Category Archives: The Autistic Atheist

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.

Share Button

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.

Share Button

Cold Fire

Austistic people have meltdowns. The condition is famous for it. Sometimes things get so overwhelming that the part of us which copes with life and regulates our behaviour just shuts down, and the result is usually something akin to a temper tantrum or emotional explosion.

I have what I’ve learned to call meltdowns from time to time. But it seems to affect me a little differently than many autistic people.

I don’t (usually) fly off the handle. I don’t physically collapse into the fetal position and cry or scream. What I get is a cold rage that burns inside me, and that wants to do harm. To someone, to something, anything.

The things that trigger this in me are many and varied, and there doesn’t seem to be much consistency. Feeling out of control is one common factor though – if I can’t control my environment or circumstances, I’m at more risk, I know that much. And if someone causes something to happen in my life that I think is unjust, that also heightens the risk.

I’m not a violent person, and I think my cultural inhibitions against physically harming someone are far too strong and deep-seated for me to lash out physically. I’ve never hit anyone, ever – despite being physically abused as a child (or maybe because of it).

But when a meltdown happens, I’m still acting on a visceral subconscious instinct – I have no way of stopping myself doing what I do. And what I do is normally self-destructive in some way – either I find myself making social media posts that are likely to lose me friends, or I verbally abuse someone who could easily harm me if they chose to, or I destroy a possession that I would never normally want to lose, or I act out of spite against someone who has never given me cause to, or make an irreversible decision that will harm me in the long run, etc.

It seems my rage, when it erupts, is always directed inwards, whether directly or indirectly. When I do these things, it’s me that gets hurt by the consequences in the long run. And on some level, while I’m in the throes of such an incident, I actually do know this. But it doesn’t stop me. It’s like I have to let it play out until I’m calm and back to myself again.

No doubt a psychiatrist would have a field day with this, and would find causes in my childhood – quite aside from the fact that I’m autistic. And I’m certainly aware that I have a lot of unresolved rage against my parents.

I do consider from time to time whether I should start up again with regular counselling, like I had for a few years after giving up alcohol. But the only counsellor I trust is now living abroad, and it’s harder to properly connect via Skype rather than being in the same room.

So I’m hoping that by writing this post, and forcing myself to examine what happens in a meltdown, maybe I can start to find ways to ‘head it off’, or handle it better somehow. I never want to have a meltdown, and I always hate myself after it’s over. Maybe one day I’ll find that I can control it better. I hope so.

Share Button

Heresy

At what point do you cease to be a christian?

If you don’t believe that Adam and Eve actually existed and were literally the start of humanity, and that Eve spoke with a talking snake, are you still a christian?

If you don’t believe that Noah’s ark actually existed and there was a worldwide flood that killed the entire human and animal population of the earth apart from those in the ark, are you still a christian?

If you don’t believe that Methuselah lived to be nine hundred and whatever years old, are you still a christian?

If you don’t believe that Moses actually parted the Red Sea so that an army of people could walk across the sea bed, are you still a christian?

If you don’t believe Mary was a virgin who became pregnant without having sex with a human male, are you still a christian?

If you don’t believe that Jesus physically came back to life after three days of being dead, are you still a christian?

Do any of the above questions count more than others? Why?

At what point do you stop being a christian and become just a person with some leanings towards christian teachings? Or to give it an old word, at what point do you become a heretic?

Strange question perhaps, and for the record I don’t believe any of the above things, but interesting.

Share Button

Walking on eggshells

Well that was a difficult holiday.

You wouldn’t think a week with my parents would be the cause of so much trauma and soul-searching. But during the holiday, my partner’s stress forced me to consciously face up to the fact that my parents are not normal, their relationship is in fact pretty dysfunctional, especially when they interact with their children (i.e. me and my sister).

I’m not sure how well structured this post will be. I can feel a tidal wave of repressed angst (and anger) welling up, ready to hit the page, and I suspect it will be quite a long post.

I should point out before I really get going that I am not “out” as an Aspie to my parents (though they’re well aware that I’m an atheist).

. . .

Part of the problem is that my father has always gets his own way, because my mother waits on him hand and foot and, because she has been a housewife all her life, always has done. If he professes not to like a particular food, even if everyone else is eating it, she cooks something different especially for him. They never go to restaurants because he’s so fussy. If he decides he wants to watch something in particular on the television, that is what gets watched (or ignored) by all in the room. But the worst is that if it looks like he won’t get his own way, for instance when there are visitors (my partner and I or my sister and her family), he sulks and behaves so passive-aggressively that we normally give in, for the sake of not ruining the holiday.

When driving somewhere, he will often put a tape on of music he likes (usually light classical, which leaves us cold). We don’t complain – it’s his foible. But woe betide if I were to put on a tape of music I liked (progressive rock for example) – that would rate a 48 hour sulk at least, coupled with a supposed ‘migraine’ and so many denigratory comments about how “that’s not real music” that it’s just not worth it.

All the time, his life is carefully managed – by my mother, and by his own passive-aggressive manipulation – so that no-one else’s opinion counts. My mother has always enabled his behaviour and I suppose that by not challenging it, my partner and I are also enablers in a way. Whatever.

