The Hidden Village of Aspergers

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.

March 30, 2014

Suburban Rock ‘n’ Roll

TW: eating disorders

I hate that coward in my dreams
He steps in front of every goal
Life’s a suburban rock ‘n’ roll

In the summer of 1995, Mum, Jack and I moved to Chester. I left home for good in around 2006-2007, when I moved into a small flat in Victoria Park. When I started at uni, very rarely did I go back there, except to catch up with the odd friend or see my mum. Firstly, I was happy at uni, enjoying the new city, meeting new people and getting to live on my own and eat Nutella out of the jar and go out clubbing every week. Secondly, one of my now ex-stepsisters and her kid were living with us in Chester, and the atmosphere in the house was very tense. I disliked sharing my space with them and whenever an opportunity to go out came up, I took it, as did Jack. My ex-stepsister was getting away from her abusive boyfriend, and one time I accidentally let him into the house – I didn’t know who he was – and had to ring the police. Jack and I were hiding in the annexe, and I was in a mess. Another time, there was a confrontation and Jack had to look after the kid while Bastard Boyfriend threatened my ex-stepdad and the police had to be called, again. Luckily, I was at a mate’s house in Handbridge and missed the drama. At the time, I wasn’t very good at empathising with others, hated change and having to adjust to new people, and hated me, Jack and Mum all being sucked into drama that had nothing to do with us.

I don’t want to post too much about my ex-stepdad, except to say that I cut all ties with him in 2009, and a few years later, I cut all ties with my former stepfamily after Mum wrote an angry Facebook post about my ex-stepdad, and my ex-stepsister sent Mum a horrible message. Jack had cut ties with them long before me. He and my ex-stepdad never got on. I wouldn’t say they hated each other per se, but they antagonised each other a lot. My ex-stepdad talked shit about Jack in front of family friends, and took it out on Mum whenever Jack did anything wrong (he didn’t do this with me). He blatantly favoured me over Jack – when he and Mum were splitting, he asked about me, but not Jack, and made it clear that I was the only one he gave a shit about. This pissed me off. I felt he was trying to drive a rift between us (and I’ll talk more about this in Paranoid 6teen). He wasn’t abusive to me or Jack, he didn’t beat or neglect us, and he didn’t hit Mum or anything, but there was a fair bit of emotional abuse. Even now, I don’t think I know the half of what must have gone on, though a lot came out after the divorce. Out of respect to Mum, I will not go into detail, but what I will say is that she has a lot of demons, and he is one of the causes. It took her a long time to get over him. She constantly beats herself up about remarrying so soon after Dad’s death, and while I was angry with her, I understand now that she’s one of those people who just needs to be in a relationship and hates being alone, and he was basically a rebound. She wasn’t to know how things would turn out. None of us did. I had mixed feelings at first, as he was kind to me at my maternal gran’s funeral and he did have his moments, but now I feel nothing for him. Anyway.

I hate Chester. Not because it’s a shithole, it’s quite nice as cities go, but because of all the memories there. In Manchester, you can be fairly anonymous; in Chester, everyone knows your business. Even after I’d left school, people would shout things at me in the street. As I said in earlier posts, I had a reputation as the school’s weird girl. I couldn’t wait to go somewhere where no-one knew who I was. My social life wasn’t great; Foregate Street is one long row of wine bars, and the one club I did like, Love Street, closed down in 2004, with its metal night moving to Rosie’s, our local dive where most of my year went when we got our A-Level results. I started going clubbing in Sixth Form and loved it. Since we lived in the arse end of nowhere, in Christleton, it got to the point where taxi drivers recognised Jack and me. “Big white house, right?” After life in a city, living in a village where the nearest supermarket was at least half an hour’s walk away and buses were hourly was a bit of a culture shock, as was the fact that nearly everyone in my high school was white (there were about four Asian kids in my year, and that was it) and nominally Christian. Coming back from Manchester was even weirder and made me realise how much I wanted to get out. So many people I knew in high school have left Chester, whereas loads of the old primary school crowd are still in Brighton. People at uni said they loved Chester and asked me if it was like Hollyoaks. If only it were that exciting. Some people might think uni is a waste of time and teaches you no life skills, but had I not gone to Manchester and realised that, despite having Aspergers, I could fend for myself, I would have been stuck at home in Chester for years, living with Mum and doing crappy office jobs and learning nothing. No thanks.

