My New Normal

It gets to Friday afternoon at work and everyone else is thrilled that the weekend is approaching. They always laugh when I express just how much I hate the two days at the end of the working week. Whether it’s in an “oh you” way, or with barely concealed horror at how awful a person I am I’m not sure. But, for me, the weekend has become synonymous with two full-on days with a whinging child to get through, when everyone else is busy doing couple things and family things, and I get just as little rest as I usually do. I am envious of my friends lying in until lunch time, deciding to pop out and see a film on a whim five minutes before it starts and just generally doing all the things that I don’t do any more. I had always imagined that weekends as a parent would involve simply getting on with your normal life, only with a small child in tow. Tesco shopping, lunch out, a bit of housework and gardening, visiting friends, a trip to the zoo – I don’t think there was much about my pre-baby weekends as part of a couple that I couldn’t have continued enjoying as part of a couple with a child. (Except maybe the afternoon naps.) But now, as a single parent, my plans more often than not involve counting down the hours until the toddler can go back to nursery on Monday morning. Which is an awful way to look at it, but I am tired and that is the truth. I love my job and I get to sit down all day and drink hot coffee and talk to adults and try on clothes in my lunch break. I can’t think of anything more restful. What exactly is the weekend supposed to be a break from?

Except.

This afternoon I started to get that Friday feeling.For no good reason at all.

This is a cruel trick, I thought. Stop winding me up, brain.

But the feeling didn’t leave me and, as the toddler had a meltdown over the fact that Granny wasn’t waiting for us when we got home and then she turned up two minutes later and she was so over seeing Granny now, I realised I was looking forward to the weekend. For the first time in as long as I can remember. It felt amazing and all of a sudden everything made sense. I’ve spent so long begrudging it and looking backwards that I didn’t even notice that the way I spend my weekends now is my normal. My new normal. More often than not just hanging out with my mum, filling the day with strolling round garden centres and going for coffee, laughing at every gorgeous thing the toddler does and says. I potter half-heartedly doing housework while she demands Granny plays with toys and reads books. We muddle through naps and mealtimes. We have a roast dinner at Mum’s house every Sunday tea time. And I even get a little bit of time to myself while the two of them go to Tesco or feed ducks. What is more restful and rejuvenating than that?

I need to forget the lingering dreams of a husband and the 2.4 children. This is my family. This is our normal. And, actually, I think I rather like it.

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Lasagne

I feel sad today. And very alone. Let’s get this straight: you don’t understand. Or at least today it feels like unless you are a single parent yourself you couldn’t possibly understand. I want to paint you a picture about why, because sometimes this blog is the only outlet I have.

I’m lucky. My 19-month-old is a great sleeper. I’ve been firm and consistent since she was four months old. She often sleeps through. Generally just needs a quick cuddle and then back to sleep if she does wake up. And it’s great, because I need my evenings. She is utterly exhausting and non-stop during the day. I don’t get a second to myself. I’m not the most selfless person in the world and I need my me time. I need my sleep to recharge my enthusiasm and patience. But right now I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since before Christmas. All our sleep routines have gone out the window. She’s been coughing. Snotty. Waking every hour. Won’t go to sleep unless she’s cuddled up on me. I don’t remember when I last slept in my own bed instead of on the sofabed in her room. For the last five nights, my day has ended when hers has. From 7pm I have been confined to a dark bedroom, half-heartedly watching Netflix on my phone and wondering how long it’s going to be before she next wakes up. Because there’s just no point even trying to have an evening when it’s like this. Because having to stop what I’m doing every 15 minutes is more painful than doing nothing at all. Because I’m so tired I can’t do anything useful anyway.

On Mondays I usually work late and my mum puts her to bed, but tonight I worked hard all day, rushed home in time for story time, threw on my pjs and ended my day at 7pm. I’m currently writing this on my phone as the toddler finally sleeps on me after two hours of resisting sleep. These are the bleakest times, when you sit in the dark on your own and it feels like there is not a soul in the world who is thinking about you or really gives a damn about how you just feel like crying at how hard it all is.

