Thursday, 4 May 2017

The hits keep coming...

So, has the bubble burst?  Has my new-found validity run out of steam?  Met it's match?  Died a death? The answer is most assuredly: No.

Indeed, I have put it to the test.  I have thrown everything I can think of at it:  There have been social events, stressful health issues, concerns about the educational future of my son (SATs and Secondary Schools), and the most potentially incendiary of all: A meeting with Senior Leadership at my school: (a second attempt at an abortive OH follow-up meeting that led to a very public meltdown...)

I had given it much thought, of course; (don't we always?) the reasons why this meeting ended so quickly and so disastrously...  The unexpected venue of the large conference room next to the Principal's office... the equally unexpected attendance of my line manager and a representative of the School Federation's HR department, as well as the one person I had expected.  As they began to go through the points raised in my OH report, I immediately began to feel defensive, hearing demands instead of questions, ultimatums instead of realities.  I felt tears prickle at my eyes as the panic rose, and that was that.  Less than 5 minutes and the rest of the day spent agonising about how annoyed everyone would be at me, that they had arranged this meeting and made the time... etc. etc.

Weeks passed, and so did the TA 101 part 2, (where my husband's TA Epiphany took place) and where validation was achieved, despair was mislaid...  Then came the email:  Would I like to meet up and try this follow-up meeting again?

Was I stricken with terror?  Did I arrange to be absent?  Did I refuse, saying it wouldn't be necessary?  No.  Not only did I agree, but, when the meeting details were sent - I asked for them to be changed:  Could we meet somewhere less formal?  Could it just be the two of us?  Of course, this was accepted, because they are reasonable requests.  I was very pleased with myself indeed.

When the meeting came around, the atmosphere was entirely different.  I asked that we omit the blow-by-blow account on the OH report, in favour of an informal discussion about things I found difficult at work.  I talked about the lack of interaction with my line manager, my difficulty with networking.  I spoke confidently about what I have to offer, and my frustration at not being able to communicate it.  I spoke about the shame I feel that I have to ask for explicit, verbal feedback because I cannot rely on picking it up through non-verbal cues common in the professional relationships most of the staff here share, (mainly because this is often misinterpreted as needy or egotistical.)  As the conversation went on, the panic never materialised... I felt almost equal, justified, calm, articulate - my vocabulary did not desert me.  I voiced my suggestions and they were not dismissed.  There was no awkward end to the meeting.  We were just two colleagues walking to our next appointments and casually finishing a conversation ignited by our discussion.

I realise the only thing that has changed is my attitude towards myself.  My ability to understand non-verbal communication has not improved miraculously, I have not become more confident, more social, observant...  No.  And the hits keep coming. But I now know that other people can understand my world, and that gives me validity.  Therefore my thoughts, words, feelings and actions must be valid:  This upturn in my professional fortunes is merely the result of my analytical mind applying new knowledge to an existing situation.

But it changes everything.

In a different light: A full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun taken by SDO on March 30, 2010. False colors trace different gas temperatures. Reds are relatively cool (about 60,000 Kelvin, or 107,540 F); blues and greens are hotter (greater than 1 million Kelvin, or 1,799,540 F).
Credits: NASA/Goddard/SDO AIA Team

Tuesday, 4 April 2017


I have been struggling with the task of adequately describing the sea change that has occurred in my life - to verbalise the subtle, yet profoundly positive shift that has occurred in the relationship I have cultivated with my husband for 30 years.  I have considered and rejected numerous passionate adjectives to illustrate how deeply I feel this change and how shaken I am by its implications. However, none seems appropriate.  Instead, I find myself drawn to focus on what is now absent. What has been alleviated.  What is no longer important... There is a word I keep returning to in my deliberations:  Invalid.

Invalid: Logically inconsequent.
Invalid: Being without foundation or force in fact, truth, or law.
Invalid: One who is sickly or disabled.

Whether spoken as an adjective or a noun; what an awful word this is:
I see now that this change is more to do with what has been lost, not what has been gained. I have been an invalid and invalid, all my life.

