Pressure, pressure, pressure.

Okay, I'm going to mention the 'P' word again...yes, Pressure. Also, Stress and Responsibility, as I've come to realise those two party-poopers are just the bodyguards for Pressure, who is always the main problem.

Now, for those of you who have mulled this one over, usually late at night or at one of those awkward moments when you have a sudden epiphany in a crowded place, yes, I realise that you can also argue that pressure is secondary to stress and responsibility; that it's better to say pressure is the feeling you get when the other two are dancing up and down on your head.

That's the way I thought of it too, and there is some truth in it. Rather like a woven blanket, it can be hard to see where one thread ends and another begins. Is it even worth trying to separate them, as they're so closely bound together? I believe it is and I'll tell you why.

I've spent many years trying to face up to responsibility and struggling to recognise stress when it was affecting me. Stress can be so tenuous and misleading that you tend to think it's just life having a kick at you, not that it's a thing which exists by itself. Isn't it logical to say that stress is always caused by something? I used to follow that thought to a place where I could blame myself for not bearing up under life's responsibilities and so making myself stressed, just because I couldn't cope.

Responsibilities, those creatures other people seem to take in their stride, have always reared and bit for me. Give me a sour dog or a scary pony any day over a mean-spirited, uncompromising, aggressive responsibility. I've tried the various ways to cope with them, for without responsibility you may as well give up all hope of living a normal life. There is always something that you need to be responsible for, even if it's just making sure you eat every day or pay the water bill.

Stress, when I could see it, was a horrible, sneaky feeling that I never saw right in front of me. Many times it has been up to other people to ask me if I'm stressed, or to tell me I am, then prove it by giving me examples of things I've done or said that show it. I really appreciate that kind of approach because I've never been able to get a good look at stress or recognise it for what it was. I've become afraid of it, like it's a very patient assassin, willing to bide its time while I go on, oblivious, trying to deal with everything.

I now have a great way of finding out if I'm stressed, though I certainly wouldn't recommend it. I suffer from what I fondly call my Victorian throat. No, I don't have an overwhelming need to wear high lace collars, or tie ribbons around my neck. It's that feeling you get when it's like you have something stuck in your throat, making it a little difficult to swallow. The Victorians called it globus hystericus, linking it to a nervous disposition. Nowadays it is recognised as having physical causes separate from any emotional or psychological ones, but I'm an old-fashioned girl and mine is caused by anxiety.

The above is a long-winded way of explaining that stress is much less able to creep up on me these days because I now have my Victorian throat to warn me. I will be having what I think of as a mostly normal day and then, ba-boo! there it is, that familiar clogged feeling in the throat. I'll think, 'Oh, am I stressed then?' Invariably, no matter how surprised I am, if I pick my way back through the events of that day or the one before, I can see where things have become difficult and understand why I might be stressed. So, useful but annoying.

Now, back to pressure: why do I think it's the main man, the one that stress and responsibility protect? Simply put, pressure is the root of all stress, because without a feeling of pressure, caused by outside influences or inner emotions, there would be no stress. If we were able to float through life, letting all worries wash over us, we would feel no pressure to behave a certain way or feel this instead of that; so, we would feel no stress either.

As for responsibility, yes, this one does exist outside of stress or pressure. Responsibilities are independent of many things in life, but, they still exist to protect pressure. In fact, you could almost say they are the children of pressure, because if we had nothing to do, nothing to be responsible for, then there would be no pressure in the first place.

Pressure can be viewed as drive, ambition, hope, aspiration, the need for change or to prove oneself. All of these thoughts, feelings and ideas are accompanied by pressure, as without it, each one of them is like a will o' the wisp, floating off into the trees, untouched and never properly seen.

It would be true to say that some form of pressure is at the very root of all human existence. We need to survive, we push ourselves to do what we must to make that happen. Move on to the more complex, modern world and this need to survive is blended and distorted by all the other needs jostling for attention. Some are more essential than others, but they are all caused by that inner drive to become more than a piece of some yucky, primeval pond-scum floating across the face of early Earth.

Yes, there's the truth of it, readers: to be melodramatic about it, without pressure, we would be nothing. We would vegetate and wither, there would be no point to us.

Unfortunately, aspies have developed a finely-tuned sense for pressure and are more affected by it than the other evolved pond-scum (apologies to anyone who imagined themselves sprouting from an early flower). Aspies may not be able to recognise stress when it walks in the room, but they can sense pressure entering the country at the nearest port.

It's as if there is some kind of booby-trapped defence system at work, one that is set up just for pressure and is able to ignore all the others. Perhaps aspies recognise pressure as that instigator of so many other problems, so always make sure they know when it's coming?

Stress can float in, cause havoc and leave the aspie reeling or punching the carpet and screaming. Responsibilities can give the aspie super-powers and, where you thought you had an aspie, you actually have some anime-style blur of colour as the aspie zooms off into the distance.

Pressure, on the other hand, sets off every early-warning system in the aspie's arsenal. They don't need super powers to see it coming - pressure-detection is the super power. They can feel it as it moves across the land, they can hear it's grey, monotone timbre as it whispers to itself, they can see the edge of the toe as it creeps up to the door.

All of this, all of it, readers, is terrifying. There may be early-warning systems, there may be super powers of detection, but there is nowhere to hide! Nothing can be done in the face of pressure, there is no escape. Panic ensues, utter panic and life falls apart, again.

And this is why we avoid pressure at all costs. What we want to avoid is that feeling of panic and helplessness, in the face of pressure which by-passed all our systems and came right into the room with us. We remember the feeling of fear and the knowledge we were powerless and we'll do just about anything to avoid feeling like that again.

This is why pressure is the main problem. Readers, forget stress and responsibility, they are not where you should be looking. Stretch your neck to see past them and you'll just be able to make out a grey figure in the distance. Is it moving closer? It's almost impossible to tell. Like the moving hands of a clock, it comes, slowly, methodically, drawing near. But then, when least wanted, it can cover any distance and be right by your side.

I can't offer a solution to this as there really isn't one. I offer it as some explanation as to why the aspie mind abhors pressure above all things - and why all things come to be about pressure. I also offer it as some solace to the best beloveds who have to pick up the pieces after pressure comes calling. It may have seemed incomprehensible that your aspie should have had such a reaction to the x, y or z of life when it was all fine in the end and nothing happened. Here we have the reason why: this time it was fine, maybe last time it was too, but some times it isn't fine and pressure is there before we know it, making it all go so wrong.

Readers, chin up and carry on in the face of this constant threat. You know you forget all about pressure for long stretches at a time. You know that when pressure is near it seems as if it's always been there and always will be. The truth of life falls somewhere in between and life must be lived, after all.

We cannot bow to pressure more than necessary. All we can do is look out for the appearance of the bodyguards and listen to our early-warning systems, so we know when pressure is close by.

To aspies and non-aspies, I would give you one final piece of advice: listen to those feelings and take no notice of what should be. If pressure is felt then it will cause a reaction - there's no point explaining it away and expecting everything to be all right. A feeling is real and the reaction is real. Just hold on and help it to pass, without judgement or criticism.

And to pressure: I know you now and you'll not get near me without a fight, because I have bodyguards of my own. The grey, monotone, relentless feelings will always be defeated by understanding and loving yourself. I promise.


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After Christmas...New Year looms

So, Christmas is over for another year. The decorations are still around, the tree is languishing in the corner, the cats are still hopeful that there may be turkey in the fridge and there is a pile of presents waiting to be put away. My favourite time of the year is coming to an end. Soon the lights will be taken down and I'll have to look at a dark garden again. How I hate the New Year!

I have to say, although I love Christmas, I did suffer this year. I think I realised for the first time that I love the build up to it, the child-like anticipation, and I love Christmas night onwards, including the days leading up to the New Year. What I've discovered is that I'm not very keen on the day itself.

In my last post, I discussed how to cope with the stresses of Christmas in general, with some tips on the big day. Readers, I found myself using all my own tips and trying to remember the advice I gave to others.

I spent some important time loitering in the kitchen; I sneaked onto the computer too, laying aside the guilt at not being downstairs with the family. Refreshed, I returned and carried on. I had to cope with the turkey not having defrosted (my fault, predictably) and, thanks to some very helpful American websites, discovered I would not kill everyone by cooking it from frozen.

I forgot to wrap some of the presents until the day itself. I've no idea how I managed this, but there we are. It's amazing how quickly you can work when you've pretended to only pop upstairs for your socks.

I also forgot the potatoes. Yes, next to the turkey, I forgot a major ingredient of the meal! I know how this one happened as I looked at the potatoes in the shop, decided which ones to buy then intended to come back for them at the end, so that I wasn't carrying them around. My brain then thought I had actually bought them and imagined they came home with me. I didn't notice until 12pm on Christmas day. Luckily, my mother brought her own and we didn't have to make do with the dreaded parsnip.