Here’s what I imagine it might be like if there were two of you in this instead of just one. Here’s what it should be like, anyway. You could alternate your sleepless nights, for a start. Anyone can survive disturbed sleep every other night. And you’re probably not running on an accumulated 19 month sleep deficit to start with. Maybe your husband would have dealt with feeding the cat and loading the dishwasher and putting the toys away if you were going to be confined to the toddler’s bedroom all evening, so it wouldn’t all be glaring at you when you came down in the morning. Maybe he would bring you a cup of tea or a glass of wine as you struggle to get her to sleep. He might be making your tea, so you didn’t have to have cereal at your desk as a main meal (again) because you wouldn’t get a chance to eat later. Maybe, when you’d spent an hour trying everything and decided to resort to letting the toddler cry it out, he might have given you a hug and told you that you weren’t a total failure. He might have rolled his eyes with you when she took her sleeping bag off and threw all her teddies out of the cot in protest. He might have given you the moral support you needed when she was still screaming an hour later. Later, once you had given in and finally got her to fall asleep on you, he might encourage you to sneak downstairs for a cuddle on the sofa and persuade you that your evening is not lost and this phase won’t last forever anyway.

But you see, I don’t have any of that. Just this dread that creeps in around midday when I remember the physical pain of being dragged from your sleep for the eighth time in four hours. When suddenly you have nothing to look forward to at the end of the day apart from another 12 hours of parenting. When you look around at work and realise you are surrounded by people that just don’t have a clue how you are feeling. I must have tried to reach out to people today a dozen times. Whether I was looking for sympathy or understanding, I don’t know, but I got neither. Just the disinterest of people who – through no fault of their own – can’t grasp how desperate everything can feel when you’ve been doing the mum thing for so long on your own.

I don’t know whether us single mums make it look easy or give the impression we’ve got it all sorted, but we haven’t. Sometimes we really need a hug, or a lasagne, or even just ten minutes of your time where you really try to understand. …I’m too sleep deprived to think up a deep or poignant end to this post – something about making a single mum you know a lasagne? Everyone likes lasagne. So off you go – go and find someone you know who’s doing a bloody good job at this parenting thing and give them a lasagne. I’ve got wine to drink angrily. The end. (Lasagne)

Things To Do In 2015

I’m that person who has a specific notebook only for New Year’s resolutions. Each year I look back over what I was supposed to achieve the previous year, tick things off (cursing myself for making vague resolutions that aren’t easily quantifiable) and give myself a percentage score. Then I write a new list. Except I don’t call it New Year’s resolutions, I call it ‘Things To Do’. I first made that list in 2009, and since then I have failed to learn how to snowboard and play guitar, go to Disneyland, write more gig reviews, be cooler, find out what kind of books I enjoy reading, make more stuff, learn more about music, be more organised and better filed, play more piano, finish decorating the house, be a laid back mummy, be more positive and more grateful, and love the cats more. I’ve achieved some stuff too, but somehow that list isn’t quite as interesting.

I’ve just ticked off 7.5 out of 13 Things (I was meant) To Do in 2014. It occurred to me today that I should probably check the list half way through the year to give myself the chance to try a bit harder on the things I’m not doing so well with. For some reason this almost seems like cheating, like I need an additional aspect to the challenge whereby I have to first remember all the promises I have made to better myself and then achieve them. At the moment the internet seems to be full of blog posts and articles about how awful New Year’s resolutions are and how they only make us feel bad about ourselves. But who exactly is forcing you to make unachievable resolutions and beat yourself up about it? The ominous words “lose weight” have been top of every Things To Do list since 2011, and this year I finally got off my fat bottom and did it. So long, three stone! See you again NEVER. Actually being able to tick that off the list this time only adds to the satisfaction and pride I feel. And yeah, every fat New Year’s Eve I’d look at that particular resolution and feel a bit glum about it, but I needed that reminder that I’d let myself down again, because it was important that I didn’t give up. So overall I think New Year’s resolutions are brilliant, and here are mine for 2015, as scribbled in my purple notebook:

  • Maintain that weight! Go you, size 12 girl!
  • Blog more, or at least write down ideas for posts when you have them
  • Get a tattoo that means something
  • Celebrate turning 30 in style!
  • Don’t worry so much about all those things you never get done. One day there will be time. For now, concentrate on being a calm, fun, organised mummy, and staying well
  • Fervently be yourself, about everything and to all
  • Be even less of a bitch than you were this year
  • Go through every drawer and cupboard and get rid of some stuff
  • Attempt to learn some new hair styles before you cut it all off
  • Get those toddler scrapbooks up-to-date
  • Dance even more. Be even sillier. Keep grinning at stupid things and vocalising your ridiculous thoughts. Feel delirious at nothing. This is life. You do you.

I’m ending 2014 completely exhausted but fairly content (for someone who is rarely content), and I think this year’s list of Things To Do is my favourite yet.

Happy New Year 🙂

A Proper Christmas

Last Christmas I was totally skint. It was the first time I can remember admitting defeat and not buying anyone presents (apart from the new small child I found myself with). My mum made me a food hamper as a present. The Christmas before that I was skint. I was desperately saving for an impending baby while her hapless father spent all his spare cash on cigarettes. I bought everyone socks as presents. The Christmas before that… I can’t even remember. Something along the lines of being skint. And the problem with having no money at Christmas is that you feel somehow excluded from the whole thing. You can’t buy those 3 for 2 presents in Boots, or that Christmas jumper that’s suddenly (boringly) trendy, or all the cool lights for your garden, or the gingerbread men cookie cutters, or all the cheese. You feel sad. You love Christmas. But you feel like Christmas is a club you’re no longer a member of. So Christmas can pretty much just sod off.

This year the toddler will be 19 months old at Christmas time. Our current favourite activity is murmuring “woahhhhhhhh” at the Christmas displays in garden centres. She demands “more! lights!” every time we spot some Christmas lights on the 40-minute drive home from nursery. And as I thought about the scraggy 10-year-old tinsel I usually drape half-heartedly over pictures, I realised that the toddler and I are rapidly approaching the stage where I can no longer coast through the very early years of motherhood because she won’t remember any of it. I need to start thinking about the kind of childhood I want her to have and the memories I want to create for her.

I grew up with tradition and moderation at Christmas. We had a real Christmas tree that didn’t go up until a couple of days before Christmas and stayed up for the full 12 days. My mum picked greenery from the surrounding fields and tucked it behind pictures, although not until the 23rd for some other traditional reason that I’m not even going to guess at. Church on Christmas morning. Phil Spector’s Christmas album blasting out from the record player while mum cooked as I sat cross-legged on the kitchen side eating Pringles for breakfast (at the age of 22). No presents until after lunch (apart from stockings, obviously). A genuine belief in Father Christmas until I was 11. It was WONDERFUL. Christmas came to mean so much to me that I was fully prepared to break up with any boyfriend I happened to be seeing if he insisted we spend Christmas Day with his family instead of my mum and brother.

Because we live so close to my mum, her Christmas traditions will likely become the things my daughter remembers about Christmas. Which is fine by me, because as far as I’m concerned my mum has got Christmas spot on. But I am fed up with my miscellany of rubbish Christmas decorations that make the house look messy rather than festive. For a couple of weeks a year I want our funny little house to match the traditions that are so important to me. In five years’ time I want this little girl to come home from school, see the twinkling lights on the garland on the stairs and feel that frisson of excitement that Christmas is nearly here. I’m fed up of waiting to not be skint before I can do Christmas properly. I want to get it right for her.

The fact remains that I still have very little money. But I’m determined to make it work. I’m going to concentrate on buying things for one room each year. Not go overboard. Keep it classy. A few choice pieces. And after a couple of years of doing the same my Christmas collection will be complete.

