Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Hello, my name is Leigh, and I'm an...

I'm an Aspie. There, I said it.

It was on the 16th November 2010, at 1.05pm, when I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.
I cried.
It was a life-changing moment, but also a (albeit, harrowing) confirmation of a long-held suspicion, and not a surprise.

It has been a surprise for many others, though - those who don't know me. "Well, it is a spectrum," they say. "You obviously don't have it very badly."

They wouldn't last five minutes inside my head.

From the age of three I've known I was different, and that I didn't want to be. As I grew up, I studied body language, facial expression, tone of voice, and everything else that goes along with 'being normal'. I convinced myself that if I just worked at it hard enough, I could be like everyone else. I got quite good, didn't I?

The trouble is, the more skilled I became at pretending (which is all it could ever be), the more people expected me to behave 'normally'. As I mastered increasingly subtle ways of interacting (you lot have no idea how complex a conversation is, and on how many levels), it became harder and harder for me to keep up. I became exhausted. Long term, chronically tired. Which is why I finally had to know.

Knowing is good, of course - it has to be - but, remembering that I've dedicated my whole life to being accepted into your world, having the door slammed and locked in my face is... well, it's been a bit upsetting.

It took me two weeks to stop crying. I went through denial, bargaining, anger... I raged at everyone: the people at my school/university, for making my life hell - peers and staff alike (note to VJ: You bullied the autistic kid. How big d'you feel now?); my parents, for their attempts to correct me with 'discipline'; and everyone else around me for having what I wanted. I'm through that now. You're fine. (Please scratch anything I said/wrote to the contrary in recent weeks. Thanks.)

I'm calmer now, and can forgive myself for so many things: I'm not a failure; I'm not a crybaby; I'm not a fusspot; I'm not rude or uncaring, a stubborn little madam, or any one of a myriad of confidence-destroying labels. I'm an Aspie.

Learning all about what makes an Aspie is like a homecoming, and reading Tony Attwood's Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, is like reading a Haynes manual for Being Me. I wish I'd read it thirty years ago. I wish my parents and teachers had read it... Anyway, I've decided. I'd rather be a happy Aspie, than an miserable impostor.

So when I talk to much, don't get your jokes, object to being teased, want the music turned down, wander off by myself, or whatever... please understand I'm not being awkward, I'm being weird. I hope you're okay with that.

I am.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


I went to a Macmillan coffee morning on Friday, which was bizarre enough in itself, but the thing that stood out most, in that country house, with its stone-flagged kitchen floor and fine stairwell, me.

Having just returned from a week in the mountains, I am still favouring my Aviemore uniform: walking boots, a (bright green) waterproof jacket and a pair of cleanish jeans. Everyone else was wearing designer clothes, perfect hair/nails and names like Felicity. I have a lot in common with these women, but I didn't cut the mustard in my semi mountain garb; they didn't recognise me as a middle class, middle-aged, country-dwelling mother, but rather as some transient who had wondered in off the Downs.

Conversely, if I'd turned up to Corrour Bothy last weekend with anything other than a pair of Zamberlains (or similar), hair awry and broken nails, they'd have thought I'd taken a wrong turning at the carpark (the shopping area is the other way).

I confess to feeling a little at odds with my surroundings while searching for a friend amongst last month's Thunder in the Glen gathering (Harley Davidsons R Us). Despite being a biker myself, and being in a pub I know well and love, I didn't fit; I was wearing the wrong uniform. But I didn't really mind.

I feel all right in my ten-quid jeans and a pair of boots. I've tried and failed to smarten myself up over the years, invariably reverting to my own uniform, that one that says "ME" and the one in which I feel most comfortable.

When it comes to writing, I realise I'm lucky – not just because I'm happy in my clothes, but also because I'm happy in my genre. I often wonder, however, about those whose writing is less mainstream than mine? Do they feel out of place? Are horror writers able to show their work to their mums? What about authors of erotica? Some genres, once considered way out on a limb (e.g. fantasy & paranormal), can now been considered mainstream in their own ways, but I know the stigma remains in some people's minds.

Are you happy in your genre, or do you feel under pressure to write something more... normal?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Is it Me, or the Rest of the World?

I am less grumpy now, but it's taken a while. I don't believe in writing things down during a serious grump, because then the grump's there forever, and it looks like you're a grumpy person. And I'm not. Much.

I've forgotten the more trivial things now, which is good, but others still stick in my side:

• The teenage staff in the Ptarmigan Restaurant who were rude and surly - when they work in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I might be getting old, but when I make a justified remark (politely) about the disappearance of the children's play area, I don't expect the staff member to say, "Well it's not my fault." And then turn to his (teenage) colleague, and say, "It's not my fault, is it?" And snigger.

