Running in the rain

Some days I wonder why I run.

Like the 10k I ran recently. I got out of bed feeling shaky and awful – a classic Saturday morning “overload hangover” from the working week before. Not sick, as such, but mixing autism with certain work activities can be like mixing grape and grain. It hurts the morning after!

So I got up, had my pre-race breakfast and coffee and drove to the start line, singing along to Bryan Adams on the way. Relaxed and easy. I kidded myself I felt better, at least enough to run. Tried to reconcile myself gently to the fact that although I had a target time for today, I was going to miss it, and that was OK. (Spoiler: it wasn’t OK. When you are autistic and you have a plan, and that plan involves the limit of exertion and exhaustion, and things don’t go right… it was never going to be OK!) Warming up felt like my body was lead. I pushed through it, stretched off, smiled and bounced and generally pretended to be up for it. Making a final trip to the ladies before the start, I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror. It was a rather unattractive shade of grey.

Despite the glorious weather and the stunning off-road scenery, inevitably, it wasn’t a pretty race. I did eventually find my target pace around the 8th kilometre – but by then it was way too late. I was almost in tears over the finish line. But I did finish, and with no injuries. So perhaps not as complete a failure as it felt at the time.

Having comprehensively bombed at that race, I’ve nevertheless decided to start training again for a longer distance. There are a couple of 10 mile off-roaders near me around October-November time, tempting me with idyllic photographs of smiling past-years runners on country paths in the rare autumn sunshine – and of course that is the perfect amount of time for me to build up from a 10k. So naturally I go for it … but after that last race, I ask myself, why?

I was thinking about this again on my training run this morning. It was, as I like to put it, “piss-istently raining”. The wind gusted entertainingly, throwing occasional bursts of spray into my face. I slipped around stiles, mud sliding under the somewhat inadequate treads of my road running shoes. By around mile five, my ankles were screaming; my calves, having given up some time ago, sobbed quietly in the background. Why would do I do this to myself?

Because there’s something else. Something in the core of the pain and the wet and the cold. In every stride, smoothing and lengthening over miles from an invariably disjointed start, is something real and solid. Something strong.

The patter of rain on concrete. The rhythmic slap of wet ponytail against waterproof fabric. The wind in my face and the mud on my legs. Even though my calves are aching, I know they can do this. The rain has stopped being something to cringe away from and has become a relief. Wet leaves shower me with water, sweet and cool. In this bubble, in my stride, it’s just me and the next hill. There is nothing else in the world.

Walking, I think, is a complex activity. You go out for the day, maybe with friends. You take food and drink, layers for the weather and maps for the route. Walking events are a mass of people, chattering incessantly, making noise that drowns out the scenery. Climbing mountains, exploring coastlines: these are beautiful things that I love to do. But they take mental effort and planning.

Running is simple. Running is clean. During a race, the pack spreads out. I have space to stretch my legs, to lengthen, to live in the moment. Undistracted by people and noises, lacking the anxiety of location or direction, running is an experience pure and physical. Off-road, I drink in the scenery and revel in the feel of the ground, yielding under my feet. Training runs are quiet mornings, lost in thought, discovering rhythm. Giving my body the time it needs to find balance and focus. Resting my mind.

Yes, my legs are under-trained. Yes, there is effort and discomfort. But in the end, it is that running long distances gives me space to get away from the busy, overloading world, and recover myself.

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Disconnect

Someone at work today asked how I was coping with the long nights. People are aware of my SAD. Offhand, I said I’d been OK up until about the last week or so, but I was getting a bit tired now. No big deal.

Then I thought for a minute about when time got away from me. Maybe it was a bit more than a week. Maybe two. Perhaps three.

I no longer have a sense of time.

I remember the moment I first felt panic that the minutes were slipping away. It was in the middle of a Saturday morning, on my way to the shops, when that afternoon I had somewhere to be. There was that horrible sinking feeling in my gut, chasing the hours that slid through my fingers, realising how completely I’d misjudged. I panicked. Rushed my shopping, called a taxi. Lost the taxi. Found the taxi moments before it pulled away, a breath away from being just one more no-show. Deep breaths, shaking, as we crawled through traffic on the interminable journey home.

I made my afternoon appointment, overloaded, but invisible. No one saw it: not for a moment; not the merest flicker. I passed, exquisitely. I paid with the Sunday. It wasn’t enough.

Three weeks ago.