I also managed to hear the Queen's speech for a change. I usually try to watch it but have to deal with a background teenage narrative on the state of the monarchy, possible republican tendencies and arguing that Her Majesty should be doing live TV and not pre-recording.

As it was, IT teen, with his unerring sense of when he's not wanted, did turn up at the end of the speech but was distracted by me lugging out a giant bag of rubbish at the same time as listening. He also was tricked by me listening to the speech on the radio, instead of trying to watch on TV, so it was over before he remembered to complain.

By the end of the day, I had come to the aforementioned realisation that there was a part of Christmas I didn't like. I was sitting, trying to stay awake to watch a Muppet Christmas Carol, when I saw that part of my sleepiness was caused by me finally relaxing. I hadn't realised how uptight I was until then. The relaxation could have been caused by Gonzo's narration, or idly wondering why Miss Piggy and Kermit's children weren't some terrifying genetic hybrid, but I think it had more to do with the fact that the part of Christmas I was responsible for was done.

I could now be myself again, with nothing to wrap or remember, no giant worries about whether the fridge door was still wedged shut against feline advances. Content in the knowledge that this was the after part, when anything undone could be ignored and I was free to enjoy the quiet, the presents, the TV, all without that lurching sensation you get when you suddenly worry you've forgotten something immensely essential.

I must have been very happy to have the responsibility part over with for me to fall asleep in front of people. Even when it's my nearest and dearest, I really detest nodding off when I'm not alone. I just know that I'll loll off to one side, mouth open, head back against the sofa, drool dripping gently off my chin. Also, let's face it, there is the security issue. It's not that you expect your close relatives to attack while you sleep, but you may still feel that way, however unreasonable it is.

So, readers, here I am at the end of my big countdown. Christmas is over (it pains me to say that) and New Year looms. Responsibility is stirring in its slumber, roused by all the talk of New Year's resolutions and new starts. The feeling that, as this year passes and another one takes its place, we have to face everything with renewed vigour, as if the holiday season rejuvenated us, instead of bringing us to our knees.

Am I ready to face this new start, this imitation epiphany full of stout promises and rosy-hearted planning? No, not at all; are you? How about we all take the approach that has served me so well over many years? I say NO to new resolutions, as I know each day brings its own, unique challenges. I say NO to Auld Lang Syne, as I cannot bear to remember all those I've lost and would rather picture them alongside me still.

I also say NO to new starts. Let others join the gym, change their job, make themselves over in whatever way they like. As aspies, we do that all the time, as we shift focus and redo our lives to suit what works right now or whatever obsession is running us at the time.

We know that new starts are not made just once a year. Nor are they followed through with deliberation and forward planning. No, new starts are with us always, whether we like them or not and we view them as an untrustworthy but familiar friend.

If you love the New Year, then enjoy yourself and pay no heed to my grumpy meanderings. But if, like me, you're wary of this time when all is expected to be bright and clean, take heart in the fact that aspies have the capacity to celebrate New Year at anytime, without need of wine, song, fireworks or tolling bells.

All we need is the ability to look past today and see tomorrow. That one step from here to there fills us with as much anticipation and dread as any New Year reveller feels with the sound of bells echoing in their heart.

I will say, Happy New Year to all, as I do wish it for you. Just don't say it too often to me, as it reminds me that Christmas is done!


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An aspie at Christmas-time

Okay, this is often the big one for many families, aspie or not. Christmas can be a time of fraught emotions, high temper and stress caused by so many different things at once, you end up wondering if it's all worth it. The cosmic rule is that there must be at least one Christmas argument, and this can be like the single match in a box of fireworks.

Of course, there is the good side too. As I've mentioned before, I love Christmas - adore it in fact - but no matter how I love it, I'm still prone to the stresses of the season. What I've described could be any Christmas in a lot of homes, but imagine all these difficulties combined with the aspie mentality. If a normal day can stress you out in strange and unusual ways, then it's safe to say that Christmas is a front runner as a spectacular problem area.

When I was little, my mother and I would do the Christmas run-around, the one where you visit all the relatives you barely ever see and catch up. It's a good thing to do, a worthwhile way to touch base with them and show you care. If you live close enough, it's so much better than a card in the post. How we both hated it, though! The mental effort involved in going into all those different homes and being friendly and sociable with people we weren't close to anymore. We were still pleased to see them, it was just a supreme effort to be these bubbly personalities for hours on end. By the end of the day, home would seem like a glittering oasis, waiting to welcome us back to sanity.

Worse than this is the visiting you endure from other people. When they come to your door, carrying presents or cards and a wide smile, what can you do but roll out the bubbly personality again? Exept this time you have the uncertainty of how long they'll stay or what you should do with them while they're here. Everyone is expected to be sociable at Christmas, it's a standard response to the season. We are all suddenly supposed to show how much we care about each other, even if we don't really care at all.

What I find happens is, you show the caring to the people you don't really know anymore, then when it comes to displaying your emotions for the ones you do care about, it won't come out right. You see, if you don't see someone much, it's easy to pretend for a little while that you've really enjoyed coming out and visiting them, or even welcoming them into your home. It can seem hard, but it's a limited-time experience. Once you're apart, you can relax again.

With people you do care about, they know you much better and can tell when you're pretending, or forcing it, or over-egging the pudding for the occasion. They can tell if your smile was pasted on just before you walked through the door. They can see the desperation in your eyes, except they'll translate it as anger or drama.

Also, with loved ones, even those you don't live with, you generally have to spend longer with them at Christmas. Even if it's just a visit, you'll usually take more time over it than with people you don't know so well. Which means, you have longer to mess it up and upset people - not that you often need more time to do this, of course.

My earlier post about surprises covers how we aspies often feel about presents (scroll down to the bottom half of the post if you want to by-pass the general parts).

The difficulty is in showing the correct emotions at the correct time. For heaven's sake! If only I could flick the switch that says 'show feelings', then this would be fine. I'm so busy avoiding eye contact with the present-giver that I don't have enough reaction space left over to show delight and often end up looking blank (for a change, ha-ha).

And then, if I could flick the emotion switch on Christmas day, would it be wise? What if I was completely honest and showed real emotion for each present, or relation, or my actual feelings on the belching over the Christmas dinner, or talking over the movies? Hmm, on reflection, it might be better to leave the reactions as they are. At least a blank face gives less offence than a face taking on a sudden likeness to a troll who was expecting goat and instead got new thermal underwear to keep him warm while he's loitering under the bridge.

It is definitely the little things that make Christmas difficult, though. You don't have to go through massive arguments to suffer from other people. All you need is constant interaction with them, in your home or theirs, with no proper excuse to leave and hide in your room. You have a situation at Christmas where it is not acceptable to hide, leave, not talk, drift off to the planet Nog or give monosyllabic answers to every question.

It's the time of year when it can be a blessing to be the one responsible for dinner. Yes, wrestling with a giant bird in the kitchen is preferable to sitting in the living room, talking to people. Being in charge of the food is also a wonderful excuse to regularly leave the room, so that you give the appearance of being sociable but don't have to stick around too much.

I would give two warnings here, though. Don't sound too sharp when you refuse offers of help, or you will give the game away that you prefer the kitchen to your guests. And for those of you who imbibe, do not, whatever you do, have a full glass of wine every time you're alone with the bottle.

If you do, you'll get progressively happier every time you return to the living room, but dinner will suffer and, so much worse than this, your inhibitions will pack their bags and have an overnight stay somewhere else. This leaves you free to tell your relatives that you don't see why they can't eat with their mouths shut, or say excuse me before leaning their woolly arms over your dinner, or ask you about your love life, or why we have to hear that story again, at the dinner table, over food.

The downside to not being able to imbibe is that you're stone cold sobre through the whole of the visit and can process every belch, mannerism, annoying habit, personality deficit or repetitive gesture your relatives make. It does also mean you're probably the only one still awake after dinner, which can be a blissful experience, especially if you manage to take charge of the TV controls before everyone nods off.

In my experience, if I can maintain a cool distance from my own irritations, I pass through the vale of antagonism to the hillock of hilarity. In other words, without the aid of alcohol, everything will become funny. This is great when it helps me to appear cheerful with people I want to slap, but not so great when you pass that stage and your sense of humour is the thing helping you get past your inhibitions. So, instead of alcohol making you tell it like it is, you end up joking about the bad habits going on around you. Oh yes, soooo funny. Funnier still when you see their faces change and they're forced to laugh, because it is Christmas after all.

