The Hidden Village of Aspergers

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.

March 15, 2014

Bastard Me Bastard You

TW: sexual assault / rape

Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if I could make you mine?
To own and dress you up, control you all the time

Before I go any further, I feel I need to write this disclaimer: I do not hate men. My father, my brother, stepdad, stepbrother, uncles and some of my cousins are men, I have male friends, and there are plenty of decent men out there. I’m not going to write off an entire sex. But I am nervous around large groups of men, I worry about getting involved with men, and some of the worst bullying I suffered was at the hands of men. A lot of it was sexual in nature. I’d have all kinds of disgusting comments shouted at me in the yard, and one time a bunch of kids tried to get me to feel myself up in a park, and there was talk of me giving one of the guys a handjob. I freaked and ran home. Another time, a guy shoved his hand up my skirt as I was walking up some steps. I was told that I didn’t need a bra as I had nothing to put in it; my developing tits were hidden under my baggy school sweater. In Year 7, a crude caricature of me was passed around English class. One guy had a song about fucking me in the arse to the tune of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ There was a running gag that I liked using sausages as dildos because I said ‘yes’ when asked if I liked sausages. Me being innocent and literal-minded, I had no idea they weren’t talking about food. This went on all through high school. Even when the guys in my year who picked on me had left, it didn’t end, because there were the guys in my brother’s year. I had a reputation by then. Word got around at Christleton High School.

When I was a teenager, I had a nasty incident with a guy in a club. Some would call what happened to me rape, although under British law, it was sexual assault as he didn’t use his penis. He used his hand. Because I had a bit of a complex about being a virgin, and because I worried so much about fitting in and that ‘everyone else’ was having sex and that I wouldn’t be a normal person unless I got laid, I would go out clubbing in the hope that I could pull some guy for a quick fuck in the toilet. It happened once, in the Krazyhouse in Liverpool; another time, I came very close to it, but couldn’t go through with it in the end. I can’t remember when this incident happened, but I was in Sixth Form and I was out with R, my best mate, and I got a bit friendly with a guy he knew and let him shove his fingers up me. We went outside and sat in an alcove over the road, and I wanted to go back into the club, but he wouldn’t let me and I had to wrench myself free. When we got back into the club, he started fingering me again and I told him to stop, as he was hurting me, but he kept on doing it and only stopped after R told him to leave me alone.  I never went to the police or anything. It didn’t occur to me. I doubt they would have believed me anyway. After that, I was a bit more careful. At uni, in second year, I lived in a dodgy area of Fallowfield and one night, as I was walking home down Moseley Road, a man slowed down his car next to me. I don’t think I’ve ever run so fast in my life, not even on Sports Day.

Some people with Aspergers are easily taken advantage of. With me, I’m the opposite. I used to be taken in by men who hit on me, but now I’m hyper-paranoid around most men. I am genuinely surprised when a man finds me attractive and isn’t taking the piss. When a man hits on me, I assume he’s doing it for a laugh or a dare. After all, who’d want to fuck a fat woman with messy hair and bad skin? Years of being told you’re ugly and treated like a freak and a sexless creature and the school joke can do bad things to your head. You internalise all the things people say about you and believe that you are so hideous that no-one could possibly want you unless they were desperate. I’m not fishing for compliments. I genuinely do believe this.

This leads me onto catcalling and street harassment. Not only beautiful women have to deal with it, sadly. We ugly women do too. I don’t take catcalls as compliments. I know the men catcalling me don’t mean it and that if I do take their word for it and give them my number, they’ll laugh in my face. I really doubt any of the men who catcall me are chubby chasers, as a friend of a friend claimed. If so, there must be a hell of a lot of chubby chasers in Manchester, is all I can say. I used to hate walking into town in Chester, because I hated being beeped at. I don’t get why men do this, if I’m honest. Do they genuinely believe that I find their behaviour a turn-on, that I’m going to fall in love with them if they beep and jeer at me? Of course they don’t. It just makes me feel humiliated and small. I don’t project confidence when I walk. I walk with my head down. I have a general fear of strangers coming up to me as it is: when beggars ask me for change, and I get it a lot in Manchester, I freak. One time, I screamed in fear when a small group of them came up to me, and another time, I jerked my body away, resulting in a sarcastic ‘that’s nice’. I even slashed my arm up in front of one beggar because I felt ashamed of not giving him money, and because earlier, I’d thought he was going to rape me. I must have been feeling ultra paranoid that day. Ah, paranoia, my old friend.

I get nervous around large groups of men because it reminds me of the Chester days, basically. I can get lost in my own head when I’m walking to work or wherever, and being shouted at disturbs the feeling. It makes me scared and self-conscious and nervous. It doesn’t make me feel empowered or sexy.

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.

