Friday, 27 November 2015

Trippin' on the XX

Title in part thanks to Jamie XX who is my new jam.

It's a bit crap, being the 1% of the population of female aspies. But this isn't about this. This is about the awesome. Because there is and I need to remember that. I joke about my superpowers - but sometimes it's not a joke. I can do some stuff other people can't do. Here's some of them.

I can't imagine monsters. My nightmares consist only what I have seen and experienced. Copper cisterns don't grow legs and chase me down the street - a thing that apparently my husband had nightmares about. I don't. My getting lost dreams consist of getting lost only in somewhere I have been. My faceless monster dreams always have faces. I didn't get scared as a kid of things I had imagined because I imagined nothing. And I'm super grateful for that. This has a downside - I can't imagine what something will feel like or be until I am in it, feeling it and experiencing it. But this too has an upside - I don't ever look at a hill and don't climb it on my bike (when I could ride), or not attempt a 100km ride because I know it will hurt. I don't know it will hurt until I've committed. And once you're committed? Well it's too late to quit out, isn't it.

I have a photographic memory. Not long term, only short term. But I can put a book down and retread the last page from memory. I can close my eyes and resee a spreadsheet page in its entirety. I didn't know I could do this really until very recently so it's only come in handy for comparing stats on item upgrades in role playing games. I wish I'd known I could do it when I worked with spreadsheets. But it's never too late to use an awesome superpower and this is one of mine. When I'm well I can also recall word for word conversations that have been had up to 6 months ago - again of varying usefulness - ask my husband about that ;0) - but nevertheless, it's a thing that I can do and it comes in handy sometimes. Like remembering exactly what was or wasn't said during a PIP assessment.

I see things differently. I'm not just talking about processing either. What I take away from a scene is undoubtedly different to most others. I see detail. I spot the other things people miss. I remember vividly those details and take them with me. This means I take photos differently - I'm looking to highlight something I've seen in those photos that others may have missed. It lends itself to to different joy - I gain so much joy from watching snowflakes fall, from rain falling through a steer lamps glow, from the ever changing moving sweeping murmurations as they scatter and form above my head.

I need to be outside. Outside and away and ideally up high. This need has given me some of the most beautiful moments of my life. Sunrises and sunsets in silence. Deer and red squirrels and badgers. I've seen birds of prey swooping and hunting from the side of a hill that put me at eye height at the hunt unrolled before my eyes. I've been inside clouds and above them. I have seen so many beautiful things.

Because of my visual memory I never forget a single one of those moments. I don't need to consciously snapshot. Every moss covered boulder I've stood on to watch a waterfall crash to the ground. Every mosaic I've ever stood on. Every painting I've ever really properly looked at. All instantly recalled like magic for me to resee whenever I need to.

Animas like me. This makes wildlife parks a joy. But it also means a vet calls me a hamster whisperer, able to calm frightened and panicking animas. I can bring peace and calm because I understand the anxiety so acutely - a thing that perhaps could be a curse when it comes to humans, is only a gift when it comes to animals.

I have a fantastic aspie sixth sense. It has saved my behind on numerous occasions. I can't tell you why we shouldn't be in the middle of that crowd right now. I can't tell you why I'm stood on this bench while the crowd crushes around me. I can't tell you why we shouldn't walk down that street that we've walked down every night for the last year without incident. I only know we shouldn't and that I've been right enough times to know I should always always listen.

I have sensory overload. But I also have heightened senses. This means I am an epic spinner of yarn. I can close my eyes and feel the way the wheel works, feel just the right amount of twist that goes into the fluff. I am also an intuitive person when it comes to colour. I've never studied either. Never been taught either. And yet I just know when something will work and when it won't.

I am a fantastic driver. The healthy avoidance of others in my space translates to someone who always always knows where everyone else is, what they think they're going to do next and what they're actually going to next. I profile everyone, profile everything, threat assessing, yes, but it makes me hyper aware of situations unraveling and when I should be nowhere near that happening.

Being aspie is hard. Hard work. The world is very hard for us to be in. But it really does come with some perks and these are just a few of mine.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Girl, interrupted

The quietness of rage started during the pre-assessment process for ASD. 'You do have friends don't you?'

It's such an innocent question. On the face of it. I mean who the hell doesn't have friends in the 21st century? Who doesn't have at least 100 of them on Facebook, a few thousand followers on Twitter, a few more on Instagram? In such a hyper connected world where we share the minutiae of every living moment, how could we possibly not be positively dripping in friends?

At that moment, I laughed. It was bitter. It echoed emptily, as emptily as my life. I had no friends. Not a single one. No one to go for coffee with. No one to sit and natter with. No one to play board games with.

No one. Zero. It was the most hurtful moment of the entire process. A light shone on an empty world and an empty life. It wasn't to be the last. As the questions progressed I realised that second by second, every thing I thought I knew about my life was a joke. A fallacy. A holographic image destroyed progressively by a man I'd never met before and would never see again.

This is what the diagnostic process of ASD is. But if you're a girl, it's so so much worse. None of the questions speak to you. None of them resonate. All of them have to be thought of side ways. Take the collecting question. 'Do you collect thing such as stamps, insects or toy cars?' they asked me. I bit my tongue on the retort that I was a 37 year old woman. I'm good like that. Mustn't make a scene don't you know.

I just asked if he meant my collection of OPI nail varnish I never wore or the collection of MAC pigments that, equally, I never wore. Point made. Box ticked. On we go.

I left the pre-assessment feeling erased and empty. As if somehow, being autistic wasn't alienating enough, the professors who'd put this thing together had also erased my gender. I am woman hear me roar? More like I am woman, I'm so sorry. I've broken you're empathy quotient, your autistic quotient, I'm so sorry.

In the end I was diagnosed by a woman. A woman who wore as many rings on her fingers to twist and fiddle with as I did. What you thought they were for decoration? You idiot. No they're not. I was diagnosed as 45/50 - it couldn't have been more clear cut if it'd tried. No borderline case here, oh no. Definitely autistic. And yet the stupid kept on coming. 'You can't be autistic!!!' rang the cry. Because I his it so well? Undoubtedly. Because the hiding nearly cost me my sanity? Oh definitely. You will never know. There aren't words.

Instead there are words for what listening to other autistic women's experiences are. Oh yes there are. From family who refuse to accept it (it's genetic is a truth too hard to accept) to 'oh no you can't possibly be, you're nothing like my husband/nephew/brother/male friend'. All of if ridiculous. All of it invalidating. All of it fuelled by a perception of autism which is male dominated.

But thems ain't the real doozies. The real doozies are the letters written to occupational therapy asking if an employee has read a list of autistic symptoms and decided to emulate them because the employee can't do some tasks. The real doozies are the ladies told that they just have anxiety and should cease and desist from spending any more time with autistic people because it is 'fuelling their delusion that they have autism' - women who go on to be diagnosed as autistic.

