The Hidden Village of Aspergers

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 17, 2014

Everybody In The Madhouse

If you’re cool, I hope you’re lucky
I hope your life is fulfilled
If you’re bad, I hope you rot in Hell
Or get run over by a train

Ah, primary school. Stanford Junior in Brighton, to be exact. Some of the best years of my life, and one of the worst (my annus horribilis, 1993). Most of the people I knew, it seems, are still living in Brighton. Helen, who was my best mate back then, is married (and I cried when I found out – not out of jealousy but out of joy, because she’s had a hard life and I’m just relieved she’s happy). Many others have kids. It seems so long ago, but I can still remember it as clear as day.

Primary school wasn’t as bad as high school for bullying, though I do remember an older boy threatening me with a knife in Year 3, and another boy stealing my hat, and other kids certainly thought I was weird. I remember breaking out into song one time in class and the other kids would not let it go, and I wished the ground would swallow me. Helen was picked on a lot by other girls in our class, and there was only so much I could do. She was probably the only real friend I had, although there were others I got on with. A group of us would walk to and from school, and for some reason, on the way back, they’d walk through the infant school and I didn’t want to for some reason, and Kate, the group leader, would lie to me about things happening, and I believed her. She claimed she was doing it to prepare me for the future, to help me. Somehow, I doubt that.

One of my proudest moments was writing the script for our class play for assembly, ‘Pandora’s Box’, when we were doing Greek myths. Primary school was where I discovered a love of writing and history, and later on, languages. We learned French in Year 6, presumably because of being on the coast. This bit me in the arse somewhat in high school, as I was way ahead of most of the class and ended up being bored. We did shows at the Dome – I remember doing one where I was dressed up as a male evacuee. My memories of primary school are fractured. Dressing up as a policeman to sing ‘A Policeman’s Lot’ when we were doing the Victorians. Mrs Cairns, my teacher in Year 5/6, writing a little poem for me in my leaving book. Reading Chalet School books. Jack giving me a thumbs-up from the stage when his class were doing a play. A trip to the museum, where I failed to copy a David Hockney painting. Playing short tennis in the playground and coming home to Dad cooking pasta with tomato sauce. Playing girls’ football and being rubbish at it. Trying to make one of the teachers laugh, as part of an activity day where different teachers hosted different activities. Walking out of assembly in front of everyone else. Writing a story about a character who ate too much chocolate and vomited copiously. Dad winning a jar of pickled beetroot in a raffle and Mum refusing to let him bring it in the house because of the smell. Those were the days. I only have to hear Blur’s ‘End Of A Century’ again and I’m in the classroom on the final day of primary school, before we all went off to the Big School and started to grow up.

It was in primary school that my symptoms started to really come out, and luckily, there was support. After Dad died, I saw a counsellor at school and it helped somewhat, though I still had crying fits and an abject fear of anything unusual happening. I talked more about it here. The other major change that occurred during primary school was my mum meeting J, my future stepdad (not to be confused with Richard, the current one, although I did meet Richard when I was a kid). If I recall correctly, she found him through a Lonely Hearts page in a newspaper. She’d been dating various guys, but J was The One. When Mum told us she and J were getting married, I cried a lot and accused her of wanting to replace Dad; it was only two years after his death. Jack, ironically considering how much he and J ended up hating each other, was fine with it. I liked him at first – I compared him a lot to Gerald, the heroine’s mum’s boyfriend in Goggle-Eyes by Anne Fine – and made myself adjust to the fact that I was living in a new town and going to a high school where I wouldn’t know anyone. Had I stayed in Brighton, I would have gone to Varndean, but instead, I found myself at an induction day at Christleton High School, before seven years of hell began.

March 11, 2014

The Man

Who’s the man with the plan?
Who’s the man?
I am!

A comic has been doing the rounds on Tumblr recently, wherein the artist suggests that one should turn one’s hobby into a job. Like knitting? Start a yarn shop! Follow your dreams! Except it’s not that simple. Not all of us have business savvy or connections or facilities or what have you, not to mention the failure rate of start-up businesses. At the end of the day, most of us end up in jobs that are nothing more than a means to an end. My current job is, for instance. It’s not what I imagined myself doing, but it’s what I have to do in order to keep a roof over my head and the bills paid.

