Whistling in the rain – an autism anecdote guest starring Kipper the dog

I was going to tweet about walking the dog in the rain, about the joy of being able to go out and enjoy the countryside at a time when pouring rain meant that most people would be staying indoors. I was going to say it’s not that I particularly like the rain, it’s more about the lack of people. Then one thought chased another as they do and it became evident that I would need more and more tweets to explain myself and then I would feel guilty about hogging people’s timelines and so the only solution was to write it as a blog post. This may well be an example of autistic over-thinking, another tangential example is my friend, undiagnosed but I have zero doubt that she is ‘one of us’, who went to great lengths to explain to me this week that she had not copied me by having her hair cut short, it was that it was getting in her way and so on, it had clearly been worrying her that I would somehow think badly of her for choosing to cut her hair shortly after I had decided finally achieved getting mine cut. I actually hadn’t even noticed that she’d had it cut! I digress.

So I was going to say I don’t like rain that much, thinking about it however, there are a lot of things I do like about the rain. Many of these are sensory in nature. The sound of the rain is soothing, I am not alone in this as the existence of many YouTube videos testifies. The pitter-patter (surely one of the loveliest onomatopoeic words) of rain on my hood, on rooves and so on isn’t so dissimilar to white noise. Rain also means that the sky is likely to be grey and overcast, qualities not generally appreciated by people but for me a welcome relief. I’ve been struggling increasingly with (or perhaps increasingly noticing) glare and high contrast light. The muted light of winter is much more suited to my visual processing – I am currently awaiting assessment for Irlens syndrome, this may be a factor here. Even the way my sodden clothes clung to my skin was pleasant in a way not dissimilar to my weighted blanket. I would like to invest in higher quality waterproof clothing but Money is an area of life I’m failing at impressively these days. The smell of rain on the scorched ground is also a pleasant one for me, we haven’t had any rain for weeks and this summer has been warmer than usual. I’ve been struggling a lot with the high temperatures. I’m bored with my own puns about summer putting the ‘melt’ in meltdown, umpteen meltdowns later it’s just not funny anymore. I’m actually looking into moving home to somewhere with a generally slightly cooler climate – The Move is something I’d like to write more about in future posts.

Thinking all these thoughts and others about the rain made me think of one of P’s favourite books.  I did promise Kipper would be making an appearance in this post, partly because I think this blog would benefit from a few more pictures. Kipper’s Rainy Day by Mick Inkpen (what a fabulous name for a writer!) goes like this: “Kipper loves the rain because rain makes puddles. And puddles make… a splash!”

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Let’s ignore the grammatical issues of starting a sentence with a conjunction… ok I can’t do that, let’s just state that this is clearly poor use of grammar but the book has other redeeming features like cute animals. The law of sod states that having criticised somebody’s grammar I will now make 53 grammatical errors which will be pointed out by other zealots. As a friend of mine is fond of saying (this may in fact be a quote from somewhere): the price of pedantry is constant vigilance! I digress again. The book is a lift-the-flap book and goes on to describe several animals who (allegedly) like the rain.

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The story culminates with a cat who does not like the rain and a statement that the thing Kipper likes best about the rain is getting dry again. I have some issues with the idea of getting wet so you can enjoy getting dry, it seems rather like Allen Carr’s analogy of putting on too tight shoes just to have the relief of taking them off. My daughter however loves this book. I therefore know it by heart. She particularly loves the cat being sad about getting wet and then being happy again as Kipper dries him. I’d rather like to add a page to the book – “does anyone walking the dog like the rain?… This autistic does!”

I’ve not been having a great day. I’m in that awkward place where things aren’t bad enough to be labelled a ‘crisis’ in my head, things are just averagely bad. This would be an ideal time to draw on friends’ support but communication is also harder right now (as opposed to when things are Really Bad when communication is impossible – ha!) Yesterday, despite being very much in this not great mental place I managed to do some things which were hard. I went to a medical appointment in a new place with unknown healthcare professionals – always going to be stressful. I also took the dog for a walk on the beach, somewhere I usually love but has been out-of-bounds over the summer as there have just been too many people. I don’t cope well with the public. I was lucky yesterday, despite the weather being sunny there weren’t many people on the beach. This is what lead me to making the most of the rain today. There’s a real safety for me in rain, the more intense the rain the lower the probability of people being out in it. I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with people, strangers, shouting at me apropos of things I can’t begin to fathom, I don’t understand why this happens to me so much. I have so much anxiety about going outside, even in my own garden. Another key factor in wanting to move is my need to live somewhere far less populated than where I am now. It varies with how well I’m doing but often I feel leaving the house is putting myself at risk, at unnecessary risk. I do however love being outside, particularly on the coast or in the countryside with the dog, he is good company. The fresh air and exercise are good for me physically and mentally. There’s also the responsibility of dog ownership, I am compelled by this duty to walk the dog at least once a day. I know many people don’t bother and the world will not end if I fail to walk him but I love him and walking him does me good – generally, so long as people aren’t unpredictably awful.

