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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Quite aside from Aspergers, men and women are just different!

This is all I've got for you today - but it's great! The differences between men and women are summed in brilliantly in this piece: for an AS and NT partnership, even more so. Hope, as it did for me, it makes you smile and walk a little lighter.

Daughter's birthday today. I'm working most of the day and, somehow, somewhere trying to decorate her birthday cake ready for after school. Ethan has a day off - and what's he chosen to do? Go to the cinema and not be home in time for them coming back from school. Perfect.

Quick, before I start on a rant...the link to the piece:

PS I feel I need to announce the minor breakthroughs and celebrate the small things...Ethan didn't go to the cinema today on his day off, even though he had a free ticket that expired today! I arrived home from work, just before school pick-up, to find a Happy Birthday banner up, balloons tied either end, party poppers laid out on the table and Ethan in the middle of cleaning the kitchen floor. As I write, he's just gone off on the school run! He felt too guilty to go the cinema, he said and wouldn't have been able to relax. A little part of me feels bad for making him feel this way, another part of me feels elated that what I said went in and that he put his family before what he wanted to do. And he's still in good spirits! Might just give him an extra big slice of birthday cake (yes, I did get it decorated in time!)

Monday, 16 March 2015

Aspergers and socialising together

Another disappointing social event over the weekend.

I've had enough of them to expect as much. Still, each time an occasion presents itself, a small part of me hopes that this time, things might go well; that Ethan and I will enjoy an evening socialising with friends - and just sometimes we will. Saturday night though, wasn't one of those times.

Things started off promisingly. We arrived early so there were limited people to converse with. As a result, Ethan found himself, naturally enough, speaking to the bloke next to him at the bar. For twenty minutes or so, all seemed to be going well. Then another guy joined in the conversation, then another and, for Ethan, that was the beginning of the end. Within a few minutes, the linear exchange between Ethan + 1 had turned into a back and forth free-for-all. Ethan had no chance. For a while, he made a valiant attempt to keep up, to remain focused. But he was over-stimulated, lost and even if he could have identified where and when to interject, the noisy surround sound of 50+ people all talking at once in a pub function room meant his over-stimulated brain couldn't focus or decipher a word of what anyone was saying. A couple of times, Ethan told me later, someone seemed to specifically say something to him (he knew from the way everyone looked at him waiting for a reaction) but Ethan had no idea what they'd said so just smiled. It's these kind of accounts from Ethan that make me shrivel inside. What must they have thought?!

I try to keep perspective. To remind myself of the many great qualities that Ethan has, to tell myself that the ability to partake in intelligent, humorous social chat isn't a requirement of a decent person or the main ingredient for a happy marriage. The problem is that, right or not, it is one of the ingredients, for me at least.

I want to able to go for an evening out together with friends without worrying about whether Ethan will be OK and what kind of impression he's making on the people around him. Relationships shouldn't be all about hard work. I want to have fun with him. I don't want to have to look after him, worry about him or do the socialising for both of us or, alternatively, go to events on my own. It might be shallow but, if he had friends and could confidently walk into a room full of people and socialise effortlessly and in a way that entertained people, I would fancy him more. The person looking disconnected and slightly pissed off standing silently at the edge of a group of men who are all laughing and chatting together easily, isn't the guy I'm drawn to (well it is, but for all the wrong reasons!).

The fact is though, I was drawn to him - perhaps because he is different, because he is vulnerable, perhaps - in all honesty - because he doesn't have all that, sometimes exhausting, frothiness of social engagement. What the rest of us take for granted, he really, really struggles with. Going out to a party or a night in a crowded pub for him is, at best overwhelming and hard work and, at worst, painful and humiliating. And yet he keeps putting himself through it - and trying to get better at it, for me. Because he knows that, to me, it's important. Like I said on my last post, it's not very often that I would put myself out for him in that way. And so, although it might be hard to feel attracted to him sometimes when I'm at a party surrounded by confident, funny men conversing easily, I do continue to love him.

Would be great to know how you all cope with social situations in your NT/AS partnerships. What works for you? Should we keep on trying to pull our AS partners kicking and screaming into our social worlds, or would it be easier to go to social events on our own? And, if so, what effect does this have on us as a unit - how do we avoid living separate lives? Post your thoughts under the General natter Talk Topic in the Socialising as couples thread of the Different-together website

Blimey, these blog posts have been a bit depressing of late. Will try and come up with something lighter for next week!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

£11,500 - the price for a happy Aspergers husband?

