Category Archives: The Autistic Atheist

Why does everything have to be so fucking hard?

Malta’s bureaucracy is so out of control that it’s amazing the island hasn’t sunk into the Mediterranean under the weight of all the paper generated by government departments and the money earned by local lawyers.

Since I met my partner six years ago, it seems that there hasn’t been a single day when we’re not chasing down documents or anxiously awaiting news of a government decision about our lives. After a while it gets seriously detrimental to my health, and I don’t think my anxiety levels have been below a 6 out of 10 in the last six years.

My partner is from a non-EU country, whereas I was born in the EU, and in essence, that is the cause of all the difficulties. Just happening to have been born in a particular country affects our lives so much more than it should. We’re all human beings, right? What is the purpose of national boundaries, of passports, of visas, of apostilles, of work permits and restrictions? I’ll tell you. It’s racism, xenophobia and naked greed. It’s one group of people thinking they need to protect themselves and their wealth against another group. It’s one arbitrarily-bordered country deciding to restrict the rights of another. There’s no fundamental reason why the world has to be split into countries. There are enough natural resources for everyone.

And it’s simply egregious that when two people fall in love, they should have to jump through so many legal and bureaucratic hoops just in order to be able to live where they choose.

It started when we first got together. My partner was (informally) separated from her Maltese husband, and that meant she lost the right to stay in Malta, unless she took employment in a ‘reserved occupation’ which basically meant drudge work as a carer for the infirm – not exactly the life we wanted. So our first task was to find a way to legalise her residency based on our relationship instead of her previous one. That took 40 documents from an assortment of sources, 6 months of uncertainty and nearly €2000 in legal fees. We also had to wait until we had been together 2 years, which meant 2 years of not knowing if or when we would have to deal with a government department cottoning on to the situation and deciding she had to be deported. Anxiety score: 8. Luckily bureaucracy tends to breed inefficiency and confusion, especially in Malta, where most of the time the left hand hasn’t a clue what the right hand is doing, and I think we have that to thank as much as anything else, for getting things sorted without deportation.

The next problem we had was that her passport still bore her maiden name, whereas when she married she (unfortunately) took her husband’s surname and her Maltese identity card showed that name. Never change your name, people, we are witness to the hell that can cause. Every time we went abroad, we had to take her marriage certificate with us and run the risk of being denied passage because she was clearly not travelling with the husband whose name was on her identity card.

Could she have changed her name on her passport? Only by travelling to her home country and enduring more bureaucracy by registering her Maltese marriage there. She didn’t want to do that, not least because even early on in the marriage she was already having doubts about the relationship and was fairly sure it wouldn’t last.

In Malta you cannot legally change your name simply by filling in some legal forms like you can in the UK and other civilised countries. No, the only way to legally revert to her maiden name in Malta was either legal separation or divorce. WHY THE FUCK CAN’T MALTA GROW UP AND LET PEOPLE MAKE THEIR OWN DECISIONS ABOUT THIS STUFF? With legal separation taking 1 year and divorce 4 years, we opted for the former, to try and rectify the situation as soon as possible. That little process ended up with us having to produce another 20 or so documents, and was complicated by the fact that her husband had already moved abroad. In the end it took 10 months and entailed 2 court appearances and over €2000 in lawyers fees. Anxiety score: 9.

Finally, after those two prolonged and stressful processes, we were living together legally in Malta and could travel (subject to visas) without eyebrows being raised at the clash of names on her documentation.

You’d think at that point we’d breathe a sigh of relief and say, enough. Well, we wanted to, but couldn’t. Why? Because we wanted to exercise our human right to get married, that’s why. And marriage allows me to retire with her in her home country in the future.

In my partner’s home country, a nation stifled and held back by religion, divorce is not permitted. End of story. There is simply no divorce allowed. The ONLY exception is when a person of my partner’s country has married a foreigner, and the foreigner divorces them abroad (the foreigner must be the one initiating the divorce).

