Doing what normal people do...

It strikes me that I should be in bed instead of writing this blog post, but as I was having a moan to my friend, I realised that the moan I was moaning was actually turning into my next blog post. Perhaps this is what happens when you blog about fundamental aspects of your life? Every moan is a potential blog and every blog is a little bit of a moan?

The moan in this case is the way that today seems to have been one thing after another, without room to breathe. When I examine it carefully, it hasn't really been like that, it just feels like it has. And the reason it has felt that way is because I needed time to recover from yesterday, but didn't get it.

So, working backwards, my moaning, occasional ranting and the innate feeling I have that I've turned into a piece of thin leather, fit only for patching a pair of old jeans, can all be traced to yesterday evening, when I went to a jewellery-making workshop.

I was very much looking forward to the workshop. I have a frustrated artist hiding within me who makes frequent, ill-judged attempts to escape and create masterpieces. I have the perfect vision inside my head of how the latest masterpiece will look, then when I'm finished it always, always looks like an angry five year old did it.

I can't sew, paint, draw, make curtains or patch that old leather onto the jeans. I can do cross stitch for some reason, but I think that's just Nature having a sense of humour with me. My practical talents are much like my artistic ones - if it requires artistic abilities, do not ask me to do it. I can match the colours well, I can tell you if the finished article is well-made or hanging straight. I know what it should look like - I just can't get it there myself.

So, when I heard about this jewellery workshop I was rather excited. At last, without needing to struggle, I could learn to make beautiful and useful things. I would take RT teen with me, as he is artistic on the outside as well as the inside and I also invited my cousin, who is 18 months older than me and obviously used up all the practical genes before I arrived.

It was only going to last an hour and a half, so even if it was bad or I was bad, then it wouldn't be too long before we were released out into the night.

It started, as so many things do, with me getting lost. After accosting an old man in the street, we found our way there and arrived 15 minutes behind everyone else. I was already playing catch up. There was another group using the same room, so while we made beautiful objects they appeared to be painting puppies. The room was awash with artistic intention.

RT teen and I made our way to the empty seats and looked at the bewildering array of tools and, erm, shiny-things-what-stick-stuff-together all laid out on little sponge mats on the tables. When I saw the tools I did panic a little as you can cut things with them and I have fingers, but then I had a little talk with myself and decided the lady running the group would most likely tell me how to use them without any harm coming to me.

We had to start by measuring our wrists with chain, as we were making a charm bracelet. Funny how often a piece of chain can fall off you before you catch it and measure it. Myself and RT teen sitting there, with identically swinging pieces of chain, both trying to catch them.

Then we had to choose beads and such to go on them. I instantly took against the charms box as they were all small and girly and looked like my inner five year old would like them. I went off to the bead box instead and chose all sorts of nice things. Actually, I confess. What I did was go to the bead box and feel panic setting in.

As I looked down at the compartments packed with beads I realised that there was too much choice and that I had no idea what I was doing. I loved the colours all shining up at me and their lovely shapes. I knew which ones I liked and which ones I didn't but was worried about choosing too many or the wrong ones or that I was taking too long.

RT teen had already chosen his and sat back down and the lady was getting ready to tell him what to do. I hurriedly chose my beads and went back to my seat, hoping it would be okay.
You can see how I was stressing myself out here, without any help from other people, but I didn't realise what I was doing.

I sat opposite the lady and she explained how you have to take the linking thingy and hold it with these special pliers, then pull it apart with other special pliers. And they have to be the right pliers. And, readers, at that point I realised I had no idea how to pull the linking thingy apart as I couldn't tell it was a linking thingy; it just looked like a solid circle to me. My eyesight was letting me down so badly that I couldn't see where the tiny gap was in the link, so didn't know where to hold it with the pliers and where to pull.

This nasty moment was compounded by the fact that once I had the thingy trapped in one set of pliers, I couldn't catch hold of it with the others because the nerves which started at the bead box had made their way into my hands and I was shaking. I had to physically take deep breaths to calm down so I could steady my hands enough to get the second set of pliers onto the linking thingy.