So, he bought the car. All £11,500 worth of it.
The sight of it there on the drive is bitter-sweet. On the one hand it represents his selfishness, his need for things and his hypocrisy.
He bought it despite the fact I vehemently disagreed with the purchase and that we can’t afford it without getting into (more) debt. Also, if we were going to spend that amount of money I’d rather have spent it on something we would all have benefitted from – a holiday maybe, with enough money left over to pay off our credit card bill and be debt-free. Also, my life is peppered with ‘advice’ from Ethan to spend less on food, his loud exhalations of breath at the cost of school trips and, just yesterday, his suggestion that I buy Sam’s shoes from M&S rather than Clarkes as M&S is cheaper (yes, I did nearly deck him!).
On the other hand the car has, for a limited time I realise, made him happy. He’s thoughtful and caring towards me (presumably due to the guilt), he’s jolly with the kids, he takes himself out for drives and comes back relaxed and invigorated and, although I’m loathe to admit it, he’s had some great moments with the kids due to the car. They love it. Ava is desperate for him to pick her up from the school disco in it because it’s so cool. Sam and Oliver love it because the roof comes down and the seats heat up. And on Saturday Ethan and all three kids spent a happy couple of hours cruising around the peak district in it while I got some work done.
After years of battling, I’m at peace with the fact we’re very different when it comes to possessions: I don’t really need them and am not all that interested. In fact I’d rather make do with a slow and decrepit laptop which still has some life in it than get a faster, shinier, new one. He, on the other hand, thinks of anything over 5-years-old as being out of date and past it, he spends countless hours of his life surfing the web looking at products and he gets immense satisfaction out of having the best, most economical, fastest, latest versions of everything. What I get from people, Ethan gets from things.
His spending has always been manageable. He does act within the boundaries of having a family to support first but, put it this way, only one of us in this family can spend like that. If I took on Ethan’s approach, we’d be bankrupt within a year. The thing I’m most put out about probably is that I really, really didn’t agree with the extravagant car purchase. I cried, I argued, I had sensible discussions with him, I even tried to guilt-trip him with references to holiday-less summers and no money to celebrate my 40th birthday. We eventually reached a compromise and agreed that he would spend no more than £9000 on a car and even that pained me.
Then he came home with one that cost £11,500.
So, the car on the front drive has given me a happy, caring, cheerful, considerate, helpful husband for a while but the cost - apart from the money - is a feeling of betrayal and of my views and feelings not counting for much. Or at least not counting as much as having a fancy new car.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Aspergers and spending a night in their shoes

“Can I be really honest with you? I absolutely hated every minute of that party. I hated the awkward mingling in that room when we arrived with so many people crammed in. I didn’t recognise anyone and everyone was talking at once so I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying. I hated being squashed onto that table and having to think of things to talk about with the same few people for two hours. And I hated when the music started. That was the end of the night for me. I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying, I got fed up of saying pardon, I didn’t want to dance. I just hated it.”
These were Ethan’s words the morning after a 40th birthday party last weekend. I know such things aren’t his cup of tea. I knew he was unlikely to enjoy himself (although every now and then there are social engagements that he enjoys - but he has to be in the mood and ideally there should only be one or two other people that he is speaking to at any one time, no interruptions between speakers and minimal background noise). I felt slightly nervous in the run up to this 40th birthday party. It was going to be full of friends from school whom I hadn’t seen for years and I really wanted to enjoy it. I was worried that he’d be rude, disengaged, a miserable presence or that, even if he wasn’t any of these things, I’d be on edge all night waiting for one of these behaviours to manifest itself.
The fact is, he was none of these things. He chatted to people, he smiled, he even danced briefly when backed into a corner. He didn’t even moan privately to me (not even when I took too long to say goodbye to everyone and we missed our taxi home!). No-one, not even me, would have guessed how much he was hating it.
Amidst my demands for him to tow the party line, come along to events he hates and to SMILE and converse his way through them (mostly for my sake but also for his – when he’s made the effort, it does boost his self-esteem, he does feel more a part of things and it does lift his spirits, as long as he knows he can sit down by himself in a dark room afterwards!) – but amidst all this effort from him, I wonder if I would – if I do – do the same for him. Would I give up one of my precious evenings to play computer games with him if it would make him happy? I switch off if he starts talking camera-angles and lighting effects in films and I’ve never been to a technology show with him.
To be honest with myself, I suspect that, rather than meeting him in the middle, we meet ¾ of the way along, in my favour. Maybe immersing myself in something he likes and I hate for an evening would give me a valuable glimpse into his world. After all, it’s us who are meant to be good at adapting isn’t it?!