If you want to know the definition of invalidation as a human being who struggles, who is terrified, try those. They are truths. I can't point you in those women's directions. They are otherwise intelligent, bright, shining stars of women who have been treated in a way which can only be described with one word.


And it has got to stop. This ridiculous fallacy that autism is male has got to stop. This ridiculous misrepresentation of what autism is in women has got to stop. This invalidation of who we are, how we are, and how we see the wider world has got to stop. We are an intelligent society. We pride ourselves on the fact that we accept gay marriage and are not bigots, that we don't discriminate, that we don't hate.

You are hating on us. You are erasing us. You are prejudice in your diagnostic questions and you are doing real harm to the women who are autistic. Your refusal to accept that we present differently
, that we look different, that we sound different to our male counterparts is removing help and support from us that we desperately need.

I don't know what the answer is but I will find it. Because this is removing the capacity to under stand, to be understood from so many women. And it wouldn't be happening if it were happening to men. I am tired of hearing this tales of woe and I am tired of being erased.

I am a woman. And I am autistic. And you're not helping.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

On being fat

I've just read the fat geek doctor meme doing the rounds.

It struck me how lucky I am. Lucky to have found a specialist who looked past the fat.

I told him I'd lose 3 dress sizes. He asked me to continue to lose the weight. It's such a small thing that. Continue to. Keep up the good work. An encouragement not a condemnation. An acknowledgment that perhaps most people would put weight on if repeated unexplained injuries made you go from riding 100km to not riding at all.

I told him my knee was dislocating. I saw him open his mouth. I told him I'd had a sprained elbow since February and the fingers on my right hand kept dislocating. He shut it again. He asked me do all the usual bendy tests. He scored me 8/9. He didn't say gosh you're bendy for a fat girl. Others have. Oh yes, they have.

I told him sometimes the pain made me cry when I woke up first thing in the morning. He didn't tell me to grow a backbone. He didn't tell me it was the depression. Others have. He said I needed adequate pain management.

I told him I wanted to be strong again. I wanted my body back. He referred me to physio. He told me no surgeries. I told him no way. So he referred me to a rheumatology physiotherapist. A specialist in what I have.  He didn't tell me to go away and work this out on my own. Others have.

The physiotherapist has listened too. Listened and listened. We have pulled back on the bad weeks, adjusted things when the pain has been too much. She has given me the power to choose what I do and do not do. She has watched as I have fought my bodies bad coordination and she has waited as I have waited, for the black and white dots dancing across my vision to go away every time I've got up from doing the bed based exercises. She had listened to my love of pedalling and persisted in getting me back on my bike. She has accepted that walking is not as easy as riding and let me choose riding as my preferred mode of exercise. She has geeked about Harry Potter with me and listened as I tried to articulate a childish understanding of grief for a friend. She has never touched me unless absolutely necessary, she has never forced eye contact. She has maintained a bubble of personal space around me at all times and been patient when I have needed to process what she has asked of me.

Because of these two peoples ability to lsiten, to encourage, to persist in building trust, I am winning the battle with my body. My stomach regularly feels like someone is using pork claws on it. I am hungry sometimes to the point of going crazy. I am sometimes so miserable and in pain that I just want it to stop, please please stop. Sometimes my back spasms and the pain overrides my entire bodies control over everything. Sometimes my knee dislocates, briefly, and I yelp at the pain.

Sometimes it feels like nothing has changed. But mostly it feels like everything has changed because two people saw past the fat and saw the person inside it.

If you want to treat obesity, treat the person, not the fat.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The curious incident of the woman in casualty

(This is not my story. I am very close to the story. However, names have been changed to protect privacy. She deserves to have that intact if nothing else.)

5 years ago, in a County far far away, a woman lay in a bed in casualty in the A & E department of a very well run, well respected hospital. I know the latter of these things to be true because I know a nurse training partially at this hospital. She has nothing but good to say about it. Please bear that in mind during the following.

The woman was white, middle aged, reasonably middle class. Well educated through not in academic terms. Smarter than your average bear in every sense of the word. Well cultured and well read. Well spoken and well mannered.

She had also just split her scalp from ear to ear.

This woman rode her bike, and she rode it every single day. She has no car, the bicycle was her primary mode of transport. She wasn't wearing a helmet. She came down the same hill she'd turned down every single day for the preceding 3 years at exactly the same speed she always did. What had not been there every preceding day was mud on the road from construction traffic.

She skidded. She lost control of the bike. She hit a metal lamppost head on, at speed and then fell and knocked her shin and head on the kerb.

She called the ambulance herself. A passerby stopped, asked if she was alright. 'I'm fine' she said 'just a little knock' as she felt the blood pouring down her face and knew that this was not the truth. The ambulance arrived. She was loaded up. She was asked where her helmet was and answered that she wasn't wearing one.

In the following four hours in which it took for her to be seen by a specialist, she was asked again if she was wearing a helmet. She answered again that she was not.  She was asked twice if she wanted them to call anyone. She answered twice that she did not. She said she was fine.

She wasn't. The specialist was told she was wearing a helmet. No MRI was done at that time. She was stapled together, all across her head and let go with a shower cap. Why the shower cap you ask? 'To cover your head dear, it's quite a mess'.

The staples drifted. She healed from the top down. They had to burn away some of the cells that were growing in the wrong place. She wasn't asked if she wanted a local anaesthetic. If she had been she'd have simply answered 'I'm fine'.

She realised shortly after that she wasn't fine. She couldn't walk properly, her balance had gone. She had what was suspected originally as macular degeneration. It turned out to not be degenerative. So she just has a permanent blind spot in the centre of her field of vision. Her fingers on her left hand don't work properly - she has no grip. Her eyebrow underneath which nerves were severed doesn't move. It's the eyebrow above the eye with the not macular degeneration. Her personality changed - though thankfully only temporarily and she found herself becoming irrationally angry for no reason at all. She lost her temper quickly and randomly and felt like she had no control. She couldn't remember numbers and kept forgetting words and names.  She had a huge scar on her upper thigh from hitting the kerb which should have been stitched and would have been - had anyone checked anywhere else on her body for injuries except her head.

The MRI almost a year later explained a lot of these things. But she was offered no help and no counselling. No advice. No numbers for charities who help with brain injuries and those recovering from them.

When she was asked, she just said 'I'm fine'.

Her lasting impression of all of this is one of isolation, helplessness and frustration. She was claiming DLA to help with her problems. The final final insult to this women was the withdrawal of all help 6 months before she was due to retire - she was scheduled to move to PIP and was refused. The fact that she cannot grip with her left hand, experienced personality changes as a result of a brain injury, sight impairment and finally severe balance problems weren't enough to qualify her.