Every soul seeks validation, whether it is from family, friends, colleagues, strangers or the wider public...  Most will receive it in some form, at some time or other - although the quality, quantity and frequency may vary.

One of the most sad and debilitating aspects of life with Asperger's is that the neurological differences present make the social mechanisms one would usually apply in acquiring this validation seem to be absent or so underdeveloped as to appear absent.  We do feel however, (and in exquisite detail) the pain of our failures and the void that exists in its place.

We attempt to compensate for its loss by using systematising strengths to develop valuable technical skills, in-depth or encyclopedic subject knowledge, or to collect catalogues of 'appropriate responses' and body language that can be mimicked. The cruel truth is that these mechanisms all so often exacerbate the lack of validation instead of helping.  (People are intimidated by my skills, confused by my subject knowledge, and suspicious of my programmed responses.  My acting is never quite good enough to fool everyone all of the time, and to be caught out is disastrous.)  Even on those rare occasions when validation is offered unconditionally, we may fail to recognise it, or even learn to avoid it, as being without it is more familiar.

I am astonished, therefore, that a simple knowledge set, gifted to my husband and myself, could have overturned such engrained mechanisms and processes so quickly and so completely. The odd reality is that I have not changed.  All that has happened is that my husband has shifted slightly in his perceptions from 'sympathise, but will never really fully understand' to 'I get it'.  I feel that my response can be eloquently characterised as 'Oh. What?'

Every attempt I have ever made to explain my experience, the way I think, my difficulties etc. in my entire life have all led to the same disappointment.  Cumulatively, the effect is better known as despair.  This is the crux of why I am struggling to process the effect of this knowledge - my despair is missing.

Just knowing, really knowing, with utter surety that someone absolutely 'get's it' has been enough to make that despair evaporate.  All the incidents that usually highlight my vulnerability and failures are passing without their usual effect.  The crushing aftermath of misunderstandings has neglected to materialise.  The validation I am used to clawing from all the wrong places is no longer important.  I now have validation from the one place that matters.  It is enough.

Anything is beautiful if you look at it right... (Left behind - Kyle Wilson photograph)

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The feeling is Mutual

I have lived for many years with the unshakable and certain knowledge that I was alone.  That no-one would ever truly understand my world, my experience, my truth.  For two weeks now, I have been rather off balance - my certainty has disappeared and normality has yet to return, because return it must:  If it doesn't, I will have to think of something to replace it with, and this is new territory.

I have grown closer to people in the last year or so, special friends who share my experience, whose insights I value, whose company I genuinely enjoy, but the loneliness persisted.  Something fundamental has changed since the TA/Aspie workshop that we attended a fortnight ago, when, shockingly, my NT husband went from borderline cynicism to  wholehearted devotee of TA. He acquired an almost miraculous appreciation, not only of the difficulties I face as an Aspie, but also the breadth of the empath/systemiser spectrum and his place in it, and the power of TA to bridge the enormous chasms that litter our attempts to connect with people.  It was somewhat unexpected, and I wanted to give things time to return to normal, for his enthusiasm to wane, for the bubble to burst. The odd thing is that none of these things has happened.  And, even more unexpectedly, I find I'm OK with that.

I have come to the conclusion that this is due to suddenly having a key person in my life who genuinely understands, wholly, why my life is the way it is. He 'gets it.'

This is The Most Important Person In My Life, and until now, I was certain he only excused my mistakes, tolerated my idiosyncrasies, weathered my anxieties. I have played my part without the innocent wisdom of genuine sincerity. I merely support, agree and frown my concerns with no real expectation of understanding. This is no longer the case. He 'get's it.'

We have talked and talked and talked.  We have sat in silence, grinning at each other between intervals of hand-holding. He tells me he's less stressed now, and that he no longer feels the need to start conversations with 'don't take this the wrong way' or to answer 'it's nothing' when I ask why he's upset:  He gets it.  I go to work and experience the same old problems, the same lack of understanding, the same pressures and anxieties but somehow, they no longer seem to accumulate into the overwhelming assault that left me exhausted at the end of every day.  I brush them off:  The Most Important Person in my life 'gets it'.