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Aspergers money and the little irritations

Some days and weeks I am quite tolerant of Ethan’s eccentricities and self-absorbed ways. This week I’m not.

When Ethan greeted the news that he’d had a pay-rise of an extra £60 per month with the words ‘So no more arguments about me buying a car’ I was irritated. An extra £60 a month is not going to cover the £10,000 car that he’s decided he absolutely must have. More to the point, perhaps that extra £60 a month should go towards paying off our overdrafts or credit card bill or being able to go on a family holiday in the summer. His view is that he’s got the money by working hard so it’s his to do with what he likes. The implication then surely being that I don’t work hard (although I would say being at home with the kids the bulk of the time plus working part-time is equally as hard a role as his is). Even if he acknowledges that I do work hard (which he does, to be fair) that doesn’t seem to earn me £10,000 to spend on myself.  The difference between us in terms of money seems to be that I think of us as a family unit and he thinks of him. Fume. 

Secondly, what sometimes (OK, very occasionally) seem like unique, funny, harmless little ways he has, are really annoying me this week. Things like him having to have his own towels (God forbid he should have to use a towel that has touched the body of another member of his family!) and having to have certain pillow cases (that therefore need to be washed, dried and put back on his pillows in the same day) and removing clothes from radiators the moment I’ve put them on there and stamping his foot or banging the table when he sneezes. Grrrr.

But the most I can do (until Easter Sunday anyway) is calmly point out these things, or take a deep breath and walk away...I’ve given up arguing with him for lent.
If you’re interested in talking to others about how issues of money play out in your AS/NT relationship, head to and join the Money Matters thread. You’ll need to become a member of Different Together (if you haven’t already) to join in the chat, but it’s very easy to do – you just need to click on Join on the forum page and follow the quick and simple instructions. See you there!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Living with Aspergers - two years after diagnosis

Had a rare time of Ethan opening up to me this weekend.

Managed to negotiate the myriad of obstacles that needed to be surmounted in order for Ethan and I to have a whole day and evening together in Manchester. We had afternoon tea, we looked round an art gallery, we drank cocktails - and it was during this part of the day that Ethan, relaxed, contemplative and, crucially, given the space and time to really talk, told me how it's feeling, at the moment, to be living with Aspergers. It changes, depending on what kind of mood he's in, how well he feels he's been coping with life, how tired he is. But one of the tensions between us recently has been how much he drinks - bottles of rum are disappearing fast, and none of it is down to me.
He told me that the only times he feels relaxed and comfortable in his own home is when he's had a drink - it helps relax him. Otherwise, he says, the mess and clutter and noise and kids, make him feel really stressed out. He can physically feel the stress, he says, building up inside him, and he either has to let it out by getting angry and irritated, shouting at the kids and being grumpy with me, or by drinking or watching TV on his computer (or preferably both) to dispel the stress. I'd been thinking lately, how well he's been coping with all the mess in the house brought about by lack of time, three kids and, to be honest, lack of inclination. Obviously not - he's just given up mentioning it, finding the solution instead in a tumbler full of rum. It's not good.

He also says that, although initially knowing that he'd got Aspergers had made things easier - since he now understood why he did the things he did, recently knowing has made things harder because he's so much more conscious of the way he is. Whereas before he might make a faux-pas or act insensitively, he'd be blissfully unaware of it. Now he's analysing everything he says and does - and knows when he's, in his words, 'been a bit weird'. Being constantly and publicly aware of your shortcomings every day and not really being able to do much about them, must be hard. And to top that off, he has a wife who, rather than offering comfort, points out how he's messed up and nags him about not caring. Seems he cares a lot more than I've given him credit for.

I do know, frequently and vocally, that it is hard for me to be married to someone with Aspergers, but it's equally as hard for Ethan - and so we need to help each other.

