Communicating under pressure

The frustrating thing about talking to your aspie is that you are part of a much bigger picture, but you can only see part of it. To the non-aspie the conversation is between two people and whatever the difficulties, there is no real, proper reason why the words should not pass and be understood. To the aspie, there is so much more going on.

On a good day, the aspie might be distracted, thinking about other things, nothing important but certainly something more interesting than the non-aspie's obsession with getting out of the house by 10am. There are always lots more important things than leaving by 10am and they all take precedence in the aspie's wonderfully-ordered mind. So it is that the memory of dropping biscuits into the cow field at the age of five easily pushes aside the droning about being late again.

On a middling day, which covers many days, the aspie is not only distracted by the wonderfully-ordered mind, but also by the ticking sound the cooker makes when you forget to knock it off, or the way the curtains blow in the wind as you insist on opening the windows. Or the sound of next-door's car alarm going off yet again because it is impossible for a grown adult, supposedly an advanced species, to remember to switch off the alarm before they use the key.

A middling day may be full of many nuisances which do nothing to harm the aspie but have the power to drive them over small cliffs, over and over, right through the day.

Meanwhile, the non-aspie is trying to talk to their aspie about the documents they had through the post yesterday, the ones they put in a safe place so they could be used today. Firstly, you assume your aspie remembered to put them in a safe place; then you assume your aspie considers them important - properly important, not just important to you and the rest of the world.

You forget that the car alarm has set off again and how many times does a person need to open and shut the doors of a car before they get in and drive away?! What documents? What are you talking about? Can't you see your aspie is stressed? What do you mean there's nothing to be stressed about? You're always wanting something and everything is so difficult! (Cue melodramatic exit to place of safety).

Then there are the bad times. Luckily, these don't often last a day, they just feel like they do. These are the times when the bigger picture is full of dangers and trials, overflowing with awful endeavours all sent to push your aspie right into their mini-breakdown and out of the reach of anyone, even you.

To the non-aspie, it is a place somewhere, an everyday place. People go there all the time. It could be a busy shop, a hospital, a friend's party (see, it's safe because it's a friend's party), a street full of shoppers (see, it's safe because we don't have to go in the shops), the school at home-time, the college at going-in time - anywhere that has enough triggers or big enough stresses to make your aspie feel the world has come to an end and is now broken into many loud, dangerous, floating pieces of life which defy understanding.

Amidst all this life-threatening chaos, you want to talk to your aspie and have them listen? You want to ask them something? You want a conversation? Would you have a conversation in the middle of a war-zone? If soul-stretching demons were descending, would you want to talk then? If you were in the primeval forest and a soft breathing sound came from behind, would you pause to discuss the weather and then get tetchy when your aspie acted as if you were mad?

I know, it is drama. It reads like your aspie is constantly over-reacting. But it is only over-reacting if you are not the person living through it. A fear is only groundless if you are not the one in the grip of it. A drama is only divorced from real-life if your life is not full of drama already. A conversation only makes sense if both people are able to have it, at the same time.

And just because you can't see the bigger picture doesn't mean it isn't there.

Sometimes it is a very big picture and your aspie a small speck amongst it. Other times the picture is contracting and doesn't leave enough space for life. Try to see how complicated a conversation can become under these conditions and then be kind to your aspie.


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The perils of saying No

I was a bit silly this week. I thought, Why not be more honest this year? Why not just open my mouth and say what I think, and feel, at the time I am actually thinking and feeling it?

I could cut through all the stupid, soulless, mindless, meaningless clap-trap which acts as padding to some relationships and say, 'No, I don't like turnip,' or 'No, I really hate your friends,' or 'No, I have never ever ever enjoyed that.'

It was only once I'd thought about it more closely that I realised I would be saying No an awful lot - that most of my 'dishonest' moments are when I am trying to please or, more accurately, avoid the wrath of people who expect me to behave like they do.