Except, it doesn't stay funny for long - just long enough to make you look like a loon with no manners. Christmas, like any other time, shows how unacceptable it is to bring up the behaviour of others, no matter how bad it is. As always, aspies have to learn how to behave well in a normal world, while bearing up under the strain of other people's peculiarities. I've no idea why it's okay, for instance, for Aunty Gladys to ask me if I have a boyfriend every time she sees me, but it's not all right for me to ask her if she still isn't allowed in the bingo hall.

Readers, I did intend to offer solutions to Christmas stress, but all I seem to have done is outline the difficulties we might have this holiday season. I do apologise, I hadn't realised it was a problem without a solution. I can only say, do the whole thing in little bits as much as possible.

Like when I organise the food, take your opportunities to leave the room and rest. Think of it as a power rest, if you like, rather like a power nap without the sleep. Even if it's only a few seconds, take a deep breath and soak up the peace of the moment.

Try not to give in to any impulses which will come back to haunt you, like explaining exactly why Aunty Gladys isn't allowed in the bingo hall to those relatives who don't know the full story. I know, when you're under pressure, how tempting it is to pay it back to the people causing you trouble, but don't do it: usually they think they're being pleasant and making conversation and don't mean to drive you insane.

Take pleasure in the people you do want to see this season, even if you're seeing them online and not in real life. Friends come in all guises and you don't need to feel stuck with the real-life versions, who you have to let in the door because they saw you before you saw them. Some of your rest time could be spent with your online friends, a place of solace when your physical surroundings seem to be closing in to stamp on you with heavy boots.

If all else fails, do be rude and hide in your room. It's only you being difficult again, after all. Everyone knows how awkward you are, it shouldn't be a surprise. This should be your back up plan, though, as it isn't good to bail out completely and leave others to pick up the pieces.

Compromise, if you have family or a best beloved who will look out for you. Tell them to fill in the gaps with any visitors if you disappear for a while. Tell them you won't go missing for the full day, if you can help it. It's so much easier to re-enter the room if you know a kind soul has told a white lie on your behalf, as then people won't make a fuss over your absence or your reappearance.

All in all, readers, I do still love Christmas, but I'm not blind to the problems caused by being an anti-social, routine-loving aspie in the midst of fellowship and song. Do try to feel some of the wonder of the season, the glow of excitement or the contentment and peace of the dream of Christmas.

Don't try too hard to deal with it like everyone else. Whatever the time of year, or the occasion, you are still you and it will always be that way. Try to enjoy yourself and relax. You never know, this might be the year when everything almost goes to plan, or when  you don't care that it doesn't.

No matter what, hold fast to your blanket and look to your loved ones for help. Christmas only comes once a year, so sooner rather than later, it will all be back the way you want it to be.


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The aspie effect

I had one of those moments yesterday, when someone looks at you, looks closer, then seems to try not to flinch backwards. Does that happen to other people too? It always worries me as, in real life, I think I look quite safe.

I don't wear my special llama hat to go to the shops, I do wear all the items of clothing people usually expect to see. I don't talk to myself when people are close enough to hear, I try to remember not to pull faces when I'm distracted.

Yet sometimes, seemingly through no fault of my own, people behave as if I might attack them, bite, suddenly sing or maybe just tell them a personal anecdote. I tend to think of it as my witch-effect. It's how I imagine they'd look if I turned out in full regalia - black cloak, cobwebby dress, holey stockings, scary shoes, pointed hat, cat on my shoulder, broom under my arm. Then I'd expect people to cringe or change direction.

As it is, I'm what I think of as ordinary. I'm short, I wear glasses, my clothes are usually unremarkable. I'm a woman of a certain age whose hair is possibly reaching the scary stage of long - but surely not scary enough to really scare people?

I do like to wear hobbit-type boots (though before anyone jumps in, yes, I know hobbits don't wear anything on their feet). My bag is an anime-homage that I found on eBay and I sometimes decide it's more important to match colours than styles.

So what? None of this is enough to make people flinch, is it? I do wonder.

Sometimes, small children react this way, but not very often. It's almost always the adults. I have to say, when it comes to little girls I often have the opposite effect. I've had small girls look up at me and their faces light up as they pass, delighted smiles making me smile in return. I call this the witch-effect too, as most small girls would be excited to see me out with the broom and cat. And no, I haven't got to the bottom of the delighted reaction either.

I think it comes down to one simple reason, for which I don't yet have an explanation: other people see something in me that I don't see in myself.

What could it be? Would it be something I'd want to know about? Could I use it to my advantage in life? Would knowing make me more self-conscious and less likely to cope? Would it change my life?

Do I simply look different, in a way that is so familiar to me and to people who know me well, that none of us sees it anymore? Is it like having a dearly loved aunt with a giant nose: you see the lovely, gorgeous woman who makes life brighter for everyone, but strangers see a little old lady with enormous nostrils.

Perhaps what I need to do is have someone follow me round and tell me what I do, or film me so I can pick over it obsessively and critique myself on my life skills. No, heavens no, can you imagine? How awful to see yourself that way, to realise how you look to others and then find out there's little you can do to change it. Self-critiquing very quickly turns to self-criticism and we do enough of that already.

I've mostly come to terms with it now. I do like seeing little girls grin up at me as they pass: each time that happens, I feel like I made a new friend. I don't mind so much when people react like I'm a worry. I've come to terms with being different and, if they feel that way, then we probably wouldn't be friends anyway, so why bother myself about it?

If I'm perfectly honest, readers (and I wouldn't tell everyone this), I don't mind when people shrink back. I feel that a small, magical part of me has tweaked a tiny, primeval part of them. They suddenly realise that not all people are the same and it worries them. I just smile a little wider and bend a little closer when it happens, to show them I mean them no harm. Of course, this doesn't always assuage their worry, but it does give me some practice in letting people further into my personal space.

I take it as yet another instance of all those times growing up, when people felt it was okay to point and comment on me, on the clothes I wore or how I felt like being that day. Children and teenagers feel free to comment on others in a way that doesn't happen as often with adults - at least they are, in some way, honest with you.

So now, as an adult, I'll let them away with the flinch or the step back or the quick frown as they take another look at me. I will smile back and let them look a bit longer. Let them do what they like and maybe, if they look long enough, they'll stop being worried at the difference and notice that I'm smiling at them.

That's when you hope that people see beyond whatever it was that caught their eye, to the person beneath. As aspies, we're so often concerned with what goes on under the surface, at the same time as being distracted by what is obvious on the outside. Let other people have the same chance, to see what is obvious, and then to look beneath and see the real you.

If it doesn't work and they don't see you, let it be. Sometimes, it's easier just to smile and talk back to them, pretending you didn't notice their discomfort. You may see them again and get a better reaction. That doesn't matter either.

Readers, what really matters is behaving in the way you would like others to behave towards you. If we keep on smiling, keep on talking and don't use bad reactions as a reason to turn away, then maybe other people will see how we are and carry a little of it with them as they move on.

And if all else fails, just be content with the ones whose faces light up as you pass by. They are the ones destined to be your friends, in this place or the next.


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When you should doubt yourself...not trusting your emotions

Sometimes life can seem like it's full of slamming doors - and you're the one slamming them shut. You have a clear idea of what you want to do and how you want to do it, then something happens and BANG! you just slammed another door shut in your haste to deal with one of life's hiccups.

This one may be a little mysterious to non-aspies, as it is one of those aspie traits that is very hard to describe. Not the slamming of doors part - we're all too familiar with the aspie who marches off, door crashing shut behind them. We're also familiar with the metaphorical door slamming as the aspie goes off on a tirade of high feeling and you wish they would march out of the real door and shut up already.

What I'm talking about is when those emotions aren't in the middle of a meltdown, or a torrent of passion, good or bad. I'm talking about times when I've felt calm, Zen-like, able to see for miles and make rational decisions based on solid emotional reactions. I'm describing those times when something happens that changes the way you feel and you know you need to change along with it.

As aspies, we're very used to watching our feelings, as those emotions are what get us into so much trouble in the first place. We know if we let them have full control that life becomes very exciting, very fast and not usually in a good way. Like other aspies, I try to keep a check on my emotions as I've been let down by them in the past and I know how underhanded they can be.

Emotions, after all, are what happen when you let your judgement slip and react to life like other people do. Emotions take over when logic falls of a cliff.

We're not emotionless drones the rest of the time, don't get me wrong. But it pays to keep a lid on the bigger feelings, the ones that hop about all over the place, dragging other people into your life and tangling up your routines.

So, it's surely a good thing, in the aspie universe, to know when your emotions are telling you to do something, to be able to follow your heart and not just logic and routines? Isn't it good to listen to your feelings?

