Reach Out, I’ll Be There

Yesterday evening (UK time) I posted a status on Facebook where I set out how I was feeling due to depression and anxiety.

Just venting here.

I’m exhausted. My anxiety keeps flaring up with no obvious triggers, the depression is with me more and more. I’m getting seriously eye-rollingly sick of feeling like this so much of the time.

I’ve got some seriously strong urges:
– To run away to old, familiar places.
– To lock myself in somewhere safe, curl up in the fetal position and stay there.
– To just sit here and cry.

I’m feeling kind of trapped. I feel like I’m failing. I’ve not got the strength left to keep on fulfilling my responsibilities. But there’s no escape, no respite. I don’t want to play any more but the merry-go-round won’t stop and I can’t get off.

It wasn’t generally visible: I restricted it to people I feel safe sharing more sensitive, personal things with. And, typically, I worried that it might have been attention-seeking.

I had not slept well all week; I somehow unproductively scraped through a day’s work with the assistance of much music, and was feeling enervated and pretty hopeless. Again. I think that it wasn’t so much attention I wanted as just a little acknowledgement. A bit of solidarity to help me feel less isolated.

I never used to reach out like this. I would keep it all in and try to handle it on my own. Well, I was prepared to do that this time too: I was seriously weighing up the pros and cons of self-harm. The knife is still where I put it, within easy reach. I didn’t need it in the end.

Reaching out worked. I never used to have any kind of network, any group of friends I could turn to for support when I was struggling. In recent years this has been getting steadily better. I still feel a reluctance to impose the burden of my feelings on anybody. But they are a compassionate bunch and what I received was caring and supportive.

They helped me reach the point where I could make an important decision: to visit my brother. It was something my daughter and I had talked about. We both feel a connection to that part of the country, a link to happy times in the past. In a way this really is fulfilling one of the urges I felt: running away to an old, familiar place.

I phoned my brother, checked when he would be around, and then organised what dates my daughter and I could manage. Suddenly I had an escape, the promise of some respite, and I started feeling positive. I messaged one of my best friends to share the news: we ended up chatting for hours, well into the night!

I slept well, cuddling my plush toy penguin as usual, and woke up an hour before my alarm feeling better than I had for ages. Before lunch the time off work was booked, as was the hotel. I can’t deny I’m feeling incredibly excited about the trip.

More than anything I am amazed by how much different I feel just within 24 hours. To go from despair bleak enough to make cutting myself seem an attractive option, to this hugely positive feeling of anticipation and excitement. I wish I could bottle the feeling and save it for the next time.

I know I will feel down again, the depression is always there in the background. It’s not a case of, “Hello darkness, my old friend.” Circumstances affect my mood: it swings between highs and lows. But the highs don’t shine a beacon of hope that is visible from the depths, and the lows don’t drag me down when I’m soaring. All I can do is live in the moment and respond to it in whatever way I am able.

But one thing I have definitely resolved to do is to make time to keep in touch with my friends and, as much as I am able, to go and meet them, spend time with them. They are well worth the effort.

Unravelling Time

Since first hearing about the exhibition Unravelling Time at The Abbey in Sutton Courtenay near Oxford I made up my mind that I would visit to experience it for myself. And when this turned into an opportunity to meet in person my online friend Sonia Boué, one of the artists participating; well, there was no way I would have missed it.

The big day dawned and my excitement was bubbling over, manifesting in rubbing and flapping my hands, bouncing up and down, and standing or walking on tip-toes. There’s just something about the way this feeling wells up inside that physically lifts me so I become unable to keep my heels on the ground!

It was a beautiful sunny day for the hour’s drive from where I live to Sutton Courtenay; I parked outside the walls surrounding the grounds and walked up the driveway through the trees. At first sight the Abbey is a modest building, the east elevation providing few clues to what will be found inside. I followed the path around to the south to get a more complete feel for the place in its surroundings.

There was a strong feeling of peace about the place, a pervasive calm silence that lent itself perfectly to opening the senses and reflecting on the experience. I had wondered about being dominated by the history of the building but instead of intruding it provided an understated background warmth: it fit into the environment as if it had grown there, and was pleasantly human in its scale and proportion.

