Monday, 27 October 2008

Back from holiday

I'm back from my brief holiday; I had to go back to the family home for my mother's birthday. The flight up didn't go without incident, but nothing major, it could have been worse. My parents don't put any toiletries in their guest bathroom so this time I decided to take my own. Only it turns out that you're only allowed gels and liquids up to 100ml in volume on a plane. So I had to stand at security while they throw everything bar my toothpaste into the bin. Some things I had only just bought. So I was annoyed at the expense, but at least I was still flying. I could have checked my bag into the hold but that would mean waiting around at the other end.

I don't fly often so I'm not totally blaze about air travel. I'm not scared of it, I don't fear it, but I do get some rational butterflies on take-off. The thing about flying is really the taking off. It's those first moments when you see things you don't normally see and feel things you don't normally feel. After a few minutes, when you finally reach the clouds and all outside is white I can finally relax.

As I said, it was my mum's birthday, it was a "big one" too. My sister got her a jewellery set, my brother some expensive spa vouchers. Of course I don't keep tabs on my family, I don't really know how old anyone in my family is so I didn't know it was a "big" birthday.

I got her a book.

Dad treated us (my sister was also in attendance) to lunch at a really swanky hotel/restaurant. It was so posh that when your table was ready a guy would come get you at the bar area with a tray to take your drinks to your table for you. The food, like the service, was exceptional. Alas it wasn't until many hours later that I'd realise that that was the only food I was getting served that day. It was only 2pm! My parents might be able to last on 500 calories a day but I can't!

Back at my folk's place and it's all so quiet. My parents just sit in absolute silence and read newspapers and books. If I would watch something on TV my dad would come in and tell me to put something else on (something boring as hell usually) then just leave the room anyway!

And my parents' house is also so hot. I'd try and leave the odd door open here and there to cool the rooms down but it never worked, "Shut that door, you're letting in a draft." My parents also hate watching TV. An aunt and uncle came over in the evening and I had some beer to pass the time, but come 10pm I had been up almost 20 hours and hadn't eaten for 8 of them. It was ok when there was only one strand of conversation going, but a divide occurred and two factions spoke about two different things, so I was starting to lose it. Eventually they left and I hit the sack.

Being in a different environment for me is stressful enough, so I was spending most of the time literally counting the seconds. It was like being in jail…but without the three meals a day.

The following day my dad took us on a day-trip to where he always takes us when I visit. I was glad just to get out of the quiet, hot house and kill some time. We went to a small coffee shop that was absolutely packed with young students and I was just overloaded. I could only hear a complete rabble so didn't partake in any of the conversation at the table.

Back to my parents and more hanging around and watching clocks until it was time for tea. This was good food again, but again old person portions, but I was fairly well fed. After tea there was just boring TV to watch, and far too few beers to drink. When the well was dry I just went to bed around 10.30pm. Probably the earliest I've even gone to bed. I downloaded some games to my mobile and just played on that a bit then tried to doze off.

The next day and I was up early to get a lift back to the airport. This was the bit I was dreading the most…saying goodbye. I could tell my mum was looking for some form of physical contact or reassurance. A hug or a kiss, but I could barely look her in the eye let alone hug her. My parents don't know about my Asperger Syndrome (AS), and it's times like this that I feel at my worse. I feel I should tell them, I guess maybe they deserve to know. But I wouldn't know how. I couldn't do it by email as that's not fair, or over the phone. But I don't want to do it face to face either as I couldn't be bothered with the required conversation. So I guess I'll just go on feeling like a horrible person and my parents worrying why I am so "odd".

I got to the airport on time so no drama there. The weather was quite bad, it was wet and windy. I was seated at the back row of the plane so had a good view of the wing and engine from my window seat. An old lady was sitting beside me and she made small-talk about the weather. The pilot warned us that we should expect some turbulence on take-off and until we reach cruising altitude. The old lady beside me read her newspaper through the safety briefing as we taxied to the runway. The plane shook and shimmied as we hurtled down the runway. Not long after takeoff the plane suddenly dipped then rose and I felt my stomach sink as my head was forced down. The two young men in the row in front whooped and wheyed as if on a rollercoaster, and the old woman beside me didn't bat an eye lid as she tried to work out the answer to 5 across. I couldn't work out if she was very well travelled or just didn't give a shit if she lived or died.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

My kind of normal

This morning I had what most people probably consider a normal morning; I had a shower and breakfast. Normally I only shower in the evening, and before I was diagnosed I have to admit I'd only shower every other day. My unusual morning routine was, unfortunately, not quite as it first seemed.