When I'm honest, it's brutal and unflinching and usually accidental. Like when I looked at my mother's new hairstyle and informed her it was better when it was longer, less butch. This one throwaway phrase condemned every other hairstyle she'd had for the last 38 years. Amazing what a few words can do.

Given time to focus, I'd have lied and said it was great, nice, what a good cut, asked her where she had it done (I'm exaggerating now, I never make it to the heady heights of feigning real interest). The thing is, even though I'm remarkably bad at lying, she would have preferred this from me - expected it, even - rather than have the truth that her usual hairstyle owes more to her years in the RAF than a need to look nice.

Crikey, I think I just insulted her lifelong hairstyle all over again. Sigh.

So, putting aside awful honesty, I'm faced with the number of times I agree to things or go along for the sake of other people and what they want, most especially their need not to feel aggrieved by me. I have no wish to go to tea with Aunty Joan, can think of a gargantuan list of things I would rather do. But I end up going as it is often better than the fallout from being completely honest and refusing to play the game of civilised living.

If we were all honest, the whole time, we would find our social circle pruned, leaving the stalwart, the loving, the genuinely needy and the ones who would stick by us No Matter What. We would also suffer more situations where we have to justify saying NO.

And there's the crux of it. By saying Yes, I suffer but avoid a cross-examination. By saying No, I suffer and then have to explain why I said No, why I don't care about anyone other than myself, why I feel this way, why, why, why!

A miserable conundrum when all I really want is to be left alone, without the expectations of others or the need to be pulled along in the riptide of what I should be doing, as opposed to what I want to do.

It seems that total honesty requires a level of emotional endurance I don't yet have and an ability to face the oncoming storm without flinching. I have to separate what I want from how other people feel, so that saying No does not leave me feeling worse than saying Yes.

I'm guessing this could be developed though, like a muscle. A good, strong muscle that doesn't need spinach to pop out and save me from the dread of letting people down. A nice, springy muscle that might let the disappointments and guilts bounce right off, leaving me calm and confident in my No-ness.

Like all exercise, it's better to build up than jump right in and hurt yourself. So I'm practising small, little Nos first, then I'll move up to bigger Nos and hope to just be able to No whenever I want, without even warming up.

I'll know it has worked when I do it without thinking and only realise later, without guilt and without any worry of doing it again. Until then, I'm limbering up as we speak. Get ready for it, readers: NO!


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Walking through self-doubt

Those times when you doubt yourself are the worst. People say you should have inner confidence, the ability to look at a situation and believe in yourself. Is this the same as believing that if you keep cleaning the fire a fairy godmother will come? Or that eating the wrong apple will end badly?

Self-doubt is an onerous and tumbleweed feeling, at once heavy and ponderous as well as being hard to pin down. As the winds blow around you, it is very hard sometimes to keep yourself in place and know you are in the right place, for you.

How easy in difficult times to listen to the loudest voices, the ones which tell you familiar, negative things. How hard to ignore them and trust yourself, when so many other times you feel you have let yourself down.

I've spent many productive years being my own therapist, working things out as I go along. Some nights I would lie there for hours, seeing my past stretching out before me as clear as if I walked it still. Other nights I would dream a moment long-forgotten and suddenly understand what I missed the first time around.

Exhausting, tremulous days when I had to trust all this growth and self-awareness was going in the right direction and would not end with me in a heap, unable to function because my insecurities were too complicated to tease out and let me live a normal life.

Trust, you see. I had to trust myself, trust the conclusions I came to after facing difficult truths. I had to trust that I could move forward once I was done and be a better person at the end of it. Just like learning to walk, I had to trust that the tumbles and mishaps were worth the end result.

Now, all these years later and so much further down the road than before I am still learning to trust myself. Other people can be a huge help, a way of affirming your identity and realising your potential. They can also be the very problems you seek to overcome. And sometimes, just when we think we have it all worked out, we discover some people can be both positive and negative, the ultimate confusion in human relationships.