Hmm, yes and no. I'm all for doing what you think is right based on how you feel. This is a major survival tactic when dealing with stress, for instance. In stressful situations, it's essential to listen to your feelings and know when it's time to back off - the time has to be right for you, not for other people.

Your emotions are very important when it comes to working out how other people feel, because you can have more insight into how they think. This helps with empathy, being able to give yourself examples of how your best beloved might feel about something, based on how you would feel. This is always a tricky one because non-aspies often react differently to life, but it's a starting point for aspies to try to put themselves in another's place.

Right, so that's the touchy-feely emotions out of the way, the ones you should listen to. Now I'm going to cross the confusing bridge of emotions which seem to lie, or exist simply to trip us up and make life's wagon veer off into the stink-dump again.

You have a situation where you're relatively happy with how things are going (fill in the details to suit yourself, they're not so important as the aspie reaction to them). You know what's happening, you know where things are headed, you know, more or less, how you feel about it all. Good.

Then something happens. Not a big thing, not a world-shaking event. Not even a super-upsetting, poke in the eye incident. Nothing to fret over, really. It should be a blip, a tiny stumble at most. Sometimes that's all it is; but sometimes the emotions take over and away we go. Doors slam and life is awry again. Let me give you an example.

You've made a friend, quite a new one. You get along really well and have lots in common. This is great! How often do you find someone you can talk to like this and have good times with?

It meanders along and you foresee telling them everything about your life and being interested in theirs, too. You like the time you spend together and don't mind fitting your day around them, as it's all been a good and positive experience.

You overlook the little places where your views diverge, as you know everyone is different. It doesn't matter that they behave a little differently from you - they are their own person and you like them as they are.

Then, as the friendship progresses, your friend becomes more confident and does something they never did before (don't get excited, this isn't a Barbara Cartland romance). They turn up at the house without calling first.


That sound was you coming up against the giant, solid, invisible barrier that your emotions just threw up in your face. Your feelings wanted to be absolutely sure this event was flagged up as unacceptable.

You have the visit, you speak and laugh and all is at it was. You brush off your silly obsession with knowing when people are going to visit. You know that other people, normal people, are always glad to see a friend. Your friend is glad to see you and they wouldn't mind if you just rolled up to their house and came in without asking.

Your friend leaves, none the wiser for having caused any difficulty. You carry on as you were, trying to forget the sound your face made as it slammed up against the invisible barrier of your feelings. It doesn't matter, for heaven's sake! Let it go!

It plays on your mind. You'd already told them you didn't like people turning up unannounced and they seemed to understand, but then they came anyway. You realise they probably don't see themselves as 'people', you're friends now.

A seed of panic settles in your breast as you envisage them always doing this. Every time they want to see you, they might just turn up! Anytime and every time! The panic grows.

You push it to one side. It's not going to be like that! You're friends, you can just tell them you were pleased to see them but could they call first next time?

No, that wouldn't work, either, as it's too subtle. They'll still come, they won't understand. They'll think they're just calling to make sure you'll be in, not to check it's okay to come. If they know you're going to be in, they'll never bother to call.

You need to save the friendship, so you'll have to tell them you don't want them to come without calling first. There's nothing subtle about that.

Except, this smells of confrontation, doesn't it? And also, they are your friend, you don't want to hurt their feelings. Maybe, the next time they come, you could pretend to be out, then tell them they should have called first to make sure you were in?

Worries pile on worries, until it feels like you're going round in circles. All of this caused by one random event that didn't really matter. Or, more accurately, shouldn't really matter, but does anyway.

Once this train of thought, blended with panic and mixed with just a little bit of fear, has travelled around in your mind for long enough, your emotions have complete sway over you and your decisions are then based on a faulty premise. Instead of basing them on solid emotions, caused by real distress for instance, you're now operating on wobbly emotions, caused by a knee-jerk reaction to something you dislike.

If you can recognise it as this, then you may still be saved from bad decisions. However, all too often, it passes beyond and you see only that the person, or event, in question has upset you. They upset you, so you need to protect yourself. Protecting yourself doesn't mean telling them how you feel, as that is difficult and might upset you more. What you end up doing is avoiding the situation so that you can resolve your emotional upheaval and, like a good aspie, pretend like it never happened.

In our scenario, the friend is quietly dropped, with the over-riding emotion being one of regret that it came to this, but pushed on and fuelled by the fear caused by them doing something which triggered a deep-seated reaction.

The door has been slammed on another part of your life and all because of a small event that shocked you at the time.

It's hard to see it like this when you're in the middle of it all. You only know how you feel and you react accordingly. Afterwards, sometimes looong afterwards, you may be able to look back and pick over what happened with a little more clarity. At this stage you may see the connection between X and Y, without just going straight to Z.

Does that mean you won't react the same way again? You never know, it's a strange universe full of marvels. Does it mean you've learned a valuable life lesson? Possibly. You may have learned to look at your feelings more closely, to examine what makes them what they are, to look harder and see if it is dislike, or anger, or whether it's really fear wearing a different hat.

Or you may have learned that you really, really don't like it when people turn up at your door without letting you know first.

Perhaps the best life lesson I can offer at this point is that telling people how you feel is not confrontation. That too dresses up in different hats. Readers, confrontation is the ugly dude in a bad suit waiting for you behind the door. He does sometimes disguise himself as a discussion, or a family meeting or an explanation, but he's always just in it for his own gain.

Telling people how you feel is not confrontation, it is the meek little woman waiting for you to finsih talking so she can lay a gentle hand on your arm. She has a kind face and wants everything to be all right. She sometimes gets lost in the crowd, though and doesn't like to push herself forward, so you may have to do your part and make a way for her so she can reach you.

Don't let the doors slam, if you have a choice. Do listen to your emotions, but don't run from them or try to trip them up, thinking that's the best way to deal with things.

And above all, explore why you feel the way you do. Look back and see what lies behind it. Retrace your steps, before taking any more. After all, the more steps you take, the further you have to go back to find out where you started from.


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The sane and sensible aspie - one day only! Special offer!

I've had one of those days when I feel like my head was swapped with someone else's and I want it back! Somehow, between going to bed a normal, functioning aspie, I woke up and had to be the voice of sanity for the day. Me, the voice of sanity! I was so taken aback by this turn of events that I spent two hours in an emotional panic.

I wasn't sure how to respond to this new turn of events. I'm so used to it being the other way around - people wanting me to be reasonable and cope with things but me not being able to - that when I realised I was the only one actually being reasonable and coping, I did feel I may have slipped down a quantum side alley.

So, by lunchtime, medicated on tea and biscuits, I turned my attention to the matter in hand and decided to use my new-found stability and clear-headedness to do some good. I reasoned, I talked, I worked things out: I was a whole, real person! Readers, you would have been so proud of me!

I had points to put across and I remembered them all. I didn't even need to make a list. What I can usually say better on paper or on a screen, it came out of my mouth! My arguments were fluid and cohesive. I knew where I was going in the conversation. I stepped up to the mark and told it like it was.

I gave good, sound advice that had nothing to do with the colour of my underwear or how the light fell against the window. I was only vaguely distracted in the middle of the discussion by the thought that I was out and about, having the discussion, at the time I normally do my blog. I quickly turned back to the matter in hand, consoling myself that I would blog later.

I'm not entirely sure where all of this organised thinking came from. I would like to tell you that it's because it was required of me, that I was able to bring it forth, like a magic rabbit. I would love to relate how I've discovered a way to be a whole, useful, dynamic person when it's necessary, casting aside the distractibility of aspergers and coming out of the shadows to strike down confusion and evil-doing.

I'd like to tell you all that, but it wouldn't be true, would it? At best, you would be thinking, 'Ah, she's just had a good day, she'll be back to painting pigs tomorrow.'

Dear readers, shall I tell you where I think all this rational thinking and coherent argument came from? I think it came from the most dreadful night's sleep I've had for a very long time. Let me explain.

I knew that today I would have difficult discussions and that I needed to confront things and people (confront! shriek at the thought!). So, I was already worried about that, let alone worrying over the issues at hand. I had lots of things I wanted to say, but wasn't sure how I needed to say them. I had an awful lot to think about and it all lay ahead of me, in today.

Last night, when I finally went to sleep, I had already thought through it all, plotting the conversations, working out the variables, doing the whole aspie super-computer thing, trying to work out what was best. As soon as I was asleep, I woke up again. Once this had happened a few times, I did sleep. And dreamt. A lot. Then, just for fun, repeat the above a few times until 7.30am rolled round and I gave up on bed.

I staggered into the day, clutching my cup of tea and resolutely staring at the computer screen, wondering how I would be capable of driving RT teen to college, never mind the rest of it. By the time I had eaten breakfast, got dressed, made the packed lunch and climbed into the car, I felt like a slightly warmer shade of yellow than I had when I woke up. What on earth was I to do?