When I asked her why she didn't appeal, she said 'oh it was fine, it was only 6 months - the Job Centre were lovely about it and were very understanding when I said I'd timed how long I could stand for and how long I could sit for'.

Are you laughing yet? Isn't this hilariously funny. And gosh darn, but it can't possibly be true. Because that would be ridiculous, wouldn't it.

Every word is true as it was told to me 4 weeks ago. Yes. You may have guessed who this is that I'm talking about and she only told me this story 4 weeks ago.

This person, we are reasonably sure, is an undiagnosed autistic. And suddenly, to some of you, this will all make sense. Don't make a fuss. Don't be a problem. Don't draw attention. If you think this is extreme I am telling you it is not as someone who has literally relocated their dislocated knee 6 times rather than go anywhere near an A & E department. You have no idea, literally NO idea how terrifying A & E is to an autistic person, high functioning or not. My uncle has learned to sew his own sutures rather than go to hospital. This almost pathological aversion to the noise, light, uncontrollable chaos and people touching you without warning is entirely normal to me. I don't think we are alone.

No one asked this woman if her personality change was a result of the accident. No one asked her why she didn't want to call someone when she was all alone and terrified in that A & E. No one flagged her behaviour as worrying. I don't find that worrying. I find terrifying.

So I am asking you to do something for me. I am asking you to tell me whether you, if you work in the NHS, or if you know someone who does to ask them, I am asking you to please tell me what autism training you receive. Because I cannot in all good conscience sit on this story. I can't ignore it. I can't pretend it hasn't happened. It has. And it must not be allowed to happen again. The idea of that woman dying and no one knowing, no one being there to hold her hand (if she'd allow that which is debatable) because she said she was fine when every single last detail of the scene in front of those people in that A & E screamed she wasn't - I can't bear it. And it could have happened. So so easily. Too easily. And it's not fair. It's not fair on the nurses who if they ever read this will discover that so very nearly fucked up catastrophically and it's not fair on this woman. And it's not fair on her friends and family - even if she has so very few of each of those categories.

Don't get me started on the benefits side. That's so broken I can't do anything about it. I don't think anyone can. So I've decided to focus on what I can affect. Please help me do so.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Writing it out of your soul

The following is written so that what comes after can come. I keep waiting for the after to arrive and it isn't, I suspect because this is bottlenecking it. I don't really want to talk about it, this is me being utterly selfish. I'm going to write some hard shit down and I'm going to walk away a little lighter. You might walk away a little heavier. I'm sorry. You have been warned.

You know it's chronic before they tell you it's so. Of course you do. You've lived with it for 5 years or so, the 'no this isn't quite right' turning into 'no this really isn't right' turning into 'lets just try this and see how you do' which then becomes a merry-go-round of something like 8 different specialists in 5 different disciplines until you listen to that friend who's being going 'you sound a lot like me sweetie' and you go to your doctor who you've now got an ace relationship and say the magic words 'my friend has this and it's got me thinking'.

For too many people that conversation goes badly. Doctors don't apparently like their patients comparing notes. I understand why, I understand that if it clops and canters it's a horse and not a zebra or whatever that silly saying is. I understand we've all turned into neurotic Googlers. But as someone who's gone way way way past neurotic Googling into avoiding Google completely because it tells you futures you can't deal with yet, I can honestly tell you I am grateful to my doctor. I almost hero worship her. She didn't refer me to rheumatology as fast as she should have done, no, but she was ensuring I satisfied some diagnostic criteria in doing so. As a result last week I was diagnosed with a chronic condition in 20 minutes. It was almost anti-climatic after 5 years of searching for the why's, the how's, the explanation that would satisfy my engineer brain and allow me to move on.

Except, as much as the NHS might like you to believe that diagnosis is the end of the story, it isn't. If only. Then you get sucked into the cycle. Every person with chronic illness knows it. Hell, I've already been through it twice in the past 18 months, I feel like the worlds expert. First there's relief, then there's anger, then there's sadness, and grief, (and fear, no one ever talks about the fear but it's there) and finally the quiet of acceptance.

Except I'm high functioning autistic and I've already been at least once around that cycle already since last Thursday.

And this is where the NHS starts to fall down. I've been offered no help with getting my head around this quite major thing, none at all. I'll be referred to physios, of course, who'll put me through seven levels of pain I didn't know I was capable of and I shant care a bit because at least it will be seven levels of pain it's okay for me to be in, unlike the last 3 or 4 lots of physio (I've been to physio a lot, it really should have flagged something up) which did more damage than good because I was undiagnosed. Not their fault. But then who's fault?

It will be left to my ASD counsellor no doubt to unpack how I feel about being diagnosed with a lifelong incurable condition which few people seem to know about, little research has been done, and which treatment extends to 'take enough painkillers to not cry in pain every morning/time you move and work as hard as you can to build muscles to keep your joints in place' which is useful and works but ignores comprehensively the other symptoms, which are not imaginary as they constitute minor criteria for a diagnosis. But that's no ones fault, is it, that somehow the things which proved I had this thing are no longer up for discussion when we talk about how we treat this thing.

Then there's the revelations that somehow all the not Googling but talking to friends had missed. 'How's your sleep?' asked the Specialist. I laughed. Out loud. Proper authentic knee jerk LOL'd. I tend to comment the one morning I wake up feeling better than when I went to sleep it happens so rarely. It's been happening so long I'd assumed no one slept well. I'd forgotten I ever did that's for sure. 'How's your neck?' A week later I am forced to admit I may have not been entirely honest in my answer that it was a bit sore, having forgotten entirely that occasionally it fails to hold my head up, and that it was, once, not so solid to the touch it felt like a brick, nor so painful to be touched it made me yelp.

Opiates don't kill all pain. I didn't know that before all this started either. I don't feel migraines any more. I don't cry with pain quite so much in the morning. But the bone and joint pain persists, it seems, through everything the pharmacist can throw at it. Heat is the only thing that takes it away but baths make my heart race and me fall down in a muscle wobbled heap so they're kind of a no no these days. Dry heat it is. If only houses came with saunas as regularly as they came with baths.

So much of this I've only learned recently. So much of it I've learned through trial and error. There are forums I should go and read, charity webpages which contain helpful sources of information and research. I should read them. I need to get over the idea I am not permitted to first. The problem is, when you've been tested for suspected MS and then when it wasn't that suspected Lupus, is that after a while, you almost believe completely that they're never ever going to find out what it is. So even when friends tell you that you even look facially like their friends with this thing, you still don't dare to believe you might have that thing. You join Facebook groups relating to the thing, so much of what's posted resonates with you, but you feel like a complete fraud for even joining the groups because you're not diagnosed.