Country life was not for us. We three are townies at heart. The endless walks at weekends that I put up with so as not to anger my ex-stepdad, the mud, the renegade cattle, the pavement-less roads with rogue drivers…it was like being on the moon. One thing I did like was the wildlife; the foxes, the badgers, the odd pheasant or weasel. Other than that, though, it wasn’t much fun being cut off, and it had a weird effect on Mum. She became a lot more conformist, always worrying what people would think of her, and by extension, me. A lot of screaming matches were had and at times I felt I was a disappointment and that I was not the daughter she’d wanted; I was prickly and aggressive and moody and preferred books to clothes, and she couldn’t dress me up and take me shopping and squee over shoes with me. I wonder how much of that was my ex-stepdad’s influence. I know he’s one of the reasons why it took me forever to admit I needed help; he despised depressives and thought they were weak. He also hated fat people. No doubt it would have been some consolation to him to hear his stepdaughter vomiting in her sink.

The song after which this post is named, and the album that spawned it, is about suburbia, the cramped and inward-looking nature of it and the goings-on behind closed doors. We lived in suburbia in our first year here, alternating between a tiny rented house in Hoole and my ex-stepfamily’s house in the sticks, and it was claustrophobic. So was living in the village. Jack’s mates all lived in the arse end of nowhere, while mine lived in Vicar’s Cross, in the sticks. Now that Mum and I have left Chester, we’re like Battle Royale characters whose explosive collars have been removed from our necks. We are free to be who we want. She’s got a new set of friends and I’m living alone. We are not forced into little boxes anymore.

March 29, 2014

Hell Of A Girl

And you’re a lovemaking, earthquaking, dead-waking
Breathtaking hell of a girl

Let’s get this out of the way.

I am bisexual. I have been attracted to men and women for most of my life. I have known this since I was in Year 9. If it’s a phase I’m going through – since a lot of misguided idiots seem to think it’s a phase, and/or we’re just straight people trying to be cool or lesbians in denial – it’s a bloody long one.

I always got called a lesbian in Year 7 because I hung around with my best friend at the time all the time, she was a tomboy, and I had short hair. I thought it was weird. I didn’t understand why people thought we were a couple. We were just friends. I didn’t really think about the possibility that I might be gay or bi until I had a crush on a girl in my class when I was in Year 9. She was blonde and pretty and popular, though I never really became friends with her. Then one day, I saw Cerys Matthews singing on TV with Tom Jones, and she was wearing this beautiful purple dress, and I felt…strange. I fancied her. I can’t describe this feeling, other than thinking she was beautiful and despairing because all these feelings were rushing through my head. Throughout my teens, I wondered if I might be gay. I knew what gay and lesbian people were. Growing up in Brighton, Mum knew LGBT people and I’d read about them in Our Bodies Ourselves. I’d voiced my suspicions to Mum several times, and after kissing a girl in a club during a night out, I officially came out to her and my ex-stepdad the next day.

I’m very, very lucky in that my parents were always OK with me being queer, as were my biological family (though I don’t know if my grans knew – my maternal gran certainly would have been fine with it, though). I’ve never been under pressure to settle down with a nice man and have 2.4 kids. My mum had gay and lesbian mates at uni and she never had a problem with LGBT people; she made it clear that any girlfriend I had would be welcome to come over, just as a boyfriend would. Bastard though he was, my ex-stepdad wasn’t anti-gay either, though some of his family were. I remember watching Strictly Come Dancing with a couple of them and they were making remarks about Colin Jackson being ‘as queer as a deer’. Evidently they were not aware of the bisexual woman sitting next to them, and I figured it would be best not to say. Even now, I wince when people call things ‘gay’ or call each other ‘queer cunts’ or say, “I don’t want to sound gay or anything, but…” especially if they know about me. I wonder if it registers that their words hurt. Do they think I’m disgusting too for not being completely straight?

