But Enough About Me

I was going to do a post about how having a cup of coffee with a couple of mums I don’t really know made me feel weird today, but then I realised that I haven’t yet talked about the Asperger’s thing so it probably wouldn’t make an awful lot of sense. So here’s some talking about the Asperger’s thing.

2014 has been quite the year of self-discovery for me. At the beginning of January I found out that I have Asperger’s (or a generic autistic spectrum “disorder” as it’s so unhelpfully called these days) following a gentle suggestion by my mum after she witnessed me having what can only be described as a complete meltdown over the baby’s first Christmas not being exactly everything society told it me it should be I thought it should be. She’d seen that kind of meltdown before, many times, when I was growing up and as a stroppy teenager, but admitted she’d always just put it down to my general temperament. Ex-boyfriends and one or two of my very closest friends have also seen it over the years they’ve spent with me, probably putting it down to me sometimes being a “challenging” person to be with. And I am only too aware of the horrible darkness that gathers, uninvited, at the edge of my cognisance from time to time, engulfing me and dragging me to a place I don’t want to be and can’t seem to fight my way out of. I suppose I always thought it was some kind of embarrassing involuntary temper tantrum. Or a tendency towards spontaneous depression. God knows what everyone else thought. But seeing how I overreacted to the point of refusing to open my presents or even talk to anyone until about 9pm on Christmas Day – as someone who is now supposed to be a reasonably responsible adult in charge of a small child – made something click for my mum and, having managed to coax me half way out of the black cloud, she gingerly posed the question of whether I might want to look up Asperger’s Syndrome on the Internet.

As soon as I Googled it I knew. Life as I’d come to know it essentially imploded in front of my eyes as I sped through page after page of information. I found this wonderful reassuring website that made more sense to me than anything had ever made. And yet I’d never been more confused in my life.

I can’t really put into words how it felt to suddenly realise that the way you perceive yourself, all the experiences you’ve ever had, and the world around you, is essentially wrong. It was as if everything I thought I knew about myself and my life shifted just slightly to the right. In the weeks after this lightening bolt of realisation I spent evening after evening sitting on my bed devouring websites and blogs, alternating between excitedly shouting “YES! YES THAT’S ME!” at the screen and just sobbing. Huge racking sobs. At how I’d spent so many years struggling to fit in and be “normal” and wondering why, time and time again, I never quite managed to pull it off. Beating myself up over those quirks in my personality that made me awkward and disagreeable for no logical reason. Desperate to be able to handle a social situation like a “normal” person. Just feeling so bloody weird and different all the time and never being able to explain it to anyone. No wonder I was exhausted. I’d spent my whole life convinced I could fit my square peg into that round hole if only I tried hard enough. I have been so hard on myself. So unsupportive of my own foibles. And so difficult to be around! No wonder friends and boyfriends drifted away. My poor family! I was grieving, in a way, for the kind of life that maybe I could have had if I’d known more about myself and embraced it all rather than battling – fruitlessly – against it. Anger at how it turned out that none of it had needed to be that much of a struggle. And then relief, that finally I had some understanding of why, and that so many of my struggles were not actually my fault and maybe things would be easier from now on

Things didn’t turn out quite as I’d hoped, in the end. It felt like every single person I told doubted what I was saying in one way or another. I found myself anxiously justifying why this was a thing to my very closest friends. The next couple of friends I told expressed an initial scepticism along the lines of “I’ve never noticed any of that in you” and I basically left it at that. My dad and step-mum essentially told me not to be so silly, like it was just an attention-seeking fad. Not one of these people know how deeply deeply hurt I still am by their reactions. And I didn’t tell anyone else. Even the people who do know about it don’t ever mention it. My mum is the only person who brings it up in conversation like it’s a normal established part of my life. I don’t know why it has to be like that. It shouldn’t be a secret. I am not ashamed of it. I thought I would be able to tell everyone and they would instantly write off any of the occasions where I had been “weird” in the past and accept me for who I am in a way they hadn’t before. I thought all the problems I’d had at work would be fixed and people would like me more once they knew that certain things about myself I just can’t help. I thought I’d have more confidence overall just to be myself without trying so hard to be like everyone else. But none of that happened. Nothing much changed, other than my own self-awareness. It still makes me sad that other people have made me feel like I have to keep this to myself. But then there’s always the possibility that my perception of all of this is just the Asperger’s talking…

I’m not going to do a master-post on what it feels like to have Asperger’s. This website, and the one I mentioned before, explain the basics better and more comprehensively than I ever could. There is also this article about being “less annoying” at work, which is worth a read if you’re interested. I don’t know where I pulled this from, but somewhere along the way I made a note of this line of text, which I feel sums up a lot of my life so far:

Many people with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome are spending most of their time in your presence doing difficult and tiring things to accommodate you.

Yeah. And we’re exhausted doing it.