The workplace, for some of us, is high school all over again. You’re still being told what to do by an authority figure, you’re expected to conform to a dress code (in some jobs, mind), and on a personal level, there are the same cliques and politics. Backstabbing and bitchiness are not limited to the playground. Office politics is always something I try not to get too involved in. I just want to go to work and do my job and go home. I don’t want to listen to other people’s problems when I’m busy. I tend to go into some kind of weird trance when I’m typing, especially if it’s an interesting case and the fee earner’s voice isn’t too hard on the ears (I had a colleague whose voice made me physically ill. I’m not kidding. She sounded like a Dalek.)

As I’m pretty knackered, I’m going to do this post in list form. These are some things to consider if you’re working with a person with Aspergers Syndrome.

– Open plan offices are hell on earth and one of the worst types of working habitat for someone with Aspergers. I work in one. The combination of the phone, the fax machine-cum-printer, colleagues shouting across the office or talking loudly or dictating and my own work is enough to drive me batshit, and it sometimes does. When the fee earner next to me dictates, I down tools because I cannot concentrate while she’s talking. I find it hard to tune background noise out. It’s also why I listen to an iPod on the bus, because it blocks out the background noise.

– On that note, do not talk to us while we’re on the phone, as we cannot process two people talking at once. Asking who it is is one thing, but continually asking me to tell the person something while I am in the middle of a conversation is another and it makes me wonder if I should just put the phone through to you.

– Ah, the phone. Putting us on Reception, or any other kind of telephone job, is not always a good idea. Sensory overload aside, answering the telephone to strangers can be a major source of anxiety, especially when they’re angry and you can’t help them. I got banned from answering the phone at work after one panic attack too many.

– We don’t always get office banter. We do actually have a sense of humour – it just might not be the same as yours. We can take things a bit personally. I don’t mind banter when it’s with friends, my best friend and I take the piss out of each other all the time, but not so much when it’s people I don’t know. We can’t always tell when you’re joking or if you really are angry, and we can’t understand why you’re making such a big deal out of us asking for 50p out of petty cash. It’s really not that funny.

– Always, always, ALWAYS give us clear instructions. Do not be surprised if we ask a lot of questions on how to do something. It’s not because we’re stupid, we just want to do the job right. Also, be specific. Make sure we have job specifications – I didn’t for a long time, and found myself doing other people’s jobs. Let us know what our duties are.

– Do not shift the goalposts. I mean it. A lot of goalpost-shifting happens at my job and it throws me off completely when I’m told to do one thing, and then told not to do it. We like to know where we are and hate being confused. Constantly changing rules is a very bad idea if you’ve got someone with Aspergers working for you.

– We are not mind readers. Do not assume we know everything that is going on. We need to be kept in the loop. Some of my colleagues are very guilty of this, not telling admin staff about court dates and then getting angry because they don’t get put in the diary. We cannot put things in the office diary if you do not tell us. I also got blamed for not putting times on attendance notes, and was very angry about this as I make damn sure I put the times on, and if I don’t get them, I chase them. Luckily, in that instance, my boss took my side. My boss,  I have to say, has been great, although I think it helps that we work in different offices and the London staff don’t have to see my meltdowns.

– Do not patronise us. Just because I have Aspergers does not mean I am four years old, thank you very much.

– If you are angry with us, do not shout at us. It makes us panicky. Try and keep your temper.

As an aside: I’m going to recommend another book I was given recently, Asperger Syndrome and Employment” What People with Asperger Syndrome Really Really Want. It’s by Sarah Hendrickx, who runs a support service called ASpire, based in Brighton. My only beef with it is the lack of female representation, compared to the many men who were quoted, but other than that, it’s well worth a read.

March 10, 2014

Life Of A Miser

Filed under: routine — kankurette @ 10:25 am
Tags: , ,

Now he’s living the life of a miser
He once played a life of Russian Roulette and it paid up in the end
And he don’t care cos he’ll put up with the stares

One thing I am very grateful for, and amazed about, is the ability that I can live on my own. I own my own home and I work part-time, earning just over £800 a month. Most of that goes on bills – water, gas, electricity, internet – and food. I donate to a couple of charities – Oxfam, Greenpeace and Mustard Tree (one reason why chuggers do my head in is because they can’t seem to understand that I can only give so much, and if I gave to every single charity that asked me, I’d be skint).