So I have achieved a small thing, I have ticked the boxes of walking the dog and getting some exercise today. This makes me feel a little less terrible. It doesn’t solve all the things which were upsetting me earlier today but I did at least take a break from them which is something. Dog walking can be good self-care for me. I even caught myself whistling as I walked along. I don’t walk with the typical gait of a person walking in the rain – head bent, slightly crouching, trying to escape every drop. I relish the safety of being able to go out and I hold my head up with a genuine (as opposed to when I am passing) confidence. I was whistling contentedly in the rain for a while, for today that is enough.

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(Pic of the faithful hound while walking on holiday recently).

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On Naming Names

I stand and watch the other parent call their child by name as they encourage them in a park: “Come on Isabel… well done Isabel!… Isabel where are you hiding cheeky girl?” This is a thing I cannot do. I can physically talk, I have verbal skills, I don’t stutter, externally I am usually able to pass for neurotypical. Yet I cannot use my daughter’s name, the word is there in my head and yet it’s so hard to get it to pass my lips. This leads to all sorts of linguistic acrobatics until I find I simply have to use it. The responsibility of choosing a name for my child was particularly hard for me, particularly as there was a time limit on this. I find using her name is not so bad somehow if I’m doing something like taking her to the doctor and checking in for the appointment, I expect to be asked for her name and that I can manage, perhaps because it is compulsory.

It’s not just my daughter’s name I have this issue with. For me using people’s names feels similar to maintaining eye contact, I can do it, I can force it but it’s never comfortable. Some autistic people have described making eye contact as similar to trying to look into the sun. Nicknames or things like job titles or the role the person plays in my life feels somehow safer ground, something I have a little more control over.

It was in fact this issue with my daughter’s name which lead me to realise I was autistic. (Forgive me if I’ve described it before on this blog, I don’t tend to reread posts once posted). I was reading Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robison. It was by no means the first autistic autobiography I’d read, I considered myself pretty well clued up on autism already. John described how he couldn’t call his new baby brother anything other than the nickname he’d given him – ‘Varmint’ if memory serves. This rang such a resounding bell with my experience with my then baby daughter that I seriously considered for the first time that I could be fully autistic myself. Until that point I had believed that I was just particularly empathic (!), that I could put myself in autistic people’s shoes fairly easily because of my experience with depression and anxiety.

A few of my ex partners complained that I never used their name. I’d always use terms like ‘hun’ or ‘love’ instead, never the name. Going out on a limb and making assumptions about how others might feel here – I think it’s a bit like if I were to call my mother by her first name instead of ‘Mom’, that would be weird for most people right? (Yes I’m a British person who says ‘mom’ instead of ‘mum’,  it’s because she called her mum ‘mom’ as they lived in a ‘mom’-using country when she was growing up, I do however always refer to her as my mum as this is what people expect).

So people end up with different labels which I use to describe them: my childminder, my friend who is a teacher, my pregnant friend, the friend I go to the pub with and so on, bizarrely referring to someone as somebody’s something like saying ‘Bob’s friend’ or ‘Mary’s sister’ isn’t so bad, a further degree of emotional separation from the name perhaps…  For the most part this doesn’t bother me, I’ve far greater problems than this strange inability to use people’s first names and I’m well used to finding workarounds. It does bother me with my daughter though. I know it’s ok for me to say “Well done darling!” or “Come here you little hooligan!” instead of using her name, I’m sure there’s many other things which are far worse about my parenting. Yet it niggles and I have a sort of envy of people who can so freely call their child’s name across a playground.

I have some hope. As with Robison my nicknames evolve over time – a quick google tells me I was both right and wrong, his kid brother was originally nicknamed ‘snort’ and then later ‘varmint’.  My daughter whose original nickname was ‘Piggy’ has now become an approximation of her real name which she instigated as a way to refer to herself while she was learning to talk. Now she has learned to say her name properly but the approximation has stuck. I’m aware it’s not her real name but it’s as close as I can get for now.  I still refer to her as P online, mostly for ease and anonymity and she is still Piggy with friends who have come to terms with this nickname – some people have been very judgemental about this name, saying it’s unkind etc, like I had any choice over what my brain chose to label her, it suited her as a baby who was quite the frequent feeder.

These issues of identity mirror my own in some ways, I take pains to protect P’s identity online as I do my own. There are some trusted people who know my real name as well as this alter ego, they are few and I plan to keep it that way. The anonymity gives me a freedom to be more honest, however unsavoury that can be at times.