My sexuality has been all over the place, and I started really coming to terms with it at uni, joining the LGBT Soc and going to gay clubs. I dated a woman I’d met in Poptastic, though nothing really came of it, although it made me realise that I would, in fact, be open to a relationship with a woman. In second year, I assumed I was a lesbian because I didn’t feel any attraction to men at the time. I went to Canal Street every week with the LGBT Soc and read Diva and fell in love with a woman. I was, I’ll admit, rather obnoxious about it, to the point where one girl in Rock Soc said something along the lines of, “How many times have you mentioned you’re a lesbian now?” Then I fell in love with J, my ex-boyfriend, and realised I wasn’t completely gay, and just decided to accept the fact that I can love people of more than one gender. I’m not going to say I don’t see gender, because I do – when I was with Sheryl, my ex-girlfriend, I was more conscious that I was in a relationship with a woman, whereas when I was with men, I didn’t think about it that much. I was more alert to my surroundings, you could say – the possibility of homophobia (she was butcher than me, though I’m neither butch nor femme – I’m somewhere in between) rearing its ugly head.

How does this tie into me having Aspergers? It probably doesn’t, apart from not feeling the need to conform to certain behaviours expected of me. Having said that, it took ages for me to accept myself as a ‘proper’ queer person. I still have a complex about not being queer enough because I’ve never had sex with a woman – the anti-depressants I was on while I was with Sheryl totalled my sex drive – because I’m monogamous and find the idea of being in a relationship with more than one person hard to handle; because I could never see myself as anything but cis; because I’m not radical, subversive or an anarchist; because I’m not a hard femme, I’m not soft butch, not high femme, not glittery and fabulous and beautiful like the girls on Tumblr. I would say I am straight-passing. I always got scared of going into places like Vanilla because I worried they wouldn’t believe me if I said I was bi. But I am more at ease with who I am compared to when I was at uni. I’ve come to accept that at the end of the day, though, when all is said and done, I like people. If the right person is male, female (and in both cases, just to clear things up, I’m referring to cis and trans men or women), or neither, or both, so be it.

March 27, 2014

Juno 54

Filed under: music — kankurette @ 10:53 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

“I think G-d puts you on this earth to do certain things. I think He put me on this earth to (be a musician). I hope so anyway, because it’s the only thing I can do.” – Franny Griffiths

When asked if I’d rather go blind or deaf, I don’t know what to choose. Can I take a third option and lose my voice? If I went blind, I’d have to give up reading. If I went deaf, I’d have to give up music. There are ways around this – talking books and feeling vibrations – but it wouldn’t be the same.

You might guess, from reading this blog, that I might just be quite a big fan of Space. Last week, they toured with Republica to promote their new album, Attack Of The Mutant 50ft Kebab. I spent a good part of last week following the tour and went to see them in London, Liverpool and Manchester. At Manchester and London, I hung out with them after the gigs, and it gave me the determination to conquer the nasty little voice in my head telling me they didn’t really like me. Over the years, they have kept me sane. This is not an exaggeration.

They aren’t the only band I like; I’ve been into the Pogues since I was a toddler (no exaggeration – my parents used to play them all the time, and I got a bit of a surprise when I found out the Old Main Drag, one song I loved as a kid was about rent boys), and I’ve taken Mum to see them a couple of times as a birthday present. They and Abba and the Beatles were the soundtrack to my childhood; Space, Hole, Catatonia and the Manics got me through high school (and so did the music magazines I consumed); RATM and the Deftones took me into Sixth Form; System Of A Down through my gap year; Tori Amos and Regina Spektor and many, many more at university. Music is everpresent in my life. It is my comfort, my escape, just like books. To drown out phone conversations and students and babies on the bus, I plug myself into my iPod and I’m away with the fairies. I’d rather have one noise in my ear than several at once.

This might sound a bit weird, coming from someone who hates crowds and goes into sensory overload, but I love going to gigs. The noise doesn’t bother me, although I could never have withstood My Bloody Valentine’s feedback fest; the only drawback is the crowds, and being pushed out of the way due to being short. OK, so I’ve had the odd bad experience – nearly getting asphyxiated at Rammstein, bad period pains at Garbage – but the good outweighs the bad. I’ve seen Moby, Muse, the Zutons, the Manics, Radiohead, We Are Scientists, Le Tigre, Sleater-Kinney, the Sugababes, Soulfly, Tori Amos, Fear Factory, Cerys Matthews, Machine Head, Marilyn Manson, Queens Of The Stone Age, the list goes on. I went to the Leeds Festival in 2002; the Reading Festival every year from 2003 to 2008, Glastonbury in 2004, 2005 and 2007; Download in 2006; Latitude in 2010; Primavera Sound last year. I’m seeing Super Fast Girlie Show next month, and Nine Inch Nails and Janelle Monae in May. I don’t go to as many gigs as I would like, mainly due to being ill and losing enthusiasm for things generally (I stopped reading Q Magazine a couple of years ago as it was too expensive and I felt out of touch), but I don’t want to give it up either. Some people find the idea that you might watch the same band more than once weird – my friend Sarah, who goes to a lot of gigs, gets this all the time – but every gig is a different experience.