I walked back to the entrance, pausing in the archway to snap a photo of the welcome notice before entering the central courtyard, a beautiful space enhanced by symmetrical planting. On this balmy autumn day it had a Mediterranean feel emphasised by the vine and fig tree in the north-west corner.

It was through this tree that I first caught sight of Sonia, seated on a bench by her installation and deep in contemplation (deleting photos on her phone to free up space, as it turned out). I don’t know if I made some sound or if it was the movement that caught her attention as I approached; she rose to greet me with an expression of pure delight and (after checking that I accept–one of the great things about meeting other neurodiverse people is that they are often conscious of such things that may prove unwelcome) we shared a warm hug.

How apt the exhibition title, Unravelling Time, as time from that point ceased to function in the normal fashion. Instead we chatted and Sonia guided me through the exhibits in a single perfect moment. I glanced at my watch a couple of times to check that time’s flow continued because I had no conscious awareness of it.

Since our journey through the exhibition began with Sonia’s own assemblage, Refuge, that is where I will start my exploration of the works and my responses to them.

The suitcase sits on the ground under the sheltering canopy of the vine, yet the effects of the outdoor environment are visible in the peeling paper lining and the patina on the mirror. This place is only a temporary rest, a chance to recover before moving on. The gathered twigs evoke an empty nest, the home left behind. Gazing into the mirror puts the observer right inside the piece, surrounded by the trappings of an itinerant existence. A clothes hanger sits in the suitcase lid, but I must presume that what it held is being worn: possessions reduced to the clothes on your back and what you can carry.

Finally, two paintings. The smaller one next to the hanger and a larger one suspended from the vine above. The hanging of the painting echoes a domestic scene but that illusion is broken by the realisation that we are not in an enclosed space but directly beneath the skies. The larger painting shows a background of a texture and colour that puts me in mind of dense vegetation, a rich yet ominous natural world imprisoned behind the linear order of man-made structure. But that structure shows imperfections: it is scarred and blasted. What might at first appear to be a refuge is revealed on closer inspection to be a place of fear, darkness, even death. The smaller painting is a reduction of the larger one; reduced in the sense that it portrays only the clean regularity of constructed objects. This is how home is remembered; the larger painting shows what became of it and caused us to flee. It’s not in the suitcase: we don’t intentionally carry it and yet there it is. A haunting memory of trauma.

From here we moved indoors to the Great Hall with its high timbered vault of a ceiling and dark, almost black, oak panelling. In the middle of the opposite wall was a fireplace and stretching out from it, most of the way across the room towards us, was Kate Hammersley’s Time Transfigured. My first impression was of a giant ball of yarn unravelling as it was swatted across the floor by some curious cat. As we walked alongside the intricacy of the dry bracken, its zig-zag arrangement recalled lightning bolts and the crystalline tracing of ice on a window pane; ice out of fire. Approaching the fireplace the woodsmoke scent of the ashes became apparent, something that reminds me of the warmth and comfort of home and hearth.

This is a piece that contains both connections and contrasts. Fire, that living element, evoked by the red-brown fronds; flames represented by fuel, travelling out from its seat of ashes. The complex recursive detail of the bracken represented something living despite being dead and dry; the fireplace is where it belonged, destined to become a mere pile of ashes, and yet it had come out into the room, its questing tendril exploring the space.

Moving on to one of the windows, affixed to the wall at one side was Traces by Anna Morris. A set of three small curved rectangles of board, each about the size of a sheet of paper folded lengthwise, the geometry similar to a set of modern wall lamps. Contrasting their contemporary form, the surface detail presented the essence of the Abbey. Rubbings captured the textures of the ancient timber, the painted rendering of the walls, the countless impressions of its history upon the fabric of the building.

Three photographic prints by Jonathan Moss were next to receive our attention. Symmetry was a very strong element, from the perfect squares of the prints to the images themselves. Visual reflection stirring mental reflection. The first, by the side of Traces, featured the walled garden with its old brickwork and white-painted timber-framed glass house hosting rows of vibrant green crops; the upper half reflected perfectly below as if by a supernaturally still pool. Another showed the creosote-dark planks of the end wall of an outbuilding reaching up and drawing the eye skywards: a sense of grandeur transcending the humble nature of the construction.