Trust and doubt, woven together, are the positive and negative when it comes to self-awareness. Do you trust yourself enough to step forward, even if you might fall? Do you give in to the doubt and wait for the fear to pass, only to find it feels safer where you are and not move at all?

When we walk, whether as babies or full-grown people, we do not just go forwards; walking is also about sideways movement, just enough to stop us stalking along like stick-men. All of life is like this. We can never go back, even if we turn our heads to look at the past. But there is always just enough sideways motion to give us that chance, as we move on, to think about where we are.

Like the babies we once were, it can be good to sometimes reach out a hand and stop the movement altogether. Take a look around, see where you have been, choose where to go next. Don't leave it too long, though: keep walking, one step at a time, and don't mind the tumbles.


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Girl on a Journey

So, we had drama last night. Bearing in mind other people involved have the internet and, I assume, can also read, I'll try to be careful what I say on here (come round for a cuppa and I'll tell you everything though).

IT Teen's girlfriend, IT Girl, decided things were going to badly at home that she wanted to move out this week. As she's only 16 this caused some fireworks, as you can imagine. Especially as she hadn't told her parents.

Plans were made and re-drawn, battle positions dug in, long, intricate conversations carried out under cover of Facebook messaging and Skype. By the time it came to a head yesterday evening, IT Teen and Girl had covered just about every angle. Until she broke and told her parents.

At which point, IT Teen was called in to face the music, no sorry, to have a discussion about it. I ferried him over there, hoping my chicken wouldn't dry out in the oven while the drama unfolded.

Once there, the horror of horrors happened and it turned out they wanted to talk to me too. Me! In the middle of a conflict! In the role of parent! I mean, I know I am a parent, obviously, but an adult parent, faced with other adult parents, in the centre of a dispute?

I want to tell you everything, I do but let's just put it this way: when I got in there, it soon became apparent I was not in the firing line. For some reason I was being looked to as the one who could resolve things.

(I leave a small break while we all contemplate the notion of me solving problems in a relationship rather than causing them).

Readers! Guess what, though! It turns out my own life experience and past suffering as a pressure-prone aspie were perfect for this situation.

I looked at the whole thing. IT Girl hunched in a corner while she was 'described' to me, along with all her faults. The voices permeating the darkened room as I was told what had happened. The fog of terror surrounding Girl as she realised she was the centre of attention, the one who had let everyone down, the one who needed to answer pointed and life-altering questions right now, right here and in full view of me as well as her family.

The horrible realisation that her answers were time-sensitive, that she must know what she wanted immediately and tell us without stumbling. Then each time she tried, she stumbled and was scolded and made to try again.

I sat there in this strange place, with people I had never met before and Girl in the corner, and felt the awful familiarity of her situation. It was like looking across the room and seeing myself at almost the same age, when I left school and things became so bad at home that I had to go and stay with my godmother in another city, just to get away from home and the accusing, disappointed, angry voices.

I waded in, under pretext of being a subtle and gentle person, and said perhaps Girl could have a break and make any life-changing decisions later, when she had had more time to think and was separate from the situation.

This was greeted with skepticism but as I was still in the role of Resolver, my opinion was taken on board without much argument. I pressed it home and padded it down while the conversation was trying to go elsewhere - all those years of diverting conversations comes in handy when you want to make sure one stays on track.

We now have an IT Girl in residence as well as a Teen. Watch this space for more developments or for my anxiety-receptors to suddenly realise we have Someone Else here.

For now, it all went as well as it could and I felt I had repaid that debt from years ago, when my younger self set out on the bus across country, not knowing if I could ever go home, just wanting to get away before my heart broke right in two.

I always wondered what my godmother thought as she received me into safety in tactful and loving silence. I guess now I know.


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Playing the role of villain

It's been a Bear Goes Over the Mountain kind of week, where I see one obstacle, scale it, only to find another right after. I must be honest, though - the smaller obstacles were made worse by a dramatically bad start to the week where misinterpretation brought everything crashing down.

