Alexandra Leaving

Alexandra Leaving

I’d thought about leaving so many times. Going back through some old posts last night, even back to when I first started blogging, it was abundantly clear to me that I had been feeling depressed, lonely and trapped for years.

It was something I discussed occasionally with people I trusted. Not that I had many of those. But I was always more scared by the uncertainty of the unknown than I was of remaining somewhere that didn’t feel like a home. My fears always drove me back.

I tried. But it’s hard when the love you once had has been replaced by fear. Too many angry outbursts, too many times when my needs were dismissed, too many times when my anxiety reached overload. I tried to explain but when I never knew how what I said would be received it was impossible to be completely open and candid.

Even when I did manage to speak up, the import of what I was saying became lost in translation. These weren’t shared feelings or experiences; I might as well have been speaking a foreign language. Situations where my daughter or neurodivergent friends would grasp it immediately, not need it to be spelled out in detail.

In the end it had become obvious that living in that place with that person was harming me. Day by day my mental health was declining with anxiety and depression making it difficult to function. I was struggling with work, I was struggling with self care. Well, not just struggling: I was failing.

I knew the signs. I’d been through similar times before although every time it happened it brought me further down, hurt me more, killed another piece of my soul. So this time I asked for help. I went to my doctor, I referred myself for counselling. And I talked at length with my daughter.

At my second counselling session I all but broke down in tears as I described how I felt, how a steady drip, drip, drip of teasing, controlling behaviour, threats (even when later retracted) and aggressive actions had built up to the point where I didn’t feel safe. It doesn’t matter what the motivation was, whether harm was intended: it was emotional abuse and it did cause harm.

I explained how I was afraid of losing my job because my mind was in too much turmoil to focus. I explained how every time I tried to think of what I needed to do to get away I quickly became overwhelmed with the magnitude of it all.

My counsellor was brilliant. She helped me organise my thoughts so that right in the middle was my goal, “To Get Out” and around it were the factors that I needed to address.

CounsellorBrainstorm
The actual brainstorming chart my counsellor made in our session

I came out of there feeling enabled, that this was something I could achieve. I phoned my boss at work and explained everything (and I mean everything) to him. Because I was that anxious about it I came straight out and asked him if I still had a job to get back to: he reassured me. I felt so much better after that.

In conjunction with my doctor I worked out a schedule that would get me back to working regularly, and my boss was very supportive, saying that I should do what I had to do, take as much time as I needed, and asking if there was anything I needed from him or the company.

So, knowing my job was secure I went to my bank to see about taking out a loan for setting up a new home, which went through without a hitch giving me the funds I needed to cover fees and buying furniture.

My daughter helped me look for a new place, and we made a shortlist. I prepared myself and managed to phone up and make appointments with the letting agents to view two of them, the first on the very next day which was a Saturday. To cut a long story short we both loved the first place we looked at and I started the process of securing the lease.

Just two weeks after that viewing I got the keys and moved in to the place I’m sitting in now, a month later. My home. And it really does feel like home. It’s a lovely flat in a beautiful location, but more than that it is a nurturing environment where I feel comfortable and safe.

To borrow the most apt of phrases, it is as if I have come through an unseen metaphorical door. As if I escaped from a cage to live in freedom. My counsellor was in shock at the speed of the change in me: she had never before seen somebody go from tears and hopelessness in one session to joy and optimism in the next.

I’m not the kind of person who worries that it might all be a dream and on waking I’d be back to the harmful existence I had before. I know this is real, that this is my new life. It feels like a rebirth, even more so than my gender transition. I’ve broken the shell that confined me, emerged from the egg and I’m stretching my wings.

I’ve said before that I never managed to live independently. I’m not independent now. Oh, I can feed and wash and clothe myself, and I can do the things that need doing around my home. But I also have a network of friends who I can turn to if I need support. I live by myself but I am not alone.

My friends on Facebook and the people I work with could see how happy I was when I got out of the situation I was living in: a relationship that was ultimately toxic and slowly killing me. I got my drive back, my motivation. I started to enjoy working again. I got up in the mornings feeling ready for the day.

And then, a week ago today, I was sitting here. Well, actually sitting and feeling restless, then getting up and pacing, then trying to sit again. My thoughts going round and round: should I? Should I not? A dilemma: do I tell someone how I feel? Is that fair to them if they don’t feel the same way? Might I ruin a friendship? Could it even work?

I talked to my daughter. I talked to a dear friend. I knew what I wanted to do, but I needed to work up the courage to take that chance. The emotions were so powerful that I was overwhelmed. But in the end I sent my message.

And then I waited. Minutes have never passed so slowly, a lifetime between each tick of the clock. They responded! This person I have fallen so much in love with loves me too!!! And so I am flying, lifted high by the joy of love.

Two people who felt some spark between them, who are both starting to grow and learn who they can be at a point in their lives when that had no longer seemed possible. It’s a wonderful experience to be sure, but how much better it is, how much more meaningful and joyful when there is somebody with whom to share the journey.