In winter, I cannot cope with overload. In winter, I do not have the capacity to recover myself. There is not enough daylight, and not enough time. I cannot expose myself to the risk of uncertainty; I cannot allow myself to panic. I must be slow, quiet, centred. I must be calm.

On that Monday morning I went into survival mode. The plan had already lost the non-essentials several weeks before. But this was the morning when I drew a breath, and relaxed. I forced myself to slow down, to breathe. Not to stop, but to keep moving, no matter how slow. Don’t fight it; just be. It didn’t matter if I was late. It didn’t matter if I didn’t show. Nothing mattered, but to be calm. To keep moving. One step at a time.

It’s a curious feeling, to be centred in the eye of the storm. I am slow, while the world spins. I am quiet, while the world screams. I am; and somehow, strangely, the world is not. Steadily, methodically, I move through this madness without feeling. I am calm. I do not connect. Displaced from reality, I am serene.

I do not want. I do not feel. I am not hungry or thirsty. At night I wait passively for sleep that takes hours to come. The choice to begin each day is one I no longer allow myself to make; for if I allowed myself that choice, then I would choose wrong. I know this, without feeling sadness. I feel only the weight of my self as I sleepwalk, dreamlike, through the wild cold winter. I still know that the winter will end. I still remember what it was like to live.

I do not stop. I must not stop. Until it ends.

One step at a time.

Are you afraid of the dark?

This time of year can mess with my mind! Sometimes it’s exhaustion, sometimes depression. At the moment, apparently, I’m a child again – the idealised version: happy and eager, with the sort of “can do” attitude that comes from having no concept of limits. But as a child, I was afraid of the dark.

It’s strange, coming home in the night time. Turning off the main road and into my quiet side street, where the street lamps don’t work and the darkness looms like a yawning cave. Some of the houses have outdoor lights that switch on and off as I walk past.

Unlocking the front door, I turn on the lights. The house is silent.

I go inside. Flick the switch in every room. The dim brightness of artificial light is eerie in the empty quiet. There’s a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. I switch on the radio to drown out the silence.

6 pm. It’s early, but the darkness says it’s late. I cook, eating dinner to the sound of the radio, the stove cooling noisily in the background. Closed blinds keep out the night.

7:30. I curl up on the sofa, watching TV. I’d like to read, but that would mean going back to the silence. Why is it this cold stillness, so welcome in the daytime, seems so threatening at night? I turn up the volume to fill the empty darkness.

11 pm. Lying in bed, I stare blankly up at the ceiling. Moonlight streams in through thin curtains. Wrapped warm under weighty covers, comfortable, I drift towards sleep.

Moving lights; and a shadow rises, suddenly, from beside the bed. I jolt awake, heart pounding. Focus. Switch on the bedroom light.

Of course, there’s nothing there. I hear the neighbours’ car, pulling slowly into their driveway.

I know it’s ridiculous. I go to sleep with the lights on.

Dipping my toes in the water…

Too much has been going on so I’ve been hiding away from the world for a while. It’s been difficult to keep up with reading blogs and news stories, let alone writing. I suspect many people find this, but when I’m struggling I need to save my emotional energy for my own problems. Reading about other people’s pain and how many things are wrong in this world, which I am helpless to resolve, just makes me want to cry.

I think I’m back now 🙂

I thought about putting together a post for this week, but then I looked through my reader pane and realised I really don’t need to! It’s incredible to see such a lot of amazing stuff all out at once. So it might seem like a cop-out, but today I’d really like just to share a few links to pieces that made me feel hopeful.

Firstly there’s Progress Not Perfection. Taking a refreshingly impatient view of the “grumbles” on social media, she’s running a series of posts on things that go well in mental health services. While there’s definitely a place for grumbles – it helps us all to be able to vent or just share our experiences with people who understand – these stories definitely perked me up. You can find the first post in the series here.

Then I read this post from AutiWomanDifferentBox. It’s a big commitment to seek out an adult diagnosis, and as far as I can tell everyone has a pretty unique experience of the whole process. Adult autism services are improving in the UK, but there are still huge gaps by region, and GPs seem to know very little about diagnosis and support. The National Autistic Society has lots of information. This was also a good post to remind me I should write about my experiences so far of seeking an NHS diagnosis…

Finally there are a couple of good posts at Michelle Sutton Writes about dealing with “challenging” behaviours in neurodiverse children. I’ve learned a lot from this blog, largely about self-acceptance. It’s not cushy or sentimental, but offers practical strategies about how to just get on with life when your needs, and those of your children, aren’t automatically met. Her piece here is a reminder that making “difficult” children feel safe is an absolute prerequisite to teaching “acceptable” behaviours in a safe and meaningful way. I love to read this because it reminds me that even when things are difficult I am not just a naughty child (yes, I know I’m in my late twenties…), and that as a first step, just focusing on meeting my own basic needs will make everything else start to flow more easily. (And also, if I were ever a parent, I would want to do it like this.)

