Sweet abandon

Three silhouette figures, one adult and two children, dancing, surrounded by swirling colours and musical notation.

[Trigger warning: mental illness; self-injurious stimming (as well as the good stims that are hard exercise and dancing).]

The Saturday just gone:

So it’s happened. I’ve finally realised that I am definitely properly depressed at the moment.

I’ve thought I was, then thought I wasn’t; thought I was, thought I wasn’t. For a while now. I kept thinking my quick bouts of misery were a symptom of autistic burnout, or simply an acute pang of painful response to the occasional sudden rise in the immediacy of The Problems I Am Dealing With Right Now; something unexpectedly looming large on the horizon that sees my legs crumpling beneath me as I tumble to the ground.

But actually, these acutely painful moments have been mere spikes in overall negative emotional noise level. The low-level hum of depression, sometimes infrasonic, has been gently oscillating along in a line beneath the crashing noise of all of my day-to-day experiences for a fair while, without me properly registering it. But now I have. The pitch and the volume have risen, and it’s too loud to ignore. Is it a moan, a whine, a whistle, a hiss, or a wail? I’m not quite sure. But it’s sustained, and it’s loud.

Saturday morning. My daughter is watching a film in the living room downstairs. My husband is sleeping in. My son and I are in the big bedroom, playing with Lego. I watch him, I interact with him, and all the while I feel simultaneously both utterly nothing and utter despair.

I’m not quite fully there.

Later, my daughter joins us. The two of them both at work with the Lego; absorbed, building; each doing so in their own age-specific, personality-specific way. I interact with these two beings whom I love more than anything in the world, but I am removed. I am exhausted.

Then the wooden train set comes out.

Somehow, most of it ends up not on the floor of the bedroom, but outside the bedroom door, on the landing. Right where it’s a large, jumbled collection of small wooden trip hazards at the top of a very steep staircase.

I repeatedly ask my children to tidy the pieces up, or at least to carry them through the doorway and into the room, away from the stairs. They can be pretty good at tidying up. Sometimes. And I need them to understand why leaving toys on the stairs isn’t the best of ideas.

But they’re too intent on what they are doing. They don’t even hear me.

My requests get louder and more urgent.

(I still remember to use the word “please”, however.)

Still they are oblivious.

Eventually I lose it.

I scream and shout. I disappear into another room to smack my own head repeatedly for 30 seconds or so, before returning.

Afterwards, my husband finds me sitting at the top of the stairs, glum, despondent, detached. I burst into tears, and struggle to stop.

***

We agree that although I’ve promised our daughter I’d take her to the school Christmas Fayre (and it has to be me who takes her), afterwards I can go off and do my own thing for a few hours. I plan a trip to the gym.

Husband takes our son with him on an extended shopping trip. The girl and I do the Christmas Fayre thing.

She does a few messy crafts, a find-the-word treasure hunt, and eats too much sugary stuff. I try not to get too exasperated with the busyness and loudness of it all, but she loves it. And I love that she loves it. She has fun, and comes home with me, happy.

And I disappear off to the gym. I exercise with sweet abandon.

60 minutes of “Around the World”: a random-generated programme of hard hills and sprint intervals on the stationary bike. I sweat. My heart thumps. I breathe. I focus. And although I never exercise wearing headphones or earbuds, the hi-NRG dance music on the gym stereo this afternoon works well to keep my legs pounding. On the hills, I push down the pedals in time to the beat. During the sprints, I do my best to beat the beat, spinning my legs faster and faster. I lose myself in movement, beats, vocal samples, distance log, timer, calorie counter, and revolutions-per-minute.

Core work, stretches, home. Food on the table.

And then, the thing that I need perhaps even more than the gym.

It’s Saturday night, and my daughter wants to dance.

***

I’m glad that we’ve resurrected our living room discos. When I was pregnant with her brother and got too big, too much in pain, and too uncomfortable, we stopped. And for a long while afterwards we didn’t do it. But over the past few months, we’ve started dancing again.

And tonight, I dance with sweet abandon.

We always start with the same sequence of four tracks: ‘Nice Weather for Ducks’ (Lemon Jelly); ‘Treachery’ (Kirsty McColl); ‘Brimful of Asha’ (Cornershop – Norman Cook Extended Remix); ‘Squance’ (Plaid).