 

Hear Us, Accept Us! #AutismAcceptance2017

Hear Us, Accept Us! #AutismAcceptance2017

In a week and a half it will be Autism Acceptance Month. Yes, I say Acceptance, not Awareness. That’s important. Anybody can be aware of autism but accepting it? That takes effort. Effort that a lot of people show no willingness to make.

Another year passed. More autistic kids dead, abused, at risk. Where’s the awareness of this: this is the real tragedy of autism. We’re ignored. Ignored when we try to speak out against the people who make pretty for the cameras while they tell the world how broken we are.

Ignored when we call for justice after another one of us is murdered and the media focuses yet again on excusing the parents and care-givers because autistic lives are a burden and death is a release, don’t you know?

Ignored when we campaign against unproven and often harmful chemicals and “treatments” such as GcMAF and MMS pushed as cures by charlatans on unsuspecting and easily-misled parents of autistic children who are told time and again that autism is a disease and their children are damaged.

Ignored when those of us who have been through it tell you ABA–in any form–is abusive, coercive enforced compliance to arbitrary “neurotypical” standards of behaviour, where the only goal is to force us to appear indistinguishable at any cost to our long-term mental health.

Ignored when we tell people that we are not “vaccine damaged”: autism is genetic and we are autistic from birth. And still delusional conspiracy theorists like Polly Tommey, Andrew Wakefield, Robert Kennedy Jr.–even Robert De Niro–refuse to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence and insist that we throw more millions of dollars away instead of using that to help autistic kids today.

Ignored when we tell you that autism charities and organisations like Autism Speaks don’t represent us, don’t make our lives better, don’t listen when we tell them what we need. They don’t speak for us; they speak for themselves. They dismiss us, discredit us, portray us as not competent to participate in decisions affecting us directly.

This is why awareness will not do. It doesn’t even come close. We aren’t given a voice, we aren’t heard. All these people, the high-profile “allies” and “autism parents”, people like Anna Kennedy and Bob Wright have something in common: they are not autistic. They are outsiders who can never fully understand how we experience the world.

So why are they the ones who get to tell our stories, over and over? Where are our own autistic voices? With a mere handful of exceptions we are, like me, writing blogs for a few hundred readers, most of whom are also autistic. We’re preaching to the choir.

So if you really want to make a difference to autistic people, go and look for our stories. Read about our lives and experiences. Tell all your friends. And perhaps then we will have a chance to be understood and accepted. And we might one day get the same chances and rights other people take for granted.

Autistic Rights, Not Autistic Wrongs

Autistic Rights, Not Autistic Wrongs

Hey Mrs Kennedy
There with your OBE
Your shiny charity?
You ain’t that much to me.

If you read what I wrote
You wanna make a note
Don’t sit up there and gloat
You gonna miss the boat.

See what I’m tellin’ you
Ain’t just my point of view
We’re more than one or two
Autistic through and through.

So listen when we say
Your spiel has had its day
We’re dissin’ ABA
Abuse is not okay.

We spotted Wakefield ties
And anti-vaccine lies
You hung out with those guys
Now that ain’t very wise.

We followed all the tracks
Led us to frauds and quacks
We’re threatened with attacks
But we got stacks of facts.

We offered you advice
We tried to play it nice
We thought that would suffice
Won’t make that error twice.

You think we’ve had enough?
You think we’re not so tough?
We live and breathe this stuff
Don’t want to call our bluff.

When you don’t give respect
When you try to deflect
And posture for effect
Twist truth and misdirect.

You pick on one of us
Insult but won’t discuss
You are superfluous
Not even worth the fuss.

You claim that you’re “aware”
But show that you don’t care
We will be treated fair
In schools and everywhere.

To mimic NT poise
Under duress destroys
Autistic girls and boys.
We’re not your little toys.

Don’t want our names in lights
Or fancy ballgown nights
One goal in all our fights
We want autistic rights.

Reach Out, I’ll Be There

Reach Out, I’ll Be There

Yesterday evening (UK time) I posted a status on Facebook where I set out how I was feeling due to depression and anxiety.

Just venting here.

I’m exhausted. My anxiety keeps flaring up with no obvious triggers, the depression is with me more and more. I’m getting seriously eye-rollingly sick of feeling like this so much of the time.

I’ve got some seriously strong urges:
– To run away to old, familiar places.
– To lock myself in somewhere safe, curl up in the fetal position and stay there.
– To just sit here and cry.

I’m feeling kind of trapped. I feel like I’m failing. I’ve not got the strength left to keep on fulfilling my responsibilities. But there’s no escape, no respite. I don’t want to play any more but the merry-go-round won’t stop and I can’t get off.

It wasn’t generally visible: I restricted it to people I feel safe sharing more sensitive, personal things with. And, typically, I worried that it might have been attention-seeking.

I had not slept well all week; I somehow unproductively scraped through a day’s work with the assistance of much music, and was feeling enervated and pretty hopeless. Again. I think that it wasn’t so much attention I wanted as just a little acknowledgement. A bit of solidarity to help me feel less isolated.