One of the hardest parts of living on my own and earning my own money is managing it. Money makes my head spin. I am, it has to be said, a bit of a tight arse, though I’m willing to treat my family to nice presents, and gig tickets are my main luxury, though I try to stay with friends or family when I’m in other cities. Hotels and travelodges aren’t cheap. I refuse to get a credit card, as I’m worried about splurging and debts which I will never be able to pay off (I still haven’t paid off my student loan, and there’s no chance of that happening while I’m in my current job). When setting up a new bank account, I refused to get one that had extra ‘perks’, as it would mean a monthly charge. One good thing about being extremely paranoid is the fear of getting mugged off, and thus treating any potential scam with suspicion, such as the phone calls I got claiming I was owed money. I smelled bullshit and did a bit of research and sure enough, it turned out to be a scam. (I wondered why there was so much noise in the background, and why the woman on the phone seemed hesitant to answer my questions, and why she kept asking me about my bank.) I used to be very gullible as a kid, due to my tendency to take everything literally, and it is something I have to beware of. There are a lot of sharks in the water. I did get ripped off by a scam once, although fortunately, it wasn’t as much as it could have been. I have a gut instinct which is very reliable sometimes. Even back in 2002, when I was in Sixth Form, I got a Nigerian scam email and thought, “Who is this person and why do they want to give me their money? Why me of all people?”

That said, I developed a bit of a gambling habit last year, though fortunately it’s under control. I also got rid of Candy Crush Saga for the same reason, after realising that I was never going to complete it and that it was a huge waste of money. To be honest, I feel guilty about any kind of splurge, like with food – I barely get takeaways or ready meals, except the Covent Garden vegetable soups for when I just can’t be arsed cooking, or when it’s a 5:2 diet day (more on that later). Thank G-d I was taught to cook when I was a kid, and that I have enough energy to cook most of the time.

Most of my bills are paid via direct debit – I made the decision to do this after I kept getting warnings from the Council in my previous place, after I forgot to pay my Council Tax bill on time. Incidentally, one of the many things I found out the hard way was that when you move house, you are supposed to inform the Council. I got the fright of my life when I got a phone call at 9pm one night informing me that I owed the Council £1000 for unpaid Council tax on my last place, despite the fact that I had not been living in that flat during the designated period. I freaked and phoned my mum, and between us we managed to sort it out, and at least I’ll know the next time I move. Then there’s all the admin stuff revolving around the freehold in the building I live in, the signing of forms, the sending of letters and paperwork. I fucking hate paperwork. There is so much of it and I do file it and keep that which may become important, but sometimes I lose track of it. Plus with repairs and things, I forget, because as I said ages ago, stuff gets pushed out of my head and I can only contain a few things at a time. Right now, for instance, it’s gig month, and next month is my birthday and the month after that, Primavera and Barcelona. I still haven’t got round to having the lights in my kitchen checked out, though at least I got my boiler fixed. My house is not a rubbish dump, but it is as chaotic as my mind.


March 4, 2014

Female Of The Species

Shock, shock, horror, horror, shock, shock, horror
I’ll shout myself hoarse for your supernatural force
The female of the species is more deadly than the male

“Do you know what sex is, Lotte?”

“Do you know what an orgasm is?”

“Why don’t you shave your legs?”

“Have you ever tapped off with a boy?”

“Are you a lesbian?”

“Are you frigid?”

I was new. I was naive. I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t into make-up or boys or clothes – most of the clothes I wore were hand-me-downs or bought for me by my mum. I read Q instead of teen magazines and I didn’t watch much TV. I had short hair and bad skin.

