The Hidden Village of Aspergers

October 22, 2014

An open letter to alcohol

Filed under: mental illness,relationships with others — kankurette @ 9:11 pm
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(NB: when my mum was in rehab recently, one thing she had to do was write a letter to alcohol. Both my stepdad and I agreed to write letters of our own. This is mine)

Dear alcohol,

I’m not going to lie. We’ve had some good times together, like all those parties at E’s house, or going backstage with Space. We’ve had some bad times, like Chris Butt’s party in Year 11, or the HARM party in my first year of uni where I passed out. I remember when I was a kid and you were part of a mysterious world to which I wanted the key. I wanted to get to know you better, in the hope that it would make other people like me.

Right now, though, I fucking hate you.

You’re an arsehole, alcohol. You’re a bad influence. You’re cruel. You’re deceitful and evil. You’re a false friend, a snake in the grass. You’re hateful and you make people ill and jealous. You kill. You turn the honest into liars and manipulators. You’re noxious and obnoxious. You’re petty, the queen of pain, rotten to the core. You’re Super High School Level Despair. You take and take and take and you’re so ungrateful to the people who depend on you. Vodka, whiskey, wine, you have different names, but it’s always the same old lies. You exterminate, you turn skin yellow and red, make eyes bloodshot and remove their sparkle and zest for life. In Manchester, you’re everywhere. You’re watching over homeless people and students and teens and football fans and middle-aged women in crap jobs. You’re the life and soul of the party and you’re going to make everyone join in, whether they like it or not, and you whisper in people’s ears that you’re their only friend and the only one they can trust.

You know why I hate you right now? Because of what you did to my mother.

You turned one of the bravest, kindest, most talented and creative and generally amazing people I’ve ever known into a mess. You sapped her creativity and you made her lie and hide bottles and spend most of her time in bed. My mother was never deceitful until you showed up. You’ve caused friction in our family, you’ve made me and my brother and my stepdad go out of our minds with worry because we’re all in over our heads. When she was lonely in Chester, you pretended to be her only friend. First wine, then whiskey. She doesn’t even like that stuff. Even after she’d gone into rehab for the first time, you wouldn’t leave. Like the cat in the song, you came back and you just wouldn’t stay away, and no-one had any idea what was going on. You’re good at hiding yourself, or you like to think you are, anyway. I’ve been worried sick about what you’re doing to her because I’ve already lost one parent and I can’t bear the thought of losing another. You preyed on someone who was unhappy and vulnerable and who needed real friends and real support, not a monster in a bottle. If my dad was alive, he’d be furious with you for what you’ve done to her. You are no substitute for him or Richard or me or Jack or anyone else.

That September weekend I spent in Cambridge will stay with me forever. I hated going to the Co-Op to buy more whiskey and being stared at by customers. I hated begging Mum to eat (two days later, she collapsed and had to be taken to hospital). I hated being angry and crying into my stepbrother’s teddy and ordering Mum to ‘get in the fucking shower’. I hated myself for not hiding the bottles or pouring you down the sink, even though I knew that was the last thing I should be doing. I was nine years old again, and helpless. And all the while, you were in the background, thinking, “You’ll never get rid of me.”

I’ve never liked being drunk, and after seeing Mum in possibly the worst state she’s been in since Dad died, I feel even more out of sorts around drunk people. I hate the expectation on me to get pissed, even though I’m on Venlafaxine and my tolerance is rubbish anyway. “What’s the matter?” you say. “Come on, you miserable git. Join in. Have fun. Live a little.”

But this isn’t about me. It’s about my mum and what you did to her. There’s a Tori Amos line that sums up how I feel about Mum right now: “Give me life, give me pain, give me myself again.” I’ve got my mum back now, hopefully for good, and if you want her back, you’ll have to go through us. She’s not going down without a fight this time. I have to thank you, actually, alcohol, for bringing us closer together and for making Mum realise who her friends are. Clue: none of them are you.

Alcohol, you bastard, I’m through.

No love,

Lotte.

September 26, 2014

Attack of the Mutant 50 Foot Kebab

When your starving pitbull starts to eat your leg
You have to watch your children beg and beg

TW: eating disorders

In December this year, I’m going to see the Manic Street Preachers playing their third album, The Holy Bible, in its entirety. It’s one of my favourite albums of all time. However, there is one bit I’m dreading, and that’s when they play ‘4st 7lb’, a song about anorexia which contains lyrics such as ‘I want to walk in the snow and not leave a footprint’ and ‘Mother tries to choke me with roast beef, but sits savouring her sole Ryvita’. If you look up the song on Youtube, you’ll find dozens of ‘thinspo’ videos set to the song. What Richey Edwards, an anorexic himself, would have thought, I do not know; the song, if anything, is anti-anorexia. The lyrics are filled with horror and despair under the ‘isn’t anorexia great?’ exterior. The girl in the song hates food. She doesn’t see it as comforting, warm, nourishing, delicious, even healthy; it is her enemy. At the beginning of the song, there is a sample of Caraline Neville-Lister, a severely anorexic woman who eventually died of the disease, saying, “I eat too much to die, and not enough to stay alive. I’m sitting in the middle, waiting.” When I was younger, I envied the ‘discipline’ of anorexics; now I look back and cringe. I am trying to have a healthier relationship with food, but it’s not an easy process. I write this after having eaten a large amount of Ritz crackers and thrown them up.