We've agreed that Ethan will only drink one of the days that he's off a week - I'm hoping he'll honour the agreement. I would write that I'll seriously undertake to do some tidying up but I know I won't. I barely have time to pee at the moment. The best I can promise is that, amid the mess and busyness of life, I'll make sure Ethan has his time to escape - with a cup of tea, not a glass of rum. 

Monday, 9 February 2015

Aspergers, kids and the bigger picture

I worry slightly, as the kids grow older, what kind of relationship they’ll have with their dad by the time they’re teenagers.

The kids really do push Ethan’s buttons – and the speed of his transformation can be frightening.  Often it’s over the smallest, most ‘normal’ of things – they don’t do what he says straight away, they shout too loud, they answer back: all annoying tendencies that go along with living life with three young children by your side. Ethan though, depending on the kind of day he’s had or how he’s feeling, will snap like an overstretched piece of elastic over these things – metaphorically then smacking us all around the face with his frayed ends. 

Yesterday, Oliver pushed Sam down the stairs. I accept that warrants a stern reaction and an appropriate punishment under the controlled judgment of a calm and rational parent...

Ethan lost it. 

He grabbed Oliver’s arm and yanked him upstairs, bellowing at full volume as he did so. As Oliver crept back down to see if his brother was OK, Ethan dug the full force of his elbow into Oliver’s ribs, shouting at him to “Get away from us, NOW.” Ethan was almost shaking with rage. I told him to go away and calm down and I led Sam into the living room to give him a cuddle and assess his injuries: bit of a bump on the head and a bruise forming on his cheek. Meanwhile, Oliver had been pushed up the stairs by his fuming father, smacked twice on the bum and sent to bed. I abandoned the injured party (who must have been feeling very put out that the perpetrator of the crime was getting all the attention) and went upstairs where Oliver was crying into his pillow. 

“I’ve told him about messing around on the stairs,” Ethan was still shouting and was now really out of breath, through a mixture of exertion and adrenaline, “he has to learn.” What Ethan didn’t know because he has no insight, had never thought to ask and doesn’t plug into what’s going on around him is that, minutes before the tumble down the stairs, Sam was telling Oliver to hit him - to make him melt (they were playing Minecraft and Sam was the zombie). They had been happily chasing each other, Oliver whacking Sam and Sam dramatically ‘melting’ in a heap. So when Sam started descending the stairs four-year-old Oliver, caught up in the game, hit him. He hadn’t, as Ethan’s reaction suggested, thought ‘ha, he’s on the stairs, here’s my chance to really do some damage.’ 

Yes, of course, he needed to be told off, perhaps punished, of course he needed it reiterated firmly that he never plays, pushes, hits etc on the stairs but, along with that, his motives, the context and Sam’s part in the proceedings also needed to be considered. It is this wider picture that seems to evade Ethan so much of the time. 

Afterwards, Ethan was sorry and gutted and disappointed with himself. But what use are these emotions after the event? I suspect the next time something angers Ethan disproportionately we’ll be travelling down the same road. 

That said, the article that’s linked to from the Different-Together Facebook page today ( made me stop and think. Not so much about vaccinations (which is the topic of the piece) but about the way I approach Ethan’s Aspergers:

‘Having an autism spectrum disorder in an ableist world means that you’re constantly exposed to cruel irony. Most frequently, this comes in the form of neurotypical (i.e. non-autistic) people who tell you, incorrectly, that you can’t or don’t feel empathy like them, and then stubbornly refuse to care about your feelings when they claim that you’re lost, that you’re a burden, and that your life is a constant source of misery for you and everyone who loves you.’ Sarah Kurchak

I know I’m totally guilty of this – in this very incident with Oliver I told Ethan how miserable he makes me, how hard it is to bring up children with him, how the kids will grow up to hate him if he didn’t change his ways. I frequently talk to him as the person with the issues who needs to change, driven by the desire of me and our kids (mostly me) to want a husband and dad who fits our mould. I rarely think about his feelings or attempt to adapt myself to fit his way of working. Of course, he needs to tone down his over-reaction to the kids’ bad behaviour and learn to manage his anger – he knows that. But in what ways do I need to try and understand him better and adapt my expectations or even habits, to accommodate some of his ways which aren’t better or worse than mine – just different?