Once I had finally, painfully, achieved the impossible and prised the link apart, I realised I had to do this many times, obviously, as they were what held the charms on the bracelet.

What other people were having trouble with because it was unfamiliar was almost impossible for me as I couldn't even see what I was doing, and that was before understanding the procedure. I think this could be a handy metaphor for aspergers and life in general, don't you think? Other people find it tricky, learning how to do things the right way, but when you start from a point of not even being able to see the thing you're meant to be working on, then how can you achieve the same things as everyone else?

Shall I tell you how I achieved it, in this case at least? Readers, I'm slightly embarrassed to admit it, but I felt for the flipping gap in the link, then put it into the pliers, making sure not to lose my place. This worked remarkably well, my only hurdle then was getting hold of it with both sets of pliers at once as my left hand desperately wanted me to grip onto my right hand instead of the link. Such is the life of the aspie, one hand doing as you tell it while the other one rushes in to undo all your hard work.

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it (hold on for another metaphor), I was told we had to thread an evil pin through the bigger beads then turn it in a special way to make a loop so it could be threaded onto yet more of the infernal thingys. The lady said that men usually found this bit easier as they were good with tools (mwwahahahahahah).

Cue indignant hoffing from both myself and RT teen as he is into equal rights (and pretty bad with tools anyway) and I am appallingly bad with tools but objected in principle to the idea that this meant I would also be bad at bending an evil pin into a loop shape.

It turns out that this, at least, I could do. My loops were great and I could see the beggars. I could easily follow the instructions on how they should be turned because they were logical and made sense. Also, it brought back memories of my happy days in school sewing classes when I would amuse myself by bending needles and pins into artistic shapes before using them to pull threads through my thumb.

By this time, I was feeling like I could be getting the hang of things with the hideous charm bracelet, which left me enough attention to eavesdrop on everyone else. It was then I realised how out of step I was with the rest of the room - or at least, I felt like I was.

The conversations going on around me had that odd, otherworldly quality where you sit there, just being yourself and feeling okay, then other people come along and talk about their lives and you suddenly feel like a pimple on the behind of a massive alien.

They were talking about shopping and TV and concerts and drinking and all kinds of things that were ordinary events in their lives. I was listening to the words and knew it was all fine, they were real people and I was real people too, but still feeling as if I would be revealed, at any moment, as someone who was in the wrong place.

How does this happen? You're in a room full of friendly, cheerful people, most of whom would be considered your peers by anyone looking in from the outside, when you yourself feel as if they might turn on you and rip you apart if you put a foot wrong? How strange it is that we do this to ourselves, make such a detour with the mind so that a friendly situation becomes threatening and makes us feel we need to escape.

Oh dear, the more I write about it on here, the more I see why I was so stressed! At the time I was concentrating so hard on not looking like Mr Magoo does jewellery, that I kind of lost sight of the fact I was having a whole new experience, filled with new people in a new place at the end of a very busy day. This is where you could do with a narrator who could step in and say:

Amanda was feeling very tired by the end of the day and shouldn't have been surprised she found the situation so difficult. Instead, she blamed herself for being half-blind and an introvert and hoped she could come back the next week without finding the doors locked against her.

I think I'll do without the narrator, on reflection. I narrate enough of my own life and find that distracting at times so it would be even worse if I had a disembodied voice explaining things when I'm trying to concentrate on just getting through the day.

When we returned, alive, from the jewellery workshop, we showed IT teen our charm bracelets. RT teen's looked lovely, a symmetrical delight in pinks, purples and silver charms. Mine looked like I'd been running from something as I made it, which wasn't too far from the truth.

I told IT teen I didn't want any proper food for supper, I would just have cereal as I felt sick. He had a mini-rant, telling me I wasn't sick, I had just spent an hour and a half with strangers and that was all that was wrong with me, He said I shouldn't always come away feeling ill, just because I've had to be sociable. He made me have supper and I felt almost human again.

I did feel properly sick, readers, I would swear it wasn't phantasmagorical. But then, why should it be? I was having a real physical reaction to something that had felt like real physical danger. At the very least, the stress was real.