Both my parents were into music; my dad was a self-taught guitarist and wrote music reviews for the student paper at Stirling, while my mum sang in various choirs. I grew up listening to mixtapes in the car and learning to play the piano. I also learned the cornet for a bit, but was shit at it, though I did buy a trumpet a few years ago (and I need to practice more). I played the flute in high school, mainly because I didn’t want to learn a brass instrument (in retrospect, I wish I hadn’t), the drums, and taught myself to play the guitar. At university, I was in a band called Midland Railway for a bit, and I played open mic nights, sometimes with my then boyfriend. Most of the people I’ve been out with are big music fans; my ex-girlfriend made me a mix CD for my birthday. They’ve not all liked the same bands as me, but some overlap does help, admittedly. Having bands in common gives one something to talk about.

Music might not seem an obvious avenue for someone with Aspergers, according to the stereotype, but there are musicians out there who are on the spectrum. Ladyhawke, Gary Numan, Craig from the Vines, Abs from 5ive, possibly Thom Yorke. So much for people with Aspergers not being creative or imaginative. Hell, I write the odd song myself, I wrote songs as a coping mechanism while at uni, though I haven’t written any for ages and some of my old lyrics make me cringe. Cerys Matthews, Franny Griffiths and Tommy Scott, James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore, Regina Spektor, Tori Amos, Kirsty MacColl – I’d draw inspiration from all of them. I find my stuff quite hard to categorise. Wailing and piano-bashing, I guess.

I find some types of music, such as the weird noise stuff my brother listens to and happy hardcore, impossible to listen to, although strangely, I don’t mind death metal. My iPod has everything from Willie Nelson, the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and Glenn Miller to Cypress Hill, the Spice Girls and Naruto theme tunes. I’m happy to give any genre a go. I never really got into boy bands, although I did have a soft spot for East 17 and PJ & Duncan, and went through a Boyzone phase during my first two years of high school. That was one area where pressure didn’t get me too much. In the Times article I quoted recently, there was a teenager, Nina, who hated Rihanna and other popular music, preferring the likes of Nirvana. Her family noted that she didn’t care what was cool. Reading about her, I thought, “Good for you, Nina. Like those bands because they make you happy, not because you feel you have to.” Peer pressure got me in other ways. My music taste was one niche I determinedly carved out for myself.

March 26, 2014

This isn’t part of the Space miniblogs, but it is important.

A mate of mine linked to this article on Facebook, titled ‘Intersectional Collisions: “But What If He’s Autistic?”‘. It’s on Feminist Hivemind, and it’s well worth a read. This is exactly the reason why I started this blog; because of the continued misconception that autism / Aspergers are ‘male’ conditions. People might ask if the guy harassing women is autistic (and therefore, he can’t help his shitty behaviour), but do they ask if the women being harassed might be on the spectrum? Do they balls.

Firstly, it’s bloody demeaning to men on the autistic spectrum. For every Chris-Chan, there are plenty of decent men who, while maybe being a bit socially awkward, have boundaries and respect them, and don’t use their disability as an excuse to creep on women.

Secondly, what about us? What about the women on the receiving end? What about autistic women being harassed by neurotypical men? I wrote a bit about this myself in the Bastard Me Bastard You post. We aren’t always given the tools to deal with harassment. Should we laugh it off? Ignore it? Respond? I’ve seen the ‘he might be autistic’ excuse used enough times, and it absolutely does my head in.

Anyway, go read.

March 25, 2014

Gravity

You’ve lost all the feeling in your heart and soul
It’s not enough to cry

We all knew the end was coming.

