Why I “can’t possibly be Autistic”, Reason #3: I’m not THAT rigid, right?

Over a decade ago, when I was working as a low-level administrator in a university student support unit, I remember a student who was a regular and frequent visitor to our service. He came in virtually every day. He spoke in a staccato, “mechanical”-sounding voice. He always wore the same choice of clothing: blue outdoor coat; dark tracksuit bottoms; white polo shirt. In all the time he was studying at that university, I never remember him wearing anything different.

I was, and am, nothing like him, right?

My mum used to work with a boy who ate Chicken McNuggets every day for lunch. Always the same number of pieces, heated to the same exact temperature. The local McDonald’s staff knew him well, and understood what he wanted, and needed.

I was, and am, nothing like him, right?

Whatever I watched, heard, or read about autism, I couldn’t relate to. I was nothing like these men and boys.

As a child, I never had visual schedules. I enjoyed back then, as I do now, a wide variety of tastes, textures, and types of food. I didn’t wear the same thing everyday; nor did I want to. My days were not uniform. The same thing didn’t happen every day. Nowadays, I get easily bored of too much of the same.

People like me can’t be autistic, right? We’re not that rigid, right?

…right?

But the reality is far more complicated, more nuanced, than it first appears. 

I remember the time when my secondary school switched to a fortnightly rather than a weekly timetable. The fact that I had to remind myself which week I was on; the fact that I couldn’t neatly draw out my timetable in my planner without having to devise a “system” to neatly display both timetable variations – these things bothered me immensely. I could never quite escape the vague sense of unease about the inelegance of the arrangement.

Then there’s my extreme (internal. I keep it well hidden) perturbation whenever my regular fitness instructor isn’t working and someone else is covering the class. To the point where, at the moment, I’m not doing my favourite weekly Body Max session because I know the instructor is recovering from surgery. I’ll just do my own workouts until I spot her exercising in the gym between classes, and can find out for certain that she’s back in charge. 

And then there’s the fact that (and I’ve quote-unquoted my dad on this before) drawing was “the only time I was ever truly spontaneous”. Everything else in my life had to be rigorously planned. Prepared for. Structured.

That’s still the case today. It’s why I struggle with keeping momentum at work during university vacation time, and why I often experience sudden bouts of acute depression when I have too much time on my hands if I’m on holiday.

The routine isn’t there. There are too many individual, on-the-fly, ad hoc decisions to be made. There’s not enough structure, and so I struggle to keep the chaos of the world around me at bay.

There are countless other examples of my need for rigidity. It’s ingrained.

Right now, I’m going through a horrendously uncertain period at work. Nothing about me personally, but the details of which I’d rather not go into here. Partly because I, and those around me, don’t actually know anything. But it’s preventing us doing properly all the things we should be doing as part of our regular jobs. We’re hamstrung. Stymied. 

Not only is my anxiety heightened because of so much uncertainty, ambiguity and unpredictability; the regular structure of my daily and weekly work has been disturbed.

So I’ve imposed my own structure.

I’ve blocked out every day of every week with repeated, regular chunks of specific types or topics of activity. I’ve thought about what I work best on when, and organised a “timetable” accordingly. What I may be doing in each time-chunk may vary, but knowing, for example, that most Mondays and Fridays I won’t have any meetings, that I deal with anything to do with our Salesforce database on a Wednesday afternoon, and that Tuesday and Thursday mornings are my designated times for dealing with difficult email correspondence, certainly takes a load off my beleaguered mind.

My context-based Google task lists fit neatly with this structure, and I try and plan meetings to fit in too – recognising, of course, that sometimes I will need to switch things around. But even with the understanding that some flexibility is needed, I have, at the very least, a framework. Everything’s not quite so gapingly uncertain.