I spent a whole evening Googling Christmas decorations. I walked around my living room. I made a list. Me and the toddler had one of my favourite days yet touring round The Range, Homebase, B&Q, etc, gazing at sparkly things, giggling and eating cheese sandwiches. I bought a wreath. Better tinsel. Some glittery twigs. Hanging paper shapes. GARLANDS. And I felt that frisson of genuine childlike excitement that has been missing from my Christmas for the last few years. Suddenly I was part of the club again. And I loved it.

And, yeah, maybe the toddler won’t remember this Christmas, or next Christmas, but I needed an excuse to spend money I don’t have on sophisticated grown-up decorations and this is the one I’m going with, okay?

This post wasn’t supposed to support the idea that money is everything at Christmas. I also have no handy money-saving tips to share. But I think that the most important thing about all this is that you create the kind of Christmas you want for you and your children. It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing or how they’re doing it. This is the kind of Christmas want, and I’m going to do my best to make it happen on my own terms.

Anyway, I was so excited about my new decorations that all plans of being restrained and waiting until at least the 14th to put them up went straight out the window. Well. One garland, the wrong type of lights and a fight with some glittery twigs later and I was ready to opt out of Christmas all over again. It’s possible that being festive is harder than I thought…

A Normal Mum

Tonight, as I watched fireworks from my bedroom window, I pondered how strange it was to be essentially imprisoned in your house after 7pm every evening. No option to pop out. No-one to fetch anything for you. I started to think about it too much and was gripped with a claustrophobic tightness that spread across my chest.

I told myself off for being weird then, but that made me think about just how weird I have become as a result of spending the best part of 17 months in my own company night after night. You don’t notice not speaking. Especially in daylight. You can’t believe you don’t utter a single word after the sun sets, apart from perhaps to tell the cat to piss off (because by then you have either been at work all day or looking after a disagreeable toddler all day and you are ratty and tired and every last drop of your sympathy and understanding has been used up). Sometimes spending these too-short evenings alone has been a good thing. In some ways I am more myself than I have ever been in all the years I have spent in ill-fated relationships, consistently failing to work out how to share my space and myself with another person who won’t behave exactly as I want them to. But I am also aware that I am withdrawing. I feel alienated and angry. Sometimes I hate everything and everyone for no good reason. I spend too much time on the Internet and social media, which – although my only real window to the world from my prison – ultimately leaves me feeling dissatisfied, like eating a huge pile of junk food and afterwards wishing you’d had a baked potato instead. I feel like a victim, a trait I absolutely deplore in other people. I have to remind myself that I am not a victim of anything. In so many ways I am the lucky one.

Recently I have wondered whether I would be a happier better mum if I gave up certain things and became a Normal Mum. If, once the toddler was in bed, I did a bit of housework, or cooked something that consisted of more than a packet of microwave rice or a hot cross bun warmed slightly in the toaster, or did some ironing in front of the telly, or planned the week’s meals, or cleaned the mud off the toddler’s shoes, or filled in a bit more of that baby records book, or unpacked and repacked work and nursery bags, or baked something the toddler could have as a snack, or got something out of the freezer to defrost, or did my nails, or ordered some birthday/Christmas presents online, or put the laundry away, or wrote a letter, or watched part of a film with a glass of wine.

Instead, I occasionally load the dishwasher before pretending I can’t see the rest of the mess, getting my pyjamas on and curling up on my bed with my laptop. I hang around on Twitter too long, window-shop on Spotify, send a couple of messages to friends on Facebook Messenger and finally open up the Word document that is my novel. I then spend a couple of hours staring at the screen, desperately squeezing words from my brain. I will sit there, veering from determination to despair, forcing myself to create something, changing the musical accompaniment several times in case that helps, getting sidetracked on YouTube and pretty much constantly thinking about eating. I go to bed too late with that screen haze feeling and a tightness behind my eyes. And the harder I try the more I cannot write this book.

My life is chaotic and untidy and exhausting, but what I feel like I am doing is valuable and important and much more worthwhile than having a relaxing evening doing bits and pieces or nothing at all. I need this: these three or four hours at the end of the day that I have slaved for. My me time. The only chance I get to pursue the one remaining dream that being a single parent can’t stop me from achieving.