So, today, I'm not really surprised that I've been moaning and unable to think straight. By the end of yesterday, I was already tired and then had my adrenaline firing at the workshop. Today I needed to recharge and feel steady again and I've only reached that point now, after writing about it.

It takes so much effort sometimes, to just live your life and behave in the right way. It's no wonder that we can't understand why we feel or act the way we do, when it's taken everything we have just to play our role in life itself. Sometimes, we don't know things are too much until they are and then it's usually too late as we're in the middle of events, with no easy way out.

Last night was a friendly little workshop, aimed at helping me make jewellery. Thanks to my annoying tendency to make life as dramatic as possible, it turned into a struggle for survival and a series of high emotions all centered around a little bracelet with beads and charms hanging off it at odd angles.

Really, though, last night was a reminder of how aspergers can rear its head at the most unexpected moments, when you think you have everything pegged out just right and know what goes where. You have to learn to shrug it off and not worry too much. It's no good blaming yourself for taking things too seriously or for not seeing them coming: the truth of it will always be that life is as it will be and we are always going to be ourselves in the middle of it.

There are always going to be adventures where we don't expect them and where other people could never see them. That's part of the excitement of being an aspie, you never know quite what to expect.

Seriously, though, the next time I mention any kind of workshop, can someone just distract me into the book store instead? That's so much more me...


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Inertia, the aspie resting.

"Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion." This is the Wikipedia definition of a word that often swims (lazily) to the forefront of my mind.