Whatever else we play in the middle (eclectic, but still very much the playlist of a ’90s indie kid), we always slow down and end with ‘Cole’s Corner’ (Richard Hawley). My daughter likes it that way.

For a while this unvarying start and end to our playlist used to grate (and I’m sure it still does with our neighbours). I have so much music. There’s so much of it my children haven’t yet heard. So much more variety than they’re ever willing to hear. I want them to enjoy it all.

But really, I don’t mind the repetition. It’s comforting to my daughter, and after all, I was the one who introduced these songs to her.

Tonight, I’m relieved to hear them, in the specific order we always play them. And whatever else is lurking in my collection, the songs we tend to play are the types of song that make my kids happy.

My “style” is a flailing mix of mangled Street Dance, distorted Twist, skewed Salsa, and a whole lot of jumping, hopping, twirling and swaying.

Sometimes I pogo. Sometimes I waltz. Sometimes I bring in body-weight training moves from the gym. Sometimes my daughter and I join hands. She grins. My little boy weaves between our legs, spins around, stomps his feet, and giggles. During ‘One Step Beyond’ we all run repeatedly around the room in a big circle. My children laugh and smile.

The physicality is all. My very being craves it.

I was already sweaty from my gym exertions. And now I sweat again. I don’t stop. There’s no point, until all of us are ready for it to stop.

Sometimes, I let my body fall from side to side, catching myself by engaging my core or gripping a piece of furniture before I land. Everything moves. Everything must move.

My body loses itself in sweet abandon to the music.

Even as my children slow and tire, I carry on (for a while, at least – I’m not so divorced from their needs that I can’t tell when it’s time to bring things to an end).

My little boy watches, content but approaching sleepiness. My girl intently examines the Pete Fowler designs on some Super Furry Animals CD single cases, still listening to what’s on the stereo, still requesting more songs.

And eventually, it is time to stop. We slow things down. ‘Cole’s Corner’ has its spin, and I, the sweating, panting, dishevelled beast that I am, cuddle my children close. They smile again – at each other, at me, to themselves.

It’s story time. And soon it’ll be bedtime. I’ll cuddle them close again before they go to sleep. Later, I’ll shower and crawl into bed myself.

And no matter how desperately sad I was that morning, when I finally lay my own head down later that same night, I go to sleep replenished, nourished, and filled with love.


Last Saturday’s playlist

  1. Lemon Jelly, ‘Nice Weather for Ducks’
  2. Kirsty McColl, ‘Treachery’
  3. Cornershop, ‘Brimful of Asha’ (Norman Cook extended remix)
  4. Plaid, ‘Squance’
  5. The Bees, ‘Chicken Payback’
  6. Beck, ‘The New Pollution’
  7. Belle and Sebastian, ‘I’m a Cuckoo’
  8. Bassment Jaxx, ‘Good Luck’
  9. Madness, ‘One Step Beyond’
  10. Madness, ‘Baggy Trousers’
  11. Super Furry Animals, ‘Golden Retriever’
  12. Super Furry Animals, ‘Northern Lites’
  13. Eels, ‘Last Stop: This Town’
  14. Richard Hawley, ‘Cole’s Corner’

[Featured image description: Three silhouette figures, one adult and two children, dancing, surrounded by swirling colours and musical notation.]

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The same crap, on top of everything different

[Feature image description: close-up view of the trunk of a Weeping Willow tree, viewed from behind the metal railings of a bridge, diagonally leading away from the bottom left to the top right of the image. The tree is resplendent with masses of bright green leaves hanging downwards. Behind the tree and its branches, a calm river, with a grey stone wall on the opposite bank, is vaguely visible. Photo taken in the grounds of University College Cork.]


A couple of months ago, I was away presenting a session at a conference in the Republic of Ireland. I’m a very infrequent traveller, especially abroad, and so I was pretty pleased with how I got on with getting there. Okay, I allowed far too much time between taxi to the railway station and my train’s departure time, and far longer than necessary at the airport before my flight, because I get anxious. Air travel is an unfamiliar activity for me; I wasn’t sure what to expect, I hadn’t travelled from this particular airport before, and I wanted to allow for any unexpected incidents, occurrences, or disruptions to my itinerary. Getting anywhere “just in time” leaves me stressed, agitated, and liable to meltdown at the smallest trigger.

