Slap on the make-up, Shepherd!

Computer RPGs are my refuge. When the day is stressful, when I’ve been particularly incompetent or put my foot in my mouth up to my knee, I can switch on my computer and disappear into another world for a while. I can feel proud when I solve the hardest puzzles in The Witness, I can be the Hero of Ferelden, I can be the Inquisitor, I can be the Saviour of Neverwinter and lately, I’ve been Commander Shepherd from the Mass Effect series.

What I should make clear before I go any further is that I LOVE Bioware games. I love them all. I will buy pretty much anything they put out from here on in. As a games company, they are one of my favourites and the most egalitarian I have come across.

Yet my enjoyment of the latter has been marred somewhat. The society in Mass Effect is meant to be gender blind. Relationships and gender identities are written as fluid and that is FANTASITC. Also, the games I reference here are quite old, but bizarrely it’s the most recent one that has irritated the most. And yet…

  1. In Mass Effect 1 you have a couple of romance options, two with human characters. In ME2 these characters aren’t around and you can romance someone else. If you then want to rekindle things with the ME partner in ME3, you have to explain the ME2 relationship to them. A Male Shepherd can simply say “You weren’t there for me” and this is apparently fine. A female Shepherd has to apologise.
  2. Look at the casual outfits for Male and Female Shepherd. Male Shepherd is fully clothed in a funky jacket, “jeans” and t-shirt. He looks classy and sexy at the same time. Female Shepherd is in a zip up, skin tight, slit to the ass, plunging leather dress.
  3. There are two whole races that are confirmed as dual gendered where you never even see the females of the race (Turian and Volus). I believe you see one female Salarian and one female Krogan in the entire trilogy.
  4. Across the trilogy, all of the male characters appear to age, whereas the females look younger each game. My FemShep went from looking like a mature woman in ME1 to looking about 18 in the last game.
  5. Jack’s costume. I need say nothing more.
  6. If this society is gender blind, then why are all the exotic dancers in the club either female form or the genderless, but to human eyes female presenting, Asari?
  7. Look at the face variations – the male faces in general are more characterful and fully realised. Kaidan goes grey at the temples and gets lines, Hackett gets a battle scar, Anderson gets wrinkles. The female characters background characters all look similar; smooth faced and with perfect hair and make-up,, defined as different by skin tone and colouring.

These are all little things. I’ve been told that I’m overly sensitive and that I’m out looking for them now;  that I’m spoiling things for myself. Here’s the thing though – once you’ve been made alert to it, you can’t stop seeing it. It’s insidious; this subtle message that women are mostly decorative and no matter what else they do they have to look hot while doing it.

You can’t tell me that I’m being overly sensitive when a lead NPC is telling you that her sister has gone missing, possibly kidnapped by someone who wants to use her for dreadful things, and the directors choose the camera angle that gives a gratuitous vacuum sealed, ass shot. Not just once, but twice, and in a way that no male character is shown.

“Hey, ladies! We care about your trauma but make sure you look HOT while telling us about it!”

Sorry Miranda, but that skin suit you are wearing is more important than your fear.

And as I’ve said before, Bioware are one of the best. You only have to look at the fantastic Escher Girls (http://eschergirls.tumblr.com/) to see far more extreme examples.

The Bioware message boards, heavily policed as they are, contain comments like:

“Ryder [the new Andromeda character] is ugly as f***.”

Is that your only comment?

“I don’t want to have to follow something like Sera [from Dragon Age Inquisition] around again. Here’s hoping there is someone like Miranda in the party.”

I’m sorry, did you just say “something“? How come Miranda is a “someone”Oh, that’s right; she’s pretty.

So even in my escapist fantasy there is this reminder; this wasn’t made for your gaze. You’re fairly plain; you really should do something about that if you want to be listened to. Even if you save the galaxy you need to wear make-up too. You’d better be pretty or we’ll discount you.

Dear BBC, we are not murderers.

