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Thursday, 29 January 2015

Aspergers, miscommunication and being Different Together

Unbelievable! After a week of stressing and hours spent looking for my car/house keys and not wanting to tell Ethan because of how he would react - I finally 'fessed up on Tuesday night. Only to discover that he'd had them all along.

Apparently he told me that he was taking one set away to avoid the chance of them being lost. Really don't remember that. He says I was walking in the opposite direction at the time and doing something with the kids....well there you go then. It didn't occur to him to wait until a calmer time when I might actually be able to take in what he was telling me! Anyway, all's well that ends well I suppose, although could have done without the week of stress. It did give the opportunity to have a discussion though about why I'd held back from mentioning it for so long - for fear of how he'd react. I told him that it's very lonely feeling  I can't be open with him about life's little hiccups and frustrations, like lost keys, because of how stressed and annoyed he'll get. Told him that, when things go wrong, as they inevitably will, I need to know he's not going to make things worse by obsessing over it and spreading an air of tension and gloom over us all. He promised to try harder not to over-react and get angry the next time something annoying happens. We'll see...

In the meantime, I need to tell you, dear readers who have stuck with me on this journey we all travel, that this blog will be changing.

I'm linking in with the absolutely fantastic website and support network - Different Together. For any of you who haven't discovered it yet, visit www.different-together.co.uk  The website is filled with information on living with an AS partner as well as a forum where you can chat to other people living the same reality. There's also an excellent interview with Tony Attwood on the home page.


In future, I'll still be writing this blog, it'll still chart the everyday challenges and mini triumphs of living as an NT partner of an AS spouse, but I'll also be pulling in news and content from the Different Together website and Facebook page and keeping people up-to-date with developments for the Different Together conference that looks likely to take place in May 2016. And the blog will look a bit different too and will probably change its name. But rest assured - it'll still be Ethan and I muddling through!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Lost car keys and aspergerisation

I’ve lost my car keys. I keep hoping they’ll turn up – when I’m not actively looking for them (because I’ve already looked everywhere I can think of) - but it’s been two weeks and they haven’t appeared yet.

It’s a relief to be able to write it down – to tell you. Keeping niggling worries to yourself makes them worse. But I can’t tell Ethan. He’ll hit the roof. And we’ve only just recovered from horrible rows and resentment last week over an £18,000 BMW Ethan wanted to buy (yes – really, never mind that we’re overdrawn and getting more so each month, in debt on our credit card and have all our kids birthdays and my 40th in the next few months...oh, and that we can’t afford to go on holiday this year. Ethan couldn’t seem to link any of this to the fact that he wanted a BMW. He seemed reluctant, or unable, to let his desire for a BMW be influenced by the money we have (or don’t have) as a family). Anyway, we’ve just about managed to find a compromise and the tension and hopelessness that has hung over us for the last week has gone. I really don’t want to start a whole new thing with the loss of my car keys (my house keys are on the same key ring).

It’s at times like these that I mourn the fact I don’t have a husband that I can share the whole of life with. I’d love to be married to someone who I could feel confident telling I’ve lost my car/house keys, knowing that he would rib me a bit but that, overall, he’d roll with it as one of the little yet constant annoyances in life, we’d take appropriate  action and get over it. But with Ethan, I know it will lead to him being totally stressed, aggressive and frustrated with me for not putting the key in the ‘key place’ that he’s created and that the frustration and irritation will linger for days, possibly weeks.

Keeping things from him (we’ve got one of Sam’s seven-year-old friends coming for a sleepover on Friday and I’ve not plucked up the courage to tell him that yet) is one of the ways that I feel I’ve been aspergerised through living with Ethan for so long. My habits, tendencies, outlook even have been tempered by how he reacts to things. Take a couple of weeks ago when we had friends over. They’d arrived at 2pm to go for a walk and then we’d invited them back for drinks and nibbles. Both of us expected that our guests would leave by about tea-time. When at 10pm that evening they still hadn’t left, I could sense Ethan getting stressed, drying up, extracting himself from conversation (fair enough – he’d been making the effort for the last 8 hours. He had pretty much run a social marathon and needed to rest). He started conspicuously looking at the clock, he’d already put our youngest child to bed as a kind of almighty hint (unfortunately our guests had drank too much and failed to pick up on it!), he’d tidied up around us all and sighed a few times. I felt myself getting more and more stressed too – because I was worried about what he might do/say next, because I knew how desperately he needed them to leave now and partly, although it’s hard to admit it, because although I used to love drinking and chatting into the wee hours, a combination of young kids and being married to Ethan has changed me. I find that, almost by proxy, I too want my social exchanges these days to fit into a specific time-scale with a start and end point and to not go on too long. I like impulsive meet-ups or long conversations or parties that run on less and less. And then I feel frustrated with myself for feeling this way instead of just relaxing and enjoying myself. Perhaps this would have happened to me anyway as I got older and had more responsibilities and life got busier – but I think being married to Ethan and always conscious of how long he can keep going until he hits burn-out or says something rude and we need to get him out of there, has made me far less relaxed and more intolerant too.