More recently, I’ve been having a go at bullet journalling. It’s early days, but so far I’m loving it, and this analogue, paper-based system integrates surprisingly well with my digital organisational tools, whilst also thankfully taking me away from so much screen time. I’m sure I’ll write more about it at some point…

A fellow autistic woman at work talked to me about how being organised is not a natural trait but a coping mechanism, and I’m certain this is true of me too. Many of us have to work really, really hard at organising our work, our lives, and our minds, simply to keep our heads above water and not drown in a sea of too-much-information.

But the initial effort of introducing some structure is something worth doing.

Amidst the chaos and uncertainty, a little rigidity can be lifesaving.


[Featured image shows a screenshot of the first result of a Google search for a definition of the word “rigid”]

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Performance

I’ve been something of a performer all my life.

At primary school, it was drama. I never got to be the heroine or the pretty princess, but that didn’t bother me (mostly). Gleeful, gorgeous, grotesque riches were bestowed upon me in the form of ‘character’ parts: witches, ghosts, and anyone requiring an accent. I got to play around with voice, mannerism, posture, stature and facial expressions in ways that I found utterly delicious.

The move up to secondary school ushered in a small fish:big pond tale of bit parts, walk-ons, clumsy full-cast dance scenes and dressing-room boredom. I was never simply “glad just to be involved”; I wanted to act, damn it.

And so music took over. After a brief spell contending with the solitary, arduous torture of beginner piano, I plumped instead for the trumpet. You couldn’t escape it. You could play it in all kinds of genres. And you could play music with other people, in actual bands, before you actually even had to be any good at it.

The loudness was the point. I loved the fact I couldn’t hide; or rather, that I could hide myself behind that brazen, brash brass instrument. I could be the centre of attention, without the audience’s attention being solely centred on me.

Performance did, however, extend way beyond theatre and music.

Every day was, and is, a performance.

I’ve rejected any early-in-my-identification-as-autistic notions that I ever “masked” my autistic traits. I wouldn’t have had a clue what on earth I was trying to mask, for starters. It was pretty apparent to a lot of people that I was a bit (well, a lot) weird.

Still, perhaps stage makeup is a mask, of sorts. I performed the role of a girl. A proper girl, like all the others. I wasn’t trying deliberately to cover up aspects of my own self; I was simply playing the same role I’d always believed others also had to consciously “act out”.

I didn’t do it with uniform, or universal, success, of course. There was so much I simply didn’t get about being a proper girl. And yet. The tone of voice. The mannerisms. The (only partially feigned) interest in beauty and fashion. The purchasing of teen girls’ magazines. Shopping. The fancying (at least romantically) of boys at school. All that I could sort of manage.

But it still felt bewildering. And never quite real.

I was far more comfortable with the mixed-gender groups of friends I knew outside of school. My gaggle of gig-going buddies. The fellow musicians in the district orchestra and concert band. People with whom I could bond over genuine shared interests, irrespective of each others’ gender.

I was never a boy. I never felt like one, nor ever wanted to be one. I was never even a tomboy.

But still I struggled to perform the role of the normal girl.

And yet, as an adult, as people wanted to call me a woman, so I wanted to continue being referred to as a girl. “Woman” felt like someone else. I disliked “Miss” but rejected “Mrs”, or my husband’s surname, when I married – again, “Mrs” didn’t sound like me. It sounded too…grown up. Old, even. It still does.

(I go by “Ms”. Part of me occasionally gets half-tempted to switch to “Mx”, in part to annoy the people who don’t even like “Ms”. But my life is complicated enough already, what with me being openly autistic and everything. I just wish people would always use first names and nothing else, really.)

I don’t have problems with being a mum, or being called one. That one fits.

But I still feel like I’m always performing a role. Playing a part. The competent adult. The consummate professional. The confident parent. I even struggle to understand how to properly be an adult child to my parents. That script can be particularly hard to read.

I don’t feel as if I “perform” the role of friend. I care too much about friends, and friendships, to be anything other than as genuine as I know how.

Everybody performs. We all switch personae according to context, situation, environment. And most of all, who we’re with.

But we autistics so rarely get to take off the costume and be fully ourselves.

