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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Bloom where you are planted



Bless him. Ethan hassled today because it's his day off and, in addition to transferring some music from vinyl onto CD, he's got to take Ava's clarinet to be mended (more on that later). Currently he's 'pottering' on the computer and reading the news and later he's going to the cinema. It would be a lazy dream day for me but he's just said (and I quote): 'I'm fed up of rushing around'! Am trying to understand things from his perspective and see how dropping a clarinet off on his way to the cinema is rushing around (whilst I tidy the house, bake a cake for a friend who's just had a baby, collect Oliver from pre-school at 12.30, write this blog, look into bouncy castle hire for the school summer fair, put the clothes away and have guests arriving to stay for two days at 1pm).
But, we're different. What's a hassle to him is normal for me, and vice versa. I feel that Ethan comes in for a slating far too often on these posts (although, to be fair, they are supposed to be my vents, therapy I suppose, on living with a guy with Aspergers). Anyway, I am all too conscious that, as the neuro-typical side of the partnership, I drive Ethan crazy a lot of the time too. Here are some of the reasons why:
  • I sent him a text the other day while he was in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to deal with his anger issues. (Actually, I sometimes feel it should be me having those sessions. I spend my life shouting and screeching at the kids. The reason for the broken clarinet is me - snatching it off Ava in a temper when she couldn't put the cork grease on and, as a result, dropping it on the floor and breaking one of the keys. I then blamed her, and the boys, for making me cross in the first place!). I fired a quick 'Argh' text off to Ethan. Just as a way to relieve my tension. I got no reply. And when he came home he was really annoyed with me. From my perspective, it was just an 'Argh' - a vent, something I'd fill him in on later. From his perspective, he didn't know what the 'Argh' referred to, it immediately made him feel stressed, he felt distracted that the 'Argh' had arrived while he was in his CBT session while he was trying to focus on that. He saw it as me being thoughtless and stressed and passing my stress onto him at a time when he really needed to not feel stressed. I get that. But I also feel sad that I can't be myself and express myself with Ethan in the same way I would and can with anyone else. Anyone else would have texted back something along the lines of 'Oh no, what's happened?!' and I'd have replied and it would have taken some of the pressure off the situation. In Ethan's case, me expressing myself just led to more stress for both of us. Oh dear, this seems to be turning into an attack on Ethan again. So, next annoying trait of mine for Ethan, is:
  • I'm frequently highly emotional - stress, happiness, sadness, joy, anxiety. I am a cocophony of emotions, all laid out for all to see. It's too much for Ethan. He frequently has to get away from me for a while!
  • I talk too much (as this blog shows).
  • I criticse too much and praise too little. In relation to Ethan. To everyone else, the opposite is true. Which also really hacks Ethan off. 
  • I'm far too influenced and worried by what other people think. Ethan is able to shut off this part of himself. Or maybe it's not there to start with. 
  • I don't always tell people the truth. For instance, I told my aunty that I loved the pottery pig with his head stuck down a barrel that she gave me for my birthday. As a result, I've ended up with a whole family of pottery pigs in various predicaments to adorn the bottom of my wardrobe...I mean mantlepiece. I should have told her that pottery pigs really aren't my thing and have asked for the money instead. This is what Ethan would do.
I guess the thing is that, in every relationship, there are issues that each person has. Particular hang-ups and areas they struggle with. There's always cause for friction. And two different people will always have two different approaches to doing things - whether Aspergers is present or not. I'm hanging onto the belief that, if I packed off tomorrow into a new relationship, I'd just be walking into a whole new set of problems and challenges. They might take a while to surface, but they'd come. That's the nature of two different people trying to live as a single unit.
The statistics for people staying together in arranged marriages are far higher than in our 'love' marriages. And, OK, maybe it's because these people don't really have a choice. But I think it might also have something to do with the fact these people go into these marriages knowing that the relationship will be hard work. Not expecting to base their marriage on the fluffy (and fleeting) emotion of love and attraction. Knowing that their marriage is based on commitment rather than love. Hopefully the love will come but the glue is the commitment they have made to each other. I read a great excerpt about this on Facebook. It said: 'I'm not saying you couldn't fall in love with someone else. You could. And temporarily you'd feel better. But you'd be in the same situation a few years later. The key to succeeding in a relationship is not finding the right person: It's learning to love the person you found.'
So I'm going to bloom where I am planted. This picture makes me think of Ethan and I. In a hard place, but doing our best to bloom...together (and trying not to choke each other in the process!)

