Put your labels on the table

Someone called me a ‘psychiatrist’s dream’ the other day. I think it was meant as a friendly little joke. I didn’t laugh. But even so it got me thinking about all the labels people have so creatively and persistently tried to stick on me over the years.

There’s quite a volume when I think about it.

First there’s the frankly rather unsporting ones about my appearance:

  • You’ve got an interesting jaw line
  • You’re ‘quite’ attractive
  • Lip up fatty, fatty reggae

Hmm. Let’s move on shall we.

It’s the ones that go beyond the outer appearance that intrigue me. Here are some of the best ones:

  • You’re loud, opinionated and brash
  • You’ve got all the mothering instinct of a turd
  • You’re not a team player, you’re Little Miss Independiente
  • Uh oh here comes Asperger’s Woman
  • Brutal
  • Blunt
  • Freak
  • Weirdo
  • Robot woman
  • Jesus freak
  • Uh oh here comes ‘the alternative’
  • You asked for it
  • You deserved it

Oh and then there’s the raft ‘Why Do You Have To’ questions: Why do you have to:

  • think about things so deeply?
  • analyse things so much?
  • take everything I say literally?
  • be so serious all the time?
  • be so intense?
  • be so emotional?
  • be so unemotional?

Yeh. I know. The last two contradict. Both made by exes, so go figure.

Seriously, how easy is it to just wholesale take on board all this? Very, I’d say. Despite their amusingly insulting nature, they could all genuinely describe me at the touch points of my life in which they were said. So the question is not so much ‘are they true’, but ‘how much longer after those touch points do I let them linger?’ How much do I let them take root, and grow and fester and become toxic, defining realities for me for the rest of my life?

W.C Fields apparently said “It ain’t what they call you; it’s what you answer to that counts.” I like this a lot.

it ain't what they call you

A lot.

Loads of people have already written on the subject of not listening to the condemning and negative things others say about you, but instead speaking out life-affirming and positive things instead. Look at yourself in the mirror and say “I am beautiful” every morning type of thing,

Yeh. Nice idea, but that just ain’t me. I wasn’t born in a tepee and I need something a little more robust to fend off the onslaught.

OK so what does a hardened cynical old mare like me do in an attempt to find an ‘antidote’ to all the labels that have been proffered me over the years? Here’s what. I’ve taken a look at what the bible says God calls me. And in my own fragile and piecemeal way I’m learning to trust and (astonishingly) receive those things more and more as wholly true and loving and good.

Here are some of my faves.

He rescued me because he delighted in me. – 2 Samuel 22:20

I am already clean – John 15:3

Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new. – 2 Corinthians 5:17

My name is permanently engraved in the palms of (His) hands and no man shall pluck (me) out – Isaiah 49:16

God knows me completely. – 1 Corinthians 13:12

He hears me – 1 John 5:14

To be or not to be? Adult ASD Diagnosis is a good thing, right?

I was inspired, comforted and challenged by reading this lady‘s story on the NHS website this morning.

I’ll soon start the formal diagnostic roller-coaster for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some would probably say “Don’t do it!” “It’s only a label.” “It won’t change who you are.”

People often say “But you seem fine to me”. And I always say (inspired by seeing Stewart Lee’s Carpet Remnant World show at the Bristol Hippodrome last year), “Well, you can’t see what it feels like.

The thing I liked about Aly Glynn, aside from the obvious that she’s gone through the diagnosis process as an adult female (can’t have been easy swimming against that tide of assumptions easy!) is that it really has been worth it for her.

She describes it as the ‘final piece in the jigsaw.’ When you live a life that feels like all the pieces don’t fit together and in fact some are just simply missing, no matter how hard you try, this is such a refreshing and comforting thing to read. I’m also encouraged by her words “I was genuinely shocked to discover that people don’t think like me, aren’t preoccupied by the same things and don’t experience the same sensory issues. For example, I find the sound of pans banging together painful.” Substitute ‘pans’ for ‘radio’ and that’s me.

Even though I know it’s going to be a hard process to go through, I’m ready to know. I want to know. I don’t want to always be wondering and trying to muddle along with my own and others’ explanations and excuses and half-baked answers about why I struggle with the things I do. I want to rule in or rule out the facts.