And then there’s this. Which needs nothing more!

That’s all for tonight folks. Happy reading 🙂

Writing less; running more

A short post today as it’s all I have in me.

The title says it, mostly. Not completely.

Life feels somewhat precarious, and has for a while. Recently I had a very bad experience at work. Once the dust had cleared, among other things, it made me realise I have to start standing up for myself and being clear about my needs. For someone with anxiety issues, limited emotional vocabulary and absolutely zero confidence in her negotiating capabilities, this is a big deal. It’s taking a lot out of me.

For the first time in my life, over the past few weeks, I’ve started losing speech. Not be able to find the right words, or having to make several attempts, isn’t new for me – but not being able to get any words out at all, is. It’s an anxiety thing: I think it’s what Tony Attwood calls “selective mutism”. It’s very frightening. Objectively, it’s not happening often; but it’s enough now and in certain very public contexts that I need to have workarounds.

I’m currently balancing various parallel processes to protect my wellbeing, advocate for myself and stabilise my position. All of them involve communication, some with strangers (although, thankfully, I’ve managed to kick everything off without using a telephone. Small mercies). Being pretty awful at initiating contacts, executive function, planning and multi-tasking, and with the additional fear of losing my words, this is a significant challenge.

While the weather is good, running is a great way to escape from all that. I’m needing that a lot lately.

In the meantime, words are expensive. Meaningful words, doubly so. I’d dearly love to be posting something every week, but I’m not sure I’ll have it in me; and if I do it probably won’t be of the standard I’d like. So this is an apology for fewer (or bad quality) words, but also an assurance that this won’t go on forever. Hopefully I’ll be back with you soon!

Do you see what I see?

Do you see?

Do you hear the two-toned rhythm of soft soles on concrete, every step, as you walk towards the station? Do you see the lines of the pavement before your feet: every crack a poem, every stain a story? Do you fear that if you look up, you will lose yourself in the world?

Can you feel the scarf around your neck, scratching your skin like sandpaper even as it screens you from the cold? When you free yourself and settle in your seat, it is sweet and warm relief. Is it soft between your fingers as you stroke its tassles?

Do you hear the low song of wheels on rails, noise living in the comfortable space between puppy whine and growl? Do you recognise the note?

Do you hear the quiet couple whispering and laughing, soto voce, at the far end of the carriage? When the woman in your section answers her phone, do you catch the voices at the other end? Can you follow every word?

Do you feel the train straining to slow as it slides into the station? The strong, inexorable pull of your body, onwards and forwards? The world warps and bends on the edge of a precipice, unbearable as night; until with a sigh the beast lurches backwards, resting on its haunches, and is still.

When you walk out into darkness, can you taste the sweetness of the night – of rain on grass? In the pristine stillness of the morning, can you smell the spring?

Do you see the colours of the world in concert; red and blue and green dischordant, violent in their brilliance?

Do you see?

Liebster Award!

liebster.png

Many thanks to AutiWomanDifferentBox for nominating me for my first Liebster Award! AutiWomanDifferentBox writes a frank and approachable blog about living and working with autism and the inevitable anxiety – a bit like me, but with a very different job and refreshing perspective. We’ve exchanged some comments that I enjoyed and learned from. Well worth a read.

So I have to admit, coming home last Friday evening and having this message in my inbox my initial feelings were mixed. Definitely a rush of “yay, somebody likes what I’ve written and thinks it’s worth sharing! Very happy and must thank this person!” But also just a hint of “oh God, somebody paid me a compliment – what do I do? And this is a new thing, and it’s a social thing, and there are probably rules, and oh my God what if I fuck this up?” Because I am not very good at new social things! So this is my excuse as to why it’s been a few days … or maybe a week 😮 … sorry about that.

