Spaghetti emotions

I see this stuff in terms of autistic emotion regulation difficulties, I guess it could be seen in terms of bipolar but I don’t know enough about that to comment. Also, as the title suggests, there’s no clear divide between many overlapping factors so who knows where we might end up, I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

I read a blog recently (I forget which) which had a diagram of autistic emotions with very clear happy/sad/meltdown divisions. It was a good fit with my all or nothing mentality. When happy I am on top of the world, nothing can stop me, I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks… frankly I’m an arrogant self-congratulating narcissist who truly believes she is the “all singing all dancing crap of the world”. When I’m not happy my self-worth plummets to abysmal lows and I find it impossible to understand how anyone could ever see me as anything but a foolish annoyance, a real pain in the butt.  I have a lot of difficulty accepting kindness because deep down I simply do not believe I deserve it.

Here’s the catch, it’s not as clear cut as feeling either happy or sad, much of the time I am both simultaneously to varying degrees but it’s still somehow black and white, or rather happy or sad, in my mind. Even in my finest hours of triumph there is always an underlying current of doubt and an inner sarcasm mocking every petty victory. For example I think writing this blog is mostly a good thing, it helps me get my thoughts in order and express them in a relatively safe way. It’s something I can use as a coping tool and unlike therapists or friends it is available at no cost at any hour of the day. The idea of people reading what I write is a bonus in that it appeals to my vanity. It is also an act of hope in that I might provide some comfort to others who feel the same way just as reading the experiences of others helps me. It is also a curse as I despise my vanity, I believe that most of what I write is self-absorbed twaddle and I am desperately reaching out through the internet for someone, anyone, to understand which is a pathetic and futile hope when I cannot begin to understand myself. It’s the paradox which really bothers me, how can I be so vain and self-loathing at the same time??

Other people add another layer of complexity. I spend a lot of time and energy trying to understand people and often wonder if it is worth the effort. I am tempted to tar you all with the same brush – more black and white thinking: on a bad day it is so much easier to just believe all people are horrid rather than pick a route through the thorny complexities of: most people are mostly OK unless you catch them at a bad time; some people seem nice but have ulterior motives; and many people who have had my admiration are nowhere near as perfect in reality as they were in my imagination. Sometimes all I can manage is more of a two legs bad four legs good mindset. (Animals are much easier to read and more consistent in their behaviour). I have been let down by people time and again and so when the good ones come along I am slow to trust.

I’ve believed for some time (long before the revelation of autism), that I feel emotions more keenly than most people do. For what it’s worth though I wouldn’t want to change this; I think the passion goes hand in hand with the pain and I love that I am so very passionate about many things. Even within the pain there is also beauty, it takes but seconds to think of examples of this in every art form but this seems especially true of music: Mascagni’s Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana and Adele’s Someone Like You come to mind. I want the pain, I want the bitter-sweet fantasy, I want to feel it all no matter what the cost.

I also lurch from one emotion to the next with dizzying speed (I think the shrinks would use the term emotional lability) as I react to every piece of input, including all those thoughts and thoughts about thoughts. I do love thinking but from a very young age I’ve desperately wanted to be able to turn my mind off and take a break from it for a while. The best I can do to achieve this is by being fully absorbed by something, I can become fascinated by almost anything and while my brain is immersed in one thing which demands all my attention it just doesn’t get a chance to come up with anything else, that’s as close as I get to relaxation.

Self-awareness, while often praised by MH types, isn’t necessarily a good thing. I am not sure how to express anything without making some predictions about how others might then perceive me, therefore anything I say or do consciously is a form of manipulation. If it is the result of wanting to be perceived in a certain way then anything that I’m aware of might not be as honest as thoughtless actions/words. However on the rare occasions I let down my guard of extreme self-control, or when communication moves too quickly for me to consider every consequence, my uncensored thoughts get me into all sorts of trouble. In general it seems people can’t handle the truth and I still have much to learn about tact.

Just in case autism isn’t complex enough that’s only one side of the picture, the nature side if you like. For a long time I believed the nurture side of things was the root of all my difficulties. When I’m not busy blaming myself for everything I’m also pretty good at blaming others. As a teenager I spent a lot of time composing suicide notes in my head which would show them exactly how they were to blame – ‘that’ll learn ’em’ I thought. These days I’m generally less suicidal but in a way I feel trapped by motherhood, I no longer have the luxury of being able to imagine writing vindictive ‘goodbye cruel world’ notes, or taking out all those who I perceive to have hurt me in a killing spree (we all have those thoughts right? Consider your answer carefully, I may be dangerous!)  because even in my imagination the guilt of deserting my child is overwhelming, particularly as she doesn’t have a second parent to fall back on.