And he’s also the worst hypochondriac. At 73 years old he has some undeniable health issues, the precise nature of which are irrelevant to this blog, but he also makes a major deal about a number of things that any normal person would simply deal with by saying “oh well, I’m getting on a bit”. Ironically, over the years he has been given a lot of (probably sensible) dietary advice by various family doctors (no coffee, no alcohol, no carbonated drinks, no spicy or greasy food), which he almost totally ignores. And then he wonders why his health isn’t improving. Or maybe he ignores it because it enables him to continue to complain. I don’t know – and to be honest I’m beyond caring. My mother also enables this behaviour with her “well, a little coffee now and then wouldn’t hurt I’m sure” attitude.

Perhaps because my mother is so accustomed to completely organising every aspect of my father’s life, whenever we go to stay, she automatically tries to organise our time there as well. It’s a hike here, a beach walk there, a town visit, all organised with military precision. She tries to play it down by saying things like “get up when you like, we’ll go when we’re ready” but later gives herself away with comments like “well, it’s good to get there before 12 so there will be parking”, and “if we leave before 10.00 the traffic will be light”. So you know that if you’re not ready by 10, the day will be blighted, even to the extent that my father will sulk yet again because we dare to want to treat the holiday like a holiday and ‘do our own thing’. How ungrateful of us…

It feels totally suffocating, and it was this that finally caused my partner to drag me out to the shops where she could have an almost autistic meltdown with me in an effort to get me to see how imprisoned she was feeling. Because of my Aspergers, I hadn’t noticed how wound up she was getting, otherwise I could have put my foot down and made some changes to the schedule (because it is a schedule, nothing less). My own way of coping is usually to be quite passive and simply think “it will be over soon, I’m doing my duty as a son, I’m flying home in a few days, I can handle it until then”. But my partner isn’t like that.

Curiously, neither was my ex. She also found that one day (ideally one afternoon) with my parents was more than enough – let alone a whole week. Back when we were together, I used to be quite defensive about my parents to her, without really knowing why (some stunted sense of family loyalty, I guess), but now, with my current partner (who has the patience of a saint under normal circumstances), perhaps as time has passed and I’ve become more self-aware, I can see just how intolerable spending time with them actually is.

When I was in my teens, I was certainly less passive where my father was concerned. The household was run strictly (think curfews, physical punishments, emotional abuse and various restrictions), there was not a lot of money to go round (think insufficient ‘pocket money’), and I pushed against every barricade as if my life and sanity depended on it. In a way, it did. Because my father’s intransigence and foul moods governed life at home, I spent as little time there as possible. I found a very ‘unsuitable’ friend and spent most of my spare time with him. I started smoking, because I knew that was the thing that would anger my father more than anything else. Having got good grades at ‘O’ level, I stopped applying myself at school and completely flunked my ‘A’ levels, in what I can see now was an attempt to get revenge on my father for making my life such a misery. I was convinced that he must be ashamed of me for some reason I didn’t understand, and I guess I decided I would give him something to be ashamed about. Luckily I still managed to get a place at a college far enough away that the only practical thing to do was leave home and stay in lodgings.

Now of course, I recognise emotional abuse for what it is. This article on The Mighty describes with eerie perfection how my father’s emotional abuse of me affected me for many years: 22 Things I Do Now Because I Experienced Emotional Abuse as a Child.

. . .

Sidebar: I considered coming out as an Aspie to my parents, but in the end I decided that between my father’s impregnable irritability and my mother’s relentless condescending cheeriness and eagerness to ignore any issue that might cause her to feel a real emotion, that this is something I can quite happily live without. Also, why should I? They don’t have a supreme right to know everything about me. When it comes down to it, it’s none of their fucking business.

But anyway, now my partner and I have reached some kind of watershed, where we know that we can’t repeat this kind of holiday (a whole week with my parents) ever again (let alone every year) and stay sane. In the future we will have to find a way of seeing them less frequently, and for less time when we do visit. I still think I would feel too much guilt if I cut off all contact, but we will have to find a way to make it less. A lot less.

In 2 or 3 years this issue will become a lot easier to handle, since we plan to retire to South East Asia and once there we would only make the long trip to Europe once every two years, with multiple destinations on each trip. So 3 days with my parents (the absolute maximum I think either of us could handle) can be squeezed in between time with my sister’s family, time with other friends and sightseeing time, giving us a fairly plausible excuse for not staying longer.

Within 5 to 10 years I suspect my father’s time on the planet will come to an end, and my mother’s behaviour will probably change for the better as a result. She may even become a real person rather than a butler. But my father’s death, whenever it occurs, will definitely end the hellish experience of family ‘holidays’. That may sound cold but you have to understand that I don’t have any real love for my parents, and if I’m honest with myself I never really have. That particular feeling just never happened for me. Throughout my life they’ve simply been two people that convention says I have a connection to and therefore have to interact with in various ways.

I have a strong feeling that there will be more posts on the topic of family…

Share Button