It takes a while for it to sink in that you're no longer a fraud. Even longer to allow yourself to start reading all the help and support that's aimed at 'people like you' because inherent in the reading of it is the acknowledgment that you are 'people like that'.

I wish there was some kind of post diagnosis website the NHS had to send people to where all this was explained. Where you were reassured your feelings were normal. Where you were told what to expect, how you will feel, how you will want to stop feeling. It's such a simple thing, knowing someone has been on this road before you, way before you, and they are still on the road, they haven't fallen off it, and you wont either. The assurance of not alone. The echoes of someone else's battles. The sound of help at hand should you look like your path is heading towards a cliff.

I suppose then, that at the end of all this explaining and self pity, of this soreness and exasperation is a plea. If you attend any kind of NHS focus group thingy, or whatever, could you suggest it? Because I think the time when I may be able to attend those groups myself as a functioning disabled person may be quite some way off and it'd make me feel better to know some good came out of this stage of the cycle. This stage that doesn't have a name by the looks, though I suspect fear would be as good as label as any.


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Dancing in the rain

[This weekend just gone, I attended 9 Worlds London Geekfest for the third time. This is a review, except it isn't. But it is. Just bear with me. Pre-emptive thanks go to Emma Newman for her Fear and Writing workshop which led to three days of long hard looking at myself and led to the following.]

'So is that your thing then? Writing?' she said. The she being an elf masquerading as a person, dressed in jade green and purple tights, red hair, short and bouncing wildly with the emphatic movements of her head.

'Well when you're sort of passingly good at everything you pick up and try, at some point you've got to kind of choose, and it made as much sense as any to choose something I love to do' I replied. 'I love to make words dance and sing across the page, love to help people see things differently, to help them see things the way I see them, which isn't always entirely normal'. Or at least that's as close an approximation as I remember.

Before this she'd appeared from nowhere to ask where the toilets were. After that we'd discussed boyfriends and it transpired that she was actually me 15 years ago, close enough to make me momentarily question whether actually she was real at all or whether my subconscious was laughing at me and I was dreaming.

She asked for advice. I told her everything I wish I'd known before but am proud to wear the battle scars in the process of learning. And then we parted ways, never to cross paths again.

This is what 9 Worlds is.

We sat at the front of the Bifrost cabaret, after bumping into someone from a previous life and this causing much head breaking, but also before I'd realised that of course he would be here taking photos because no one else can take pictures of elves quite like he can. A person in a green dress welcomed us all, paced with the kinetic energy of a being far larger than them, and proceeded to sing about Gamergate to the Portal Still Alive song. I felt less alone, less sore and less invisible instantly, because the song was about being invisible and I am. In game space I am. I am eternally grateful that I never picked up the book about cute fluffy animals that she read so eloquently from. But I am also grateful that even when as a child I thought I was alone (books, cute fluffy animals), I wasn't.

This is what 9 Worlds is.

'Let's not discriminate against those with a lack of imagination' said the only female panellist of the Books vs Comics vs Games vs Film & TV: FIGHT panel (the mod was female too; this isn't about gender, but as an identifier without breaking flow to check the programme for names it will do). She laughed. We all laughed. I laughed. But I also quietly said thank you to her under my breath for noticing when Pete Newman (who is lovely) made a comment about reading books being a collaboration. I briefly felt alone. As if I were the only person in the entire world who doesn't imagine anything when reading. I remembered the moment when I discovered I was a freak girl who read 50 fiction books a year but who imagined the faces of precisely none of the characters I'd fallen in love with. I remembered the grief I felt, briefly, that I would never have the same reading experience even as my husband, never mind everyone else. I don't know if the panellist who made the comment saw my face; I was looking down at my knitting, which is of course there for the very purpose of being looked down at because Eye Contact, but nevertheless it was appreciated. I felt less alone.

This is what 9 Worlds is.

'What do I do with this?' said my friend brandishing a skein of yarn. It turned out to be special yarn, in that it was dyed in order to expressly represent intervals, I think in an aural interval and I vaguely remember Blink being mentioned but I'm not sure. 'Oh that needs to be knitted with like this' I said and fell into a long chat about wool, knitting, crafting in general, geekery and friendship affirming. The previous day I'd sat and taught someone to drop spindle to spin their own yarn, and had found words I didn't know I had which enabled me to explain in an orderly and easily understandable fashion what we were trying to achieve, how simple the thing actually was we were trying to achieve before demonstrating it and then leaving her to do the working out bit herself. I spent many panels knitting while next to me someone embroidered and behind me others knitted also. For me it enables me to avoid eye contact. For others it is possibly simply something to do with their hands. Who knows, who cares, it doesn't matter. We were simply left alone to get on with our crafting with nary a raised eyebrow to be seen.

This is what 9 Worlds is.

'I'm really glad you were in this panel because I nearly left at the point where everyone was asked to self identify gender and sexuality, but the fact that you are you helped me understand that I could learn something and so I stayed' I said. This wasn't met with confusion, nor backing away which I was quite worried it would be, having sat and stewed for at least 10 minutes before the panel had even ended about whether I could be brave enough to go and talk to a proper real-life author about something that I felt quite strongly about, even though I had a sneaking suspicion those feelings might be at least recognised by the recipient even if not directly felt by them. What followed was a discussion on gender and sexuality fluidity, the need or lack thereof of self-badging and labels, the acknowledgement from both of us that actually they could be quite useful but also that LGBTQ+ discussions were still being defined by Tatchell's Stonewall era and that at the point where my mother has managed to move on with her thinking, maybe we all should too. My mother who never had a problem with anyone I brought home to meet her, nail varnish and eyeliner wearing or no. My mother who had absolutely no problem with my formative years being spent on a podium in gay clubs. That kind of mother. I came away knowing I'd been heard and understood, also knowing I'd wittered a wee bit too long, but also knowing it wouldn't be held against me.

This is what 9 Worlds is.

'Even my elbows hurt' I said on Sunday after someone had kindly enquired how I felt after unwisely becoming overenthusiastic on the dancefloor at the post cabaret geekrave the night before. I missed panels I wanted to go to - Writing the Other being one of many. I was vaguely aware people were missing panels due to them being full. I was also aware I was privileged in my disability, which meant I was allowed to leave queuing to the last five minutes because someone was kind enough to think to let us broken bods in first. I didn't use any of the Quiet Rooms because I sat outside instead. But they were there should I have needed them, which is probably why I didn't. I have nothing bad to say about Access at all, and in fact quite a lot of good. Signage was excellent; the non-gendered toilets were refreshing; the indicators of urinals and sanitary bins useful; and the thought which had gone into not just dumping all the priority seating at the front, utterly fantastic. I only noticed it on the last day because I was assuming they'd all be at the front, but as someone who find it incredibly anxiety dampening to have her partner next to her during panels when she's feeling a bit wobbly, having priority seats on ends means I can do this without him tying up a priority seat too. I am more grateful than I can express for the hard work, focus, thought and kindness which has been shown by the Access team this weekend. A prevailing memory for me will be a BSL interpreter in costume, sat at the front of the cabaret on the floor, happily signing the lyrics to the Gamergate song.