Through the French door to the garden and Madi Acharya-Baskerville with her work, Drift-in-land. The sinuous bend of a tree trunk provided the frame over which was tented a fishing net bearing numerous items of flotsam and artefacts discarded or washed up on the shoreline: magpie decoration. The net itself caught by the tree, bearing its haul of shiny, colourful objects: trash and treasure. The tent suggesting shelter conflicted with the net as a trap, its adornments lures to draw in the unwary. But also the tent with its decoration as a shanty-town dwelling, scavenged material assembled to provide some small refuge from the elements, some personal touches of home. And that too causes reflection on the trap of poverty.

We walked on through the trees, past an extensive woodpile under a canopy: fuel for the winter fires. Opening a weathered door, we entered the walled garden. What an exquisite space! Protected by the enclosing walls, tidy rows of herbs and vegetables for the kitchen occupied beds between the narrow, neat grassy paths. The smell of rosemary: I rubbed the leaves between my fingers and inhaled the comforting scent. In the west wall was a bricked-up archway; affixed to those bricks were the two painted panels of Ellen Hausner’s Through the Wall. Blending with the brickwork at the edges, these panels opened holes through the wall, hinting at a space beyond and drawing the mind of the viewer into that space. Directing me to pierce the physical barrier of the wall with my imagination, to think beyond the apparent limits. I was reminded of the wardrobe in C. S. Lewis’s Narnia stories: travelling through an everyday, commonplace object to the realm of fantasy. And also Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere in which the character Door possesses the ability to open portals between the mundane surface world and the rich, hidden realm of London Below.

Following Sonia through the garden I observed how she would trail a hand, touching plants, stones, a wheelbarrow. Making with her fingertips the same sensory connection to the environment that I make visually. Where I observe the textures and imagine the sensation of feeling them, Sonia takes a direct approach: this is evident in her artistic performances as sand or other material flows through her fingers.

Completing the circuit, we re-entered the Great Hall by the same door we had left it, this time following a passageway past a laundry area to a welcoming sitting room named the Hearth. Tucked into a corner by a gothic double-arched window were Helen Ganly’s three reliquaries on the theme of the medieval Empress Matilda, granddaughter of Norman king William the Bastard and child bride of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V of Germany. The first was a square black box, its lid apparently bejeweled. Opening it (carefully) revealed a hole through which could be seen a portrait of Matilda in historical style, illuminated by some unseen artifice. Two further boxes opened to reveal scenes reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts, this impression reinforced by beautifully ornate capitals and alliterative Latin words that we were only partly successful in translating. These boxes were situated on a drop-leaf table in the fashion of an altar; despite my lack of religion I felt that I was meant to kneel before them.

Hung on the wall opposite the windows was a framed work by Les McMinn, A Study for Stained Glass, which offered such a wealth of detail upon detail–colour, shape, texture–that my eye was drawn all over, peering deeper and deeper into the individual elements and being rewarded with still more. I felt the need to step back from the piece to gain an appreciation of the form of the whole: seeing a lowercase ‘a’ emerge from the collection of amorphous shapes provided my link with the Library that inspired the work. A host of fragments, each unidentifiable yet carrying a wealth of information, were brought together into a simple letter, the basis of all our written communication.

Also in this room, on the mantlepiece, were two in a series of 11 photographs by Paul Medley entitled Hidden Histories. These photographs, distributed through the Abbey, showed a set of moments featuring a couple in the very settings where they were displayed. These frozen instants of time together suggest a narrative: we read feelings and intentions into the poses and expressions, and taking the series as a whole we feel the satisfaction of piecing together the story of these two people. But a question hangs over our interpretation: we have assumed that the sequence in which we encountered these photographs is the same as the sequence in which the events occurred. How different might the story be if we assemble them in a different order?