Then, once the day picked up pace, that was when I realised that I was the sane one. Somehow, faced with a difficult day with lots of responsibilities, my sleep-deprived, addled brain rose up out of its slumber and thought, 'What the heck, let's have a look at it.'

I think that my night of torment, of dreams, cogitations, planning conversations, worrying over the arguments: I think all of that was lying behind my eyes, ready to be used. And, thanks to being only one step away from sleep for most of the day, there was no barrier to stop it coming out. I was too tired to over-think, too exhausted to consider other people's feelings for more than a moment. My arguments came across loud and clear because there was nothing in the way.

In other words, all my usual aspie inhibitions had stayed in bed, with the covers pulled up. The part of me let loose on the world was the bundle of worries and discussions I'd had with myself through the restless night. That part, with nothing left to hold it back, had the best time ever, getting its point across, having its say, letting nothing and no one prevent it from telling it like it was.

Yes, almost a complete triumph, readers, if my goal had been to step on toes, slap people with wet fish til they saw sense and wait for the world to catch up with my inescapable logic.

Shall I tell you a secret, though? It's an ironical secret. After all that, with my open, clear, wondrous, almost elemental connection to this sane and rational part of myself, guess what happened? Absolutely nothing. I held no sway, I changed no points of view, I moved no mountains. And do you know why?

Despite my arguments and thinking being at the top of their game, I was defeated by one simple fact which I pointed out to you at the start of this post: I was the only sane person in my world today. And the trouble with that is, it means you're a lone voice. So even though I was speaking sense and saying things I had waited years to say, none of it changed the outcome of the day.

The decisions made yesterday held true for today. I didn't change them, though I did throw some light on how they came to be made. And I did get quite a few things out of my system!

All things considered, I think it's still safe to call the day a success. I got to experience what it's like to be the sensible one for a change, to see things from another perspective. I unburdened myself of some truths which have been hanging around, causing trouble, for a long time. I actually sustained a full, step-by-step discussion and brought it back on-point when it diverted away from me.

Readers, I have to say I'm paying the price now as I've been nothing but silly for the past few hours. And my head feels like a family of woodfinches are bedding down for the night in there. Also, the lack of sleep has evaporated and I now feel like running out, wild and squealing, into the middle of the garden, to do my happy dance.

I would rather not be sensible and coherent every day. It's very nice to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here. I much prefer the buzz of letting the real world take care of itself while I get on with my own important stuff. But you know, just for once, I quite enjoyed being the voice of reason...

Now, with or without wellies, in the garden?


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Chaos in the home

Now for once I'm not talking about chaotic relationships or chaotic emotional meltdowns - though it's all linked. No, today I'm talking about a physical chaos, the scene that meets you when you walk in my home. (This post will probably go some way to ensuring me a peaceful Christmas!)

Let me be clear: I've never been tidy. Obsessive, yes. able to organise Stuff, most certainly. More than able to see other people's mess, unfortunately a definite yes. How about able to see my own mess, organise myself and keep it all clean and tidy? Erm, am I alone in this No?

I am better than I used to be. You no longer fall over last week's shopping bags as you walk through the door. There is a whole floor in the living room, rather than a path through to the sofas. You can tell my carpets are not collie-coloured.

I shop better and am less likely to find we have no milk in the morning. This does mean I'm back in Tesco at 11pm the night before, buying the milk, but this is a step forward from not realising until the next day. When RT teen goes to college, I have a packed lunch for him, unlike when he was little and we dashed to the shop for his lunch before school.

I see more of my mess and clutter, though this tends to depress me rather than making me tidy up more.

Now, to anyone out there who is already organised and tidy, big whoop to you, but please don't think I just need to pick up after myself and it'll all be solved. And don't assume that a big clear out, by me or brave volunteers, will result in the problem being sorted, once and for all. It doesn't work like that.

It kind of works like the rest of life, in that I see what I need to see. If I fall flat on my face, I'll move the box. If I only brush my leg against it every time I walk past, I will eventually move the box when the irritation gets too big too ignore. If the box is tucked out of the way and I never fall over it or touch it, then it has a good chance of becoming a solid, upstanding member of our family. If the box has any kind of soft or level surface, it will also become a much-loved cat bed.

The same applies to anything really. If it isn't in the way, it tends to stay where it lands. If it's comfy or interesting, the cats will always take an interest in it, ensuring it blends even more into the background. It will become part of the landscape and no longer an intruder.

I don't intend it to be this way. Believe me when I say, I have good intentions and always plan to have things in order, especially if some event is coming up, like birthdays or Christmas. And I do have a go, usually clearing and cleaning the places that are most public or have been cleared and cleaned already. So the already bearable places become more so, while the dark pits waiting for unwary visitors develop more of an atmosphere.

I've tried to follow routines and either forget to do them or life gets busier and I think I'll catch up tomorrow. Sound familiar? And there is always, without doubt, something better and more interesting I can be doing than shining the mirror or tidying the last birthday card so that we can put up the Christmas ones.

I should point out that you're quite safe to eat and drink here. The kitchen may be no more organised than the rest of the house, but thanks to me being a semi-obsessive handwasher and surface washer, you won't catch anything nasty if I cook for you.

I can hear the tidies amongst you wondering why I can't extend a little of this obsession to the rest of the house. Hmm, I've wondered that myself. I guess it's all about focus. I need to serve food in a clean area, so it is cleaned. The clutter and dust elsewhere is not in my direct path, be it a physical path or a mental one, so it doesn't need to be moved. If it doesn't need to be moved, then somewhere along the line my brain decides it doesn't need to be seen either. Why waste your attention on things that don't need it?

Readers, one of these days, possibly during some kind of long, drawn out, emotional episode, I may clean the whole house. It may happen. I do tend to think that some massive cosmic shift would have to occur for me to do it, but who knows? Perhaps I'm just a very slow mover, drifting like the continents as the years pass, each room becoming a little better but so slowly you can't see it with the naked eye.

I know from old photographs that things have improved. Now when you look, you can see which part of the picture has the cat in it. But there's still a way to go.

Don't judge me, readers, I do try; I just don't try often enough or with any great enthusiasm. And to fellow aspies, I do understand that it's not all mess or clutter; it is Stuff. Some of it is great Stuff too.

Be assured, aspie or non-aspie, that the chaotic realm you enter is a complete reflection of the person who lives there, no matter what they say. Perhaps this is why I've improved a little, as for years I denied the mess had anything to do with my internal chaos. As my own chaos receded, or developed a personality I could live with, so the external noise fell away and I was able to do more to make my home a safe place to cross floors.

In time, and with the help of IT teen's love for money, I hope to make all the corners of my home fit for human visitation. Yes, even the most aspie corners, the ones where dark shapes seem to move at night and little voices have started to talk to one another.

I'm determined that, at some stage, in the future, possibly next week, I'll get organised and finally tame the chaos in my home. Whether it stays tame is another matter, but my intentions, as always, are good. Honest.


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Why can't you do it?...Explaining aspergers to friends and family.

I was trying to explain to IT teen last night why I couldn't go out and get full-time work. He said that with my CV I could be earning mega-money. I would only have to stick it for a few months and build up some cash, then I could do what I liked again (translate to 'whatever it is you do when you say you're working').

I pointed out that my CV was lovely, but had giant holes in it, or lots of little holes where I had started and finished lots of little jobs. He waved a hand and said that could be glossed over, I don't need to tell them everything. Yes, he knows me well - how many of us, when job hunting, tell them everything?

He pointed out how much money I made years ago when I did 'that full-time job' - fill in details of the job I mention as being the catalyst for finding out I couldn't cope with normal life and was the real beginning of my aspie journey.

This was something I'd covered before. I've occasionally tried to explain to IT teen, and other friends and family, why full-time 'proper' jobs don't work for me. I can explain it to you, readers. It comes out fine then. When I try explaining it in real life, with spoken words and expressions, to people who know me well, can you guess how it comes out?

"I can't do full-time work."

Sounds lame, doesn't it? Usually followed by the person asking why not. So, when IT teen asked the usual question, I wracked my brains. For a second I saw these blogs floating before me, I remembered how well it can be explained on here and I tried to summarise it for him.

"I just can't cope with it."

Yes, lame again. Followed by, 'it's the routine, the people, the stress' and so on. Cue raised eyebrows and snorts of disbelief (he is a teen, after all) and the comment that surely doing the same thing every day is easy??

You know, doing the same thing every day can be easy, especially when it's something you've chosen to do, like your routines at home. But I've found that doing the same things every day in a job sends me batty. It becomes part of the drudgery and stress and nearly always contributes to me leaving.