This is what 9 Worlds is.

In my imagination, 9 Worlds is a Venn diagram. On each world is the representation of a group of people who for whatever reason find mainstream cons too much or not enough. There is a world for sexuality, a world for disability, a world for people of colour, a world for gender, a world for the niches inside the niches, a world for none of the prior.

9 Worlds allows all of us to come together to play nicely. We can each make a choice. We can either stay on our world inside our bubble, or venture across the rainbow, be that into a new track of fandom or into a new room full of new people who might or might not accept us for we are. We can choose to embrace peoples confusion or lack of understanding and take an opportunity to educate. We can choose to be visibly something, or visibly nothing. We can choose to badge ourselves "other" or meld into the masses of other, making new colours and new rainbows. We can choose to accept heartfelt apologies and send hugs back, we can choose to be hurt and grumpy because someone kicked our stick out from under us. We can choose to laugh about a lack of imagination or we can choose to grieve what we now know we miss. We can choose to pull together, wrap our comrades in nerdery in a warm, fluffy, rainbow in every sense embrace or we can choose to divide, to section off, to step outside and away.

I am a high functioning Autistic, half hearing loss in one ear, hypermobile spontaneously dislocating, muscle spasming, heart rate randomly fluctuating person who until last week was in the midst of the longest depressive episode of my entire life. Some mornings I can't dress myself, some days I forget to feed myself, most days I am in pain and wear a patch that tries to help with that. I can choose. I am choosing. I am choosing all of you. Every single person who went to 9 Worlds is someone I want to know, I want in my tribe. The educated, the soon to be educated. The broken and the able. The straight hims and the genderqueer asexual hers. I want to be in your tribe and I want you to want me in yours. 9 Worlds is the most forward thinking, intellectual, emotionally intelligent, comfortable-in-its-own-skin con I have ever had the privilege to attend. It can be better. It will be better. It is every single one of the attendees' jobs to make it better. We all have responsibility because we are all tribe.

I'll be your 7 of 9, if you'll be my Data. All my love and thanks,


Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Autism awareness week

This week is Autism Awareness Week. We got a whole week! I'd guess that'd be something to do with the rising incidence of autism in the UK and across the world.

I am a girl who is autistic. This makes me a rare bunny according to current estimates - some of this it seems is to do with the 'missing diagnosis' of girls and women with autism, some of it is probably to do with the gendered diagnostic questions (do you collect things? Examples, insects or toy cars) and some of it is with the focus on the 'male brain' aspect of autism..

It also feels important to differentiate (or not) between classic autism and high functioning autism. For some autism comes with a learning disability element. For some it doesn't. For some it is physically disabling. For some it isn't. For some it affects vision. For some it doesn't. This is why autism has been reclassified as an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Ignore the disorder bit - that's not helpful. I am ridiculously ordered. But spectrum? Yes. I am at the high functioning end. It means my IQ is...a number greater than average. Lets leave it at that.

So what do I wish you knew about autism as an autistic person? What do I hope would make you think twice before saying or thinking something derogatory or harmful? What do I think would make you have more patience, to enable you to be kinder?

1. Social cues

Lets get this straight. Rudeness is intentional. There is intent on the side of the person who is not saying good morning, or who is interrupting you inappropriately when you're already having a conversation to be rude. They are aware they are being rude. They just don't care enough to follow your social rules.

Autistic people are not intentionally rude. It genuinely never crosses our mind to say good morning if there's something more important to say first. Why would we say good morning if there is a broken lift we've just been stuck in, or we're exhausted from the journey from hell? Oh wait, we'll get to that in a moment, the thing about interacting with people when we're in 'overload' already. Sometimes, take it from me, you'd be glad we hadn't started any conversation, you'd end up with a garbled and confusing run down of our journey or experience trying to obtain a coffee.

Interrupting inappropriately is a very similar thing. Generally, we're coming to you to talk to you for a reason. That reason is sometimes on a loop inside our head - either as a way of retaining the information so we can remember what it was we wanted to talk to you about, or because it's got stuck and is looping without us wanting it to. Nevertheless, we need to get it out. Now we can't read you at all - we'll get to body language in a second - so a lot of the time we don't realise we're interrupting inappropriately anyway. As far as we can work out, when there is a gap in the conversation it is okay to talk, because it seems to us that that is the point where you have chosen to stop talking. This might seem silly to you, but you don't realise how you process these cues and understand them instantly. You do this without even thinking about it. We can do it but we have to think about it. That takes processing power. 

So maybe, next time someone doesn't say good morning, notch it up to not being aware, not ignorance or rudeness?

2. Body language

Have you ever noticed that there are some men/women who haven't picked up on your clear signals you're interested in them? Been confused when you've got 'interested' signals back but never been asked out? Possibly that person was autistic. 

Dating is at the advanced level of human interaction - everyone struggles with it a bit. Oddly, it's not something I ever have. 'I like you, shall we go out for dinner' cuts straight through a lot of the...politics of dating, I've found. In fact in this respect, I believe autistic people are way ahead of those who are not. Pop that in the superpower pot. Unfortunately, there are things far more complex than dating for us. Like when to say good morning and when not. When someone does want company to lunch and when someone does not. Get these things wrong once or twice and people put it down to you having a bad day. Repeatedly get it wrong and it can lead to people getting very cross with you. Now that sounds like it might be out of proportion, and of course it is. Except a lot of the time, people don't actually want to be at work for whatever reason (children, hate their job, not getting paid enough, tired, hungover) and after a while, the person who's not reading body language can easily become a target for whispered comments and being avoided in lifts. It winds people up. 

Not as much as it winds me up though, I'd wager. Because time after time I have found friendship groups closing and work teams closing against me. I talk too much or I don't talk enough. I never get it just right. Adding it to the above and it's not a great combination.

So next time someone is doing something which is annoying you, maybe tackle it kindly? Take that person aside and gently explain to them what it is they're doing wrong? Similar to how you'd tackle someone on an issue of personal hygiene perhaps? 

3. Sensory overload

Everyone on the spectrum has different tolerances. Everyone has different triggers. Some of us know our triggers super well and will do anything and everything to avoid them, despite your best efforts to tell us 'we'll enjoy it once we get there' or my personal favourite 'you'll feel better when you've got it over and done with'.


I won't. What you see as at best a weakness of character and at worst wilful avoidance, is for me a case of avoiding a meltdown. Now meltdown brings to mind images of a child on the floor throwing a tantrum, screaming, crying and kicking. And yes, you know what, even as adults that's what a meltdown looks like for some of us. Judging? Smirking? 