Food. My relationship with it is complex. I eat it, I cook it, I talk about it, I swap cookery tips with friends and reblog pictures of cakes on Tumblr, I have a cupboard full of cookery books given to me by family members and copies of Sainsbury’s Magazine, I regularly visit my local greengrocer (Withington Fruit & Veg) and used to buy vegetables at my local monthly market. When it’s my birthday, or friends’ birthdays, I go out for meals with friends, to Pizza Express or a curry house; we share sides between us or try each other’s dishes. Back when I went to synagogue, a group of us – mainly converts – would go out for a meal afterwards. The food is even more delicious at the end of Yom Kippur, when you’ve been sat in a long and draining service and had nothing to eat or drink for hours. One thing that got me interested in Judaism was the love of food, and how interlinked it is with faith. On Pesach, my favourite festival, we have the seder meal (and it’s much more fun when you’re with your mates and you’re all a bit pissed, communal sederim are a bit formal sometimes); on Chanukah, we have doughnuts and latkes; on Shavuot, we have dairy; on Tu B’Shvat, we have loads of fruit, and so on.

Baking has become a trendy thing in the UK, and I actually find this rather pleasing because I’ve always loved baking. When I was a toddler, I learned to bake, as did my brother (whose cooking is out of this world). When Jack and I were teenagers, we were so into baking that sometimes we’d compete for kitchen space. Carrot cake was his speciality and brownies were mine. Delia Smith was the queen of TV chefs, and I learned everything about the basics of cooking from her. Both Jack and I cooked the odd meal. In my family, particularly on my mum’s side, cooking was and is not considered a gendered activity, and everyone does it, except a couple of cousins (although one of them is getting better). There is a running joke on my mum’s side of the family about my maternal gran’s secret stuffing recipe and how many times we’ve tried to replicate it. My cousin Andy has recently got into cake decorating (and not just him – his mum, my auntie Chris, my dad’s sister, made an amazing football-themed cake for my cousin Laura’s birthday earlier this year). My dad cooked, as did my ex-stepdad, and the current one does too (he makes some very nice pasta meals and grows his own vegetables and fruit in an allotment). Jack and I were both packed off to uni with more cooking equipment than you could shake a stick at; my housemates would often steal my garlic crusher, as I was the only person in the flat who had one. Some of my earliest memories are food-related, such as eating duck à l’orange out of a metal tray when I was very little, or coming home from tennis club to find my dad cooking pasta in the kitchen. My ex-stepdad was very big on roast dinners on Sundays. I always dreaded doing the washing-up on Sundays because there was so much stuff to clean, and fat was a bugger to get out of things. This might be one of the reasons why I went vegetarian in 2004, although mainly it was not liking meat. (No kebabs for me, then.)

On the negative side, however, there is the comfort eating, the guilt and the shame that comes with it. I’ve written about bulimia before, and how I’d comfort eat, binge and purge when stressed or unhappy. Recently, I was in Cambridge, visiting my parents. My mum spent most of the weekend in bed, and at one point I went to the Co-Op, bought a packet of crisps and a bag of chocolate raisins, ate them and threw them up. I’m hoping that if and when I see the local mental health services, I will tackle this.

How does this tie in with Aspergers? I think it’s because of my enhanced senses and being sensitive to noise and textures and lights – it stands to reason I’d be sensitive to tastes and smells. There are some foods which I just cannot eat because they make me gag. Aubergines, for instance, and bananas (though I’m OK with banana cake), and cabbages, and swede (I blame school dinners). I also have a raging hate-on for coriander leaves. It’s also the reason, I think, why I like spicy food and prefer to use herbs or spices rather than salt, not to mention the amount of garlic I get through. I am a vampire’s nightmare.

Finally, to end this post and tie in with the Space theme, when Space toured the UK with Republica in March, one hardcore fan, Andy Wilton, brought a cake that his mum had made to the Newcastle gig. It was shaped like a doner kebab. The band loved it and, if I recall correctly, got through it very quickly. (One of my many happy Space memories of last year, incidentally was eating dinner with them; they ordered a Chinese takeaway in the dressing room at St Helens last year, and I ate some leftovers as I hadn’t had much for tea.) I’ve used food as a way to show love or appreciation for someone. (As has Jack – he made a beautiful fairy castle cake for his mate Woody in high school, and he used to bring cakes into clubs. I’m not kidding. He’d put the tin in his rucksack.) When two of my friends got married, I made them cupcakes (and beforehand, I made a chocolate cake which we took to the Wendy House for her hen night), and another time I made them a tin of Rocky Road, with a jar of Bovril in the middle. When my auntie Nicky put me up at her house when I went to see Space in 1998, I made her gingerbread as a thankyou present. I made chocolate fridge cake for my best mate one Christmas, and I’ve made several birthday cakes for my mother over the years. One year, I made her a cheesecake which nearly went horribly wrong, but luckily I had a Plan B. It wasn’t aesthetically pleasing and Mary Berry would not have approved, but no-one cared. My stepdad and his kids were there, as was Jack and possibly his girlfriend, and I sang the Cuppycake Gumdrops song. We ate dinner around a tiny table. It was magical. That is food for me in a nutshell; not just fuel, not just tastes and smells and textures, but also a bonding experience.

September 21, 2014

Autism and Girls:

This has got nothing to do with the Space miniblogs, but 1) I need a distraction from the despair of my beloved Everton getting totalled by Crystal Palace, and 2) I found this on Facebook and it interests me.

Flyer found on Facebook

Flyer found on Facebook

In case the text is a bit hard to read, I’m going to reproduce it here and add my comments:

Unlike stereotypical autistic boys, autistic girls may have:

No language delay problems This is true, I learned to talk quite young – I was about two, I think.

– NO interest in technical things (like spinning wheels) I don’t remember having any interest in ‘technical things’.

Autistic girls often:

Are very shy Yes, I was pretty shy. Still am.

Are less prone to aggressive outbursts (especially away from home) I don’t remember having any aggressive outbursts as a kid. Those came later, as a teenager and an adult woman.

Want to make friends Yes, but it was very hard for me, which goes without saying.

– Copy social behaviour I still do. I have a rather large complex about what is and isn’t the ‘right’ way to do things. I should probably not take behavioural cues from Tumblr, though.