• The woman who told me on the phone, "Oh yes, our climbing tower is suitable for little ones. My 18-month nephew goes on it all the time." So, we went, having spent considerable time and effort locating a climbing venue that would let the Smaller Girl (three and a half) have a go. And when I got there? They said the Smaller Girl was too young, the helmet wouldn't fit (it did), she would be scared (she wasn't), she wouldn't be able to reach (she could). After a fight (I was cross), they let her go, and she waved delightedly to me from ten feet up. She loved it.

The People's Friend, that last bastion of old-fashioned values, has stopped sending out complimentary copies to authors, citing "rising postal costs and the current difficult economic conditions." Sure, I can see that 81p, is really hard to find when you have a circulation of three hundred thousand. In addition, they didn't tell me my story (published on the 21st August) was out until the 23rd (at which time I was in remotest Scotland, with no newsagents to hand), and by the time I returned to civilisation (on the 25th), the next issue (dated the 28th) had replaced mine.

• Some yobbo threw a rock at my windscreen (mercifully not breaking it), and yet it would have been wrong for me to take a hiking pole and beat him round the head. The police came. Looked bored. Was I wasting their time? Should rock-throwing fuckwits go unreported?

And there is one other thing I'm grumpy about: the fear that I'm getting old and grumpy. I'm not a luddite. I can change. I embrace change; but I'm tired of falling standards, and seeing good services - that cost nothing - replaced with bad services, or none at all. Above all else, I'm tired of lethargy and rudeness, and grumpiness.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Growing Season

A blog post is germinating; it must be spring already. Eh?
I shall attempt to write it down shortly - but I warn you, I'm grumpy.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Where do Your Ideas Come From?

I mentioned in my last post that an idea for a new novel had popped into my head while I stared out of the window on the train. I have no idea what triggered it, other than I was not, for once, thinking about anything else. Usually, I am looking after the children, working, writing, washing, cooking, or even doing some housework. Occasionally, I am drinking tea, but this last activity is invariably accompanied by reading.

I used to get my ideas as I dozed off in bed, but these days I just fall, zombie-like into the deepest slumber (until woken by the need to rearrange a duvet cover, pick up a teddy, fetch water, etc.), and so that dreaming time has gone. The same with driving. I like to think I pay attention to the road (unless Cally's in the car), and there used to be space for thinking too, but now that's taken up with The Wheels on the Bus, and I haven't a hope of constructive contemplation. So you see, I'm never not thinking about something else, and how the too-tired-to-bother-with-work episode on the train proved unexpectedly productive.

I'm going to practice now, thinking about nothing, and see what happens. With luck, my stress levels will dive, but I'm hoping my creativity might get a boost too.

Where do your ideas come from?

New Mountain-Walking Blog
I have started a new blog: Mountains, Miles & Mist, and would love to see you over there!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Throwing Away the Crutches

You know how you should never google your ailments? A spot of browsing over the weekend warned me that, while I could expect to be walking normally in 4-6 weeks, I might experience problems with my ankle for 12-18 months. 12-18 months?!! I'm a mountain hiker!

Well, I've been here before: I broke this ankle in 1981, and in 1996 I fell over in my bedroom suffered the same ligament injury as now. I had physio for the break, but not for the ligament, which was a big mistake. Thus, on Tuesday I paid my money (three-month wait for the NHS), and went to see my handsome physiotherapy friend, Paul.

I wanted to know how to get better without risking further damage - the kids have been brilliant, but the novelty's worn off - and if there were even a remote chance of getting hiking-fit in time for my (already booked) trip to Scotland in May. "Yes," he said. "Throw away the crutches, and get walking!"

It was music to my ears, Dear Reader. Music. It seems obvious now (especially after all I learned about ankles on Tuesday), but am wondering why the hospital advice was limited to: 'move your foot as often as possible, and stop if it hurts' - fine for the first few days, but useless after that.

Along with ultrasound treatment, an anatomy lesson (strictly limited to lower-limb joints), and some interesting* exercises, Paul gave me his promise that I'm not going to 'do it in' again (unless I commit muppetry again), and this gave me the confidence to walk. I can't tell you how lovely that feels.