Here's what's happening in our brains. A complete detonation of every sense we have. It usually starts, I think, with one sense overloading. It's like a circuit in your house. The kettle doesn't turn itself off. The kettle keeps boiling. Steam gets in the plug. The plug shorts. The fuse trips. That's my brain and the worst thing is? I can feel it happening and yet past a certain point, I can do nothing about it all. See also anxiety which we'll talk about in a moment. But my meltdown doesn't look like your stereotypical version of a meltdown. Perhaps it's because I'm a girl. There is growing murmurs that while a typical man will act out, a typical woman will internalise. I internalise. And as I do I shut down. As my senses become overloaded and short out, my brain slowly shuts down to protect itself. This can manifest as anything from a literal inability to speak, to a looping - either a physical one or a verbal one. The only thing that will make it better is being left alone, and ideally removing all sensory input completely - something I'm sure you will all be aware is becoming increasingly difficult in this world of ours.

So. I am now the expert in avoiding my own triggers. Next time I say 'no I can't do that' please trust in me there is a really good reason that I cannot do that. Perhaps not now, perhaps not with you. But not now.

4. Anxiety

'We all get anxious, what you making a big deal out of now?'

If anxiety were a scale from one to ten, most people would start at zero. Most of life would be a zero, with occasionally difficult things flicking the needle up higher, in direct proportion to the difficultness of the thing currently being encountered.

I start at 3 or 4. I never have no anxiety. I have learned to manage this. It started with accepting the anxiety, a mindful approach. Now it focuses and is intertwined directly with the above. Managing and avoiding my triggers has reduced my anxiety almost down to a constant 3. But the problem is, when you're starting at 3 and not 0, it can look very odd to someone who doesn't realise that when you suddenly become what appears to be massively anxious over something relatively simple like going on a shopping trip to a new place. You would rise maybe 1 or 2 points on the scale, to 1 or 2. I rise 1 or 2 points to 5 or 6, You see the problem? And when combined with the next thing on the list in can be mighty tricky to manage.

5. Early warning systems

I don't have any. In an MRI, if you looked at my Amygdala when a source of stress were introduced which would slowly escalate to become a major problem, my amygdala wouldn't fire. Yours would. That's because you can see a problem coming, your body tells you, then you avoid the problem. I don't get the early warning. So the first time I know I'm anxious is when I am at 5 or 6 on the 1-10 scale. Or at least I would if I only relied on my Amygdala. I do not, of course, now rely on my faulty Amygdala, I instead rely on my stomach. But until someone helped me identify my alternative early warning system, I was lost. And I spent a lot of time extremely anxious. To the point where I was having full on anxiety attacks 2-3 times a day every single day of the week for over a year. Sound tiring? Yep. It was. 

So when someone is freaking next to you and you don't know why, it's not that bad, really it's not, maybe share that? 

6. Superpowers

Tricky one this. I hate the word Savant. Quite a lot of us do, anecdotal observation tells me. It's an ugly word, harsh and angular. That probably doesn't make sense to you. But words have shapes, and sounds and a 'something' attached to them which I can't quite explain. Some words are nice and I use them a lot. Regular readers will know which ones. And some I dislike intensely and try to avoid using on pain of death. Savant. One step away from spitting. This, I suppose ironically, is perhaps one of my superpowers. Words aren't just words.

I also hear words. I read aloud in my head. On Twitter, I hear the tweets being spoken by the people who've tweeted them if I've met them. I am far less likely to misinterpret the tone of a tweet from someone I have met. 

This may be linked to the next superpower which is the ability to write the things I write for CIO and Forbes entirely in my head without writing a note or a draft. I don't do drafts. Things float through my head in the preceding week before writing an article and then I sit down and write it - usually in about an hour. How long did it take me to write the article? An hour. Except of course it didn't. It doesn't matter if the article is 300 words or 3,000. This is the way I work. 

Then theres music and colour. Sensory overloads also come with one level down, which is sensory intensity which is the right side of not good. So sometimes I can go to a gig and it's horrific and we end up leaving after an hour. It'll be a combination of heat, noise, sound levels and balances, lighting, the venue and the people within it. But sometimes, just sometimes, gigs are the best places on earth. A perfect storm of lighting, singing, dancing, people, atmosphere, the right level of happy drunkenness, perfect sound levels and a band who are happy to be there. Those are the moments when I forget I must fit into everyone elses idea of what normal is and I just switch off. I close my eyes and I dance and dance and sometimes I open my eyes and find I have gathered fellow inhibitin losers beside me and we look at each other, grin our faces off and disappear off again. And not a drop drunk or a substance imbibed. It is by turns the most beautiful, but also the most intense place to be and they are the moments which fuel me.

Unfortunately...well lets talk about that next...but if you ever see a girl with her eyes closed dancing badly under the lasers with the silliest grin on her face you've ever seen, it's me. Unless my eyes are open, don't interact. Don't touch. Just let me be.

I also have almost perfect visual recall. I have to concentrate, I have to mentally take snapshots. But I'm the girl who knows where everything is in her suitcase two weeks after she's packed it. Lost something? I'll tell you where it is, even in your house. Changed something since I last visited? I'll notice. I can read a page of a book, close my eyes and reread the page. I can recognise a lot of songs from the 1st bar. But I can't remember any of the script of my favourite shows which is a good party trick to have. I used to be able to remember conversations months later word for word but my memory isn't as good as it once was. 

I can learn anything. Well almost anything. Medical stuff confuses me a little bit but I understand the basics of neurology despite never studying it, see also quantum mechanics, art, Tudor history and a few other things I never even studied at GCSE. 

Just don't use the word superpower in my hearing. I get to call them superpowers, they're my bodies compensation for the utter fails in other areas. You call them superpowers and I'm going to offer to put my knickers on over my jeans. Just. Don't.

7. Concurrency

We come with other stuff more often than not. Some people just get blessed with autism. Others with autism and anxiety and depression. Yup, hands up (all under control now). But there is a whole long list of 'and x' that people with autism seem to be more likely to need to deal with. Dyspraxia and dyslexia are quite well publicised (I'm clumsy but for different reasons). 

Hypermobility unfortunately seems to be quite common, especially in women. And it seems in me. My knees dislocate and 'slip' out of joint. The bones in my feet occasionally get confused what order they're supposed to lie in. My little fingers stick out at funny angles and I've currently got a sprained elbow. I've literally sprained my ankle in socks on our kitchen floor. Fish oil might help your joints. Last I looked it doesn't stop joins dislocating. My joints dislocate probably because the collagen is faulty. Fish oil doesn't help with collagen. Neither do collagen pills. Please don't say something ridiculously stupid in an effort to be helpful. I don't want you to be helpful. I'm not telling you I projectile vomit when I come around after fainting to ask for your help - I'm telling you so you don't get covered in vomit. I've mostly got the not fainting in the first place covered....mostly.