So my partner couldn’t legally divorce her husband in Malta and expect that divorce to be recognised in her home country. No, it had to be the other way around, otherwise if we ourselves married and travelled to her home country, she would be breaking the bigamy laws and could be arrested. He had to divorce her, which meant reaching out to him, cap in hand so to speak, and hoping that he would agree and do the right thing.

We swallowed our pride and managed to persuade him to divorce her in his adopted country – luckily a civilised, relatively secular country where divorce is easy and not too expensive. In the end it took 5 months and we had to send him about €800 to cover the fees (that was a condition of his co-operation). But at least he is now legally relegated to the status of ex-husband.

End of the story? Not quite. In order for us to marry in Malta, her divorce had to be registered with the Maltese authorities, which meant going back to her former husband and persuading him to request an apostilled copy of the divorce decree and fedex it to us, so that we could hand it in at the Maltese public registry and in return receive a Maltese divorce certificate. Anxiety score: 8.

I tell you, you couldn’t make it up if you tried. It’s like starring in Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil or being stuck inside a Kafka novel.

That brings us pretty much up to the present, where we’ve set a date for the wedding, our relatives have booked their flights, and we need to hand in all the necessary documentation (more visits to notaries with witnesses to get more meaningless rubber stamps). Except, my partner’s apostilled birth certificate, which she handed in for her previous marriage, now needs to be countersigned by her home country’s consulate in Malta ( I WASN’T told about this in advance), and the marriage registry won’t release it into our care, even temporarily, so we have to try and get this done using a photocopy and hope the consul doesn’t turn his nose up at it.

There may be a fallback option, which is to use a web-based service in my partner’s home country that promises to obtain birth certificates and get them authenticated (apostilled) by the government before sending them anywhere in the world by courier. So we’ll probably do that as well in case and I’m currently waiting for a quote from them. But it looks like this process needs us to obtain a special power of attorney (from the consul in Malta) and courier it to them first. More delays, when we have only 4 weeks to get this sorted before our wedding date becomes invalid and our relatives have to start cancelling flights.

Anxiety score: the needle broke.

I’m trying to think of a moral to this sorry tale to round things off, but to be honest there’s no clear message – not a realistic one anyway. But maybe some nuggets of advice, born of painful experience:

Nugget 1: If you marry someone and you’re female, hold on to your maiden name.

Nugget 2: If you aren’t 110% sure of someone, don’t marry them.

Nugget 3: If you need to deal with the Maltese government, get a valium prescription first.

Nugget 4: If you’re an EU citizen and thinking of living in Malta, check out some other places first.

Nugget 5: I’m running out of nuggets. Looking back at all this stress and torment, I honestly don’t see how we could have done anything differently given the circumstances. I’m just really, really angry that marrying someone takes 6 years and over €5000, just because one person has been married before and the two of us come from different countries. It shouldn’t be this way. We should be welcoming each new day of our life together, not approaching it with trepidation, waiting for the next official to tell us we did something wrong and something extra is needed.

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An Autistic Christmas

I don’t make a big deal about Christmas. Why would I? I’m not religious, and I don’t have kids. As far as I can see, those two things are the only reasons to make a fuss about what, to me, is just an orgy of conspicuous consumption.

However, both of my major relationships have been with women who like to mark the occasion, so for almost all my life, I’ve reluctantly engaged in the annual activities of finding a tree (or dragging the artificial one out from under the bed), putting up lights, trying to find relatives’ addresses to send cards, cooking a roast dinner, often having to ensure the company of one or other side of the family, before taking everything down and putting it away a few days later and breathing a long sigh of relief.

In my current relationship, we’ve reached a kind of equilibrium where we have a small table-top tree with a handful of decorations and lights, we send small presents to my parents and my niece, we don’t send cards, we go for a walk on the morning of the 25th, followed by a nice dinner that I usually cook, and that’s pretty much it. I’m OK with that.

This year I had the bright idea of inviting my ex to join my partner and I for Christmas lunch. Not my best idea as it turns out.

Let me give this some context.

