Dancing Into The Future

Dancing Into The Future

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThose of you who’ve visited my blog before will remember it as Married, With Aspergers and you might be wondering what’s happened. It’s still me writing, all the older posts are still here. But the old title no longer felt relevant to the direction my life is taking now.

I identify as autistic and use identity-first language when referring to myself, so it was out with the “With Aspergers” for a start. And although I’m technically still married that relationship is over. My previous post explains about that. So anyway, that meant “Married” had to go as well.

I spent a lot of time thinking of a new title. It had to reference autism because that’s the main topic in my writing. I thought about loading it with references to stuff I’m a fan of, such as Doctor Who, Firefly, Star Trek, Discworld and so on. But that would have made it long and unwieldy.

Finally this afternoon it came to me: My Autistic Dance. It’s short, the majority of its letters form the word “Autistic”. And the Dance part, well that’s something I enjoy. Indeed, along with hand flapping it’s what my body does when I’m happy or excited. And I’ve been feeling like that a lot recently. So my happy dance happens quite often.

Dancing for me is stimmy. The rhythmic movement naturally regulates my sensory processing when I’m in the throes of emotion. Because emotions bring a whole host of physical sensations: that’s usually how I recognise them. More than that, though, dancing is pleasurable. I love music, and my body just responds to it.

So this blog is now called My Autistic Dance. It’s got a new theme too with a warmer colour scheme. I don’t know about you but the old one felt a bit cold to me, lacking in emotional warmth. It certainly didn’t reflect the positive feelings I have about my current situation and the way I am growing as a person.

I’m getting more involved than I used to. You won’t only find me behind a keyboard on this blog and Facebook now:

  • I was very proud to have an essay included in Autism Women’s Network’s wonderful anthology What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew.
  • I travelled to Ireland to join Fiona O’Leary and others (including at the last minute Emma Dalmayne) in protesting against the showing of anti-vaccine propaganda film Vaxxed in Dublin.
  • I accepted an invitation from Emma Dalmayne to join the committee of her South-east London-based community group, Autistic Inclusive Meets.
  • I volunteered to present one of the monthly “Lunch & Learn” sessions where I work. My talk will be called Understanding Autism.

There’s more to come, I’m sure, and I’m so excited to see where opportunities like these might take me. I hope you will be there with me and we can all dance together.

Image “dancing in the rain” by Hank Hession. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

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.

 

Because One Post Wasn’t Enough: Acceptance, Love and Self-care: #AutismPositivity2015

Because One Post Wasn’t Enough: Acceptance, Love and Self-care: #AutismPositivity2015

I fear my traitorous mind;
Prized asset, golden treasure
In which lurks a monster:
One I cannot hope to control.

Lying in wait it watches,
Senses when I am weak,
Releases its psychic poison
Infecting me with fear.

As I lie besieged by doubt,
Assailed by anxiety’s forces,
I begin to believe its lies:
That I am alone, unloved and broken.

All that I have, all that I am
Lies scattered: small trinkets
Dot the empty wasteland;
I lie in pieces in this desert.

Furnace heat of merciless sun
Makes the very air dance;
All else is stillness and silence.
Laid bare I cannot hide.

But…

In the midst of this ruin,
In the eye of the storm of fear
There is a mote, a tiny seed
Holding my essence in trust.

Though the ground is barren
Where the beast has raged
I plant this seed of hope,
Water it with my tears.

I spend the last of my strength
To protect and nurture this spark,
I give all of myself to it
And rise again, renewed.

The monster has vanished,
The burning sun become a fount
Out from which streams the warmth
Of healing love from friends.

The barren wastes turn green,
Meadows and woodlands host life
Amid which I sit at ease,
Healing in these peaceful arms.

The Opposite of Hugs

The Opposite of Hugs

I love hugs. That comforting feeling of envelopment engendering an ambiance of safety in the folds of a loving embrace. Sometimes my need is so great and the release so totally involving that I am reduced to tears.

It is said that a thing is known by its opposite, and that is true of hugs for me. Because there are times when I yearn, when I physically ache for those few moments of relief. To be held tightly and be able to let go of all my immediate fears and worries.