So there you go. 7 things I wish everyone knew about autism so that they didn't say stupid, insulting, judgemental things to me. I reckon I spend the other 51 weeks of the year trying to fit into your crazy world with its invisible rules, faces that all look the same, noise that's often intolerable and in way way too close proximity. I reckon this week I get to tell you ways you can make being in your world, under your rules, a little bit easier for me.

Let me know if it helped.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

What I mean when I say I'm autistic

This post appeared on my Facebook timeline and it's made me think a lot about what Autistic Spectrum Disorder actually means.

I actually don't exist as a diagnosis. I was diagnosed in February this year, all official like by a Clinical Psychologist via a charity which has received permission from yet another official centre for diagnosis in Nottingham to diagnose away from that centre. Which is good because I live a long long way from Nottingham.

I was actually officially diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder but the assessment and diagnostic process I went through was for Aspergers Syndrome. I score 45/50 on an assessment which was based partly on about 100 questions (I think it was that many) that were short and to the point, and then another assessment with the psychologist who also assesses your behaviour, speech patterns, body language etc. A combination then brings you to the final number out of 50.

I scored higher than I thought I would. This made me feel like a fraud. Then I started reading every book and article I could lay my hands on about women and Autism and it all suddenly started to make sense.

Drag queens and transvestites used to call it passing. Looking so much like the woman they're intending to be that no one bats an eyelid as they pass them in the street. It seems to me that one of the biggest themes running through literature relating to woman and autism is 'pretending to be normal'. Of passing. Of not blipping on anyones radar, of learning to hide things which mark them out as different or unusual.

I also realised that this is a skill I don't have. I cannot pretend anything. Either I feel something or I don't, believe something or I don't. Want something or I don't. There is no artifice, no deception. You get what you see and you hear what I think.

But I must have been hiding something because my behaviour has changed slightly since I was diagnosed. I stopped apologising, first and foremost, for things which were not my fault, not my monkey and not my worry. I stopped disclaimering everything, trying to preempt issues before they arose, trying to smooth the way for everyone else but myself. I stopped thinking 'I mustn't do that, people will stare' and starting thinking 'That helps me exist in this world without harming my mind, I'm going to do that now'.

A diagnosis is for no one else. It's for you.

In a lot of ways, writing this is for me, not for you.

I am learning to be, by my own slightly warped definition, selfish. I'm discovering who I actually am, not who everyone else thinks I am. Whatever you think I am that's what I'm not has never felt truer. I am capable of enormous love, care and kindness. I have wonderful friendships which yes, require a little more conscious processing and conscious stepping than for most, but it's amazing what 'no really, you actually seriously have to be blunt with me and tell me the truth' conversations can do. I go to counselling fortnightly and walk out of every session a little taller, a little more grounded, a little more assured of myself, my identity, and where autism has shaped me but also fits around me.

The storm of before is quietening and in its wake is a blissful space in my mind. It's not until the noise stops that you can understand why there was no more room for any more data in there. I had reached capacity. In computer terminology my hard drive blew. I never ran defrag. I never reordered. I never deleted the documents I no longer needed to keep right at the forefront of my mind.

A diagnosis is your key to yourself, but also the key for others.

I never realised I had super powers. Not like Iron Man. But I never realised that in the process of, for example, my amygdala completely not functioning the way it should, other bits of my brain fired double time. I never realised other people couldn't just read a page of text, process it and then summarise it in 2 minutes. I didn't realise other people didn't stop in awe at how the rain was slanting through a streetlamp at a tram stop in a city full of dark and grey. I didn't know that sensory issues can also be wonderful things, that the same thing which means I have to cut out labels sometimes still as an adult means that I drown in cotton wool dreams when soaking in the lighting and sound and heat of a gig.

Everything balances. He/She gives, and he/she takes away.

Spectrum means just that. It means a collection of symptoms. You wouldn't notice if you weren't intensely social animals, herd like in your tastes and clothing. I stick out unless I try not to and the sheer amount of processing required from me to not stick out is something I cannot do any more. I can't. My body has clearly and loudly drawn a line and told me that if I push much further I will have burned through everything and there will be no replacing that. So I have to choose. Select which things I will allocate processing to and which I wont. Combined with an autistic hyper focus which often means I forget to eat or drink this requires some careful managing. I'm still not there yet. I'm not sure I'll ever be there. Looking after myself is difficult. There I said it. Remembering to eat and drink, to eat and drink the right things at the right time, to wear the right things to the right places for the right weather, to say the right things to the right people in the right order but only when they look like they want to talk but not when they don't but I have no way of knowing when that might be because I need to know someone super well to be able to read their body language and I do mean super super well and the chances of getting to know someone I work with fast enough to be able to read before I say or do the wrong thing is just impossible and there's always so many people in teams and I've to learn all of them and of course I'm trying to tackle this problem intellectually and analytically but people don't work like that, they're not zeroes and ones and...

That's what you pay for your super powers. Alone. Lonliness. A constant feeling of other. Knowing you're always going to be 1/2 a second behind no matter how fast your brain is computing all the possibilities. Knowing that it's inappropriate to tell someone you've only just met a list of things they are and aren't just from seeing a few tweets and briefly meeting them - yes way before Sherlock and yes I wince a lot but also I love it because someone else is seeing what I see how I see and no I don't have a mind palace, don't be ridiculous but  I totally bet a whole load of autistic people do...I'm not appropriate. I am not polite. I am not intentionally rude but apparently I am accidentally quite a lot of the time. I am blessed with just enough self awareness to know when I've misstepped yet again, just enough social awareness to know I'm being ignored and frozen out with just enough unawareness to be oblivious to the why.

I spend a lot of time looking at people and wondering why they're being so cruel, so vicious, so bitchy.

But I also spend a lot of time now thinking that not all people are like that. Not all people are like that all of the time. I have interpreters, friends who patiently and gently explain that no, that's not what was happening in that situation at all, this was, and actually I misread it and this is how I can not misread it again.

Counsellors can't solve everything. They're an incredibly important piece of the puzzle, but they can't tell you the things that friends can tell you.

So actually, this is a post about friendship, really. It's about finding myself and who I am. It's about the quiet coming where before there were storms.

It's about getting better. And that's what I mean when I say I'm autistic. I mean, I am autistic. But I also mean, I am me. I am getting better.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Who deserves our care?

Some of this is my story. Some of this is others stories as told to me. You don't need to know which is which.

The Coffey report was published yesterday, an investigation into child sexual exploitation on the back of the Rochdale investigations. It says that child sexual exploitation is the new social norm in areas of Greater Manchester.

I wasn't surprised.