I had the luxury of a day to myself before the conference. Time alone is something I crave, and rarely get. I had a glorious afternoon walking extensively, visiting art galleries, exploring the streets, sampling the food. A lingering bath in my hotel room. Uninterrupted time to read a book. To say that this was refreshing and rejuvenating would be the biggest bloody understatement imaginable.

That evening, there was a pre-conference drinks reception.  Finger foods. Lots to drink. And my God, I networked like a pro. Like a boss, as goes the modern vernacular.

The next day was a full day of workshop sessions. The conference was deliberately “unplugged”, which meant no tech, no PowerPoint, no videos. Delegates had been asked to read papers in advance and be prepared to focus on discussion when in the sessions. The emphasis, therefore, was on listening, and on spoken interaction. I had one session to chair, and another to present. By the end of the day, of course, I was tired. My employers had only paid for me to attend one of the three days, but that in itself was pretty demanding.

Despite the intensity of those two days, I managed well. I enjoyed it. And I had a day off work once I got home to sleep, rest, and recuperate. But throughout it all, there was one thing that bothered me. That angered me.

And it had nothing to do with work, or autism.

It had nothing to do with poor wifi coverage, extra high sensory demands, or fellow presenters not adhering to the strict guidance about the format of the sessions. It had nothing to do with exhaustion, anxiety over social interactions with strangers, or the fact that, upon setting up for my own session, I realised I hadn’t brought some of my kit with me (don’t worry folks; it was nothing essential, and I coped well regardless).

No. It was none of those things.

You see, I have no full-length mirror at home. And so I often move around blissfully ignorant as to how my clothes fit my body, how “thin” or “fat” I happen to be looking on any given occasion, or whether what I’m wearing is flattering or otherwise.

From time to time I do glance at my reflection in shop windows, or the ground-to-ceiling glass panels of modern office blocks (pity any poor person sitting on the other side; but then, they’re probably used to it). And I’m quite particular about clothes and how they look on me.

But a full-length mirror is just one of those things we haven’t ever got round to buying.  The house my husband and I have lived in since late 2006 still resembles a tatty student dwelling. We’ve updated some rooms, but now that we have small children, and a distinct lack of spare funds or precious spare time, much of our home resides in a state of notable dishevelment. Our bedroom doubles as a storeroom, our toddler son is also still in with us a lot of the time, there are other bits of the house we need to work on before we get round to our so-called master bedroom, so buying a pristine new mirror isn’t exactly high on our priority list.

So occasionally I get caught out. Often it’s when I see myself in photos, captured unawares. But that evening, it was a mirror.

Before heading out to the conference drinks reception, I bathed, got dressed, did my hair and makeup, and all the usual “getting ready for an evening out”-type things. I looked in the full-length mirror of my hotel room, to check all was to my satisfaction.

And I looked again, aghast.

I had had no idea how fuzzily undefined my waist appeared in my chosen outfit; how much it merged with my hips; and how much my thighs merged onwards and upwards in the opposite direction. No idea how seemingly vast was the expanse of my (not actually that enormous) belly. No idea just how small and out-of-proportion my bust appeared in relation to everything else.

And to think – oh, silly me – that I’d been pootling about quite happily in this outfit on numerous occasions, enjoying the many textures, patterns and colours of the details on that tunic top, thinking I’d looked okay in it! What must have possessed me? How dare I?

And then I got angry.

Here I was.

A professional woman, here to deliver a workshop based on the highly acclaimed work of my team, its submission accepted on merit after being rigorously assessed by a judging panel. A woman with two university degrees, a postgraduate teaching qualification, and senior fellowship of a national professional body. A wife of a loving husband and mother of two wonderful children. A person with many friends. A writer of words which, on the basis of comments and messages I have received, have resonated with so many. Someone with wayward biomechanics, anatomical oddities and congenital joint abnormalities, and with limited time to exercise because of a full-time job and young children, who has somehow managed still to maintain a fairly decent level of fitness.

And on top of that, I’d achieved everything I had achieved despite years of confusion, torment, anxiety and depression, living in a word that wasn’t build according to my needs; twisting, bending, and contorting my very being to try and fit into a space that was an unnatural fit to me. 