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Aspergers and maddening routines

There are some routines Ethan has that are maddening:
Like having to get into his pyjamas every night at the same time as the kids, to the extent that, even if one of them is shouting and wailing and I'm busy sorting out another of them, Ethan will just ignore the shouts. Completely block them out. I don't even think he hears them. Until I scream at him to go and bloody well sort it out that is. Or abandon one child to go and sort out the other. I make sure I huff and puff and complain loudly well within Ethan's ear shot (although it usually has no effect other than to feed my frustration  while Ethan carries on with what he's doing. Best to confront an issue head on, I find.)
He has to obsessively go to the loo and have a shower every morning (and it takes him ages). No matter how late we are, and even if we're about to go swimming?! I always have a shower the night before because I know there's never time in the morning. And my loo visits (for either job) take around 1 minute. He would never dream of rushing or by-passing his shower.
He always has to sit down to the same breakfast and, bar breakfast, he always has to have some form of pudding after every meal (I was brought up only having pudding on a Sunday so this really jars with me!) When he has a cup of coffee he has to sit down and be still while he drinks it. I barely get to sit down to eat my meals, never mind to drink my tea!
On the face of things, it's not a problem that he has routines and ways of doing things. The real issue, I guess, is that he daily indulges in these routines while I am forced to run around, adapt, eat a slice of toast while getting the kids dressed, miss a meal altogether, have greasy hair because there's no time for a shower, etc, etc, so that he can stick unswervingly to his ways. I guess the issue is that I feel I get the raw end of the deal. It's not fair. I feel sorry for myself, I suppose.
And, as with so many of the issues we are dealing with at the moment, it wouldn't be nearly so much of a problem if we weren't bringing up three kids and juggling so much. The only way to be able to manage it all is to be adaptable - something which is almost impossible for Ethan.
Cue the tension!
Now please excuse me while I stop Oliver running his cars down the walls of the freshly painted hall and wash Ava's hair...
Ethan's in the shower!

Monday, 22 April 2013

Aspergers and Silver Linings


Silver Linings Playbook (2012) Poster

Watched the film Silver Linings with Ethan at the weekend.
Fantastic film, loved it (it's all about people, which is right down my street). I'm not sure whether the main character was meant to have Aspergers, but he certainly had mental health issues, and these included some Aspergers traits. So often, when Aspergers-type conditions are portrayed in the media, the people with these traits are presented as quirky, funny loveable types: dysfunctional socially but adorable for it.
In reality, it's not funny being woken up at 4am by someone obsessed with finding something right there and then and not being able to rest until they do. It's not funny being at a party with your partner and them telling a friend that their dress does nothing for them, in fact it makes their tummy look fat. And it's not funny when your partner dominates conversation with their zeal on a particular topic that no-one else is interested in. But, somehow, when all this is conveyed on a film and it's happening to somebody else, it's really funny and endearing!
Ethan joined in laughing at the guy's funny ways - which is good. It shows he knows the difference between acts of Aspergers and what's accepted as 'normal' in society. But afterwards he was a bit subdued.
Ethan is no-where near as outlandish as Pat in the film but, even so, I think, in a way, watching this oddball guy and his outlandish ways, highlighted to Ethan that he is different. The film was laughing at what Ethan is. Which is both a good and a bad thing for Ethan to experience, I guess. Laughing helps...to a degree!
Have started working part-time, now that Oliver, our youngest is going to pre-school for half the week. It's care work, so more of the same. But at least it's something I should be a bit of an expert on by now! And it's nice to feel that I'm doing something that makes a positive difference to people.
Anyway, I was working yesterday (Sunday). Ethan had been up since 4.30am for his work and got home about midday having only managed about 4 hours sleep the night before. He helped Sam with his homework, took the kids out to the park and arrived 15 minutes early at a party that Oliver was at to take over from me so that I could have half an hours downtime before I went to work.
I felt so lucky to have him. He'd been at work all morning, come home to 3 crazy, noisy kids and a messy house (all pretty tough things for someone with Aspergers to deal with) and, with only one espresso coffee to fuel him on his way, had got stuck straight into the childcare role. Coming early to that children's party to socialise, yet more, in a noisy, chaotic environment must have been a difficult choice. But he did it. Because he was thinking of me.
Ethan is capable of empathy. He needs reminding sometimes to tune into it, but he can do it. He doesn't always get it right. Sometimes he just can't be bothered. Sometimes neither can I. But, as much as we can, we try to be the best we can be for each other, within the constraints we have. Not using our past or our condition or our personalities as an excuse, but neither pretending they're not there. And bearing with each other too. We've both done a lot of that over the years!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Aspergers and that flipin' single-mindedness