Truth be told, I'm quite depressed at the moment. Last night I got home from work, put the water on for a shower and readied my tea….well, it was a microwave curry so there wasn't any readying. Instead of showering or eating I just drank instead. I drank until I passed out.

I woke up about 6.30am, then drifted in and out of sleep. I got up at 8, turned the water off (it had been on all night), had a shower and had my microwave curry. None of it made me feel any better though. I don't think the awful feeling in the pit of my stomach was hunger. The shower didn't really make me feel awake and fresh either. In fact I felt like a child, woken up at 5am to be hurried and fussed to get to the airport for a cheap price flight. Out of comfort zone and disorientated.

When you have Asperger Syndrome life can often look bleak. Walking around and dealing with people, listening to them talk about their happy lives and happy relationships knowing that you can never have that. That's not for you. Look but don't touch. The world is not your oyster. It can be hard to deal with and depression is never too far away.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Education, education, education

I think I'm pretty much the last of the people to be educated for free in my country. When I was growing up, everyone went from school to university all for free. Then the government started to introduce fees. They started prohibitively high, and then got upped to being preposterously high. These fees are either paid by parents, or just plunge the student into debt. Nowadays the average university leaver is about £10,000 or so in debt. Great way to start your career, huh?

But I digress. I don't remember much about primary school, I don't remember much from early childhood in general. Other than remembering that people who were 16 were really old, and people who were 20 were ancient. I do remember secondary school fairly well, although throughout my whole education I hadn't yet been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (AS).

Secondary school was where people really started to form friendships, "relationships" even, but that was rare. There were cliques and in-crowds. I had people I mucked around with, but not many, I tended to latch onto single friends. I was never popular, liked by some but actively disliked by many. I think this was probably down to the fact that I hadn't fully learned to be acceptably sociable. I was still saying things without really thinking, offending people left right and centre. I was also developing quite a strong moral code (something else popular among people with AS), a code that seemed to get a lot of people's backs up, especially the teachers. I couldn't stand to see favouritism or double standards, and always vocally fought it. It was at secondary school that I really started to feel like an outsider, to feel that no-one else was like me.

As well as the confusing social side of school, there was the academic side. I wasn't a brilliant student, but I was better than average. They didn't teach any form of computers at my school, so I couldn't study that. However I did take an interest in physics, and I was ok at maths too. I was beginning to learn that if I didn't like a subject I found it very very hard to concentrate. My mind easily wandered and after every parent's evening my folks would come back saying the teachers all said I was "clever but easily distracted".

As I was quite gifted with computers I think my parents thought I was academically gifted in general and super intelligent. Of course the truth was somewhat different, so it did cause some friction. My teachers were saying I was intelligent but didn't apply myself, my parents could see I was exceptional with computers, yet my grades were average to slightly above average. It was a time of many conflicts; I really didn't enjoy school at all.

I was really just waiting for university to start, as it would give me an opportunity to study something I was interested in - all I'd ever wanted to do was work with computers. I was also looking forward to being in a more mature learning environment, mingling with like-minded intellectuals all chasing the same dream.

How naive. University was just high school, only the people had different names and different faces. The only difference was that we were now treated like "adults", and that meant that people could get away with a lot more as you can't give adults a "telling off". While I was working on my projects, my peers were in the student bar. As deadlines neared I had my coursework all handed in, but I was usually the only one. Everyone else started their work the week before the deadline, then complained to the lecturer the day before the deadline to say that they need more time. As everyone was doing it the lecturers always gave in. Not one ever thought to say "well AS4L handed his coursework in two weeks ago so I think you do have enough time". Instead people just got extensions and leeway. Obviously this irked my strong moral code.

People also formed cliques and groups, and things were even more social than school. There were always nights out, parties etc etc. Of course I was never invited to any of them. University left me quite jaded and disillusioned, I thought for once in my life I'd be among like-minded folk, folk like me. Folk for whom socialising isn't everything. It was beginning to dawn on me just how different I was.