And here I was, worried about my bloody appearance.

Like so many women, I’d spent a lifetime trying to do the same thing to my physical body that I had been doing for so long to my behaviour, my outward personality, and my responses to the world around me. And after all these years, after all that has happened to me – good or bad – I was still preoccupied with wanting my body to be something other than it was. A body with faults, yes. But a body that is mine, that has done so much, and that has been with me through everything.

Even after coming to terms with the life-changing news that I am who I am, that I’m autistic and that’s okay, I was still dealing with the same crap, on top of everything different.

Many autistic people do not care in the slightest bit about what others think of them. But to say that we are all this way is a gross generalisation. I am not one of these autistic people. This is one area where I cannot relate to so many of my neurosiblings.

Sadly, sometimes, I care all too much, and for all the wrong reasons. And that added layer of “womanly” insecurity on top of it all does no-one any favours – me least of all.

A thing I really miss.

It’s been one of those dazzlingly sunny spring days. The kind that I value far more than the summer days we Brits tend to experience (which I find veer far too alarmingly between overly hot and disappointingly cold and wet).

And I’ve been tired out by an exhausting term at work, and successive nights of interrupted sleep. On behalf of my family, I’ve declined an invitation to a barbecue with friends of ours because I feel the need to limit my interactions with others, and now the noise and chaos of the household, with my reactions culminating in one of my sadly all-too-frequent “mummy meltdowns”, has sent me out of the house for a desperately-needed walk on my own.

The sun is bright. I wish I were wearing my contacts with oversized sunglasses, rather than my prescription glasses with the transitions lenses whose frames don’t quite cover enough of my face to keep out all the glare. Still, I’m grateful, as I move away from the streets of terraced houses and out towards the fields, hedgerows, and wooded paths, for gentler noises and a less visually jarring, more serene and natural view in front of me.

I take myself down into a nearby valley that was once a favourite running haunt of mine.

Only these days, I’m not running. My left hip subluxes more than ever. My ankles frequently give way. My right knee feels constantly off-track and has been so painful over the past few days that I’m walking with a limp on anything but a flat surface. My body – like my family setup – is such that, after two babies, I have not yet managed to get myself back on track with the one form of exercise I love more than any other, and something in me wonders if I ever will. I’ve never been built for running, no matter how much I’ve loved it, and these days I feel further away from it than ever before.

But though I may be moving at a more sedate pace, still I feel the need to clamber over tree roots, pick my way down steep, rock-strewn slopes, and lift myself over stiles. To experience the need to stabilise myself with underused core muscles. To feel the cushioning of lush grass or a carpet of developing leaf mould under my feet.

I run my fingers over the masses of tiny individual fronds of moss that cover grey stone walls, so much in appearance like a high-altitude aerial photograph of forest on a mountainside. I inspect unfurling beech leaves and opening blossom. It’s because my travel is slowed that I can do these things.

I walk along with my arms outstretched beside me, hands shoulder-height. This seems to serve some proprioceptive purpose that would once have been addressed through faster movement, arms pumping. All around me green. Still well within the bounds of the city. So comparatively close, even, to the city centre – and yet still so far removed, so seemingly rural. Birds sing. Insects hum. Traffic is a distant murmur. I sing, hum, and murmur to myself as I move along. 

In the city today, a half marathon is being run. Many people I know are running it. And I feel envious. There are so many things I miss about running.

Races, with their communality and camaraderie, but limited small talk or inane chitchat. Chip timing. Counting down the mile markers. Finish lines. Souvenir medals. Celebratory drinks and meals.

Solitary leisure runs, meditative, exploratory, thoughtful. Hard slogs uphill, purposeful, pounding me with the physical feedback my mind and body so often crave. Tempo runs, testing myself, pushing myself. Quick runs around the block, just enough to release a satisfactory amount of post-work tension.

Feeling bodily tired but mentally, emotionally, and sensorily sated.

Of course, nowadays I still have the gym. But it’s not the same.

I make my way past clearings in the woodland. Past allotments. I spy a lone red tulip, abloom at a roadside, petals open wide to the sun, yellow centre and black stamens stark against the scarlet. I stop to take a picture. The basic camera on my budget smartphone fails to do justice to the detail I see before me, although somewhat unusually it does capture a flavour of the vivid, shining Irlen contrast between colours that causes me to see flowers literally glow. I guess the light’s good, today.

