The Hidden Village of Aspergers

September 6, 2014

Armageddon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 2, 2014

Neighbourhood

Filed under: childhood — kankurette @ 9:26 pm
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In a neighbourhood like this, you know, it’s hard to survive
So you’d better come prepared ‘cos they won’t take us alive
Oh, if you find the time please come and stay a while
In my beautiful neighbourhood

I was born in Guy’s Hospital in London in the spring of 1984. I came out on time, perhaps marking the anal retentive worrier I would later become (my brother Jack, however, who was born in 1986 and is more laid-back than me, came out nine days late).

I have lived in four different cities: London, Brighton, Chester and my current home of Manchester. Of all these cities, although I love Manchester, Brighton is the city that will always have a place in my heart. Whenever I go down there, I feel a pull; I walk on the beach and I’m a little kid again. I remember how Mum went down there one day while Jack and I were at school, and scattered Dad’s ashes. I swim in the Prince Regent baths and I remember the days when me and Mum and Jack would go for a swim and then a pizza. I’m at Preston Park station, and I remember my gran getting off the train to meet Dad when he was ill one time, and Dad crying in her arms, and me being shocked because I didn’t realise grown-ups cried. I’m looking at the rails where Dad used to drop off the frogs that hopped into our garden after capturing them and putting them in jars (Mum has a phobia of amphibians). I’m in Hove Park and I’m playing on the swings while Jack and Dad play football. And so on. I think I will move back there one day, but bringing myself round to leaving Manchester is a long and difficult process. I can’t just up and leave. I need plans, I need help packing, I need to know what I’m doing and where I’m going.

I cannot remember the exact reasons why we moved away from London, and my memories of the city itself are blurry, though I remember my auntie Debby’s house, and feeding ducks in our local park, and our purple bath, and going on a boat trip in Greenwich. I do know that the area we lived in was pretty dodgy and my parents were worried about bringing kids up there. My dad worked in London, but when we moved out to Brighton after my brother was born, my parents luckily found a house that was on a hill with a station at the bottom, making it easy for Dad to commute.

When Dad died, Mum wanted to get the hell out of Brighton. She couldn’t stand being in a house filled with memories (and my auntie Chris, Dad’s sister, still can’t go back to Brighton as it reminds her too much of Dad), and wanted to move further north, as my auntie Nicky lived in Manchester, my dad’s family in St Annes, and my maternal gran in Hoylake. We moved to a flat round the corner, but it was a short term fix; Mum considered places such as Altrincham and Wilmslow, finally settling on Chester after she met Jon, the man who would later become my first stepfather, and who lived in the sticks with his kids and dog. So we moved up to Chester in 1995. I started high school – more on that later – and although we alternated between Jon’s house and a rented place, when he and Mum got married, we all moved in together in a big house in the arse end of nowhere. Well, its real name is Christleton, but to kids who’d grown up in cities, it was a culture shock.

I got accepted into Manchester University and lived in halls in first year. Being in a place where buses were frequent, shops were down the road instead of a car journey away and you didn’t have to worry about getting mud on your trousers was a relief. In second year, I moved in with a group of girls in a rather dodgy part of Fallowfield, and that went horribly wrong, and after an overdose and a period where none of them were speaking to me, I moved out and into another hall of residence, on a floor filled with rugger buggers. In third year, I lived in yet another hall of residence, and in my final year, I officially moved out and lived on my own for the first time. The flat was a few minutes’ walk from the university. For a while I was settled, but eventually I wanted to get out and moved to my current place.

Considering I used to freak if my mum moved furniture in the sitting room, you can imagine how moving house felt. I cried my eyes out on leaving Brighton. I felt like a tree torn out at the roots. Saying goodbye to my best friend hurt. Sitting in the car and looking behind me hurt.

I should be used to moving around, but unlike my mother, I get attached to places. Even though most of my mates have left Manchester, and I no longer go to synagogue here, I have a home and a routine and I know where places are. My home is not just bricks and mortar; it represents my ability to live on my own and manage, to an extent. Plus it’s a nice little flat, with a garden and plants out front and a general lack of pissed students wandering around, at least compared to Fallowfield. I think that’s one reason why I’m reluctant to just up sticks and fuck off to Cambridge, where Mum lives now with my current stepdad, his kids and an ageing cat. I’m settled. After years of moving back and forth, from city to country to city, from halls to house to halls to house, I’ve got a home that I own, I’m not surrounded by boxes or coming home to workmen, and leaving this place, selling up, househunting, takes time and energy I do not have.

Some day, I will leave Manchester and return to Brighton. But that day may be a long way off yet.

October 2, 2011

Ramblings of a jealous girl

Filed under: childhood,relationships with others — kankurette @ 9:14 am
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I’m writing this during the Days of Awe, the period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur when Jews take stock of ourselves and apologise to people we’ve wronged, in preparation for the big day of repentance on Yom Kippur. Throughout the day, we recite a laundry list of sins know as ‘Al Chet’, that begins ‘al cheit shechatanu le’fanecha….’ (for the sin we have committed before You…) and ends with ‘ve’al kulam, Eloah selichot, selach lanu, mechal lanu, kaper lanu’ (for all of these, L-rd our G-d, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement). There’s too many sins to mention, and even if I personally have not committed the ones on the list, I say Al Chet anyway, often having to bite my lip. It’s a very raw and painful festival to go through. All that self-examination gets you after a while, especially when you take things so literally and personally.