To be honest I don’t really know what it feels like to have Asperger’s. For me, at least, it’s a bit like an optical illusion  – if you look at it straight on you can’t see it properly. I’m aware that it’s there, and but having found out about it so late, when I’ve spent so long trying to work around it and developed so many coping strategies in a bid to be ordinary, it’s not clear where my actual personality and character ends and the Asperger’s begins. To look it in the eye would be to attempt to unpick the majority of my muddled 29 years of life. For now it’s enough just to be able to reassure myself that I’m none of the negative things I’ve spent so long thinking I was.

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All My Happy Friends

It started a couple of weeks ago. I had that uneasy feeling that it was coming. I made jokes about it to test the water. And then it happened for real and caught me unprepared. And now it’s just one after the other.

These people who had babies at the same time as me are pregnant again.

First it was a local friend. I hadn’t seen her for a while or I would have noticed before. I happened to glance at Facebook one lunchtime at work and was greeted by a scan photo and a billion congratulatory comments. I did a silent impression of a fish and gushed my (actually genuine) congratulations via text message. I did the good friend thing and offered to take her one-year-old off her hands if she ever needed a rest. I stared at that photo several times over the course of that day and my heart sunk a little more each time.

And then, obviously, this morning it was the Duchess of Cambridge. And I’m only exaggerating a little bit when I say I actually wanted to throw myself from my third floor office window. I was already feeling, shall we say, not the best I have ever felt, and that news not so much tipped as shoved me really hard over the edge. I wished I could just shut myself in a dark cupboard and be on my own. I barely spoke to anyone all day.

My daughter is exactly two months older than Prince George. About a month younger than my pregnant friend’s son. Three months older than a close friend’s son. Someone at work had a baby the same week I did. Another went on maternity leave shortly after. I reconnected with a friend I had lost touch with about four years ago after we found out we’d had babies a few months apart. It seemed like 2013 was the year for people I know to reproduce. And now we’ve all passed the milestone first birthday and our babies are toddling about, of course it’s only natural to think about adding to the family. You certainly don’t want to leave it more than another year. What if it takes ages to get pregnant again? It’s lovely, isn’t it? Seeing a happy couple with a toddler and a baby bump between them. Lovely.

Unless you’re an unexpected single mum, who spent years thinking she would have four children, and their names would all begin with M (Mabel, Maeve, Martha and another I can’t remember now), and they’d all giggle their way around Tesco wearing stripy jumpers. (I don’t actually know why the fantasy involved these specific things, but anyway. It did.) Or that mum who found she didn’t necessarily take to motherhood as naturally as she’d expected and had to try to process the slightly crushing realisation that she might not be able to cope with more than one baby. Ever. Or that mum who wonders quite often whether she’s teetering on the edge of late post natal depression or just needs to pull herself together. Or all of those things.

I used to be no different to everyone else: I had the daydreams about the wedding and the happily ever after. Except not a single one of my daydreams came true. Call me bitter but I haven’t yet found a way to come to terms with that. It was already hard enough to see couples being happy with one baby. To feel the grief of not being a little family unit like I pictured. Now, with all these second babies on the way, these mums are doing what I physically cannot do (with no man on the horizon) and mentally may not even be capable of. 

I can’t bear how much that hurts me. I can’t find a way to come to terms with that, either. Maybe it doesn’t make sense for me to be so upset over the wave of second babies when I’m not sure I could cope with another one anyway, but the thing is that I thought I would be able to cope. I thought I would love it. Throw myself into it. Be delightfully domesticated, surrounded by my little brood. All preferably with a ring on my finger, and all those other clichés. I never in a million years thought I would end up on my own with a baby, and never in a billion years thought I would be one of those people who only had one. Every time I see my daughter play with another baby I feel guilty that she most likely won’t have any brothers or sisters. Every time I enjoy spending time with my brother it is tinged with sadness for what I cannot give to her. My own mum – who also didn’t enjoy motherhood all that much – said that the only reason she had another baby after a truly awful experience with me was so that I was not alone. That is literally the most selfless thing I have ever heard, having heard the horror stories of a baby that barely slept for two years and refused to be left with her own father, let alone anyone else. It makes me feel so unspeakably selfish that I do not think I could voluntarily put myself through more than I have already endured with the one baby I do have.

It’s very hard to explain to someone how hearing that someone you don’t even know is pregnant can make you feel sick. These are ugly feelings that do nothing but make me look petulant and childish. I see the expression on the faces of even very close friends when I say something negative about someone’s happy news. But try to imagine how it feels to not only have your dreams snatched from you by someone else, but to realise that you’re not actually the person you thought you were at all – you are much more selfish and much weaker. And then watch everyone around you enjoying all the things you wanted – less selfish and stronger than you are. Getting it all right while you can only look on and wonder how you got everything so wrong.

The media is not going to stop talking about the new royal baby. It’s going to be unbearable. I don’t know how I’m going to cope with it. Or how I’m going to hide the fact that I’m not coping with it from everyone I know. Maybe I should change the name of this blog to The Things I Can’t Say To All My Happy Friends… Because at the moment it seems like it’s just too much to ask to be one of them.