Last week was National Autism Awareness week, and the National Autisic Society carried out some sterling work to inform people as the nature of the difficulties that we face in our day to day lives. They sought promote understanding; to help people comprehend how the world can seem to us. They sought to explain that our behaviours aren’t the result of “naughtiness” or basic unpleasantness, but are an understable reaction when you consider how our minds process information.

They sought to remind people that our stigma is undeserved; that the majority of us live independent lives. Many of us (including myself) are married, have jobs and families. We don’t want “special treatment” – just allowances that give us a level playing field and the chance to thrive as neurotypical people do.

While this work was going on, BBC journalists however were trying to make you see us as time bombs. Two news stories came out during and immediately after NAAW:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-35984747

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-36052223

The first of these articles was published on the 8th April and concerned the case of Michael Piggin; the young man who was found guilty of conspiring to carry out a Columbine style shooting at his school. The second was published yesterday, 15th April, and concerned the case of Leslie Dunford; a woman guilty of murdering her two children.

The 8th April article pertaining to Piggin made the comment that the young man has been “detained indefinitely under the mental health act, and after his arrest was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome”. The connection inferred was that his actions were the result of his Asperger’s Syndrome and I suspect that is what the casual reader will take away from that comment.

Firstly, people are not detained under the mental health act simply for having Asperger’s Syndrome. In fact, the NHS offers virtually no support whatsoever, particularly for those diagnosed as adults. Whatever difficulties this young man is facing, Asperger’s is very unlikely to have been the one that caused him to plan this act. Furthermore, the fact that he was only diagnosed after arrest would suggest that his condition had not been previously picked up. Men in particular are usual diagnosed before the age of 12, and so this young man must be at the very high functioning end of the spectrum to have only just been diagnosed.

This journalist’s choice to link Asperger’s Syndrome with a plan to commit murder is nonsensical when considered in this light and will reinforce a view that somehow sufferers of this condition are somehow prone to committing atrocities.

The article of the 15th April compounds this problem.  When discussing the court case of Leslie Dunford, you journalist states that “Dunford had epilepsy but had not been diagnosed with psychiatric or autism problems [sic].” When I first came across this line I scanned through all of the other articles on the case to see if Dunford had tried to use this as a defence at any point but could find no reference. Again the journalist’s implication is that somehow, if she had an Autistic Spectrum Disorder that would somehow explained why she murdered her child.

I’m a little concerned that I need to say this but for the sake of clarity, murdering your children is not a feature of Autism!

In my complaint letter to the BBC I asked them to explain why their journalist pulled out that particular condition to mention separately? This ignorant individual has made a link between murderous behaviour and an unrelated condition. It would make about as much sense if I were to comment that the subjects of both articles appear to be wearing glasses, and therefore being short-sighted makes you more likely to commit murder.

A stigma surrounds Autism. In the past week, I have heard four seperate people say “Oh, X is a bit weird, you know? He’s not great with people, I think he must have autism” or something along those lines. In the past week I’ve had to disclose Apergers as I’m applying for a volunteer role and the response of both people  present was “Oh, but you seem so normal – I would never have guessed!” It hurts every time – even though I know no malice is intended. Can you imagine if something inherent to you was a by-word for being socially unacceptable? Can you imagine how it feels to work so bloody hard to deal with it and then have well-meaning, nice people, drive home that you are by inference abnormal and strange? Can you imagine what it’s like to have someone expect you to take a confirmation that you’ve achieved mediocrity as a compliment? Some other Apsies I know just go “F*** the NTs!” and cheerfully go about life without a concern but not all of us are strong enough to do that.

People with readerships of tens of thousands should not be encouraging such discrimination and that is precisely what these articles do. Please help me – take five minutes to tell the Beeb that this is not acceptable.

Social Armour

I have a theory: social skills are like an ablative suit or armour.