Only have one mother hen friend at a time I’m not sure what a ‘mother hen friend’ is, but I was the sort of kid who’d have one best mate rather than a large crowd of friends like my brother did.

Are highly intelligent and academically gifted Yes. I wasn’t a savant, but I did get good grades.

Have very good memories (such as for facts or events) Yes, and not much has changed there. To quote my brother, “Lotte is an encyclopaedia of family history. She remembers everything.” This actually came in handy recently, regarding my mother, in an event which I am not prepared to talk about right now.

- Say NO a lot I might have. I don’t know. 

Have poor eye contact, especially with strangers Yes, and I still do. If I don’t look you in the eye, I’m either nervous, or I don’t like you. Generally, it’s the former!

Enjoy arranging toys into groups or sets Yes. Definitely. And later, CDs and books.

Are very creative and imaginative Yes. I loved writing stories and I read like the clappers. 

Create elaborate fantasy worlds Yes. Mum used to get angry with me for living in ‘my own little world’, and I got upset because I felt like she was attacking the fantasy world in my head where all my characters lived. This wasn’t a DID thing, incidentally. It was more like an imaginary friends thing. I used to play with toys and dolls and make up stories for them, often based on things I’d seen on TV.

Have obsessive interests (such as in animals, songs or books) Yes. Abba, Asterix books, Sylvanian families, certain TV programmes. When I got older, it was Space, Naruto, Everton FC, the Chalet School series, and many other things.

Are hypersensitive to stimuli (such as sunlight or sudden noises) Yes. I hated people shouting or loud crowds, and would put my hands over my ears or cry. I’m still the same. The partner in the Manchester office kept shouting at me when I was having a meltdown, and that made it even worse. People ask me how I listen to metal. It’s expected noise, basically. You know the singer’s going to start screaming, plus it often has a nice tune or beat to accompany it. I draw the line at drone, though. Friends of mine love Sunn O))), but I could never get into them for this reason.

Have over-the-top seeming emotional reactions Yes. At one point, Mum said she was going to take me to a doctor because there was clearly something wrong with me, because I cried very easily. 

By age 7 or 8:

Social alienation increases as peers use more complex nuances Yes. I felt left out a lot of the time, and some girls did take advantage of the fact that I was quite naive and took things literally. 

Stress increases at home, whilst being model pupils at school Yes. Admittedly, a large part of it was my father’s illness, but there was also the fact that my mum was frustrated at my weird behaviour and my brother and I didn’t get on very well a lot of the time.

Credit for this flyer, by the way, goes to L Style, an autistic mother. At the bottom, she has provided a link to the National Autistic Society’s section on gender.

September 6, 2014

Armageddon

UV rays, Factor 40
This game of Twister’s got a little bit naughty

Here’s something about me which may sound surprising: I like parties.

More specifically, I like parties where I can catch up with friends, people get a bit pissed but not to the point where there’s vomiting (of which I have seen and done my fair share) or fights, the music’s good, there’s noms and drink on tap, you don’t have to worry about the police closing you down or gatecrashers, and everyone’s generally chilled and happy. Most importantly, I like parties where I know people. I always found Jewish Society parties difficult because I could count the number of people I knew on one hand, and I coped by getting drunk. This is not something I would advise. A couple of bevvies are OK, but when you’re on meds and you have a tendency towards getting depressed, you have to watch yourself. I’m not worried about turning into my mum, it’s more that when I drink when I’m unhappy, I end up turning into a maudlin drunk and/or saying and doing things I regret, such as one time in Germany where I stole a pretty little glass from a pub, only to smash it in a jealous rage after seeing a guy I fancied getting off with another girl. I cringe when I think about it. Kids and animals could have hurt themselves on that glass.

I like parties that are not being thrown by me. I am, frankly, shit at entertaining at home. My parents gave a fair few dinner parties and my brother always had a gang of friends over for his birthday (and had a clandestine party while my mum and ex-stepdad were away one weekend, though fortunately he and his mates did not trash the house and cleaned up before the parents came back, and they were none the wiser). I can only remember having one birthday party, when I was in infant school, and I hated it. I found the whole experience really stressful. Ever since, whenever I’ve wanted to do stuff with friends for my birthday, I’ve gone out to a restaurant or pub or club. I’m less self-conscious when I don’t have to do the cooking or fuss over guests and make sure they’re entertained. Parties are not fun when the host is neurotic. I’ve yet to host a Passover seder for the same reason; I can lead prayers and the Hallel, which I know fairly well from having to sing them at synagogue, but the thought of cooking for a group of people and having to cater for different dietary requirements and abide by the kitniyot rule (which I don’t keep, but some of my friends do) brings me out in hives.

One good friend of mine, E, who I have talked about before, always threw the best parties. I have so many happy memories of those parties, mainly involving people doing stupid things while drunk, such as burning a Michael Jackson doll in effigy, climbing on the roof and balcony, and playing games of Binhead where the loser had to do a dare (mine was ‘rant into a sink'; apparently the only words anyone could understand were the swear words, of which there were many). Sadly, I missed the one where several men got naked. At one of those parties, my ex-boyfriend and I got together. I also went to a few in Sixth Form, mainly at my friend Clare’s house in Vicar’s Cross. I was with like-minded people, there was always good music playing in the background – Hole, Radiohead, System Of A Down and so on – and I was starting to come out of my shell. Then there were all the society parties at university. The Rock Soc ones were fun (save for the first year end-of-term party, which culminated in me vomiting into my sink and passing out on my bed); the J-Soc ones were tolerable if I knew enough people. Purim parties and Booze for Jews were the best; at least at Purim parties, everyone looks and acts like a tit because it’s customary to dress up and drink until you ‘can’t tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman’ (cue booing). (I was annoyed that my ‘avenging angel’ outfit didn’t get in the Jewish Telegraph.)