I’m also stuck between the varying impact of nature and nurture on who I am. It’s impossible to unravel the cause of every fleeting feeling but the self-analysis continues relentlessly. Sometimes I think autism may be a scapegoat for my failings just as my classmates (I hate how there is an implication of friendship in that word) were for my social failings. I am accountable for my actions and no diagnosis or half-arsed sob-story changes that. By increasing my knowledge of autism and human nature I hope that a more accurate understanding of myself and others will bring me peace. I fear that seeking knowledge is to some degree a substitute for the reassurance others get from relationships. I am luckier than I deserve in the friends I have, far more than I have the social stamina for. What I lack is a partner, someone to share the mundane highs and lows with, someone who gets me and loves me for who I am and I can bestow my love upon without fear. While this is the fantasy (and life is so unpredictable I’ve learned to never say never), I can’t see this being a reality for a long time to come.

So for now I write and I reach out and I try to brave the storm of emotions one day at a time.

Edit: I wrote this about three days ago when I couldn’t sleep. Since then I’ve been in two minds about whether to post it, pretty much for the reasons given above. I think overall it’s worth the risk of sharing, I hope so.

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Marrakech – sensory overload and thoughts on poverty and privilege

Following another visit to the city today this post is an attempt to at least identify, if not understand, some of the things which were such an assault on my senses and emotions.

We started off in the tranquil  gardens by the Koutoubia mosque, an incredibly beautiful setting and I let P roam (having learned from yesterday’s escapades I remembered the baby-reins). I rather like baby-led walking, even though it meant we went round in circles a lot and spent an inordinate amount of time admiring the lower half of a bit of hedge – I suspect because it looked very like another bit of hedge where she saw a cat, I hope so anyway because otherwise she blew an awful lot of kisses at a fairly ordinary hedge…

P was much admired as usual. She has become a little clingy the last couple of days, I think too many people have picked her up without so much as a by your leave and whisked her off for kisses and cuddles so it’s understandable that this has created some separation anxiety. It is beyond my capabilities to describe just how much people here adore babies. I have started trying to use this when haggling in the market, for every time they kiss her I tell them they have to knock 10dh off the asking price – no luck with this tactic so far but I remain optimistic and they seem to appreciate the joke.

So anyway, we’re walking through the idyllic gardens and stopping every few minutes so someone can adore P in all her blue-eyed glory when a pretty little girl no more than 5 or 6 years old runs up to P with glee. She kisses her and P is equally taken with her admirer and runs after the girl squealing with excitement. It was a beautiful moment, despite the differences between their worlds the two of them connected joyfully in such honest mutual appreciation in the natural way that young children can. The girl then carried on her way and we saw that she was working the gardens trying to sell people tissues (for some reason there appears to be a roaring trade in tissues here). She hadn’t tried to sell any to us but watching this beautiful child work broke my heart. It seems arrogant to pity her, I have no idea what her circumstances were and I am sure there are many here and elsewhere who are far worse off. Yet coming from our western perspective of absurd privilege it seemed inconceivable that this pretty girl wasn’t enjoying the garden as a child might (or should?) but was there to earn money, a very adult responsibility.

We continued but the girl stayed in my mind. I wonder whether my response would have been the same had the girl been ugly, if I am honest I think her beauty served to increase my feelings. Just because this is a common human response doesn’t make it OK, just because we’re indoctrinated by this mostly constructed sense of what is aesthetically pleasing doesn’t make that right.

I think the vicinity of the mosque was a factor in the number of people begging we saw, certainly far more than in the residential areas of the city we explored (OK, got lost in) the other day. I find giving money to people who are begging awkward and embarrassing. It’s ridiculous really that I should feel this way, I have no right to the relative wealth I enjoy. It is only by chance that I am me and not you, or him, or one of them.