Arrived home from being a parent helper on Sam's school trip today. The journey itself seemed to dominate the day, involving an almost 4 hour round trip on a coach, five vomiting children and 1 toilet stop in a lay-by!
Got home shattered, having not slept much for the last few nights and having spent 7 hours with 45 5-year-olds, hoping to flop onto the sofa with a cup of tea or half an hour. No. Such. Luck. 
Ethan, who had been looking after Oliver all day (whom, I since discovered, through him still being awake at 9pm tonight, had a 1.5 hour sleep today!) was engrossed in photo-shopping pictures of the kids, printing them out, framing them and hanging them on the wall.A perfectly worthy pursuit. But not when all the kids were home and wanting attention, tea needed making, I'd been working hard all day and he'd been taking it easy.
To be fair, it's a job we've been meaning to do for months and Ethan obviously took the opportunity of a day at home to get cracking with it. The problem is that, once Ethan starts a project, it takes over every fibre of his being until it's done. 
So no matter that I'd been shepherding hoards of kids around all day, sorting out squabbles and cleaning up sick and had barely eaten or drank: once I got in it was straight into handwriting with Sam, clarinet practise with Ava (and being shouted and moaned at in the process) and requests to put his batman outfit on Oliver. All while Ethan shut himself in the office and absorbed himself in tweaking a particularly revealing photo of Sam to make it suitable for public view on the wall (it needed to stay full body, apparently, to get the proper effect!)
Once he's focussed on something he wants to achieve, nothing or no-one gets a look-in before he's achieved his purpose. I swear, if the house started burning down, he'd just 'finish off this bit...' before helping us all get out the house. When I was in pretty advanced labour with Sam he left me and, then, 3-year-old Ava at home while he rushed up to the allotment to plant his carrots ('cos it might be the last chance he got!)
Can you guess that his single-mindedness causes a little bit of tension in our relationship?! Unable to restrain myself I stomped into the office and had a rant at him. In earshot of the kids. It's not good practise and I know I need to stop doing it. But when I'm wound up I just can't hold it in. So, after a quick blast at him, I went upstairs and wrote this blog instead (so sorry you, dear readers, have copped the rant instead of Ethan!) But, lo and behold, whilst I scribbled furiously upstairs, I heard him clattering about downstairs making dinner. So maybe we are both moving forward after all?!


Saturday, 13 April 2013

I've got Aspergers...get me out of here!

OK, so I gave in. On Thursday afternoon when we were meant to be having family together time at a park or a farm or some such thing, I caved in and released Ethan to a solitary few hours. Just him and the cinema.
It was a difficult thing to do. The self-preserving part of me fought the decision. I had been pretty much single-handedly keeping the kids entertained for the last two weeks. He had work to escape to where he could achieve something constructive and not be interrupted with whines, complaints and in-fighting every two minutes. He already has more time 'off' than me at home when he escapes to his office and loses himself in a computer game. Not that I begrudge him a bit of downtime from the kids...BUT WHEN DO I GET MINE???!!
I'm sure most parents out there can sympathise. But what I realised was that, although I might deal with most of the childcare, sibling rivalry, social arrangements, homework, music practise, mornings + bedtimes...Ethan does actually work really hard too (the horrible shifts alone deserve some recognition) and just getting through normal life and work meetings and conversations and the odd bit of banter is exhausting for him. And, if I want a husband that will give his best and make the effort and keep his temper and be nice to be around, he's going to need more time to escape than me.
Perhaps I'm maturing into this Aspergers diagnosis!
One of the warning signs that Ethan was getting close to needing time away from us all came on Wednesday night. He told Ava to brush her teeth. She started to walk away. He yelled at her to brush her teeth. She tried to tell him something but he didn't even acknowledge she was speaking; just kept on shouting. He does this a lot: just doesn't listen to what someone is saying. It happened today when I told him what meat was in the fridge and what was in the freezer for the BBQ. He appeared to be listening. He wasn't doing anything else at the time and he was standing next to me looking into the fridge but, at the end of my brief run-down of foodstuffs, he just looked at me blankly and said, 'What was that?' Sometimes he tries to cover up and pretend he's listened only to be foiled later when he doesn't do anything that you've asked him to do. At other times he'll admit that his mind just shut down, or that he was thinking about something else. It's very frustrating having to say everything twice.
Anyway, back to poor Ava and her teeth. What Ava was trying to tell Ethan was that her toothbrush was downstairs in her overnight bag and that she was going to get it. As Ethan shouted over her to do what she was told and 'brush her teeth right now', Ava got increasingly frustrated that he wasn't listening and started to shout back about her toothbrush being downstairs. By the time I'd heard what was happening and gone upstairs Ethan had pulled a crying Ava into the bathroom and given her a 2 day ipod ban. I had to step in, tell Ethan what Ava had been trying to tell him all along, send Ava down to get her toothbrush, lift the ipod ban and soothe Ava (except I didn't do any of that calmly - I went mad with Ethan. Although Ethan felt bad enough already).
It's upsetting for the kids when Ethan doesn't listen and loses his temper so easily. It's also upsetting when he zones out and is there in body but not in spirit. It also doesn't help develop parental respect when I'm so often 'telling Ethan off' in front of the kids and correcting his behaviour. I should try not to do it in front of them but sometimes I just have to jump in before the poor kids get a really raw deal. Plus I'm too fiery not to.
Anyway, Ethan had his time out on Thursday and did come home transformed and lovely. I, on the other hand, after another day on my own with the kids, was grumpy as hell!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Too busy for Aspergers!