My friend, Peter assures me that this is, in fact, the experience of Mutuality.  This is unconditional; a place where communication is effortless, where I am accepting and accepted, where I am welcomed. It is a gift: A sublime edition to our hard won and solid foundation, 25 years in the making.

(I suppose I should wish my husband a Happy Silver Wedding Anniversary while I'm thinking about it... chances are I'll probably forget by next August!)

Binary system - stars in mutual orbit

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

An illuminating experience (or, The Light at the End Of The Tunnel has had its Chance..)

I think I must have heard every possible incarnation of the phrase: "There is light at the end of the tunnel" over the last 40 years or so.  From concerned family members to well-meaning therapists, the all encompassing message that persistence reaps a happy ending is a stalwart of the optimist's arsenal...  I am sorry if I sound less than optimistic - The light at the end of my personal subway has been obvious by its absence for the entire span of operations, but I suddenly find myself part of a team that has been busily installing skylights along the length of the entire system...

My own network of dark and seemingly endless tunnels had been explored exhaustively and no prophetic light could be found, perhaps because there didn't appear to be an end to the tunnel.  I may have managed, through trial and error, to learn to walk the tunnels without blundering into the walls too often but fear of the dark, so to speak, is ever present and unyielding.  I may also have had company in the dark - a trusted companion  who held me up when I stumbled, but we were both, still in the dark.  In my despair, I reluctantly conceded that this was my reality many years ago, and that it would never change.

I have no precedent, therefore, for the fact that this reality has changed, and I feel oddly, but pleasantly, adrift.  I talked some time ago, about my wish to break down the barrier that still existed between my husband and I, despite our 30 years of amicable partnership.   He is NT and we have never shared an understanding about how the Asperger's mind differs from the NT. Until now.

My husband recently attended Peter Flowerdew's course on Transactional Analysis for therapists and Aspie clients and their families. Again, I was helping out as co-presenter with my friend, Rich.  I had hoped, that after 3 intensive days of explanations and discussion, my husband would acquire some insight into what life is actually like for me, and Aspies generally. Indeed, he acquired this insight and more:  He also learned a new appreciation of his own personality and communication style, and how it colours all of his interactions. He understands, at last, the extent to which our worlds differ, and that, given the right circumstances, they can converge.  In short, the last barrier to our communication has been lifted, and we can now be wholly 'real' with each other, in a shared space, with no concerns about treading blindly on each other's toes.

My 11 year old son paid us the simplest of compliments, when he heard his Dad and I talking after the course:  He said "Dad, why are you talking like Mum?"  Such a small thing, but it was the first 'independent verification' that we were finally speaking the same language.

My vocabulary seems insufficient, and my thoughts too cluttered to clearly express the impact of this on our lives.  I hope that this stupefied state will leave me soon, and I can write more clearly about the implications of this profoundly positive change.

The Great Convergence:  Galaxies, NGC 2207 on the left, and IC 2163 on the right, approx. 80 million light-years from Earth (Hubble Space Telescope image) Not so much a collision, as a 'coming together'.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Pardon my English

I marvel at the English language. I am struck by the bizarre spelling and the grammatical and usage rules that are routinely broken.  I admire the exclusivity of 'good grammar', and I especially appreciate the rich variety of  descriptive vocabulary and multiple meanings of many of them; often at complete odds with one another...  I acknowledge that there are often ten different ways to say everything, and don't get me started on pronunciation...

In short, the English language is analogous of the complexity of the NT world which I navigate and the difficulties experienced by those of us who do not possess it as innate language.  There is no substitute for plain speaking, but I have learned to use this complicated tool to articulate my world in ways most likely to reach those unfamiliar with it.  But there is a danger here:

The tool with which I try to express the realities of my world, can be held against me in the most oppressive of ways.  It would appear that my joyful use of the English language can, to some, appear superior - as though I were trying to highlight the difference in our ability/knowledge/class... take your pick.  My choice of subject matter can highlight the same inequality, I am told.  Should I adhere to the apparent norm, where only the most intelligent or privileged use correct grammar and the full range of their vocabulary? The idea that only superior, privileged people speak correct English with a large vocabulary, or that only Physicists are interested in physics is untrue and an NT social construct.
It is natural to me to use the full extent of the tools at my disposal, regardless of who I am talking to. Should I 'dumb down' to 'fit in'?  'Now hang on!' you may say... 'Just a few alterations to take into account peoples' feelings will make all the difference...'  That sounds reasonable, doesn't it?  But how does an Aspie anticipate what feelings might be hurt?  (I will have made no prior judgments about a person's intelligence or vocabulary before I speak to them.  I will not notice their discomfort with the language unless they tell me explicitly.)  I do not 'talk down' to anyone... not even children, although I will offer simpler synonyms and definitions to them, along with my normal speech - they are much better than adults at telling me what they need.

The social world is a riot of complex, misleading and hidden cues that NTs tap into easily, often without conscious thought, so should expect an Aspie be expected to alter their speech to accommodate the 'hidden' feelings of the NT majority?  I wonder if this isn't just as problematic as expecting an Aspie to know when someone is being sarcastic because we rely on the NT person letting us know what they really meant... surely it would be easier if everyone was more clear?

I daydream sometimes about what it would be like in a world where everyone only said what they meant, in simple terms, without subtext or contradictory expressions and body language...  Where everyone would have an opinion that was fluid - based only on the available evidence at the time, without reliance on ingrained memory and social influences...  Would this world be dull? Unemotional? Soulless? I think not.  It would be honest, lively and liberating.  The old adage of Equity over Equality would have no meaning:  The barriers would not exist.  No-one would feel alienated, or need to be lifted, propped up or rescued.

Monday, 16 January 2017

And now for something completely different...

I find myself in a difficult, yet familiar position.  I need to find another job.  My current role is fast becoming untenable, and the situation shows no sign of improving... despite my efforts.  I have been in this position many times:  That moment of recognition...  I cannot change the opinion of the people in my environment, and they have concluded that I will not change mine.  I am abandoned and, to them, have become nothing more than an irksome blockage in the otherwise fluid workings of the organisation.  It is a sad and repetitive cycle that I'm sure many Aspies will recognise.

I do not look forward to the prospect of job hunting.  I will avoid it at all costs - even to the point of staying in a role that is unsuitable enough to be damaging to my health and  home life.  "Why on Earth would anyone do that?!" I hear you cry.  Well, I'm tenacious. I don't like to admit defeat.  I always to do my job to the very best of my ability, which is not inconsiderable.  I do find it difficult to 'let go of the bone', so to speak:  I do not notice the metaphorical marker posts (clear to NTs) that are the clues to when efforts should cease, when it's time to negotiate a sideways move or make a complete break... When I reach the 'tipping point', it is only after I have become ill through stress from the constant mis-communication, the culmination of too many long hours, lack of breaks or exhaustion from high pressure deadlines...

My current role has been a little different in this sense. There are no long hours, no deadlines... just a combination of isolation, unrealistic expectation, management inefficiency and lack of support and recognition:  All things I like to think I am immune to - after all, haven't I dealt with such things on a daily basis for most of my life?

Eric Berne defined the fundamental unit of social action, and called it a 'Stroke'. So, if a 'transaction' is any social interaction, a Stroke is each social action considered individually, and can be positive, neutral or negative. Berne believed that we seek positive Strokes in our transactions. As an Aspie, I live in a world where positive Strokes are rare, and I can fail to recognise them even when they do happen.  But I live in hope.  On my better days, it is hope that gives me my drive, my motivation, my optimism.  But sometimes hope is my enemy, the slave-driver that keeps me scrubbing away at the same spot on the floor until my fingers are bloody and raw.

I am so used to trying to fit into the NT world and living up to NT expectations that I sometimes think I will never be able to stop, and 'be myself'.  The NT world is the only world I have known, until recently.  In order to break the cycle, confidence is key, but my picture of myself is just as skewed and incomplete as the one I am sure NTs have of me, and until I can see myself more clearly, I will surely continue to make the same mistakes.  And this is the thing that makes me dread the process of job hunting.