In that respect, we were lucky. A friend of a friend’s dad had gone to play tennis and never came home; he’d died of a heart attack. On 11th September 2001, eight years after my dad died, firemen and passengers alike were killed in a terrorist attack, their children unable to escape from the horrible images on TV and in the press for days on end. On 15th April 1989, several kids in Liverpool waved goodbye to their fathers as they went off to watch a football match in Sheffield, never to return. Other children have had to wait for days, weeks, months, not knowing if their fathers are alive or dead, until the dreadful news finally comes. That was the one advantage we had; we knew. Mum and Dad were always honest with us. Unlike my best friend at the time, who only found out her mother was dying through overheard conversations, we were told everything. There was no bullshit, no whitewashing.

All we could do was wait.

We had had a false alarm at one point; it looked as though he was going to be OK. But from the beginning of 1993, he went into rapid decline and had to move in with my paternal gran in St Annes-on-Sea; he was in a nursing home for a bit, but it was pretty bad. He gained a load of weight on steroids and sent letters typed on Gran’s typewriter and – thank G-d – was around long enough to meet Laura, his new baby niece. In September, on the day Jack was supposed to start primary school and I was supposed to start Year 5. Instead, we found ourselves on a train to Lancashire. Jack explained that Dad was going to die any minute. Me not getting my priorities right, I was pissed off because I was worried about missing school. We spent a few days with Gran and Auntie Chris and her family, and said goodbye to Dad, who was in hospital by this time.

That was when I experienced death for the first time, the realisation that people you love won’t be around forever. For days, I couldn’t believe he’d gone. It must have been worse for Mum – just being surrounded by reminders of him everywhere, the ties he would never wear again, the CDs he would never play again, the empty space next to her in bed. No wonder she went crazy. My memories of the time are patchy, but I do recall going to a friend’s house the day after, presumably because Mum was too worn out with grief to pay much attention to us.

Why do I write about this so much? This was the event that pushed me over the edge. It’s not the only time a death in the family pushed me over the edge; my maternal gran’s death in 2005 was one of the things that led to me trying to kill myself. I acted up in school. I could never handle change, but this massive change had hit me, soon to be followed by another one when Mum decided she couldn’t stand living in Brighton anymore, and the bottom had dropped out of my world. Little things got to me, and still do. The Lion King still makes me and Jack cry (and if you’re a kid who’s lost a parent, watch it – it is a fantastic film for bereaved kids to see and it came out at the right time for us), as does Home Alone 2, the last film we saw at the cinema with Dad. The funeral was hell – I’m glad Jack and I went, as it gave us the chance to say goodbye, but seeing Gran collapse and have to be carried out of the chapel by two men, and the coffin going into the incinerator, and grown men and women crying – it was too much to take in.

We didn’t want to scatter the ashes, so Mum went alone one day while we were at school and threw them in the sea. Seeing my maternal gran’s ashes freaked me out enough, seeing what looked like something you’d scatter on your driveway and realising it used to be a person – I could not have handled that at nine years old.

The other massive change that came as a result of Dad’s death was what it did to Mum. She and Dad were always close; they never argued. They loved each other to pieces. Dad dying broke her. We went on holiday to Menorca in 1994 and she spent most of it in bed with stress-induced migraines, while Jack and I amused ourselves in the swimming pool. In April of that year, Mum used some of the money Dad had left us to take us to Australia to see Auntie Debby, Mum’s older sister, and her family. We spent nearly a month there. When it was time to return to England, Mum broke down at the airport. I was still getting accustomed to seeing her cry. Adults crying confused me. I thought it was something only kids did. I couldn’t get my head around why she was ill all the time. Seeing someone you’ve known all your life acting out of character throws you.

I talked before about strong emotions in Mister Psycho, and how for a lot of people with Aspergers, everything is intense. We love intensely and hate intensely. We see black and white, not grey. When we love someone, we put them on a pedestal and act like the sun shines out of their arse, and are surprised and disappointed when they show any kind of flaw. We cannot always find the words or means to deal with strong emotions. Maybe that was why Dad’s death broke me. He’d been a massive part of my life for nine years, and now he was gone, and the despair manifested itself through behaving badly at school, crying all the time, running out of class, skiving, hyperventilating, being unable to interact with large groups of people, and Mum didn’t know what the hell to do with me, and the rest is history.

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