Not A Perfect Mother

Today it occurred to me that I might actually suck a bit at being a mum.

I had no idea motherhood would be like this. I didn’t have much of an idea what it would be like, but I definitely didn’t think it would be like this. For starters, I kind of assumed that, as the grown-up, I’d be in charge. Ha. Ha ha ha *cries* At this stage in the game, the toddler is calling 99% of the shots. Strangely, our opinions on just about everything seem to differ quite dramatically. For example, I would really like her to be able to appreciate the finer points of Tesco from the trolley. Quietly. And to not be afraid of anything bigger than a chicken when I’ve just paid £15 for us to have a nice day out looking at animals. And maybe just recognise that getting dressed in the morning isn’t the same as being tortured.

There are lovely moments. Like the time I came home from a dentist appointment when she had just learned to walk and she staggered over to me as soon as I came through the door and gave me a big hug. (I should probably point out here that Granny was babysitting and I hadn’t just left a one-year-old to fend for herself). Or times when I laugh despite myself. Like today, when she repeatedly ignored my very serious requests for her not to climb the stairs on her own and, once she had finished throwing herself around the floor in protest at being removed from half way up the staircase, she looked at me with those dark defiant eyes, said “no” and did a fake sad face, which felt an awful lot like she was mocking my telling off face. I have endless boring hilarious mum anecdotes which I merrily wheel out at a moment’s notice (sorry, work colleagues), so we must have some good times together.

But sometimes she whinges for 13 hours straight. Sometimes I am angry and stressed for the entire day. Sometimes it seems that I can do nothing right in her eyes. Sometimes she throws her food everywhere on purpose or pulls a plant pot off the windowsill or hits me in the face with a spoon and I shout at her (and then immediately feel like the worst person in the entire world). My house is a tip by 7am every day without fail. I am never on top of the laundry. My entire life revolves around timing the morning nap right. A car journey that takes longer than 20 minutes is pushing my luck. The only time she stays still is when she’s eating. There is literally no way to make her do something that she has decided she doesn’t want to do. The list of things she does want to do is subject to change at any time with no notice or forewarning. If we are in a shop or a cafe or a restaurant the only direction she wants to toddle in is the first door. I cannot have nice things. My hip hurts every time I stand up because 25lbs of toddler insists on being carried as her primary means of getting around when out of the house. I can’t make a phone call unless she’s asleep. I am essentially a slave to her every whim. More than once I have eyed up the bottle of gin at 3pm. And don’t even talk to me about the gardening.

It’s frustrating. It’s exhausting beyond anything you could imagine. It is the most stressful thing in the world when your child is ill or – even worse – “acting a bit off for no obvious reason”. And it can also be depressingly mundane.

I hate the books she loves the most. I don’t want to sing Row Row Row Your Boat 20 times in a row, every single day for a month. Certain CBeebies programmes make me want to smash in the TV screen with a plastic xylophone. Sometimes it’d be nice to be allowed to hold the spoon myself when I’m eating my cereal. And I can’t remember the last time I went to the toilet without an audience, or with the door closed.

I don’t mind admitting that I’m not actively enjoying motherhood a lot of the time, but when everyone around me seems to be enjoying it so much I can’t help feeling that I’m getting it all wrong. I remember talking to another mum at a baby group when I must have been about four months into motherhood, in the midst of a sleep regression where my delightful baby would wake up every single hour of the night without fail. I’ll never forget the way she looked at me when she asked me, so casually, whether I was enjoying it, and I said quite frankly that I wasn’t. It was like she was mentally dialling social services.

This isn’t the mum I thought I’d be. I wanted so badly to be that happy, smiling, lovely mum that takes everything in her stride, managing to combine motherhood with having actual fun with her offspring (as well as looking just generally glamorous). In reality, most often I look forward to going to work just for a break from it all. Adult conversation that I can actually participate in without simultaneously chasing around after/chain-feeding a stroppy child. The opportunity to use my brain? I’d forgotten I had one! A lunch break?! EVERYBODY JUST CALM DOWN. I don’t know if it’s possible to stop giving myself a hard time for not being that perfect mother. I try to remind myself that if we make it to the end of the day and we’re both still alive I must have done something right. But I always feel I should be doing more with her, feeding her better food, teaching her more stuff. She’s so smart – I feel like I’m wasting her intelligence. The weight of being responsible for the well-being of this entire person is terrifying, especially when you don’t have a bloody clue what you’re doing.

I had a bad day today. She was being difficult and I felt like a failure. We clawed our way to the end of the day. And then, as I stood looking at her mutter “piggle piggle” as she watched In The Night Garden before bed and my heart filled up with love, I realised the most important thing: I might have days that end with me lying face down on the bedroom floor in despair and exhaustion as a whingey toddler climbs on me and throws board books at my head, but it doesn’t mean that I adore my precious amazing beautiful little girl any less than those mums that don’t end every trip to Tesco sweating and swearing under their breath. For all my complaining, I know really that I wouldn’t want to live in a world where she wasn’t with me. And that, I think, is the main thing.