I love inertia, readers. I like the way it feels like a lazy summer's day, with only the sounds of nature to disturb you. Or the seclusion of a winter's room, with the fire lit to keep you warm. I like the way inertia feels like such a natural state of being.
In the normal scheme of things, an object that is resisting change or movement would seem to be an object in perpetual threat of change or movement - do you see what I mean? If you apply the word to a rock in the middle of a fast-flowing stream, you can see that the rock is resisting change and motion. The water swirls around it, rushing on its way, always busy. In some way, the rock must resist the surrounding water or it would be swept away. But do you see the rock getting worked up about it?
For people, change and movement are a big part of the normal human condition. Without them we would stagnate and become less than we can be. We need them to fulfill our potential and, on an everyday basis, to keep a healthy balance of body and mind. Too much time without change or movement can cause us to look inwards and dwell on things we wouldn't be so concerned with if we were kept busy elsewhere.
I know all this is true as I've had many experiences where inertia played a large part and I thought it was a glorious thing, like coming home, only to find I was restless and unhappy after only a while. Still, I will champion the idea of inertia because I think, in its rightful place, it's an absolutely essential part of life for all aspies.
We need a small period of inertia in our lives to stay in control. I don't mean inertia as in just not moving or resting up after a stressful time. I mean those times when we make a positive and definite decision to step back from life and do nothing.
We may have the choice of doing something, like going to work or taking on new responsibilities or more simple things like meeting up with friends or going out for the day. Whatever it is, it will be something that requires us to be active and to break from normal routine.
It can be good to do these things, to break away and have a different routine for a while or form a new one that will continue on into the future. This can be wholly positive, as we might be moving away from a negative period in our lives and need something new to set us back on the right track.
Then, inertia rears up and, whether the imminent change or motion is positive or negative almost becomes irrelevant. We've all experienced that sudden, mulish feeling of stubborn certainty where we know, we just know, we must stay here and do nothing instead.
Whether we are realising something important and good is debatable as it's very easy to convince yourself that you know you mustn't do a thing and come up with all the reasons, then look back much later and see you were just rebelling against change, as usual.
Whatever the logic or otherwise, our reactions are paying homage to inertia. We are an object that does not wish to move or change and we resist both. The goodness of the decision is often drowned out by the peace felt after making it. Nothing really compares to that emotional shutting of the door and knowing you are back in your safe place, alone and undisturbed and, predictably, unmoved and unchanged.
Inertia is often vaulted as a bad thing when it comes to people, for the reasons I outlined earlier. And it can be a bad thing, in its lovely, tempting solitude of the soul. I admit, it can do more harm than good to resist change and stay as you are.
But sometimes, at moments often of great inconvenience, we need inertia to set us right again. By resisting movement, we steady ourselves and feel balanced again. Movement can make you giddy and uncertain, with the danger of falling and being overwhelmed by everything happening around you.
Inertia gives you back your equilibrium, by making you in control again and in a quiet place where your thoughts can settle and you feel comfortable enough to look at your life in a calm way. It can be essential in coping with everything even though, to people on the outside, it looks like the aspie has done it again, the grand disappearing act when faced with life's challenges.
Other people know, they just know, if we were to carry on and face those challenges, without giving in to the temptations of inertia, we would achieve more, become more rounded people. For heaven's sake, we would do ourselves good! If only we didn't give in to inertia, we would be more like we should be.
They might be right, don't you think? If we could get past that point where we stop, look around and refuse to go any further, what might we achieve? Should we really start to leave inertia behind and do what is best for us and what will help us to become better people?
Well, you can if you like. I've tried it, readers. I've stolidly followed the advice of people who know better and ignored inertia when it appeared on the lonely highway. I passed by, determined that this time I wouldn't let my own doubts and faults lead me astray and stop me doing what was best.
It led to yet more difficulties and the threat of breakdown. I had to take a big, giant look at myself and my life thanks to not listening to inertia. In the end, this was positive because it led me here, but oh, did it hurt at the time and for a long time afterwards.
I've learned how important it can be to listen to that part of you that wants to dig in your heels and go no further. I've also been at the other side, frustrated when other people have done it and I know they can achieve more. The truth and honesty lies somewhere in between these two points. We should do what we can and take on new challenges if we feel able. Sometimes, just occasionally, we should take on new challenges when we don't feel quite able. Yes, really, this can be good and lead to surprising and wonderful things.
What we shouldn't do is push on, when we have that awful, pulling feeling, wanting to bring us back to where we first felt we should stop. We should learn when to listen to our voices and stop what we're doing. No matter that action and change will do us good; no matter that it's well within our capability if we would just try.
If you feel you must stop, then do. We are not often as wise as we would like to be or as we think we are and instincts are there to save us from many tears and troubles. If you feel you must stop and let life carry on without your for a while, listen to that feeling.
Inertia, in many cases, illustrates how busy life can be and how normal it can seem to rush along, finding new challenges and always viewing movement and change as a good thing. I would like to hold up my hand for the rock who sees the stream dashing past every day and thinks:
No, I will stay here and look at it all. I like to see the stream rushing and hear the sounds it makes, but I love that patch of grass where the flowers grow, just there. I love the little bank of sandy soil where my brother and sister rocks sit, waiting to become part of the stream. I love the way the sun hits this part of the land in the morning and bathes my face in warm welcome. Let the stream rush and I will love it here, for now and until I'm ready to move on.


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Self-sabotage...the digging aspie

