Tag Archives: Personal

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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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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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.

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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…

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