When I ended my previous major relationship in 2010, after a few months of awkwardness my ex and I decided that we should try to be friends; my own thinking was that if we couldn’t salvage something, then what had the last 20 years accomplished? Or something like that, it’s hard to explain. But anyway, we tried, and it worked, and we get along very well as friends. It’s probably how we should have stayed in the first place to be honest.

Since starting my current relationship in 2012, I made it clear to my partner that my ex and I were on good terms, and since then we’ve met up together (all three of us) a number of times – dinner at our house, coffees at my ex’s, etc. At one point my partner remarked that it was a hard concept for her to wrap her head around, the fact that I was still friends with my ex, but that she was OK with it. Too bad I’m hopeless at reading between the lines, otherwise I might have realised that the cultural gap was too great (my partner is from south east Asia) and she was just trying to deal with it for my sake, while feeling deeply uncomfortable with the situation.

Us autists are often labelled as lacking empathy, which is actually not true. We can feel things like compassion very deeply, but often it can be overwhelming because our brains can’t process it properly, leading us to try and block it out and by doing that, giving the impression of being cold and lacking emotion. Either that or we feel compelled to act on our feelings in situations where non-autistic people might have more success reigning in their emotions and realising what is appropriate and what is not.

Anyway, it was compassion for someone that I thought might be lonely over Christmas that led me to suggest to my partner that we could invite my ex for Christmas lunch. She agreed, said it was a nice idea, and so that’s what we did.

It wasn’t until early Christmas morning that my partner sprang on me her real feelings, which was that she didn’t understand why I would want to be friendly with my ex unless there were still some feelings there, and that she had serious doubts about our relationship and my feelings. My heart hit the floor and my head filled with dread as I realised that I hadn’t understood any of the undercurrents in the situation for the past five years. Though, to be fair, when she had always previously claimed that everything was fine with us socialising with my ex from time to time, I hadn’t stood much of a chance of understanding.

Though I love my partner dearly, I’m not blind to her faults, and one of those is the ability to become quite sardonic and spiteful if she’s not happy with how she feels someone is behaving towards her. I’m not trying to be judgmental about it – everyone has their own way of handling bad situations, that simply happens to be hers. Me, I either retreat and hide from it, or just melt down into a seething rage, so who am I to talk?

But despite my partner behaving perfectly well while my ex was with us yesterday, her mood seriously deteriorated afterwards, with all kinds of comments along the lines of “I don’t think we should get married any more”, “I think you’re still in love with her”, “I think you’re confused”, and more.

The rest of the evening was spent with me trying to defend my position but at the same time offering to stop social contact with my ex, and my partner launching into me with spiteful rejoinders, not accepting what I was saying.

I’m not going to accuse her of being irrational, because I don’t think that’s either fair or strictly true. What I do know, however, is that the only thing that will mend this is time. Time for her to think more about the issues involved and come to some kind of understanding.

I hope we’ll be OK. We love each other to distraction despite each other’s faults, and when it comes down to it, I hope that will carry us through.

One thing she did say after my repeated questions of “why didn’t you tell me?” was that she feared my feelings towards her would change if she challenged the friendship.

So when it comes down to it, what we have is that my partner has been lying about this issue for five years, simply because she was scared of losing me if she challenged the situation, when if she’d just been honest we could have resolved it so easily. That doesn’t make me feel great. Part of me is angry at her for assuming that her honesty might damage our relationship, and part of me is angry at myself for not seeing that it might be a problem, even if not discussed.

Today she’s back at work (another stress in her life – the hours are long and tiring and her employers don’t seem inclined to grant her request for reduced hours) and, although I have a long to-do list, I haven’t really been able to think about my own work. The best way to describe my activity today is probably “mooning around”.

There are more nuances to this story that I haven’t gone into, but they don’t change the essence of the problem, which is that I just don’t understand how people think unless they spell it out to me.

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You Decide

Approximately 80,000 children worldwide die from various forms of cancer every year (statistic is for 2012 from Cancer Research).

One of these must be true:

1. God teaches people lessons by killing their children with cancer.

2. God enjoys killing children by giving them cancer.

3. God simply doesn’t care about children.

4. God is powerless to help children with cancer.

5. God doesn’t exist.

You decide.