I am not going to slag off women who wear make-up and like ‘girly’ things. I am not one of those women who considers herself to be better than other, more ordinary women, what some of my friends call a ‘Special Female’. I am not femmephobic and I get that for some women, femininity can be empowering, and that’s fine. In my opinion, there is no right or wrong way to be a woman. However, I failed the other girls’ expectations when it came to being one myself, and for me, putting on make-up was not empowering. It made my skin itch and it was a chore and I just could not be bothered doing it every day. Shoes with heels hurt my feet and were a nightmare to walk in (as I learned the hard way during a choir tour where I had to wear court shoes); I preferred trainers, and the highest heels I could wear without being in pain were a pair of wedges. I don’t know how Cerys Matthews does it, frankly. I hated shaving my legs (although I do shave my pits), having my spots squeezed by my mother (which, I found out the hard way, was not something all mums did and was not considered to be normal), and constantly having to be concerned with my appearance. I did go through a phase of painting my nails in all kinds of bright colours, but I can’t remember the last time I wore nail varnish. I was conscious of the hair on my upper lip, my fluctuating tits hidden under a school sweater, the spots on my shoulders, the wonkiness of my eyes, the uncoolness of my clothes. To the other girls in my year in high school, I was something of a curio. They quizzed me on sex and boys and not realising they were making fun of me, I answered their questions. One girl told me I should wear jeans and Trader t-shirts so no-one would make fun of me, and that my skintight leggings made me look like a dork. I was a shambling, ugly, sexless, frigid creature.

When I wear pretty dresses and heels and make-up, I feel almost as though I am performing femininity – like a drag queen, basically. It all feels so artificial and unnatural. It’s not that I have any issues with gender – I have never identified as anything other than cis, never questioned my gender identity or experienced dysphoria, like some of my trans and genderqueer mates have. I could never identify as anything other than female. When it comes to queer identities, I’m neither butch nor femme; I’m somewhere in between. I have long hair, but wear no make-up. I have cross-dressed at parties, but that’s as far as it goes. I feel more comfortable in long skirts, baggy army trousers, band t-shirts, hoodies, Dr Martens. As Rudy Simone says in Aspergirls (which I will be citing throughout this series, no doubt, and if you are a woman with Aspergers, or your daughter is on the spectrum, I cannot recommend it enough, I lost count of the number of times I read it and thought, “Fucking hell, this is me!”), a lot of women’s clothes are too fussy and flimsy. They tear easily and there are too many fiddly bits. I’ve borrowed my brother’s clothes a good few times. Shopping for clothes is a pain in the fucking arse because all sizes are different and a pair of jeans might be big enough to squeeze my colossal arse into, but don’t fit right around the crotch or knees. Clothes, for me, have to be comfortable. I can’t wear fabric that itches my skin; I have a bit of a problem with wool. I do prioritise style over comfort, though I know how to colour-coordinate my clothes and don’t wear things that have food on them to work. When I compare myself to most women, though, I feel like a drab pheasant in a flock of swans. The comparison is deliberate; swans are vicious creatures, and some of the most painful bullying I received in high school was at the hands of other girls (although most of the abuse – physical, verbal and in a couple of instances, bordering on sexual – I got was from boys). There’s being pelted with rocks, and there’s sticking your hand in a lucky dip and getting a fish hook caught in it.

I’m lucky in that I’ve found plenty of friends, cisgender women and DFAB androgynes / genderqueer / genderfluid types, who either have their own ways of expressing femininity, do not express it at all, or do the more conventional thing, but don’t judge me for it. Nor do they judge me for the amount of sex I am not having, and my long periods between relationships (my last one was in 2008). It is a relief to know that there are other women like me out there, whether they are on the spectrum or not. Like I said, there’s no right or wrong way to be a woman or a girl. No matter what society or idiots at school tell you.

March 6, 2011

On Judaism and Aspergers: Part 1

Filed under: routine — kankurette @ 8:31 pm
Tags: ,

The rabbi at my synagogue is going to a conference on autism and faith at the end of the month and has asked me to answer a couple of questions regarding Judaism and Aspergers Syndrome.

The first question is: How does your Judaism help you in the everyday things you do?

I’ve got a confession to make. I wasn’t born Jewish, or at least I don’t think I was. My mum’s family, according to a friend who did some research on her family tree, were originally Jewish, but somewhere down the line it got lost, and I had started conversion before finding this out. It would have taken too long to prove, however, so I carried on with the process and finally converted in the autumn of 2008. I’d always been interested in religion, and as a kid one of my favourite books was about world religions. I met people in the Jewish Society / J-Soc at Manchester and began to look into converting.

However, I know that I will not be universally accepted as a Jew everywhere, and this bothers me. According to some Jews, I am worse than Hitler, I am diluting Judaism, my rabbi and the rabbis on my Beth Din panel are fakers and should be shot for making fake Jews, I am a fake, a liar, a fraud. I won’t be able to marry an Orthodox Jew unless I convert Orthodox, and even then I gather conversion for marriage is frowned on. So for a start, my status affects who I can marry (Levites and Kohanim are out too). However, I don’t think I’m ever going to marry. I know a Nice Jewish Girl should find a Nice Jewish Boy, settle down, have kids, but that life is not for me.