I came up with this theory while trying to find a pithy way to explain the fatigue and anxiety caused by social interactions. I was trying to adapt the well-known “Spoon Theory”, explaining that for people with social difficulties, just looking at or speaking to another person costs spoons. It didn’t quite fit though, and it occurred to me this could be a better way of looking at it, and could better explain the sudden and dramatic effect of that reserve of energy failing.

I wish I could draw – this would be better with pictures.

So I’ve started to think of it like this way instead.  Social skills are the suit of armour you put on whenever you deal with other people in any way. Every time you need to use them, you armour is gently chipped away until eventually you’ve taken as much as you can. Then, with an almighty crack the armour gives way and the critical hits come in.

Now apologies for the gamer references that are about to follow.

A neurotypical person who is a social butterfly and a people lover has really heavy plate armour. Most things bounce off it. They can socialise, have fun, be with people and interact with them then get home, take of the armour with not a mark underneath. The armour has a few weaknesses in it, but they are pretty hard to find and target.

Perhaps most people walk around in a suit of chain. Most things will bounce off but eventually it wears out. Also, its weaknesses may be a little more obvious and more exposed.

This scale goes right down to people who struggle to deal with people. They wear light leather armour. It won’t turn away the hard blows at all and can take a lot less wear and tear than our plate wearing friend.

I’ve found that acknowledging my social armour is thin has actually been a big help. Acknowledging too that things that wouldn’t even dent other people’s armour can crack mine is also useful.

I want to socialise and spend time with my friends, but I have to meter out my armour carefully. My armour is thin and it takes longer to build up again between “attacks”. I’ve got some ideas about how to maximise the life of my armour and would like to share that. I’m not sure if this holds true for other Aspies and ADHDers but my conversations with others suggest that it might.

Give me a timescale.

I don’t do well with ambiguous timescales. I need to plan my socialising to make sure my armour lasts until the next rest, and so knowing timescales really helps me. If someone says “I’ll pop over for a cuppa” and then stays for hours and hours I actually find that quite stressful. I like fixed end points to things. Equally, I start worrying that I’ve offended people in that past who have said “drop by for a brew” when that is literally all I’ve done.

Please, please. PLEASE, tell me if you are going to be late. It really bothers me and whether or not that is justified, if you want to help me enjoy social stuff then letting me know about delays would be a big help.

Meet somewhere quiet, or if it has to be busy, make it a short visit.

For me, just being around people and particularly strangers is hard work, because I struggle to filter sensory input. I get tired a lot more quickly, and will struggle to process what you are saying some of the time. My general nervousness and stress levels in that sort of environment make it really tricky to enjoy myself. I’m most relaxed in nature, or on a sofa somewhere.

A distraction activity helps.

I have a friend that I sit and sew with, and it’s very relaxing. It allows for comfortable silences and gives me a reason not to have to maintain eye contact. I’ve discovered that I feel much more relaxed and can pay more attention to someone if I don’t have to look at them. It’s a whole set of inputs that I don’t have to process, and constant eye contact can make me feel “pinned down”.

Equally, I like table top rpg games. I can socialise but there are rules; lovely clear cut rules that I can relax into. The conventions of the gaming table make socialising with multiple people much easier.

Be watchful of my triggers.

If I know the people I am with are aware of my particular stress factors I feel a little more relaxed because I won’t have to explain if something comes up that upsets me. I think if you spend time with anyone with anxiety it’s a useful thing to know and will really make that person feel cared for.

They might not mean the person is about to melt down but they are things that will chip that armour away a little faster; a particular vulnerability if you like to think of it that way.

Mine are as follows:

  • Conflict – I hate people arguing and become agitated at the first hint.
  • Complex background noise. I can’t filter sounds out and so I have to work very hard to stay on track with conversation if there is a lot of other noise going on.
  • Certain sounds hurt me. In my case the worst is metallic noises, and the absolute worst is the sound of cutlery on plates. Earthen wear in particular is my sensory horror – I can’t touch it with my nails or teeth and if I hear cutlery on it, it is a source of pain.
  • Lots of people, particularly enough that you have to dodge and weave around strangers.