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Tolerance and Triggers

I think in some ways as I get older I’m actually getting less tolerant of things that irritate or upset me.

Or maybe I’m intolerant more these days because I know I’m autistic, therefore my intolerance has (to me at least) a valid justification or root cause so I’m more inclined to allow myself to feel it and give in to it rather than try to miserably soldier on?

Take today for instance. I had been persuaded into acting as a witness for the marriage of a friend of my partner. Unfortunately this meant attending the celebration as well, which took the form of a sit-down dinner for 10 at a local hotel. Normally I would just say no to anything resembling a gathering of more than about 4 people, but I didn’t really have a way to back out of this one, having already been at the registry office to attend the ceremony and sign on the dotted line when required to do my witnessing.

Unfortunately there were two aspects to the event which conspired to bring me to a near-meltdown situation.

Firstly, the bride’s sister was there with her husband and children, and I know for a fact that her husband physically and emotionally abuses her and the children. There’s no way on earth that I’m going to be civil with such a monster, so the only option was for me to ignore him, which gave the event an awkward flavour right from the start.

Secondly, the dinner was a buffet, which itself just rubs me up the wrong way. Why would anyone opt to help themselves to rapidly cooling dishes of congealing food, just so they can have more than one plate of it, and overeat themselves sick, when down the road there are perfectly good restaurants where they actually, you know, cook the food specially for you and bring it to you at the optimum freshness and temperature?

Sadly buffets are very popular in Malta, where the skinflint populace seems to favour quantity over quality and feels they’ve saved money when actually the experience is vastly inferior to, you know, a proper restaurant, and all they’ve done is binge on crap when a moderate freshly cooked meal would be so much healthier and tastier.

And the worst thing about today? Having to watch my fellow diners continue to go back and back to the buffet tables and stuff themselves silly long after I’ve finished my single plate of indifferent main course and sickly-sweet dessert. It got to the point where I was at risk of banging my fists on the table and shouting “Enough! Don’t they feed you at home? Or are you all fucking bulimic and heading off to vomit later?”

My rapidly deteriorating mood must have given me away to my partner (who inevitably knows my ‘tells’ better than anyone) and she made our excuses so that we could leave early. That put me temporarily in the doghouse with her because we missed the cake (MORE fucking food) but in the end she knows that when I have to leave a situation, I really have to leave it, otherwise I’m liable to lose it completely.

So, a pretty horrible day all in all. But I wonder whether I might have stuck it out a few years ago, before I was aware I was autistic, or whether the outcome would have been just the same and I would still have been heading towards a meltdown – but without knowing why.

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Come back Larkin

I recently saw a video on one of The Mighty‘s Facebook pages. Here’s the link:

It was entitled “Things you do as an adult when you’ve experienced childhood emotional abuse” and was simply a series of post-it notes, saying:

“I can’t stand conflict, loud sudden noises, shouting and screaming or agression in any form. It triggers my fight-or-flight instantly.”

“I can’t accept compliments. During my childhood, people just noticed my mistakes and not my achievements.”

“I’m an overachiever. I obsess about doing a job/task to perfection. And then I obsess about how I could have done it better.”

“I’m basically a hermit. My home is my fortress. I constantly fear everyone around me.”

“I have problems trusting people.”

“Indecisiveness. It feels like every choice I make is wrong even if I choose the option I’m told to take.”

“I avoid saying anything that others might not agree with, which means I’m never being myself.”

“I’m overly shy around people and struggle with having a voice. I believe no-one wants to hear anything I say.”

“I have a hard time making eye contact with people.”

“Blaming myself for everything. I have to fight the urge to beat myself up constantly.”

This series of simple, throwaway comments basically describes my life since being a teenager.

So this begs a question: how much of the shit I have to deal with in life is due to my Asperger Syndrome, and how much is due to the emotional abuse I endured as a child and teenager?

I’m suddenly not sure.

Points if you get the obscure poetry reference in the title.

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