Not everyone at university was a waste of space, there were some who were interested in doing well academically ("nerds" I guess you could call them) but they bothered me in their own way. This was the first time I'd met people who were ambitious and talked about what they wanted to do when they left university. They were driven in a way I wasn't (I was obsessed by computers, not driven with them), they had their eyes on the prize and it made me feel quite uncomfortable. Jealous even.

The lowest point of university was the year out in industry we had to do. We had to find a placement, a real job in a real company. My lack of ambition meant I didn't get many interviews, and awful people skills meant I didn't get the jobs for the ones I did interview for. It looked like I was not going to get a placement at all, but I was thrown a pity line at the last minute. A place about 900 miles from where I lived was willing to take me on. I didn't want to move so far away (the money was a pittance too) so I turned it down. However I got a call from someone quite senior at the university who was rather insistant that I take the offer. So I did.

I said previously that I found it hard to get motivated for something I didn't enjoy…boy was that about to hit home. As this was scraping the barrel, the job was very little to do with what I was studying for my degree. I was hardly coding at all and found the job very boring. It was split between two locations so I often said I was at one when I should have been at the other. The reality was that I was often still in bed. It was an aspect of my personality that I really hated. I knew that if I wanted a job in the real world I would have to actually do the work, but I found motivation so hard to come by. I wasn't learning anything and I was 900 miles from home, I wasn't really enjoying it.

Apart from the work, it was the first time in my life that I was in a new town not knowing anyone. I was actually enjoying that aspect of it, being on my own. Always able to do my own thing. I was always at clubs and music venues, or going to the cinema or just wandering around. I was really beginning to explore my anti-social nature, beginning to indulge it. Work was less than happy, though…beginning to realise how often I was actually absent. After six months I'd had enough and told work that I was leaving. The university was furious, but I didn't care. I returned home, dossed for the next 6 months then went back to finish my degree. Of course when university started back everyone was full of stories about how great their placement was, how much they'd learned, how they had job offers for when they'd done their degree. Once more I was left feeling jealous and bitter.

Leaving university firmly behind me I took my education door to door, trying to find a job. However that was only another hurdle I had yet to discover…I was still rubbish at interviews. I always passed the technical part, but failed the call-back when you have to speak to the HR manager, or the MD or something. To this day the only jobs I have ever got have been from interviews that have been purely technical, focusing on what you can and can't do.

It's been a struggle, but I came through it in the end and it all taught me a lot about myself and my capabilities. My strengths and weaknesses.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

We've gone on holiday by mistake

I've had a trip sprung on me, and with quite short notice. It involves planes, booking flights, arranging transport, time off work etc etc. Having Asperger Syndrome (AS) this is not good. I'm bad enough when I have a lot of notice, but having to organise these things at short notice is a nightmare - I'm such a procrastinator. Sometimes you just have to get your head down and do things as they need done. So I have managed to arrange everything I need to arrange but I'm still feeling anxious and nervous. I strongly suspect something will go wrong as something always does when I travel.

There was the time I turned up at the airport without a passport. It was an internal flight so naive me didn't think I'd need one. Damn you Al-Qaeda! Then I missed my flight home the time after that costing about £180 to re-arrange on another flight, not to mention having to extend my holiday by a day, stressful on its own.

Still, at least it will be over with soon.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

How the other half live

I'm involved with a club that runs mainly over the internet, but does meet up from time to time too. We had a small meeting not long ago where my attendance was required, nothing big, just a handful of folk. It was business more than pleasure so it wasn't terrible on a social level, but being among these people…"normal people" without Asperger Syndrome (AS) really drives home just how different we all are.

Despite the fact that we're all part of the same on-line club they all know so much about each other and the lives of other people in the club. There was so much talk about who was doing what, who was saying what and to who, who met with so-and-so at the whatever. Me? I don't even know these people's real names never mind anything else about them. They obviously all spend a lot of time communicating outside of the club, or on "MSN" or "FaceBook" or the other myriad social advances that have left me by. It's not just my lack of social skills that is highlighted, but my complete and utter lack of interest in people. I really don't want to know anything about other people, I have no desire to connect with them.

The worst thing is though…it makes me feel bad, it makes me feel inadequate. I sit alone in my own world dealing with no-one and I'm quite happy. I then meet other people and just how anti-social and barren my life really is, is slapped across my face. I hate meeting people.