Of course, there were also terrible parties, like the rave I went to at Ed Whalley’s farm (he was a Chester politician with a reputation for being a bit eccentric) where most of the kids there were people who’d bullied me, or a party at the Scout Hut where I had one alcopop too many and got a ton of flak for it at school when it got out that I’d been drunk; the party at my ex-boyfriend’s house where one woman had an epileptic fit, I had a major depressive episode, and a guy was kicked out for breaking my ex’s guitar; or the Year 11 leavers’ party where I was so ill my mum had to pick me up, I told my ex-stepdad to fuck off, and spent the next day with an enormous hangover. It was a learning experience and a wake-up call. Rarely did I get so paralytic again. I hated the feeling of being out of control, and only really did it because I thought that was what you were supposed to do.

One reason I went to society parties at university was to push myself out of my comfort zone, to meet new people and socialise. It was hard, and there were a good few false starts and nerves, but it did help me become more confident, although I still have to make sure I’m in the right mood for fear of being a massive downer. I am not a massive party animal; I am a homebody at heart and always have been, and these days, due to being ill, I don’t go out much. But I don’t want to become a recluse either. Not everyone with Asperger’s enjoys parties, and that’s fine. They’re not for everyone and a room crowded with people and noise can be hell on earth for people on the autistic spectrum. But for me, the odd one is fine. In a way, it’s a form of self-care; I need to remember how to talk to people and interact with them. It’s something I worry I’ll forget.

August 3, 2014

Fortune Teller

Tears well in their eyes
The strip turned blue, surprise surprise
Your bank balance took a dent
And now you’re Rupert Grint
Nappies cost a bob or two
You wish you were Doctor Who

Controversial post time.

I’ve known since about the age of sixteen or so that I am not going to be a mother. I do not want children. I have never wanted children. I never will want children.

I should probably preface this post by saying that I don’t mean to suggest people with Asperger’s Syndrome should not have kids. There are plenty of parents or hopeful parents out there on the autistic spectrum, and I’m sure loads of them have blogs of their own. This is about me, personally.

The song ‘Fortune Teller’ is about an accidental pregnancy. I had a pregnancy scare in my first year of university, due to my boyfriend and I stupidly having unprotected sex. Luckily, the strip did not turn blue, but it was a tense moment because my period was late. Had I become pregnant, I would have had an abortion. The very thought of getting pregnant and having a foetus inside me frightened me. I was not ready for a child and knew I could never carry a baby to term. I’ve learned my lesson since, I might add, and always used some form of contraception. Even now, I get the chills thinking about it. It’s got nothing to do with losing my figure or stretchmarks or any such body-shaming crap. I have no figure to lose. It was just the thought of having a baby that I didn’t want, and could probably never even love. (As an aside, I hate the idea that you’ve never known real love unless you’ve had a child. I am quite capable of love. I love my brother and mum and would take a bullet for both of them, I love my stepfamily and my other relatives and I’ve loved certain men and women so much it hurts. It is not a feeling alien to me. But that’s another story.)

I don’t hate kids per se, but I’m not good at dealing with them. Older ones and teens, maybe, but little kids and toddlers and babies? No. I find it hard to talk to them or play with them or even relate to them. Screaming babies put me into sensory overload. I get impatient very quickly. When colleagues bring their young children into the office, I do not coo over them (now pets, on the other hand…) When friends of mine announce that a kid is on the way, I congratulate them, obviously I’m happy for them (and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for certain people I know), but I have no feelings of broodiness myself. I’ve tried to imagine myself as a mum and failed. My womb will bear no fruit. Luckily, my mum is fine about this and has long accepted that she will not be getting any grandkids out of me, and got somewhat pissed off when her colleagues at her old job asked her if Lotte was ever going to give her any grandchildren. (Of course, the fact that my brother might want children did not occur to them – and Jack is far, far better with kids than I am, he is kinder and more patient than me, and I think he’d make a great father.)

I do wonder if people would be more accepting of my choice not to have children, or my awkwardness around children, if I was male. When I was younger, I used to be involved in childfree communities on Livejournal back in the day, as I wanted to meet other women who felt the same way as me, and the communities were predominantly female, and so many of the women in the groups had had relatives being perturbed that they didn’t want kids, or even, in some cases, treating them as they were somehow not real women. Women are supposed to be maternal and love kids and be happy to sacrifice everything for them. What so you mean, you don’t want children? You selfish bitch, you’ll change your mind one day, you were a child once, you’re just bitter because no man will want to fuck you, no-one will take care of you when you’re older, the most powerful thing a woman can do is bear children, you’re a failure as a woman, and so on. Oddly enough, I never heard the same accusations being levelled at childfree men. Somehow, a man not wanting kids was fine. I abandoned the childfree label for several reasons which are not relevant, but at the time, those groups were therapeutic for me and it was also a relief to discover that several friends of mine, some cis women, some genderqueer,  didn’t want kids either.

At university, the man I obsessed over got into an argument with me about children. He said that getting sterilised was an irreversible process (no shit, sherlock), and that his mum wanted daughters, but look how that worked out (he has two brothers). My last boyfriend also wanted kids, and in retrospect, I wonder if our relationship would have crumbled over this if I hadn’t dumped him. I don’t think I could even be a stepmother; I wouldn’t want to inflict myself on other people’s kids. My ex-stepsister lived with us for a period in 2003 and she brought her young daughter with her, and any maternal feelings I may have had died there and then. Constantly being asked what I was doing and not being able to take a shit in peace drove me up the wall. Put bluntly, I would be a fucking rubbish mother, I am too unpredictable and temperamental and used to having my own routine and space and not having to compromise, and no child should ever have to suffer having me as a parent. I hate living with people, and living on my own was a very big leap for me because I’d spent so long living with first my family and then various housemates, and it made me realise how much I needed my own space and my own life. Anyone can be a parent in the biological sense, but not every parent is good at the job.