My need manifests as a feeling of absolute emptiness. My heart is a void that cries out to be filled with that demonstration of love, of physical closeness. Such a desolation of spirit. I am exposed, flayed, eviscerated. Left as an empty husk of a person.

My world is without light; all I see is shadows of what surrounds me. Until I am released by the touch of another, bringing a golden light into my darkness, restoring my pain-wracked body, showing me that there is hope. Giving me another day to live.

Expressions of PosAutivity #AutismPositivity2014

Expressions of PosAutivity #AutismPositivity2014

Autism Positivity Flash Blog 2014

In the three-or-so years since I started this blog after recognizing I was autistic, I have come a long way in my understanding of autism and of myself. I have found myself, together with other autistic people, parents, advocates and allies, as a member of an extended online community that in my experience sets the standard for friendliness and mutual support.

Most of all, I feel fully accepted by my peers for who I am. Among my circle of friends, most of whom I have never met in person, I feel safe. These online spaces — blogs, social media — are a kind of refuge to which I can retreat when Real Life threatens to overwhelm me. In honor of that here is my contribution to the 2014 Autism Positivity Flash Blog.

Threads

Like the Norse of long ago
Whose Norns would weave the threads of lives,
Warp and woof and who could know
When theirs would end with flashing knives,
Live your life from day to day
As if each sunrise were your last.
Friends and love: for these I pray;
All else is moot, the runes are cast.

“God does not play dice,” it’s said,
And Chaos rules the universe.
‘Til the day you wind up dead
You play the hand you’re dealt at birth.
Should you feel you have no choice
And all is written in the stars,
Listen to your inner voice;
Accept yourself for who you are.

New threads join: new friends, a wife,
And how it ends I cannot say.
Grasp the threads that form your life
And weave your pattern your own way.

Coda

Discovering that I am autistic was a positive experience for me. I was finally able to understand why I am different from so many of the people around me. It gave me a structure on which to build my self-understanding. From understanding grew acceptance which blossomed into love: I love my autistic self.

As I have mentioned many times before I have made a number of friends within the autism community. From the first person with whom I connected online, Bird, my circle grew and there are too many loving, supportive friends for me to mention them all. But it seems unfair not to recognize at least some of the people who hold a special place in my heart. So, in no particular order, …

(I know there are many people I have not mentioned, and I apologize to those I did not list here.)

Thank You, My Friends

Thank You, My Friends

      There              are so
  many    people   I have      come
to know since I started blogging, and
I want to express  how much they have
enriched my life. The sense of family
 I feel within this online community
  gives me strength. Acceptance and
   love are the greatest gifts one
    person can provide to another
      in this world. Through the
       medium  of our words we
         connect and come to
           understand that
             we are never
                alone.
I’m An Embarrassment?

I’m An Embarrassment?

Somebody that my wife, Anne, has known all her life phoned her the other day. She hadn’t spoken to this person for a couple of months and had thought it strange that they had not been in touch for so long.

It turned out that this person had been on the receiving end of some transphobic teasing in public because of his association with me through my wife. Rather than standing up for Anne and me, he found the experience humiliating and took this out on my wife.

I’ll not go into all the details, but she was subjected to a torrent of insults and abuse shouted down the phone by this so-called close friend and ended up very upset and distressed. Being called some of the things — perverted, disgusting, embarrassing, mental — was bad enough, but there was worse which I will not repeat here. I’ll just say that it was a massive slur on her character and definitely slanderous.

All because she continues to love me as a trans woman. So these people think I am an embarrassment because I am making the journey to become my real self? Anne and I are two people who love each other and we can’t see how that affects the lives of these others.

We have a message for the people who don’t like how we are: we don’t want anything to do with you and your intolerance. You are an embarrassment, and your ignorant prejudice has no place in our lives. We choose to associate with people who value and practice tolerance, acceptance, understanding and love. Not those who close their minds and treat anything outside their narrow view of the world with fear, contempt, disgust and hatred.