Would I notice such a thing if I were moving more quickly? Probably. Even when running, I still tended to spot the detail in my surroundings. An autistic thing, I suppose.  But I wouldn’t have stopped to take a photograph. I wouldn’t have looked quite so closely.

I find half-remembered footpaths and bridleways. Half-remembered fields, occupied by horses swishing their tails. Wood pigeons scatter leaves and twigs as they beat their wings to fly from resting-places on tree branches. Half-remembered trees, half-remembered hills. I find myself on a gradual curve back upwards – I can’t be out too long, after all. I get hotter and my breathing gets harder as the incline increases. My right knee aches a little more.

Eventually I’m back home. Later, I read friends’ Facebook posts about the race. It was hard in the heat. I congratulate them on their efforts. And I genuinely do feel pleased for them. Pleased, but still envious. I wish I didn’t, but I can’t help it.

As I type this post, my toddler son is asleep, cuddled up on me. He is breathing audibly, but softly. He’s warm, calm, and peaceful, and the soft curls of his hair smell of baby shampoo as I nuzzle my face into them. And I think to myself: I’m quite happy here. This is a place I want to be, and I don’t begrudge that my life is different from that of those out running today. I don’t resent them for it. And whilst it doesn’t give me that “high”, there are other sensory boosts to be gained from a quiet walk, drinking in all that surrounds me.

But oh, how I miss the action of running through the woods, or across the fields. The freedom. The release. The dynamism with which one moves through one’s surroundings.

There is nothing like it, and nothing else that will ever quite fill the same void.

The importance of self-care

I’ve been a little short on spoons over the past few weeks. Once the working day is over, and my children have got as much out of me as they need, my brain hasn’t had sufficient processing power for me to blog, and I’ve struggled, even, with many everyday tasks. I’m all used up.

I now feel that there’s sufficient chronological distance between my formal diagnosis and the present time for me to start being a little more objective, a little more practical. Ideally, I would have more hours in the week for myself, and only me; practically, though, it isn’t possible for me to make spare time – and spare mental space – where there isn’t room. But having had a number of meltdowns at home in response to near-constant overload, I’ve recognised the need to look after myself a little more.

As I write this, I’m enjoying the post-exercise muscular ache of the gym class I undertook yesterday – my first attendance in over a year.  ‘Body Max’ is a weights class, set to music, that works, sequentially, each of the major muscle groups in the entire body – the reps are performed at varying speeds in time to a beat; you adjust the weights according to the requirements of each exercise, your own abilities, and the muscle group being used. There’s no confusing choreography to worry about, it’s one exercise at a time, and the nature of resistance work means plenty of opportunity for proprioceptive feedback. The speed of the reps satisfies my need for movement. Doing the class was, as my husband termed it, just the “shot in the arm” I needed to make me feel a little more human. I’m not me when I have no opportunity to exercise. And I was pleasantly surprised to discover I wasn’t quite as out of shape as I’d expected to be.

Often, for me, physical activity is more restorative than rest. My body needs movement for me to self-regulate, but fidgeting and stimming are not often enough. Walking is pleasurable and, as a public transport-hating non-driver, I do lots of it, but it doesn’t increase my heart race enough to release endorphins, or to allow me to exist purely in the moment. I enjoy the intense focus of far more vigorous exercise.

Other things restore. Green spaces restore. Watching trees being gently blown in the wind; examining, close up, the structure of leaves or blades of grass; breathing in the aroma of roses; noticing the seasonal changes to foliage, flowers, fruits and seeds – these things feel essential to me. I said above that walking doesn’t allow me to exist purely in the moment, but perhaps it does, if I allow myself to walk mindfully through a park, garden, field, or forest.

And so I’m trying to ensure that I make green spaces a part of my day. A walk in the park at lunchtime; a few moments watching the tree brances quiver in the wind through my office window; using the five minutes of a Pomodoro break to go outside and inspect the planting in the borders outside my work building.