If Jack ever has kids, I’m happy to be an auntie to them. However, that’s as far as it goes. I do not want children and I do not think I could be a good mother. I’m not putting myself down. I’m simply stating a fact. It does not make me less of a woman or less of a human being.

July 25, 2014

Just a quick update

Filed under: Uncategorized — kankurette @ 4:56 pm

I’m still here. I just haven’t written much due to not being very well lately – my ME seems to be pretty bad at the moment. I’m going to Liverpool to see Space tomorrow so I need to rest up.

I walked the Race for Life with my mate Sarah and her dog Semtex last month and, I’m proud to say, raised over £500 for Cancer Research. I’d emailed a couple of my dad’s old mates to say I was racing in his memory, and they’d spread the word. I got messages both from old family friends and from people I didn’t know, but who my mum did, and all branches of the family left messages of support too. When I did the race and talked to my mum afterwards, she cried. It was one of the few times I’d made her cry in a good way. I was exhausted afterwards, but glad I did it, and Semtex got a lot of compliments from kids for his pink hat.

I may be moving down to Cambridge next year as I am unhappy in Manchester. It’s all conjecture at the moment. I’ve also been working on translating some old letters about seabirds.

I definitely intend to continue with the Space-themed blogs. Hopefully I’ll finish them soon.

Bis zum später!

May 23, 2014

Quiet Beach

On some quiet beach, we sang songs for the sea
On some quiet beach, lost with the waves we breathe

TW: attempted suicide

It’s taken me ages to gear up to writing this, because it’s not going to be easy to write. I was motivated to write this post today for two reasons. One, a guy I follow on Twitter posted about suicide and selfishness, and it got me thinking. Two, Midland Railway, a band I used to play in, have got back together and are playing in the Retro Bar tonight, and the last time I played with them, I ended up trying to kill myself.

I have three suicide attempts under my belt. None of them have been serious enough to warrant extended hospital stays, though I did have counselling. The first time, I tried to hang myself, but something made me grab hold of the noose. I managed to pull myself back from the brink. I can’t remember what started it.

The second time, I was in my second year of university. It was a tough time. I was bogged down with coursework, my housemates and I were not getting on, I was juggling my degree with student council and other commitments, I was in love with a man who didn’t love me back, and to top it off, my gran had died. Everything came to a head when I found a note on the fridge – my housemates often communicated by leaving notes – about putting single items in the washing machine. It was clearly aimed at me as I’d washed a towel. I slashed my arm. Later, I was in the union and two of my housemates blanked me, and I was pretty wound up. I went to Hulme Hall for practice with another band I was in, but no-one showed up. I sat around crying for a bit, then went the chemist, got some Nurofen and was in the process of wolfing it down when a housemate found me. She made me throw up the pills and called an ambulance. I spent a few hours in hospital, but luckily I was OK and I was discharged. As I walked home, all I could think of was the final line of the poem Mum read at Gran’s funeral: ‘I am not there, I did not die.’

When I got home, the door was locked. I rang the doorbell. One of my housemates answered, gave me a dirty look and walked upstairs without a word. The housemate who found me must have told her that she was partly to blame for my overdose. We later got into an argument and I thought that had cleared the air but things were never the same after – they didn’t buy me anything for my birthday, even though we’d all celebrated theirs, and they’d walk out of a room when I went in. I dropped out of uni and decided to repeat the year. On the advice of a counsellor, I moved out of the house and spent the rest of the year in Richmond Park, before going back to my parents’ house in Chester. Before I left the house, I left a note explaining what I’d done. My housemates never spoke to me again.

Two years later, I was playing at Joshua Brooks with Midland Railway and got into a heated argument with the drummer over some sticks I thought I’d lost, culminating in me threatening to smash him over the head with my guitar, and frantically rummaging around on the floor looking for the sticks, screaming my head off. As soon as I got home, I ate all the pills in the house I could find, and posted a goodbye message on my Livejournal. Sarah, the other female band member and a good friend of mine, came over and kept me company until the ambulance arrived, and my then boyfriend also came and sat with me in the hospital. I was kept in overnight on a drip to get the crap out of my body. Later, the male members of the band kicked me out behind my back (Sarah was kept out of the loop). I only found out because my then boyfriend told me. I don’t want to go over old ground too much, but suffice to say, whenever I hear about Midland Railway now and see them on my feed, I feel sick and shaky. I’m back in the hospital again.

When I told my mum about my first overdose, her legs went. My maternal grandad was mentally ill and had attempted suicide several times. I remember one time when I got a frantic call from the counsellor’s office telling me to ring Mum. I’d made some comment about slashing my wrists the previous night, and she was frightened and had called the counsellor’s office. I rang her to tell her I was OK and she started crying, and I hated myself so much for what I was doing to her. The thing is, as I’ve said before, however much you may love your family and friends, when you’re suicidal, they do not figure. There is no room in your head. All you can think about is disappearing. You cannot go on anymore; you just want to wipe yourself out and cease to exist, and never mind who will have to pick your body off the floor or out of the bath, clean up the blood, make the phone calls. Your entire world is that little box of pills in your hand and you think of your gran and your dad and how you want to be with them. No more pain. No more sadness.

What does this have to do with Aspergers? I think it comes back to emotional difficulties – emotional and sensory overload, not knowing how to cope, and it all comes to a head and when you tend to see things in black and white, you think of extreme options. So many times I’ve had a bad day at work and thought, “I can end this. There’s one way out.” I think of pills, of ropes, of bleach. I had such a moment lately – luckily, Mum and Jack were able to calm me down over the phone.