So often, the very way in which I’m openly autistic is in itself a piece of performance art. I could easily dull the sensory impact of bright lights with a very discreet pair of shallow-framed tinted glasses. But no; I walk into conference plenary sessions wearing oversized vintage-look shades. I revel in doing so. I could subtly stim in work meetings by playing surreptitiously with my engagement and wedding rings, or the cuff of my sleeve. But no; the Tangle is in my hand, and my hand is on the desk. So often must I write, rehearse and memorise the scripts for my many upcoming performances in the role of the pseudoneurotypical woman, that I grab any chance I can get to “be autistic”.

And when I’m out and about, I confess it: I play up to the camera.

I flick, fidget, sing, hum or nod my head to the music on my mental jukebox more obviously in public these days in part because I don’t give a bloody hoot about who objects to my doing so, but also because, deep down, I hope another autistic person is nearby, noticing.

I’m an actually autistic impersonator of an actually autistic person, performing an exaggerated version of my true identity for dramatic effect. It’s freeing. Liberating. Fun.

But it’s merely signals and signifiers. Camping up a stereotype. It’s real, but it’s not the full story.

I’m at my most autistic, under normal circumstances, when I’m at home – either because I’m tired, stressed and meltdowny, or because I’m being a kid, with my kids, and able to play. And when my daughter and I go on makebelieve adventures, we are always ourselves, wherever we travel to.

But I’m only ever able to be truly autistic, without the added dramatic effect, or even affect, when I’m with other people like me. And that’s rare.

Performance can be enjoyable. Joyous, even. But sometimes I need to remove the layers of panstick, and just be me.


[Featured image by Arch’educ. Image features a wooden theatre stage. A deep red curtain hangs closed over the stage, touching the stage floor.]

A passion, stolen

As a kid, most of my spare time was spent drawing. It was my earliest passion.

I was no savant. But I suppose, on reflection, I did have at least some innate “gift”. The people I colourfully produced aged just three, in bright felt tip, were anatomically correct (in as much as having, for example, five fingers on each hand and articulated limbs), and incredibly complex.

Relatives and family friends recall me feverishly creating drawing after drawing, eagerly quick-fire-switching between each colour (but always carefully, but with lightning action, replacing the lid of each pen after use).

When I entered primary school, I had an awareness that I was somewhat advanced compared to my peers, and sensed that this singled me out in a way I couldn’t quite place, but didn’t like. I intuited from early on that I was somehow different, and desperately wanted to fit in. So I copied my classmates’ clumsily executed, anatomically incorrect scrawls, in the hope of escaping attention. I was doing this at age five. But adults questioned me on this practice, and encouraged me to stay true to myself and embrace my abilities. I drew. And drew. And drew.

Never what was in front of me. Always scenes and characters conjured up in my own mind. But always produced with the intention of seeming “realistic”, however fantastical the subject.

I recall, at around six years old, having an argument with a classmate who refused to draw a nose on her depiction of the face of our teacher – we were making “Get well soon” cards as she was ill in hospital, and most of us had decided to draw her recovering in bed. When my friend got up to go to the toilet, I spitefully snatched up her card and drew that nose.

Around seven or eight years old. A documentary about the autistic savant architectural artist Stephen Wiltshire was showing on TV. I was captivated watching him draw and paint intricate architectural wonders from memory. A telling exchange from the time:

Me: “Mummy, what does ‘autistic’ mean?”

My mother: “Oh, it’s when someone is lost in their own world.”

Me: “Oh, I think I must be autistic, then.”

Ironic, huh? I think at the time, I was interpreting the word, and my mum’s explanation, as meaning “artistic”. After all, like Stephen Wiltshire, I loved to draw.


I drew and drew and drew. Never still life or landscapes. Always people – no scenery. Just groups interacting socially, or individuals, their outfits, hairstyles and accessories lovingly and meticulously detailed. And always from my imagination.

I attended the village youth club. As other kids shot pool, played board games, or ran round and round the building outside, I drew.