I think all aspies must come with an in-built shovel for digging themselves a hole. Or various holes. Ones for conversations where you know you shouldn't say something, but do. Ones for when you need to behave in the right way and the wrong way happens, even though you can see yourself from the outside and know it's wrong.
There's a special shovel reserved for the holes we need for work. I think this one possibly gets the most heavy-duty use. Unlike the conversation shovel, it needs to put in hard labour, making the holes big enough and deep enough so that you have a reason to walk away from a job that pays your bills and keeps you out of the gutter.
The relationship shovel is a slim, silver-trimmed affair, pretty to look at, catches the light, makes you think it's just an accessory...until you find yourself digging furiously at the spot where your potential best beloved is about to walk. Then you realise the relationship shovel is more than an accessory, it's an accomplice.
Sometimes, mindful of the fact a life worth living is better done with enough money, friends to talk to and no one hammering down you door for what you did to their hydrangea, we try to leave the shovels at home. We have a special cupboard called Best Intentions. We pack those beggars up, making sure to fasten in the little sharp shovels for stabbing ourselves in the back and we leave the house, confident of success.
It lasts a little while, with us enjoying the freedom of not having a shovel to carry around everywhere. We even come home and pretend we're not thinking about the cupboard. There's no sound coming from in there, they are only shovels - we know they need us to do the digging and, as long as we leave them locked up, we'll be fine!
In the middle of the night we might wake to find ourselves in the darkened hall, one hand on the door of the cupboard. What a shock to discover we were about to release the shovels. We hurry back to bed, shivering at the thought that we almost threw away our chance to be normal and succeed.
Give it a little while longer and we think we've forgotten all about that cupboard. We're gaining in confidence and can see how we were meant to succeed this time. Everything is going to be all right! Wow, what an amazing thing, after years of digging holes. Fancy that, all we had to do was lock up those shovels and strike out by ourselves.
What we don't realise is that, all along, we've had a little, hand-held shovel in our pockets, waiting for our fingers to find it in an unguarded moment. As we're feeling confident and are good at forgetting things, we also forget this pocket even existed, until the day we find it again.
A small shovel, small enough to fit in your hand and not take much effort to use: what harm could it do? It's slim, petite, the handle is too short to be seen when we're holding it. There are pretty little designs carved into the shiny metal. What could it do, all by itself, when the other shovels are still locked up at home?
What it can do - and what it will do every time, if we're not aware of it - is dig away just enough to let the light through. Like a chink in the dam, all you need is the tiniest hole to start a flood. It won't happen all at once, your new confidence and natural abilities will keep the flood at bay a little longer. Sooner or later, though, that small hole, if left untreated, will widen enough to let everything through.
Before you know it, you're back at home and the cupboard is empty again. You just let everything out at once. Why bother keeping it all locked in if you can never succeed? What's the point in not being yourself anyway? It's not as if things are ever going to be any different.
And there we are again, at the other side of the arc of attempted success - shovel in hand, hair blowing in the wind and eyes squeezed almost shut against the brightness of the day.
Yes, we are always ourselves and we will always have a shovel in our hands, of one sort or another. It's by trying to ignore this that we invite failure. Without the self-knowledge that we will always be aspies, with inherent failings and peculiarities, we are bound to fail because we're trying to be someone else, someone better.
We have the shovels, we know what we do, we are not perfect. Look at them not as failings, but simply as peculiarities. We feel we fail ourselves by giving in to them, by doing things which sabotage our plans and our needs. We are frightened by the prospect of success, so the shovel comes out and down we go. Or we push for success while trying to completely ignore our own needs, as if by ignoring them they'll no longer be important.
Our needs will always be important, as well as unusual. It's no good trying to be just like everyone else and get along in the same way they do. If you have a chance of success it's very tempting to feel that you've cracked it, you're now going to be like everybody else.
Sorry, but you're not like everybody else and that's mostly a good thing. It just becomes complicated by how much like yourself you can be at the wrong moments! You have to take account of yourself, what you do, what you feel, how you react. It's not going to work, going blithely forward as if you can leave yourself behind somewhere.
Those shovels are never going to stay in the cupboard and you wouldn't want them to. Honestly, you wouldn't. Without them, you might just be the normal person who can do everything when they need to and never have to look for underwear in the morning. But you would be a lesser person too, as you'd be rejecting the parts of your personality that make life special, amazing, fundamentally magical, even when you don't want it to be.
Keep digging, people.


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Holding the Grudge

We've had dramatic explosions and shenanigans at our house this week. RT teen and IT teen, like Godzilla and King Kong, sparring it out over the metropolis. No actual blows fell, but homes were damaged and small people probably did go running, with debris falling around their ears.

The start of it was that RT teen thought the knocking sound was in his head, so didn't open the door. IT teen, not unreasonably on a dark, winter's evening, took exception to this and said so. RT teen took offence at the tone and raised voice and started name-calling. IT teen rose up to his full self-righteousness and pointed out a few of his brother's failings.

There ensued an epic rearing up of old hurts and scores, culminating in RT teen remembering everything IT teen had ever done to him. IT teen never knows when to leave well alone so he picked holes in this approach, drawing attention to the fact it was all ancient history and his brother was insane.

All of this happened while I was twenty five miles away, doing a lesson. I was in the peace and quiet of a student's dining room when the first text came in, followed by a few more, none of which I could answer properly as I was working. So, there I was, apart from it all, wondering if IT teen had smacked RT teen round the head with anything, as I had only heard from one and not the other.