The other day I took myself to the local park at lunchtime, and brought my iPad with me. Not something I would ordinarily countenance to myself. But I used it to start to make a plan, typed up, for how I might better look after myself, and came up with a few workable ideas:

  • Avoiding television in the evening (I never really concentrate on it anyway, and the news makes me upset and anxious);
  • Setting aside 20 minutes or so, once both children are asleep, to do a few yoga stretches, core exercises, or perform a short ‘breathing space’ meditation exercise – counting in-breaths slowly up to 10, and then doing the same with out-breaths (I can also do this on an ad hoc basis during the day, when needed);
  • Getting out for a walk every lunchtime during the working week, no matter what the weather;
  • Try and do one gym session per week – no more is obligatory, but any additional sessions are a bonus;
  • Have a long bath, to myself, once a week;
  • Once evening teaching sessions begin at work again, set aside accrued time for additional gym visits, or a short run; and
  • Wear earplugs on my walks to and from work to minimise the effects of construction noise, and consider wearing them for an hour or so once I arrive home – when the children tend to be at their noisiest!

After I’d made my plans, I stayed in the park, and looked closely at the grass beneath me, absorbing myself totally for a while in the inspection of the individual blades, the tiny jewel-like dewdrops, and the miniscule fronds of moss embedded deep within the grass forest-in-miniature.

I’ve also started to implement a few changes at work, and to the technology I use both at work and at home:

  • I’ve used add-ons to block Facebook in the browsers I use on my work PC (Leechblocker for Mozilla Firefox, and StayFocused for Chrome). Not visiting it during the day has had the pleasant effect of breaking the habit for me outside of work. I’ve realised I’m not actually missing much by not being on it all the time. I’ve turned off all Facebook notifications on my mobile phone and iPad, with the exception of emails. I can still access it if I need to (I am a member of a few groups, and I want to be able to share my blog posts on the associated Facebook page), but I’m increasingly finding myself freer by not repeatedly doing so each day.
  • I’ve restricted Twitter and LinkedIn access – I do use both of these for work, but I’ve set the blockers in my browsers to only allow me in for a short time before, during, and after lunch. I have to regulate myself with iPad use of these, but I’m gradually learning to do so.
  • Pomodoro. I have a range of ergonomic hardware to accommodate a number of nerve problems I have with my hands – the software accompanying my vertical mouse includes the facility for setting reminders to take regular breaks, and so I’ve set these to 25 minutes of work/5 minutes break. I’m trying to be strict with myself about getting up and stretching, or doing some form of self-soothing but discreet stim (watching the moving glitter in my lava lamp, staring out of the window at the trees), during the breaks.
  • GTD Methodology, as a way of aiding my executive functioning – I attended a day’s training, through work, on how to use this technique a few years ago, and I’ve always found it useful, but now I’m trying to be a bit more rigorous with its application.
  • Noise-cancelling headphones, with a looped sample of white noise played through them. I find white noise better at aiding me in blocking out background sounds than music, which would distract me far too much.

It’s early days with all of this. But I’m starting to notice that, despite the fact I still have limited downtime, I am getting better at controlling the amount of information I am having to take in, process, and deal with.

In the longer term, other things will have to change. But in the meantime, little bits of self-care can make a huge difference.  After a period of alarm, fear, anxiety, and overwhelm, I’m beginning to feel more positive.

Positively differently abled…

[Author’s note, 27 September 2017: looking at this post over a year on since writing it, and I HATE some aspects of it. I HATE the term “differently abled’. I’m disabled. And I’m happy with that. I leave it up as is, because this was my perspective at the time.]

It’s coming up to a week since I received verbal confirmation of my diagnosis. And whilst I’d been anticipating the confirmation of my autism, the ADHD and dyspraxia were a little more of a curveball. Sure, one of my former colleagues in an old job once made a flippant remark to me about ADHD when I’d got distracted by something; a counsellor I was seeing a few years back suggested I might want to look into dyspraxia, and I did mention it to my GP, but because there’s no separate mechanism for testing adults for the condition, I abandoned that notion and forgot all about it (and a lot of Aspies, especially females, are known to have motor coordination issues). But now these two additional neurodivergences have at least been deemed “probable” in my case, they do in fact make sense.

The thing that I’ve been grappling with most over the past week, however, is how to put a positive slant on them both.