We made our way back across the courtyard, passing Claudia Figueiredo’s Celebration 2, an enigmatic ring of wood embellished with blue and gold under the fig tree where I had first encountered Sonia. That ring, formed by branches growing into each other, was a remnant of a tree that had stood in the Abbey grounds for over 200 years. Its complete circle mirrored the path we had taken, the passage of time and distance returning us to our origin: an endless cycle.

Again entering the building, this time via the kitchen door, we crossed the passageway into the Root Room, the site of the final installation on our tour. Water Maps – Gower Peninsula was an audio-visual collaboration between Ann Rapstoff and Vicky Vergou. A video showed the patterns of flowing water as they change along its course from spring to sea; the magical way in which the incident sunlight forms patterns as it is reflected and refracted. Meanwhile the sounds of running water and breaking waves provided a background, with occasional spoken fragments that were presumably intended to evoke associations. For me this was the least successful of the works. I found the audio to be at odds with the characteristics of the flowing water that was seen on the screen: it did not match what I expected to hear based on what I was seeing, and I found the spoken words distracting. Some of this is no doubt a consequence of the dominance of my visual thought processes.

In an afternoon filled with countless impressions that had my mind serving up image after image as it raced through associations of ideas, sifting and finding patterns, there is a stunning contrast with the calm I felt in the company of Sonia. It is unusual for me to feel so completely at ease, so entirely unselfconscious. As a result it was an afternoon of relaxation and pleasure, of exchanging thoughts and observations, of mental stimulation amidst serenity.

I don’t recall asking a single question–that’s not something which comes easily to me–but conversation didn’t stall at any point. I can’t emphasise enough how natural our interactions felt: a mutual understanding that meant we had no need to divert into distracting explanation.

I’ll finish with my impression of Sonia herself. Contact and connection are the key aspects: she is constantly in touch with the people and objects around her, observing and sampling at a very conscious, direct level (whereas I retain images in memory but rely on my subconscious to conjure forth impressions and associations). This directness was exhibited in her gaze: I found myself to be the frequent focus of her eyes from behind the lenses of her glasses. This can be something I find threatening but instead I felt trust and security. Everything she does is an extension of her self, from her artistic expression to the way she interacts with the people around her. Such honesty of purpose is beautiful to observe and receive; it inspires an openness in response that creates a strong, intimate bond of friendship.

Thank you, Sonia, for being my companion through this amazing experience.

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Expressions of PosAutivity #AutismPositivity2014

Autism Positivity Flash Blog 2014

In the three-or-so years since I started this blog after recognizing I was autistic, I have come a long way in my understanding of autism and of myself. I have found myself, together with other autistic people, parents, advocates and allies, as a member of an extended online community that in my experience sets the standard for friendliness and mutual support.

Most of all, I feel fully accepted by my peers for who I am. Among my circle of friends, most of whom I have never met in person, I feel safe. These online spaces — blogs, social media — are a kind of refuge to which I can retreat when Real Life threatens to overwhelm me. In honor of that here is my contribution to the 2014 Autism Positivity Flash Blog.

Threads

Like the Norse of long ago
Whose Norns would weave the threads of lives,
Warp and woof and who could know
When theirs would end with flashing knives,
Live your life from day to day
As if each sunrise were your last.
Friends and love: for these I pray;
All else is moot, the runes are cast.

“God does not play dice,” it’s said,
And Chaos rules the universe.
‘Til the day you wind up dead
You play the hand you’re dealt at birth.
Should you feel you have no choice
And all is written in the stars,
Listen to your inner voice;
Accept yourself for who you are.

New threads join: new friends, a wife,
And how it ends I cannot say.
Grasp the threads that form your life
And weave your pattern your own way.

Coda

Discovering that I am autistic was a positive experience for me. I was finally able to understand why I am different from so many of the people around me. It gave me a structure on which to build my self-understanding. From understanding grew acceptance which blossomed into love: I love my autistic self.

As I have mentioned many times before I have made a number of friends within the autism community. From the first person with whom I connected online, Bird, my circle grew and there are too many loving, supportive friends for me to mention them all. But it seems unfair not to recognize at least some of the people who hold a special place in my heart. So, in no particular order, …

(I know there are many people I have not mentioned, and I apologize to those I did not list here.)