I then had an anxious half hour until the end of the lesson. I needed petrol but felt I couldn't stop for it, in case the argument was continuing. I went home in a state of agitation and annoyance, wondering how it could be that two young men, in their late teens, could still act like five year olds.

I arrived home to an eery silence and worried pets. There was plaster on the landing floor from when IT teen had given his door a good kicking instead of his brother. Later I discovered the living room light had come to pieces too. I'm considering lending out IT teen as a mule to anyone who will take him.

So, old arguments, long forgotten in the passage of time, had resurfaced thanks to the door not being opened in time. It turns out that those arguments weren't forgotten at all, they've been swilling about in RT teen's brain all this time, fuelling his normal, everyday reactions to his brother and informing his behaviour in lots of little ways.

In other words, he's been holding onto past hurts and feeling like they were still current.

I found this a worryingly familiar reflection of how I deal with things myself. My mother was quick to remind me of all the times I've brought up ancient grudges I had against her, never to be forgotten, or forgiven, apparently.

I know them all, large and small. When the rest of life seems to swim away in an indistinct blur of faces and sounds, I can still remember clearly how my mother ate my lolly on carnival day, instead of looking after it. And it was the best lolly ever.

Funny how these events gain momentum and substance and are able to cling onto us, no matter what else we lose, as if they were of fundamental importance to our very state of being.

Perhaps they are? Do we remember them so clearly because our feelings were fully involved, for a change? Instead of our feelings being hard to fathom or floating out of reach, they were there, right in the middle of everything, flaring up.

I think it's important to note that the events I remember most, in terms of grudges - and the ones held onto by RT teen - are the ones where hurt was felt. Deep emotional hurt, as we saw it. No matter that there have been plenty of lovely lollies since that carnival day; no matter that RT teen and his brother have shared a lot of laughter since their tiny boy fights. The intense sensation of upset when we're younger is firm within us and can be looked at and felt and turned over in our hands as if it had just happened.

We get upset and angry all over again because the feeling is still so immediate. It may be irrational (yes, okay, it is irrational) but it has a hold over us that not many other things do.

The grudge, when filed away successfully, is a strong, long-lived creature, rather like the Ghost of Christmas Past, but with less to teach us about ourselves.

And that's where the sadness lies in this predicament: there is little to learn from holding our grudges. We can look at them as glimpses of our past situations and relationships, but we shouldn't invest in them ultimate trust and attention. We think they tell us the truth - they must be the truth as we feel it so strongly, right?

Maybe, maybe not. In RT teen's case, once it all spilled out, I was able to give him a different perspective on a few things that happened many years ago and he came out of the whole incident with a new light being shed on his past and his view of himself. It was difficult for him but, I think, revelatory.

Mostly, our grudges don't have this light shone on them, though. For one thing, people are probably tired of hearing us spout on about them. For another, they are our view of it all and however much we think we know about what happened and what everyone else thought and felt, we really know only our side of things.

People say that letting go of the past is essential in being able to face the future. I'm quite sure they are right, but they never really explain how you do this. Others say you have to forgive to be able to move on. Yes, that one might be possible, even if it feels like passing a kidney stone, but how do we forget?

The same people would say it's possible to forget, but we know they're talking through their behinds on that one. Forgetting grudges? Past hurts? Regrets? When they have such vivid life and colour about them?

I haven't managed that one yet, though gaining some perspective on them does help. I can still see it, the thing that happened that made me feel this way, and it's not always about carnival lollies, is it?

The best thing I can say is that, by having these faults in myself, I was able to help RT teen. I could understand what he felt and explain to him how to move beyond it a little.

Perhaps that's the best we can hope for sometimes, to be able to reach out and help someone else, even if we're still mired in our obsessions of the past. Or it could be simpler still, readers. Perhaps the real secret in this is to talk to people about our past grudges, our hurts and obsessions and see if they can do the reaching out and the helping.

Maybe they can or maybe it just comes down to being able to talk about it, one more time and with feeling. Then we can start to let the colours lessen and the hurt fade with time.


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