There were so many people, clearly in need and so much more I could have done. Surely the dumb luck of privilege should bestow some degree of responsibility for the poor? I did not help them, the best I could manage was trying to make eye contact, smile and ‘salaam halleikum’ (sp?) them as I walked past. P also dispensed smiles freely and waved, while I felt guilty for wondering how clean the hands which grasped hers were. The best I can do now is describe some of these people:

There was a man who had cardboard strapped to his withered legs, he was very adept at getting around on his hands, dragging his legs along. He gave P a gap-toothed grin. Then there was a woman, sitting on a filthy street with a baby in her arms who was a similar age to P. I couldn’t meet her eye or her outstretched hand. Then there was a man who looked as if he had just walked off the set of a biblical film, perhaps one about the nativity, for he carried a goat on his shoulders. We stopped to admire his goat, which bleated to P’s delight, and the man made it clear, by mime rather than words, that he was hungry. I took his photo and gave him a coin, I think it was worth about 20p. He squeezed my hand and I squeezed back, thinking of this gesture makes me want to cry. When I’m back in my comfortable life, worrying about all the silly things I do, I’ll try to remember to upload the photo of him. Perhaps the moral to this story should be that I should be less spoiled and more grateful for all that I have.

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In contrast to all this was the vast array of tourist tat in the centre of the old city. All those shiny trinkets which look half decent in the semi-darkness of the souk but once home you wonder why you bought it and after gathering dust for a few years eventually makes its way to the charity shop to join the ranks of tat from the Algarve and Torremolinos.

The noise was immense, snake charmers piping their charges to rise up; at least ten drummers drumming; constant touting of wares in multiple languages; cries of “just look!” as they follow you down the street and play guess the nationality – the consensus seems to be that I look Belgian. As ever being abroad has brought up nationality issues for me but that’s a discussion for another day.

The sights were beyond overwhelming, colours everywhere in a dazzling kaleidoscope and anything involving live snakes (or dead ones for that matter) is not my idea of fun. Some things were easy to identify, there were many orange juice sellers for instance – about 30p/glass and delicious. However it took me longer to see what was on offer from the women painting people with henna and I can only assume the man who was sitting with two live chickens was trying to sell them.

The smells included food cooking, animal waste, incense, exhaust fumes and oranges, each forcing its way up my nose before I had a chance to identify where it came from and then merging into the next smell. One man, while trying very hard to sell us some slippers we didn’t want, gave P some bread he had been eating which she gratefully devoured. She also munched her way through a clementine and did her best to put sticky fingers on every possible surface including the filthy street then put her hands in her mouth *sigh*. I’m usually in favour of kids having the freedom to get grubby but there are limits and many things here have already forced me to abandon aspirations of hygiene.

The traffic deserves its own paragraph and contributes greatly to the sights, sounds, smells and general insanity of the city. Motorbikes whizz past in all directions, then there’s the kalesh (horse drawn carriages), cars, bicycles (I saw a teenager pedaling with one leg only while talking on a mobile on a busy dual carriageway) and all manner of horse/donkey drawn carts and a large number of pedestrians. Every last one of them seems to have no sense of their mortality and they all weave in and out of each other with no apparent regard for any highway code. Trying to cross the road involves boldly stepping out and playing chicken between moving traffic. Nowhere is safe as motorbikes appear on even the narrowest streets. Miraculously there don’t seem to be many accidents. I think there’s scope for a study looking at the differences between Moroccan and English drivers, I’d lay money on the Moroccans having superior spacial awareness.

All this sensory overload is a part of the experience, it’s partly what we came for.  It is also quite easily solved as I am able to retreat to the quiet hotel room and indulge in blissful dark and silence while I write about my experiences. What doesn’t leave me is the image of the little girl’s face. I wish I had taken her photo. For me traveling is always like teleporting into another universe. Right now I cannot really imagine the reality of life at home, I know logically that life goes on there but I just can’t picture it. I know that when I return the reality of here will dim in my mind too just as the reality of all the other places I’ve been lucky enough to visit has dimmed. Perhaps that is the function of this post, to serve as an aide memoire.

Incidentally it is Christmas eve today. I keep forgetting it’s Christmas. Tomorrow we’re off to explore the Atlas mountains. It is wonderful for me to be able to escape Christmas in this way (see previous post). In future P will require me to do Christmas properly but for this year we are content with our privileged ability to learn about another culture.

Reality versus reverie

She eyed the barren chocolate box,

which with its sunken sockets mocked,

And tried to think of simpler times

(another box of hollow lies).

The pressing calls of here right now,

To mimic ‘good enough’ somehow,

Weren’t muffled by her waking dreams

Of soothing lover’s aching screams.

While in her mind she daemons slew,

Her courage sank as soon she knew

That time had marched on once again.