I tried to explain this and told him the only exception was when I worked at Tesco, as a personal shopper. I had to choose items from the shelves, match them to the computer and pack them in the boxes. Readers, that was wonderfully repetitive! It was so relaxing! Kind of like a real-life computer game. Plus, it was very, very early in the morning and I wasn't expected to talk to staff or customers.

I gave up this small oasis of tranquillity to go to work at the doctor's office, very busy and with constant staff and customer contact. I wouldn't make the same mistake again.

Unfortunately, bringing up the Tesco job did nothing for my credibility with IT teen. I had broken my own logic in avoiding doing the same thing every day by quoting a job when I did just that. I was also telling him that one of the most basic jobs I had ever done was one I enjoyed, and this was while he was trying to convince me to fulfil my potential and get a fabulous new job that would pay lots of money! You can see why he was exasperated.

As usual, I gave up trying to explain things to him. I know he meant no harm, he wants me to be able to do a job that uses my skills in a way that actually makes real money. Being self-employed is great when it comes to organising your life and using your skills, but as an aspie who always needs to keep an eye on the pressure-meter, I'm not likely to make big money anytime soon.

I could have explained more. I could have threatened him with no internet and made him read the blogs. I could have sat him down and read out the blogs to him (I'm becoming more cruel by the minute here). Yes, I could have rammed home the fact his mother is not like other mothers and reminded us both that I haven't turned out as expected.

I didn't do any of that. I guess at the bottom of it, you have to decide when and who you want to explain things to. As I've said, I have tried explaining to him before, but it's a drip-drip process. He knows his mother isn't like others, I don't want to emphasise that. I'm not ashamed of who I am but I am sometimes ashamed of how it's pushed me to live a life that is okay for me but perhaps isn't the best way to finance and support a household with children in it.

Yes, some of you may have spotted that I'm circling a familiar word here: Failure. I didn't want to explain fully as it does sound lame to a hale and hearty teenage boy. I didn't want to remind us both that I failed to become the person I expected to be and failed to create a well-off, balanced home where the socks always match and you don't have to panic-buy the packed lunch before school.

I avoided all of this because I need me and my children to be reminded of the home we did create: somewhere full of ideas, conversations, laughter, love, understanding of differences, night-time trips to spot meteors, day-time trips to the beach in the wild, windy Winter.

I want my children to remember that I worked for myself, around them and my other commitments, that I chose the home life over the career. Perhaps it was more a case of it choosing me, as I couldn't have coped with the career, but it created a new kind of life for all of us, where people and activities became more important than what was expected in a normal world.

So, when it comes to explanations, I try to keep it brief. I want my son to understand me, but I also need him to be a teenager, a dismissive, occasionally selfish creature that sees the world in clear lines with straightforward answers. There's time enough in the rest of life to see all the shades of grey that make up our world, our lives, our personalities.

I'm just hoping that the next time he brings up my CV, or a new job, or proper money, that I can remember more of my blogs than, 'I can't manage full-time work,' because, as much as I don't want to burden him with the full explanation, I would also like him to see the sub-text behind my words.

I guess what I could say is:

"I chose this life because it brought us all together."

It's so often the case that the explanation we offer fails to explain anything important. Perhaps we need to concentrate on emphasising the choices we make, rather than the ones we avoid. We should talk about choosing, not failing. We didn't choose to have aspergers, but we can choose to live creatively, in the glow of our differences, doing what we can to make it all work.


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I want it, I need it...what's the difference?

Need and want are different things, right? How many times are we told as small children that we can't have something because we don't need it? Do you remember looking at the beautiful thing and thinking, 'But I do need it...' The feeling washed over you like you couldn't live without it and there were probably tears and tantrums when it was denied.

As adults we learn the difference between need and want, often in more uncomfortable ways than just being told. Small ways like wanting the pizza, but kidding yourself you need it because you've had a rough day. Bigger things like deciding you really, really need that car and will do anything to get it; then spending months, if not years, paying the price for buying something you wanted at the expense of things you actually needed.

Relationships can follow the same path, want over need, telling yourself you can't do without a person. Some dramatic Victorian hysteria creeps in where other people are concerned, I think, as the need voice takes on more emotion when it's people who are involved. You are even further removed from the ability to separate want and need and they both end up looking like the same thing.

Then we have the big things, the ones that lumber into your life, their size knocking lots of important stuff out of the way, crushing others underfoot, until all you can see is this monster of an intruder and nothing else.

I'm talking about when we decide what we don't need.

Okay, small example again. We don't want to get up for work. Obviously, we need to and there's no getting around that, right? Wrong. You may not have noticed yet, but aspies can get around anything. Anything at all.

So, you're there in your bed thinking about getting up for work. You don't want to, but need to. Do you really need to? Would they miss you if you didn't turn up? What do you contribute anyway? Last week you messed up that whole order and the boss had to do it again, by themselves, just to sort out your mistakes. The week before, you broke the computer. You didn't tell anyone and they've spent lots of time and money trying to get to the root of the problem when you know it was the air freshener that you spilled into it when you were trying to work out what the inside of an aerosol looked like.

They don't look very pleased to see you when you come in and you would probably only mess up again anyway. And as you're so tired, you could do with a lie in. Heck, you probably need a lie in, you most likely can't function without the extra sleep. If you went in feeling this tired, you'd be guaranteed to mess stuff up. It's probably in everyone's best interests if you just stay home. And in your best interests, too, as once you've had enough sleep you can go back to being a useful, non-destructive employee (yes, I'm pushing it there).

You see how a simple thing like not wanting to get up in the morning can escalate into not going into work at all and making it all about your job and life in general? By the time this train of thought has reached the station, there's a 50% probability that you've decided to quit your job and take up computer repair for a living. The irony will seem like one of life's little ha-has and you won't even pause to set up the computer biz first, before quitting the day job.

And all you wanted was more sleep? Or a laze in bed?

No, all you wanted was some peace and quiet and a laze in bed and a rest from the stresses of work - like many other people, aspie or otherwise. What you got was a standard, manipulative set of thought processes which turned the want into a need and the need into a great, 'normous life change.

This is just one example. The big monster I mentioned earlier, tramping around your life and crushing things, that is the bogey-man of the aspie life, the big thing that we don't like at any given time. It is what we don't need and it changes to suit our circumstances.

We don't like the job so it becomes all-encompassing, taking over our lives and is the only thing we think about. It spoils the good things in life and makes sure all the bad things (like getting up in the morning) become a part of it. Everything is now about the thing we don't like.

As it takes over, we become emotionally obsessed with it. If it was a mental puzzle, we would work it out. The emotional puzzles are more complex as they make us very unsettled, volatile, easily knocked off course and also affect our decision making. So we look for escape routes but as the problem that is upsetting us is a part of life, possibly an important one, it's not as easy as walking away.

As adults, we know that we need money and jobs give us money. If we walk away from the job, we don't get paid. By constructing a reason to walk away, by making walking away a necessity, a need, then we give ourselves permission to bail and do what we want. It becomes a need instead of a want and grown ups do what they need to and not what they want. Ta-da!

This applies to many problems in aspie lives, not just things like jobs. It can cover the very large and the very small issues, the approach is the same. We don't want to do something so we make it about need and find a way out.

Now, before I find orc heads being fired over the battlements at me, I must add a small, but important point here. I'm not saying that all aspies have failed to mature to a stage where they can deny themselves what they want. I don't mean that we behave like spoilt children (not all the time). This post might read like that, especially to those of you who can clearly see the difference between want and need. It probably looks like we're wilfully putting aside our common sense and choosing to behave in a self-indulgent manner? Yes and no.

Sometimes, yes, I use the need/want conundrum to do what I would like and am aware that it's a sham. Other times, I'm completely unaware that I've got them mixed up and that my actions are founded on a shaky, wantful premise. Mostly, it's somewhere in between.

You see, as aspies, we've spent a lot of time not wanting to do things. Believe me, we are the moany kid in class, the one who suddenly realised they were muddy and cold and everyone had to know about it; the one who realised the school play was horrible and decided to go home in the middle of it; the one who realised they didn't like maths so decided never to do it again.

It all sounds like a moan, doesn't it? There's a part of me that knows we're supposed to man up and get on with it. I know maths can't be ignored, I know playtime can be muddy, I know Mrs T worked her butt off organising the school play. I know all that.

I also know if I stay muddy and cold, I'll reach that dreadful place where my physical feelings will become everything and the whole world is cold and wet and it'll never be any different, ever again (drama!). I know that if I carry on with the maths, I'll fall further behind and start to cry in class again and last time the other kids teased me about it for ages.

I know if I carry on being a part of the school play, I'll feel myself becoming overwhelmed and I'll be in the middle of that big crowd of parents when I finally crack and do something everyone will remember until I leave school.