Don’t be offended if I have to suddenly cut things short.

It’s not you – it really isn’t. But often I struggle to tell exactly how worn my armour is and its failure takes me by surprise. When I realise it’s going to go I get in a panic because sometimes when I blow I do really stupid things and make a spectacle. The fear of embarrassment makes it all more likely to spiral. If I knew I could just say to people I was with “critical hit” and they would know that I was ok, but had to leave soon to stay that way, it would make things so much easier.

I hope you’ll take this as I mean this – as a request for support rather than a list of demand. I know I have some readers unknown to me personally who’ve come across this through other sites. I hope that this will give you some idea of the questions to ask of people close to you with social anxiety issues too.

One More Step Along the Road

It’s been a while since I posted about mental health things, so I thought an update as to where I am on this particular journey was in order.

I’ve had to stop taking my medication as it very succinctly demonstrated that it doesn’t agree with me. I’ve been delaying this because it felt a little negative to start with, and I was worried about becoming a “scare story”, which isn’t what I want to be.

Methylphenidate has to be ramped up slowly, as it can disagree with some people. To start with I found it very positive but as the dose went up I started to experience unpleasant side effects. I began to have really unpleasant mood swings that were terrifying in severity. If I was in a low mood to start with it was dramatically enhanced. I’m not messing around when I say these things got very bad.

The break through came when I realised it was running to the clock. I would get these thoughts at almost the exact same time every day. Then, crucially, at around 4,30pm when my dose wore off it would just vanish like a mist. I can almost hear people saying “If it was that short lived then it wasn’t real and you shouldn’t claim to have had these feelings.” Sorry, but it was real. The fact it was so short lived just makes me lucky, not over exaggerating the sensation. I had someone watching me and they said it was like watching a switch being thrown.

The second problem was fatigue. I began to suffer from fatigue problems. I’d have to stop and have a rest after half an hour sat at a desk typing. Any sort of activity and I’d spend the next day in bed. At around 6pm I would completely physically crash and got to bed. I ached all over. I’d feel so tired I’d want to throw up. Needless to say this was not helping my mood.

I had all sorts of blood tests and numerous doctors shrugging at me and telling me I was just stressed. I got offered more antidepressants. Given that my last experience of antidepressants involved being peeled out of a car foot-well by an A&E nurse, a security guard and my husband I was unconvinced.

After a particularly bad day, I decided to try not taking the meds for a while. Luckily, ADHD meds aren’t like anti-depressants; they don’t take time to act and you don’t get withdrawal symptoms. All of the fatigue and intense mood swings vanished, pretty much overnight.

I don’t know why I reacted this way to the meds, and no-one else I know on this medication has had the same reaction, so please don’t read this as me trying to put people off. It’s been suggested that there could have been a conflict with my thyroid medication although that is unlikely. My ASD therapist said that some people with autism are particularly sensitive to changes in brain chemistry. Maybe that’s why – that would also explain my reaction to alcohol, anti-depressant withdrawal and general anaesthetics (the latter is dramatic – hysteria, delusions, screaming for people who are actually sat next to me).

The only caution I would give, is that if you are going to try this medication make sure you have someone who knows you well watching you like a hawk, because you will not be aware of the changes yourself until they become extreme.

Still, the result is the same. I’m now unmedicated while I wait to see the psychiatrist again, and to be honest pretty reluctant to go with medication again. This was all back in July. I’m working on other tactics and I’m working with a life coach to find a way to manage things without medication.

I’ll let you know how it goes – it’s a work in progress for now.

Thoughts on Operation Christmas Child

A slight divergence today.

I’m dreadful at conflict; it scares me. As soon as people start expressing strong opposing feelings I go into panic mode and desperately try and avoid the fight and smooth things over.