Somehow I knew it must be me, as it has been so many times before. I must be the one who started that giant boulder rolling down the hill because I could still feel the impression of it on my hand

I have taken the blame. Consciously or unconsciously, I decided that if I had been a better, cleverer, straightforward, open, closed, tactful, altogether more sensible person, then my week might have been smooth and quiet, like the late Spring stream.

I have felt, day after day, as if I struggled to do even the smallest things. My mind was distracted and full of the possibilities of this other week, the one where it didn't all go wrong, leaving me adrift in the centre of what felt like my own debris field.

Readers, it took days and lots of conversations with friends to come to the realisation that I might not be to blame. And then a few more days to work out they might be telling the truth.

Fault, guilt, blame, sorrow, grief: how often do these feelings chase us when we are in the middle of the latest crisis? Why does it take so long and such a lot of well-meaning words for us to even consider we might be blameless? When and where did we come to the decision that we were wrong?

I beg forgiveness of myself. I am a real person who gets things wrong (a lot) but I wish I could convince myself not to rush into the role of villain so easily and with so little resistance.

I often tell myself to back off, look again, try to see the other person's point of view and work out where things went wrong. It very rarely occurs to me to presume myself innocent before doing all of this.

From now on I am hoping to undo some of the damage. If I am wrong, let me see that I am, but if I am not to blame, please let me see that too.

Sometimes it is too easy to take the role we are used to playing, without ever seeing there are whole wardrobes full of costumes unworn and wrinkled from keeping which we have yet to try.

Today, readers, I was brave enough to open the door to a room I always assumed belonged to someone else. At the moment I only peek, with one foot over the threshold. One step at a time and then I'll be sliding my hands over the racks, choosing a new costume, marveling that there were so many different roles to play.

This is what it is to be a full person. None of us are wholly villainous or good; we just have to remind ourselves of that at times.


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Knowing your triggers

Traditionally, his is the time of year when I go crazy. While other people are making good on their new year's resolutions, I am so panicked by the idea of another year to keep up with that I decide I will do something successful and transform my whole life.

It isn't a resolution, it's more of a compulsion when I am faced with a whole year of just being me. Again.

It's not even that I dislike being me, but I really do hate the screwy nature of life and how wrong it can go when you're not looking. Or when you just decide that this decision is a really good one, no matter what anyone says or despite it never having worked in the past.

The feelings of new year are terrifying, readers. The pressure begins to build before the old year has gone by and don't really subside until March. It's the sense that I am not good enough, that what I am doing on a daily basis falls short of what I expected of myself.

It reminds me, every year, that I am only slightly different from how I was the year before and as that means I am still likely to make mistakes and not be wildly successful in normal terms, I panic myself into thinking I should make changes.

I've reached the stage of self-knowledge where I understand this is more likely to happen now than later in the year and I watch for it. Watching for it doesn't mean I can stop it happening, but it makes it safer if I know I'm going to start running for the rope bridge before I'm hurtling across it.

This year I'm hoping I will slip quietly into January doing the same things I did in December. I have a lot to deal with at the moment so the last thing I should do is load myself up with more worries or pressure.

I want to totter forward in the same steady, learning step I've been using for the past few months and trust myself to run when I'm able, if ever. I'm hoping that this is the year I trust that I am in the right place, instead of trying to push myself off into new places, just because the old place isn't what I expected.

It is safe to say that new year is one of my triggers and can set me off in the wrong direction, each time thinking I do it as a new venture, a new idea, a something which will make all the other things worthwhile.

What I really need to do is recognise it for what it is: a moment of insecurity and fear which makes me follow a pattern of behaviour that has more to do with vague but powerful feelings than a logical response to life.

As in most things, the best approach is to wait a minute, catch your breath and take another look. I will have to do this a few times to see life clearly, I'm just too good at seeing what I want to and ignoring the problems.

Step back, breathe, look. Then toddle on and take advantage of the fact that you don't get anywhere fast using baby-steps, which gives you plenty of time to see where you are going.


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