Therapy? Experiences of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Ok. Time to hold my hands up – I’m in therapy. I’m nearing the end of a course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help me deal with anxiety. Up to now there were only three people who knew this: me, my wife and my closest friend.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a therapy that is designed to teach new ways of thinking, to provide the client with new ways of dealing with problems that they face in their lives. It is very important to bear in mind that it does not promise any cure: in my case it will not stop me feeling anxious in certain situations. What it will do (I believe and I’ve not yet experienced anything to contradict this) is give me tools to manage my anxiety.

One thing that has struck me throughout the course is how obvious it all seems. In short, the steps have been to identify the causes of anxiety and rank them in order of severity, start at the bottom and develop ways to handle them. It’s that simple! But there’s something significant about the fact that the advice comes from somebody who has no emotional connection, who is impartial and nonthreatening. I feel that they have no “hidden agenda”, that they are not trying to manipulate me (even though in fact they are – that is the purpose of the sessions). It comes down to trust: I feel that I can trust my therapist and consequently I am very accepting of her advice.

The thing about CBT is that it is a learning experience like any training course. If you are not engaged then you will not learn. Period. I believe that if you don’t want to learn something then you won’t. You can sit through lesson after lesson but if you don’t apply and practice what you are taught then you won’t learn. I think this is why CBT gets some negative reviews – people come into it expecting some silver bullet that will cure them of their problems, but it doesn’t work like that. The sessions with the therapist are just to provide the foundations. It is up to the client to build upon them by practicing the coping techniques learned. It’s difficult to begin with – you have to expose yourself to the challenging situation before you can try to apply the lessons.

I guess people fail because they don’t put the effort into this part. But as I said to my friend earlier tonight, I wouldn’t have brought this up with my GP if I didn’t want to try to fix my problem. And if that means I have to do “homework” then I’m going to put the effort in because the end result will be worth it.

I did some research about CBT before I started the course – that’s my way – and the key fact I learned about it is that it does not claim to be a cure. In may case it will not stop me feeling anxious. I believe it is important to go into this kind of therapy with realistic expectations of the outcome, and in my case it was that it would not stop me feeling anxious – it might not even make me less anxious – but it would provide me with ways to handle that anxiety, to function despite the feeling.

In many ways the success of the treatment depends on how much effort the client is willing to put in. The key to graduated exposure (which is the type of CBT I am receiving) is that you make the effort to expose yourself to the situations.

I’ve found that one of the hardest aspects of this for me has been to remember that I have to attempt to interact with people differently. Remembering this instead of falling back on ingrained habits has been very taxing mentally. I’ve discussed this with my therapist and she agrees that being on the autism spectrum poses particular problems for this type of therapy: resistance to change, ingrained habits (routines), co-morbid conditions such as social phobia and sensory hypo- or hyper-sensitivity, and difficulties interpreting non-verbal communication.

To this end I’ve been set tasks including listening to the radio (interpreting conversational voices) and summarizing what I’ve heard, observing other people’s conversations (which is one of the most difficult tasks – trying to derive rules for conversation based on observation, because it involves trying to interpret the non-verbal signals), and making phone calls (to my friends initially – it’s starting small but if that’s where I want to end up then I’ll have to build my way up to it.

I reckon I’ve made progress, even if it’s not easily quantifiable by the simplistic measures recorded by the questionnaire I complete before every session. And that’s the most important part – as long as I feel that I’ve progressed and I feel more able to tackle these anxiety-provoking situations then I think I’m gaining a benefit from the therapy.

So, in summary, I believe it’s only effective if the client is prepared to put the effort in to practice the skills being imparted. If one doesn’t have a realistic view of the aims and purposes of the therapy and isn’t prepared to put in the work involved in learning the skills presented, then it simply won’t work. In this type of therapy the therapist is the pilot guiding the course but the client is the engine room providing the momentum.