But now I’m wondering whether this almost obsessive desire to “achieve something” in my spare time is doing more harm than good.

A week or so ago I was recovering from a sickness bug and not eating enough to get me much past 9pm. One night I went to bed straight after the toddler did and got 12 hours of wonderful blissful sleep. I was so well rested I started waking up at 4am, not tired enough to get back to sleep. I didn’t drink coffee or tea at all for 7 days. I probably looked better. I felt annoyingly cheerful at work. I wondered whether I was a more patient and energetic mum. I stopped feeling like a victim. I sunk into bed with a book and slipped happily off to sleep. Life was about nothing more than doing the mum thing or the work thing to the best of my ability. No aspirations. No projects. No targets. No pressure.

It was easier.

So maybe I should put the novel away for a while. Maybe it doesn’t matter as much as I think it does. Maybe I’ll give myself a break and get some rest. Because maybe the 17-month-old with the diva attitude currently sleeping peacefully in the next room means I am already achieving more every single day than I had ever thought possible.

What Makes You Happy

Someone said to me the other day that her mum knows her better than anyone in the world. It made me think about who knows me best in the whole world. And then it made me question whether anyone knows me that well.

And I came to the conclusion that, actually, I don’t think anyone in the entire world knows the whole of me.

It made me feel two things: sad, and angry, although not at anyone else. Angry at myself.

Now I think about it, I realise I’m a bit of a shape-shifter. Sort of a crowd-pleaser. I have different faces for different people. I actually tell quite a lot of lies.

I’m 29-years-old and I still don’t feel able to be my real true self around anyone. Not the childhood friends I adore. Not the people I work with. Not my family. Not fleeting acquaintances. Not even my mum. I twist and change and omit what I think and feel and like. I play down the things I think are completely awesome or that I am in love with for today. I belittle my own quirks. I make jokes at my own expense. I don’t mention when I’m feeling really sad. I act like the tough guy when really the smallest thing can hurt me. I automatically assume people will judge my interests, or fail to understand my point of view on things that don’t even really matter, and because of that I spend all my time trying to pass off a bland, watered-down version of myself.

The more I think about it I am beginning to wonder – with horror – whether I ever really say what I think or feel to anyone.

No wonder I am not widely popular. I must come across as such a fake. And how awful to realise that about yourself at nearly 30-years-old. If I can’t be myself now, then when? And how am I supposed to set a good example to my daughter when I care far too much about what other people think and willingly paint a false picture of myself to meet their ideals?

I don’t know what I am so afraid of. I don’t know why it matters so much. I certainly don’t know who I am trying to impress and why on earth I’m doing this. I guess I can probably blame the Asperger’s for some/most of it. Maybe if I had attempted at all to grow out of being a teenager at heart then I might feel differently. Maybe if I saw things a bit more like everyone else it might be different. Maybe.

Well today I’ve had enough. I’m cross with myself and I’m sick of the effort of trying to be something I’m not; something I actually have no interest in being. I like who I am. I recognise that I have horrible flaws – I am selfish, and judgemental, and can be pretty mean – but I like the person who emerges when no-one else is around. The person who, it seems, only I really know.

I always thought I didn’t care what other people thought of me. It turns out nothing could be further from the truth.

So what is it that I think others will find so objectionable about the real me? What kind of things are acceptable for a late twenties mummy to think and enjoy?

Well this blog isn’t okay, for a start. Because it’s honest, and probably a little self-indulgent, and I’m consciously trying not to censor myself. I’m actually talking about my feelings. And, surprise surprise, I have only told my very closest friends about it.

What else?

I like boy bands. A lot. Too much. Often obsessionally. Like a teenager. I like pointless catchy pop songs; I like beautiful charismatic boys who set unrealistically high standards for real-life boyfriends. I like the promo and the gossip. I like management approaches and PR strategies. I like the whole damn thing. I spent years being a total music snob. Barely even listening to Radio 1. And then suddenly I was single for the longest time I’ve ever been on my own since I had my first boyfriend at 18, and I started to rediscover all the things that used to make me tick. The novel I’m writing has music as a strong theme so I immersed myself in pop music once more as a kind of research and I began to wonder whether maybe pop music was always what I was best at.