I’ll be honest. The main reason why I’m not dead is because I love Mum and Jack and I can’t bear to think of what me dying would do to them. Obviously, there are other people in my life who I care about – my stepfamily, my other relatives, my friends – but I know how much my suicide attempts hurt them. Jack even argued with Mum that I wasn’t safe to go back to uni. One good thing that did come out of it, though, was Jack sending me a text telling me that he loved me and he just wanted me to be OK. Nothing brings my family together like a crisis. I’ll elaborate more on this in Guestlist To Hell, the final post of the series.

May 1, 2014

Crying On The Webcam

One more minute watching you, and I feel the same
One more minute hearing you, and I feel your pain, pain, pain
She’s crying on the webcam, I want to kiss her now
She’s crying on the webcam, she’s feeling full of doubt
She’s crying on the webcam, I’d like to help her out

TW: self-injury, eating disorders

It’s Blogging Against Disablism Day, and I’ve decided to swap the Space posts around a bit and do a post about self-harming. Partly because of the stigma surrounding cutters, and partly because I was hauled into the partner’s office at work after he’d had a conversation with my boss about the fact I’d cut myself recently, and I came out feeling drained and miserable and feeling that I’d been treated like a criminal. I’m not kidding – another solicitor was in there taking notes, which I didn’t twig until I was asked to spell ‘Venlafaxine’, and I was asked the sort of questions the police ask our clients at the police station. It was not a pleasant experience and it made me realise how some people just do not get it.

As I’m tired and my left arm hurts (due to grating chocolate for a meal I made last night), it’s going to be one of those posts with bullet points.

The basics:

- I started cutting myself when I was 14, in 1999. It was after an argument I’d had with my mum.

- I generally cut my arms, but have also cut my legs, stomach, breasts and face.

- I have used knives, razor blades, broken glass, broken porcelain, compasses and scissors. I have never burned fags out on myself, but I have poured boiling water over my arm a couple of times, or bashed myself with a heavy folder, a hammer or a poker.

- I have scars on my arms, but most are only visible in summer.

- I would say that I am an addict.

I do not self-harm because:

– I am a Manics fan and I want to copy Richey Edwards. I was heavily into the Manics at the time I started self-harming, and certain songs of theirs did resonate, but it wasn’t a copycat thing. By that logic, I’d also be an alcoholic since I like the Pogues.

- I want attention. When I wrote an article for the Manchester University student paper about self-harming, I said – and I stand by this – that there are far more dignified and painless ways of getting attention. Such as dancing naked on a table in Jilly’s Rockworld (RIP). I’ve been accused of doing it for attention because I’ve gone around wearing t-shirts or sleeveless tops or dresses after cutting. It genuinely does not register with me that people will react, and if the alternative is being boiling hot and/or uncomfortable, I’m willing to risk showing my arms off. I am not like Maeve, the girl in the song and the accompany video, who filmed herself holding up various cards with little snippets of info about her life (she’s also a recovering bulimic, incidentally).

- I am trying to manipulate people. I have threatened to cut – I’m not proud of this – but never once have I done it with the specific aim of hurting someone else. I know how much it hurts my family when I self-harm, but I’ve never, to the best of my recollection, held it over them.

- I want to be cool and/or am following a trend. I do have a few mates who self-harm, but I did it way before I met any of them, and when have I ever followed trends? I am the least trendy person I know.

- I have a pain fetish. There is nothing sexual about it.

I do self-harm because:

– I struggle to deal with strong emotions (see Mister Psycho). It is a release. A temporary one, sure, but it’s still a release.

- I have very little self-confidence and I fucking hate myself. I despise myself. I’m not fishing for compliments; I genuinely do feel, especially on a bad day, that I am a loathsome human being, and even when my friends and family tell me that I’m not a loathsome human being, that nasty little voice still doesn’t shut up, and it tells me I deserve to be punished. You ate too much? Stick your fingers down your throat. You were mean to someone, you’re fat, you didn’t do the task you were supposed to, your father would be disappointed, you weren’t there for your mother when she had a drink problem, you had an argument with your mother, you didn’t give that homeless person change…you know what to do.

- I turn my anger inwards. I had to laugh when I nearly self-harmed at work and a colleague was apparently concerned I was going to shank her. I’m more likely to hurt myself than anyone else.

- It leaves visible marks on my skin, like a brand or a scarlet letter or a sign worn round my neck (hence why I don’t take up boxercise or martial arts as a release). It is the mark of punishment.

Things people have said to me about self-harming: 

- “It tears me apart when you cut yourself” – my brother.

- “How could you do that to your lovely face?” – my mum.

- “When you cut your arms, people are going to react, that’s the reality of the situation” – a guy I was obsessed with at uni.

- “Thank you so much for writing that article” – a friend who will remain nameless, and who I met at a gig after she got chatting to me about the article, amongst others.

- “When did you do it? How long ago did you last cut yourself? How many weeks? How many months? Are you getting help? Are you seeing anyone? Are you going to stop?” and so on – my colleagues, during the interview.

- “What happened to your arm?” – a supermarket cashier.

- “Your arms are going to look like a fucking zebra” – a woman I knew at uni.

Other points I would like to make:

- Telling me to stop cutting and assuming I’ll instantly stop DOES NOT WORK. Addiction doesn’t work that way. My mum accepted long ago that I can’t promise her that I’ll stop for good – I’ve tried, I’ve promised, but I always broke the promise. If she can’t talk me into stopping, no-one else can, especially people I don’t particularly know or like.

- Telling me to rid my house of plasters, antiseptic and so on is a terrible idea. The idea behind it is that without stuff to put on my wounds, I’ll be less inclined to cut. This is bullshit. I’ve self-harmed even when I’ve had no plasters or antiseptic available, just bog roll or kitchen towels, and it’s far better for me to have a medical kit of sorts handy.