Well, no-one’s broken into our house or stolen our car yet – perhaps I should just keep quiet about the keys and hope Ethan never notices...

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Clarke family (a frustrated wife, 3 moaning kids and a husband with Aspergers) go sledging - Take 2!

So, we attempted the sledging thing again.

I’d prepared a carnic (picnic in the car) to eat on the way, I’d convinced Ethan that there would be enough snow on the hills to sledge and I had a rucksack filled with gloves, balaclavas and extra socks. Whilst I prepared everything I thought we might need, Ethan lingered (as he does) over his morning routine of time sitting on the loo with his Iphone followed by a lengthy shower.
The time came. We extracted ourselves from church swiftly and headed for the hills. Unfortunately, it seemed, everyone else was doing the same. The queue started as soon as we hit the main road. I, in forced cheeriness, tried to make the best of it with comments like: “doesn’t everywhere look pretty in the snow?” and “who’d like another piece of pizza?” Ethan, when he bothered to speak at all in-between sighing loudly, said things like “We’re going to be stuck in this queue for at least another 40 minutes” and “Great [meant sarcastically]– now it’s snowing. This is going to be pleasant.” He made no effort to join in general conversation and looked thoroughly hacked off for the entire journey (more on Ethan’s face which seems to be frozen in an expression of gloom another time...). After a while, my irritation at him had built up sufficiently for me to blow a fuse. I told him he was selfish and miserable and spoiling everyone’s afternoon, that we couldn’t do anything about the traffic but what we could do something about was our attitude, that I was sick of being the one always trying to jolly things along while he did everything he could (knowingly or not) to drag everyone down, that the very times that things don’t go to plan are the very times we need to support each other to make the best of things. I was shouting and close to tears. The kids witnessed it all and the subsequent mood for the afternoon seemed set.

When we finally got into the country park, I spotted a hill where a few kids were sledging and suggested we park there. As Ethan went further along the road to turn round, I spotted another hill, closer to the official car-park where people were sledging and suggested that we went there instead. Ethan snapped at me “Can we just stick to what’s been agreed please?” – unable or unwilling to bend and flex with circumstances.

Finally, we got to a hill. From the moment we got out of the car Oliver (aged 4) started moaning that he was cold and wanted to go home, Sam (aged 6) started crying when snow went down his welly and Ava (aged 9) spent the whole time desperate for a wee! In-between all the moaning and arguments we had some nice moments (Ethan made a snowman with the boys - which Oliver then proceeded to kick down making Sam cry, Ava enjoyed the sledging - until the sledge went over a tree stump and broke and Ethan and I found an acceptable way to take our aggression out by throwing snowballs at each other – it even had the effect of seeming to the kids that mummy and daddy were having fun together!)

Why is it so hard to have fun together as a family? Either the kids moan and argue or Ethan is miserable and withdrawn (or both). The eternal pessimism of him gets under my skin and frustrates me hugely so we argue, so the atmosphere between us is tense, which I’m sure plays a part in the kids behaving as they do.
As is the cycle, Ethan apologised afterwards for the way he behaved. He says he felt really angry (all it had taken was a traffic jam to create this anger) and he couldn’t snap out of it. I appreciate the apology – but am getting a little (a lot) tired of the pattern: Ethan gets angry/frustrated/gloomy over tiny things (just life, really) and makes no effort, which causes an argument between us, which ruins our family time together. Repeatedly saying sorry after the event doesn’t quite cut it.

