 30s, I find so many of my interactions are marred by uncertainty and constant questioning. My brain isn’t sure if it’s doing the right thing. My brain doesn’t know if it read the situation right. My brain doesn’t know if this person actually likes me or if they’re just being polite. My brain doesn’t know what’s normal. My brain doesn’t know if I’m saying too much, or too little.

This chasm of understanding has always been there. But it’s only as I matured that I have come to realise it’s there. Before I knew about this chasm, I was just making errors and not knowing why. I was responding to people who I didn’t understand in a way that I didn’t understand. So we had two unknown variables. What are they thinking and what am I thinking?

Now that I know more about myself, I have this awareness of the chasm. The constant understanding that I may be reading a situation wrongly and I may be responding in a way that people don’t get. I prefer this ‘knowing about not knowing’ to what I had before. That was just overwhelmingly confusing and upsetting. I feel sorry for any child struggling in the playground now. And I feel sorry for myself when I see young girls or women who look like they’re enjoying close friendships and making it look easy.

Now I am older I have some close friends and I have managed to sustain these relationships for over a decade. This is undoubtedly my personal best and will likely never be beaten. I still struggle with ‘new’ people and I am very aware of how much I suck at showing my daughter how to make friends.

Does it ever become easy for someone like me?

The friends I have now are people I met at work a long time ago. It was hard work getting to know them and trust them. And I think there was a lot of luck involved too! How often does someone with Asperger’s find someone they have a lot in common with? I think it’s even more rare for someone with Asperger’s to find people who are comfortable with their level of social skills and not put off by the awkwardness, or shyness, or just plain weirdness.

I was also very lucky when I met my husband through an internet dating site. He says I’ve put up with a lot to be with him, but he has put up with a lot to be with me, too!

So, I had to be lucky as well as working hard.

I’ve always worked hard to make friends but it hasn’t always paid off. I can remember as far back as infant school, when I was about 4 or 5, working my butt off trying to please people and keep my friendships going. What actually happened was a series of minor successes quickly superseded by bigger failures which spanned the next 20 years. And with the failures came loneliness, self-doubt, anxiety, and self-loathing, adversely affecting my mental health for those two decades.

So, when I say that close relationships are a big deal, that’s no hyperbole.

Now that I am in a position of relative strength, I see it as my duty to pass on encouragement and advice to anyone out there who is struggling the way I did. I am also watching my daughter’s progress, looking for ways to help her navigate her own social life.

When I remember my optimistic bloom from last week, I am confident. When I remember how large my own chasm of understanding seemed to be, I am full of fear.

Have you struggled to develop or maintain close relationships? I’d love to hear your stories or top tips!

Hello. Since my last post (which made me feel very brave and modern) I’ve gone through a few changes.

  • I’ve bought some new clothes in an attempt to look less like I’m always wearing my ‘mum uniform’.
  • I’ve taken on a new freelance editing job.
  • I’ve been practicing using my social skills.

This last point is probably the most significant change for me. Today I went to the hairdresser. I would normally take a book or a newspaper and I was running around trying to decide what to bring when I suddenly thought, ‘why not treat this as a chance to practice making small talk?’

I’d already had a good conversation with my masseuse when I went for my sports massage this morning. It’s surprisingly easy to make small talk when your spine is being cracked and you’re trying not to swear. When I got to the hairdressers, in the back of my mind was the memory of my last job interview and the feedback I’d got about not speaking enough. Yes, talking to strangers and people I don’t know well is tough, but I can do it. I proved this again a few weeks ago on a training course.

Sitting in a room full of parents, next to my husband, ready to learn all about first aid for babies and toddlers, and the first activity is:

Introduce yourself to someone you’ve never met and talk to them about why you’re here.

My palms instantly got a lot sweatier. My mouth felt dry. My heart was booming. I turned to my right and said “Hi, my name’s…” It wasn’t the best conversation I’ve ever had, but it certainly wasn’t the worst either. If only I could do that in yoga class! Ah well, baby steps right?