I’ve been comfortable for a while with identifying the strengths and benefits of being autistic alongside the many difficulties – attention to (and enjoyment of) detail, recognising patterns, highly developed research skills, thoroughness, strong sense of justice and fairness, intense enjoyment and interest in learning, heightened sensory awareness (a blessing or a curse depending on the circumstances), and yes, extreme empathy (that’s a complicated one, folks – the “autistic lack of empathy” fallacy is for another post)…the list goes on.

But ADHD and dyspraxia? What the hell have those two ever done for me?

ADHD? All it seems to do is make me irritable, highly distractible, snappy, short-tempered verging on outright aggressive at times, and so bloody fidgety that (in combination with my autistic wandering brain) it pretty much ensures a crap night’s sleep.

Dyspraxia? Clumsiness. Poor muscle tone. Dreadful coordination. Pain with handwriting. Forgetfulness, and the intense anger that comes with losing the same bloody things time and time again (and the frustration this brings when it disrupts my autistic desire to be on schedule). A lifetime of being awful at sport, and the humiliation that came with that at school.

Where were the positives? I thought of “reaching out” on Twitter for suggestions, but decided simply to do some Googling instead. Blimey, I’m an Information Management graduate. I’m sure I can find something. And actually quite a few decent results came back.

And so I reflected. And I concluded. And yes, there are things here that I can work with; that I can own; that have contributed to who I am today, and what’s good about my life.

At times I might seem a little too animated. But energetic exuberance and enthusiasm mean that (at least so I hope) my teaching and training sessions are rarely dull. Finding it virtually impossible to keep still means that at the very least, my delivery is rarely stilted. Combine that with my years of experience practising verbal communication, and my autistic attention to detail and immersion in special interests, and I can be pretty damned effective in the classroom. And people tell me this is the case.

And I may well be just hypothesising here, but perhaps this ADHD-tastic aspect of who I am also contributes to me being better able to cope with social interaction than some autistics. I mean, I still get a hell of a lot of stuff wrong, but perhaps my occasional impulsivity means I’m just that little bit more willing to throw myself into communicating, and doing stuff, with other people.

Creativity and problem-solving are abilities that seem to be strongly associated with both ADHD and dyspraxia. Certainly, when faced with being unable to do things in the way others seem to manage, you find workarounds. Sometimes those workarounds can be pretty convoluted; at other times they are truly innovative. Again, this ability to ‘hack’ has had a really positive impact on my teaching and curriculum development work, and other areas of other jobs I’ve had in the past.

Some of the strong positive aspects of dyspraxia, mentioned time and time again, include persistence and determination. And I know this to be true of myself. In my late 20s, under the care of a wonderful physiotherapist after a succession of running injuries, I re-learned how to walk. Let me get this clear: I was not physically incapable of walking; I’d just been doing it the wrong way all my life. And altering the extreme bad habits of a lifetime took some determination. It’s safe to say I am not a natural sportsperson. And yet I managed to follow, to near-completion, a full marathon training plan. Okay, I got injured prior to race day and therefore have unfinished business. But it gave me an inkling of what I was capable of. I have at various points in my life made myself physically very strong through lifting weights (my God, I’ve love to be strong again. And some day, I’m sure I will be).

And despite years of crippling procrastination issues, wayward time management skills (is this where my autistic obsession with always wanting to know the time stems from?), and executive dysfunction that has at times been so extreme it has reduced me to a screaming, shaking, sobbing wreck, I have the highest level of academic qualification of anyone in my family.

Perhaps it is this very determination and persistence that actually made me seek out an assessment for autism.

I reckon, also, that this tenacity is going to be a pretty darned useful tool to keep handy in the parenting workshed, especially if I’m ever to have a fight on my hands in securing the right kind of support for my daughter.

And although at times I get lost in the detail, I am still often able to pull back and see the bigger picture, zooming both in and out.

There appear to be some interesting conflicts and tensions between the three interacting neurotypes I’ve been blessed with. But without even realising it, I’ve been negotiating these conflicts and tensions my entire life. And yes, I’ve dealt with many, many challenges. But on the whole, my life is a happy one, and my happiness is a culmination of all that has occurred in my lifetime. And what has occurred in my lifetime, good and bad, has occurred because of who, and what, I am.

I am differently abled. And there’s a lot that’s positive about that.