Tuesday 4 April 2017

30 Days of Autism Acceptance: Day 3


Day 3:

Talk about relationships, both platonic and romantic.  Do you have anyone special in your life?  Have your relationships been affected by your being autistic?  Have you found it hard to make and maintain friendships?  Do you have a lot of friends or very few?

I have a number of special people in my life. First and foremost is my wonderful NT husband, Gideon. We met in August 2010 at a Tolkien festival in the middle of Wales where he was running some larp (live-action roleplay) - and I ended up being used as a battering-ram against him! (In my defence, it was our friend Sam's idea.) We got together 3 weeks later and got married at the end of November 2015. Here are the photos from our engagement shoot and the wedding itself:


I do feel blessed to have him because he's a fantastic person (though sometimes his heart can be a little too big!) and incredibly supportive. No, it's not perfect and all rainbows and kittens (now I want kittens...!), and I'm not going to pretend it is. Does my neurology affect our relationship? Yes, it does. We do have communication breakdowns sometimes, and that's the biggest area affected. He's got much better at it (and I think I have as well; I certainly try to, at any rate) but there are still glitches. He'll drop a hint and forget that I won't pick up on it, that he needs to flat-out tell me - an example of this is when we were out somewhere once and he wanted to go home but didn't want to say so directly, so he said, "Do you think it's getting a bit too loud in here?" I didn't get the hint and said that no, the volume was fine, and carried on. He did this two or three more times before he realised I was never going to get the hint, so in the end he did say, "Katherine, I want to go home now." It was fairly early on in our relationship and he got quite upset with me until we talked about it and realised our cross-purposes. He can find my bluntness a bit too harsh and will overreact to it, so I overreact to that... That doesn't happen much these days and he understands that I don't do it to be mean (like other people have done with him in the past), but in the heat of the moment it's easy to forget. I try not to overreact but I've always had a bit of a hot temper so it's not always easy! And if he makes an observation about something, he sometimes thinks I'll pick up on the unspoken bits - so if I'm putting the kettle on, he might say, "Are you putting the kettle on?" and expect me to pick up that he might want a coffee and so ask, but I'm more likely to just say, "Yes," and go about sorting my own hot drink out without asking if that means he wants something! Granted, if I'm putting the kettle on I'll generally ask if he wants something as well, but that's just an example of how things can go.

He does find my rigidity problematic sometimes, especially because he has a tendency to be much more flexible and spontaneous than I am. I need to have the day's structure in my head the night before, so I know what to expect, so if something comes up unexpectedly it can really throw me. We do try to compromise and these days if he has advance notice of a possible meet-up with someone, he'll let me know as soon as he can, to warn me that this might happen, so I'm at least prepared for the possibility.

I'll talk about meltdowns and shutdowns in detail at a later date, but I'm commenting on them here because they do affect Gideon. Generally it's because he'll be the one who has to grab my wheelchair and haul me out of the environment that's triggered a meltdown (and I'm talking full-on rocking, hands over ears, screeching/keening, inability to cope with any kind of touch, etc) and calm me down. The first couple of times it happened it did rather freak him out but he's acclimatised to them now - and thankfully it doesn't happen often - and he knows how to deal with them, as well as deal with other people (mostly by saying, "She's autistic, the surroundings have caused sensory overload, I've got her out of the place, it's all under control and please don't interfere without express permission"). Shutdowns have only happened once or twice since he's known me so it's still uncertain territory; we've discovered that the best thing he can do is just hold my hand and talk to me about inane things and try to distract me, to get me out of that headspace. Seems to have worked so far!

I've got some amazing friends, too. One of them is Katharina, someone I originally met through Harry Potter fanfiction, back in about 2003 when I was 18 and she was 15/16 (and she was still living in Germany at the time!) We emailed back and forth a lot but then my email went screwy and I lost her email address, so contact was lost. Then in 2007 she was having a look at my FanFiction.Net profile and saw that I'd put which university I was at...the same one as her! Still didn't get round to meeting in person until late 2008, but we clicked instantly and it was like we'd never lost the contact! We ended up being housemates for a few months 2009-10 when I first moved back to Exeter, and now we live about a mile away from each other. She's one of my best friends and was my maid of honour at my wedding (she's the blonde one in the plain purple Hepburn dress in the wedding photos), and I love her to pieces; she's like a sister to me. She's also Aspie! We're ridiculously blunt with each other in a way that has most NTs blinking and looking shocked/horrified, especially when they see we're not upset with each other! I'm one of the few people she trusts to go clothes shopping with because she knows I'm not going to fudge my response, that if I think something looks awful on her I'll just come out and say it in those words.

Another sister-like friend is Jenna. She's someone I originally met through a Catholic community on LiveJournal; I'm not a cradle Catholic, which she is, so when I started exploring the faith I joined some groups and asked some questions, and Jenna was one of the ones who answered. She then looked at my profile and LJ (which I should probably update at some point...!), decided I seemed really cool, so added me, and I added her back. Since then she and her housemate Cori have been over to the UK (they're from Iowa) twice to visit me and I went out to Iowa in June 2013 (Gideon was meant to come too but his passport didn't arrive in time) for Jenna's wedding. She and her husband weren't able to make it to our wedding (we didn't realise it clashed with Thanksgiving until it was too late, and the airlines jack up the prices ridiculously, so they couldn't afford it), which was a bit gutting. I've basically been adopted by her family and we call each other "sis" all the time! Even her actual little sister and I call each other "sis" and their parents consider me a third daughter, which is so wonderful.

Speaking of LiveJournal, another fantastic friend I originally met there is Lynn, who ended up being an usher at my wedding, and is actually the reason Gideon and I met! He's American but was working in Switzerland in 2010, saw the Tolkien festival advertised, contacted me and we went! We've only seen each other once since then (because he moved back to the US when the job ended) but he was able to make it to our wedding, which was wonderful. We don't see each other often enough - several thousand miles, an entire ocean and a lack of finances tends to hinder such things!

These days I have a pretty good lot of friends. Growing up, not really. I had difficulties forming and maintaining friendships because I was "weird", so I got mocked a lot for that. Primary school wasn't too bad but secondary school - an all-girls grammar - as an undiagnosed Aspie was pretty horrendous. Again, something to post about in more detail another time. I was actively shunned by a lot of the girls and have only a few close friends from that time, one of whom was Caroline, one of my bridesmaids (in the wedding photos, she's the one with pink tips to her dark hair in the purple butterfly Hepburn). She's been a brilliant friend through the years and I love her to pieces; she helped me through some really really dark times at school.

Uni was a lot better than school because it was much easier, through societies, to find people I could connect with through common interests. My other bridesmaid, Julia (who is also awesome), is one of my uni friends, from Clarinet Choir and CathSoc/the Catholic chaplaincy.

These days I'm finding it easier to make friends and maintain those friendships, probably because I've learned some of the social rules, but also because I tend to associate with geeks, folkies and other people who don't have time for superficiality and shallow things, and they tend to be more accepting of autistics. Heck, in the geek circles I move in I reckon a good half of them are somewhere on the spectrum!

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