“Why do you do that here? You can just draw at home, can’t you?”

I wasn’t quite sure. I think I just liked the sense of being around others, but without actually having to interact. I did interact with the adult helpers. Mostly, I talked to them about the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. Not in any way autistic. Not in the slightest. Oh no.

At school, I was held spellbound by the elaborate creative projects dreamt up by my teachers in those years of freedom prior to the introduction of the English National Curriculum. Entire classrooms converted into rainforests. Imaginary monsters conjured out of paint spatters, with each child creating our own monster’s name, character and back story. Exercises in using grids to “enlarge” the designs of postage stamps or food packaging labels. Collage. Tissue paper. Clay. Papier-mâché.

And whilst other children would play games in their spare time, I would draw. And draw. And draw.

In secondary school, I had access to a wider range of materials. My imagination grew as I, my brain, and my body did. In one class during the early years, our tutor group was asked to make clay studies of people. Deliberately stylised and “cartoonish” – we were encouraged to think about how we might easily represent their essence in exaggerated, simplified form.

My clay man, sitting on the floor with legs outstretched and crossed, was listening to music through a Walkman and headphones. Eyes closed, singing along, with beatific facial expression, seeming to beat his hands on his legs in time to the music. Lost in enjoyment.

He was covered in clear glaze. The shape and form spoke for themselves and needed no further adornment or colour.

Later, when several of our pieces were on display in a case along the Art and Design (A&D) department corridor, someone asked one of my teachers if they could buy my piece. My teachers asked me, but I refused. I was too proud of it to let it go, and it sits on my parents’ living room bookshelf to this day.

As I continued through secondary school, I continued to find solace in drawing as life got more and more difficult. I’d graduated from bright, multicoloured felt tip to pure, grayscale pencil. But I still drew nothing but people. I drew. And drew. And drew.


Of course, when it came time to choose our GCSE options, there was no question that I’d be taking Art. At every parents’ evening, my teachers had told my mum and dad that they were certain I was destined for art school. No doubt about it. I was a polymath in everything but PE, but art was my one true passion.

And so came the beginning of the end.

The class I was put in was allocated to a wayward, alcoholic teacher who was approaching retirement. A man with his eyes off the road. Off the ball.

We drew. We created. But I had no idea where we were going. There was no inkling of what syllabus we were meant to be following. I knew from friends in the other classes that there were certain things – topics, tools, and techniques – that we were meant to be covering as part of the GCSE Art curriculum. Only our class wasn’t covering them. The uncertainty was alarming.

And then, strange things started to happen. At one point India, and Hindu mythology, were given to us as sources of inspiration. My teacher was starting to construct large sculptures of bamboo and tissue paper. One, in particular, with a likeness to the elephant god Ganesh, seemed to have a vague connection to some of the 2D work I was producing on paper.

And so it came to parents’ evening, towards the end of that first GCSE year.

When my parents arrived home, they were spellbound. In awe.

“Wow, sweetheart. We’ve seen your sculpture! It’s amazing! Wow, you’re so talented, we had no idea!”

(Or words to that effect.)

“But…I haven’t made any sculpture.”


And from there, it all unravelled.

In a state of panic, my incompetent, booze-addled but nonetheless artistically adept teacher had somehow recognised he was doing his star pupil a disservice; letting her down; putting her at risk of never achieving the dizzy artistic attainment levels she was so easily capable of reaching. And in some misplaced attempt to help me along, he’d constructed a work no 15-year-old would ever have been able to produce, and passed it off as mine.

Of course, I couldn’t accept the dishonesty. The deceit. How could he lie, on my behalf? How could me make me complicit, force me to lie? Regardless of how I progressed through GCSE Art, I wanted all the work to be my own.

I was devastated. Traumatised. And, if I’m honest, utterly weirded out by the whole thing. It was bewildering, and disturbing.

I sat in the headmaster’s office with my dad, tearfully recounting my side of the story, all the while wondering what the hell was going to happen to my class, my GCSE grade, and my future.