And yet, what can I do but accept his apology (and apologise myself for my outbursts of temper and the hurtful things I say) and keep on going? I have to believe that we’re both capable of better, that we’ll both keep trying, that – one day - we’ll go on a family outing and, even if there are a few hiccups along the way, I'll report back that we had a lovely time.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Aspergers and the details of life



On the one hand, my Aspergers husband is tuned in to the fine details of life - the exact shade of green in a spring meadow, what someone is saying on the other side of a crowded, noisy pub, the type of moulding on a kitchen knife that a person is using to chop salad when we go round for dinner...

On the other hand, details that are actually important completely pass him by. A couple of weeks ago, in a bid to find enough snow to sledge on, we drove into the countryside. The road we stopped on was fairly narrow and the curb was high - definitely a 'park two wheels on the pavement' job. There were two points at which Ethan could have driven up a drop curb onto the path (which I pointed out twice - once for each drop curb). Yet he completely ignored me (he said later he didn't hear me - although I was speaking loud and clear. The reality was that he was aware I was speaking but wasn't actually listening to what I was saying - a too frequent, very frustrating pattern). He rammed the car up the full curb, too fast, and burst our car tyre (the £150 car tyre that had been fitted a month earlier). I was adamant the kids should at least get a go with their sledge out of the whole sorry incident - but it was no fun. I was hugely p****d off, he was grumpy and distant and, although they gave it their best shot, it was hard for the kids to have unhindered fun in-between two frosty parents.

In his defence (because, of course, that's the approach he took. A man with Aspergers, at least my man with Aspergers, finds it so hard to accept responsibility and say he's sorry) Ethan says that he didn't realise the curb was so high. And yet he works in facts and practicalities. I'm not car aware at all and even I could see that the curb was flipin' huge! And anyway I TOLD HIM! If only he'd listen.

The second incident, and I know I just sound like a frustrated wife moaning about her husband now...is that he threw away my year planner. Fair enough, you may think, since 2014 is well and truly over. But this was a September to September year planner. And it was covered in my scrawl highlighting important dates, deadlines, when I'm away with work, etc. It wasn't his fault though (of course it wasn't) because he didn't realise it ran until September (is there a theme emerging here?!) That's OK then. Although it did say, in very large bold letters across the top: Year planner: 2014-2015. But it's unreasonable of me to expect him to actually read what something says - or, indeed, to simply ask me if I want to keep what's mine. Silly thought.

Monday, 5 January 2015

We survived Christmas!

For many people with Aspergers, Christmas induces feelings of dread...
Social engagements, extended amounts of time trapped in the house with the family, small children screaming (in our house anyway!), mess (in our house anyway), noise, lights, a loss of normal routine...my Aspergers husband was even subjected to sitting through an all-singing, all-dancing, shouting, flashing, dough-throwing pantomime whilst selected children (ours and my sister's) at various times throughout the evening, wriggled on his knee, trod on his toes, argued, shouted "I believe in fairies" in his ear and clung onto him with sticky ice-cream fingers. He did us all proud: only closing his eyes for extended periods twice (that I saw) and bravely putting on a smile each time I caught his eye!
For partners, it can be a time of heightened stress, will or won't your Aspergers spouse play ball? How many family events can they take before they lose it/say something rude/get their iphone out during conversation? Would it be better to just leave them at home? Or will that in itself seem rude/miserable? Will they remember to act pleased with their present from your parents even if they wonder why on earth they would buy him such a thing?!
Personally, some of our biggest blow-outs have been over Christmas, usually involving his engagement, or lack of it, at social events and/or his irritability with the kids' high-volume over-excitement on Christmas Day. But things have definitely got better. A huge contributor to this is Ethan himself. I know that Aspergers is Aspergers and that his brain won't suddenly rewire itself into a jolly, optimistic, chatty, tolerant, happy-go-lucky geezer just because it's Christmas...but, for us at least (albeit with a lot of effort and the promise that days of high sociability will be punctuated with escape time on his computer) Christmas can be a 'success' with Aspergers, it just takes a bit of adjusting - both of expectations and in practical terms - on both sides.
I don't force Ethan to come to every friend and neighbours' gathering anymore. I don't get stressed or disappointed if he's not very 'chatty' at family parties, I accept that, sometimes, while I watch a Christmas film with the kids, he might need some time recharging without us, and I try not to take to heart his odd small explosion over a spilled drink or bit of mud on the carpet. He, in turn, does his best to be 'with us' in mind as well as body when we are together and to accept that he is going to be with us a lot more than normal - for a time - and that the house is going to be messy and that life will be loud. But that it will pass. This acceptance from us both, along with the QI book of 1,411 facts that I got him for Christmas-escape time during extended sessions in the loo, has meant this Christmas has been not just survivable - but pretty good.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Aspergers and 'mini Barcelonas'