*dull as death

On the writing front, work has necessitated spending a useful amount of time on trains recently. Having tired of doing anything constructive, I had taken to staring out of the window, and as a consequence, a new-novel idea popped into my head, somewhere between Redhill and Gatwick. Plot, characters, twist and all. I am very excited (though it is currently no.6 on my list of Books To Be Written), and have already drafted a synopsis! Am a little bit smug about this.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

People: the Good, Bad & Ugly

I've been to London three times this week, on crutches, and have alternately enjoyed and hated the experience every few minutes. Because of people:

The Good: the woman in a Clapham Junction coffee shop, who leapt out of her seat to haul open the door for me saying, "Been there myself, love. Know just what you're going through"; the man on an increasingly crowded train who growled "crutches" at anyone who tried to sit on a seat occupied by my foot (I would have happily made space, but I appreciated his care); the railwayman at Clapham who unlocked the staff loos to save me walking to the other end of the platform; the man who carried my coffee; the Sussex taxi-driver who waited an hour (until 12.45am) for my delayed train; the people who offered me their hard-won seats; the handsome Naval officer who treated me to two hours of enjoyable conversation (started on the subject of my crutches) and who escorted me to my destination (Hi, Tim).

The Bad: the people who barged into me, stepped in front of me, plonked themselves on the seats I was aiming for; all the other people who simply didn't notice; the colleague who kept me talking for twenty minutes in Waterloo station while I stood on one foot; the people who stared (they're only crutches for gawd's sake);

The Ugly: the man who kicked a crutch out from under me on Victoria concourse, and walked on without even registering what he'd done - I like to think his shin registered it, but he didn't break stride; the fit forty-something in the disabled seat on a packed tube, who held my gaze and did not move...

You'll notice there are far more Goods, than Bads & Uglies put together, but I think that's because gems stand out in the muck. My lasting memory is one of others' indifference. Which I think is sad.

Thanks for all messages of support! Ankle getting better, albeit slowly - small improvement every day. Am now able to hobble without crutches in the house, but am taking things very carefully! Scotland beckons.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Reasons to Lounge About on the Sofa, no.32

As I lie here, on my sofa, cup of tea in hand, laptop on lap, sun shining through the window, and the smaller girl playing happily beside me, you'd think life couldn't get much better. Then you might notice the long metal things beside me... So, Leigh, exactly why are you lying around on a Monday morning, when your house craves attention? Eh?

Ahem. Quick change of subject.

Walking in the mountains is potentially dangerous: a slip could mean death - not because of cliff edges, necessarily, or anything dramatic like that - but because a twisted ankle will leave you lying around, cold and probably wet, for a long time waiting to be rescued, or even to summon help. People die of hypothermia in the Scottish mountains in June. Now, I've been mocked for all the kit I carry - enough to survive immobility for 24h in freezing conditions (i.e. all year round in the Cairngorms) - but I carry it nonetheless. Peace of mind, and all that.

So, it's comical (not to mention embarrassing) that it was a two-foot high bank in the garden that proved my downfall. Thirty seconds after warning the smaller girl to take care in the frost I slipped, and one God-almighty crack later, down I went. And not a Kendal Mint Cake in sight.

Nothing broken though, just ligament damage, and I hope to be off the crutches within a couple of weeks.

Have you ever done anything as dumb?

The Gold Star Award goes to the Smaller Girl (who'll be three tomorrow) who fetched: the telephone to summon help; hiking poles to get me into the house; frozen sweetcorn to put on the swelling; iPod for going to hospital; and unlocked the door when help arrived. She stopped several times to have a little wail, and point out interesting aeroplanes, but I'd have been lost without her.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Sirens are Calling, but I Can't Go

I've been a bit quiet, I'm sorry. Mostly this is because I've been overwhelmed with work, and partly because I've been a bit miserable too. You see, just as the mornings are getting lighter, the sun is beginning to generate a few nano-therms, and I'm planning how to spend a delightfully inappropriate amount of money on new walking kit for this year, my doctor says I have to stop climbing mountains. Just a temporary precaution, I'm told, until they work out what's wrong with my heart...

Yes, I thought I was better too; but just as I had written the post telling you so, the 'indigestion' I had on the way down Braeriach, turned into palpitations and wayward blood-presssure, and more recently into fainting fits. It's this last symptom that concerns the doctor. He's promised me I'm not about to drop dead, but he doesn't like the thought of me losing consciousness half-way up Coire Raibeirt (see photo).

This hasn't stopped me training; I realised it's no good spending the first three days of a five-day trip getting fit (only to revert to lard within a week of getting home), so, as the doctor hasn't said I can't exercise (and I'm not asking the question), I've been spending thirty minutes a day on Jane's cross-trainer (treadmill-cum-step machine). And I feel fine. (Okay, that's a lie, but I'm bored with feeling ill.)

Am now champing at the NHS waiting list. They've done all the blood tests, and the 24h ECG - next comes the scan and an appointment with the cardiologist (who I just know is going to tell me to "rest"). I suppose I can rest in my local outdoor-equipment shop, can't I? While I try on new rucksacks...

Cross your fingers for me, Dear Readers. I can't live without mountains.