The following academic year, my teacher was no longer at the school. I have no idea whether he was dismissed entirely as a result of what occurred with me, or whether this was merely the tipping point. The other members of the A&D department mucked in, clubbed together, and worked to help our class get through our second and final year of GCSE Art.

I made my portfolio, documenting the supposed journey in the development of each piece of artwork. I made it after the fact.

Like someone with innate abilities in mathematics, I couldn’t show my workings. It all just “came out” when I put pen to paper. So, I just made it all up, fabricating the connections for the sake of meeting the requirements of a curriculum not set up for people who thought about, or enacted, the producing of art in the way I did. The portfolio made logical enough sense. I was good at being creative, in making up a decent story. The school kept the portfolio, with my permission, after our GCSEs were complete, to be shown to future students as an exemplar. I got an A.

By my love affair with art was over. A lifelong passion, sullied. I couldn’t bear to study it beyond that point.


My parents never forgave the school. Art had been, according to my dad, “the only time I was ever truly spontaneous”.

A few years passed, and I started to dabble in drawing cartoons, primarily of favourite bands. A few were published in fanzines. I’d moved from grey pencil to black pen-and-ink.

But I’d missed out on those years of formal training that I’d always anticipated being my natural, written-in-the-stars trajectory. It still pains me that I am far less “skilled” in formal drawing techniques than others who have studied art to a higher level than I.

And instead of following my childhood dream, my birthright, I spent another 15 years or so trying to find a new niche. There was so much I was good at, but very little that ever lit my inner fires quite like drawing.

I was the victim of theft, the stolen goods my earliest, most cherished passion.

And whilst I try so hard not to regret, it is something I will never truly get over.


[Featured image: plain black background imprinted, in stark grey upper case, sans serif letters, with the words “A PASSION, STOLEN”.]

It’s never all bad.

[Author’s note: I’m publishing this post almost simultaneously with a previous one because I had both stored up as drafts in my paper notebook, but hadn’t had sufficient “get-up-and-go” to publish them until now. This is the more recent of the two.. However, I felt that the other post was sufficiently time-specific to need publishing pretty sharpish; hence, a buy-one-get-one-free, one time only offer.

Trigger warning: mental illness.]


It’s only dawned on me over the past few days that I have recently become horribly depressed.

In recent years, I’ve grown so accustomed to anxiety being my particular mental illness du jour that this particular “episode” has caught me unawares. The gloomy weather front had been advancing, but I’d continued to try to play in fading sun, in denial of the specks of mental drizzle and the occasional gust of despair – forcing myself to soldier on, like an anorak-clad British holidaymaker building sandcastles on a rainy, windswept beach.

But the feeling that I’m “not good enough” is unmistakeable. The veering between floods of tears and experiencing a desperate need to cry without being physically able to do so. Even all the beautiful detail around me seeming, on occasion… somewhat flat.

I’ve been here before.

I’ve been ground down. One too many instructions to “just try and keep your reactions under control” in the face of the near-constant sensory onslaught, extreme distractibility and utter breakdown of executive function that come with being an autistic parent off work for three weeks of the summer holidays and contending with the looking-after of a five-year-old and a toddler in the throes (though he’s not reached the official age for it) of the “terrible twos”.

An awareness of A-level results being received, and the recent discussions about “giftedness” have caused me to mentally reframe much of my lifetime thus far of academic experience. And the anger has been building and building and building over all the things I didn’t achieve. All the times I felt I “wasn’t good enough” when I wasn’t playing on a level field. And I didn’t even realise I wasn’t.

I’m self-aware enough these days to recognise that the “not good enough” feelings are untrue, inaccurate, unfounded. But that doesn’t stop the anger and sadness.

And yet, it’s never all bad.

I’ve spent a day on my own. My husband and I agreed that I needed at least a couple of days entirely to myself during this final week of the holidays,

And as always, as I go about my day, I continually experience reminders of times gone by: scenes; sounds; images; smells; snatches of speech. Triggers of past memories. And though my current prevailing mood shares its similarities with those of dark times past, I can’t help but experience some pangs of nostalgia for those times. Fondness, even.