Last weekend my husband (who has Asperger's Syndrome) took me on a surprise visit to Barcelona. I was going to write impulsive, whirlwind or last-minute, but it wasn't any of those things for him. For me it was all of the above - I knew nothing about it until the moment the taxi arrived to take us to the airport. He, on the other hand, had planned meticulously; down to the very last detail. He'd organised the kids to be looked after, he'd booked the (very swanky) hotel and specified which floor he wanted to be on and what direction the room should face, he'd specified the seats he wanted on the plane (in front of the engine makes for a smoother ride apparently) and he'd even booked ahead at a restaurant for the Saturday evening. He'd even, and this is starting to get a bit creepy, monitored my cycle so that he knew whether he needed to bring tampax or not!
It was a fabulous weekend. We got on brilliantly (it was actually me that was a bit grumpy at times. Despite his best efforts, Ethan was sadly out with his calculations - I was hugely premenstrual!), we were relaxed, we had time to talk and enjoy being together, we soaked up the atmosphere (and the cocktails), the sun shone. It was wonderful. The tensions started the moment we arrived back at Manchester Airport. Ethan was stressed that the taxi (that he'd pre-ordered, of course) wasn't there when we walked into the arrival lounge. He couldn't help but vent his frustration with the taxi driver when he did arrive, which put me on edge. Back at home, Ava was still up and excited to see us. Ethan was pleased to see her and jolly - up to a point. But when she was reluctant to go to bed half an hour later, the irritated version of him began to reappear.
The next day we were both back at work. We were again responsible for our three children, life got busy. Having been away from them for three days, the children seemed to annoy Ethan more quickly and more deeply than ever before. Ethan and I returned to our more normal state of arguing.

It seems that, if we can keep life at bay, Ethan and I can live as an NT/Aspergers couple no problem. When it's just me and him, most of the time, we're OK. It's when life gets in the way (work, responsibilities, other people, our kids) that things can get tricky. And since we can't spend our life in isolated bliss in Barcelona (actually, I think, given another day or two, we'd have started to get a bit fed up of each other!) our only alternative is to make life - with all its daily struggles, triumphs, challenges, hassles, people and duties - work. Of course, giving each other mini 'Barcelonas' (time locked in the office playing computer games for him, time out reading or with friends for me), helps. And, with Christmas just around the corner and the intensive time with lots of people that it brings, I think I'm going to consciously need to create those moments for Ethan if we are to get through it with good cheer. 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Distance makes the (Aspergers) heart fonder

Ethan's been away on a course for the past week.
I've genuinely missed him . It started out with me missing him for all the practical reasons - helping shoulder responsibility for three young kids from dawn 'til dusk, being able to leave two of the kids at home while I take the other one to his swimming lesson, etc. On the day that Oliver split his head open and I had to be in work, I really could have done with him being around.
However, as the week went on and I received tender, encouraging texts from him and he checked in with jolly phone calls to the kids, I started to miss him for other reasons. I looked forward to him coming home. He too, after a week of high sociability was looking forward to the sanctity of home. Except therein lay the problem: home is not the restful place with sweetly-playing cherubs that he'd built up in his mind while he was away.
When he got home, the first few hours were wonderful: he was involved and engaged with the kids and they, as a result, were pleased to see their dad and eager to please. I soaked in the luxury of not having to do bedtime and feeling part of a partnership again.
By the next day, his enthusiasm may have been waning slightly, but still he took the kids to the park whilst I caught up with work: all voluntarily and in good grace.
However, by the end of their excursion, his reserves of energy and engagement were definitely running dry. As teatime approached, the familiar irritation and aggression with the kids began to resurface. He was annoyed with Ava for talking too much. He snapped at the boys over the volume of their voices. And he sighed loudly at me when I came too close making a cup of tea while he was using the 'food preparation area'!

Reality bites. But maybe, Aspergers or not, we're all guilty of appreciating each other most from a distance!