I was originally going to go Orthodox because the rigid adherence to rituals would have provided me with a totally stable routine, and it goes without saying that Lotte need routine or Lotte go crazy. However, because I am bisexual, I cut myself, I’m a female musician and there are certain laws I feel uncomfortable with, I went Reform in the end. I needed some freedom, and I felt I’d be too constricted by living an Orthodox lifestyle. It wasn’t me. Because I have such a thing about being left out, I had to get over, and still am getting over, the fear that I am doing something wrong in the eyes of G-d and that I will be punished. I don’t know if there really is a Jewish Hell, but I fear I’ll be going there for my ‘heresy’. Even though most of the people I’ve encountered who say horrible things about my religion – and by the way, anyone who flames me over it on here is getting deleted and blocked – are online, I take things literally and thus personally. When they say ‘Reform Jews are evil and are doing Hitler’s work’, they are, to me, saying ‘Lotte is evil and is doing Hitler’s work’. I’ll explain about this in more detail another time.

It’s not fair to say my life is exactly the same as it used to be, because it’s not. I changed my diet. I won’t allow any meat in my house, due to only having one sink and one fridge (and I won’t eat it anyway), and use paper plates for Passover (and oh, how I dread having to clean the house and check for stray breadcrumbs everywhere). I do candles when I can remember, although usually I make Kiddush at synagogue, and then I’ll go out for a meal with my friends. Because of my ME, I don’t always make synagogue on Saturday mornings (which is kind of unfortunate as I sing in the choir there), but I try to go on Friday nights. I don’t pray every night, and my Shabbos observance is pretty lame, but I do make sure I don’t do housework. When I was a student, I didn’t do any coursework. I don’t sort out any bills or go to work. I need to make it different from the rest of the week somehow. I always make sure I go to synagogue when it’s a festival, although I can’t fast on Yom Kippur as it will make me ill. The one festival I can’t stand is Purim, because it sends me into total sensory overload, but that’s for the next question.

The biggest problem is Christmas, as it’s my mum’s birthday and I would feel like a total bitch if I didn’t go to her house, plus I love my family to death and as my brother is in London and one of my cousins is in Belgium, it’s always good to catch up, and I like making people happy by giving them things I know they’ll like. I was such a bad daughter and sister that I feel I have to make it up to Mum and my brother for my horrible behaviour. When the Chanukah clash comes, you’ll find me lighting candles and trying to remember the words to Maoz Tzur. Luckily, my family aren’t religious at all and Mum always took priority over Jesus in our house, so it’s primarily about family. At the risk of upsetting people, my family always come first. Without them, I’d be dead. I’m not kidding.

On that subject, I was going through a sort of prep period when my gran died in 2005, and my belief in G-d helped me get through, although it didn’t stop me taking an overdose a couple of months later. I finally took the plunge, contacted a rabbi and started going to synagogue in August that year, and on the way I met loads of new people, some of whom became my friends, others of whom became my enemies. I don’t feel a part of the community, but there’s a small sub-community of converts that I do belong to – we’re all misfits in our own ways, there’s a few of us on the autistic spectrum, and we’re all going on the same journey, so we have to stick together. Although I wasn’t looking for an identity – I had other identities, queer, female, Aspergic, feminist, British etc. – gaining this new identity made me see myself in a different light. I was part of a group of people who’d survived everything that had been thrown at them over thousands of years, and in a strange way I felt like somehow, I’d come home.

February 3, 2011

Eyes! Hair! Mouth! Figure!

Filed under: routine — kankurette @ 8:03 pm

I am somewhere in my pre-teens, and my mother is dragging me round various clothes shops, picking things out for me and making me try them on, picking some things out for herself while she’s at it, and I am desperate to go home, or to a book shop, or anywhere that does not involve me having to try on clothes. I try on a pair of shoes in a shoe shop, and say I like them just so I can get the hell out. The shop is hot and the lights are too bright and I am bored rigid. The shoes are tight and killing my feet. I hate this place. I hate it. I hate it.