October 2, 2013

It only takes one chocolate bar

First off, I should probably put a warning on this post. If you’ve ever had problems with an eating disorder, you might find this post triggering. Proceed with caution.

For reasons I’m not going into, out of respect for my family, addiction’s been on my mind recently. The other thing that prompted this post is the fact that I’ve recently been having difficulty breathing, and my chest hurts. After going on Google, I figured out I’d pulled my chest muscles from purging, and that was what was causing the pain.

I have an obsessive personality. I obsess over people, books, manga, bands.  My obsession with Space is one I need to keep a careful check on, as it’s caused me a lot of anxiety lately. I sometimes wonder if having an obsessive personality might overlap with an addictive personality; there’s the same kind of all-or-nothing quality in both cases. I have to go to as many Space gigs as I can and buy as much stuff by them as I can and back when I was a kid, I’d buy every magazine they were in that I could get my hands on, and I was in the fan club, and there were other, more embarrassing aspects of it that I won’t go into here. In the same way, when I’ve gone through phases of being obsessed with my body, I’ve counted calories and gone to the gym and pushed myself till I hurt. Even yesterday, I felt like a failure because I was only in there for 20 minutes and I had to get off the bike because my arms and legs were literally shaking. The last time I went, I was in pain for days.

I had a phase around 2004 where I was barely eating. I’d have an apple for lunch and things like two sausages on a plate of spinach for dinner, and I’d give up sweet things. That all stopped, luckily for my mum – who was worried about me – when I went back to uni. I was thin for a year, then I got put on Citalopram and my weight shot up. Looking at old pictures of myself made me want to cry. I missed being thin. I had to tell myself that being fat and relatively stable was better than being thin and cutting all the time and wanting to die, but when Mum was having a go at me over my weight, and when I looked in the mirror at the mikveh when I converted to Judaism and was ashamed of my gut, I wondered if coming off the pills might be an idea.

Food and I have a complicated relationship. I am a comfort eater. When I am stressed or unhappy, I comfort eat. When I’m going through a particular bad patch, I binge and purge. I have been doing this on and off for about half my life – I remember throwing up in the sink in my room. I can’t even remember what started it. I did it at school, I definitely remember that.

It only takes one chocolate bar, one biscuit, one packet of crisps on a bad day. You think, “I’ll just eat this thing.” Then you think, “Another one won’t hurt.” Before you know it, you’ve eaten a whole pack. You feel disgusted at yourself. You run to the toilet, fill a glass with water to help, shove your fingers down your throat, and vomit and vomit until your stomach starts to hurt and only bile is coming up. Alternatively, you’re out with mates, and they’re having pudding, so you do as well, and then you immediately start to feel guilty and it’s toilet time again, and you wonder if your friends know what you’re doing.

I know vomiting doesn’t help. Believe me, I know. I’ve started to suffer the side effects. Besides chest pains, after purging I get an irritating cough – apparently ‘bulimics’ cough’ is a thing – a sore throat, and damaged teeth. That’s not to mention the watering eyes and bad breath, and having to clean my toilet, wipe down walls, wash my hands, check that there is no telltale puke in my hair or on my hands or face or clothes. Bulimia is not pretty or glamorous. It is, frankly, pretty disgusting.

I tried Slimming World. It barely worked. I may go back on if and when I have enough money and willpower, but it is going to take a hell of a lot. When you’re stuck in bad eating habits, it is hard to get out. Add to that a chronic condition that makes exercise potentially debilitating, and you’re fucked. I sometimes wonder if addictive personalities run in the family. I’m not the first person in my family to have had an eating disorder, or at least symptoms of one. There have been alcoholics in my family. I don’t think I’m in any danger of becoming an alcoholic; I don’t drink these days due to my meds, which makes Space gigs awkward (at the last one, I came very close to having a full-blown anxiety attack in front of Franny Griffiths), and I’m not a big fan of alcohol anyway. I’ve done drugs, and although I did enjoy MDMA, I never got addicted to it (the novelty would have worn off, for one thing). My addiction, let’s be honest, is food. I am overweight, in a society that hates fat people, and I am stuck in a horrible behaviour pattern and I want to get out of it, believe me. Sometimes you think, “I’m going to change, I’m going to give this up and I’m going to eat this instead and do yay amount of exercise,” and for a few days it lasts and then you have a bad day at work or you’re PMS-ing and it’s back to square one. Again, and again, and again.

As I type this, my lunch is in the oven – it’s a salmon steak, a couple of potato waffles, and I’ve got some homemade salsa in the fridge made of avocados and red onion and tomatoes. I know I will keep it down. I tend not to vomit that kind of thing. Even I have my limits.

February 3, 2011

Eyes! Hair! Mouth! Figure!

Filed under: routine — kankurette @ 8:03 pm
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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.

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