When I think of the seven deadly sins, I wonder what my trademark sin would be. Surprisingly, it’s not gluttony, wrath or sloth; it’s envy, or rather, jealousy. Pure, white-hot, unadulterated jealousy.

It all started when I was an infant and my mum brought my new baby brother home from the hospital. I reacted to this unwanted alien by scratching her face, and thus began nineteen or so years of sibling rivalry. Jack was and had everything I wanted to be and have. He had loads of friends. He was outgoing and happy and patient and, in retrospect, a lot nicer and less abrasive than me. When Mum and I argued, it would be a screaming match. When Mum and Jack argued, he’d sit back and take it. He was always going to parties, started drinking and doing drugs before I did, and had a constant stream of friends over, whereas I only had one or two close friends at a time, and spent most evenings at home alone. He also had a long-term girlfriend, back when I was doing my A-Levels, and I didn’t handle this well; I couldn’t bear the thought of my little brother growing up before me, having sex all the time while I was practically a virgin, being able to bring his girlfriend to family parties (including my eighteenth birthday, even though I wanted it to be family only but had to have her there anyway, something for which I resented him and my mother like hell) and being, well, normal. I had always been bullied for not having a sex life or a boyfriend, even back in year seven, and seeing Jack’s little unit only reinforced that he was the antithesis of me. It didn’t stop me wanting to hurt his girlfriend when she dumped him, however. The big sister instinct was always there, deep down.

In high school, I remember being jealous of all the girls who played lots of instruments, all of them well, and were always being invited to play in school concerts, and my mate Paul for being more intelligent than me. It didn’t help that I was compared to him by teachers, and that I had a huge crush on him and didn’t know how to deal with it, and when he got a girlfriend, I was jealous of her too. The poor guy wasn’t even aware I considered him to be my academic rival. One of the reasons why I cried upon only getting three As and one B at A-Level was that he had gotten four As. I was also jealous of my old friend from primary school, even though, looking back, I know she was going through a bad time back then and was having a lot of problems with her stepmum. I wished I led the exotic life she did, with all the fetish clubs and drinking and wild nights on the beach and boyfriends and drugs. I was jealous of the girls who got into clubs, despite being underage, and would come in with stories of their nights out at various shitty clubs – although once I started going clubbing myself when I was sixteen, that all changed.

When I went to university, I did a burlesque class, and I was jealous of other girls there who got gigs and got invited to perform at our teacher’s new club night, whereas I never got a slot. I was especially jealous of the ones who went professional and did photo shoots and performances all over the country. I was jealous of the girlfriend of the man I was obsessed with – who I will call Itachi – and jealous of him too, because he seemed to have it made, being popular and together and intelligent and knowing so much about politics and Judaism and Israel.

Even now, the green eyed monster is still there, although thankfully, I’m not jealous of Jack anymore (in fact, I really like his girlfriend).

I’m jealous of another mental health blogger, who I know in real life and who I won’t name, because she has more readers and support in the mental health blogging world, is more involved in her synagogue than I am with mine, got to play at fucking Limmud and apparently is a singer-songwriter, and does much more with her life than I do, while I barely have the spoons to even make synagogue services. It’s gotten so bad that I want to join the synagogue’s musical group just to compete with her.

I’m jealous of a female friend of mine because she’s fucked more girls than I have, and I don’t feel like a proper bisexual because I’ve never had sex with a woman (although I did have a relationship with one).

I’m jealous of other friends of mine who have better sex lives than me.

I’m jealous of my cousin for being thinner and prettier and more popular than me than I was at her age (though it helps that she has good genes).

It pains me to say this – and luckily, at the time, I realised this was going way, way too far and told myself to stop being so bloody stupid – but I was even jealous when I saw my mum hugging one of her boyfriend’s kids, because she was crying about her grandad, who had recently died.

The worst part of it is that most of these people don’t even deserve it, and aren’t aware of it. Jealousy, as one rabbi said, only hurts the jealous person. Linda Goodman talked of the scorpion stinging himself (and I have a Scorpio ascendant and a couple of planets in the sign!) and that’s me. I am the scorpion trying to sting others, yet I only sting myself.

According to one counsellor, Maxine Easton, who’s worked with families on the spectrum, some people with Aspergers tend to value what others DO, rather than what they ARE. They notice the achievements, but not the person who’s achieving them. For instance, Jack might have had a better life than me when we were teens, but he wasn’t and isn’t perfect, and he wasn’t happy all the time, and had a much worse relationship with my stepdad than I did. Jilly and Paula, Paul and Itachi’s girlfriends, were nice people and did not deserve being on the receiving end of jealousy (though I made damn sure I hid it around them). The grass is not always greener on the other side. Sometimes it has broken glass or snakes in it – and some of the people I was jealous of had a lot of snakes hiding in their grass.