Bah Humbug!, or What Christmas Means To Me

I dread this time of year – the Christmas holiday. An endless all-you-can-eat buffet of bright, shiny, colorful, twinkly, saccharine, plastic, superficial, empty-hearted, compulsory frivolity and joy to all. The cracks of the rest of the year are papered over, temporary patches to support the pretense that we are all getting along famously and having a good time. It’s all over the TV commercials – smiling families gather around the dinner table to share the feast, seasonal bonhomie ramped up to the max.

Amid the repeated-ad-nauseam Christmas songs, the wall-to-wall sparkling lights and baubles and the commercial brands lashed tightly to old traditional symbols I can’t help feeling that the whole experience is empty, devoid of meaning. Christmas has become its own parody, a cheap, mass-produced knock-off that has smothered the original beneath its glittering red and white, snow-carpeted facade.

Christmas died long ago: its dried husk is buried deep beneath strata of tinsel and fairy gold. With a wonky plastic angel stuck on top.

For me this time of year is not about giving or receiving gifts. It is not about parties and feasting. It is not about excessive consumption – gluttony if you will – of any kind. It is not about decorated trees, homes or streets. It is not even about the Christian religious festival.

For me it is the time of year when the darkness is closest at hand. When the long, cold nights harbor age-old fears of loneliness and hunger. When people used to gather round their fires to share warmth and protection, and to pray that the winter would end; that the sun would soon return to warm the land.

For me it is a time for thinking of the people I care about, those I love. This has become a season of unrealistic expectations, unattainable goals, impossible dreams. A season when so many people will fall short of the targets they set themselves, whether they didn’t manage to lose that weight to fit into the new party dress, or they saw Dad get drunk Christmas Day and fight with Mum, or they didn’t get that one special present they’d set their heart on. A season when people feel disappointed, hurt, alone.

I will not buy presents; I will not send cards. I will find my pleasure in what I can do for those I am close to. If I can make somebody smile, or help them feel that they are not alone, help them feel that they are appreciated and valued… then I believe that would be a worthwhile gift.

With a Little Help

If happiness in life depends
On finding comfort where you may,
Then most of all you need good friends
To brighten up your darkest day.

If loneliness should reappear
And threaten to extinguish hope,
Don’t ever give in to your fear:
Your friends can give you strength to cope.

The Support of Friendship

I fear that this Diamond Jubilee weekend just gone has left me sadly out of sorts with the upheaval and disruption to my regular routines. I accompanied a group of friends to London on Saturday, a lads’ day out. I will admit to having reservations in the run up to the day itself – I don’t generally enjoy the crowds and hectic work-day pace of the city – but I had not been there on a Saturday for many years and never in the company of a group of friends. As it turned out I ended up in a smaller group of three or four for most of the day and by focusing on just this group I was able to insulate myself sufficiently from the many thousands of people all around us – it felt to me as if we were in our own protective bubble.

The day passed so quickly and I had a wonderful time – my companions were good company and all the strangers around barely registered in my mind – I was relaxed and happy, and had one of the best days out ever. The next day, Sunday, was quiet and flat by comparison – I have no clear recollection of it – but Monday brought another social gathering. This time it was a barbecue hosted by another friend, and again I started out with some trepidation because of the number attending: over thirty people, but nearly all of them people I know well.

I needn’t have worried. They were welcoming and genuinely pleased that I had come along and my anxious insecurity was soon forgotten as I joined in the fun. I ended up not going home that night, spending the night at the home of yet another friend where I slept on the sofa – I can scarcely believe that people not only appear not to object to having me around, but even invite me over.

That long weekend is over. But despite my lingering tiredness I have memories of some very enjoyable times, thanks in such a large part to my friends. I cannot overstate the importance that such acceptance has to me – it gives me such a sense of support.

Playing it Safe

Social situations are a minefield in which the slightest misstep can result in things blowing up in your face. I picture the situation as a narrow path – the “safe” area in terms of what I can say or do – with increasing danger of stepping on a mine – upsetting somebody – the farther I venture from the path.

Safe Path image © Ben Forshaw 2012

Since I am risk-averse I do not often test the boundaries of what people find to be acceptable behavior – mapping out the danger area – and when I do, I tend to do so carefully and deliberately in the hope that any negative reaction will be small enough for me to handle.