But that’s not to say that the bass solo in Royal Blood’s Figure It Out can’t move me just as much as the way Louis Tomlinson sings “love” in Happily.

Talking of Louis Tomlinson, I watched the new One Direction film at the weekend (because of work, but still) and I got GOOSEBUMPS at certain points. Yeah. Goosebumps. I’m 29-years-old.

I played it off like I was bored half way through when really my mind was stuck on how impossibly and effortlessly cool Zayn Malik looks on stage, and how had I not noticed this before, and now I actually wish I was Zayn a little bit.

None of that’s really okay to talk about, though. I should probably be watching soap operas or something instead.

I painted an impromptu mural on my bedroom wall a while ago. I love it and I’m quietly proud of it, and it’s my bedroom wall after all, but I haven’t posted any photos of it online and when someone sees it in person I jump in with words like “strange” and “bonkers” before they actually have a chance to say what they think.

I don’t have any serious political opinions. I’m not sure how I feel about feminism. But we can have a conversation about Harry Styles’ tattoos if you like.

There are other things. So many other things. They’re not all to do with boys in bands. But I’m a little pre-occupied with One Direction right now to bring them to mind…

That’s not to say there aren’t also some highbrow things about me. I love world cinema, and classical music. I read Chekhov once. (Loads of peasants.) People can be much more than just one thing. We don’t all fit into neat boxes.

When I talk to other mums I don’t know very well, the whole time I’m thinking how to steer the conversation away from laundry and biscuits and find out what they really care about. How do you ask someone what kind of music they listen to and what kind of films they watch and what books they read without it sounding like some kind of abrupt speed-dating question?

I’m going to The Big Reunion Boy Band Tour next week and I won’t mention it at all to half the people I know. With the half I do mention it to I will probably talk about it using my omg-I’m-ironically-talking-like-a-teenager voice or pass it off as “stupid nostalgia”. But, actually, I’m going to be grinning (and probably dancing) like an idiot the whole way through.

I always used to look down on people like me. When I was 17 and chasing around after a boy band I’d sneer at the “older fans” and think what losers they were, because they should be doing proper things with their lives and have serious interests. (Like biscuits and soap operas?) Being the same age or older than the band was a total no-no. (Hah. I’m not even going to think about how much older I am than the One Direction boys.)

I have a proper job and a mortgage and a small child to look after and none of that has stopped me from being a complete boy band loser through and through. Can’t fight it and I don’t want to. Because the thing is that I can just as easily dance around my kitchen at 6am after a sleepless night with the toddler to Walking With Elephants, Shake It Off or Best Song Ever. And if it puts a smile on my face, why the hell shouldn’t I?

Recently I’ve been trying to appreciate other people more. I feel quite strongly that we should be celebrating people who dare to be different or who genuinely don’t worry what people think about them. I can be a bitch, I know. Snarky comments and raised eyebrows. But I’ve got quite good at not vocalising bitchy thoughts; pushing them away, in fact, and replacing them with a “well good for them!” kind of thought instead. Maybe someone wears something rather figure-hugging when they haven’t exactly got a figure to shout about. I wouldn’t dare. But good for them feeling good about themselves. Maybe someone says what they actually think about something on Facebook or Twitter. I rewrite everything at least twice. But good for them not censoring themselves and putting their thoughts out in the public domain.

I will no longer let myself whisper something mean to a friend about these people for a cheap thrill. It’s probably about time I start showing myself the same kindness.

From now on I’m going to try really hard to make sure the every word that comes out of my mouth is representative of how I really feel, no matter what the subject. I’m not going to put myself down to get an easy laugh and I’m not going to trail off half way through trying to explain why something moves me the way it does. One day I might even tell other people about this blog.

After all, does it really matter what makes you happy as long as something does?

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.