I wish to G-d I could stop being jealous. I am getting better, but it is trying sometimes.

October 10, 2010

Happy Mental Health Day. If ‘happy’ is an appropriate adjective.

Filed under: mental illness,world mental health day — kankurette @ 7:15 pm
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Today, it’s World Mental Health Day.

I’ll be honest. I feel kind of strange making a post in relation to mental health. Amongst all the other Mental Nurse bloggers, I feel I don’t really belong. I have it easier than a lot of people with mental health difficulties. I have a job; I’m not on Incapacity (yet) or DLA; I’ve never been institutionalised; I’ve never been prescribed anti-psychotics; I was never abused as a child, and I had two wonderful parents who loved me; I am white and middle-class; I completed my university degree, albeit after interrupting; I have a support network of friends and family; I have a roof over my head; I am able to socialise with others to an extent; I rarely hallucinate or hear voices. But I’m going to write an entry anyway, because mental illness runs in my mum’s side of the family, and because the past five to six years have been some of the hardest years of my life. December 2004 was when everything changed.

I’d always been a melancholy kid. Think Marvin, Eeyore, Cassandra, the Ides of March. I just went along with it. In my teenage years, I had moments where I was suicidal, and I started self-harming at 14, but I just put it down to teenage angst. Depression wasn’t an illess, I believed. It couldn’t happen to me. Even though my mum turned into a wreck after my dad died and spent days in bed, even though she had panic attacks in front of us and seemed to be more temperamental and headachey than usual, even though the doctor gave her pills to take, I just thought she was sad; I didn’t realise she was ill. After she married my stepdad, I began to internalise some of his attitudes towards weakness and depression. I believed it wasn’t an illness, and that it could only happen to someone who’d been through trauma.

I was stupid. Stupid and ignorant.

My second year of university was one of the worst years of my life. It started with coursework and rushing around like a headless chicken doing stuff for Unite Against Fascism and the LGBT Society and the Student Union Council and its extracurricular groups and the Women’s Group and the Vagina Monologues and the Rock Soc and my course, had an overdose and the loss of four people I considered friends in the centre, and ended with me living in halls with a load of rugger buggers, trapped in my room, and then staying with my parents, only able to read the Beano because my attention span was too short, fooling around on silly websites, and wondering how I ended up like this.

At my very worst, I could barely drag myself out of bed (this was before the ME hit). I was sleeping during the day, comforting eating and throwing it up, cutting myself at least once a week, crying a lot. I did go back to uni to repeat the bit I missed, but it took ages to get accustomed to sitting through classes without crying and running out of the room, I was still cutting a lot, and spent way too much time sleeping and eating pick ‘n’ mix. I was having CBT, which did help somewhat.

The Disability Department at Manchester were great. I know some people will disagree with me, but they helped me get accommodation and extensions for my coursework, and the lecturers – the German ones in particular – were so supportive. I worried that because of this stigma, this bullshit that depression is not a real illness, I wouldn’t be taken seriously, but it was quite the opposite. I sat my exams in a special room for students with disabilities and mental health issues, knowing that if I were to have a panic attack, they would stop the clock and I would take time out to recover, and then go back in when I was ready to complete the exam. I never needed the clock, but having it there was a comfort. I also got all my coursework done to deadline and did not make a hideous mess of my course. However, I did miss out on the year abroad, as Occupational Health thought sending me to Spain and Germany for a long time was a bad idea, and it did bite me in the arse when we had to talk about our years abroad (I got round this by talking about the places I would have visited), and I did feel left out, but I wouldn’t have been able to go abroad, realistically.

I admit that while writing this, I feel like the archetypal upper-middle-class Gap Year student, volunteering with the disadvantaged, throwing their arms open and proclaiming, “I am Just Like You! Respect me and allow me to bestow my whiteness upon you, and be thankful!” I almost feel like I’m slapping other people over the head with the fish of privilege. I say this because in the Daily Mail recently, there was a story about a Nice Young Middle-Class Woman who became a Victim of much Depression and spent some time in a Terrible Dickensian Institution with the Great Unwashed (hey, this is the Daily Mail – this was a psych ward in a London hospital, by the way, that treated a lot of local people, many from underprivileged areas), and how Terribly she suffered. I feel like her. I am one of the lucky ones. What I have been through is nothing compared to what the people in the article have been through, and believe me, I am well aware, although thinking this and counting my blessings is not going to help – and there! The internalised stigma rears its ugly head. Stop whining, Lotte, there is someone worse off than you.

That revelation will not make the depression go away.

The other reason why I decided to blog is because I recently reduced my dosage from 40mg of Citalopram to 20mg. It is a big step, but thankfully is going great. I feel like shit, but it’s more due to overwork than the meds change.

Although this blog was originally about Aspergers Syndrome, there will be mental health stuff on here too. So watch this space. The two issues are interconnected, twined around each other like mating snakes, so it’s inevitable they’ll tread on each other’s toes. Or whatever the snakey equivalent of that is.

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