I find it difficult because different people have wildly different standards of what they deem to be acceptable. Not only that, but the boundaries move depending on context. There is only a small patch of common ground on which the majority of people I encounter socially can agree.

My starting position with somebody I have not met before is to play it very safe – speak when spoken to, no slang or swearing, no physical contact. Over time I will observe how they act towards me and others, and slowly begin to introduce those behaviors that they demonstrate – the assumption here is that they are less likely to be offended by something that they do themselves.

This is not an infallible method. That’s people for you – they’re not always rational, logical or consistent. It can be a case of “do as I say, not as I do” – how confusing! But slowly, gingerly, I can explore the envelope and work out just how far I am able to take things with those I know reasonably well.

2011 Retrospective

Goodbye 2011, you were a year of new experiences, happiness and sadness.

Last year started cold. We were snowed in for a week – too icy to drive – and I had to walk to the local stores, hoping their deliveries had got through. Bread was in short supply. But it was so enjoyable walking through the snow, the absence of traffic on the roads, everybody on foot. Parents towing their children on sleds. A peaceful, happy time.

I started working part-time as a barman at the local pub, just to help out at first. I took to it like a duck to water and now, almost a whole year later, I’m still there. It’s been a great help as it gave me a way to talk to people, initially within the boundaries of the job and then, as I got to know the regular customers better, beyond it. By now I think of the people there as a kind of extended family – I feel accepted and wonderfully comfortable among them.

My main job as a software developer continued to be a source of great pleasure – interesting, challenging projects and opportunities to learn new skills and technologies. I’m incredibly lucky to get paid for doing something I enjoy so much. I’m not financially motivated – the work is its own reward for me, but obviously I need to earn money to live.

I started this blog in July, initially just to write about my day-to-day experiences through the lens of Aspergers Syndrome but soon expanded to become a means to express my feelings, whether through my attempts at poetry or through prose. One unexpected result was that I’ve connected through blogging with other people on the autism spectrum which has helped me both to understand myself better and to feel less isolated by my differences – I now know I’m not the only one whose brain functions in this special way.

The past few months has seen times of great strain in the relationship between my wife and me. Various events, my Aspergers and her deteriorating health have combined at times to set us at loggerheads. When communication breaks down everything else starts to tumble after it in an avalanche of self-destructive behavior. But through our mutual love we have found the will and the strength to keep working on our marriage and, although I cannot say with all honesty that everything is fine right now, we are past the lowest point and building up again.

I saw the year out with a New Year’s Eve shift in the pub – 6pm to 3:30am. It was physically tiring but emotionally exhilarating. I can recall noticing the clock around 8pm and the next time I looked it was well past 11! It truly felt as if only minutes had passed, yet it was more than three hours later. An enjoyable busy night.

Overall despite the lows it was a good year and seems to have passed so quickly. Hello 2012, I wonder what you’ll bring. Interesting times, I’m sure.

Getting Through

I have times when I feel such utter frustration and helplessness, times when I feel buried under a growing mountain of pending tasks, times when almost everything I touch seems to go wrong or fall apart and I don’t know what to do to fix it, times when I just feel trapped by the flow of events – pulled in so many different directions that I feel dizzy and overwhelmed: adrift.

At times like these there are some things that help me get through, none more so than the support of kind words from friends. That gives me just enough of a boost – a positive feeling of hope and self-worth – that I can face the situation and start to deal with it instead of feeling dwarfed and powerless by the terrific enormity of what is facing me. I need to have my mind at peace to handle difficult, stressful situations – this is a great challenge to achieve and I often need help. That little bit of support, telling me that I’m doing OK and I’ve got somebody behind me who can catch me if I fall.

That’s all I need to reduce my anxiety and insecurity to a level I can manage, a level at which I can think straight. Because when my mind’s thrashing about, floundering, wasting energy in an attempt to keep afloat, it can escape my notice that I’m not really out of my depth – I’m just so flustered and panicky that I don’t realise I can touch the bottom and instead feel as if I’m drowning. That’s such an unpleasant sensation. The relief I feel when somebody helps me find my feet and steady myself is immense.