I never used to reach out like this. I would keep it all in and try to handle it on my own. Well, I was prepared to do that this time too: I was seriously weighing up the pros and cons of self-harm. The knife is still where I put it, within easy reach. I didn’t need it in the end.

Reaching out worked. I never used to have any kind of network, any group of friends I could turn to for support when I was struggling. In recent years this has been getting steadily better. I still feel a reluctance to impose the burden of my feelings on anybody. But they are a compassionate bunch and what I received was caring and supportive.

They helped me reach the point where I could make an important decision: to visit my brother. It was something my daughter and I had talked about. We both feel a connection to that part of the country, a link to happy times in the past. In a way this really is fulfilling one of the urges I felt: running away to an old, familiar place.

I phoned my brother, checked when he would be around, and then organised what dates my daughter and I could manage. Suddenly I had an escape, the promise of some respite, and I started feeling positive. I messaged one of my best friends to share the news: we ended up chatting for hours, well into the night!

I slept well, cuddling my plush toy penguin as usual, and woke up an hour before my alarm feeling better than I had for ages. Before lunch the time off work was booked, as was the hotel. I can’t deny I’m feeling incredibly excited about the trip.

More than anything I am amazed by how much different I feel just within 24 hours. To go from despair bleak enough to make cutting myself seem an attractive option, to this hugely positive feeling of anticipation and excitement. I wish I could bottle the feeling and save it for the next time.

I know I will feel down again, the depression is always there in the background. It’s not a case of, “Hello darkness, my old friend.” Circumstances affect my mood: it swings between highs and lows. But the highs don’t shine a beacon of hope that is visible from the depths, and the lows don’t drag me down when I’m soaring. All I can do is live in the moment and respond to it in whatever way I am able.

But one thing I have definitely resolved to do is to make time to keep in touch with my friends and, as much as I am able, to go and meet them, spend time with them. They are well worth the effort.

How Real Is Your Woman?

How Real Is Your Woman?

I wouldn’t be me if I could leave yesterday’s transphobic Sunday Times piece by Jenni Murry alone. For those who don’t know, Jenni presents the long-running Woman’s Hour magazine programme on BBC Radio 4. So you’d kind of expect her to support women.

Except that it appears she doesn’t. She gets her credentials in early: she’s not transphobic, she assures her readers. That’s good. If she hadn’t told me I’d have had to work out her opinion of women like me based solely on how she writes about us.

I’ll save you the torment of quoting bits and pieces of her article. Instead I’ll summarise it: trans women are not “real” women because Jenni doesn’t want them to be. For whatever reasons–and she doesn’t delve into the roots of her prejudices–she doesn’t want her idea of what a woman is to include people like me.

Her objections as stated in the article are thin and unconvincing. We haven’t had the same experiences as she did growing up? A cherry-picked selection of trans women have expressed superficial stereotypical thoughts? Come on Jenni, you can do better than this!

Why not be honest with your readers? Why not admit that you’ve got a nice, cosy, simplistic concept of what a woman is, and it’s basically people who are like you. Preferably middle class and white, no doubt, although it would be career suicide to voice those thoughts these days.

But trans women? Well, they’re fair game. Or so you think. It’s not that long since gay men were openly criticised as not being “real” men. A lot of people used to agree with that sentiment. But opinions change. Try publishing that one today and you’ll not get past the paper’s legal department.

More and more people, especially younger people, have no hesitation including trans women in their concept of women. The landscape is shifting under the feet of people like Jenni Murray, and her views that were once comfortably mainstream are looking increasingly extreme.

It’s not only trans women like me who cringe these days when we encounter these old-fashioned, outdated prejudices. People like Jenni are the minority now: it’s only their public profile that gets them a few column inches to keep reflecting the echo of their intolerance.

What makes a woman real isn’t any physical trait. It’s not how she looks or acts. It’s that the majority of society accepts her identity as a woman. Most women will never face this questioning, will not have people publicly reject their claim to be women. Some who don’t look conventionally female will know exactly what I am describing.

This isn’t about appearance though. It isn’t even about trans versus cis. It’s about who gets to decide what a woman is in our society. The large majority of people can reliably and consistently agree that most women are definitely women. This is about the rest, the edge cases. The ones who don’t exactly fit the usual, common definitions.

So how can we decide? An increasing number of people are realising that the simplest, fairest, most obvious way is to just ask the people themselves. A woman is someone who identifies as a woman. After all, they ought to know better than anybody else!

Some people, like Jenni Murray, feel threatened by this. They cling to the illusions of certainty that sprang forth from second wave feminism with its promise of a unified concept of womanhood (as long as you fit the ideals it was based on). They could never see that their perfect vision was as deeply rooted in stereotypes as the ones they now criticise some trans women for holding to.

There are no perfect, fact-based criteria to define who is and who is not a woman. There are some traits that apply to most women. For the rest, take their word for it. Most of us encounter people who leave us scratching our heads as we try to decide what gender they are. We need to stop worrying about it and just trust that they themselves know the answer much better than we do. That’s certainly real enough for me.