“Why can’t you take more of an interest in how you look?”

When I do venture out into a clothes shop, I go in having a vague idea of what I want, I browse for a bit, pick a couple of items, try them on, and buy them if I like them. Get in, get stuff, get out. The idea of spending hours and hours looking at things you’ll never buy and trying them on, even though they’ll go back on the rail, baffles me. I’ve gone shopping with countless friends and hung around bored out of my brain while they try things on, holding their bags and pretending to care. Take me to Foyles or Waterstones or a music shop and I’m happy. Take me to a clothes shop and I just want to get out as soon as possible. In high street shops, I feel like a grossly obese tramp. Everyone is thinner and prettier and more fashionable than me. I feel ungainly and awkward, like I’m a giant tiptoeing through a dolls’ house and trying not to smash the tiny furniture under my huge clumsy feet.

Fashion and I have never got on. I don’t think we’ve ever met. I buy clothes because they look nice on me, or because they’re comfortable, but not because they’re in. Ask me what the current clothing trend of the season is and I will shrug my shoulders, except that time when everyone was wearing long skirts, which made me happy because I love long skirts, what with my hideous legs. But I never got the point of buying things just because it’s supposedly cool to wear them at the moment, only to shove them in the back of your closet once they go out of fashion, and go out and buy tartan stuff or whatever it is that is trendy. Who cares? Why does it matter? I just don’t get it at all. This is one of the reasons why I never fitted in at school, and why I don’t fit in at work. I see clothing as something that keeps me warm and stops me getting arrested, maybe something pretty to look at – I used to read Glamour because I loved the pictures – and something I can occasionally get dressed up in for a night out. But I cannot have long conversations about it. I simply do not care.

I am always painfully aware of how out of touch and uncool and scruffy I am when I am at work, or when I was in first year, and the other women would be talking about clothes they bought and showing off their purchases, and I would be sitting there, not really caring or mustering up the enthusiasm. Bring home a vinyl record and my ears will prick up, but bring home some shoes and I will probably be the only person not squeeing, unless they are particularly bonkers. Or are Doc Martens. I love Doc Martens.

I don’t really have a look. No, I tell a lie. It’s all elasticated waistbands (damn you, IBS and meds!), lots of black, long skirts, band t-shirts, long stripey socks, hair decs, dangly earrings when I’m in the mood, and Doc Martens, of course. Sometimes I get my hair cut when it’s summer and my head is overheated – I have very thick hair – and I have piercings, and I wear the odd bit of jewellery for a night out, but I rarely buy clothes. I am ashamed to admit that a lot of my clothes are either hand-me-downs or have been bought for me. I have little energy as it is and am rarely well enough to spend ages traipsing around clothes shops looking for new things to wear.

I don’t know how much of this is Aspergers and how much of this is just a Lotte thing, but according to the By Parents For Parents site, a lot of girls with Aspergers do have problems with image, wearing the same thing all the time, not washing or using deodorant and so forth. Maybe they can’t be bothered, or maybe, as with me, it doesn’t register. I do make sure my clothes are clean and don’t smell funny, thanks to parental influence, and I brush my hair – although unfortunately my hair has other ideas and reacts to me trying to style it with “bitch, please, I do what I want” – and I wash, brush my teeth, wash my face, pluck my eyebrows, although I cannot be arsed shaving my legs. I don’t wear army trousers or band t-shirts or whatever to work, unless it’s a Sunday and the office is empty. But that is generally as far as I go.

Hanging around with other ‘alternative’ type girls, having said that, did help me develop some idea of how I wanted to look. I liked how they dressed and wanted to look like that. I knew I couldn’t be bothered paying a shitload of money for designer labels, and that I wobbled around in high heels and was better off in flat shoes, and when I saw musicians such as Cerys Matthews or Kittie in magazines, I thought they looked cool and wanted to dress like them too. It was very much a process of trial and error, and I have more of an idea of what suits me and what doesn’t. It’s probably a good thing that I don’t wear black lipstick anymore. I have one look for work, which crosses over with my look for synagogue (except I don’t wear trousers on Shabbat), and another look for clubbing or parties. But fashion? You can keep it.