- Anything can trigger me into cutting. Things that have set me off have included arguing with my family, stress at work, Everton losing 4-0 to Liverpool (I was frightened I’d have to deal with loads of abuse from Liverpool fans I know on my Facebook and Twitter feeds), falling out with people, finding a note stuck to the fridge that was clearly aimed at me (which I will discuss in Quiet Beach, because that was the start of a very bad day), certain articles on the internet, homeless guys asking me for money…the list is endless.

- I can understand if my scars catch your eye, but please don’t have a go at me for doing it or give me the third degree. I have my reasons for doing it and like I said, I am the only person who gets physically hurt.

- Do not assume cutters are all hormonal teenage girls. Men self-harm. Non-binary people self-harm. Adults self-harm. There are people old enough to be my parents who self-harm.

- If we want to talk about it, we’ll talk, but don’t force the issue.

April 12, 2014

Paranoid 6teen

If you’re getting nervous
Cos all your defences are down
And you’re running through a storm
But there’s no one on the other side
You’ve got to avoid being paranoid sixteen

(Note: I’ve been putting this post off for a while as it’s not going to be easy to write, but my brother turned 28 on Thursday. This post is for him.)

Dear Jack,

You probably have guessed this, but I’m going to come out and say it: I was always jealous of you.

You were everything I wanted to be. You were, frankly, normal. You had friends; you were popular; you were cool; you liked the right music, the right things; and most important, you didn’t have Aspergers and you didn’t get bullied. You weren’t an emotional mess like me (or Mum, for that matter – you’re the only one out of the three of us who hasn’t struggled with some kind of addiction). When Mum yelled at you, you didn’t shout back at her like I did. You were more OK with Mum remarrying than I was (which is pretty ironic, considering how badly things ended up between you and Ex-Stepdad). You did everything before I did. I felt like was the younger sibling; I was so inexperienced and boring compared to you. I didn’t have sex until I was 17, didn’t start drinking till I was in Year 11, didn’t do anything stronger than weed till I was a student, didn’t have a serious relationship until I was in my twenties. You were growing up faster than me, and I resented you for it.

I’m not going to lie and say we’ve always had a brilliant relationship. At times, I hated you and I’m sure you hated me. You were pretty violent to me when we were little, and I returned the favour when I was older. You did a lot of things that made me angry. I hated the way you and your friends would wind me up and laugh at me, especially when I was with R. I hated how you called me a ‘whore’ after you found out about the Krazyhouse incident, how you told me to shut up whenever I sang or played the flute, and how you were clearly ashamed and embarrassed to have me for a sister. When I won the Comic Relief talent contest, kids in your year told you that your sister was a bitch, and one little shitbag joked about us being in an incestuous relationship. However, I also remember that I won a load of sweets, and as you were off sick that day, I shared them with you. Likewise, a year or so earlier, when I was off sick, you gave me a copy of Tin Planet that Danny Melia had taped. (Ah, that album. We fought over it like it was our child, even after you decided you hated Space and that I knew nothing about music.)

But then, I’m going to hold my hands up and say that I wasn’t a very nice older sister. When you and Emily started going out, I couldn’t handle it, I was eaten up with jealousy, and I said and did some pretty nasty things. I scratched you, screamed abuse at you, threatened to knife you. I’m not proud of that. I would never have done it – I’m more likely to hurt myself than another person. Sometimes I’d be spoiling for a fight. I made you cry a few times. I could be bitchy and condescending, and I did side with Ex-Stepdad against you at times, although in retrospect, I wonder if he was trying to play us off against each other.

You’re the reason why I cut Ex-Stepdad out of my life. He used you as a way to get at Mum. When he was angry with me, I’d get it in the neck, but when he was angry with you, he took it out on Mum instead. Maybe he was jealous of you. I hope not, because that would be fucked up. He badmouthed you to the McPartlands one time and I was really angry. Basically, I can talk shit about you because I’m your sister, and you can say what you want about me, but Ex-Stepdad doing it was different. He was an outsider. He called you an arsehole behind your back. Mum told me he didn’t trust you, and he was prepared to leave you to spend the night sleeping in a station in Crewe. Yes, you were a pain in the fucking arse at times, missing the last train home and asking Mum to collect you, but still. I lost my temper at Ex-Stepdad that night, I tell you now, because I was worried something would happen to you. That was why I found it weird that he sent you a card, and I don’t blame you for ripping it up. (I put some sweeties in your birthday package because of that!) You were only little when Dad died, and you needed a father figure, and he failed.

The turning point for me came when I found out he’d asked Mum how I was doing, but not you. He made it clear that he didn’t give a fuck about you. That settled it. We are a package deal. Just as Alice and Tom are a package deal – I mean, fucking hell, can you imagine Mum blatantly favouring Alice over Tom like that? No, you couldn’t. When it came between you and Ex-Stepdad, you won out and I was so disgusted by the way he treated you and Mum that I cut him out of my life. I regret nothing.

It took me by surprise when I found out how upset you were about the overdose, and that you’d argued with Mum, saying she shouldn’t let me go back to uni. I honestly did not realise you cared so much. Then you sent me a text telling me you loved me, and one night you were pissed and told me how much it hurt you when I cut myself. When we were helping you move out of Liverpool halls, you saw the scars on my arms and freaked. I think we became closer partly due to that. You began to open up more; you even started hugging me. We never hugged as kids. The only body contact we had was hitting and kicking and scratching each other.