Right now, so many of the clothes I see in shops, and worn in particular by young people, are in styles that last saw the light of day when I was a teenager. I see young people in their teens and early 20s, kitted out in uncannily familiar garb and hairstyles, and my heart goes out to them. I feel compassion, admiration, wry amusement, wistfulness. But also hope. They have so much of their lives ahead of them, and I desperately want to believe that none of them are experiencing the pain I felt at their age.

And yet to say it was constant pain does my entire life a disservice. For all the years I was depressed, I still experienced joy, laughter, companionship. Long deep conversations, or just ridiculously amusing ones. The excitement of gigs and festivals. Band rehearsal camaraderie. Bright, golden sunlit days. Starry skies. Euphoria. Dancing. And oh, so much love.

During my formative years, I struggled with my sense of true self. I still do. Womanhood and femininity still come awkwardly and unnaturally to me. And yet, I have always been me, deep down, Any sense of self I did have back then was distorted by lack of self-knowledge and yet…those years were still formative.

And despite any pain, I still had so much fun. Sincerely.

It’s never all bad.

Any spike of fun a person has during an extended bout of depression does not negate the experience of that depression. It’s not a flatline. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still hard to bear.

I had a great day. A lengthy morning gym session. Towards the end of that, yes, I did feel the pricks of tears that wouldn’t come. It took a long time to get myself showered, dressed, and home.

But then I was out again. Gin and tonic and tapas for lunch, and an unexpected kindness from a long-not-seen friend. The necessary evil of a bit of shopping, and then a lone trip to the cinema. I revelled in the darkness of the theatre. The film, Detroit, was masterful. Harrowing. Shocking at times. Tears welled in my eyes as the ending approached. But one doesn’t always need levity and glee to be taken out of oneself. I was immersed in something other than my own gloom for over two and a half hours.

And I returned home to my family. I cuddled them, made them tea, and played makebelieve with my daughter. We visited a haunted house.

I’m still, in the grander scheme of things, depressed. But it’s never all bad. Today was good for me. 


[Featured image: bright green, somewhat “architectural” foliage – stiff, long leaves with sharp pointed tips and veins that firm concertina folds along the entire lengths of each frond.]

Picture this.

[Author’s note: I’m publishing this post almost simultaneously with a subsequent one because I had both stored up as drafts in my paper notebook, but hadn’t had sufficient “get-up-and-go” to publish them until now. This was written a few days ago, and it doesn’t quite fit my current mood – the accompanying post does. However, I felt that this one was sufficiently time-specific to need publishing pretty sharpish.

Trigger warning: mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder.]


I’m writing this post with Blondie‘s ‘Picture This‘ playing on repeat in my head.

The copy of the song that I hear on my mental jukebox is the one on the secondhand vinyl LP copy of Parallel Lines that I bought during my second year of university. Scratched in parts, though not sufficiently damaged for the needle to jump. I can hear the particular qualities of my specific vinyl copy, with its fuzzy warmth and minor quirks, gently filtering the instrumentation and Debbie Harry’s vocals.

It’s in my mind because I had a documentary about the making of Parallel Lines running on the television as a soundtrack (preceded, no less, by a selection of 80s hip hop classics) to my reorganising of my CD collection following a redecoration.

But the documentary evoked so much more than simply the sound of the song.

I am at the opposite end of the visualisation abilities scale from someone with aphantasia. My visual imagination – nay, my three-dimensional, multisensory imagination – is piercingly acute, and at times seemingly all-encompassing. It can be as if I’m experiencing parallel worlds, alternate realities, or times long past, but not actually in parallel; one world is overlaid upon another. I experience both simultaneously.

I suppose it’s something like being a cyborg, a networked human, a ‘ghost in the shell‘. Simultaneously processing both what’s in front of me and also another, different but no less potent reality that exists, and is experienced, in a different portion of my mind.