Knowing means understanding. Understanding means acceptance. And with acceptance comes peace about the ‘why’ and ‘how’ to live my life in a way that makes the best out of my uniqueness. And equip me better to be kinder to myself at times when things are ridiculously and painfully clunky.

Aly says “I needed to know how to cope…..I have now learnt what is good for my health….”

And that’s my goal too.

Is being single an affliction?

Well, who’d have ever thought it, I’ve been single and celibate out of choice for 2 ½  years now. Blige! I passed another landmark on 31st December 2013, and it made me think, OK so does that mean I’m now ‘available’. Um, honestly I’m not sure…..

I often get asked about my love life (or my sex life) by friends and family who all seem to be keenly waiting for me to ‘meet someone’ in order that I will be happy. Nice.

Not.

Question: Am I a bad person for having a major problem with this line of questioning? Am I just being over sensitive about the implication that my nearest and dearest perceive me as unhappy lonely, inferior, suffering from an affliction, incomplete or any number of other negative assumptions on the basis that I’m single?

OK so that was two questions. But they were kind of the same thing….

Gah! A big part of my personal growth over the last couple years has come as a direct result of forcing myself to be single. Yes I said forcing myself.

It’s not easy at times. Actually if I’m honest, that’s a bleedin’ understatement. One time I charged out of the house, went and sat on a bench in the park at night and just cried and cried with the agony of a raging inner battle – one side tempting me to break my commitment for the sake of an immediate ‘fix’ (who was lushness on legs!), and on the other side, the very painful and still-so-close awareness of having lived the last decade in the wake of some disastrous relationship decisions I’ve promised myself I won’t repeat!

So, my ‘Good Parent’ tells me it’s healthy for me to commit to this time of singleness and celibacy instead of yielding to offers of short-term gratification. My ‘Good Parent’ tells me I want to eliminate the interference, clutter and dirt of unhealthy relationships and look to Jesus as a role model of ‘how to do relationships well’. Quite a challenge, but Little Miss Fiercely Stubborn here will jolly well keep the commitment.

It’s kind of like taking medicine even though it tastes yuk…

I know this refiner’s fire is good for me because of all the impurities rising to the surface. It’s hard, it’s painful. But for the sake of reaching a place of brutal-but-authentic honesty between myself and God, I need and want to learn how to do two things:

1)    to honour myself and my body

2)    to have healthy relationships

Yes, one day it might be ‘nice’ to meet a guy that I can connect with, who I can walk my journey with, who shares my passion for God and music and fitness and the ridiculous. Who doesn’t mind my weirdness. In fact quite likes it. Who can handle my bluntness and wrath and drive and black-and-whiteness and withdrawnness and darkness and inappropriateness without acting like I’ve castrated him and served his knackers on a platter. I’ve never met anyone like that, so I’ll have to cross that bridge if and when I ever come to it.

And that will be a WHOLE ‘nother adventure in “OMG how do I relate to a guy intimately without going down my usual ‘safe’ routes”….. d’ya see what I’m sayin’ 😉

So to all my adorable but desperately patronising friends who are poised for the nod to ‘buy a hat’ – I say, hold your darn horses. Let me grieve. Let me detox. Let me breath. Let me grow. Let me blossom. Let me learn. But most of all just let me be.

Everything in its place. Is that really necessary?

Got into work today and the first thing I did was move my desk phone

It made quite an alarming, albeit satisfying, early morning scraping shriek across the desk as I moved it, resulting in the alarmed attention of a colleague. As she’s in the know about my pending diagnosis, she was acceptingly amused by my simply saying, “Phone was in the wrong place”.

Then I took out of my bag and placed in a row

  • 1 apple
  • 1 satsuma
  • my diary (open)
  • my mobile – face up by the diary’s right hand page

This is all arranged on the left of my monitor.

On the right of my monitor I have my coffee mug, in which I keep a stuffed toy lion when not in use. He has to go in a certain way so none of his legs are visible. Beside that is my work trays, with a different clip board for each project and scheduled tasks cross referenced to my online task planner. It’s all kept in place by my Eric Cartman paperweight who always faces forward.