Back on topic: the Liebster Award is all about sharing good blogs, which are still quite small and new, to help them increase their readership and following. The quoted limits vary depending on who you read; I’ve tried for blogs with fewer than 1000 followers. It works (roughly) as follows:

  1. Someone nominates you! If you choose to accept, thank them and link to their blog. Maybe give it a little review as well, if you’re so inclined 🙂
  2. Display the award on your blog (optional, but fun – I found a few nice images here)
  3. Answer the 11 questions the blogger gives you
  4. Nominate 5-11 small bloggers who you think are deserving of the award
  5. Let those bloggers know you nominated them
  6. Give them 11 questions of your own

The 5-11 is a variation on what I was sent. AutiWomanDifferentBox specified 11, but I don’t read very many small blogs (yet), so would rather focus on the ones I already know and love.

So here we go!

Answers to questions

  1. Please sum up your blog in 10 words?

    I had a really long think about this – there are so many options! – but in the end I couldn’t come up with anything better than my blog tagline: “Living and working with autism in a non-autistic world”.

  2. What are your four favourite songs?

    This is very difficult to answer, as music is such a huge part of my life, and my “favourites” depend so much on my mood. But here are a few different mood favourites: “Sun in the Night” (Lighthouse Family), “Don’t Stop Me Now” (Queen), “Sleeping Sun” (Nightwish) and “Comfortably Numb” (Pink Floyd)

  3. What four things would you get rid of from the world? (try go for more trivial/fun things like beards, just as an example, not all saying world hunger we all want to get rid of that)

    Spiders; the “hold” music on company phone lines; television adverts; and Microsoft Windows!

  4. Would you prefer to have the ability to teleport or the ability to fly?

    Definitely teleport. For one thing, I’m afraid of heights. But mainly because I don’t like travelling – especially having to travel overnight. I’d visit a lot more places if I could teleport.

  5. What animal would you be?

    I’m not sure. I think maybe I’d be an owl. They come out at night, when it’s dark and quiet; and they can rotate their heads almost all the way around. That’s pretty cool.

  6. What possession (not person) do you cherish the most and why?

    I’d love to answer this in detail but it would completely give away my identity … but I can say it’s a soft toy animal. I’ve had him forever, and he keeps me safe when no one else can 🙂

  7. What scares you the most?

    Power that other people have over me.

  8. Which is better breakfast, lunch or dinner?

    Breakfast is absolutely the best! A really big breakfast washed down with delicious milky coffee means I’m going to spend a long day doing things I love. On cold dark winter mornings, a bowl of hot porridge wakes me and warms me and makes me feel human again. And the best bit is that because I get up relatively early, there are almost never any competing requirements – so a relaxed breakfast is one of the few utterly immutable fixed points in my daily routine. Dinner might involve more exciting food, but breakfast wins hands down.

  9. If you could be a fly-on-the-wall in any time period, anyplace, viewing anyone where, when, who, why would you be a fly-on-the-wall for that?

    There’s a book I really like called Two Sides of the Moon. It tells the story of the Space Race from the parallel perspectives of American astronaut David Scott, and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, who was the first man to walk in space. The American side of this story is all over the place, but it’s a rare thing to get a glimpse of the Russian side. Where I’d love to be a fly on the wall is inside the airlock on Voskhod 2, just before Leonov stepped outside the spacecraft, and watch him make that little piece of history.

  10. What would be your superhero power? Feel free to make up one doesn’t have to be traditional.

    I’d like to be able to read minds at will.

  11. If you made an autobiography what would you call it? It can’t be your blog site name.

    I can think of many good candidates, but all are recycled from poems or books. Building original things with these sorts of words is not my forte. I might try: “How it looks from here”.

  12. My nominees

    In the order in which I discovered them:

    New questions

    1. What is your favourite book or series?
    2. Which city in the world would you most like to visit, and why?
    3. What do you love most about having autism / Aspergers?
    4. Coffee or tea?
    5. Did you have a childhood hero or role model (real or fictional)? If so, who was it, and why?
    6. How does music make you feel? (If this is too broad a question, you could answer about your favourite song or piece, or one that has a particular emotional resonance.)
    7. What’s your favourite way of relaxing after a hard day?
    8. T-Rex or dragon?
    9. What is the most ridiculous contradiction, paradox, or crime against logic you have ever encountered? (Eg Windows clicking on “Start” to shut down…)
    10. Would you rather explore the deep ocean or outer space?
    11. How long would you survive the zombie apocalypse? Justify your answer!