Over a year ago, I was walking my daughter to preschool. It was late spring. Something about the quality of the crisp spring air, the golden glow of the sun still low and yet bright in the sky, the cold-warm piecing blue of the sky, led me back to an early-morning walk along the seafront of Thessaloniki, Greece at the start of February, 2011. I was both there, and walking my daughter to preschool. Both realities existed, there and in that moment.

Sometimes, the recollected worlds that overlay my present-day, real-time world are far less pleasant. For several years after breaking up with an emotionally and financially abusive previous partner, there were times when I really, honest-to-goodness, lived back in that council flat. The terracotta walls of the living room. The overly firm, overly shallow, institution-blue council issue sofa. The clunk of the door to the controls of the enormous floor-standing combi boiler. Clothes soaking in the bath for want of a washing machine. The cloying stink from the rubbish chute. The nightly whirr of the police helicopter in the sky above the estate, and the constant undercurrent of fear.

Those flashbacks often brought tears to my eyes. I felt like I was there. Again.

This evening, I went for a long walk. It grew dark as I paced the streets, ‘Picture This’ playing over and over. I bought Parallel Lines not long before the beginning of my biggest ever depressive episode. And it’s sad to think that so much of the music I love was purchased at a time when I was so sad. As I walked, I was back in my ground floor student bedroom, the living room of a terraced house poorly converted into sleeping and study space. The lime-green throw on my bed. Threadbare carpet.

I was so lost, back then.

Towards the end of my walk I passed through one of the local “student villages”. And although my own first-year flat was nothing like as luxurious, something about the landscaping, the carefully laid out paths and highly geometric medium-rise accommodation blocks, brought back the pleasant, sweet-sour smell of the glue on university prospectuses; the weight of each of those thick, wide, rectangular tomes, and the sheen of their covers.

It’s August, after all. All across the country, many will be preparing to leave home for the first time, with or without their anticipated A-level grades, whether or not to their original educational establishment of choice. I remember that feeling of anticipation. The anxious wait for something new. Something that just had to be better than what I’d experienced in life so far.

And I felt angry. I so often do these days. And desperately sad. Because whilst my life has, in many ways, been a good life, so much has not been the way it could, or should, have been. And whilst regrets are a waste of time and energy, I can’t help but grieve for lost opportunities, potential not reached, support neither given nor received.

Since my last post and the resulting comments, and after reading another author’s subsequent blog that references it, I’ve been thinking wistfully about my education. My years lacking in confidence. My years of self-doubt and shaky self-identity. And I think to myself: I wish it hadn’t always been so bloody hard.

I wish I’d known who I truly was far earlier in life. I wish I’d known far earlier in life that it was okay to be me, and to be the way I am.

My night-time walk, like so many before it, took me along streets lined with tall, mature trees. Occasional flashes of bright, vivid green leaves picked up by streetlights directly overhead. Noises from houses. My own footsteps, the sound of my breath, and the slight feeling of strain at my hip joints. My need to move my arms vigorously, coupled with a nervousness about doing so in a public place, no matter how late the hour or how empty the street.

Every time I must take myself out of the house for a walk, I am reminded of those countless other occasions just like this one. The worlds of those other space-catching, breath-catching walks layer and layer over my present world. Not all of them are distinct memories, of course, but the sense I get from each one is played out time and time again.

My walks sometimes clear my mind. Sometimes, they fill it. They may soothe my tingling, fizzing body’s need for “something” other than an indoor environment. And they may ease my pain in some ways, whilst also making more acute that other, remembered pain.

And as ‘Picture This’ plays over and over in my head, I’m reminded of just how often I’ve striven, and struggled, to find myself somewhere on those tree-lined streets.


[Featured image description: grainy, heavily filtered (blue end of colour spectrum) photo of a set of mostly-empty CD shelves, with piles of CDs stacked immediately in front of them, awaiting sorting and re-shelving.]