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Relationships

Although I normally consider myself to be level-headed and even-tempered, I am also very quick to panic about certain things. For example, now that I’m heavily pregnant, a simple bout of indigestion has me worrying about premature labour. If my daughter has a problem with one of her school friends, I immediately conclude that she’ll be doomed to a lonely, sad, childhood, and that it will be all my fault because I couldn’t model proper social interactions for her.

These reactions are extreme. They are also quite unhelpful, but although I can rein them in a bit, I cannot stop them from coming.

A few days ago, my daughter told me her best friend had said she didn’t want to be her best friend anymore. The sad look on her face convinced me immediately that this was a real crisis and I, as her mother, must be able to provide a solution. But what could I say? Maybe your friend was grumpy or tired today? Why not play with someone else (as if it’s exactly that easy)? Talk to a teacher!?

I was out of my depth, and it was a shock because it happened so suddenly.

With her next breath, my daughter told me that her friend had then changed her mind and said “OK, I’ll be your best friend forever”. Phew! I have no idea what caused this hiatus. I have no idea how long the separation lasted, or if my daughter had time to cry over it at school. She didn’t offer any more details, and I was so relieved I didn’t like to press for more information.

And when I look back, I remember all the reassuring details that hadn’t occurred to me at the moment of her announcement. The fact that she came out of school that day happy, just like every other day. The fact that she had waited two hours before even mentioning it, during which time she’d done the same things she does every other day after school. My daughter was already back on an even keel before she saw me in the playground. The sadness she’d felt was not a big deal to her anymore.

But that moment of panic, for me… I never want to feel like that again. It’s ridiculous how fast our minds can spiral through fear, and a strong imagination suddenly doesn’t feel like much of a blessing. And now that I know just how tenuous a friendship is for 4- and 5-year olds, I have the worry of it recurring.

The day after she made this announcement, I was still thinking about it. ‘Is she definitely OK?’, ‘Will her best friend play with her today?’, ‘Should I mention it to their teacher, just so I know she’ll keep an eye on them?’, ‘Is it my fault if the friendship fails and my daughter finds she can’t move on?’, ‘What will happen if she loses her friend?’, ‘What can I say to make things better if the next break is more permanent?’

I think Aspie brains are pretty good at overthinking things and worrying too much. But this blog is meant to be a positive look at Asperger’s – so where’s the happy take-away?

Well, I suppose it’s a good thing that I recognised my feelings and thoughts for the complete overreaction that they are. I am trying to extricate them from my life and not let them change my behaviour. And I am taking positive steps to support their friendship by arranging another playdate.

When your fear is spiralling out of control, you must cling to reality.

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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!

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.

I recently played hostess to a family of five for a weekend. Three children under five years old and their mum and dad descended on our house like a whirlwind of noise and activity. You can imagine how well I coped when the children woke me at 5.30 one morning, and turned my house upside down just by being themselves. They were nice, polite children (and a baby). I like their parents a lot and they really made an effort to be good, thoughtful house guests. But…

(There was always going to be a “but”, right?)

…it made me think “how could anyone cope with more than one child?” This is not a new thought for me, but it’s a recurring worry, because I know my husband would like more children. He sees a family like that and just thinks it’s normal, and happy, and wonderful. I see a family like that and think ‘thank God it’s not me’!

I can’t imagine any happy or positive way for me to have more children. But could it be wrong to refuse? Who do you choose – yourself, or ‘them’? Is it selfish to have only one child? Is it better to roll up your sleeves and accept a life of running around after little ones?

Just thinking about it makes me more exhausted. Surely I have the right to keep my family small without worrying about socially damaging my child, or spoiling my relationship with my husband?

Over a month since my last blog post here and when I saw the title I thought, ‘O yeah – still waiting for that!‘.

Today I am using a sunlight lamp to perk me up, as well as the usual ridiculous quantity of coffee. I am in the uneasy position of having (or at least feeling like I have) a million tiny things to keep in my mind. Lots of little jobs, and little ideas that I have to keep and dispense at just the right time. I rather envy my toddler now. She is living in the moment, every second of the day. I am in some kind of stasis, always doing much less than I’m thinking about.

Last night I saw some kids playing football in the street and I had a sudden longing for being on holiday, and drinking white wine. Perhaps this is nothing to do with my life and everything to do with the fact that January is a notoriously depressing month. Christmas is dead. Work is back on at full tilt. The weather mostly sucks. My studies have resumed and they are still difficult.

On the plus side, it is nearly my toddler’s 2nd birthday, so I get to make a cake and have a party and watch her happy little face enjoy all the details that I had to plan.

I think we are all still waiting for that ‘wave’. At least we are not alone.

PS. I realised after writing the sentence above, that actually many Aspies do feel alone and isolated, even if they know that in a logical way they aren’t. If you are feeling alone, please reach out, even if it’s only via Facebook to a friend or acquaintance who can sympathise with whatever you’re feeling. That’s just what I did when I had a bad evening recently and a few words of reply made a huge difference.

Warning: This post contains strong language.

When I started this blog I wanted to be positive. That’s why I called it Acceptable Face – because I was presenting the acceptable face of Aspergers – I would be showing how Aspies can live well and overcome difficulties. Today I am filled with doubt again. There is a hurdle and I really don’t know if I can get over it.

My toddler is not yet two. So far I think I’ve been doing a good job, but this last week has given me doubts. This last week has made me think, either it’s her illness making things awkward (she has a bad cold), or a natural phase, or it’s something I’m doing / not doing that’s wrong. She can’t tell me. So what if it’s me? What if I keep doing it? What if I’m changing the course of her whole life for the worse, right now, without having a clue?

How can I be a good enough parent when I can’t figure out what’s going on?

When I was a kid, I didn’t want a baby because I knew I wouldn’t cope well with spending that much time around a needy human being. Then I got older and thought maybe it’ll be OK. My hormones seemed very keen for me to have a baby. Now I have two issues. The problem I foresaw as a kid, and this new problem of ‘O shit, maybe I’m screwing up her life with my Aspie-ness’.

Because let’s face it, if I don’t know what’s wrong, it’s probably because I struggle to understand things from her perspective. Or it’s because she’s worked out that sometimes I get very irritated by her behaviour, because I want my own space. Either way, it’s the Aspergers getting in the way.

All I want is to be a good parent who doesn’t fuck up her child’s life. She’s not even two.

Fuck.

Has anyone else with Aspergers dealt with this?

In Facebook groups and forums I’ve seen people with Asperger’s or other degrees of autism complain about the lack of support groups for adults. I’m not surprised there are a lack of resources for us, we’re a minority, and in some towns and villages you’re lucky to get a coffee shop so why expect an adult autism support group?

What does surprise me is that they consider it a problem because they can’t meet other Aspies face-to-face. At least online you don’t have to worry about making eye contact and whether it’s OK to ask someone out for a coffee. And since many of these people appear to be tech-savvy, why not use Skype, or Google hangouts to create a face-to-face group, if that’s what you want.

I prefer to blog – I feel as if I’m talking to people, but really it’s very one-sided. I don’t have to think about how my words will be received or if I’ll offend anyone. I don’t have to worry about interesting a specific person. I just write what’s on my mind and sometimes I get comments, likes, or follows from it.

I’m also a fan of this Youtube vlog. This guy does the same thing but as a series of videos. I find him interesting and entertaining and he covers topics that interest me and make me feel connected. Sometimes he’ll say stuff that makes me think ‘Aha! So it’s not just me’. In this way, his vlog is a real support service, and all I need is an internet connection. I don’t have to drive somewhere and introduce myself to a room full of strangers to do this.

For more on internet connections, read this.