Consequences, you see. All the time, as we grow up, aspies find out what happens when you do something you didn't want to - it was very rarely a good result.

So, as adults, we avoid doing what we don't want as we know how it can go. We have tried to push ourselves and do them. We've really tried to be grown up about this, and you know what? The consequences were different but the same. They still sucked.

And there you have it: the want/need conundrum. It's a complex, faceted jewel of a problem, with so many ways of looking at it, making our problems multi-dimensional and dismally difficult to solve.

I know I need to get out of bed in the morning. I know I need to work. I know I need to behave like a sane and reasonable adult. But sometimes I do all that and it falls apart because it wasn't what I wanted to do. The want and the need are rarely apart. I can tell twins from one another but want and need very often look the same to me.

This is where every aspie needs a stable person alongside them, someone who can see the warning signs, offer support, give advice, pick up the pieces again afterwards. Believe me, it's no fun picking up those pieces by yourself, again.

Aspies very rarely listen to advice when it comes to the want/need problem, because it isn't a problem they want to be solved. They want to be away from it, have it at a distance and not think about it anymore. So, I warn any friends, family and best beloveds out there: the picking up of the pieces is the part you'll be doing most often.

Don't lose hope, though. Just sometimes, your advice will be there at the right time or your support will be all it took to make the problem smaller and manageable. As much as you can, keep being there. And don't forget, want and need in an aspie world are inseparable. Occasionally we can look at them and see the difference, but most of the time they're nearly the same. Bear that in mind before you judge us and make sure you always keep in plenty of bags to hold all the pieces.


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The ice cold meltdown

We all know about the aspie meltdown, that complete lack of control, loosening of inhibitions, the inability to hold back all the feelings that must get out and now. Yes, the meltdown is familiar territory. But what about the aspie at the other end of the scale? What happens when you have had enough of something, just enough, no more will be taken, nothing more will be said, but you follow a different route from the traditional meltdown? What happens then?

It's what you might call the emergence of the ice cold meltdown. Let me explain.

If something is bothering me, then it's bothering me. There are no shortcuts to peace of mind, I can't 'just ignore it', I can't 'get over it' and I sure as heck don't feel like talking about it. Not after the other times I've talked about it and been told I'm over-reacting, or everyone goes through this or, instead, had to hear about how I've always been this way and it's about time I learned to deal with things.

Faced with an on-going problem - and I mean a big one - those of us who internalise and tend to feel trapped in situations, do have the choices. As said, we can wait until it becomes explosive and meltdown, we can rumble along, becoming more mired down in it all until we crack in some other way - or we can do something about it.

Now, when I say do something about it, don't get me wrong. I don't mean that we resolve it in some sane way that other people would see as a resolution. I don't suggest we face it head on and calmly negotiate ourselves through this rocky patch. No, I'm talking about direct action.

Whether it's a full-blown, short-acting plan, such as a tremendous exit from work, or a longer, plotted course that takes in all the variables and presents us with an alternative, I know there are other aspies like me out there, who plot their way out of trouble.

For those of you without this streak of reckless self-endangerment, let me explain. If I'm in a part of my life where every step feels like ten, I look around for solutions. This is rational, yes? But I'll usually be in overdrive when I'm looking for those solutions, so the ideas I come up with sound great to me, but are usually on shaky ground. I guess we're talking about justifying things to yourself, so that you have a good excuse to stop putting up with an upsetting situation.

It's rather like the lifestyle version of a Get Rich Quick scheme. It all sounds great on paper, there doesn't seem to be a way that it could fail and, like the people who sign up for these (I've done it, I know how it feels), you don't want to see any pitfalls because that would mean going on as you are and having to look for another way out.

So, the aspie is in the role of the salesman of the scheme, determined to sell its benefits and push aside any possible flaws. As the salesman and the buyer, we aspies are adept at seeing things as we want them to be seen. We tell ourselves we're being sensible with this grand solution to our problems. Yes, there might be difficulties, but they'll be so small, it won't matter. This will work; we'll get out of trouble and we won't be hurting any more.

Then, like the scheme, money is handed over (sometimes literally, sometimes we're handing over a part of our lives, like a relationship, or a job) and we wait for the magic to happen. Does it? Well, at first it feels like it does, as the anticipation of change brings the illusion of change itself. Then reality sets in and we see we've swapped one problem for another. Again.

It wouldn't be so bad if these plans were small scale. I don't know about other aspies, but I don't generally do small scale plans. If I have a small idea, it quickly grows to a humungosaur idea and tramps around, roaring that it can take over the world. It never does, but, as usual, it feels like it's going to, this time.

The ice cold meltdown shows itself as the plotting and planning part of this new solution. I don't just fling myself in and plan later. Even though I rush into things, I do a lot of planning first and as I'm rushing along. I look at it all as if it's a beautiful problem to be solved and, again like magic, the solutions line themselves up. Never the problems, only the solutions.

Like a meltdown, the ice cold meltdown is a response to trouble but lasts longer and is calculated.

Shall I tell you how I think this approach started? It's an exciting story, terrifying really, and I feel wary of sharing it. But as I've already shared so much here, why not go for one of the big ones? I'm sure some of you have done, or attempted, worse...

As children, we're powerless. I was the same, a small, bespectacled girl with fluffy hair, unfashionable glasses and scuffed knees. I didn't know how to get on with other children very well, they always seemed to be talking about things I didn't understand. Looking back, this was partly the school I went to, as when I changed school and the teachers made an effort to integrate me, I made friends right away.

At my infant school, I was in the final year, waiting out my time before I could leave the dreadful place behind. I had been bullied all the way through the year. I'd told my parents and my teachers. No one took it seriously, all children name call, you just have to ignore it. A very lonely place for a little girl with no friends.

Every day I would go in and get through it as well as I could. My teacher liked me, one of the dinner ladies was a kind neighbour of my aunty. And that was it, frankly, the two people at school who would be pleased to see me. There may have been children who were potential friends, but I was unable to see them or work it out, so I was alone.

At the age of seven, I knew I couldn't bear it anymore. I could not keep going into that school, day after day, listening to the words they called after me, seeing their faces turn ugly as they looked my way. The closest I ever got to playtime was joining in group games and still I couldn't get it right and would be left standing as the others ran away.

I used to have daydreams about someone, some hero, crashing in through the school walls and taking me away from it all. The hero changed, the story changed but always I was rescued and taken away.

A few days before it happened, I decided if no one would help me or rescue me, I would do it myself. I could see no other way. As a seven year old, I had tried all other options. Now, it was down to me.

I thought hard and saw, clearly as anything, that if the school wasn't there, then I wouldn't have to go. Simple. From here it was a small jump to deciding to burn down the school. Yes, your read it right - your friendly blogger was a seven year old, wannabe arsonist. Actually, I wasn't. I was a seven year old victim, desperately looking for a way to make it STOP.

My parents both smoked and it was a simple matter to steal some matches. I put them in my bedroom cabinet and waited a couple of days, so that when the school was a steaming pile of junk, they wouldn't connect the missing matches with me and the school.

Then, when I thought they had forgotte, the fateful day came round and I took out the matches, hid them behind a big book, told my mother the book needed to go into school with me and off we went.

I must have been very calm. I don't remember worrying once I set off. I was driven to school, so must have looked okay all the way there. In I went, hiding the matches again once I was inside.

My plan was to wait until lunchtime break, when everyone would be out of the school and set fire to it then. I didn't want anyone to get hurt. It never occurred to me that the school wouldn't be empty, that the staff would still be inside and some children too.

When no one was looking, I sneaked back in, found my matches and looked for things to burn. I started with a big A2 sized sheet on a noticeboard. It burned well but the noticeboard didn't catch. Then, (oh reader, look the other way), I tried to burn some books. I felt very bad about them, but it was a means to an end and as they'd go up with the school anyway, I thought I might as well use them.

Then I ran out, into the playground, confident the school would be burned down by the time we had to go back in.

There's a blur after that. The school did not burn down, the fire was quickly put out and a full assembly was called. As they talked about what had happened and asked who had done it, my face told them all they needed to know and I was hauled off.

Sitting in the classroom, surrounded by teachers, all asking me how I did it, why I did it, what I had thought would happen. My distinct memory is of the kindly dinner lady looking at me from across the room, shaking her head sadly and saying to her friend that she'd thought I was such a nice little girl.

The teachers wouldn't believe that I had planned it all and acted alone. They simply wouldn't have it that I was capable. They also didn't see the bullying as a good enough reason. In my panic, after being asked over and over who else was helping me, I named a boy in my class. Ashley, I said, he helped me.