Somewhere in the last year we were returning from yet another appointment at yet another hospital in Burnley. I was feeling a little unwell but one thing stuck in my mind. The time was somewhere between 3 & 4pm in the afternoon, during the week, possibly a Wednesday. Young girls were walking down the streets on their way home from school. And as I watched, a car pulled over and a middle aged man shouted something I couldn't hear at two girls. They stopped, checked I assume to see if they knew the man, then sped up and disappeared off down the road as the man in the car drove off laughing.

I knew what that was. There's a reason for that.

Somerset, as it was when I was growing up, was very different then to how it is now. Older farmers, who'd never married were often encountered walking into towns and villages in the early evening, heading to the pub after the milking had been done. It was one such chap who accosted me while I was cycling down the main road out of Ilminster to Chard. I was going to water the flower box which was under the 'Welcome to Ilminster' sign as my mum had volunteered to do this each evening, but hadn't been able to do it that evening for some reason. An older farmer said something to me as I passed so I stopped. I can't remember what else he said, all I remember his him trying to kiss me, and freaking out completely, leaping back on my mums 3 speed sit up and back and hammering away from along the main road as fast as my spindly legs could carry me.

It wasn't the first time, and nor would it be the last that an adult made me feel completely at a loss, completely vulnerable and completely sick to my stomach. I am not alone in experiences like this either. I've told this story to 5 other women. Two of them had similar stories of becoming separated from parents and being backed into corners.

I stopped because my mother taught me it was polite to, to not be rude, to respect my elders. She taught me never to get into strangers cars, but she never said what to do when someone who I was supposed to respect did something completely inappropriate.

I never told me mother. She doesn't read this blog. I suppose I should...but why didn't I at the time?

I thought it was my fault. I thought I'd misread the situation somehow, that somehow I'd given some kind of signal that said that that was okay. I assumed I was at fault, because he was the adult.

So to say that I understand why young girls get into the tangles they do is an understatement. And for far more unpleasant and horrid reasons than this. I understand the confusion. The self blame. I can understand how taking risks becomes attractive because at least you're in control and you know the rules. I can understand how that moves into self harm, to the 'I deserve this, I'm worth nothing' mentality. Repeated exposure to adults who are not following rules is horrendous no matter how your brain works. That this often happens when the victim themselves are in the throes of hormone disruption, their first period, arguments with their parents, isolation from support networks only creates a perfect storm.

Add to this the internet. Add to this the formation of gangs who can communicate across County and Borough boundaries and I suppose it's no wonder the perpetrators feel that they're invincible.

Imagine how those girls feel when they finally sum up the courage to tell another 'responsible adult' what's happening them and they're at best ignored. Imagine how confusing it would be for a young woman who's never been told that the police are supposed to be there to protect everyone, that they're supposed to be there to deal with these crimes as well as the more well known and accepted ones like burglary and car theft. She tells someone, the police get involved and she's scared because as soon as the police are involved, she feels even more like she's done something wrong, because maybe her only dealings with the police ever have been when she's done something wrong.

Imagine how being disbelieved feels. But even more, imagine how what you wear, the same as every other girl you know is the reason for that disbelief. Imagine if your father is abusing you, you are completely confused about why that is happening or what to do about it, the CPS go to your father to gather evidence, he calls you a slag and the CPS believe him. No, I don't know if the father quoted as saying that in the Coffey report was abusing his daughter. But I wouldn't be surprised. No, not surprised at all.

You see...and how can I say this gently...sexual abuse is far more prevalent thing than you want to acknowledge. It's not just grooming gangs. It's not just complete strangers. Stranger abuse is the thing we are talking about right now and that is fantastic, but we need to not forget that abuse happens in all classes, in some families and in all areas of the country. Don't become complacent that your town is safe. Don't believe that your town is too nice for that sort of thing to ever happen there. Instead, please, talk to your daughter. Talk to her and ask her if she knows what to do if someone touches her inappropriately. Check she understands the definition of inappropriate. Reassure her, really reassure her that if she ever has any problems like this she will be believed and it will be tackled and something will be done. Hear her. Back her.

Sadly though, I'm going to guess that if you're reading this, you already have. So spare a thought for the girls who for whatever reason, don't have a you. No one to warn them, no one to guide them, no one to believe them. If you can, if you have the time, find a local charity to you, a charity that looks after children, that warns children, that teaches children about the difference between inappropriate and appropriate. Donate some money, or even better some time.

An awful lot of young woman with no one say thank you. Thank you.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Why I love videos games

Why I love video games by Louise. Ages 30 {mumble} and a half. Yep. Exactly. 

Gamergate sucks. Literally as well as the other. So here's why I have loved video games, currently love video games and will no doubt love video games until I'm 50 something. I doubt I'll ever know better. 

I have walked. Through the Los Angeles of the 1940's, across the dessert of the Wild Wild West. I have run, nay sprinted for my life as dragons so big their tail ends have dwarfed me have desperately tried to wear the robes from my back. I have shot holes in floors and ceilings and floors and ceilings and believed that the cake is a lie. I've captured untold flags, both blue and red in hue. I've driven Cadillacs and the sweetest singlespeeds. I've flown aeroplanes and spaceships, ridden Sabretooth Tigers. I've drilled and quested and drilled some more so that the other teeny tiny avatars gathered around me do not die today. 

I have dreamed. Of beautiful vistas and wastelands. I've dreamed of tactics and keypresses. I've bunny hopped and cheered as 'Headshot!' has blasted through my crappy little Creative speakers. 

I've commanded armies and revived friends. I've made friends and lost them. I've met them and drunk with them. Some of my friends have met their boyfriends in these other lands. Some have honed epic leadership and organisation skills. Some learned to walk tall, some to walk small. 

We have all learned. 

This is what games mean to me. Those little packets of plastic that contain a disc? That little black box beneath the amp and the Sky box? Portal. Window. To laughter, freedom and friendship. To being good at something when today sucked. To belonging somewhere when life looked unfriendly. To colour when it looked grey. 

Video games are beautiful. The sheer scope and scale of something like Assasins Creed. You may only see the blood and the killing. I'm clapping with glee as Venezia is rendered before my very eyes, a playground to explore, every architectural detail sucked in with eyes wide in wonder. 

I am not a normal gamer. I don't chase completion (though LA Noire is stuck on 99% cos bug. Oh wait no sorry, cos feature), I don't chase achievements. I chase experiences. The gleam of chrome on a beautiful car. The reflections in the pool of water my character just stomped through. 
The click clack mechanics of a new gun. All of this is beauty, and all of it rendered, just for me. 

This is what gamergate can try to take away from me, but it never will. Video games are my wonderland. I play them, I am female. Hear me spell cast/assassinate/backflip/coin collect/case solve. Over and out. 

Note. Tapped on my pad. Mistakes inevitable. Sorry.