September 19, 2010

My brain is a small cupboard

Filed under: routine — kankurette @ 8:05 pm
Tags: , ,

In my living room, where I am typing this, there is a piano. It belonged to my mum and has been handed down through her family, and as I was always playing it whenever I went over to see her, she passed it on to me. As well as being my favourite instrument out of all of the ones I own (a trumpet, a flute, a bass guitar that used to belong to one of my cousins, a Squier guitar, a keyboard, and assorted bits of drumkit), it also serves as a handy surface on which to put things, as does my kitchen table. As well as various music books, there is also a pile of paperwork on there that varies in size. There’s a similar one on my kitchen table. It is comprised of everything from bank statements and bills to bumf from Manchester City Council about the cute little green bins for kitchen waste and a ticket for the High Holy Days from my synagogue.

I surprise myself at how messy I am. You’d think a woman with Aspergers would be extremely houseproud and tidy, a place for everything and everything in its place, etc. This one isn’t. My mum has some kind of weird compulsive habit of tidying my house whenever she comes over. I don’t think she realises she’s doing it. At least she doesn’t move the furniture, she just tries to make some order out of the chaos. Maybe it’s a genetic thing – my dad was messy as well and you could always tell which side of the bedroom was his, i.e. not the tidy one. My brother is even worse than I am. I have my books in vague alphabetical order and categorised, but that’s it. I can’t be arsed re-sorting my CDs.

I have a problem with paperwork. When I put my mind to it, ticking off things on a virtual to-do list, I can sort stuff out. I make sure my bills are paid on time, I set up direct debits and standing orders so that the Council or whoever won’t have to keep sending me arsey letters going “GIVE US YOUR MONEY OR WE TAKE YOU TO COURT, BITCH” (or words to that effect), but when it comes to other bits of paperwork and mundane tasks, I forget. It took me weeks to get my garden sorted out, as I don’t have the energy to maintain it myself, to donate to the synagogue Yom Kippur appeal, to take over the freehold for my flat, to write back to someone who’d found info on my family tree. I am admittedly terrible about getting back to people. It’s a good thing I’m only a legal secretary and not a lawyer.

I think the problem is that I cannot concentrate on too many things at once. I tend to do the mental equivalent of shoving bits of paper into a to-do tray and then ignoring it as the pile builds up. Forget what people say about women and multi-tasking; this one is crap at it. I can Google stuff or type when I’m talking to a client or a colleague or a barrister or whatever, as I have to take attendance notes on important phone calls, but when it comes to dealing with all the paperwork, or indeed, the housework, I forget. My mum was not happy with the state of my last house, as I nearly always forgot to hoover, dust, wipe surfaces etc. It wasn’t laziness or sluttiness so much as the fact that it just didn’t occur to me to do these things. I’d be so preoccupied with my dissertation or my research for uni or whatever that housework would be pushed out of my mind. If my brain was a storage space, it would be a small cupboard. There is only so much crap that you can fit in a small cupboard before things start to fall out.

I don’t know whether this is an Aspergers thing or not, but it’s a frustrating one. My mum has offered to pay for a cleaner in the past, but I feel far too ashamed to hire one. I guess I just don’t like admitting I need help. I hate being made to feel like a dirty slut who can’t take care of herself, but maybe this is what I am. I guess Mum sees things I don’t see. The dirt does not register on my radar. The last place had a damp problem and the amount of cleaning it needed was ridiculous, so at least the new place is easier to look after, but it’s still messy. Apparently it’s also depression related. Indeed, when I was at my lowest, I was dependent on my family for everything, including contacting the NHS for a referral for therapy, which I could not do as I was in too much of a mess.

I try and keep up with housework these days – at the very least, I wash up, I do at least one wash per week, I clean the toilet and change my bed, which I only did once a month back in the old place (sorry), but I don’t always hoover, wash windows, dust or clean the kitchen and bathroom floors, although now it’s because I don’t have the fucking energy to do housework most of the time. Even though I only work four hours a day, and in a desk job at that, I spend most of the rest of the day resting up and recovering. Probably due to the nature of my job, I am getting better at organising stuff and prioritising what needs to be done, even when it’s not flashing on my screen in red type marked ‘URGENT’, but it’s a pain in the arse trying to fit everything in the cupboard. Housework, job, synagogue, bills, sink, floor, bathroom, exercise when I have the energy, blog, return library books, transfer direct debits to new account, and so on, and so on…but the paperwork isn’t letting up any time soon.

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