So, is it the sunshine and blooming flowers that give me this extra boost? I definitely feel that spring is in the air and that always makes me feel a little better about life. I have been imagining all sorts of new beginnings, and I feel optimistic.

Is everyone else enjoying the spring bloom? I hope so.

What’s changing for you?

This week I have been reading a book which, in a strange way, reminded me of my days as a single young female in search of something elusive. I was in search of something that should be much easier to get than it actually is. Or maybe it’s just easier for people without Asperger’s?

What did I want? Guilt-free, worry-free, uncomplicated sex.

The book I’m reading reminded me of this because it portrays women getting murdered on the vague pretence that they enjoy sex*. It’s called “Her Every Fear” and it’s by Peter Swanson. My Asperger’s would like me to point out to you that there are some typos in this book and I don’t think the author really bothered to make his English characters express themselves in an English way, but this is beside the point. The point is, women do still get judged for wanting and enjoying sex. And many women do still worry about how to have sex without ending up being slagged off (that’s an English term for ‘insulted for sexual conduct), stalked, raped, beaten or murdered.

When I was a student I worried about the danger of having one night stands. One of my friends had loads of them and I worried about her, but I envied her too. She was so confident, so free, and she had a lot of fun. As far as I know, none of the men she went to bed with ever gave her serious problems. The logical part of my brain tells me, most men are surely decent, reasonable human beings who won’t turn into psychopaths the moment you’re alone with them.

One of my favourite books (in fact, the whole series is great), is “Last Rituals” by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. In this book, an intelligent, professional woman, meets a man she likes. She considers the effect of having a relationship with him on her children. She considers the possibility of being harshly judged by society. Then she has a few drinks and seduces him anyway. And why not? Life is too short and hard to miss out on all the fun.

The best part of it is, this is not the main story of the book, it is just a small joyful part of the plot. The author does not spend 800 pages making Thora agonise over her decision and its possible consequences. For me, as a chronic over-thinker, this is fabulous.

Now, I do not have a simple answer to the problem of finding ‘guilt-free, worry-free, uncomplicated sex’. Of course, you want to be safe, and how much time you spend worrying about it as opposed to actually doing it is down to each individual’s personality. But to all those women who, like me, are anxious or have experienced a lot of worry about the possibility of having guilt-free, worry-free sex, I would like to say be brave. You are a human being and there is no reason on Earth why you shouldn’t be able to have stress-free sex. There is no syndrome, or anxiety problem, that should keep you from enjoying your life. Your potential partners are not all secret psychopaths or primitive Neanderthals and it is OK to begin your encounters from a position of trust, rather than suspicion.

PS.

*I would like to clarify what I said about Swanson’s book. It is my belief that the author intends the reader to understand that the women are being murdered because the killer enjoys doing it, the excuse of punishing sexual conduct appears to be something the killer latched onto to attribute meaning to their actions.

Having spent a long time searching in vain for suitable employment (the right hours, location and skill set required) I came to the conclusion that I’d have to make my own opportunity. If you can’t find the right niche, get your elbows out and make one!

Not that I can conjure up a paying job that’s exactly right for me – I shall leave that to braver entrepreneurs! I was freelance a long time ago and making sales with Asperger’s is ridiculously tough. What I have done is asked someone I know if there are volunteering opportunities at their workplace.

This was scary because I knew that if they wanted me to help I’d have to meet new people and – even more scary – I’d have to learn a new route to drive in the car and get the hang of parking on the road. Still, it’ll beat twiddling my thumbs and having conversations with my laundry, I thought.

A few weeks later and I’ve already started, one day a week, just doing simple administration. I use the satnav on my phone every time, just in case I get confused and make a wrong turn. I always hold my breath on the last turning in case I can’t find a good place to park on the street. I always take a deep breath before I get out of my car and walk over to the school. And sitting in the staff room at lunch will probably always feel awkward. And yet, it’s great! The people are friendly and they really appreciate me being there. I am a valued part of a team for the first time in so long.

Sometimes it is worth sticking your elbows out and taking a risk!