I have many happy memories of you, before you think that I’m just slagging you off. The Famous Five fanfic we wrote together, the word games we’d play in the car or walking the dog, the Sundays with Dad in Hove Park, dancing to East 17 with Danny and Mike in Southampton, going swimming with Mum. More recently, there’s Primavera 2013. When we were at Leeds 2002, we avoided each other, and 11 years later, we were watching Wu-Tang Clan together with your mates. How times change. You also helped me during the time when Mum was in rehab – you and Richard helped me get over my guilt and sadness and helplessness. She also told me you looked after her when she had a panic attack. I was so proud of you. I only wish I’d been able to go to your graduation ceremony (bloody swine flu). Again, I was so proud of you. Ex-Stepdad never had any faith in you, but I did. I knew you’d be OK in the end.

I do care about you. When I came home from work and saw you crying on the sofa, and Mum told me Emily had dumped you, I wanted to beat the shit out of her, because I couldn’t bear to see you so upset. Seeing you cry at Gran’s funeral in 2005 hurt, as did finding out that you weren’t as confident as I thought you were, that you had insecurities of your own. I’d known you all your life, and yet I knew so little about you. I’m glad that we’re making up for the teenage years now. A lot of damage was done, but we’re getting there. You’re not ashamed of me anymore and I’m not jealous of you anymore. I’m looking forward to seeing you soon.

I love you, and I always will. You and Mum are everything to me.

Lotte x

April 2, 2014

The English Language Let Me Down

All my words done failed me
Every line derails me
This is the day that the English language let me down

Words. Language. Etymology, definitions, wordplay, translation, stories and poems, word puzzles, word games. English, French, German, Spanish, Hebrew. Language is both my friend and my enemy. In I Am Unlike A Lifeform You’ve Ever Met, I talked about books and the imagination. This post covers speech and language.

Somewhere, there is a tape of me reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, aged about two. My first word was ‘duck’. I’m not sure when I learned to talk, though I wasn’t a late developer or non-verbal. I do remember, however, that I spoke in a monotone, and that efforts were made to correct this and have me intone words like ‘normal’ people. Mum also told me my speaking voice was too high-pitched and that I should try and make it a bit deeper, and that I was too loud. “Turn the volume down,” was a comment often directed at me. Years later, in synagogue, the rabbi took me aside and asked me not to sing so loudly at Friday night services as I was drowning other people out. This upset me a lot; I was just enjoying the service and had no idea that what I was doing was wrong, and as it was not an Orthodox synagogue, the principle of kol isha did not apply. Was it because of my Aspergers? How the fuck should I know? Maybe it was. I have no idea how I sound to other people. When I hear my own voice played back to me, it sounds horrible, like a cross between Morrissey and Henry’s Cat. I hate my singing voice as well, possibly because Jack always used to tell me to shut up whenever I sang along to music in my bedroom. I have a bit of a complex about it. How it could turn any nice Jewish boy on, I do not know.

Anyway. Tangents aside, I apparently went to see a speech therapist at some point when I was younger. In terms of writing, I was doing OK – I got team points for stories and essays I’d written at school (I even wrote the script for our class’s production of the story of Pandora’s box), I was in the top group for spelling, and when we had to write sentences using words on coloured cards. It was also at primary school that I discovered an aptitude for languages. OK, I’m not a polyglot and I’m not fluent in any language besides English, though I can speak German pretty well, but I got interested in languages after going to French Club in Year 3, having French lessons off a friend of Mum’s in Year 5, and doing French lessons in Year 6. Even when I was little, the way people said things in other languages fascinated me. When we went on holiday to the Algarve, I pored over the Portuguese phrase book we had. I was fascinated by an old English/French picture dictionary and the conjugations of irregular verbs. How could ‘avoir’ become ‘aurons’ and ‘aurez’, and what the hell was the deal with ‘être’? When Dad went on a work trip to Germany, he brought back comics in German. I didn’t have a bloody clue what any of the words meant, though they did come in handy when I started doing German in Year 9. I found the German language even cooler than French, with its complicated word order and Modalverben and ever-changing masculine definite article. I also liked the way it sounded, and was made up when a friend gave me a Rammstein tape. (Till Lindemann’s voice helped. That guy could sing the contents of the Dusseldorf phonebook and make it sound sexy.)

When I got into Sixth Form, I decided I wanted to read languages at university, since languages were my thing; I was doing A-Level French, German and English Language (and my transcripts of Space interviews came in handy when we were studying accent and dialect!) I wanted to read Chinese or Spanish alongside German. Cambridge turned me down, and I got offers from Durham and Leeds, but went with Manchester, which didn’t do Chinese at the time but did offer Spanish. I took night classes in my gap year to give me a bit of a grounding in Spanish. I find it harder than German, I have to admit. Maybe it’s because German is closer to English. When we were studying the evolution of the English language, I noticed a lot of similarities between Old English and German. The fact it was phonetic, for instance.

On the subject of accents, Rudy Simone writes in Aspergirls that she has a tendency to pick up accents; she recalls being mistaken for an immigrant after speaking in a ‘Hispanic’ accent that she’d picked up from a colleague. The same thing happens to me. The one time I did consciously put on an accent was in high school, because I was being bullied for talking ‘posh’, but after moving to Manchester, something bizarre happened where I was out with mates and I started talking in a sort of weird half-Manc half-Yorkshire accent. Everyone thought I was putting it on, but it was real. I’ve toned it down a bit, but it changes depending on who I’m with and where I am. Expose me to Everton matches or members of Space, and my accent gets a Scouse tinge. In London, it goes a bit cockney. I’m not putting it on to make fun of people; it just happens. It’s a kind of osmosis. G-d help me if this ever happens in Scotland. Perhaps it’s some kind of instinct to imitate sounds, like a baby learning to talk.

As I’ve said before, I find writing easier than talking. Writing helps me organise my thoughts better, and I can rewrite what I’ve written, whereas when I say things, that’s it, the cat is out of the bag. Sometimes I can’t find the right words to express myself when I speak, or I say stupid or horrible things without thinking. At least, sitting at a keyboard, I have a bit more control over what comes out.

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