The complexities of NT world means that making social errors is easy...  Today, on my first outing into job hunting for a few years, I was dismayed to see how, over the last few years, the lists of requirements for prospective employees have lengthened and  become more severe; even for the most menial and poorly paid of jobs...  What confidence I had left immediately plummeted .  Although I am both accomplished and experienced, and a whole raft of other, what I am assured are, employer-pleasing things, I do not have a degree.  Therefore, as an Aspie, I would never apply for a job that states that a 'degree-level qualification' is essential.  I would limit myself to applying for jobs for which I have the stated qualifications, experience and abilities.  Simple, yes?  But, I am reliably informed, these requirements are not necessarily written in stone.

How can I hope to navigate the world of work when even the prospective employers don't necessarily mean what they say?  How will I know what expectations it's okay not to meet?   Am I expected to speculate about my ability to undertake tasks in a situation I have never experienced?  Should I guess about how I would progress, interact with other people I have never met?  Surely this practice of inflating requirements to raise the quality of the pool of applicants is ill advised at best and discriminatory at worst?

I feel very strongly about this.  How long has this practice been in use?  How many applications have I discounted based on an incorrect interpretation of the role?  And I always thought the interview was the hardest part....

Friday, 18 November 2016

Stranger in a Strange Land

My world is changing.  I suppose this simple statement is open to many different interpretations but, I assure you, my world has never shown any signs of changing in the most important way.  Until now.

I speak of the gradual unveiling of the NT world that is accompanying my deepening foray into Peter Flowerdew's particular brand of TA (Transactional Analysis). The reason why my usual cynicism about the possibility of such change is absent?  Because this actually works.  It makes sense to Aspie and NT alike.  It provides common ground where before, there was none and, unlike other 'therapies' and 'techniques', it is accessible to everyone.

I am experiencing a process of profound revelation, unfolding itself in exquisite slow motion, one realisation at a time.  I am using it to shed light on the most inaccessible constructs of my life - places where I have feared to tread, because of their fragility:  My sense of self, my professional persona, my relationship with my husband and son.

I have always sought empirical evidence for the veracity of all things, and this form of TA was in no way immune to my exacting standards.  The first course I attended was filled mainly with participants who were professionals in the field of psychotherapy.  Although the beneficial effect upon the attendees was plain to see, the full potential was not clear to me until I attended the most recent course.

Peter actually ran two courses simultaneously - one written for NTs (professionals and non-professional) and one, a translation for Aspies (from similarly varied backgrounds).  Peter is uniquely skilled to see the obstacles to communication between the NT and Aspie worlds, and he expertly navigated his way though, dealing with all manner of input from the various perspectives of the group.  His sincerity and confidence in his findings, and the efficacy of their application were borne out by the changes I saw played out in that room over three days.

Day One saw a large group of people, demonstrably representing every part of the AQ (Autistic Quotient) scale, from empaths to extreme systemisers, that were butting heads and struggling to understand and to be understood.  No-one had felt comfortable (including Peter, I suspect) and everyone had mixed feelings about Day 2.  However, half way through the second day and it was already evident that something in the dynamic of the group had changed.  A dizzying parade of observations, insight and demonstrations from Peter and Rich (co-presenter) generated meaningful questions and heartfelt answers from NT and Aspie alike. It was exhausting and inspiring.

At the start of Day 3, the enthusiasm in the group was palpable...  Everyone had identified the common ground and the potential for this gift of translation.  The excitement was obvious:  Here was the start of real understanding:  The promise of progress, the possibility of connection, a beginning of real change.

I have waited for the 'welcome' that Peter speaks so passionately about, all my life.  It seems so close now, I feel I can almost taste it.  I cried when my (NT) husband asked if he could attend the course. We have a good marriage (25 years, next year) but there has always been a wall between us, that I have longed to remove.  If we can really connect with each other after all these years - there is hope for us all.  I think now, that perhaps that welcome has been there all along - just waiting to be discovered....

The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation Map - It was always there - One scientist predicted it but couldn't find it - another found it, but initially dismissed it as interference caused by messy nesting pigeons in their radio receiver...  Turned out to be the long-awaited evidence of the Big Bang....