This year I’m helping to organise a shoebox collection for Operation Christmas Child and you wouldn’t believe the negativity I’ve come up against. Faced with it I struggle to reply; I can’t neatly form my answers and just and up rambling on in an unconvincing pattern. This happens a lot to me; it’s part of the reason I spend so much time rehashing old arguments when I’m alone.

I find it much easier to write these things up and work them out that way. As such, here we go. A little rebuttal to the negative comments I’ve received regarding OCC:

“The CEO is a [insert expletive]. He gives money to homophobes and is Islamaphobic.”

Yes he does; I don’t argue with the truth of that and it makes me very sad. He is a totally swine and does not display what I would consider Christian behaviour.

Two points here.

Firstly, if you are going to immediately refuse to work with any brand that has someone of dodgy morals in the senior management then really you need to stop buying a lot of things. Really you should also stop going to the cinema due to the sexist content of films, and also, stop buying cheap clothes from Primark please. Generally speaking, every organisation out there has someone you wouldn’t like to support working for them.

Secondly, you should consider the nature of the group. If you buy things from a chain known for using sweatshops, then you are actively putting money into the pockets of the people condoning this sort of production. If you fill a gift box to give to a child, no money at all end up in the pocket of the CEO of Samaritan’s Purse as a result.

He is one person, admittedly behaving like a dick. He privately funds things we don’t like. You filling a box will not increase his ability to do that. You NOT filling a box will equally not influence his behaviour. That’s the thing with criticising faith; it’s only the moderate liberals that get hurt. The fanatics will ignore you and keep doing what they have always done, only with added self-righteousness.

“They use it to push Christianity on vulnerable children.”

It’s a shame that “evangelism” has become such a dirty word. There are ways and means, some are really annoying and offensive, but done respectfully and with a willingness to accept “no” as an answer I don’t have an issue with it. Actually, as an aside, I’ve found that the most pushy and annoying people in this respect are humanists and atheists, who just will not shut up and go away when you say “No thanks, I’m happy with my faith – please leave me to practise it in peace”. It often degenerates into a personal attack, with me being called “stupid” and “naïve” – sometimes really viciously – with none of the respect that they insist upon for their own beliefs, or lack thereof, even when I’m frantically trying to avoid the argument and didn’t solicit it in the first place.

To get back to my point, a lot of people have made reference to children being forced to take books of Bible stories along with the gifts. This isn’t actually what happens.

Samaritan’s Purse work with volunteer churches all over the world to distribute the gifts. They have to make rules regarding this to ensure that forcing things on people doesn’t happen. So, the compromise is this; children are offered a book of Bible stories alongside the gift but not inside it. The book is optional and can only be taken with parental consent. It is not a condition of the gift, which is given regardless of whether the books is accepted or not. It should also be stressed that this is only some of their partners – some don’t even offer the stories at all.

So what to do?

If you genuinely feel that you can’t ethically support OCC then that’s fine. What I would ask, is that if you’ve made a point of clearly stating how terrible you think it is, and that you are only refusing on ethical grounds, then please at least make a gift of equivalent value through another charity. I would be willing to bet the majority of people who have told me what a terrible group Samaritan’s Purse are won’t actually do that.

Ultimately the choice is yours. It will make no difference to you, to me or to Samaritan’s Purse. The only difference that will be made is to the child, who won’t receive the gift. That’s not an attempt at a guilt trip; it’s just a simple fact.

Measuring the Mire

To heal, you first have to acknowledge the pain and anger. Own it, and then move past it. Thus far, this has been the motivator of most of my posts. I’m keen to move on from this; I want to travel this road, not wallow in a pit at the side of it. To do that though, I need to acknowledge the depth and breadth of the pit lest I stumble back into it.

There is one last major hurt that I need to acknowledge and one last warning to give.

I know many people who dislike trigger warnings, but as I’m aware that some of my readers are vulnerable I am going to give one here. Please be aware that this post describes a sexual assault of a minor.