And so she battled with the rain,

Still thinking of her vain amour,

She trudged bedraggled to the door,

To fetch her only true love home

And act the mother ’til alone

She can retreat into her mind

And fuel her heart with hope that’s blind.

Why I’m not doing Christmas

So I finally got to spend time out with the dog yesterday and ended up trying to list and understand all the reasons I have for not doing Christmas again this year. My extreme Christmas avoidance has reached the point I’m going to a non-Christian country for Christmas week (again, this approach has worked well for me in previous years). People often struggle to understand what’s not to love about Christmas so here’s the top 5 reasons I hate this time of year:

1) Death – yes, death, doesn’t really go well with mince pies does it? I’ve had the misfortune that several people I’ve been close to in my life have suddenly died at Christmas. Others have either succeeded or failed in attempts to commit suicide over the festive period. So perhaps you’ll forgive me if my first association isn’t turkey and tinsel but spending Boxing Day trying to make choices about coffins because the country I was in had a law that deceased need to be buried/cremated within two days, even when it happens on Christmas day.  There’s a certain irony here I think, in that Christmas was originally about birth rather than death which leads me onto:

2) Jesus – I was a committed Christian for 15 years until my faith was used as a stick to beat me with and eventually snapped. I’m now an agnostic occasional church-goer who still somehow believes Christ should be at the centre of Christmas and since I can’t do that I don’t want to be a hypocrite and just take the gifts without the Glorias. Perhaps this all or nothing mentality is another example of my black and white autistic thinking.

3) Impossible expectations – I’ve always hated all the trappings of Christmas, the intense pressure the marketing media puts on us all to have the perfect Christmas is nothing short of mercenary cruelty imho. Those peddlars of perfection and all those suckered into the impossible aspirations of universal peace, love and giant rooftop Santas HoHoHoing away, consistently fail to understand how hard Christmas is for so many of us.

4) Traditions – I think traditions can be both a good and a bad thing. They link us to both our past and our future.

I don’t want to be reminded of much of my past. I don’t want to remember Christmas with the family that is no longer mine and all the work I desperately put into trying to make their Christmas special. I don’t want to remember the confusion and constant shouting of my childhood. I don’t want to remember the year I was on a psych ward over Christmas and spent the day begging for cigarette money with a (rather sweet) alcoholic Irishman whose psychosis meant that he talked to the moon a lot. I don’t want to remember the good times either because if anything past happiness that is no longer hurts more than all the rest combined.

The future is also a worry, as the mother of a toddler I know that at some point in the next few years I’m going to have to learn how to do Christmas, and do it in a big way. I’ll probably try to over-compensate for my hatred of the season and my own slightly cruddy childhood by heaping tons of pressure on myself to make everything perfect for her. ‘Good enough’ is not an option at Christmas. I do want to learn to enjoy Christmas with her and start our own traditions. So there is light at the end of the tunnel – at some point I will have to shake off a lifetime of bah-humbug and embrace Christmas – I just have a sneaking suspicion that that light may be an oncoming train.

5) Guilt – All of the above have a common theme in guilt. I feel guilty about those I’ve loved and lost, all the things I could/should have said and done before it was too late. Guilty that I had faith, I used to believe in the #reasonfortheseason but somehow I lost it and I’m too tired to chase it down. Guilty that I don’t subscribe to the tinsel-fest excitement of the season in the way that most people appear to. Guilty that I haven’t met all those impossible expectations even though I know they are impossible. I have failed to learn the simple message of every tacky Christmas film that if only I could learn to put others needs ahead of my own I too could make that picture perfect fantasy a reality if only I tried harder.

Ultimately I believe that my refusal to comply with Christmas is a selfish act. Extreme Christmas avoidance means that I’m not sending cards, buying gifts, cooking dinner, or seeing anyone I wouldn’t anyway, this selfishness is a huge guilt-trip, especially when I receive cards and presents without reciprocating. Nonetheless it is still much easier than trying to achieve the impossible and over the years those closest to me mostly acceot that I fail at Christmas. The risk assessment for ‘doing Christmas’ isn’t looking good, I think that all happiness comes with the potential for equal or greater pain and on my darker days this means it’s just not worth the risk.

All of the above combine into a great swathe of negative associations which threaten to overwhelm me unless I bury my head in the sand. As a result sometimes the best outcome is just surviving another year and trying to be kind to myself, that’s why I’m not doing Christmas this year.