Hmmm. Easter holidays, three kids, a daily splattering of little friends and a husband/dad with Aspergers are not conditions made for each other!
Ten days, two birthday parties and six play-dates into our Easter holidays and even my head is reeling. And I'm used to chaos.
Ethan, to his credit, is doing really well. The house is a complete mess the whole time, we can't find anything, the volume level is on a permanent high, plans change frequently and every day brings a new selection of visitors to our house. All these things are a struggle for someone with Aspergers to deal with. Normal life is a struggle for someone with Aspergers to deal with. School holidays crank that up to maximum capacity. Thank goodness he's got the familiarity and relative calm of work to retreat to (it's live telly but it's calm in comparison!)
Things don't look set to calm down here anytime soon (in fact, probably not until the kids leave home!). We're ending the holidays with a bang by hosting a BBQ on Saturday and then, (following an early shift at work for Ethan) we're out with friends in the afternoon on Sunday. I know it's too much. I know we're pushing it and that there could be an explosion (or an unsociable retreat into his own head) during a very public occasion some time soon. But it feels like a risk we need to take: in order to build relationships for us and the kids. (And OK, I know that Ethan shutting down during a sociable trip to the park with another family won't do much to consolidate friendships - so I just have to hope, and pray, that won't happen). Most of the time, Ethan's able to keep up the effort to be sociable until we get home. The downside is that I then have to take over with everything as Ethan's burnt out (I don't have the option!).
Life is busy. All the time. The only way to fit people in is to fit them into the cracks around work, commitments, clubs, homework, family events, etc.
So, what's the answer? A tidy, serene house with three friendless kids that play on DS's all day? Or a fantastic social life for the kids, them interacting and having fun and an overloaded husband and neglected marriage? I'm sure many couples with young families, with or without Aspergers in the mix, can relate. As with so many things in life, there must be a happy medium somewhere. But moderation and saying no are things I've never been very good at. And that's where Ethan and I can help each other.
His special talent is saying no!
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Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Why my Aspergers husband always sounds irritable

Had a sudden (maybe obvious) revelation as I read Aspergers Syndrome for Dummies last night: that people with Aspergers have great difficulty (perhaps even find it impossible) to control their tone of voice. That doesn't mean, necessarily, that they're bored or annoyed or indifferent. Just that it sounds like they are!
All these years of arguing with Ethan over his tone. It even happened today. His response to a chatty comment from me was met with what came across as an irritated and grumpy response. And so the usual process ensued: I react. Telling him he's rude, irritable, impossible to have a conversation with. He gets defensive, and confused and deflated because, in his mind, he didn't sound grumpy at all. He swears he didn't feel grumpy and can't understand why I think he is all the time. When I repeat back to him what he's just said and how he's said it he harumphs disdainfully and insists he didn't sound anything like that. And, inside his own head, he probably didn't. To the rest of the world though, he sounded thoroughly hacked off. I get increasingly exasperated and therefore emotional and heated. And here we come to the second part of my newly discovered information - that people with Aspergers get stressed and anxious when other people's speech takes on a highly emotional tone (which is what my speech is like at least 50% of the time!)
So, while I'm screaming at him in frustration and very outwardly expressing my irritation and annoyance, in both words and tone, he literally is closing down emotionally and socially until we reach a point where he says something cross and stomps off. And I'm left not having achieved anything other than creating two very irritated and disillusioned people.
I'm slowly realising that my emotional response to his flatline tone is just making everything worse. Suddenly I'm seeing that there might be another way. That I need to change how I receive Ethan's communication (the problem is that the rest of the world won't). And that I need to keep calm and factual when speaking to him.  But I am an emotional person. And while part of me recognises that I need to meet Ethan halfway on this journey of surviving a marriage between an Aspergers and a neurotypical person, the other half doesn't want to deny who I naturally am. But I guess that's part of the cost.
Just a little PS - It's disappointing, and just a little embarrassing when Ethan's absolutely literal understanding prevents him from 'getting' jokes like the following:
An English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Australian, American, Chinese, Indian and Russian man walk up to a bar. The bouncer says 'There's no way you're getting in here without a Thai.'
Members of my assembled family smiled, chortled or commented. Ethan was smiling but looked blank. It was family so I could ask Ethan if he got it. No. he didn't. We explained it to Ethan and our 8-year-old daughter at the same time! Ethan is a genius in many ways, but infuriatingly clueless in others. I'm not criticising. His brain's just wired differently. But it's just sad and a bit discouraging that we can't laugh together. Because for me, and in the words of another blog from a neurotypical wife of an Aspergers man,  laughing helps.