As I learn more about ASD I see how it has shaped my perceptions. I learn how susceptible we are to being taken in and how rigid our personal codes of conduct and mental schemas can be. In this sense, I use the word schema in the technical, psychiatric sense, namely, a world view and ingrained moral code. For example, as a child I was raised to believe that the man was always right. I was raised to believe that adults in positions of authority could always be trusted implicitly. If something came up that didn’t quite fit with my mental processing, it would be either dismissed unconsciously, or I would assume that I had made a mistake, and misunderstood the situation.

Everyone has these preconceptions and schemas; I am by no means saying that non-NTs are the only ones affected. However, as we grow, we learn, and we are able to set aside those simplified views. Some people find it very difficult to do this however, and retain these black and white schemas of childhood. These ways of thinking are no longer appropriate to an adult and if adhered to can be damaging. This is referred to as an Early Maladaptive Schema (EMS).

There are many reasons for retaining these EMSs. For those with ASD, it happens because we are generally slow to mature emotionally, and our rigid black and white thinking patterns are diagnostic features of our condition.

My fifteen year old self, didn’t think twice about being alone in the lighting booth with a sparks whilst on work experience placement. Why would I? I knew this man as one of the coaches from my Aikido club, and I was on work experience that had been ratified by my school. The porn posters he had up on the wall were distasteful, but I was given to understand that this was a normal thing in that environment.

Most of the day was spent rigging lights for a show, and plotting the cues for the afternoon performance. We’d been talking about aikido, the martial arts in general, and sports therapy. He’d leaned on my shoulder, commented that it was tense and then started to demonstrate a massage technique. I remember sitting very still but not objecting; I was sure I would be thought silly if I did.  This was an adult, and practically a teacher and therefore completely trustworthy. I didn’t object when his fingers strayed to my breasts and he commented with a smirk that I was wearing an underwired bra. I remember being uncomfortable, wondering if maybe this wasn’t right. He stopped a moment later and went back to programming the rig as if nothing had happened.

I discounted my concerns. Surely, I was being silly and immature by being uncomfortable? Part of me worried that if I told anyone, they would think I was making trouble. So I forgot about it. He was an adult and a teacher and a man. These people had authority, they wouldn’t do anything bad and it must be me making a silly mistake.

I was in my late twenties, and recently escaped from an abusive relationship with another man, when I finally realised what had actually happened. I only realised when I read an account of another woman’s experience and realised that what had happened to me constituted a sexual assault by a person in a position of trust. Even then, all I felt was anger towards myself. How could I have been so stupid? How could I have been so naïve? How could I be so academically clever and then so idiotic with people?

Now in my thirties, with an understanding of precisely how naïve I was, I know that I’m not the one to blame. I can blame the man involved, wholly. There’s nothing I can do with it – I can’t even remember his name – but I can forgive myself for what I perceived as my fault. My story is not uncommon amongst the ASD community.

I have heard people say “We believe your diagnosis, but wonder what good it will do you to have it.” I have also heard “How is having a label going to help?” I have heard people express concern that labelling children with disorders will somehow have the power of a Bard’s Tongue and create difficulties that otherwise would have existed. Next time you hear someone say that show them this.

Maybe an early diagnosis would have made no difference. Maybe even an awareness of my naïve nature wouldn’t have prevented this little episode. There is a chance, however, that it would have done. There is a chance, that had my vulnerability been known, more safeguards would have been in place.

There is a chance it would have stopped this.

So there we are; I acknowledge the depth of my mire. I know it. I’m not going to try and bridge it, or fill it in. I am however going to walk away now. It’s time to move forward, without risk of tripping over because I’m constantly looking back.

It’s done.

If you are curious about Asperger’s Syndrome or anything I have mentioned here, I can recommend two books. Tony Attwood’s The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome is held up as a bible for Aspies. I found it somewhat patronising, and some of his references to females are out of date, but it’s a good start. I also found Nick Dubin’s Aspergers and Anxiety to be particularly helpful in aiding my understanding of my own fears. Also, as Nick is ASD himself, there is none of the patronisation you find in books written by NTs for other NTs.