Aside from Eric Cartman and the lion in the cup, there is nothing personal on my desk. No family photos  or puppy pictures. No gonks or widgets. No folders, no clutter. Just a desk, with a phone, monitor and laptop stand. I don’t even leave my laptop set up overnight, I clear it all away and set it up afresh the next day. Functional. Minimalist.  If I don’t need to use it, I don’t want to see it.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but it’s reassuring when it is. If it’s not, there is an underlying feeling of uncertainty, like something might happen that I’m not anticipating and I won’t be ready or won’t know what to do.

The reactions from colleagues vary. Some remark on how organised I am or how clean and tidy my desk is, seemingly in a positive way. Others (jokingly) make comments relating to OCD or me being on the spectrum – oh here comes little miss Aspergers – never really sure how to respond to that!

Others have deliberately rearranged (or what I like to call ‘sabotaged’) my desk when I’ve been away; much to their amusement and my distress. I remember on one occasion I arrived at work to find my desk completely emptied as a joke.  joke!

When stuff like that happens, it’s like there are two reaction processes going on with me at the same time:

1) the normal rational reaction:

Scenario: Someone completely re-arranges my desk and covers everything in pink post it notes and pizza sauce.

Reaction: It’s OK. I can see the joke. I know the people, they are my friends, they are just taking the mickey in a friendly way. I’m safe……. aaaand so I say say ” Oh hahaha,  yes very amusing, guys”, and all is well with the world.

OR

2) The other reaction:

Scenario: Someone accidentally leaves a small elastic band on my desk.

Reaction: “OH MY EFFING STARS WHAT IN THE SEVENTH LEVEL OF LIVING HELL IS THAT AND WHERE’S ALL MY STUFF GONE YOU’VE RUINED MY LIFE!”

As I get older I’m gradually training myself to exhibit the first reaction. I find it generally seems more helpful.

On the spectrum?

OK so, here’s the thing.

My GP says there is a ‘strong case’ that I could be on the Autism Spectrum.

So I’ve been put on a waiting list for diagnosis. Funny thing is they don’t tell you how long you have to wait. I wonder if that’s actually part of the diagnostic test; leave you suspended in an uncertain situation and see how quickly your anxiety levels rise!?

So, in the meantime, I’ve had the ‘conversation’ with my family; we’re playing with casting new light on my past and learning about what it means for me in the future.

The struggles for me are multiple. More often than not deliberately hidden. The thing is, no-one can actually see how I feel. So without the knowledge, they assume everything is OK.  But when I talk them through it, and how it affects me, it’s like their eyes are opened; suddenly they see it, and they accept it could be true. It’s a bit like when you buy a new car; you get a blue Golf and suddenly you notice everyone else that has a blue Golf!

There are common areas that affect people on the spectrum; social interaction, obsessive behaviours, communication and sensory/spatial problems.

So how does it affect me? Firstly,  the biggy of social interaction. (I’ll talk about the other things in later blogs).

To say social interaction is awkward for me is something of an understatement. Its more like cringe-worthy, sickening, nerve-racking, desperately uncomfortable, draining, challenging, frightening, confusing, alarming. Sometimes it is literally physically painful due to the level of anxiety that builds in certain situations.

Thankfully there is some relief; with people who I’m really familiar and comfortable with, who I’m safe with – it can be  OK.  I can relax. I can speak freely. I can laugh. But generally I am in a constant state of anxiety when there are other people around that I’m expected to interact with. My brain goes into data retrieval mode; I search my experiential data banks to recall similar situations from the past and identify what might be appropriate comments, things to say, ways to react or interact in this current similar situation. It’s not like I can’t interact effectively, it’s just it’s by rote, rather than by instinct.

Sometimes I don’t speak at all in case the wrong thing comes out. Sometimes the wrong thing does comes out, but it turns out to be funny; I cannot tell you how much of a relief those moments are! Other times the wrong thing comes out and it’s confusing, inappropriate. Worse still it hurts someone I care about. That’s the saddest thing. Those times leave me reeling. Cognitively, I learn to file another interaction choice as ‘inappropriate in this context/with this person’. But emotionally I wonder about whether it’s worth the effort.

It is unquestionably always more comfortable and safer to be alone. But I’m still human, I still have a heart, and love deeply. I still desire intimacy, friendship and all those normal things. It’s just for me they are enormously effing hard work.

PS Credit for the image of the abstract mask painting goes to Nancy Zimmerman 🙂 http://www.nancyzimmermanart.com/