They were content with that. I didn't know Ashley, but they seemed happy to think he was the other one. I don't know how much trouble he got into, but the guilt of falsely naming him plagued me for years, long, long after any worry I might have had about trying to burn down the school. I'm sorry Ashley! :'(

The outcome was slightly unexpected. My parents were shocked but also ashamed they hadn't listened to me. The teachers may have felt some of the same, who can tell? The children were wary of me and slightly in awe. I don't remember getting bullied again after that.

I was grounded for a few weeks and didn't get to go on the school trip. Like a true aspie, when trip time came around, I'd forgotten about not being allowed and went to the teacher, in front of the class and asked why she hadn't given me the letter about it. She had to remind me, in public, why I wasn't going.

The day of the trip was fabulous. I got to stay with the younger class, with a lovely teacher who spoke nicely to them and gave them fun things to do. I spent the day drawing and writing stories and playing games. I remember wishing all my school days were like that one.

So, there we are, the beginnings of my own attempts to change my life when it refuses to change for me. I feel sure that I would always have been the sort of person to do strange things in response to life events, but this early, desperate experience contains all the hallmarks of my many misadventures since.

I planned, I was calculating, I was very calm. All of this as the end result of months of anxiety, nights spent lying awake, dreading going into school. It's an ice cold meltdown because you've gone through the fire of temper and stormy reactions, right to the calm within the storm where, finally, you can hear yourself think and plan what to do about it.

It's the same as a meltdown in that it holds a destructive quality which can seriously impact your life and others, but unlike the traditional meltdown, however mad the plan, you feel like you're in control.

I would like to reassure you, readers, that I haven't taken any violent or drastic action like this since. It was explained to me how many people would have been in the school if it had burned down and I was horrified at what might have been. It informed all future decisions in those two vital ways: never cause physical harm to someone and don't blame other people for your messes.

For those of you who plan their own salvation, I salute you. I know how it feels to be so desperate, you'll come out from under the blanket and take action. I also know that you'll have some understanding of how far I had to be pushed before I acted in this way.

For anyone who thinks I was a terrible person, look at me as I was then, a small child with no one to help me. I often look back and wish I could slip a hand through time and take the smaller version of mine when she was at her lowest ebb.

In our adult lives, we don't tend to set fire to things to make them go away, but we should be wary of the virtual blaze we cause by leaping into new decisions, without having full possession of the facts. I would never say don't do it - I still do it all the time myself. I would say, be careful how you do it, because you never know if you have missed something, or someone, in your planning. You may think you know all the answers, but there is always something you'll miss.

The most we can ever do is our best at any given time. Take charge, meltdown, hide under the blanket, cuddle the cat - do whatever it takes to get you through the hard times. Do that, always with an eye on yourself. There is no way for us to reach out through time to help ourselves, but you can reach out to yourself, now, as another person might and say,

'I know it's hard, we can get through this. Take my hand and I'll keep you company as we go.'


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Living with an aspie

Oh dear, how often must the non-aspie have thought, 'I can't do this anymore. It's like I'm going mad, nothing makes sense!' I understand. It's hard enough when you are the aspie in question, so I can imagine it must be impossible at times to cope with an aspie from the outside.

Things which have no meaning are important in the aspie world. Noises the non-aspie has never even noticed are magnified and become an unreasonable stress to the aspie. Little routines, recognised by the non-aspie. seem to hold the key to the day's happiness. How can the toast being the right colour have a bearing on a person's emotional health? What does it matter which spoon you use to eat your cereal?

So many mysteries, so many ways to drive the aspie mad when, it seems, it should be the non-aspie who gets in the van and goes off to happy land. After all, what better way to push someone off the brink than by dancing along it beside them?

I think a word that must often rise up between the aspie and non-aspie is exasperation, from both sides. The non-aspie looks at their beloved and thinks, 'Why does it have to be done this way? Why can't I whistle while I make my tea? Why do you have to have things your own way all the time?' The normally patient non-aspie can be pushed to a point of temper that creates damaging arguments or unhappy atmospheres.

From the aspie point of view, it's logical (isn't it always?). They have made it clear, lots of times, which way things need to be done. It's always been all right before, the best beloved was happy to make sure they didn't use the wrong spoon. They never minded the wasted slices of toast before. Why does it suddenly matter today? And why, when they know it infuriates you, do they have to whistle all the time? It's not as if anyone enjoys listening to it, only the whistler is ever happy, not the whistlee.

The aspie may be a supremely aggravating person to live with, for many reasons, but they have their ways and it can seem illogical and upsetting to them if the non-aspie suddenly decides not to suffer those ways, or play along with them. Routine comes in many different guises, and one of those is the behaviour of your nearest and dearest. If that behaviour changes, for no obvious reason, how confusing and exasperating it can be.

Now, I must pause here, in defence of the non-aspie. Your behaviour may change and, to the aspie, there is no obvious reason, but we all know how obvious some things have to be before the aspie notices them. They haven't noticed you are tired this morning, or feeling ill. They haven't remembered you had an argument with your sister yesterday, or that you still need painkillers for a sprained ankle.

Yes, they know you may be about to lose your job; that was old news from last month. It wouldn't occur to them you were lying awake, thinking about it, worrying over it. That's the aspie seeming cold and uncaring again. In reality, the imminent job loss has been thought over, worried about, cared about, all at the time you discussed it and a little while after. Now, weeks later, there are lots of other things that need attention and as you didn't come up to the aspie and say you were upset about it, then how are they to know?

You see, the non-aspie is as mysterious and annoying as the aspie. Their little ways, which seem to be accepted as normal by so many people, often make no sense in the aspergers universe. Why does the housework have to be done before you go out? There's plenty of time when you get back. Why do you need to have a routine for the unimportant things in life, like the shopping, ironing, going to the hairdresser? Can't you just do them when they need to be done?

Why can't you apply for that great job in the paper? We aspies know you can do it, we see the qualities you have that make you perfect for it. Why do you have to concentrate on the physical skills that are lacking, instead of shooting off to see if you can do it, before deciding you can't? Why does it always have to be based on a practical reason?

In the aspie world, full of colour, explosions of sound, familiar things making comforting feelings, distractions leading to intense difficulty, or bringing us to a new understanding of life: in this world, doing things because it's the way they should be done makes no sense. Aspies, though creatures of habit, are also creatures of the moment. We forget it's Wednesday, forget the appointment, forget what was supposed to be for lunch today.

We remember that dream we woke from at 3am, the one that would make a great mosaic if we can only find the right pieces. Or we remember the grand plan, that will make all other grand plans meaningless. Or we wake up feeling like soggy bark, mulching down into the forest floor, good for nothing and certainly not able to go out and meet life's routines.

This is where we can meet, non-aspies and aspies alike. We know why we want to do a certain thing, even if the reason is a tenuous emotional connection. The toast has to be just so, the spoon has to be mine, because I feel better if it is that way. That is my reason. And if I feel better, the day is better.

So, when a non-aspie is exasperated again in the face of trying to make the aspie see that another thing is important, when the aspie only sees it as boring, practical stuff that has no place in their universe, try explaining why it's important.

If you, as the non-aspie, were to say, 'I need to do the housework before we go out because it makes me feel good and I can enjoy the day,' then we'll understand. What so often gets said instead is, 'The housework needs to be done before we go out.'

The word 'need' doesn't compute in this scenario. The house will not fall down, you will not be dragged out and arrested if the housework stays undone. What's the need? Why are you delaying our day out for that? Don't you care? How did I end up with someone who would rather do housework than spend the day with me?

Explanations are key. The non-aspie will very likely be better at verbal explanations than the aspie. The routines loved by the aspie will have been explained by actions more than explanation - in other words, the best beloved will have found out which is the wrong spoon the hard way! They will have learned what to do and what not to do by the aspie's reaction, rather than a calm discussion.

So, although the aspie may not have explained in the conventional sense, it doesn't mean the non-aspie can't use normal words and conversation to explain their feelings. It's as simple as getting the aspie's attention (cough) and telling them how you feel. No, I do not mean by saying, 'You're driving me insane today!' I mean telling the aspie, 'I need to do this because-'.

I'll end there for today, as I feel exhausted at the idea of all that unnecessary housework. I'll be re-visiting the concept of aspies and non-aspies living together in future posts, as I know it's one of the major hurdles we all face.

For now, I'll leave you with the promise that we can live together, even if we have to learn new ways of doing things. Hang in there, walk carefully, listen to each other.

And non-aspies, please, if your aspie has taken the trouble to say they think you can do a certain thing, consider the fact that they may see in you this bright and special person that the rest of the world has missed. Have another look at that big opportunity you think you can't do. Take the aspie at their word and see if there is a part of you that can come alive by being seen through the aspie-lens. You'd be amazed how wonderful everything can look with the right focus.


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