Double Edged Sword

There was one good thing about having a nebulous problem with anxiety; you can throw doubt on your own low self­-image.  Whenever I found myself saying “that person doesn’t like me, in fact all of my friends are just being nice and really think I’m strange and boring” I could calmly tell myself that actually, this was just my anxiety and probably not true.

Since my diagnosis with Asperger’s Syndrome this little buffer zone has been greatly reduced. I now know that I am a little bit strange when it comes to social interaction and that this has no doubt had a material impact on my ability to keep friends over the long term. Something that has stung me particularly in recent years is that I barely have any contact with the people I went to school with.

Ever since my diagnosis, I have felt this compulsion to reach out to those who knew me when I was young; my teachers and school friends. To start with, I was motivated by a desire to apologise for my oddness and ask that they thought more kindly of me. I quickly realised that this was typical of me – apologising for my existence. I decided against. Then I began to think that it would be a good thing if people realised how wrong the stereotypes of ASD and ADHD sufferers can be. My psychiatrist read my school reports and was surprised that I hadn’t been detected as a child, as I was apparently textbook in my ADHD presentation. Really though, why was that anyone’s responsibility to spot, other than my parents? Again, I decided not to. Yet still I felt this compulsion to write.

After a while, I realised why. I wanted witnesses.

As a teenager, I knew I was different to the people around me, and didn’t know why.  I believed that I deserved to be rejected and tried desperately to get it right and yet never did. Like my teachers I knew I could do better but kept slamming into this brick wall. Slowly, my self-esteem evaporated. I began to hate myself. When my therapist asked me to think about myself as a child, I burst into tears of shame at the thought of that spotty, gawkish and awkward girl. I hated her. I didn’t want to think about her – I wanted to leave her locked in the past and pretend she wasn’t a part of me.

Through the course of therapy I have come to feel a little more sympathetically. She at least was congruent and knew what she needed. She didn’t think she deserved it, but she knew far better than the thirty-something who spent so long trying to hide her oddness and prove herself.

So, with a great effort of will and no small amount of courage, I wrote to my old teacher. I said that I expected no response but just wanted him to read what I had gone through, and how I had been hit. I spoke of my lack of self-esteem, how I felt so deeply inferior to my peers, and how socially awkward and isolated I had been.

He had been a witness then and in making him a witness now, I hoped to bring some sort of legitimacy to my attempt to heal the past. I told him that by just reading my letter, he was in effect escorting me back into the classroom, allowing me to take the girl I used to hate to one side and tell her that I understood now, and that I was sorry for hating her. I was ready to listen to her when she told me what she needed.

It backfired.

I received a very kind email, telling me that my teachers remembered me fondly, that he’d found it so sad to read of my troubles but at the same time uplifted to hear that I was conquering them. Then at the very end came the kicker. He mentioned that he had seen a few of my year group recently. One is a successful actor and he’d seen a play of his. One of the others married recently and he had attended his wedding. He spoke of all the people from my old year group who had been there. He listed them. He listed five names. I’d been friends with all of them at school and care for them all still. We’d spent hours in the coffee shop together and in the pub. We’d lounged around in the common room together playing cards.

But I’d avoided parties – too much noise and too much going on. I’d not enjoyed going out in the evenings – too tired from the day. I’d not pursued. I’d not kept up with the phone calls and the pub meets for quiz night; my low self-confidence made me doubt I was welcome. My new (and soon to become abusive) boyfriend monopolised my time, slowly severing me from my friends by insisting I spent time with his, and being unwilling to come out with mine. I assumed that he was right, and I was wrong. After all, he was a man, and I’d been raised to believe that the man was always right. My Aspie brain clung to this childhood schema, priming me for the abuse that would follow.

My peers at school were all successful, and were all still great friends. In fact the only person missing from his list was me.

My sadness has solidified; no longer a nebulous fear that could be explained away.

Self-awareness is a double edged blade, and it has just cut me deeply.